A Small Anthology With Huge Themes
Them Nights Sure Are Lonely is a taut anthology sculpted of nine brisk stories all dealing with the rawest elements of humanity…
Loneliness. Death. Pain. Solitude.
Most of the stories are over in an eye-blink, yet belying their briefness they linger, and always provide a reason for some further contemplation.
Some of these stories touch on the paths their protagonists have taken to contend with their emotion. Mark from Dissolved drowns his isolation with that well-worn coping method of alcohol, only to realise “He found little in the darkness.” Then there’s Lily, who in The Last Train Home takes the unexpected path of humping away her loneliness, having sex with a total stranger on a train.
Bonfires deals with a man coping with the inevitable encroachment of death. His emotions bear a human authenticity. For instance, after his wife died, “he couldn’t cry. He never understood why. It was the saddest day of his life and he couldn’t express it normally”, reflecting the complexity that is human feeling.
Seconds, in a mere sharp 45 lines, explores what may be someone’s last few moments of life. Despite its concision, it’s very hard-hitting. To heighten this impact, Easley ensures we know the protagonist isn’t a wrinkly elderly person whose time has come naturally, “I’m not dying. Dying is for your eighties in a warm bed. Not here. Not now.” Here the syntax snaps and bristles down the page, deftly mirroring the panic and fear settling in upon the protagonist.
Immediately following Seconds is Freefall, about a man who realises that suicide is the only option left for him to “escape the dreary ache” of life. The way Easley describes the plight of our protagonist is entrenched with a stirring poignancy that many of us could empathise with, “He felt no kinship to those that surrounded him. They walked the same streets, and breathed the same air as he did. Yet, he felt nothing.” Again, the portrayal of solitude here is deeply compelling. In Freefall the protagonist decides to commit one final act of, what he hopes is, life-changing generosity before he ends it all. The conclusion is great, subtly dabbling in rather weighty questions of existentialism.
The final short, Drinking Buddies, is about that most potent of human emotion- love. Here, it deals with the burning torment that is unrequited love. “Jimmy kept that pain deep where no one could find it. If he could only be her friend…” Our protagonist realises he is “infatuated with a girl who would never love him the way he wanted her to.” There is an authenticity and realism to this story, and the narrative is a touch more drawn out than the others, giving you deeper room to connect with the characters.
None of the stories in this anthology have a tidy resolution. If you’re after cushy ‘Happy-ever-afters’, you should probably look elsewhere. Some of the stories end pretty blunt and abruptly too, echoing the route of escape many of its protagonists have taken. But I believe this offers you the opportunity to sketch out your own conclusions.
It would be great if the author expanded on some of the stories here as there’s a few characters I’d really like to learn more about, especially the unnamed protagonists of Seconds and Freefall, and the named protagonists of Lonnie and Lily; all four were intriguing.
In closing, a strong, tight anthology displaying much promise from the author.
Some in life aspire to be doctors. Some, lawyers. Some dream of helping to advance humanity and die as celebrated heroes.
Not Calvin Cantrell. Calvin Cantrell aspires to be a serial killer. The best that ever did it. And he’s roped in Phillip Krandall, a failed psychopath who never made good on his plans for a Columbine-esque massacre at his high school and now merely dreams… “In his dreams, everyone who had ever pushed him around or gave him a hard time…each of them atoned in bloodshed and he absolved them of their guilt”; and Rhonda, Calvin’s wife and a woman who’s been pissed upon more than her fair share by life.
Dirtbags, the debut of Eryk Pruitt, trails Calvin’s journey.
The first few beats of this novel deal with our protagonist attempting to get his bloodlust on, via subversive chapters loaded with delectably black humour. To begin with, there’s the little issue of Calvin lacking that essential facet of any self-respecting serial killer… “The compulsion. The craze. How can you insist that you can manage to be any type of serial killer at all if you ain’t batshit crazy?”
But Calvin ain’t too worried, because as he informs Phillips, “I done read Catcher in the Rye a half-dozen times, if that counts.”
……Don’t worry, I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself again after that killer line……
Recovered? Well, Calvin simply regards his deficiency of craze as, “A minor detail I feel that if we work hard enough, we can overcome.” And their effort to overcome this vacuum of insanity is just hilarious. And disconcerting… A beautiful paradox which Pruitt employs throughout the narrative. The neighbourhood pets are initially utilised in the attempt to get their blood buds wet. As Calvin so simply explains… “You see, we kill this cat, and maybe a few others or a dog or two, and then we’ll have the taste for blood.” Of course, it doesn’t quite work out like that…
This hysterical, blank self-awareness that Calvin has lurks throughout the novel. He often arbitrarily references his favourite serial killers, sometimes mid-conversation, often to the bemusement of those listening.
“This is Madame LaLaurie’s house…”
“Who the hell is Madame LaLaurie?”
“Calvin shook his head, but by now, he was used to it. Nobody cared about the important things anymore. ” Madame Delphine LaLaurie is one of the few female serial killers…”
It’s an approach that never runs dry on the mirth.
As for the grisly murder scenes themselves, they bear sweet lashings of gallows humour, only bringing the killings into deeper discomfort. You will definitely shift uneasily in your seat a few times whilst reading this book, perhaps even avert your eyes from the page in revulsion once or twice as claret sprays and bodies are left “mutilated beyond the skills of the mortician”. However, there was one particular death scene which sharply stood out. It was so well-written, it possessed almost a perverse beauty to it. I’ll preserve the plot details, but in the scene Pruitt deftly telescopes the prose during the slaying to bring you closer to the scene, closer than you’d like. The syntax is terse, tight. The description staccato, precise. The pace is that of a hunted prey. The victim actually thinks, in a mildly meta moment, “It’s all moving so fast.” You can almost hear the heavy breathing and smell the blood the scene is so intimate and tense.
Along the blood-besmirched path of the narrative, the story also delves into the stories of other characters… Tom London, the man who hires Calvin to kill his ex-wife and is responsible for initially sparking his serial killer designs. The ex-wife herself in question. The 809, a grimy stripclub lurking on the edge of town. And a smattering of sleaze-ridden residents of Lake Castor.
There are no heroes in this novel. No angels or saviours. There’s a reason it’s called Dirtbags. Almost every character is begrimed in dishonesty, greed, bloodlust, hate and selfishness. Everyone is cheating on and double-crossing one another. It takes skill to cram in so many utterly repulsive dicks and cunts into one narrative, and Pruitt pulls it off. The layered narrative is composed with care and love. Sick, twisted love. The plot interweaves from one character to another, from present to past and back again like a prose-tattooed snake writhing, twisting about. This ever-changing focus stabs dynamism into the narrative. The characterisation is likewise wall-to-wall great. Pruitt fleshes out even minor players, really throwing you face first into the world of Dirtbags.
If in the early stages of the novel there is perhaps a lack of confidence in Pruitt’s writing at times, almost inevitable since this is his first swing, very soon in he has definitely gotten into the groove and laid down his own voice and style.
Laid it down hard.
The lit. scene positively has a new contender here. The prose never sludges proceedings up, but isn’t shy of a few well-placed literary or poetic tinges either… “A profound sadness that struck Calvin’s very soul as if it were a minor chord that resonated long after the song had ended.”
The conclusion also deserves a brief, non-spoilery mention. It’s great. Pretty smart too.
If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if American Psycho accidentally copulated with No Country for Old Men… Dirtbags is your baby.
Welcome to the very first article on the brand-new Severest Inks blog space. This launching post is by Khalid Patel… me… your very fave Brit-Indian writer of subversive, challenging literature. In upcoming weeks, expect more Sev Inks-affliated authors, as well as guest writers, to lay down their own words. Articles will not be restricted to discussion upon literature, but rather will be upon anything cultural, thought-provoking, original. There shall be no set schedule for posts, to reflect the Severest Inks ethos of quality over quantity, so be sure to subscribe to this site for notifications of fresh content via the Follow box on the below right.
For this hymen-breaking post, I wasn’t quite sure what to discuss. Since this is a website dedicated to fine cuts of literature, however, I decided to dedicate this very first post to… ASIAN MOVIES! (Yeah, I’m a dick like that.) I’m going to briefly…
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“EVERY SO OFTEN, LITERATURE OFFERS US A GLIMPSE OF WHERE HUMANITY SUCCEEDS.
THIS IS NOT THAT STORY.”
Ladies & Germites, I present to you tonight, the first ever cover reveal on the Hollow Shotguns blog space.
The book is Dirtbags.
The author is Eryk Pruitt.
The audience is your eyeballs.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that Eryk is not only a talented writer/filmmaker/cannibal, he’s also one of the first… if not, THE first fan of Hollow Shotguns. He has slung mucho support my way during my brief semi-career as a writer thus far, and man, am I STOKED to see one of his own novels now hitting the lit. scene.
Below, the synopsis for Dirtbags, & if it doesn’t render you all tingly like an acid-trippin’ Spidey sensing danger, whatchafuck is wrong witchya?!
“The blame for a county-wide murder spree lies at the feet of three people broken by a dying mill town: Calvin, a killer; London, a cook; and Rhonda, the woman who loves them both. No one sees the storm brewing until it’s too late in this Southern Gothic noir that adds a transgressive, chicken-fried twist to a story ripped straight from the pages of a true crime novel or an episode of Dateline NBC.
Calvin Cantrell searches for meaning in life and believes he’s stumbled across it when approached by Tom London to kill his meddling ex-wife. However, during his trip to Dallas to do the deed, Calvin discovers things about both himself and Corrina London–things that have horrible repercussions to the small town from which he hails.
After Corrina’s horrific murder, Tom London feels the noose tighten as both the local Sheriff and his current wife begin putting together the pieces of the puzzle. Could Rhonda Cantrell’s disastrous luck with men do more damage to the community than her serial killer husband or philandering lover?
Every so often, literature offers us a glimpse of where humanity succeeds.
This is not that story.”
And below, the cover –
What I really dig about the cover for Dirtbags is the minimalist yet striking artwork on display here… the restrained choice of a simple four colour scheme… the stark monochrome image of a shades-decked man shooting us a pensive stare… the Rorschach test-esque tree quietly lurking in the background… Every detail meshes together beautifully to create a cover worthy of an artsy print.
You can sign up to be notified when Dirtbags hits stores by slinging down your email at the link below, an act which shall also see you automatically entered into a drawing to win a free copy of the book (please note the link will take you to an outside site called Immortal Ink Publishing, which is in no way affiliated with myself, Hollow Shotguns or Severest Inks) – http://www.immortalinkpublishing.com/notify.php?book=34
…In other news, Hollow Shotguns has just been re-released! If you’re still a virgin to my debut, now’s the perfect time to get your Hollow Shots hymen broken. CLICK HERE to be za-wooshed straight to your local Amazon page for Hollow Shotguns.
Till later days, comrades… Peace Out.
Yeah, I know it’s been a yonk + half since I last blogged (was occupied trying to build a non-writing career… & subsequently killing it… :) but I’m back in the game! (for tonight anyways…) And yah, I am just back to blow my own horn & engage in some literary masturbation… Below, the officially official synopsis of my next story, crime thriller Red. Prime your collective brains to be all sorts of splattered!
Welcome to Riverstones City. A sprawling squalor. A grim tangle rife with violence, drug trafficking, larceny, prostitution, corruption. The rich reside apathetically above the poor. The police and the politicians make their fortunes by gazing the other way.
The most notorious district of this city is Forest Heights. Home to the hopeless. The neglected. The crazy. The divine and the demonic. But mostly the demonic… Twisted souls, making parasitical livings through theft, fear and threat. Here, crime is rife. Crime is customary. Crime is consuming. Here, crime is life.
A streetwise, book-smart 12-year-old girl they call Red is quietly traversing the urban guts of this city in a scorching summer evening. Nerves are high. Tensions simmering. And when an old rivalry between two legendary gangsters resurges, her life is suddenly thrown into deathly peril.
With Red I drifted back to a more experiMENTAL style of prose… not quite as fuckered up as Hollow Shotguns, but nearer to it than the somewhat more open, restrained prose of my last cut Dr Craine’s Body. Likewise, the narrative contains a liberal lashing of some pretty insane, brain-prickling imagery.
Red also features the return of ‘Stonian-Tongue’, the effed-up style of dialogue I first experimented with in Hollow Shots. And not to spoil things, but there’s some minor cameos from a few Hollow Shots characters too. And by minor, I mean subtle (as in, one for the HARDCORE! fans). Actually, the central protagonist Red herself was very subtly mentioned in Hollow Shots. I’ll leave you to figure out exactly where yourselves (hint, it’s somewhere during the bit where Zeth grudgingly skateboards to Stripe’s house to pick up a drugs package for that dickhead older brother of his…) So it’s all sorta coming back full circle with Hollow Shots characters appearing in Red’s story.
In other news, I’m currently all uber-excited/tinglified after being told the cover of my debut Hollow Shotguns shall have a potential cameo in an American sci-fi web series currently being filmed… a sci-fi series in which my main man from North Carolina Eryk Pruitt plays a simpleton British thug… (yes, really). Man, I just KNEW my book would one day get filmed… (hey, it counts!)
If the shots of Hollow Shots which have been shot end up being shot onto US televisions/monitors, I’ll be sure to proclaim it loud, with copious links to the scene, on this here blog (& half the internet besides), so stay tuned…
Till next time homeboys & my homegirls… Assalamu ‘Alaykum, Shalom, Namaste, Adieu and Peace.
Right, comrades. My sophomore effort to Hollow Shotguns shall be titled S T O N E S. A sequel to Hollow Shots it is not (Hollow Shotguns will never have a sequel, unless I devise a truly, truly swell concept that in no way weakens the original’s ending). Stones will be an anthology of shorts all set within, yep you guessed it, Riverstones City. It’ll be released sometime next year. Yes, next year……… HOWEVER, each story will be published individually before then as a ‘digital single’, one every few months until the release of the entire composition that is S T O N E S, which will be released both digitally & in the flesh (aka paperback). The stories will include a stark urban thriller, a study upon domestic violence, superheroics, a portrayal of the destabilizing nature of love, a scrutinizing of alcoholism & a twisted-up heist tale, beyond others.
The first tale from Stones, titled Dr Craine’s Body, will be out 31 March. It’s a romance. And before you perform a throw-up, rest assured, it shall be one of the most twisted, subversive, & just generally all-sorts-of-fucked-up yet still nevertheless thought-provoking romance stories you’ll ever flick yer eyeballs over. The central protagonist is a gifted yet unorthodox medical examiner/forensic pathologist… It’s a world away from my debut, both in writing style & narrative, (though ironically it is set in the same city from Hollow Shotguns, you know the one…) The only further details I’m spillin’ is that rather than being purely about the ecstasy & turmoil that is love, the story will also be a wider examination of society and life through the uncomfortable lens of death, as embodied by the following quote from, erm, ‘New York pathologist Dr Montag Hawkins’…
“I gained an education in the ways in which we live by studying the ways in which we die…”
That is all, for now. Peace out, gangstas.
In my last post I mentioned the awesome message writer/filmmaker Eryk Pruitt sent me regarding Hollow Shotguns. Well, Mr Pruitt only went & wrote a whole fresh slab of words about my book in his blog The Rectory! Below, a snippet (& by snippet, I mean of course a colossal hunk because I couldn’t decide which morsel of awesomeness to include so just ended up copy/pasting half the bleedin’ thing) –
“My first thought is that a book like this should never be published. Not in a cookie-cutter world of sequels and knock-offs. Not where Twilight and sparkly vampires rule pop culture can a voice and writing style so unique be allowed a chance. No, this kid breaks some rules and he breaks them across people’s faces. This is no ordinary novel.
One thing that will strike you like the stock of a shotgun is the prose. The writing style is so unique that it immediately removes you from your comfort zone and places you in Patel’s world and does so abruptly, just as the apocalypse would. One can only imagine Khalid leaving a wake of writing instructors, all of which pulling out their hair. Sit back and enjoy a bit:
“Cade observed the rundown abodes. The ambience altered the moment South Grove was speared, as if a cauldron beneath the borough amassed the droplets of satanic substances from the snarling syringes. Then when anyone traversed, the Grove retched the mixture as imperceptible mist. The prey abruptly felt agitated some, oblivious why. Yet the Grove knew. And soon it would harvest enough discarded joints, needles, blood drips for a most noxious concoction, spewing it as fog in the dead of night, blanketing slumbering dwellings, killing residents in dreams of drug overdoses, STDs. Nightmares of assaults, stabbings. Thenceforth the South Grove Beast would rise, crawl for every abode. Devour. One. By. One. Then- Wait, now it’s getting idiota… thought Cade, scattering his reveries.”
I mean, who writes like that? Who can keep up this insane style of prose for an entire book? It’s like watching Anthony Burgess and Irvine Welsh club the shit out of each other with a thesaurus. My personal copy is dog-eared and lain waste with highlighter, as I’ve sat front row for this celebration of the English language, watching this man slay phrase as if it were hordes of the undead…. The imagery in this tome could take on the best horror novel and I strongly recommend it.”
You can eyeball the entire article here, & I very suggest you do as the segment on Hollow Shotguns is part of a wider piece on Halloween & the little kid that just shuffled past my house dressed in a glittered-up bin liner & scowl tells me it is Halloween this very night… Well, that, or glittered-up bin liners are the latest thing for these post-MTV Generation young ‘uns.
Whilst you’re there, you can also scope out some of the other superb articles lurking about The Rectory. Eryk has a deft way with words, eloquent as fuck yet still somehow managing to sound like he’s sitting right next to you, jawing coolly into your ear over a drink (possibly bourbon). His short film Foodie also snagged yet another award recently. If you’re in the States, I recommend you seek out a screening near you. And yes, that is Eryk in that insanely cool, belongs-on-a-canvas-or-poster snap at the top there. Seriously, that image encapsulates how I’ve felt about the state of my life so many an occasion (like at least 2-3 days a week…)
In other news, there’s actually a copy of Hollow Shotguns in Los Angeles right now, being disseminated around Hollywood to film industry types… I think the idea of Hollow Shotguns on a big screen sounds just a little MIND-SPATTERINGLY FUCKING AWESOME! So keep extremities crossed they dig it… Or rather, more pragmatically, go & actually buy the book if you haven’t already & show those Hollywood suits there lies an audience for a subversive, challenging apocalyptic story boasting the high-concept of kids as protagonists. Or even better, buy the book then review it, thus inspiring many others to buy the book, thus showing those Hollywood suits there lies a pretty sizable audience for a subversive, challenging apocalyptic story boasting the high-concept of kids as protagonists.
Also, my first Hollow Shotguns write-up (which deconstructs the offbeat dialogue) is nearly complete… It’s a good one. Actually, I’ll say it’s the best slice of non-fiction I’ve written yet. Or maybe not quite there yet, but it definitely has the potential to be (so long as I don’t fuck it up).
So I’ve been writing up a full synopsis for Hollow Shotguns. Man, composing a synopsis is freakin’ rough. Condensing your entire work you’ve burnt over a year obsessively refining into a few brief pages… deciding which set-pieces to depict, twists to include, foreshadows/ironies to highlight… deciding whether to stress the humour or the social commentary… whether to stress the idiosyncratic dialogue or the offbeat prose… And just when you think you’ve slaughtered the bastard, it whirls round, seizes your nards & shrieks “FUCK YOU, I’M STILL TOO STILTED TO READ!”
……But I’ve finished it. And I’ll sling up an amplified, deeper cut of the synopsis onto this site sometime. One which considers EVERY plot detail & all the subtle ironies/foreshadows/symbolisms readers may have missed. I intend to make it echo a film commentary, though hopefully more an echo of Park Chan-Wook’s most excellent, insightful commentary for Oldboy than, er, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s commentary for Total Recall. Moreover, eyeballs could consult it for clarification, sorta like a Wiki.
Also, I’m about midway through my first Hollow Shotguns write-up, which should be posted up later this month. I shall be deconstructing the dialogue. Plans for future articles are… a dissection of ‘The War’ chapter, including the influence of the legendary videogame Resident Evil 4 upon its initial set-up… how the ‘demons’ of Hollow Shotguns were inspired by the neo-Nazi fascist group the English Defence League (EDL)… the meaning of the front cover art, plus why I was adamant the description on the back cover reveal as little as possible about the plot… how comic-books guided the prose style… the influence of Asian Cinema, particularly South Korean cinema, upon the poetic, almost luring violence of Hollow Shotguns… beyond others.
A final thing. You know when a work slowly filters out into the world, people peruse it, tell the author their sentiments on it… Well, I received my first ever one of those not so long ago. Eryk Pruitt of North Carolina, America mesagged me the following hunk of awesomeness regarding Hollow Shotguns…
“Dude, reading this book is awesome. It’s like watching Irvine Welsh and Anthony Burgess club each other with a thesaurus. This is a very unique writing style. I also like how you switch it off at certain times — i.e. news reporters — and then flow seamlessly back to it when we’re back to The Set.
I can only imagine you leaving a bunch of writing instructors in your wake, all pulling out their hair.
If this is how we all speak at the end of the world, then bring on the apocalypse.’’
…Eryk, besides possessing immaculate taste in literature, wrote & produced the recent dark comedy short film Foodie, which probes the concept of cannibalism & is currently snaring all kinds of awards on the film festival circuit. He also writes a superb blog called The Rectory. Scope it out.
To be continued, mes amis…
Earlier this month GC published a rather awesome letter of mine (if I may say so myself…) I came across it again lurking about on my laptop, & since this site is still pretty dry, I thought to repost the words in full. A must read for anyone disillusioned by Hollywood…
“I know I said my next letter won’t be just on Hollow Shotguns (buy it and support independent literature!) but about videogames, yet after the letters regarding the current quality of cinema, I must dispense some advice to those jaded with Hollywood… Taste Asian cinema! South Korea for instance produces immensely bold works, exemplified by Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy, of which Oldboy is easily the strongest (and worryingly receiving a Hollywood ‘reimagining’). Its siblings, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance are also superb. And it’s only a thematic trilogy, so they’re great standalone movies also… Kim Ji-woon’s I Saw the Devil is as stunning as it is violent. And Memories of Murder, a Zodiac-esque thriller (made before Zodiac), and The Host are likewise quality.
Hong Konger Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle is deft cinematic liberation, exuding physical comedy, verbal wit, surrealism (an impromptu Bollywood-esque dance in the opening minutes) and sharp homages, all laced with eyeball-pulsing fisticuffs. His Shaolin Soccer, whilst narratively weaker, is perhaps even funnier (certainly sillier). I actually adore Hustle and Shaolin so much, I devoted a whole conversation to them in Hollow Shotguns, where The Set cite almost every offbeat moment. I was also recently impressed by Donnie Yen’s Wu Xia, the smartest, sharpest martial arts flick I’ve eyed for some time.
Indonesian The Raid leaves Hollywood actioners blushing. And Japan’s Battle Royale remains extremely awesome…
The above is by no means exhaustive and many are pretty recognized, but they’re great introductions for those never venturing out the comfort of Hollywood studio celluloid. All should be viewed in their original tongue with English subs for that purity. Contrasting much of Hollywood, they’re not fixated with the ‘mainstream’, challenging us rather than idly appeasing.
PS- I totally PROMISE my next letter will be about the current music scene. Sorry, videogames!”
……GC, for the unenlightened, is the finest videogame publication this side of the universe. Anyone diggin’ videogames &/or intelligent discussion upon such critical matters as xenophobia in games, the desensitisation of violence, the morality of killing in gaming and the sweet scents of videogame manuals (fragrances personally reminiscent of fresh comic-books) should positively scope it out. GC previously dwelt within the ‘teletext’ service which British television sets used to receive. Its ancestor was Digitiser. Governed by a ‘Mr Biffo’ (aka Paul Rose), Digitiser oozed subversive surrealism, biting wit & offbeat humour, much of which immensely impacted the sense of humour nodes of my highly impressionable 10-year-old self. Although GC is much dryer, it continues Digi’s tradition of unbiased, truthful journalism.
Next month I’ll post some words about Hollow Shotguns I’m currently scribbling out. I’ll either be discussing the unconventional (& somewhat divisive) language of the boys, or the imperative chapter ‘The War’… OR I may just talk about Batman… BATMAN!!
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