Love Letters to Poe, Volume 1: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe collects 12 months of Gothic fiction that first appeared on the website.
Included among the book’s 55 stories of the macabre is my December 2020 appearance, “An Incident on Mulberry Street,” in which a doctor pays a visit to his former mentor only to discover the old surgeon has developed some strange theories about the phenomenon of phantom limbs.
Earlier this month I realized I hadn’t heard from David B. Riley in a while, and after seeing that his most recent blog post was from December 26 of last year, I searched around to see if he was OK. That’s when I discovered he passed away in January.
I reached out to Julie Campbell, who worked with David on several projects including the magazine Steampunk Trails. She told me that David succumbed to long-running health issues on January 3. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered in the desert. She didn’t know much more. Julie spoke to David shortly before his death and he didn’t mention any illness, so whatever happened occurred suddenly and, let’s hope, without pain.
David was a prolific writer but I knew him best as an editor and anthologist. He was, above all, a champion of weird westerns. He worked almost exclusively in the genre, with some dips into sci-fi.
I’m not sure how he felt about straightforward historical westerns but David could certainly tell you the difference between a sheriff and a marshal. At the same time, he really wanted the weird in weird west. Speculative-fiction markets these days either publish bespoke literature or, more often, have pretensions to do so. David wasn’t so snobby. He loved westerns mashed up with aliens and dinosaurs and lizard people. The more incongruous the ideas, the better.
David published three of my works. The first was a pretty mediocre early effort called “Glorieta Pass;” and the last was an experimental epistolary piece called “Red River,” set in the aftermath of The War of the Worlds. Both appeared in his magazine, Science Fiction Trails.
He also published the horror western “Realgar” in the anthology Low Noon. It’s a favorite of mine and I know it was a favorite of David’s. When he posted a review of my collection The Dead Ride Fast on Amazon, he called out “Realgar” specifically by name. I’ll be forever grateful for his publication and endorsement of that story.
David could be a little ornery — do you expect anything else of a western writer? — but I’ll miss his gonzo energy. The weird west has never had a more enthusiastic contributor and advocate.
The audiobook edition of A Season of Whispers is now available at Amazon, on Audible, and at Kobo.
Last summer I had the new-to-me pleasure of listening through audition files of various narrators. My publisher sent me a zip file of mp3s in which potential narrators read a few minutes of the text.
The audition I kept returning to was that of Darrin and Kristy Johnson, who took a clever approach to the gig. A Season of Whispers is divided into four acts, two told from a man’s perspective and two told from the perspective of Minerva Grosvenor, the heroine. Darrin narrated the two male acts and Kristy the two Minerva acts, which underscored the switches in POV for the listener.
The pair also threw some voice acting into the mix, with Darrin performing the dialogue of men and Kristy the women regardless of which act they were narrating. As the author I was a little worried how the book’s dialogue would translate to audio because not every line of speech is differentiated by “he said” or “she said” and so on. But by performing the dialogue as if the book was a play, they made the dialogue very easy to follow along.
I knew I’d found my narrators as soon as I heard the Johnsons’ audition. They made the audiobook into something unique, not just a voice reading the text. So glad Aurelia Leo and I can now share it with listeners.
There is a school of thought to which I subscribe that asserts the United States fought two wars of independence: a Revolutionary War in which some of us became free, and a Civil War in which the rest of us did.
It makes sense, then, to celebrate two Independence Days. Because we chose a path of reconciliation after the Civil War, our country has never really celebrated the victory of the Union over the Confederacy. And while the Fourth of July is less about beating the Brits than it is about our resolve to be free — in 1776, we wrote ourselves a check we wouldn’t cash for another seven years — we’ve never had a holiday to celebrate that second American Revolution. We didn’t want to upset the feelings of our former neighbors turned enemies turned neighbors again, and so, like any family at Thanksgiving who doesn’t want to revisit that time we had a big argument and didn’t talk to each other for four years, we pretend it never happened. Which is messed up.
But there’s another reason we need Juneteenth. For someone who grew up outside of Philadelphia, lives in Connecticut, and frequently travels to Boston, Revolutionary history surrounds me. Everywhere I go is some reminder of the late 1700s. Yet every year on July 4, the populations of fifty states and a bunch of territories celebrate events to which they have no tangible connection, events that occurred hundreds if not thousands of miles away from where they live.
For me, the American Revolution literally took place in my backyard. But for many it’s distant and remote, something that happened long long ago in a galaxy far far away.
I do wonder if that’s why — partly, at least — some have glommed onto Confederate history and its myths of lost causes and resurrections to come, because for them the history is local. To those who live with it, it’s palpable and real; they can visit the battlefields and sites of importance. They feel connected to that history, which in itself isn’t bad, but just as brushing against poison ivy or mercury will poison you, they also unfortunately sympathize with it.
Here in New England where white people are furiously Googling how to celebrate juneteenth, our newest national holiday is a very recent thing. But in the south — and of course Texas — the holiday is firmly established with parades and festivals and public traditions that date all the way back to 1866. Because the event it commemorates took place outside the original 13 colonies, it provides a relevance to those Americans who don’t live between Boston and Yorktown. It gives southerners a piece of American history to celebrate that doesn’t glorify the Confederacy.
Critics of Juneteenth argue that it is divisive. To the contrary it’s a step toward reconciliation. When caught doing something that’s harmed someone else, an immature child refuses to believe he did anything wrong. But a mature grown-up recognizes he made a mistake when he did something that brought pain to another. An immature child blames the victim for the trouble he’s in. A grown-up takes responsibility. To me, that’s what Juneteenth signifies. It’s about we as Americans growing the fuck up.
And besides, if grilling steaks and eating strawberry shortcake brings peace between the races, who am I to stand in the way?
To promote the forthcoming release of the audiobook edition of A Season of Whispers, I’m currently in the midst of a six-week blog tour around the internet, which kicked off last Friday with a glowing review by Kirkus Reviews.
Some of the stops are spotlights or brief excerpts but the rest feature original content like interviews and reviews. Some of the highlights: