I Read Five Short Stories for The R.I.P. Challenge

A couple weeks ago I posted about my intention to read 24 stories for this year’s edition of the R.I.P. Challenge, and this is my first “report.” My original post listing the stories and where I found them may be found here. I’m using a euchre deck to randomly select the order in which I read them, and plan to do a quick summary after every five cards (equivalent to each hand in euchre,see? 🙂 ) then one for the final four cards/stories (which will correspond to the “widow” in a game of euchre). I’m rating the stories according to the rank of trump in that game:

Right Bower – 5 stars

Left Bower – 4.5 stars

Ace – 4 stars

King – 3.5 stars

Queen – 3 stars

Ten – 2.5 stars

Nine – 2 stars

(above: the first hand I was dealt for Peril of the Short Story – not a bad hand if diamonds end up being trump) 

♦J♦ The first was “Schroedinger’s Gun” by Ray Wood, which I found in a “free” tor.com anthology. (I follow them on Facebook and occasionally they post a link to download stories or collections). The premise of this one was interesting. The protagonist, a detective of the future uses a “Heisen Implant” to help her in her crime solving work. As the title of the story and the name of this implant might indicate, the implant allow her mind to hop back and forth between the infinite number of possible universes or timelines. A great idea, but my problem with the story was that the rest of this future – seemingly otherwise contemporary – world gave little indication that the technology of this device might be possible. My rating: King

♠A♠ The second story was R.M. Cooper’s “What We Kept of Charlie” from Midwestern Gothic Magazine. In spite of the intriguing title, I struggled to comprehend this one, which was quite short. Charlie has suicidal tendencies, and the narrator relates to us in journal form how this sad event and its aftermath came to pass. My rating: Queen

♦K♦ The third story was my favorite. I liked Shirley Jackson’s “Nightmare” so much I almost wrote a whole post about it. Maybe I still will. A run-of-the-mill secretary in New York is sent on a cross-town errand by her boss and finds the city caught up in a bizarre, promotional contest urging citizens to “Find ‘Miss X!‘” She slowly comes to suspect that she herself might be this Miss X. Great story with a typical Shirley Jackson feel and atmosphere. I found the ending a little perplexing, though. My rating: Left Bower

♣Q♣ The fourth story was from Grimm’s a fairy Tales – “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About The Shivers” – a title I found irresistible when coming up with my list for R.I.P. The title character does not experience terror like the rest of us, but wishes he could. After many failures, he is finally set with the task to spend a few nights in a haunted castle. I guess maybe what we learn from this tale is that what scares people differs from person to person. My rating: King

♣A♣ The fifth story was Clint Smith’s “The Jellyfish,” a bizarre sci-fi/horror blend. The protagonist, Paul, has made up his mind to do away with himself (two ‘suicide stories’ in my first five!) and hikes to a seemingly remote area to complete his task. Things initially go according to plan until a fleeing deer and then it’s pursuing hunters discover him. Add to this a mysterious “entity” (the titular – but not literal – jellyfish is also present). My rating: Ace   

What about YOU? How is your R.I.P. Challenge reading coming along?  If you’re not participating – or even if you are – you may check out what everyone else has been posting about by visiting the review site here. – Already over 120 posts this year!

“Mrs. Melville Makes a Purchase” – Shirley Jackson

A couple years ago I purchased an e-copy (nook version) of “Just an Ordinary Day” a (posthumous) book of Shirley Jackson short stories, “previously unpublished and uncollected.” I made the purchase after reading one of the stories in The New Yorker (“Paranoia” – see my prior post about that story here). I also had assigned another story from this collection to my Deal Me In challenge deck of cards as the King of Hearts, which I drew this morning for week 29 of Deal Me In 2015.

I’m one of those people who tries to always follow the golden rule when dealing with others. Treating them as I would hope to be treated myself. I’m betting most of you reading this are the same type of people (thankfully, most people in general are too). Mrs. Melville, the title character of this Shirley Jackson story, is NOT one of those type of people. Jackson makes us dislike Mrs. Melville immediately as, while shopping for a blouse in a department store, Melville sighs “How long do I have to wait for service here?” to a salesgirl who is helping another customer. I was happy to see the salesgirl eventually start “giving it back” to Mrs. Melville though, when she notes that she doesn’t have Mrs. Melville’s desired purchase in pink or chartreuse, but that “I have the black. Most large figures prefer the black.” (Heh heh)

Eventually Mrs. Melville completes a purchase and with barely muted indignation seeks out the store’s Complaint Department, which the salesgirl helpfully informs her is on the ninth floor. This is just the beginning of Mrs. Melville’s retail adventures, though, as she stops for lunch on the fifth floor (as you might guess, she’s dissatisfied with her server and food there too – we are seeing a pattern here) and, after seeing a mysterious woman, realizes she’s lost the package with her purchase…

This was a good story, and I enjoyed it (who doesn’t like to see snobs getting their comeuppance?), but I don’t think it’s up to the high standards of Jackson’s other work. I’m sure I’ll still read the other stories in this book eventually as well, but I’ll probably be rationing them out over several years, as has become my habit with Short story collections. Oh, and this week’s Deal Me In coincidence? I discovered that the book blogosphere has a “Shirley Jackson Reading Week” currently in progress. How cool is that? One of the host blogs may be seen at http://www.stuckinabook.com/its-shirley-jackson-reading-week/

What have you read by Shirley Jackson and what did you think of it? In addition to her story, “Paranoia,” I’ve blogged about her creepy story “The Summer People” as well.

Life Imitates Art? – Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People”


So, I work in a multi-story building, on the top floor. Though my company owns the building, we have tenants on the third floor. On a ride down the elevator, two strangers to me board on the third. They are mid-conversation as they get on, and the man says to the woman, “So, have you been getting out to the lake much?” She replies, “Not anymore, they turned the electricity and the water off.” I immediately thought of Shirley Jackson (above) and her short story, “The Summer People,” which I read last month for the R.I.P. challenge. I kind of chuckled to myself and thought, “Trust me lady, you’re much safer here…”

Are you familiar with this story? I thought it was great! A well-to-do and aging New York couple have been enjoying their annual summer sojourn at a vacation home “on the lake” away from the big city. They muse about how, almost invariably, upon their return to the city “the Tuesday after Labor Day” they are blessed with unseasonably mild weather and find themselves wishing they had stayed longer at the lake. As this story dawns, the couple think “Why not stay a month longer and enjoy the summer weather as long as possible?”

They quickly learn from the locals that staying after Labor Day “just isn’t done,” and the mentioning of their plans to various townspeople is met with a kind of subdued incredulity. “Nobody ever stayed at the lake past Labor Day before,” the grocer tells them. A trip to the hardware store includes the owner’s observation that there have “never been summer people before, at the lake after Labor Day.” The couple from the city find these reactions odd but write it off to the “poor breeding” of the rustics.

We find out only by degrees what makes staying such a bad decision…

What this story got me thinking about is how often our perception of the nature of a place may differ from its true nature. Our perceptions may be influenced by season (as they were in this story) or perhaps by time of day, or the people you are with when you are there. I’ve experienced all three of these situations and noted how different things can be depending on these factors.

I once spent about a week at a friend’s family’s summer cottage on a lake (in my case Torch Lake in Northern Michigan – near Traverse City). It was a beautiful getaway and felt almost like a paradise while I was there. We had the good sense however, to be safely back in Indy before the end of August.


Above: Torch Lake (picture found on Trip Advisor)

I own this story as part of The Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories, which has proven to be a great source for my short story reading for a couple years now.

It was also adapted into a CBS Radio Mystery Theater episode: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yxnbp0u8YVU

Below: wearing white shoes? – yet another thing you don’t want to do after Labor Day? 🙂


Wat do you think of Shirley Jackson? Have you read any of her short stories? I’ve also read “The Lottery,” and another great one, “Paranoia,” which I blogged about here.

A Hoosier-Flavored R.I.P. Challenge


I’ve decided to follow the lead of my Deal Me In 2014 comrade, Randall, and participate in the ninth annual R.I.P. (“Readers Imbibing Peril”) Challenge (R.I.P. IX – hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings) this year, in a short story, mini-Deal Me In format. Randall’s initial post for his participation in the challenge may be found here.  I’ve selected thirteen short stories to read before the end of October. At this point, I don’t know if I’ll blog about them individually or in a couple summarized posts. I’ve picked three stories from known or classic authors, but the theme for the remainder of my selections is “authors with an Indiana connection.”


Here’s my list of stories for the RIP challenge. As with Deal Me In, I’ll read them in random order via the luck of the draw. Naturally, I’ll be using the spades suit to draw my cards.:-)


A. Feeders and Eaters – Neil Gaiman (“The Weird” anthology)
2. The Summer People – Shirley Jackson (“The Weird” anthology) -read 9/19
3. Axolotl – Julio Cortozar (“The Weird” anthology) – read 9/23
4. Strunke City DeRail – Murphy Edwards (Terror Train anthology )
5. Venus Rising from the Foam – James Owens (Indiana Horror 2011 anthology)
6. Crimes in Southern Indiana – Frank Bill (“Crimes in Southern Indiana” story collection) -read 9/22
7. Because You Watched – Paula Ashe (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology)
8. The Hunt – Bret Nye – (Midwestern Gothic magazine volume 6)
9. The Rose Garden – James Ward Kirk (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology)
10. The Hike – Brian Rosenberger (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology)
J. The Old Crone and the Scarecrow – Allen Griffin (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology) – read 9/20
Q. The Shadow Man of Moonspine Bridge – Matt Cowan (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology) -read 9/21
K. The Boy That Created Monsters – Paul DeThroe (Indiana Horror 2011 anthology)

I’ve seen – and even met and talked to few of these writers – at various book events around town in the past year or so, and reading some more of their work should prove interesting.  Are you participating in the R.I.P. Challenge this year??

Shirley Jackson’s short story “Paranoia”


Literary “resurrection-ists”

It’s a seemingly widespread phenomenon in the arts. Successful writers, musicians, etc., don’t let their own deaths stop “new” works of theirs from being released. Earlier this month, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s book club read two just recently published works from that author, who died in 2007. This was not the first new, posthumous material of his we’ve read either. It happens often in popular music too. It seems every month we’re learning about the discovery of one “previously unreleased recording” or another. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, when author Shirley Jackson, who died in 1965, had a “new” short story in the most recent issue of The New Yorker magazine.

I have mixed feelings about all this. If I’m a fan of the artist, of course I’m curious about these “unknown” works, but am also tempted to be skeptical as to their quality. For what reason were they never published? Did the author himself feel they needed more polish? Did he decide to abandon the idea of publishing or selling a finished story because it just didn’t turn out the way he wanted? There has to be at least a small percentage of posthumously posted works that are ready, though, and only haven’t been published due to the fickleness of fate. I’d like to think that this “new” Shirley Jackson story would be part of that small percentage.

(below: Shirley Jackson – photo from shirleyjackson.org)


“It had been an exceptionally good day, altogether, and Mr. Beresford walked along swiftly, humming to himself.”

The story, “Paranoia,” documents an ordinary man’s extraordinary commute home from work. Mr. Beresford is smugly pleased with himself, having remembered his wife’s birthday for instance, and also to pickup her favorite candy as a gift before heading home. Sadly, this lunch-pail variety “hubris” will not be tolerated by the unexplained evil forces at large in his world. His paranoia begins with the discovery that he is being followed by “a man with a light hat and a thin mustache.” Afterward, no matter what path he takes, or what mode of transportation (bus, cab, subway, walking) he chooses, he sees the same man or others who appear to be his operatives. (It reminded me of the old joke about the guy who says, “It’s not that I’m paranoid, it’s just that everyone is out to get me!”) Will he make it home safely, and what will he find when he gets there? These are the questions that propel the reader forward in the short story.

I haven’t read much Shirley Jackson, though her classic short story “The Lottery” is one of my favorites – and perhaps without that story, the world may never have known the literary and cinematic pleasures of The Hunger Games trilogy, which had to find some inspiration from “The Lottery.” Her book “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” had been on my TBR list for far too long. Perhaps it’s finally time to read that one… What do you think of Shirley Jackson? Which of her works have you read? How do you feel about literary resurrection-ists? Do you read The New Yorker? I’m a relatively recent e-subscriber (it was the unlimited access to their vast archive that got me, admittedly mostly for the short stories).



There was an interesting interview with Jackson’s son regarding the discovery of this – and other – unknown works. It may be found here. A good summarizing quotation about this story from the piece was: 

“The story explores one of her common themes, the gradual realization of no escape, where the horror is that there is no help coming, no way out, no relief from any direction.”

(Below: that great literary/cinematic resurrection-ist from Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” Jerry Cruncher <on the left> played by Billy Bevan in the1935 movie adaptation)


“Bread and Circuses” – Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  One of the many benefits of my joining the blogging community this year is that I’ve been made aware of many more books than in previous years.  This book, and the Hunger Games Series was frequently touted by the book blogs that I browse.  It’s another YA book (I seem to have read a lot of them this year: Beastly, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Twilight, etc.) that is told in the first person by a young, teenaged girl.  Maybe hard for me to relate to – but this was a good, quick-moving story that held my attention.

Described in one place online as “Gladiator meets Project Runway” (well, that’s catchy but not really accurate), it is a “dystopian novel” set in a future North America, where the tyrannical capital city oppresses twelve provinces (“Districts”) that once had the audacity to rebel, an action that reduced the number of districts from thirteen to twelve.  As punishment, there is an annual “Hunger Games” where two youths (one boy, one girl) from each district are chosen (by a complicated lottery) to participate in a battle to the death (nice central government, huh?).  The result is an imaginative story which, though not wholly original in concept, is very well done (reminiscent of, for example, the Theseus & the Minotaur myths, with similarities to the gladiator contests of ancient Rome, with bloodthirsty tv audiences – think of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, The Running Man.  I was also reminded of the classic Shirley Jackson short story, The Lottery).

Oh, and the term “Bread and Circuses” comes down to us from the original satirist, Decimus Junius Juvenalis (commonly known as Juvenal) who lived in the 1st & 2nd Century A.D. who lamented that the once great Roman populace who “once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddle no more and long eagerly for just two things – bread and circuses.”  Read “gladiatorial games” for circuses.  This is a sentiment those in the Capital City of “Panem” (the fictional country in these novels) would be familiar with.  In fact (wow) I just realized that panem is the latin word for bread, as in “panem et circenses”… I’m sure that’s intentional.  At least I think I am.

below: a close-up of Katniss’s “Mockingjay” pin.  In the novels, the Mockingjay is a new species of bird, resulting from the unintended breeding of the government’s genetically engineered “Jabber Jays” and female Mockingbirds.

The book is the first of three in the series, followed by Catching Fire (which I’ve already downloaded and begun reading) and Mockingjay, which was released just over a month ago, and for which the buzz about pointed me to Hunger Games.  I won’t spoil any more of the plot in this post, but I would recommend it as an entertaining and diverting read, no matter what your age.

Author Suzanne Collins