The Full English

I can’t possibly understate how pleased I was to learn that Strange Weather won the British Fantasy Award for Best Collection last weekend. The British Fantasy community was really my first literary home, back in the early days when I couldn’t sell a story to an American publisher to save my life. I’m not sure what I’d be without people like Peter Crowther and Andy Cox and Stephen Jones and Neil Gaiman and the late, lovely Graham Joyce (who took me under his wing at my very first British FantasyCon). Well, no, I do know what I’d be: unpublished.

The other honorees this year included Neil for Norse Mythology and the legendary Tanith Lee with Tanith by Choice. Then there was Sofia Samatar with Tender — I love Sofia’s short fiction so much I included not one but two stories by her in The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy — and my former Clarion student Malcolm Devlin for You Will Grow Into Them. A prize from your peers is delightful… but a great read is even better, and you can’t go wrong with any of the above offerings. Go give one a try, why don’t’cha?

Old Man Shouts At Strangers

(Photo – Tom Haxby)

I was in Traverse City, Michigan, a couple weeks ago, where I had the chance to be a part of the National Writers Series and sit down with one of my literary heroes, legendary crime novelist Loren D. Estleman. I’m embarrassed that I neglected to mention the Michigan stop here in my newsletter, but word got around anyway, and we had a great crowd. My thanks to everyone who turned up, and I’m especially grateful to Loren for being such a kind host and thoughtful interviewer.

I don’t want to forget to mention these other upcoming appearances:

You can find me at the Forbidden Planet Megastore in London on October 27th, at 3PM, where I’ll be signing in the company of M.R. Carey, Allison Littlewood, Catriona Ward, Robert Shearman, Laura Purcell, George Mann, and Marie O’ Regan, to supportPhantoms, an anthology assembled by Marie herself. I’ll be signing that book and my other titles, although if there’s a really big turnout, you may be limited in the number of books you can get autographed.

As it happens, we’re sitting down to sign right after a 1PM mass autograph session for Stephen Jones’s The Mammoth Book of Halloween Stories and The Mammoth Book of Vampire Stories by Women, which features Pat Cadigan, Christopher Fowler, Stephen Jones and others. I’m not at that earlier signing, but damn, I don’t know how you can miss it. You can’t, can you? I guess you’re just going to have to do both.

AND THEN

on Sunday November 4th, I’ll be at the Bedford Public Library, in Bedford, New Hampshire, at 6:15, for a talk, a Q&A and a signing. Come on out and say hi, won’t you?

Built To Last

Paul Simon said an interesting thing in an NPR interview a couple weeks back. He suggested the proof of a song’s quality is if it hangs around for a hundred years. I’ve been thinking about the notion ever since, trying to figure out which tunes from the rock-and-roll era were built to last for a century. Are there any songs from that period that I think my great-great-grandchildren will be able to sing along to, because they’ll know all the words?

Finally, I couldn’t help myself and I made a list of ten tracks that both define the rock-and-roll era, and which I believe are destined to transcend it (Apparently I’m not the only person who found Simon’s remarks intriguing — Slate has a list of their own, marking out twenty-five songs from the last quarter century that they think might hang on another seventy-five years). I present my picks below.

Did I miss something crucial? Think I called it wrong? You can hit me up on Twitter and tell me all about how I blew it. I probably won’t get back to you there, but it’s always possible I’ll reprint some comments (with permission) here.

1. “Hey Jude” – The Beatles
Simply the most beloved piano melody of the 20th century, isn’t it?
2. “Imagine” – John Lennon
The “Amazing Grace” of the Rock Age. As I made this list, what struck me is how many of these songs could be included in a church songbook. Our best loved songs almost always play a spiritual chord, touching on our desire to rise above the compromises and the pettiness of everyday life, to connect with something bigger than ourselves.3. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Simon & Garfunkel
When Simon said he thought the mark of a classic song was that it had the legs to last a century, he added he believed he had been fortunate enough to write one or two on that level. I agree: this is another for the rock and roll hymnal.
4. “Johnny B. Goode” – Chuck Berry
John Lennon once said if rock and roll had another name, it would be, simply, “Chuck Berry.” Certainly, if you were going to try and explain rock and roll to an alien, you’d probably start with this number… and in fact that’s exactly what us humans did. “Johnny B. Goode” was included on the golden record we shot into space on the Voyager probe. They’ll be rockin’ on Altair-5 before you know it.5. “With or Without You” – U2
This is the most recent entry on the list — at just thirty years old, it’s practically a baby. It’s another come-to-church singalong (on the Joshua Tree tour, U2 often brought local choirs onstage to perform the harmonies) which is why I feel confident about its likely longevity. As with most of the other songs on this list, it speaks to something in the human character that is moved by the devotional, the holy. (Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” is another of that sort, but it’s too early to say if it has a good chance to pass the century test)6. “We Will Rock You” – Queen
Clap clap STOMP. Clap clap STOMP. They’ll be doing that in stadiums in 2077 for sure.

7. “Blowin’ in the Wind” – Bob Dylan
8. “The Times, They Are A-Changin'” – Bob Dylan
If “Imagine” was the “Amazing Grace” of the rock and roll period, then Bob Dylan provided us with the “This Land Is Your Land” of the era… not once, but twice. There are Dylan songs I personally like better, but these are the ones people will still know in 2064. (And, hey, as with several of these tunes, it’s kind of hard to argue they won’t last a century, right? These two are both now well over fifty years old, and there’s no sign they’re in any danger of being forgotten)
9. “RESPECT” – by Aretha Franklin
If you wanted to argue this isn’t a rock song — that it’s actually soul — I’d tell you those genres are (or used to be) one and the same. Soul was rock; the Beatles often covered the black girl bands out of Motown, and Ray Charles did a definitive cover of “Eleanor Rigby.” This was the defining anthem of 20th century feminism, and will always be a the ultimate take-no-shit rave-up.
10. “Sympathy For the Devil” – The Rolling Stones
Begin with the Beatles, end with the Stones. “Sympathy for the Devil” is a leering, seductive character study of the devil himself, and I think it’ll hang around for a hundred years because it comes across less like classic rock, more like classic literature. The devil was taunting us before rock and roll ever got going; he’ll be with us after rock and roll is gone.(all photographs courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party

Election Day is nearly upon us — come the first week of November it’ll be time to do your civic duty, step into the voting booth, and try and make the world a little less screwed-up. Then we can all go back to more enjoyable pursuits… like reading.

But waitaminute, what if you could combine activism WITH your throbbing book love? Emily’s List is there for you. Assuming you support their progressive, pro-choice politics (I don’t assume it), go throw ’em a Jackson, and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a stack of books by some of the most amazing female novelists of the day. I’m talking about Celeste Ng, Curtis Sittenfeld, Jodi Picoult, and more. Sometimes democracy is sweet.

I got no more talk in me, and I’ve bent your ear long enough. Here’s hoping you’re happy, well, and have a good book going. I just read a hell of a thriller, No Exit by Taylor Adams, but that one isn’t out until January (I had an Advance Readers Copy), so you’ll just have to make a note and wait. Are you all staying current on The Good Place? Do we all agree Greta Van Fleet are the hardest rocking amigos this side of The Black Keys, and the critics who hate ’em can suck it? Hold the horns high, keep a hot paperback in your back pocket, and I’ll be back to bother you in a couple weeks.