Several months ago I pulled the Appalling Stories four-book series from publication. There are a few physical copies available from Amazon, but that’s it. I did this because sales were low across the board, particularly for the later volumes. The cost of advertising and paying tiny royalties, plus the tax burden, made yanking them from the store an easy decision.
And yet there’s good work in there. So Ray Zacek and I collated our favorite individual stories from the entire series, added some new ones, and included the novella Escape from Trumplandia to create a new book called The Best of Appalling Stories: Tales from the Wrong Side of History. This volume includes an excellent foreword from Gordon Kushner, host of the podcast Another Bleeping Podcast. I’m proud of the book: it has several stories that I’d hate to see vanish, particularly my Her Bodies, Her Choice and Ray’s Detainer, both of which do exactly what a short story is supposed to do.
The new stories include Ray’s crime joint Wet City, which includes the unforgettable character Thugga T, and Happy Wife, Happy Life by me. I’d been working on and off on Happy Wife, Happy Life for some time; it was originally intended to be part of 2017’s Appalling Stories release under the title Bully, but I couldn’t come up with an ending that satisfied either me or the reader, so I scrapped it in favor of Cultural Overtones. It sat for years in a drawer before I could develop a conclusion to the thing, something that wrapped up the story while unsettling the reader, and in that I succeeded.
Sometimes, what’s interesting about a Best Of collection is what isn’t included. I didn’t include the bee stories, of which there are three, because some day I’d like to fold them into a short novel. If you’ve read The Bitterness of Honey, Dear Dad from the now-defunct CinderQ literary magazine, or My Lai, you know how strange they are; they should be (bee) together in some lengthier format. So they were out. Cultural Overtones, while it said what I wanted it to say, never seemed to grab anybody; the concept was there, the story worked, but for whatever reason it wasn’t a notable work. Ray originally wanted to leave out his The Orishas, but I persuaded him otherwise because it’s such a good, fun story that sticks with you.
We had to include my Deprogram and Ray’s Obsolete Man, because they remain topical years later. The majority of the blurbs we got for the entire series describe how the stories are prophetic, which is true on a certain level: we took cultural trends and extended them to their logical conclusions. Our driving intent, however, was to entertain readers by turning the people you’re not supposed to make fun of into antagonists. If there’s a protected class, we wanted to skewer it, and we did.
The one story I waffled on including was my Bake Me a Cake: it either turns you off the book completely or has you snickering. It was originally the first story in the first volume of the Appalling Stories series, and set the tone for the book being aggressively anti-PC. As broad satire, the point was to be on-the-nose and in-your-face. It’s the “go big or go home” of Appalling Stories, and I’m still proud of it. So it’s in. It’s supposed to disgust you.
Whether you find the themes troubling or not, The Best of Appalling Stories is an entertaining foray into the current cultural moment. I think you’ll enjoy it.