Dan Chaon's Haunting Identities

The scariest ghost stories don't howl and thunder--they stalk and whisper. PRI: Selected Shorts recently posted the audio of Boyd Gaines reading Dan Chaon's "The Bees," a grownup horror story that stalks both the protagonist and the listener. The hour-long podcast, titled "A Tale of Terror," is apparently timed to celebrate our October cavities-and-hooker-costumes holiday, but the story would be equally scary by a midsummer campfire.

Harken to "The Bees"
Chaon avoids foreshadowing of the heavy-stomping school. His most unsettling moments are created with creepily delicate language, like the unforgettable "little wet mandibles" at Minute 50, language which carries you with unwanted beauty through the climax of the story. Once you get to the end of "The Bees," you should go back to the first section to fully appreciate the horrific symmetry of the final image. For relief, the last few minutes of the podcast feature a calm discussion between host Isaiah Sheffer and Dan Chaon on eeriness in the short story (interview audio only). The full-length podcast won't be available for free downloading past mid-November 2009, so hustle your trick-or-treat cursor over to iTunes and get Selected Shorts' "A Tale of Terror" podcast from 10/19/09 before the copyright curfew takes it away.

The B's Have It
The text of the opening paragraphs of "The Bees" can be read on McSweeney's website. The story was commissioned by Michael Chabon for McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales (spooky spelling trivia: take the "bee" out of Chabon and you get Chaon!). In this interview in "The Believer" Chaon talks about his earlier books and reveals that some of his inspiration for "The Bees" came from a song with the same title by Belly.

"The Shepherdess" and The Internet
Chaon's "The Shepherdess" is not a horror tale in flounces, but an interestingly structured short story about the difference between noticing and perceiving. His most recent novel, Await Your Reply, twists identity, geography, and time into a head-spinning recombination. Reviews of Await Your Reply have called it "the first great novel about the Internet" and "mesmerizing." I have yet to find a suitable podcast interview that doesn't hint too much at the novel's ending (I'm spoiler-phobic), so for now if you want to listen to Chaon's fiction you'll have to stick to "The Bees" from PRI: Selected Shorts (but download it soon). Once you've read Await Your Reply, and cannot be despoiled of its surprises, I highly recommend reading these interviews with Chaon at Bookslut and The Millions.


Justine Larbalestier on Liar's True Colors

Last summer the cover photo of a teenage girl on the advance reader copies (ARCs) of the American edition of Justine Larbalestier's Liar caused consternation. The first-person narrator vows to stop lying on page one, and describes herself as biracial in the first ten pages--yet the ARC cover image was of an unambiguously caucasian girl. The extra doubt suggested by the cover threatened to overbalance the delicately pitched reliability of Liar's narrator from the get-go.

Pre-Publication Alarm
Early readers and reviewers cried foul--what possible justification was there for putting a white face on the cover of a book narrated by a biracial teenager? The publisher, Bloomsbury Children's Books, did the right thing and re-shot the image (you can see the white and black covers in this article at Publisher's Weekly). The new cover is both a happy ending for Liar's US edition and the beginning of an important discussion about book marketing and race. The author does a great job of starting this discussion in an audio interview with CBC's Q radio that was recorded shortly after the cover redo, and also on her blog.

Listen to Larbalestier
You can listen to Larbalestier's interview online at CBC's (unchronological!) Q archive page--search for the podcast for August 28, 2009, and if you're not a Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries fan, fast forward to Minute 20, or about 25% of the way across audio bar. You can also download the audio of the Cranberries/Liar interview from CBC's Q podcast on iTunes (and kudos to CBC for keeping archived podcasts available for more than a month). Again, the Larbalestier interview begins at Minute 20 and lasts about 20 minutes.