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Grailing, No. 7


The Horse Killer, Part 2 in a serialized and gritty novella by Joe Kilgore

Sunrise on Florida Bay, new poetry from Catherine Duncan

Ex, poetry of memory by Catherine Duncan

Interstellar Porn, an excerpt from Anthony Valerio's new novel

150 Novels..., a Literary List curated by Poet-in-Residence Ben Niles

***An important announcement from Grailing Press—our first novel, Confessions of an Aspiring Pornographer, by Anthony Valerio, will debut on Tuesday, August 6th. Buy it at or check it out on Amazon.***

The Horse Killer, Part 2

Joe Kilgore

“Flies are born to be eaten by spiders

and man to be devoured by sorrow.”

-- Voltaire

Chapter 4

Raven left Alpine after Red had been fed, watered, and rested. He didn’t mind camping on the trail that night. He was used to it. What he wasn’t used to—what he couldn’t get his head around—was the dead horse he saw and the vicious treatment of the ones he heard about. Sure, there were people who treated animals cruelly—people who felt they were just dumb beasts, only here to do whatever work that men couldn’t or didn’t want to do on their own. But what he saw and what he heard seemed different. There seemed to be a level of violence and malice involved beyond proportion. The more he thought about it, the less inclined he was to simply let it go. If Daniels was responsible, he wasn’t sure there was anything he could do about it legally. A man’s horse was a man’s property. He could pretty much do whatever he liked with it. But maybe Daniels’s brutish nature wasn’t confined only to livestock. There was that incident with the branding iron. And there was still the matter of the cabin busted all to hell. What about the couple that sold to Daniels? Did anyone know their whereabouts, or what might have happened to them? Too many questions, Raven said to Red. Won’t hurt to take a day or so and find some answers.

He made good time that afternoon and before the sun went down Raven spotted dinner shading itself below the yellow blossoms of a ratama fifteen yards ahead of him. Still astride Red, he quietly pulled his rifle from its saddle-scabbard, aimed, and ended the hardscrabble life of that particular diamondback rattler. Luckily, there was enough left of the sidewinder to roast that evening and assuage the Ranger’s hunger before he retired.

Lying on half a blanket, with the other half pulled over him to keep the night’s chill at bay, Raven contemplated the eventual discussion he’d have with his Captain. The one where he’d need to explain the thinking behind his priorities. Some might say theft from a railroad was a lot more important than dead or mistreated horses. They might ask what the hell was he doing sashaying off on his own when he wasn’t even sure any laws had been broken. Maybe those settlers left of their own accord. Maybe a storm took the cabin and that was their last straw. Maybe the mare went loco and kept pounding her own head into something she shouldn’t have. Maybe the law was sticking its nose where it didn’t belong.

Yes, Raven thought…some might say all those things, but as he looked over at Red, noted the slope of his muzzle, watched his nostrils expand and contract, then listened to him snort while his big black eyes scanned the darkness; Raven lost no more sleep over what some might say.

The following morning he came upon a towering wooden structure straddling a trail that lead to a grove of cottonwoods and sycamores in the distance. Ponderosa pine logs formed an arch over the trail and in the center pole a circle with the letters D R had been carved. This must be the place, Raven muttered to Red as he crossed under the arch and headed up the trail. It took him a quarter of an hour before he eventually cleared the grove and came up on the other side atop a ridge. He could make out shapes of buildings and corrals on the horizon, but he guessed it would be another quarter hour before he reached them. Easing Red into a canter, he headed their way.

The main house was a long, multi-level adobe structure fronted by rows of neatly trimmed sage and huisache. An iron gate in the middle of a waist-high wall contained the same D R brand Raven had seen at the entrance to the trail. He tied Red to one of the four hitching rails a few feet in front of the wall and proceeded to the gate. Before he got there an old Mexican who had been sitting in the shade on the other side of the barrier rose and spoke.

“Hola, señor. Necesitas ayuda?”

“I’d like to see Mr. Daniels.”

“What is your business, por favor?”

“My business is with Mr. Daniels.”

“Sí, I understand. But el jefe, he tell me to always inquire before I let someone enter.”

“He does, does he? Well, what’s to keep me from just throwing my leg over this partition and walking in?”

“El jefe would not like that, señor, and it might not go well for you…but it would go even worse for me.”

Remembering what the bartender had said about Daniels and the ranch hand, Raven had no desire to put the old man in jeopardy. “Alright. Tell Mr. Daniels a Texas Ranger is here to see him.”

“Oh, A Texas Ranger. Sí, sí, señor! I will tell. Only be momento,” he said as he scurried through the patio and into the main house.

While he waited, Raven surveyed the area. Off to one side, approximately fifty yards from the main dwelling, there was a bunkhouse. It looked adequate for housing a dozen men or more. In the other direction, a huge barn with multiple connecting corrals must have covered an acre and a half. The Sheriff was right, Raven concluded, this Daniels was one wealthy man. The question remained, was he really a mean son of a bitch? Less than three minutes had passed when the old man hustled back, pulled open the gate, and said, “Please, señor, come…come follow me.”

“Gracias, amigo,” Raven replied, stepping onto a massive rose and blue Oriental rug that ran the length of the huge room. On one side of it, a plush upholstered settee was against the wall. Above it, an artist’s rendering of a six-point white tail buck in a desert clearing stared out at onlookers. Opposite, a fireplace was flanked by two leather armchairs. Over the hearth was a painting of one of the most recognizable missions in Texas—the Alamo. No battle scene was depicted. It wasn’t necessary. Raven, like every other Texan, knew what transpired there. The Ranger was studying the painting as a voice behind him spoke.

“I’m Hiram Daniels. Carlos tells me you’re a Ranger.”

As is often the case, the voice didn’t match the mental picture Raven had painted in his mind of the wealthy landowner. Nor did the actual man himself. Raven had expected a big, burly heap of a man—physically large in girth and height—the kind of man whose rugged exterior intimidates anyone with trouble in mind. Daniels was a bit of the opposite. Shorter than Raven, this man was slender of frame. Pale skin cut a wide valley of baldness over his skull and the graying hair on either side was neatly trimmed. He wore wire-rimmed spectacles that made his blue eyes look larger than normal. Under his nose a pencil thin mustache added to Raven’s misapprehension of the man he had expected to find. No sidearm was visible. Yet following his initial greeting, Daniels turned to close the pocket doors through which he had entered and Raven saw a sheathed knife affixed to his belt. Maybe the knife that gutted the hound.

“That’s right, Mr. Daniels. My name is Raven Comstock. Like to see if you could help me clear up a couple of things.”

“One of my hands gotten himself into trouble, has he?”

“Not really sure. That’s one of the things I‘d like to find out.”

“Well, if we’re going to engage in interrogatives, might I offer you something to drink, Mr. Comstock? A whiskey or tequila perhaps?”

“I wouldn’t turn down a whiskey,” Raven said.

“Nor do I very often,” Daniels added, as he walked over to a side table replete with bottles and glasses. He poured two drinks and handed one to Raven saying, “Here’s to better days.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Raven replied. And they did.

“Please, have a seat,” Daniels said, motioning to one of the chairs by the fireplace. He took the other one. “Now,” he said, “you’ve had my whiskey, so what the hell else do you want?”

Raven remained stoic. “I have a couple of questions to ask you.”

“Go ahead.”

“Did you recently purchase a cabin and the surrounding land just outside of Alpine? I believe the previous owner’s name was Jorgenson.”

“I did.”

“Have you actually taken control of that place yet?”

“The deal is done.”

“I need to know if you’ve been out there since buying it.”


“Why is that?”

“I buy a lot of things. I get to each of them in due time.”

“Have you sent any of your men to look over the place.”

“I have not.”

“Aren’t you curious about what you bought?”

“As I said, I’ll get to it eventually.”

“Are you familiar with the settlers who owned the place before you?”

“No. I never met them.”

“Not even at the sale?”

“My lawyer, J. W. Lundquist, of Alpine, handles my acquisitions.”

“Are you sure none of your boys, or you personally, have been to the Jorgenson’s since you acquired the property?

“Do you have a hearing problem, Mr….”

“Comstock. Raven Comstock. No sir, I do not.”

“Memory fading, is it Mr. Comstock?”

“I assure you, I’m in possession of all my faculties.”

“Then why are you asking me a question I’ve already answered? Do you think me a liar?”

“I have no opinion regarding that, Mr. Daniels. I merely ask a second time to make sure your recollection is firm. Experience has taught that some individuals get their facts mixed up from time to time.”

“Yes, well do you have experience talking to me, Mr. Comstock?”

“Only the disagreeable period which had unfolded up to now.”

Daniels grunted before he replied. “Sarcasm, Mr. Comstock? I have found that sarcasm is generally the last refuge of someone who simply doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.”

“It’s usually the first refuge with me, Mr. Daniels. I don’t think you want to become acquainted with the last.”

“Look, damn it! I’ve got better things to do than sit here and jaw with you. If you’ve got something to say…something to accuse me, or my men of…well, just spit it out! And let’s stop this amateurish cross-examination.”

Raven had tired of taking the diplomatic approach himself. “Fine. Here it is. I was at that spread you recently purchased. The place was deserted. Cabin torn all to hell. Nobody in sight. Corral empty and unlocked. There was a dead horse close by. Looked like it had been dead a day or two. And it didn’t die naturally. Its head was bashed in. Literally cracked here and there, possibly by an ax. Next day I’m in Alpine and I hear stories of you buying the place. I also hear you’re pretty damned harsh when it comes to animals. Maybe you like to brutalize them. Maybe it’s not just four-footed critters you lose your temper with. Maybe you or someone you know has done something to the Jorgensens as well.”

The pause that followed was long. Then Daniels said, “Let me get this straight. You’re here harassing me even though you have no first-hand knowledge of anything actually happening to those farmers. You have no one saying that I did anything bad to them or any animals on that place. You’re bracing me because you’ve got some stupid Swedes you can’t locate and a dead horse you happened to find. I tell you what, Ranger Comstock, why don’t you just get out of my house and off my land until you know for sure that some law has actually been broken by me or any of the men in my employ.”

Raven rose slowly to his feet. He put his empty glass on the mantle and said, “Giving you the benefit of the doubt, you probably can’t keep up with all the comings and goings of your hands. I’d like to speak with some of your boys before I go.”

Daniels then stood and put his glass on the mantle as well. “Just to facilitate this inquiry and bring it to a conclusion, we can check with my foreman, Bob Rambis. It’s his job to know where everyone is and what every man’s doing. The last thing I need is having my men lollygagging around waiting to answer your questions rather than doing the work I pay them to do.”

“Let’s talk to your foreman, then.” Raven replied.

Daniels yelled for Carlos who had apparently been just outside the room. When he entered, the rancher told him to go to the bunkhouse and bring Rambis back. The Mexican responded immediately.

“He’ll be here in a minute,” Daniels said. “I’m going to have another drink. Do you care for one?

“I’ll pass.”

“You don’t like me much, do you?” Daniels asked, filling his own glass again.

“Frankly, I don’t care for most of the people I run into in my line of work.”

“Those in town like to bad-mouth me, don’t they?”

“Just the ones I talked to.”

“They like my money being spent in their stores and saloons, I bet.”

“I expect they do.”

“Envious, that’s what they are. Envious. And incapable of scratching anything together for themselves. Can you imagine what would happen to that town without the money my ranch spreads around there?”

“I’m not in the imagination business.”

“Neither it seems are you in the law business. Do you have some personal reason for pursuing this?”

“Just want to make sure no crime has been committed. Sorry if it’s inconvenient.”

“Well, it damn sure is,” Daniels said, finishing his drink and plopping the glass back on the mantel. Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait very long for the foreman to arrive. When he did, Daniels spoke first.

“This is a Texas Ranger. He wants to know if any of our boys have been out to that farmer’s place I recently bought.”

“Not that I know of,” Rambis answered.

“Keep a good eye on them, do you?” Raven asked.

“An eagle eye. I work ‘em hard and watch ‘em close. That’s what Mr. Daniels pays me for.”

“How about Mr. Daniels?” Raven said. “Keep tabs on where your boss goes?”

“Nope. He’s the boss. Wherever he goes is none of my business.”

“You’ll have to excuse Ranger Comstock,” Daniels interjected. “He’s got a tick up his long johns because he can’t find the hayseeds that sold the property. The cabin’s apparently been busted up, and a stupid mount apparently got itself killed. The Ranger thinks some degenerate whomped the beast to death.”

“Really,” the foreman responded. “That’s funny.”

“You think so?” Raven asked with an edge.

“Well…no…not funny…I mean it’s kind of strange…kind of odd, you know.”

“No. I don’t know.” Raven said. “What’s odd about it?”

“Well, I mean, what happened to the horse and all. Cause you know, Dunstan, he just got back from Marfa. You remember, Mr. Daniels, we sent him into town to pick up those post hole diggers.”

“Yes. I remember. What about it?”

“Well, when he got back, just a little while ago, he was telling the rest of the hands about the damndest thing that happened. He said the storekeeper there told him that the night before, somebody had come through town and shot a big white horse dead, right there in the street.”

Before Raven could speak, Daniels jumped in. “Shot a big white horse? What are you talking about?

“That’s what Dunstan said the storekeeper said,” Rambis went on. “He said the night before, way after sundown, when everyone was either drinking in the saloon or home in bed, somebody rode through town and blew this horse…who was hitched outside…actually blew his head almost plumb off with a shotgun.”

“Damn,” Daniels said. That must have been something to see.”

The look Raven gave the rancher could have spooked a gravedigger. Then he turned to the foreman and said, “Do they know who did it?”

“Not according to Dunstan. He was told by the time everyone had run outside to see what the commotion was, the street was full of blood and nobody was in sight. Whoever done it must have just been riding by, plugged the nag, then kept right on going. Sounds like damn fool kids to me. Or wild-eyed drunks. You think?”

“Did this Dunstan give you the name of the storekeeper?” Raven asked.

“Hell, there’s only one store in Marfa. Only one saloon too. That’s why you can get in and out of it so fast. Guess that’s why they didn’t try to chase the ones that done it. Course, maybe they was all too drunk to give a shit. I don’t know.”

“Surely you’re not going to try to blame that episode on me or my hands as well, are you, Ranger? Or do you need Carlos and the others to come in and tell you where we all were last night?”

“That won’t be necessary,” Raven answered.

Daniels made no attempt to hide his irritation. “No, I guess it damn sure won’t be necessary, will it?”

Turning to the rancher, Raven said, “I’ll be on my way now. And not that I think it will do much good…you’re probably as set in your ways as I am in mine…but you ought to at least consider that you’ll get more out of your stock by treating them well rather than ill. That goes for your men too.”

“I don’t think I need any advice on how to run this ranch, especially from a saddle bum with nothing more than a badge to his name.”

“Let me be plain.” Raven said. “In the future, I do not want to hear that you’ve been blinding horses, killing dogs, or maiming human beings. If I do hear such, I will be back and you will find that encounter much more unpleasant than this one.”

Daniels’s came back quickly. “I do not respond well to threats, sir, particularly in my own house.”

“If you prefer, we can go outside and I’ll repeat what I just said.”

“Carlos! Show this…Ranger…out!”

Raven followed Carlos out of the house and was almost to where Red was tied when he heard a voice bark behind him.

“Hey, you. Ranger! Hold up a minute.”

Rambis was striding toward Raven like he was on a mission. Whether he was under orders or whether he was acting on his own initiative Raven didn’t know—and he didn’t really care.

The foreman said, “Listen, nobody talks to Mr. Daniels that way.”

“I just did,” Raven replied. “Maybe you missed it.”

“I didn’t miss a damn thing. You got a big mouth. Maybe someone ought to close it for you. Someone like me.”

To punctuate his point, the foreman raised his arm with his thumb extended and tapped his own chest, as if to imply he was more than up to the task. He didn’t get to imply anything else. Quick as a cat, Raven grabbed Rambis by his raised wrist. Simultaneously he kicked the foreman’s leg out from under him and rode him to the ground bending the man’s arm behind his back and pushing it up to the point of breaking.

“Here’s the thing, cowboy. If you want to keep this arm out of a sling, then this little parlay ends now.”

The side of the foreman’s face was in the dirt. He was tasting grit but all he could feel was the electric pain racing up his arm. The last thing he wanted was to give in. But the next to last thing he wanted was a busted wing.

“Okay,” he grimaced, exhaliing a cloud of soot. “Okay. Just let me up.”

Raven pulled the handgun from the foreman’s holster and tossed it over the retaining wall. Then he pulled Rambis to his feet, and still with a tight grip on his arm he said, “If you like, you can go back in the house and tell your boss how you made me eat crow. Maybe he’ll believe it. But he’ll be a damn site more likely to believe it if your arm ain’t cracked and hanging limp at your side. Comprende?”

“Yeah, alright,” Rambis squeezed between shallow breaths. “Just let my damn arm go.”

Raven obliged. Then as the foreman held and rubbed his arm, the Ranger looked him in the eye and said, “It’s never good to let your mouth overload your ass. Figured a man your age would have known that by now. Course I’m constantly amazed at what some folks never learn.”

Then Raven turned to Carlos who had witnessed the altercation and was having trouble hiding the grin on his face. “Adios,” he told the Mexican as he mounted Red and reined him away from the house.

“Adios,” Carlos replied. “Vaya con dios.”

In spite of what Raven had told Daniels, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be back this way. Raven had a feeling that answers, if there were any, lay ahead of him in Marfa.

Editors Note: This is Part 2 of a six-part serialization of The Horse Killer. New parts will appear sequentially in future issues of Grailing. Check back for new installments.

Joe Kilgore is an award-winning writer of novels, novellas, screenplays, and short stories. His work has appeared in magazines, creative journals, anthologies, and online literary publications. Prior to developing his own work for page and screen, Joe created television, radio, newspaper, and magazine advertising for an international advertising agency. He lives and writes in Austin, Texas. You can learn more about Joe and his work at his website:


Sunrise on Florida Bay

by Catherine Duncan

Bright driving light bursts

between floating shades and dust

playing hide and seek

Watching clouds pass by

secondary images

spark the imagination

Rookery music

susurration surround sound

vernal orchestra

Dawn awakening

porpoise corral their breakfast

wonderful, alive

Subtle, you arrive

spraying your vast array of

brilliant color

Mangrove island keys

beckon to my beating soul

dress Buttonwood Sound



by Catherine Duncan

Gentle old soul you have become Far from your days of liquor and fun Days when enraged we battled in lust we loved impassioned to travel with thumbs in the air to places of serenity just you and me, wild and free Now we are older having gone in different ways, with differing expectations of life Now weathered by stress and achievements, failures and successes Peace is what obsesses in our minds remembering times From long ago

Catherine Duncan is a retired English teacher who now devotes her time to writing. Her poetry is inspired by experiences with people, life situations, and the natural world. Catherine enjoys running and sailing which also inspire her writing. She loves “being out there” — on a body of water, in the woods, on a trail, or hiking a mountain. Catherine makes her debut in Grailing Press.


Interstellar Porn

by Anthony Valerio

The Village Voice’s back cover contained service ads for message therapists, mainly Asian women, tattoo artists, psychotherapists, and many more unique purveyors. These ads were printed opposite Help Wanted Ads and looked legitimate, providing snapshots of smiling masseuses and their specialties with phone numbers. Two Help Wanted listings captured my attention. A major paperback publisher, NewWorldEncycs. Inc., was interviewing researches and writers for their new encyclopedia series excerpting the World Classics, and it granted in-person interviews. All sorts of businesses hired writers to write about their products. For example, tobacco companies paid well to write précis about how good smoking cigarettes is for you. I’d even had one of my tobacco entries accepted and then felt a twinge in my lungs. If I could write about tobacco, I could excerpt a literary classic. So I set down my copy of the Voice and set out for NewWorldEncycs.

Midtown, north of the Fourteenth Parallel, I walked. For me and perhaps other Villagers, uptown was tantamount to a distant planet. We dressed as though going to a funeral. Our own. Our behavior was how we behaved with our grandmothers. Discreet, polite, superficial. Interstellar Porn, what it may look like:

A kiss, a deep kiss that practically goes right through you. Two bodies crushing. Siren-like effusions of ecstasy resound 'round the galaxies. ‘There…H-o-m-e...yeeahh...! ’Wally Gregory jaunts around the stars naked, holding a flag aloft with a large red heart in the center. At NewWorldEncycs Inc., I sat across the desk from a tall fellow with a two-day old beard and thinning hair and perfect posture, sitting still in a swivel chair. Square shoulders. Smiling eyes. Trilling voice. He said:

"Dr. Nils Johansen here. Norwegian by birth and raised in a family of anti-Nazi underground fighters in Oslo who emigrated to the U.S. after the war. Thank you for coming in. Tell me a little about yourself."

An amused smile surfaced to his eyes.

“Well, my paternal grandfather's brother, Walter, my namesake, manufactured anti-Fascist flags in Brooklyn and shipped them all over the United States. It’s said Walter Sr. was involved in a plot to assassinate Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta. I wrote a short story about it. Walter Sr. lived with his brother but was in the habit of walking around in only his underwear. His niece, Saint Lucy, a little girl then, also lived there. Gramps warned his brother a plethora of times to put on a pair of pants in the morning because his balls were hanging out and his daughter Lucy was at an impressionable age. But uncle wouldn't stop parading around in his undies, half exposing himself. Finally, Grandpa Tomaso had to kick him out. But Walter Sr. kept manufacturing anti-fascist flags, we didn't know where from. You might know, the great novelist Alexandre Dumas Père manufactured red shirts for Garibaldi's soldiers in 1860 on board the Emma, anchored in the Bay of Naples. Dumas was a black man, his mother Haitian. His revolutionary activities would make a great entry if you are including excerpts of an historic nature in your new encyclopedic series.”

"Huh," let out Mr. Nils. "Great idea. We plan on publishing not only excerpts but memorable slices of life from such important historic figures like the one you describe. We also have translators in place. Readers get thumbnail ideas of the larger works, which we also publish. Is there a Dumas’ novel in the public domain, do you know?

Les Trois Mousquetaires, I believe. I would love to except the part where D’Artagnan is about to leave his ancestral farm in Gascony for Paris on a dray horse.”

“Another great idea! Our backlisted inventory runs into the thousands. From Homer to Mickey Spillane. From Dennis Diderot to the Marquis de Sade."

I volunteered: "I do have some experience in encyclopedias. I sold the Encyclopedia Britannica in Florence, Italy, door to door. It was one of the jobs you could get without working papers. In Italian, my spiel, in the event a door opened:

"Buon giorno, Signora. Adesso per la prima volta l'Encyclopedia Britannica ad un sconto di trenta per cento. Trenta-due volumi. E il primo volume è libero—" “Ah, Signor Walter, che bello tu sei…venga vieni…s’accomodi…” Mr. Nils broke in, "Mr. Gregory, how long do you plan to work at NewWorldEncys?"

“Sorry, sir?”

“How long are you planning to work here, at NewWorldEncycs, Inc.?”

I repeated the question to myself, having become a third character in the room, who says:

"If you get this job, douchebag, how long do you plan to work here? C’mon, Wally, come up with a time frame. You are here applying for a job in the largest, most successful paperback publishing company in the world, and this fellow seems interested."

Behind Mr. Nils and over his left shoulder was a bay window which looked out to the upper floors of tall, concrete buildings opposite. Character Wally to himself: “I do not know him or this place. Maybe one way strangers are kind is because after one brief meeting, you don't have to see them again. You are 35 years of age, Alison’s Tarots predict long life, say 75 years, with ‘travel and money,’ she said. That’s 40 years working here. And you are at present broke. Maybe you can grow and succeed in this company, Wally.” I kept looking out the window. Character Nils Johansen was on the threshold of disappearing. Finally, I said,

"Forever." Still gazing out the window. "I plan to work here forever."

The Voice itself was a respectable paper then. You had to pay for it, and the great American novelist Norman Mailer was among the founders and also wrote for it. I used to see Mr. Mailer in Bobby Van's tavern out in the Hamptons, yakking away at the bar, happy as a lark away from his desk and New York, with a mop of curly, gray, unruly hair, often with a pretty girl on each side. Watching him, I wondered what it felt like to be famous and enjoy life at the same time. Ménage-à-trois? Back at his place on the beach? Famous writers have their groupies the way rock stars do. Get to know a professional writer with his or her pants down, literally. When Mr. Mailer was president of the progressive world-wide literary organization PEN, of which I became an elected member, he was, contrary to his pugnacious public persona, extremely cordial and supportive of emerging writers. He remembered how difficult it had been for him. Parents who wanted him to become something else, a war veteran. Day in and day out, the terror of the empty page awaiting. Only god created something from nothing. There is something celestial about good writing.

Fuck an angel.

It was a poodle's chance at attaining the infinite that I’d become known with the stature of a Mailer or Hemingway. My work taught in colleges beside theirs, as well as Rabelais's, Anonymous’s The Story of O. Lit 301: Confessions of an Aspiring Pornographer by Dr. Walter Gregory. These confessions, mine, Walter Michael Gregory’s, center on the interstices between soft and hard literary porn as they were known in the 1960’s-‘70’s. Guardrails are the restraining factors that prevent soft from become hard. Only a cock itself knows why it goes soft. The Italicized sections are (un)realized pornographic aspirations. Once, Mr. Mailer recalled his own experience with pornography on Johnny Carson's talk show. The big mistake he'd made early in his career, Mailer said, was to write a sex novel solely for money, and then the book bombed. Ezra Pound also wrote for the Village Voice. Poor Ezra wound up nuts. The writer's brain can explode from too much creative pressure the way a car tire can explode from too much air pressure.

Writers made their bones writing for the Village Voice. A by-line there was the literary equivalent of committing a mob's kiss-of-death murder or two. Coming-of-age. Your first kiss. Fuck your first girl. Boy. Ride a bike. First published novel. Rise in the Cosa Nostra system by assassinating a canary. In the Italian culture, death elevates. Become a Made Man by killing. Pigeon-holed as a Contract Killer or Successful Novelist can be a killer.

Of a late, lonely, non-fecund weekday evening when the world was a wasteland of undiscovered ideas and unformed characters, I'd go to the nearby Lion's Head, located off Sheridan Square. It had a four A.M. license, meaning you could linger till late while outside the great monster city's detritus flowed downtown around your ankles. All around the tavern's walls hung black and white headshots of luminaries who had once frequented the place. Pete Hamill. Lanford Wilson. Bob Dylan. Movie star Jessica Lange, I recall hearing, was once a waitress there, and its original jukebox played .78 recordings of Enrico Caruso. Drop in a nickel and hear the great tenor sing the Neapolitan favorite A Vuchella, A Sweet Mouth. I'd sit on a stool against the back wall and listen and observe a group of Voice employees sitting side by side at the bar. Respite after the day's work. Their backs faced me, but you could feel the shared exhaustion in front. Disheveled heads of hair, rumpled shirt backs and jackets. Notice the arduous day's winding down by the exaggerated bow-like angularity of their backs, and their talking heads half turned to their colleague neighbor, half their drink in front. Could I possibly become such a colleague? Learn copyediting then gain employ at a respectable newspaper? Adjoin a job in publishing to my C.V., then who knew? Random House come calling? Publishers Weekly headline: "Mr. Walter Michael Gregory agrees to join Random Home as Executive Editor." The Village Voice was distributed, I'd discover, by a gay women's newspaper and magazine consortium, indicating, perhaps, that the Voice's editors and writers were of a liberal bent and published legitimate ads. With their sleeves rolled up and determined, defiant faces, these potent women went out in trucks deep in the night, following the same routes as wholesale flower distributors, their joint delivery sites close to one another, so that the odor of flowers and wood pulp commingled in the late-night, desolate city air. I recall being invited to a party at Norman Mailer’s place. When I walked in, I was met immediately with a cluster of naked bodies strewn on the floor, making love, spaced out. Faces contorted in sexual ecstasy. Alabaster and black arms and legs writhing in folds of sweet-smelling flesh. Lips moist and yearning. Loins projecting this way and that in search of their mates. Youthful hearts soaring to the end of the night.

Writers Writhing Writ.

Stepping over and between the bodies, I remember thinking, "This is a small apartment for a famous man."

Anthony Valerio is the author of the bestselling Semmelewies, the Women's Doctor; Before the Sidewalk Ended, A Walk with Shel Silverstein; and John Dante's Inferno, a Playboy's Life. His short stories have appeared in The Paris Review and been anthologized by Random House, the Viking Press and William Morrow. He has taught at New York University, the City College of New York and Wesleyan University. You can find him at

This is an excerpt from Anthony's forthcoming novel, Confessions of an Aspiring Pornographer, to be published by Grailing Press in early 2024. Check back with Grailing for more excerpts from Anthony's novel and updates on publication.


150 Novels to Read in a Lifetime is a list of great novels selected by Ben Niles, the Grailing Press 2023-2024 Poet-in-Residence. It is an unranked list that includes works by 150 different writers, so any given author will have only one novel included on the list. Ben is fully aware that his selections (or more probably, his omissions) may incur the literary ire of Dear Readers everywhere, but it’s a burden he is willing to bear. Finally, the 150 novels also fall evenly (fifty novels each) across three time-spans: up to 1935, 1936 to 1979, and 1980 to the present. See Ben’s introduction to the list and explanation of the selection criteria here.

Group 4—


Marilynn Robinson . 1980


I’m not breaking new ground here by including Marilynn Robinson’s first (and great, if not greatest) novel on my list of 150 Novels to Read in a Lifetime. The Guardian and Time both included Housekeeping on their “100 Greatest” and “All-Time” lists, respectively, and the Harvard Book Store, one of my favorite local bookshops, listed it among their “Top 100” as well. The novel focuses on two orphaned sisters, subsequently raised by a grandmother, then two great-aunts, and then an aunt—all relatives whose competence to raise the girls is to varying degrees, shall we say, relative. Set in the rural mid-century American west, in a town “chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere,” the magic of the book lies in Robinson’s finely crafted sentences, her sagacious depiction of tragedy and family, and her ability to draw you into the stark yet beautiful setting of the fictional town of Fingerbone, Idaho. It may be a place away from the world, but there are worldly lessons to be learned there. Go ahead and put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob and immerse yourself in Housekeeping.



The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Díaz . 2007


One of the reasons Junot Díaz’s first novel won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award (among other honors) is that it is—to borrow a word from its title—nothing short of wondrous. It has a little bit of everything: it’s a swirling amalgamation of fantasy, sci-fi, and comic book references that are the titular character’s nerdy loves; there are multiple writing styles, narrative perspectives, and footnotes; it has moments of magical realism connected to the fukú, a curse Oscar believes his Dominican family has been suffering beneath for generations; and its chapters include much Spanglish, innovative language, and slang. The book is a masterclass on what the novel as a genre can be and do, while simultaneously giving us a touching story of a young boy who is profoundly overweight, desperate to find love, self-conscious of his braininess, and just trying to be a kid growing up in Paterson, New Jersey. It is a novel whose roots bind it to the Latin American tradition of fantastical, colorful family chronicles, while its branches stretch well into (and question the reality and meaning of) the American Dream. And it indeed bears truly wondrous fruit.



Le Grand Meaulnes

Alain-Fournier . 1913


Le Grand Meaulnes is—sadly—the only novel by Alain-Fournier, published a year before he was killed in action in the first month of World War I. He was just 27, and if his one novel is any indication, the literary world lost a promising talent far too early. The story occurs in France’s rural heartland, in and around a small village school overseen by the father and mother of our narrator, 15-year-old François Seurel, whose friendship with the school’s newest student, enigmatic 17-year-old Augustin Meaulnes, is the story’s primary thread. Meaulnes (pronounced ‘moln’) is tall, hence his nickname and the novel’s title, but in French ‘grand’ can mean ‘tall,’ ‘big,’ or ‘great,’ and it’s the latter meaning which inspired the title of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. The similarities don’t stop there, as François relays the enchanting, romantic story of Meaulnes and the girl he loves, loses, and labors to regain. The age of Alain-Fournier’s characters lends an additional layer of meaning to “The Lost Domain,” an alternative English title for the novel, as they navigate the territory between youth and adulthood, making (and trying to hold onto) the intangible, captivating memories of that time of their lives.



Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Robert Louis Stephenson . 1886


You probably know the story by now—or if you don’t, you’re in for a thrill!—but it’s worth revisiting Robert Louis Stephenson’s tale, which captured the imagination of his Victorian audience, not to mention audiences from every subsequent era. And before you argue that it’s really more of a long short story or a novella than a novel, I’d like to point out to you the irony of arguing about something being one thing and not another, when speaking about the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…. Call it what you will, Stephenson’s Gothic horror story is a chilling investigation into the duality (at least) of human nature, a grim look at the interplay of good and evil within a single person, and a sensational case study that can spark discussion about multiple personality disorder, aberrant behavior in the face of moral norms, criminality and society’s fascination with it, and many other topics besides. And if you’re off-put by the absence of a “The” to begin the title, that was entirely intentional on Stephenson’s part, not unlike Hitchcock’s notoriously unnerving music over his films’ opening credits; you’re set on edge, before you’ve even begun!



His Dark Materials

Philip Pullman . 1995


Philip Pullman’s spellbinding trilogy is one of a handful of entries on this list of 150 Novels to Read in a Lifetime that is comprised of multiple volumes. The Golden Compass (1995), The Subtle Knife (1997), and The Amber Spyglass (2000) depict the adventures of two main characters, Lyra and Will, and as we learn ahead of the opening page: “The first volume is set in a universe like ours, but different in many ways. The second volume is set in the universe we know. The third volume will move between the universes.” And while the protagonists may be children, it is precisely their age which plays a pivotal role in the mysterious and adult world they travel within, as well as the magisterial, compelling, and at times startling narrative in general. With interlinked elements of symbolism, speculative physics, theology, high fantasy, and the power (and physical manifestation) of the human spirit, His Dark Materials is a remarkable trilogy, full of memorable characters and creatures and fascinating inquiries into what it means to be a child, to lose your innocence, and to gain knowledge, all of which do justice to the title fittingly drawn from Milton’s Paradise Lost.


[cover photo: Pamela Manché Pearce]


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