top of page
  • Writer's pictureCandace Nola

04/13/2024 Con Weekend Post: Guest Review

Hi All! Since it is AuthorCon week, I am posting a Guest Review post from our friend, Craig Brownlie!

I will have a full weekly wrap-up for everyone next week after the convention.



The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

In A Lonely Place by Karl Edward Wagner


Reviewed by Craig Brownlie


Remember the first time you went to a bookstore or library after you were well and done with school? The assignments had ended. The outside pressure to read another person’s idea of a proper book had subsided (mostly). All those shiny covers called out.


It’s not easy to drag your reluctant ass to the classics of literature section. Sure, they might be edifying, but who wants a tome at the beach? Maybe winter is the better season for Tolstoy because Russian tragedy is perfect for endlessly gray days.


Instead, let’s dive into Shirley Jackson and Karl Edward Wagner. The former was assigned to everyone who passed through high school in the past fifty years. The latter became famous for sword and sorcery fantasy with his creation Kane. Both hold places on the permanent shelves of horror history. They both deserve to be taken down, gently dusted, and read, perhaps for a second or umpteenth time.


I have never read a better collection of short stories than The Lottery And Other Stories. The title tale remains a gut punch containing all the right notes performed with a mastery unavailable to mere mortals. If one American story belongs in a time capsule, then this is it and let our descendants judge us.


Nothing supernatural occurs in any of Jackson’s stories. Murder is reserved for one character. A lot of people cope with difficult neighbors. Inner demons perpetrate many ills. Little here is found in the plots on the horror bookshelves.


Still, Flower Garden and Pillar of Salt lay everything on the line. God save the new arrival in town. Lord watch over the person starting afresh. Jackson captures the psyche of the person seated on a middle step, neither climbing nor descending, better than anyone before or since. Without question The Lottery collection in total is required reading for everyone, instead of anthologizing its most famous occupant.


Wagner’s stories prove more dated as he worked within the horror genre as an accepted and respected member. He updated tropes like vampires and conspiracies in wonderful ways. But the same updates place the works firmly in the time when they were conceived. Wagner should be read by anyone looking to see who did the heavy lifting alongside Wilson, Koontz, and Straub.


Your mileage may vary, but I believe the great accomplishment in both these works is how often the story is about understanding. Both authors frequently ease us into the lives of problematic characters. Wagner’s In The Pines and Jackson’s Elizabeth pair the reader with people near the ends of their ropes. Little good comes of the time chronicled, while Gerry and Elizabeth suffer alone, conjuring unobtainable futures. Without making either character into a last girl or a fool who breaks up the search party, we want to throttle these protagonists while also wishing them to survive and find some normalcy or sanity.


More than twenty years separated Jackson and Wagner. Jackson wrote in the land of Twilight Zone and died before Ira Levin hit with his book, Rosemary’s Baby. Wagner just beat King out of the gate, but never attained that level of success. Both of them should have lived to see the first modern horror boom, but fortune did not so favor them.


Neither Jackson nor Wagner lived to see fifty. Their deaths were the culmination of decades of heavy smoking (Jackson) and alcoholism (Wagner). They both found inspiration in their anger with those around them. Their remarkable talents for capturing the worlds they inhabited elevated their stories with a realism which makes the daggers bite deeper. They are writers of strong opinions utilizing all their craft and intelligence to gift us with their points of view on prejudice, ostracism, misogyny, greed, superstition, progress, and deceit.


Both collections and a brief look at their bibliographies demonstrate what we lost with Jackson and Wagner’s passings. They had worlds to conquer for all ages and in all styles. They deserved better than they received in their private lives. Consider this a call out to keep an eye on your nearest and dearest writers.


Wagner’s collection is part of the re-release program from Valancourt Books ( and they have made available a huge number of classics with an emphasis on horror. They deserve a special shout out for publishing selections from Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks from Hell.


For anyone trying to locate Jackson’s collection, I own the Avon paperback edition (1969) and listened to the Blackstone Audio release from 2014. The link below points to the current Farrar, Straus & Giroux reprint of their original edition. They all contain the same stories in the same order, though the introductions and afterwords vary.


My paperback has the lovely, brief afterword from the great Christopher Morley in which he says this about The Lottery: “When its full horror and cruelty break upon you, you will want to buy a crate of clove-gillyflower and Old Spice from the American Institute of Arts and Letters and retire early.”


Highly recommended because these are touchstones



Bio: Find Craig on the usual social media and who knows where else? He's been busy submitting stories and books. His collection Thick As A Brick is available on Godless. In the meantime, read his stories in Wands: Year of Tarot, Space and Time Magazine, Unspeakable Horrors 3: Dark Rainbow Rising, Jersey Devil Press, Lovecraftiana, Stranger With Friction, No More Resolutions, and Demons & Death Drops. Or talk to him at a convention. He hopes to be at Scares that Cares Authorcon III and IV in 2024.

4 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page