Photo: Crime Author & Editor James "Jim Shaffer
Since giving Facebook a gander in March 2018, my spare time’s usually devoted to devouring flash fiction, poems, and short stories—penned by a cast of writers I’ve recently met online.
But crime fiction’s my favorite genre (sorry Poets). And today I’m pleased to shine the Center Stage spotlight on Jim (James) Shaffer—whose crime tales I winsomely discovered during my early wanderings.
While I’ve spent my life as an American nomad, wandering the United States in a Quest for the Perfect Pizza, Jim—who spent his formative years on his grandfather’s Pennsylvania farm, before moving to New York, and later Berkeley, CA—presently pens his tales across the Big Salt Pond in England. So some of you folks may not have met him yet. And I’m grateful for this chance to merrily remedy that!
Readers familiar with England’s hard-hitting online magazine Close To The Bone have likely read Jim’s crime tales there—since Shaffer’s made nine appearances at this fine outlet since summer 2015. Meanwhile, Craig Douglas at Close To The Bone’s book publishing operations inked Jim’s debut novella BACK TO THE WORLD into print in August 2016.
Before diving into Facebook, historically I read novels—loosely classified as mysteries—purely for the “chase.” I rarely read story collections. Nowadays at times I read as many as fifty works by fifty writers daily. I imagine many of you who’ve been on Facebook for years routinely read even more, especially you impassioned poets … who I can’t possibly keep pace with.
Just as my reading habits have changed dramatically, so have my reading experiences. While I take time to reflect on the works I’ve read, instead of spending extended stretches with one solitary writer, these days I feel like I’m playing Pac-Man—dashing against the clock, gluttonously and frenetically gobbling down stories and poems before sleep finally claims me. No different really than wolfing down a breakfast sandwich bought at a drive-thru window. Or snatching a slice of pizza for lunch to tide me over till dinner.
Dinner, if we’re lucky—or brunch on a relaxing weekend—proves more leisurely, unfolds at a stately pace, and allows us time to savor. I mention these activities because based on the works I’ve presently read by Jim, if we attempt to inhale his stories like fast food on the run we will likely cheat ourselves and Mr. Shaffer.
His stories resemble a five-course meal: prepared with fresh ingredients, and crafted with quality care. No cookie-cutter recipes developed in a fast food chain’s industrial laboratory kitchens. Their mechanized products eventually served in a paper sack or tossed haphazardly on a plastic tray.
I’m not suggesting by any means that any of the writers I routinely read online are lousy chefs: scraping roadkill off filthy asphalt, or deluding us into eating nutria (large semi-aquatic rats, known to ravish wetlands, including Louisiana’s swamps). But I liken flash fiction and poems in this instance to chowing down appetizers and sweet confections. Cream puffs; mozzarella sticks; stuffed mushroom caps; grilled shrimp. All good—but not what I’d call dinner. Or a quality brunch.
Hoping I’ve now adequately set the stage and the dining table, I’d like to draw your attention to three of Jim’s stories; all which first appeared at aforementioned Close To The Bone. And I’ve included the Links below. Each one is a type of Love story. Though in completely different ways.
The first story in this list, “Life Number Ten”—tips the scales just over the standard 1,000-word flash count with 1,120 words. But Shaffer’s tale packs punch: as we witness the bond between two brothers … their backs against the wall. Shaffer plies us with gallows humor. Yet this humor magnifies the severity of their situation, rather than adding levity.
Shaffer’s second enclosed tale, “The Brass Redemption” vastly moves up in class. Not only in terms of total word count (3,840). But also in terms of intrigue. Here we meet a thief: a common yet-not-so-common criminal. Like Jason Statham’s character in his movie The Transporter, our new-found thief lives by a Code—designed to protect his interests. But his life likewise becomes endangered when he violates this code. So the type of love we see in this tale proves as old and primal as life itself. Because self-preservation is now his only raison d’etre (reason to exist).
As this first-person narrative unfolds, we start to see Shaffer’s skills while he tosses his words around—but always with precision. For again we experience humor. And this time the narrator’s quips have impact. But as quickly as lightning fades, the scenes grow dark again. By story’s end we hold no doubts: this thief is not a “common criminal.” And I suspect you’ll also glean that Jim Shaffer’s no “common” writer.
I consider the third tale in this trio—“Eyes Closed”—a true Super Heavyweight. Not only in terms of word count (4,480). But also by means of punching power. Switching styles once again, Shaffer delivers another third-person narrative involving the ageless classic story, “Boy loves Girl.” Once more, as this tale unravels, nothing proves easy for Shaffer’s characters. Blows rain down upon us at unexpected times … and we struggle to keep our composure …. Because this time the pain feels real. While his characters are fabricated, Shaffer’s focus—and therefore ours—involves the suffering endured by probably unknown millions since Homo sapiens have roamed this planet.
Our daily lives are hectic; even more so this time of year. If you’ve never read Jim Shaffer, I hope I’ve tempted you to read his work—and I invite you to Bookmark this performance so you can easily find these stories for whenever you find convenience. For those familiar with Jim’s work, I suspect he’s just begun to hit full stride. Jim’s got forthcoming stories in online magazine Story and Grit as well as a noir called “Bit Player” at Retreats from Oblivion.
Going forward, when I discover Jim Shaffer’s work online, if the piece doesn’t appear in a flash fiction magazine with a hard cap of 1,000 words tops—I plan to bookmark his stories to ensure I can read them later at a leisurely pace.
Meanwhile, for those who love print books, especially those with great cover art, Jim has a story called “Dessert Requiem” in the HARDBOILED collection from Dead Guns Press, which just released this week. And yeah, I’m aware some of us know some other cool writers who also have stories in HARDBOILED. But since this is Jim’s solo time under the spotlight I AIN’T gonna mention their names!
I will make mention that Jim’s interest in writing stories springs from a long-term love affair with movies … a relationship that began in earnest during his college years, when he studied both film and social sciences: “If you gave me a camera and a bunch of actors (and a lot of cash), I could make a movie of each one of my stories. They are visual and it’s intentional. For each story, I see the scene, the different shots. I hear the dialogue. It plays in my head. I try to re-create those images in the stories I write. And, because to me they are movies, I love making them.”
For those as addicted to Jim’s work as he is, Shaffer’s 11,500-word story “All That the Case Is” now appears in the Blunder Woman Productions debut anthology WRONG TURN. And even more exciting for Jim, while the e-book and print editions are already available on Amazon, an audio version is expected sometime this December. And like many kids this month, I can imagine Jim’s eagerness ….
“I’m looking forward to hearing the story outside my own head,” he noted during one of our exchanges.
So am I, Jim. So am I. And I’m glad you and our fine audience could join us here at Center Stage.
Season’s Greetings everyone!
(Amazon crime author & reluctant poet)
1. Life Number Ten (March 2018) WC 1,120
2. The Brass Redemption (February 2016) WC 3,840
3. Eyes Closed (July 2016) WC 4,480