Book Review

'Terminal' Gets A Nod In Misfit Magazine

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The editors at Misfit Magazine included a brief write-up of We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine in their lengthy "Books Received, Reviewed, Acknowledged" section. They point out one particular poem, "Ghost Train," as being a standout, and it's always interesting to me which poems make a mark with people. It's always a different one, for different reasons, and this poem and I go way back so I'm glad it stood out. Take a look at the write-up and scan the section to see who else they've been reading! They also publish a lot of great poets and writers, including Kevin Ridgeway, Megan Jessop, and Holly Day in their current issue, so check that out as well.  

"The Best Book of 2017"

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One of my favorite literary and cultural magazines online, Drunk Monkeys, just named my latest collection We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine as their pick for the Best Book of 2017. It's a massive honor and I'm blown away by the response, especially from a group of editors and writers I already deeply respected. In their post, they said, "It’s a powerful, transformative, and funny work - and our choice for Best Book of 2017. ...no book moved us, challenged us, and inspired us like James Duncan’s poetry collection We Are All Terminal But This Exit is Mine." Check out their website for the entire review. As always, I owe a lot to Bud Smith at Unknown Press for working with me on the book and for pushing me in new directions. And thank all of you for reading the book (signed copies are still available!) and for supporting me over the years.  

My Top Books of 2017

My Top Books of 2017

As with every annual list, I only include books I've read for the first time, but they can be from any year. It wasn't a bad year for reading but I feel like I read less and less every year since leaving NYC. I guess all that time reading on the subway actually made a bigger dent in my To Read list than I gave it credit for. But like I said, 2017 wasn't so bad. Here are some of my favorites. What were yours?

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My Top 10 Books of 2016

My Top 10 Books of 2016

While I read fewer books than usual in 2016, this annual edition of my Top 10 lists covers a fairly broad range of styles—a rock & roll bio, some YA classics, poetry, apocalypse lit, historical nonfiction, crime, noir, and more. Despite being a pretty miserable year, the good books kept me going. As usual for these lists, I only include books I’ve read for the first time in 2016, but the books can be from any year, brand new or decades old, so long as they’re new to me. I’d love to know what your favorites were this year as well, so feel free to add those in the comments section! Most of all, I hope you enjoy these if you haven’t yet tried them for yourself.

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New Review of Dead City Jazz at Albany Poets

A new review of my chapbook Dead City Jazz now appears at Albany Poets. In the reviewer's own words, the collection "explores the geography of human emotion, love, loneliness, desperation, fear and indifference using robust imagery while simultaneously intertwining narratives." All of the poems take place on or are inspired by alcohol-infused and neon-lit evenings in San Antonio, Texas, and while some are certainly bar poems, others hover in more remote corners of the night, on back streets and in quiet rooms in a suffocating silence. The review does a good job of getting to the heart of the poetry, especially the part where the reviewer recognized "how we improvise through our experiences like jazz music," through every conversation and relationship, every night and day. I'm proud to have my hometown poetry organization host this review on their site. Take a look, and thanks for all of the support! Single copies are still available through me, but the whole Punk Chapbook Series from Epic Rites Press is just that, epic, and is worth your time and money.   

My Top 10 Books of 2015

My Top 10 Books of 2015

It’s time once again to tally up the books I read over the last year and see which ones held up. As usual, I only include books I read for the first time in 2015, but they can have been published anytime. Oddly, it seems I read fewer books in 2015 than in most recent years, by almost double digits, probably because I moved away from NYC and lost all that subway reading time. Oh well, so it goes. Here’s my top 10. Enjoy!  

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My Top 3: Alan Furst Novels

My Top 3: Alan Furst Novels

A few years ago I discovered the espionage/noir masterpiece that is Alan Furst’s body of work, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The series is called his Night Soldiers series, which includes thirteen novels about the European underground résistance against the Nazis between the years 1932-1945, or thereabouts. Some books focus on Polish army officers, some newspaper reporters, some Russian spies, some Greek detectives, people from all walks, and they all start out fearful of the Germans and unsure of what they can do to stop the rise of Hitler’s mad power, but they each find a way to help, somehow, and I love that the POV isn’t of the usual British or American heroism during the war (which is all fine and good, but it’s nice having this change of pace). Here are my top three selections if I were to recommend his series to you, and I do, very much so! 

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A New Review of What Lies In Wait Now at Buffalo Almanack

The right honorable David S. Atkinson has written a wonderful review of my new short story collection What Lies In Wait, now posted over at Buffalo Almanack, and I'm very happy that David reviewed the book because I really feel like he gets what I was going for in the collection. In his own words:

"The stories in this collection demonstrate Duncan’s wandering spirit in the impressive variety of ways that he explores the meaning behind his title. ... Considering the title on its own, someone unfamiliar with Duncan might expect this to be a collection of horror stories. Yet Duncan’s work resists genre, as his words pass through the conventions of apocalypse, noir, whimsy, zombie alternate history, and the uncanny. What Lies In Wait shows that though Duncan can maintain a focus, he doesn’t stay in one place for very long."

What Lies In Wait does cover a wide variety of styles and genres, but I'm glad he saw the thread that runs through the book, the idea that none of us knows what might be waiting for us right around the corner of this human experience; maybe something good, maybe something evil and hungry, or maybe its the discovery of our truest selves. One thing is for certain: once we cross that line and make that discovery, there's no going back. 

Read the full review right here!

Copies are available online at Amazon.com

My Top 3: Writer's Digest Books

My Top 3: Writer's Digest Books

During my time as a Writer’s Digest book editor, I had the pleasure of shepherding a tall stack of books into the world, and each taught me valuable lessons about writing (it’s hard not to pick up some cues when you’re neck deep in writing advice night and day), and some were a lot of fun to edit, too. The following books were especially enjoyable, written by talented, fun, whip-smart people who really cared about helping other writers write better (and sometimes just to write). All these books are definitely worth picking up, and that’s coming from a guy who doesn’t even work there anymore, so you know it’s not some PR smoke and mirrors act. Enjoy!

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My Top 10 Books for 2014

My Top 10 Books for 2014

As usual, my list is formulated as such: The books don’t have to be released in 2014, but I must have read them for the first time in 2014. I noticed this year’s reading trend leaned heavily toward espionage, noir, horror, and genre fiction in general. My goal is to mix it up a little more next year, but then again, the heart wants what it wants. We’ll see. Enjoy the list, and feel free to comment with your favorite books of the year!

10. A World Lost by Wendell Berry

A gorgeous little book that sometimes reads more like a series of character and location sketches than a "story," but it's beautifully done. The main character is a 9-year-old boy whose favorite uncle is murdered and it forever alters the young boy’s simplistic worldview and daydream-like existence in rural America during the 1940s. The prose isn’t minimalist in the way some might use the word to describe Hemingway or Carver, but minimalist in that while not much happens, what does happen is described with a casual insightfulness and innocent wonder, making even the most mundane moments a work of art.

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What Lies In Wait, a New Review, and Other Updates!

What Lies In Wait, a New Review, and Other Updates!

I have so many new writing updates that I'll present them to you in lightning-round format. Ready? Let's go!

1. What Lies In Wait will be the title of my upcoming collection of short stories, and I'm aiming for a mid-2015 release. I'm extremely happy that all fifteen stories are now finished, or finished enough for beta readers to finally give them a look. There's still tweaking and proofing to do, but the final lineup is set and it feels like a relief. All fifteen tales share elements of apprehension, fear, and a challenge to face, whether it's something out there in the dark or something within that must be put down. Half are straight-up horror, while others blend mystery, noir, and survival tropes into tales that fall between literary and genre-driven stories. I'm looking forward to feedback, and I'm always open to new test readers! 

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Top 10 Favorite Books From My Childhood

Top 10 Favorite Books From My Childhood

A while back a bunch of people started posting lists on Facebook about the top books that stayed with them — everything from children’s classics to modern literary juggernauts. It got me thinking about the books that I loved as a kid, the ones that really meant something to me. So here are the Top 10 books that shaped my childhood and early reading habits, in no particular order. Although there are plenty of others, these are the books I get most nostalgic about when I think of my elementary and middle-school libraries.  

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My Summer Reading List, 2014

My Summer Reading List, 2014

The start of summer officially came and went, long after summer weather actually arrived, and this means I’m well overdue for an evaluation of what I plan to read during the upcoming months of blazing sunlight, a lazy half-attempt to go to the beach, short breaks in the shade during kayaking trips, and lots of walking around looking for the Mr. Softee truck in Manhattan. This list is far from definitive, but these are the ones waiting at the top of the stack. So here you go, my summer reading list for 2014. What are your suggestions?

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The Club Dumas: A Review

The Club Dumas: A Review

** Warning: May Contain Some Plot Spoilers **

Like many readers, I saw the Polanski/Depp film The Ninth Gate before I read Arturo Pérez-Reverte’sThe Club Dumas, and despite what I felt was a let-down ending in the film (we’re taken all the way to the final gate, and then...), I enjoyed it enough to pick up the book years later, hoping for a fleshed out story and an improved finale.

But for those wanting to dance with the devil after an eerie, mysterious, occult-infused plot, the movie may have come closer to a satisfactory ending than I first realized.

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My Top 10 Books of 2013

My Top 10 Books of 2013

As usual, my list is formulated as such: The books don’t have to be released in 2013, but I must have read them in 2013, and it must be the first time I have read them. I stick to fiction for these lists, usually novels but not always.

10. The Whisperer in the Darkness by H.P. Lovecraft

This is a short novella that is also available for free for your e-reader (it’s in the public domain), which is how I read it. The story concerns a New England scientist who scoffs at the claims of strange, monstrous bodies found floating down rivers after a major flood in Vermont. Soon, a man living in a remote section of Vermont reaches out to him via letters, claiming that these bodies are not old wives' tales, but are clues to a secret that has plagued humanity for centuries. The man in Vermont has witnessed the cult-like, otherworldly beings who live deep in the woods. The beings are aware they're being watched, and they're closing in. The letters escalate in intensity and strangeness as the story unfolds, and our scientist eventually makes the trek to rural Vermont himself, with horrific results. The tale is spooky, fun, and skin-crawlingly wonderful.

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A Review of 'They Don't Dance Much' by James Ross

A Review of 'They Don't Dance Much' by James Ross

Jack McDonald loses his farm and everything that went with it, save for the debt, and he wanders through the evening until he comes to Smut Milligan’s roadhouse just outside of town. Smut sells him some illegal corn whiskey and offers him a job as the roadhouse cashier. With nowhere else to go, Jack joins on the expanding operation and soon bears witness to the depths of humanity's greed, corruption, and vengeance. Set deep in the south during the Great Depression with a wide cast of believable, rough-and-tumble characters, James Ross’ They Don’t Dance Much is almost Shakespearian in its exposure of the darkness of the human soul, combining the best elements of Raymond Chandler, Flannery O’Connor, James M Cain, Jim Thompson, and even hints of William Faulkner’s Southern Gothic aesthetics.

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Five Books I'm Ashamed I Couldn't Finish

Five Books I'm Ashamed I Couldn't Finish

I used to think of myself as a good soldier when it came to sticking it out with a book, even if became dull in spots. I would push through, skim a bit if it got too rough, and often enough I was rewarded for my efforts with a solid ending. But the older I get, the less patience I have with a book that is lacking in captivation (or even worse, in quality storytelling or writing) and I have become comfortable with putting down a book that has lost me within the first 100 pages (my designated "do or die" line in the sand). 

And yet, I feel ashamed for quitting on some books, great pieces of literature that have been impactful and important, but sometimes I just can’t keep the ship afloat and it becomes time to scramble for an exit and a sturdy inflatable raft. Here are five classic novels that I wish I finished, that I may yet finish one day, but for now I am ashamed that I quit halfway through. 

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The Hunter by Julia Leigh: A Review

The Hunter by Julia Leigh: A Review

A couple of months ago I stumbled across a gorgeous little film, The Hunter, that was in and out of the theaters faster than you can blink. I decided to go see it based on the prospect of watching Willem Dafoe, playing as the eponymous character, stalking through the Tasmanian backwoods, rifle in hand, with the stone-blue eyes of determination and patience, a deft and subtle survivalist, a thinking man’s tough guy who can gut it out in the wild for weeks on end without batting a lash. The movie was not a work of perfection—there were a few jerky moments and leaps of faulty logic that gave me pause, and I actually could have watched Dafoe silently stalk his prey out in the wild a little more than offered here, if only to get a truer sense of his isolation. But after reading the novel by Julia Leigh that inspired the film, I feel like the movie got a few more things right than the book did, which is a rarity.

I want to clarify, though, that I don't mean to say the novel wasn’t a quality read. It was, especially the internal narratives of the hunter when he is out in the wild, but the following three things stood out for me and really put the movie over the top.

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