Night of the Cooters (YGtCTO Words #9)

Story written by Howard Waldrop

Howard Waldrop is one of the best writers that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. His prose sparkles and remains direct. His words flow like salmon heading upriver to spawn, with brilliant leaps and stunning movement. You could read him for the shear experience of the tales, letting them wash over you.

Of course, they don’t simply wash over you. Howard Waldrop is challenging. He primarily works in the sub-genre known as alternative history. Every story asks questions that lead to a deeper contemplation of our shared experience on this planet. Because the stories inevitably present a life very similar to the reality that we have all agreed upon, the slight (or extreme) difference more often than not forces a consideration of why things are the way that they are. Must they be so?

More than merely questioning our past, Howard Waldrop asks a lot. He also puts a lot into his stories. Frequently, he has discoursed on the importance of research in order to provide the proper backbone for whatever form of fiction you are creating. Writers are no more industrious than anyone else and Waldrop comes up often enough as the exemplar of our accuracy aspirations. As a reader, it is helpful to remember that you don’t need a doctorate degree to enjoy the stories. Accept the fact that the author did the homework and you are allowed to see the result. Don’t worry- you won’t miss the part where your reality is different.

Howard Waldrop stories resonate. Just watch someone else read one of his stories. You can tell the moment they finish, because they slowly lower the text and stare off into the middle distance. A few brain cells are now firing in new ways. Then their eyes refocus and they look at you with a vague smile like maybe you understand, too.

With this series, I am only writing about those artists who have resonated for me, but Howard Waldrop is another thing entirely. Like Dickens and Monet and the Beatles for me, Howard Waldrop changed my life. I knew that Kurt Vonnegut had somehow stumbled from science fiction into literature, but he seemed to work awfully hard at leaving all that genre labeling behind. Waldrop seemed to drag science fiction along with him into literature and didn’t give a damn what you called it.

Having said all that, you may be the sort of person who has already gone looking for Waldrop work and noticed that a) there is not a lot, and b) it is hard to tell where to begin. If you can find Night of the Cooters, then maybe start there though Things Will Never Be The Same looks like a good way in also. Besides, that title is likely to define your experience of the work within.

Decades ago, I had the privilege of hearing Howard Waldrop read one of his stories out loud to a small room of admiring readers. Writers do not often make the best readers of their own work. A penchant for isolated scribbling does not translate to a talent for public performance. The shear joy that he brought to being there infected everyone. You could see the magic that went into the writing. Like Dickens (perhaps the greatest of all author readers), who also attacked difficult terrain, Waldrop has the ability to bring life to what so many of us beat down to two dimensions with our dogma and disdain. If nothing else, I have learned to love those moments when I can feel the actor inside come alive as the words pour onto the page.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 274 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.

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