Mesilla: Advance Praise

It’s always weird to talk about advance praise of your own stuff because you don’t want to sound like you’re bragging…but writing, being a writer, is all about the hustle. So it’s important you showcase what others are saying about your work pre-release, to try to get folks excited. This is the game.

That being said, I am enormously proud and humbled—in addition to praise from Matthew Gavin Frank (which I gushed about previously)—to receive praise from authors Peter Geye and Urban Waite, two folks I admire greatly and whose kind words mean so, so much to me:

“Tough as rawhide, coiled like a diamond back, and spare as the New Mexico desert, this taut novel is as loaded as the Dance revolver its wounded hero wields. Russell is a writer on the rise, with a voice and vision sure to entrance every reader who lays eyes on this book. I’m already pining away for his next one.” —Peter Geye, author of The Lighthouse Road and Safe from the Sea

“Robert James Russel’s Mesilla reads like young James Lee Burke—action so sharp readers might as well pull their fingers from the page looking for blood. A fine story of revenge in the old west, salvation hoped for, but not easily achieved.” —Urban Waite, author of Sometimes the Wolf

Mesilla will be dropping in late September, and I absolutely can’t wait to share it with the world.

Butcher’s Crossing

Recently read—and loved—Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams. In it, a meek Eastern college student travels out west to find himself and to try to understand with, and be at one with, nature.

I also love—love—this cover image I found online for it.


It’s a wonderful critique of the myth of American exceptionalism during the 19th Century—puffing up the characters, their invincibility, only for them to crumble time and time again when they square off against nature…and time.

Beyond that, though, there are some wonderful meditations on man and nature, about the importance of nature in one’s life and being a part of it, being drawn to it For example:

The wildness and freedom that his instinct sought…He felt that wherever he lived, and wherever he would live hereafter, he was leaving the city more and more, withdrawing into the wilderness. He felt that was the central meaning he could find in all his life, and it, and it seemed to him then that all the events of his childhood and his youth had led him unbeknowingly to this moment upon which he poised, as if before flight.


This book is a Western, but it’s the same as calling Blood Meridian a Western. It’s true, but it also dismantles the Western and becomes more than that. I don’t like the term “literary Western” but I suppose that will do. At any rate: read it. It’s a gem of a novel that elicits great thought and pontification and it’s an absolutely travesty that it’ disappeared off of readers’ radars.

New story Time to Run at The Vignette Review

I have a new story “Time to Run” at The Vignette Review:

My little brother and I are throwing chunks of asphalt at a beehive hanging from a lopsided red pine near the Coulters’. It’s hot out, one those long summer days that bleeds into nighttime, both of us wearing the no-brand tee-shirts our father sewed us, created with his own hands—the shirts we won’t wear to school, can’t wear to school, but that are perfectly acceptable summer wear.

I love vignettes (see: Sea of Trees), so discovering this journal was a really nice surprise. Great aesthetic, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the first issue.

New story “Cedar” at BULL

The fine folks at the lit journal BULL published my story “Cedar” about an aging Yakuza enforcer coming to terms with his twilight years (and his set of prosthetic pinkies):

He opened the lid slowly. From inside, he removed the silk handkerchief to reveal three silicone prosthetic pinkies. With his right hand—his good hand—he rolled up his left shirtsleeve and regarded the tone of his skin, holding the first pinkie to his hand, then wrist, deciding it was too pale (he had spent more time in sunny Naha that winter than originally planned).

The second pinkie was dark, yet still not dark enough, and the third wasn’t right at all—a leftover from the very first set he received, almost archaic now that he thought of it (and very uncomfortable). No, he would have to use the second, even though it didn’t quite match. What other choice did he have? He took the second prosthetic and placed it on the first joint where his pinky now ended. The suction would keep it on through most tasks, even showering, but still…it seemed to glow against his dark skin. A beacon signifying it did not belong.

Geeked that BULL‘s Christopher Wolford and Jared Yates Sexton enjoyed the story, and honored to be a part of what they do.

Truth & Fiction Podcast

Joyland Magazine co-founder and über-writer Emily Schultz recently traveled across the US touring for her new novel The Blondes, which is awesome and tearing it up. Part of the tour saw her stopping in Ann Arbor at the wonderful Literati Bookstore, and I was invited with her to read (an honor, for sure).

You can now listen to Emily, Joe Horton (a fellow Ann Arborite), and myself read from said reading on the new episode of the Truth & Fiction podcast that Emily runs with Brian Joseph Davis. The whole episode is fantastic, and it’s great insight to what goes into a book tour in 2015, with plenty of hijinx. I start reading at the 00:09:10 mark—I reading the story “Claude” from my recently released chapbook Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out.

Listen to the podcast here.

Choose Your Own Adventure — Lockjaw Magazine

Lockjaw Magazine, an excellent literary journal, decided to do a Choose Your Own Adventure-style writing project, where various authors would write different sections of one massive, wonderfully weird story. I took part (part 7-1), and here’s some of that:

You lay the fleshy arm along your shoulders, bracing yourself to help her stand. She emits a low-frequency buzzing as the torso twists to the side of the chair, the legs twisting after, and the feet—large metal pads—plant into the ground. Her face blinks on/off as the guts of the machine fume until finally—finally—she is standing next to you. She is tall—magnificent. You feel as if you could have loved her in some other life.

Don’t want to ruin it for you. You can start the whole thing here, but, if so desired, you can read just my section here.

Lost River

Hmm. I wanted to like Ryan Gosling’s Lost River (his film debut). Really really wanted to. But I thought it felt short. Mostly in the story department. See, I don’t need a film to spell everything out for me. I consider myself to be a moderately intelligent cinephile. However, Gosling asks us to make too many logic leaps that don’t work, not enough time is spent establishing the landscape, the characters or, most importantly, the story he’s asking us to participate in, and because of this, emotional moments fall completely flat.

There are things to love about this, though. The music and cinematography are some of the best I’ve seen in recent memory (I’ve never seen Detroit filmed so beautifully before, and while I try to avoid ruin porn like this, it’s impossible to look away and not be affected by the landscape). It’s not enough to save the film, but it was enough to keep me watching (mostly) raptly until the very end. It’s the sort of film, I think, that I’ll be glad to have seen once, but never need or want to see again. There are clear callbacks to Nicolas Winding Refn’s films (Drive, Only God Forgives), and you can see Gosling wears that inspiration on his sleeve in Lost River, but the script needed more work, more mmph, to really make it all come together. While even Only God Forgives was a pretty surreal movie-going experience, we were, at least partially, anchored into the story by a very simple yet very effective plot.

Ultimately, I think if Gosling had gotten help writing the script, or more eyeballs on it, this could’ve been a masterpiece. Instead, it’s a beautiful mess.



Slow West

Okay so Slow West should be on your radar. It’s a masterful, reinvention of the Western. Gorgeously shot, too.



The first thing that came to mind when I saw it was, This is the Western film the Coen Brothers never made. But you know, that’s kinda not fair to first time director John Maclean. He nailed it.

And the music. And the colors. And the sardonic view of Frontier mythology. Yes.

New story “Where We Bury Our Dead” at Third Point Press

My (short!) story “Where We Bury Our Dead” is in the first issue of Third Point Press:

When I was sixteen and we were living in the split-level with Ray, things between us got real bad so I ran away, hitched with a trucker named Bicho who smelled like menthols even though I never saw him smoke once in the week I was gone. He asked me where I was going and I said south to the land of giants and he smiled like he understood, said, “Sure, Miss Lydia, wherever you want.”

Love these guys. Sleek and beautiful design, an incredible line-up for a first issue…they’re doing it right. Check ‘em out.

Black Angel

So, I’ve been hearing about the short film Black Angel for as long as I can remember. It was shown theatrically before The Empire Strikes Back and then disappeared—or lost, or whatever—but they (whoever they are) found the negatives and, seeing as this is 2015, now the whole thing is online. Yay technology!

But this is pretty great. It’s weird. And brooding. A dark fantasy wonderland with some gorgeous settings and cinematography. Definitely worth watching (and it’s only 27 minutes). Also: I could really get into short films being shown before movies again. What a neat idea they should bring back.