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Redefining the Valentine:

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“Vicious Valentine: ‘De-cat-itation’ and ‘We Must Have Loved Long Before This Life’”
by Joel Finsel
Reading on February 15th, 7 p.m.
Old Books on Front St.
249 N. Front Street

Move over, “My Funny Valentine”! Old Books on Front Street is redefining the characteristics we have come to love (and hate) about Valentine’s Day. By releasing their own chapbook, tantalizingly titled “Vicious Valentine,” the premises of the read is far from the love lullabies appropriately strung together by Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker or Miles Davis. Owner of Old Books (and encore’s Live Local columnist and theatre reviewer) Gwenyfar Rohler started the anthology mystery series last year as an annual tradition.

“Really, it was Mike Hartle’s idea,” Rohler credits of the local author and Ghost Walk of Old Wilmington tour guide. Selfless to the core, Rohler says the “Vicious Valentine” idea sticks with her desire to give back to the community, whom she has been in love with for years. Last year, Hartle approached her with a recently released anthology in hand, “The Christmas Mystery Stories,” published by the Mysterious Press, all involving The Mysterious Book Shop in New York. The idea to bring a similar theme to Wilmington seemed only right. Within 20 minutes, Rohler and Hartle put a stake through the heart of Valentine’s Day and proclaimed it their own.

“We give out ‘gratitude’ thank you cards with every purchase,” Rohler says of the customer’s checkout process, “but we wanted to create something that people would start to look forward to and that we hope eventually will become a collector’s item.”

Numbered 1 through 50, limited editions are only available to the first 50 customers who walk through the Old Books doors. “Vicious Valentine” will feature a different author each year. 2012 welcomes local writer Joel Finsel, known for his book “Cocktails and Conversations from the Astral Plane.” Finsel was invited to write a mystery story, keeping in mind the following parameters: Involve Valentine’s Day and Old Books on Front St. on its pages.

“This is my first attempt at a horror story,” Finsel says of his title work, “De-cat-itation.” Still, he manages to deliver. Without giving away the ending, which can be taken many different ways, within “De-cat-itation” Finsel viciously manipulates a weakness many readers cannot help but succumb to: compassion for animals. No stranger to detailed writing, all of which encompasses the senses, Finsel recalls the graduate level course he was taking at the time, which helped him write his contribution to “Vicious Valentine.” Ironically and most fitting to the tone of his story, it was a class dedicated to Stephen King which helped him channel his inner thriller writer.

“When you read Stephen King and no one else, your mind goes to strange places,” Finsel admits. “Writing these stories was liberating. I’m not used to writing horror, so taking his class motivated me through it. It was a way to write in his footsteps. It was freeing.”

For Finsel, “Vicious Valentine”comes with double opportunity: He not only contributes toward a project for his community, but he also delivers a very special Valentine’s Day gift to his wife, Style Girl Jess James. An addendum to the “Vicious Valentine” is “We Must Have Loved Long Before This Life.” In this hot and heavy tale, Finsel shares an actual moment of his life, recalls vivid images of a very steamy memory of love, and without hesitating or holding back, he relives it so his readers can encounter what he and James shared while dating. Its purpose, perhaps, is to entice current lovers this Valentine’s Day or to aid others in rekindling the flame they may have lost.

“I remember hand writing the beginning of this story when I lived in Philadelphia,” he says. “It was something I had to channel—the images and the details. For ‘Vicious Valentine’ I had the chance to work on it again. I wanted to include it as a surprise for my wife. She has no idea I’m putting it out there for people to read. I don’t know what her reaction will be, but I imagine she’ll give me that look.”

In a time where the definition of “worth” and “significance” seemingly appears to be shifting—and ultimately clumped together like a box of assorted day-old chocolates—Rohler’s plans for Old Books on Front St. certainly debunks all of society’s notions of commercial gift-giving. Showcasing a local writer each year, coupled with many other prospects—including her long-term plan to launch an in-house publishing company, New Books on Front St.—“Vicious Valentine” is out now, ready for pickup.

“She knows the power of our imaginations and how it can affect us every day,” Finsel says of Rohler. “[Writing for ‘Vicious Valenine’] is an amazing opportunity—it’s great exposure and a confidence booster.”

Joel Finsel will read from his work at Old Books’ local authors book club meeting on February 15th at 7 p.m.

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