Spring Blitz 2017 – The End Is Nigh

May 2, 2017 at 9:40 pm (horror, Links, Reviews, writing) (, , , , , )

My blitz is all over now but the waiting. I do already have a couple of acceptances (and multiple rejections).  I should have posted this wrap up on Sunday, but I beg off based on illness (I had a cold), taxes (I had to finish them up) and gardening (we planted this weekend.)

I had meant to write this following review up as soon as I finished the book, but all the things I mentioned above got in the way. Besides, I find writing a review is something better done once I’ve had a chance to mull things over.  And so, I’ve been mulling.

The first thing I want to say is that Zeroes, by Chuck Wendig, was a breath of fresh read.  After having read a handful of very formulaic Sandra Brown thrillers, which while entertaining on a basic level, had seriously flat and repetitive characterization and even reused the “father gave daughter up for adoption but regretted it later” plot line, I needed something with substance.  Zeroes had substance, and then some.

First of all, I always judge a book by its characterization, and the characterization in Zeroes offered novelty and depth.  The cast was diverse.  While one of the protagonists…perhaps you could call him the protagonist-in-chief, because there were technically five protagonists (six if you want to count Harris who perhaps is more of a strong secondary,) is very much a white male everyman, he certainly doesn’t “save the day”.  In fact, he is heavily reliant on the diverse other characters in his hacking group and would have gotten nowhere without them.  There’s a rocky romantic thread with the exceptionally competent Aleena and the “buddy” component with DeAndre, and even the aging mentor/father figure in Wade.  While in essence none of these plot elements are original, what makes them different are the strengths and weaknesses of the particular characters and the out of the ordinary dynamics involved.

And then there’s Reagan – the best part of the book for me.  She’s the character I both loved and hated the most.  She’s the one I could identify with even though in some ways I despised her…someone I could have been if my life had taken a different turn at some point.  She’s callous, brash and unapologetic.  She’s also clever, creative and conniving,  Plus she’s broken.  All the protagonists are in some way, but you can see it most in her because she’s brutally honest about it.  Her most notable shining moment is my favourite part of the book and without it, the story would have been lost.

I can forgive a book with a weak plot line as long as the characters are good, but I didn’t have to in this case.  The plot had oodles of dark intrigue and thrilling action with enough complexity to keep me interested.  And I have to say that I loved the little introductory chapters for each of the characters.  It gives you a chance to properly “meet” them before jumping into the story, so that you actually care what’s going on.

I picked up this book out of curiosity because I follow Chuck’s well-written blog.  Now I will probably go out of my way to read more of his books.  This one was a winner.

Here’s one of the recent release of one of my flash fiction stories from a prior out.  Check out “Pure Mime” at Body Parts Magazine.

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The Blurb on Other People’s Words – Fresh Blood

December 31, 2012 at 10:54 pm (horror, Reviews, writing) (, , , , , , , )

Fresh Blood Anthology

I’m not much of a vampire fan, so the fact that I’m giving this 4 stars says something positive about this anthology. It had great flavour and ambition, the kind of winning diversity I’ve come to expect from MDP anthologies and all of the stories were reasonably well written on a technical level. On the other hand, I found a couple of the stories felt like a chapter pulled out of a longer work, where the story seemed unfinished at the end. I also have an aversion to cliché old-school Dracula-esque vampires (a la “I vant to suck your blood” motif) and paranormal romance vampires, and there were a little of those mixed in. I’m more of a vicious “30 Days of Night” or original and really out there vampire kinda gal. On the whole, however, this was a pretty solid anthology, especially considering it was composed of newly published writers. Here are the stories I consider the highlights of the anthology:

Scene Girl by J. J. M Czep – I liked this one, but I would have preferred a more linear plot because I found myself confused in places with regards to the order of events and I’m still not sure if I have the story straight even though I read it more than once. Nevertheless, it was a fun read.

240V by Peter Bailey – I really enjoyed this story and despite the fact that I wanted to hate the protagonist because he is a sleaze-ball with a misplaced sense of entitlement, I still found myself feeling sorry for him at times. A very creative vampire tale that might shock you.

Bedbugs by Patrick Evans – By far my favourite story in the anthology, with a very original story-line (a plot that held my interest well), fantastic characterization and a delightfully scary ending. It also had a goodly dose of dark humour.

I’d say there’s something for everyone here: stories heavy on the gore with highly disturbed characters, some with a taste of the exotic, old-fashioned tales with a historical element and stories rife with highly descriptive imagery. I’m sure all types of genre fans will find at least one story in here to their liking.

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The Blurb on Other People’s Words – More Fear

December 27, 2012 at 11:51 pm (horror, Reviews, writing) (, , , , , , , )

I missed my Monday review because of the holidays, so here it is a few days late…

FEAR: A Modern Anthology Of Horror And Terror (Volume 2)

With this charity anthology, Crooked Cat offers a second great selection of fear-inspiring stories – all proceeds going to a couple of very good causes. While every story had entertainment value, I found a greater range of quality in this volume than in the first. Some of the stories were exceptional, but others had clear language issues that might be distracting to the more discerning reader and there were more grammatical, punctuation and wording issues missed during copy editing in this volume. I would still recommend it if you enjoy a good horror anthology, and I would single out these stories in particular:

The Sad Story of the Death of a King (Jane Wright) – One of those stories so well written its invisible – by that I mean you no longer recognize that you’re reading and just become one with the story. Great characterization and excellent imagery that dragged me back to my old days Trick-or-Treating.

It Sticks with You (Kim Krodel) – Brilliant storytelling and very much fear inspiring. I consider a story particularly special if it gives me goose-bumps – this one gave me a serious case of goose-bumps.

The Lost Souls (Laura Huntley) – This story was very moving and actually made me cry, although it was more disturbing than frightening. The tale was well told. The author manages to generate sympathy for even those who were doing something heinous and I really connected with the main character despite the limited format of a short story.

Scarecrow (Liam Hogan) – An excellent example of a story purely based on fear. It’s a simple premise but very well executed. It gave me a satisfying conclusion for the protagonist but still leaves you wondering what became of the poor farmer.

The Living Eucharist (A. Taylor Douglas) –Wow! I really enjoyed this one. The characters were lifelike, the events of the tale just strange enough to be interesting, without being overdone, and the narrative flowed smoothly. The ending was particularly chilling.

The Honeymoon’s Over (E.E. King) – A clever little story with just the right amount of detail and an interesting twist.

I’m sure there will be more to come from Crooked Cat and these talented writers. I give this one four out of five stars.

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Adventures in NaNo-land – Remembering

November 12, 2012 at 2:01 am (fantasy, Links, writing) (, , , , , , )

In honour of Remembrance Day, I’m doing today’s brief posting on remembering. Memories can be an important part of character development. It shows that the writer has considered the characters’ lives beyond the scope of the story and it makes the characters seem more realistic. Sometimes it can be a matter of reflecting on a childhood event that impacted the rest of their life, other times it could be some other significant occurrence – a first meeting, a marriage, a birth, a death – but more important than the memory itself is the character’s reaction to the memory. Are they touched or does the memory leave them cold? Do they present the memory in a positive light or a negative one? Does it make them happy, angry, sad, anxious?

You don’t want to overuse this technique – the focus should be on the current events of the story – but it can be a handy means of presenting back-story and a tool for more complex characterization. In The Trading of Skin, Osku, the father of my protagonist,
Oaván, has been dead for over a year, but he still is having a profound effect on the family he has left behind. Their memories actually draw the dead man into the story, and he becomes almost as important character as the rest of Oaván’s family.

Here’s a sample of some of their reminiscing:

“I arrived at the sieidi when it was not yet dawn and I sent my free soul out to find him. I could do that then, because I wasn’t yet spirit-bound. I’ve never seen anyone so relieved to see me, telling me he was indebted to me and he would make it up to me someday. I told him his debt was not to me but to Laib Olmai, that I was but the messenger carrying the god’s salvation to him. That didn’t reduce his enthusiasm. Osku flattered me and thanked me all the way back to the sieidi.” Jaská laughed. “Imagine his surprise when he did not open his eyes to the young woman who had led him back, but instead to a large, ornery bear. He’s lucky I changed form right at that moment, or I might have been hungry enough to eat him.”

He must have been frightened,” Oaván said.

“No – quite the opposite. He was fascinated. He wouldn’t leave me alone, following me as I walked away from the sieidi, wrapped in my bearskin. He asked me question after question, even after I growled at him to leave me alone.”

“You could understand him?”

Jaská laughed louder this time. “Not really, that was part of the problem. Spirits speak the same language, but once we were back in the physical world, he could speak no Haldi and I knew very little of the dialect used in Anár. There were a few words in common, but not enough to grasp what we were trying to say. Your father was persistent however. He would not leave me be until we were able to teach each other a little of our languages. He followed me back to my den, and he insisted on coming back to see me. He would keep coming back until we could understand each other well enough that I could answer all of his questions. By that time, I don’t think it mattered to him what I was in my other form. He was smitten.”

Oaván knew the rest of the story with regards to their courting. His father had told him everything he had done in order to capture Jaská’s heart, leaving out the part about how she was also a bear.

“The following year, when the cold season was almost upon us and he knew I would be going back to my lair by the Meandash to hibernate, he begged me not to go. He asked me to come back to Anár to be his wife. I couldn’t say no to him then. I hadn’t been able to say no to your father since the first time he and I had been forced to separate, so I could return to the Meandash. I missed him so much during that time it felt as if my heart had been cleft in two, and a part of it still rested with him in Anár. I haven’t been that miserable until recently and even now I have you boys to bring me comfort. I didn’t have that then.”

“And that’s how you came to be here,” Oaván concluded.

You can find the full chapter, Chapter 6, in first draft at this link:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/112900823/The-Trading-of-Skin-Chapter-6

More tomorrow J

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