Thursday, June 30, 2016

Interview with Yours Truly

Hey everyone. Stephanie M. Wytovich is posting a blog series featuring interviews with the 5 featured poets from the upcoming Volume 3 of the HWA Poetry Showcase. This week's post is an interview with me! Check it out here:

(Whoah...I finally learned to easy an infant could do I need to go back and change other links! Please note my neglect was due to laziness and perhaps blindness, but not complete idiocy)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Book Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

A plague of spores begins to spread, creating gold-flaked, tattoo-like marks across the skin of the infected and eventually causing these poor people to spontaneously combust. This is not your daddy’s apocalypse. The plot centers on a twenty-something woman named Harper and her journey through this dark new world, her own development of the virus known lovingly as “Dragonscale,” and her relationship with the mysterious Fireman.

I expected certain things out of this novel because Joe Hill is one of the better horror/dark fiction writers out there right now, and not all of those expectations were necessarily met. Now that may lead you to believe a bad review is forthcoming, but you’ll be disappointed if you’ve come to read some trash talk. Is this a glowing review? No. But I definitely liked the book. I’ve seen a few complaints about it, and perhaps some of them are worthwhile, but none of them affect my opinion much. Do I think it’s Hill’s best book? Not by a long shot. It’s just on a different tip from the other novels of his I’ve read.

One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen about The Fireman is that it’s too long. Fair enough. I happen to disagree. It may have a lot of pages, but it didn’t feel long to me at all. It read very quickly despite being over 700 pages. I think that’s because Hill chose to pace this book with (mostly) very short chapters. I appreciate this approach in general, but I think it worked especially well in this book. Long, drawn out chapters might have sunk this tale and made it stale. However, I would have liked an extra scene or two with the Cremation Crew, the Marlboro Man, and Harper’s ex-husband Jakob.

Without spoiling the story, the character of The Fireman is what surprised me the most. I think I expected him to be a villain, but it’s clear from the moment he first appears that he is quite the opposite. And even though he is not the main protagonist of the book (that would be Harper, naturally), he is a dynamic and interesting character.

My only real complaints are pretty minor. First, there are way too many references to The Chronicles of Narnia. One or two I could have lived with, but there must be at least half a dozen here. I have to believe they were all intentional and not something that was missed in the editing process, but I can’t figure out for the life of me what significance they held. Also, I think Harper wasn’t having enough of a physical struggle during the later days of her pregnancy. Once she hits the 9-month mark, it becomes evident, but I feel she should have been a lot less agile a couple of months prior to that. But what do I know? I’ve never been a pregnant woman before.

As with Hill’s other books, there are moments of poetic and literary genius, but overall I think The Fireman is perhaps a little less literary and a tad more mainstream than his previous work. His style still seeps through, but it is a little more toned down than usual. He’s working a little more in his dad’s territory here, which is not the case in his other novels. This book could probably be considered his version of The Stand.

Overall, The Fireman is an above average book by an exceptional writer and worth reading if you are a fan of Hill or want to check out a unique take on a post-apocalyptic tale.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Book Review: The Art of Horrible People by John Skipp

I guess if the only real complaint you have about a book is that it’s too short, it’s probably a book worth owning, right? And, yeah, I definitely think this book is too damned short! Let’s just get the bitching done and over with right at the beginning. A few more stories would have been a nice addition. Blahblahblah. Okay…moving on…

John Skipp is a legend amongst fans of strange horror (splatterpunk, bizarro, etc.), and for good reason. The man knows how to write a story that can make you think while you’re puking your guts out in disgust. The two great tastes that taste great together. The Art of Horrible People is a recent collection of stories (though I’m not certain how recent the actual stories are, they all appear to have been published elsewhere). And it’s a varied bunch. All weird and dark, though not necessarily all horror. There are some undeniable horror tales in here like “Art Is the Devil” and “Depresso the Clown,” the latter of which being my favorite of the entire collection (talk about dark and uncomfortably, exhaustingly violent…yikes!), and then there are also pieces that defy characterization, such as the anti-Hollywood diatribe “Skipp’s Hollywood Alphabet Soup of Horror.” All of it is interesting, so who cares what genre certain stories might fall into?

Also included at the end of this book is a long list of artists Skipp is inspired by (which includes writers, bands, illustrators, directors etc.). I have to say this endeared me even more to him, not just because many on his list would also be on my list, but also because it’s just such a nerdy thing to do that I pretty much have to love it. He’s eager to share the things he loves without being overbearing about it. I appreciate that.

However, the biggest shock of this short (Yes! Short! I’m complaining again!) collection is that Skipp made me come close to shedding some tears toward the end of the book. In “Scoob’s Last Will and Testament,” he writes a eulogy to his beloved dog that passed last year, and it just got me real bad. I mean, I’m a sucker when it comes to dogs, so it’s a given something like this is going to affect me in the worst way, but kudos to Skipp for allowing himself to be so vulnerable in a book that might have otherwise only let readers in to one aspect of his personality. I just wanted to give him a big hug after reading that piece.

John Skipp will not appeal to those looking for a commercial sort of fiction, but if you’re seeking something off the beaten path that will still give you some sense of fulfillment after reading it, The Art of Horrible People is a solid purchase.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Book Review: The Library of the Dead by Various Authors, Edited by Michael Bailey

So here we have the first anthology I’ve reviewed on this here blog o’ mine, and it’s a mix of a few authors I’ve read and mostly authors I was previously unfamiliar with (though I have seen many of those names around before). That’s typically the case with most anthologies I read, though. However, The Library of the Dead is a bit different than your average anthology. This is not just a random collection of stories with zero connection or even a collection of stories that more or less fit a particular theme (both are approaches I’m totally fine with, by the way). This book goes one step further and creates a single work out of multiple stories.

Allow me to explain…there is a main (albeit short) “narrative” throughout, focused on the ghostly librarian of the Chapel of the Chimes (which, I didn’t realize until finishing the book, is actually a real place in Oakland), and the unnamed “you” being led through the tales of the dead (yes, you become part of the story this way…it totally works). In between these little interludes are the short stories that make up the bulk of the text. All of them are about completely different topics, yet I discovered about halfway through the book that all of them make some connection to Oakland (or at least the Bay Area as a whole). There are also images accompanying each story, something I always appreciate. The end result is a cohesive piece of fiction written by multiple authors, even if it doesn’t seem so on the surface. It flows pretty consistently if you let it, though. From what I know of Michael Bailey and Written Backwards, he prefers an unorthodox approach to his anthologies, something I support to the fullest. Like I said above, I’m completely fine with your basic everyday anthology so long as the stories are good, but why not take it to the next level if you have the itch to do so? And Bailey has an itch that cannot be satisfied. I say bring it on. He also won the Bram Stoker Award this year for this very book, so he’s obviously doing something right.

As for the stories within, like most anthologies, there are some that are stronger than others, but there were definitely no badly written stories within, just some that appealed to me more than others. For me, the clear winner here is “Reliving Through Better Chemistry” by Weston Ochse. He takes an “Oh shit, why didn’t I think of that?” idea and sends it to very dark places no one wants to visit. Beyond that, I really enjoyed his overall style, which to me is just as important as the story. Ochse also had one of the standout stories in the Midian Unmade anthology, so maybe it’s time I checked out one of his longer works? Any recommendations, folks? The story that follows this one, “Cthylla,” by Lucy A. Snyder, is also a standout. Maybe it’s because I don’t really read much Lovecraft/Cthulhu-influenced fiction, but I found this story to be a very refreshing take on the Mythos. Again, like Ochse’s story, it really gelled with my stylistic tastes as well. The most surprising story here was “The Last Things to Go,” a collaboration between Brian Keene and Mary Sangiovanni. Most of the stories in The Library of the Dead fall on the “quiet horror” spectrum (not the type of stuff I typically read, but I’m always open, naturally), which is exactly the opposite of what comes to mind when you hear the name Brian Keene, and this story is perhaps the quietest of the entire collection. Very odd, but cool. Always a good idea to buck expectations. Maybe it was the influence of Sangiovanni? Who knows?

Overall, if you want subtle creeps wrapped up in a solid overall collection, this anthology is a top-notch example.