Saturday, June 30, 2012

DuplexDuplex by Michael James McFarland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I rarely read anything that gives me the chills or makes me so desperately want to get to the next page...but feel apprehensive about what I will find when I get there. Duplex by Michael James McFarland does just that! I found myself swept up by a story that I kept feeling I had a handle on, only to be thrown just a bit off balance by a crafty turn in the story. One of the strongest features is how well parts of the tale are IMPLIED. McFarland excels in giving you just enough information so that your mind can run amok.

Mostly clean of when it comes to the edits (so minor that you may not notice any unless you are an editor. I have to say that you will probably finish this story if you set an evening aside and just read. I highly recommend this book to the jaded horror fan who needs to feel a chill.

View all my reviews

Dan O'Brien: Day Two...a taste of the talent.

Today is a good time to just sit back and do some reading. Perhaps you are considering what to add to your Kindle (or other such device). Considering that the weekend is all about Dan O'Brien, take a peek at this excerpt from Bitten and you may have to look no further...







Excerpt:


Chapter 1



Madeline Leftwich sat at the train station every day at exactly thirteen minutes past midnight. The faded brown bench on which she sat did not often have consistent occupants as transients and hobos were sparse this far north.
But there she sat, hands crossed over her lap. The floral pattern of the thick skirt she wore was hand-made, buckles and clasps galore adorned the uneven cut and fold of the garment. Her face possessed an absent quality, not that characteristics were missing, but instead a vacancy of spirit. That bench meant a great deal to her. This was the very place that childhood was left behind.
It had been exactly thirty-nine years since her mother had placed her on that very bench, brushed back her hair and told her everything was going to be alright. She had said she would be right back. A promise to a child is a sacred thing. Even as an adult, Madeline could not tear herself away from the compulsion to come wait for her mother every day at that exact moment she had left her. The whistle blew each night as the passenger train rolled into town.
Cold air rained down upon the open station. Often, there would be sheets of ice that would expel from the track, lining the waiting area just beside the tracks on the concrete platform. Attendants had grown accustomed to her presence. Some even offered her coffee in the wee hours of the morning when they had no other friend. This night, however, she was quite alone.
Heavy bleating of the distant train horn filled the night, filtering through a cloudy fog. The susceptible and otherwise occupied Ms. Leftwich was not yet privy to the gossip of the town. Murder, a topic of great concern no matter the venue, would be especially virulent in such a small community. Distance revealed a dark object hurdling through the night, steam and precipitation sluicing from the heavy and hot steel that cascaded across the hours of darkness.
The station was empty. A half-lit banister showed the narrow, icy path that crawled back out to the blacktop just outside the front of the station. She watched the train collide with the open air of the darkness, the squeal of the tight brakes announcing its arrival with startling clarity. Heavy doors opened; artificial light spilled from the side of the train.      
Madeline watched the open door carefully – waiting. Seconds passed into minutes, yet there was no sound external to the cold nature of Minnesota. Winter had a feeling, a symphony all its own. Groaning trees fought against the arctic grip of snow and ice. Lakes moving in the distance, far beneath the heavy weight of the ice that had taken residence upon them, filled the night.
Someone stepped out. Her coat was wrapped tightly around her lithe frame, her sandy blonde hair tucked beneath a brown wool cap. The scarf around her neck was braided and frayed; as though it were sewn by someone she knew well, not the simple manufacture of mass production. Brown eyes watched the empty train station with great interest and a precision that marked her immediately as more than a mere observer.
A bulge at her side revealed a weapon. The simple black bag that was slung over the shoulder of the long brown trench coat made her appear to be a woman on the run, or perhaps one who simply liked to travel light.
Seeing the frail form of Madeline, this sole occupant of the midnight train station, she made her way toward the sitting woman. Her voice was sweet, her tone full of purpose. “Excuse me, ma’am. Is this Locke? Locke, Minnesota?”
Ms. Leftwich watched the woman with wide eyes, pooling with tears. She was severely confused. Was this her mother? Had this been the person she had waited so long to see? She hesitated. This woman was younger, younger than she was. Was this possible: a mother who was younger than you?
“Ma’am, I…”
“Mother?” queried Madeline Leftwich, her voice rising shrilly.
“Pardon me?”
Madeline did not stand, but instead shuffled her purse at her waist. “Are you my mother? You left me here a long time ago. Said you would be back, said you would be back soon.”
Staring into the vacant eyes of Madeline Leftwich, it took the woman a moment of complete incomprehensibility to see that there was not much left. Where there might have once been potential for a woman, were the remnants of some sad description of what could laughingly be called life.
“No. I am very sorry. I’m not…”
Madeline stood now, her features scrunching in anger. “Why would you lie to me? Why would you leave me here? Why?”
“Ma’am, my name is Lauren. Lauren Westlake. And I am neither your mother nor a trained therapist. Can you tell me if this is Locke?”
Madeline interrupted, her face flush. Her words were filled with venomous rage. “Don’t pretend I’m a child. I know where I am. I know who I am. Just because you are my mother, doesn’t mean you can leave me behind.”
Lauren Westlake looked at the woman in a mixture of shock and horror. She resisted the urge to physically restrain the woman, concerned about the reaction she might have. “What is your name?”
Madeline’s face was the very picture of surprise. “You don’t remember your daughter’s name?”
Lauren was uncertain how much further this charade should be carried, whether or not disengaging from the woman would be simpler. Looking at the woman carefully, she noticed that her clothing was handmade. The name Madeline was sewn carefully into the breast of her outmost jacket. Stifling an irritated sigh, she continued. “Madeline. Your name is Madeline.”
And then as quickly as the madness had come, it dissipated. “Why are you talking to me?”
“Excuse me. I…”
Madeline looked at Lauren strangely and stood, gathering her belongings. She moved past Lauren and out into the night as though the interaction did not even happen. Lauren watched her go, scrutinizing the entire exchange in her own mind. Shaking her head, she adjusted the bag at her back and moved forward past the dock of the train station and into the cold area just above it.
Ms. Leftwich was nowhere to be seen. As far as Lauren was concerned, that was for the best.
The night was cold. A heavy veil of fog seemed to grow like a behemoth. She looked down the lane and saw only two endless views of darkness. The blacktop was crystalline, frozen precipitation having created a surreal sheet that seemed as though it would be better suited for ice skating than vehicular travel.
“Not exactly a warm welcome,” she muttered, drawing the top of her coat closer to her face. There were muffled sounds in the distance, voices that were muted; sounds that could originate from only one kind of establishment: a bar. Lowering her head and pulling the strap of her bag tight, she soldiered on.

* * * * *

Madeline had made a mistake that night that would cost her life. Each night that she sat alone at that train station, she would wait for the sun to rise and then scamper home, ashamed. This night, however, her emotions had gotten the better of her. And it was in these woods that she would now find herself in the presence of a particular creature of the night, one that would come to haunt and terrorize the inhabitants of the small town of Locke.
The moon overhead stung the fog, driving the ethereal wisps from its view. Wide and threatening, it looked peaceful when viewed in the company of others, in the arms of a lover perhaps. To Madeline Leftwich, a woman lost in her own mind, it was a portent of doom.
Thick branches grew over the sorry excuse for a path that she walked each day. By daylight the intricacies could be gleaned, but at night it was a haunted maze littered with obstructions and potential trip falls.
Her shoes were a dark fabric. Not the kind of material used when hiking through the woods at breakneck speeds, though that is what Madeline would need that night. When she paused at the center of the trail to make sure she wasn’t being followed, the dead silence of the night became a far more frightening sound.
“Who is there…” she half-whispered, her voice cracking.
A branch snapped, frost claiming yet another soldier. Crack. Another sound echoed in the night; this time much heavier, like weight lingering as a fledging branch gasps for its last breath before being trampled. She pulled her bag close to her chest, her face twisting in fear. Her eyes were wide as she searched the night frantically. “There is nothing there,” she whispered, tearing her eyes from the tree line.
Continuing forward, her steps were quicker, more deliberate. The woods around her thinned the faster she walked, white speckled pines giving way to broken branches along a road of depreciating value. The trail widened in places, enough that little pockets of dirt and soil were pushed up from use.
As if something were urging her forward, she began to run slightly, her breath expelled in heavy puffs of condensed air. She wheezed then, a panicked, hiccupping sound that erupted deep from within her chest.
And that was when she heard the first growl.    There was something wrong with it. It sounded like an animal, the guttural low pitches. However, there was something human to it, a strange gargling sound. Rising in pitch, it sunk again disappearing into the fog.
Her feet were not as sure beneath her as she thought. The tips of the fabric shoes dug into the hard soil, making her wince in pain. Biting her lip hard, she forged forward, stumbling into an open area of the trail.
Trees crowded the edges of her vision and the clearing. The trail continued on the way she had been trampling and then split into two smaller trails yet. The fog hung ahead of her, pulling away as though it were an entity all its own.
Silence permeated the area, there was low rustling. And then the growl came again. It sounded hungry, desperate, the pinnacle of auditory fear. “Who is there? What? Why are you hiding…” she whimpered. “Please…please.”
It seemed to come from all around her, enveloping the cold night air. The fog stirred, deep in its belly a shadow formed. Tall and hunched, it was a mass of darkness shaped like a man. Heavy in the shoulders, spines seemed to rise unevenly from the arms and body. The head was lowered and the knees bowed as though it were ready to pounce.
Yet it did not. It stood, chest heaving, safely veiled by the fog bank. Hands that seemed to melt into long thin claws were obscured by the swirling mass of miasma ebbing and flowing within.
She was speechless.
Her mouth opened: no words.
Her mind raced. Panicked thoughts flooded her mind, erasing judgment and reason. Muscles constrained, joints locked, she watched helplessly. It took a single step forward, the heave of its heavy chest frightening.
Madeline Leftwich was not a god-fearing woman. In point of fact, until that moment she had not given much thought about death. Never had she thought about whether she wished to stay in this world: alive, mortal. Now, when confronted with something drawn from nightmares, her pulse raced and she realized, with a desperate certainty, that she did indeed wish to live.
The rain trickled then, a fat droplet striking her across her hair. Her feet hit the ground hard, her pulse racing as she abandoned her bag. Churning, her feet dug into the hard winter earth. Her breath sputtered in front of her in rapid fits of exploding clouds. She whimpered as she ran, tears running down her face as trees slapped her hard across her cold, sensitive features; some left bruises, others broke skin.
The forest was alive with sound.
Creatures hooted and hollered in the night.
They knew something was happening.
She could hear herself breathing heavily.
She would not last much longer.
Her foot caught something lodged deeper into the frozen ground, the world spun in circles as her back collided with the unforgiving earth. The groan that escaped her lips was foreign.
Frightened and defeated, she kept very still. Where she had landed proved defensible, high brush bristling with heavy branches and evergreen leaves that hid her partly from view.
The forest beat a heavy drum.
Footfalls of animals loose in the night filled the air. There was one set of footsteps that rung above the others: something primal, something large. She covered her mouth with her hand. Pressing it tightly, a shadow crept across her vision.
She peered out the side of the brush.
It stood like a man.
Up close the fur was matted, uneven, missing in some places. The legs were muscular and covered in fabrics that seemed to sluice fluid. Hemorrhaging from the torso, it moved with a predator’s grace.
Its face was covered in shadow.
Madeline felt a scream rise from deep in her chest and she pressed her hand harder against her mouth. Closing her eyes, tears streamed from them. Her chest heaved, but she tried not to move, locking her body into a paralysis.
She could not tear her eyes away from it.
Turning, the face was still well-hidden.
Long slender fingers, like dull blades, bounced against the creature’s legs. The clothing was torn and dirty. A smell emanated from it that could only be described as nausea in the depths of a septic tank. Lifting its head, it sniffed the air, a hood pressing against its mangled hair.
Her breath caught in her throat.
The slow turn of the creature and the bend of its legs as it lowered closer to the ground was more than Madeline could take. And before she could even remove her hand from her mouth to scream, it was upon her. 


How to find Dan O'Brien:


His (excellent) Radio Show Page: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amalgamation


If you have any more questions, please follow up with me at djobrien81@gmail.com.     

Friday, June 29, 2012

Please welcome Dan O'Brien



For the next couple of days, I am turning things over to Mister Dan O'Brien. I hope you will take the time to check him out. When I return, I have a few things on my mind...some that will no doubt ruffle feathers...or downright piss people off. Would you have it any other way? 


A Writing Perspective from the Other Side of the Fence

A Guest Post by Dan O’Brien


Life as a writer can be hard sometimes.

Success is elusive; fans shift as often as a summer wind.

Yet, we persevere, writing into the late hours of the night and waking in the early hours of the morning to log the hours and enter, for a time, the worlds we create. When I first started writing, more than a decade ago, it was because I loved the idea of immersing myself in a place where I could construct the narrative; walk through dense forests and to the tops of mountains. Over time the process became more about writing as a tool to move through emotions and languishing memories that required catharsis.

Writing takes on many forms, for many different writers, over the course of our lives.

For me, the process is the reward.

I love to write.

When I ask myself that silly question of what I would do if I had all the money in the world, the answer is always quite simple: write. Now more than a decade later, I have a renewed sense of purpose and have become quite adept at balancing the spinning plates of responsibility.

Recently, between being a full-time graduate student and writer, I joined Empirical magazine as an editor – among other responsibilities. A national magazine similar in spirit to Harper’s or The Atlantic, the magazine is firmly rooted in a West Coast sensibility. There is a little something for everyone, and honestly, the hope is that everyone will take a look. Contributors to the magazine come from around the globe and cover everything from politics to fiction.

Working at a magazine, especially at this point in its maturation, is a wonderful experience. There are so many moving parts that enliven your day. Sometimes I spend the day sorting through fiction and poetry submissions, searching for that piece of prose, or perhaps a stanza, that ensnares my imagination. Other days I am editing, constantly referring to the Chicago Manual of Style to ascertain the correct usage of an archaic sentence structure. As a writer, the prospect of editing and rummaging through the work of others might not sound exciting, but there are some wonderful consequences:

1.      You learn to become a better editor of your own work
2.      You begin to recognize redundant sentence structures and overused phrases
3.      Your grasp of language grows exponentially

However, the most important component for me is:

4.      You get to help others bring their work into a public forum

For many writers, and certainly for me early in my writing career, the notion of being picked up by a magazine or a small press was foremost in my mind. It was that distant promise of publication and everything that goes with it that pushed me forward. When I got rejection letters, most of which lacked a personal touch, I would get down on my writing, denigrate my ability.

The years passed, during which thousands of rejection letters amassed, and I realized that the pursuit of writing for a purely extrinsic reward was dooming myself to Vegas-style odds. I became clear to me that I needed to write because I loved it, and then find a way to share it with others – even if it was not through traditional routes. I found that I was more comfortable with my writing when I did it for the pure joy of it.

Now that I am on the other side of the fence, so to speak, I have noticed a few myths about submitting to paying publications that otherwise mystified and frustrated me prior to becoming an editor and being responsible for interacting with first-time and established authors.

I have decided to provide a humorous, but serious, collection of things you should do and things you shouldn’t do when submitting and entering into a discourse with a publication – sprinkled, of course, with some anecdotes. And without further ado (or perhaps slight ado if you count this sentence here):

Things You Should Do

1.      Read the publication you are submitting to before sending an email. This one sounds obvious, I know. However, it happens so often that it warrants mentioning. If you have written a brilliant piece of prose that is about zombies, it is quite likely that Popular Mechanics will not be that interested in it. Pick up an issue of the magazine you are interested in submitting to and familiarize yourself with the kinds of stories they publish. The next part is the hardest part: be honest. Does your piece fit with what they publish?
2.      Read and follow the submission instructions. Again, a no-brainer. If you are thinking that you don’t know where to find the submission instructions and you just have an email address, be prepared for disappointment. Your email might go to submission purgatory with a one-liner response about having received your correspondence – if you’re lucky.
3.      Address your submission to the appropriate person. If you are thinking that I am giving you the obvious pointers, then you are quite right. With that in mind, imagine that I still receive hundreds of emails a month that manage to ignore these simple suggestions. If you are writing a stunning expose on corporate greed, the poetry editor is probably not the best destination for your work.
4.      Edit your work. I tell this to students a lot, so I will mention it here as well: spell check in Microsoft Word is not sufficient. I am not saying that you need to be a copyeditor to submit to a magazine, but do yourself a favor and read it out loud. If it something sounds funny when you read it, you can only imagine how it will sound to an editor who is choosing among thousands of articles and stories to determine what goes to print.
5.      Be cognizant of turnarounds. By this I mean, the amount of time between when you sent in the work until you hear back from an editor about the status of your submission. Nothing will send your work to the bottom of a slush pile than to send a follow-up email the day after you submitted, wondering whether or not you are going to be in the magazine. Most publications will post how long it takes to hear back from them about the status of a submission, and an amount of time after which you should contact them if you haven’t heard from them.

Things You Shouldn’t Do

1.      Send an email telling an editor that they would be stupid not to publish your work. It always surprises me when I get an email telling me that I need to publish a story, poem, or piece of nonfiction because it is the next best thing. Top this off with letting me know that I would be a fool not to accept it, almost guarantees a trip to the trash can.
2.      Send a photocopy of your story by registered mail.  If you want to have your story in a magazine, start by giving it to editors in a format that they can actually use. By sending a faded and blurry photocopy of your forty-word poem and declaring that it is a soul-searching masterpiece does not inspire as much confidence as you would think.
3.      Contact an editor on a frequent basis about the status of your submission. I have to sort through hundreds of emails a day, edit for the current issue, and work on editing an anthology; not to mention a thousand other intangibles. We posted a time table about getting back to you for a reason: read it.
4.      Be discouraged by a form rejection letter. This is a bitter pill to swallow for many writers. They think the form rejection letter means that the editor didn’t read their work, or simply had things already planned and was stringing writers along. The reality is on any given month I send out hundreds upon hundreds of rejection letters. There is simply not enough time in the day to offer feedback to every single person. This not to say that I do not offer feedback, or that editors do not offer feedback in general, but instead the process is streamlined so writers can be responded to in a reasonable amount of time.
5.      Call the magazine to find out about your submission. This is subsumed by not contacting an editor about the status of your submission before enough time has passed, but I thought it warranted a special mention considering it is really going the extra mile in terms of being an irritation. If we haven’t gotten back to you yet, calling us is not going to suddenly make us more accessible.
6.      Send another email with corrections. Read twice, send once. If you don’t think what you sent is ready for publication, then please don’t send it. You get one chance at a first impression, and nothing speaks to being underprepared and unprofessional than sending a draft and immediately following up with another draft. If your piece needs work, note that in your submission, but don’t send a series of emails chronicling the different stages of the edits for that story. The exception, of course, is if you have already been accepted and you have been asked to make edits.
7.      Contact the magazine to air your frustrations about not being selected. I say this with all seriousness. It is very likely that you got rejected because the piece was not a good fit and not that the magazine has decided to order a hit on your writing career. Please don’t treat it that way. Lashing out at a publication for sending a form rejection letter, or passing on a piece you have written, reeks of a lack of professionalism and could impact your ability to publish elsewhere. Many editors are friends, especially in the digital age, and word spreads fast.
8.      Contact the magazine to ask if you think a story you are working on would be a good fit elsewhere. I can appreciate the sentiment. A lot of editors are writers themselves, and they love talking about the process and the product. I find myself building friendships with writers, those we publish and those we do not, and often I will give them suggestions about their work. However, if you don’t know me personally and have never been published or solicited in any way to use me as a sounding board, then do not contact me and ask if a poem or story would be a good fit at another magazine. If you think it is ready for publication, then submit it here. An obvious exception would be if the writer knew the story would not be a good fit and asked because they were uncertain in venturing into new territory.

I could probably keep listing things you shouldn’t do, but I will wrap it up there. I encourage you to keep trying and keep writing. Things only get better with time, and time is all we really have. I love to hear from other writers and potential readers, so please stop by and say hello.


Bio: A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, he has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End ofthe World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, Devianceof Time, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, The Twins of Devonshire and the Curse of the Widow, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) or visit his blog http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com. He also works as an editor at Empirical, a national magazine with a strong West Coast vibe. Find out more about the magazine at www.empiricalmagazine.com.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quit whining and just write!



Critic.  

Did I make you cringe just a little bit?  Some of you have a Clockwork Orange-style aversion to that word.  Then, others see that same word and become giddy with excitement.  What is sadly lacking here is a shade of neutral ambiguity. Lately, in the zombie genre at least, that seems to be a problem. Zombie fiction writers seem to be splitting into factions faster than a new cast on Survivor.  I say this with a tinge of tough love…we need to get over ourselves.

You can’t drop in to one of the plethora of Facebook pages centering on horror fiction, more specific, the zombie genre, without some poor, picked on, emotionally abused writer moaning about his or her latest review on Amazon or some other site. They start by proclaiming how much the critic “just didn’t get it.” Pretty soon, they have gathered a crowd who express their sympathy. The next thing is usually an online jihad where everybody goes and “votes that the review was not helpful.” Did anybody forget that axiom about opinions being similar to a certain part of the human body that emits a foul odor?

There is a saying, “those who can’t do, teach” we can add, “those who can’t write, critique” and “opinions are like…” well, you get my point.  Right? How about adding, “I’m rubber you’re glue…” and “that which does not kill me makes me stronger”.

This column is for writers, wanna-be writers, and soon-to-be published writers in the indie scene. I specify the indies because most BIG names don’t get into this type of pity-party/meltdown.  Whatever.  If you write, I am talking to you.  People, it’s time to toughen up a bit.  I think all of this political correctness in society has turned us into a bunch of wussies.  We live in a society where everyone gets a trophy just for participating.  Everybody makes the team or mommy files a law-suite against the coach.  Enough already.  We are zombie fiction writers, people.  I’ll bet each and every one of us has been an outcast at some point in our lives.  We’re made of stronger stuff.  (Can I get an “Amen”!?)

That’s right, I’m about to get up on the soapbox.  Some of you delicate flowers are gonna get your feelings hurt.  Funny thing is I’m not talking to just one person.  I am talking to the group.  I love our little niche in the literary world.  (Notice the looseness in which I employ the term ‘literary’) and want us to grow strong.

So, let me return to my point and “lay down the heavy.”

It seems that I can’t browse a forum these days without watching some new drama unfold.  And what is it usually based on? Somebody wrote a negative review (heaven forbid!). Let the school yard mudslinging begin. Hell, half the time the mud slingers aren’t even the offended party, they’re simple fringe members in a forum designed to promote zombie fiction.  Enough is enough.

I read everybody.  Permuted, Library of the Living Dead Press, Books of the Dead, Pill Hill, Coscom, and a host of others.  I got news for you…I have read some absolute swill from each.  However…I have read some absolute gems as well.  Guess what?  Neither of those opinions means a thing.  Wanna know why? (Okay! Who said, “Because you’re a know nothing dumbass!”  Really, how rude) I’ll tell you why.  Because it’s an OPINION!  I believe we have already covered the whole thing about what opinions resemble.

I’ve been sitting back for a while. I’ve watched what goes on and have stayed out of it.  However, with a few full length pieces out there, over a dozen anthologies that I have edited, I am fully exposed to critiques.  There will be those who think I am a total hack.  OUCH!! Yet not fatal.  To those who review me and slice me up like they are demonstrating Ginsu knives, you are entitled to hate me. You may freely use words like: “sucks” “tripe” “garbage” and “awful”. I won’t sit here and tell you that it doesn’t sting.  No matter, there will still be those that love me.  And honestly, those are the people that I write for.  What’s more, my wife, children, and dogs, will ALWAYS love me.  At the end of each day…that is what matters.  

Fellow writers of zombies, let’s take a moment and make a pact.  Raise your left hand.  (We’re zombie writers, we do things different.  Besides, raising the right hand is so cliché).

I, state your name, (if you said “state your name”, go stand in the corner for five minutes) promise to write with the understanding that not everybody will think that the sun rises and sets on my butt.  I will understand that once a story leaves my hands, it is out of my control. I will not engage in petty word wars with critics.  That only takes away time from my writing.  Above all, I will remember the saying, “you can’t please everybody”.  In the name of Romero, I make this pledge.  Amen.

Wait, we ain’t done yet folks.  We have talked about the negative.  Now, let me speak on the positive.  Just like the ones that cut your legs out from underneath you, you shouldn’t let the good ones go too far to your head.  Or, to quote Han Solo, “Great, kid, don’t get cocky”.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy the compliments; just don’t let it all go to your head.  Take a moment and think this through.  How many times have you read a review, heard tons of hype, then finally broke down and saw the movie, read the book, or bought the record? (Kids, records are large round things that your parents used to buy to listen to music from shortly after the dinosaurs died) now, how often did it live up to the hype?  That’s my point…too much praise can sour things far more than a negative review.
I read all the reviews out there on my stuff.  And I can tell if somebody has actually read it, or if they are simply writing a fluff piece.  Honestly, I would prefer nothing, or a bad review, over a fluff piece.  At least that way, I know that they have read it.

Again, remember that you are writing for a target audience.  Given time (and talent) you will build a fan base (see Rhiannon Frater for example) she’s won over a fan base.  Yet, there are those that don’t like her.  (I call those people mindless heathens, but I fall into the fan category) Once again, use your melon.  How many of you have certain writers that you wait on anxiously for their new release?  Oh, so I’m the only one?  C’mon people…show of hands.  That’s better.  I’m not shy; I’ll tell you my list:  Scott Sigler, Jasper Fforde, Rhiannon Frater, Kim Paffenroth, BrianKeene, Kim Harrison, and my newest edition, Mark Henry.  I am what you call “Brand Loyal”.  There is also a list of people that I would never read again if you held me over a pit of hungry zombies consisting of my three ex-wives.  Want to know who they are?  (The writers I don’t like, not my ex-wives, dummy.) Too bad.  It doesn’t serve a purpose, and quite frankly, it is mean-spirited.  I’ll admit to petty, but not to mean.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pavlov's Dogs by D.L. Snell and Thom Brannon

Pavlov's DogsPavlov's Dogs by D.L. Snell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is absolutely no chance for the reader to ease into this story. It launches right into some edge-of-your-seat action to draw you in and let you know that you should clear the rest of your day because you won't be setting this book down any time soon.

I am seldom disappointed with anything from Mr. Snell and Permuted Press. (In fact, I guess I am still waiting for that to happen.) I am often skeptical when attempts are made to cross the genres, and I admit to the same trepidation here. I am (admittedly) not much of a were-anything fan. It just never seemed like something i could get into and care about. I was proved wrong here because it was so well explained spliced into the story. To have the "super human genetic engineered warrior" can be a dangerous move. No worries here.

There is a very fine development of character here, but I must admit that I felt there could be more story if allowed. My only complaint is that i would have liked it if this tale could have actually been much longer. There were simply so many characters that deserved more 'page" time. Actually...Jorge could have his own book. This comes from some very nice dialog that many stories bog down in. However, dialog is a strength here.

Misters Snell and Brannan should be proud of what they have done here. Congrats to them and Permuted Press for providing a fun summer read!

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Chapter Fifteen: Epilogue (or...“The damned double ending!”)

Thousand of stories have been spawned by the creature that Romero almost singe-handedly created. Many of those stories refer, either subtly or quite blatant, not only to elements of Romero’s tales, but also to the man dubbed “The Master” by millions. Malls have an iconic place in the realms of the zombie multiverse. There will always be “outside” threats from other survivors that seek to spoil some false utopia. Often, the zombie is the lesser threat as it brings out the best and the worst from those who fight and struggle to survive.

The zombie is a terrifying monster because of just how very “real” they are. Whether it is due to a viral infection that causes bestial rage ala 28 Days Later, or some bizarre radiation dragged in from space by a crashing satellite, a zombie is not too far-fetched. After all, The Bible features the first possible zombie: Lazarus.  The story never says what happened after Jesus left. While it is not assumed that Lazarus went on a flesh-eating spree, it still opens the mind to the possibility of the dead re-awakening.

As horror has unraveled and become slash or torture-porn, and the good, old-fashioned monster has morphed into the stranger next door...the zombie remains. As vampires undergo high school hormone make-overs...the zombie endures. As Jason spends his time battling Michael and Freddy...the zombie trudges on.  As sick old men take out their frustrations of a cancer diagnosis on perceived ingrates with no appreciation of their lives by trapping them in unsolvable torture puzzles that would repulse Torquemada...the zombies gather outside by the millions seeking to devour the last survivor. As today’s scary story plays out on the six o’clock news...zombies break down the last door. 

They feast. 

They kill... 

...the people they kill get up and kill!

Chapter Fourteen: Closing Credits (or...“You’re still here? It’s over. Go home! Go!”)


George A Romero created the perfect monster. While Bram Stoker deserves the credit for giving the world the term “undead”, Romero must likewise be credited for the zombie. Haitian mysticism aside, Romero’s flesh-rending ghouls are what launched a true horror franchise, setting the bar for any who would follow to aspire to reach.

While vampires have been transformed into teen idols and figures of romance for the MTV generation, the zombie has steadfastly remained horrible and gruesome. Removing Shaun of the Dead from the equation—the British can make anything seem funny—there is no humor to be found, nothing pretty about being a zombie. This etches the zombie as seen through Romero’s eyes into the annals of true monsterdom.  There will be no zombie love-triangles. (If there is, it will most certainly be overtly comedic or graphically pornographic which, in either case, excludes it from the horror genre.)

Only the zombie can claim status as true horror-genre worthiness. Vampires give over too easily to romance and thus, their fear factor has faded in the Twilight. Frankenstein is a moralistic tragedy, and only Hollywood could truly bastardize the story enough to create such a monster of deserved sympathy.

The zombie, as given by Romero, stands alone on stiff legs and plods endlessly forward as the vanguard of horror...its last remaining champion.  Since these flesh-eating ghouls were set free in 1968, they have captured a devout following.  No other genre can boast of such underappreciated inspiration.

While Frankenstein’s monster inspires feelings of pity and vampires come in their various shapes, sizes and degrees of (gasp!) good, the zombie is steadfast. A zombie kills. Those it kills—provided enough remains—get up and kill. Empty a machine gun clip into a zombie’s torso and you merely slow it down.

Despite looking somewhat human, a zombie is a monster. Strip away all the implied social commentary and it remains a monster bent on eliminating humanity. As long as a single, uninfected person lives and breathes, the zombie will continue to threaten the existence of man.

An update on the diet and exercise routine: As day 3 begins, I must say that day two was the most difficult. The soup--which was so enjoyable on day one--becomes almost like a punishment. Also, the selection of fruits on day one was more varied and enjoyable. There seems to be a lack of enjoyable AND tasty raw veggies. (At least in my opinion.) However, my weight this morning on the start of day 3 is 246.6 (7.2 pounds).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chapter Thirteen: Buy the Book (or...“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”)

There is another yardstick in which to measure the rise of the zombie’s star: book stores.  Where, once, the bookshelves were practically bare, there is now a plethora of zombie fiction to choose from. One telling sign of its growth is that a multitude of women writers are venturing into the once male-dominant turf with some very smart, character-driven stories.

More does not necessarily mean better and there is a negative aspect of this newfound resurgence in all things zombie. There is certainly a great deal more chaff to sift through.  The degree of formulaic storylines and one-dimensional characters taking place in zombie fiction prove the “more is not better” thesis. While many zombie-fiction writers fall into the ‘easily forgotten’ category, there is a handful who are ‘must reads’: Rhiannon Frater, Max Brooks, S.G. Browne, Kim Paffenroth, and Robert Kirkman.  Of that group, half of them (Brooks, Browne, and Kirkman) have screenplay deals.  Kirkman’s The Walking Dead series of graphic novels is a smash hit for A&E. Brad Pitt purchased the rights to Max Brook’s World War Z and Browne just signed the movie rights away for Breathers: A Zombie’s lament.

Currently there are a few publishers who deal heavily in zombie fiction: Permuted Press, Books of the Dead (via James Roy Daley) and my own (excuse the shameless plug), MayDecember Publications are among some of the more prolific.  These three houses each publish between eight to a dozen titles a year consisting of a mixture of full length novels and anthologies.  All three have no qualms about taking a chance on a previously unpublished author.  It would seem that the ‘zombie infection’ has not only spread, but is thriving in the literary world.

As a side note on a completely unrelated topic, I am in day 2 of my P90X restart as well as a week of adhering to the dietary guidelines from the book The Seven Day Diet Plan. I will post my results at the end of the week, but as a reminder, my starting weight was 253.8.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (in 3D)


Went to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in 3D on Sunday. Just a side note...the last movie that I saw in 3D was Jaws 3. To say that I was blown away by what I saw would be an understatement. I was mesmerized by the trailers for coming attractions!

As for the movie...it was brilliant! I guess now is a good time to say that I am a huge Civil War buff. (My book Dakota deals with that era and was actually inspired during my time living in Charleston, South Carolina. I thought that it was stunning visually and kept me entertained from start to finish. When it comes down to it...isn't that the goal of any film?

The man playing the role of Abraham Lincoln was the perfect balance of stately politician and action hero. The villain, Adam, is done to the utmost by evil character actor, Rufus Sewell. However, Jimmi Simpson was perhaps my favorite of the cast. He reminded me of a young James Spader.

If you are looking for harsh criticism here for any discrepancies in historical content, I won't be going that route. The movie was entertaining and fun! I loved it and will add it to my DVD collection when it comes out because it is worth watching again. The scene on the train was worth it alone. Far-fetched? Sure! But freakin' amazing!

When I go to a movie...my biggest concern is if it made me laugh, cry, or feel any sort of emotion. I chuckled a few times and was so swept up at others that I realized I was leaning forward to the point of almost being in the next row. So...yes...the movie was worth the time and money. And if you can.see it in 3D. I was captivated by the dust motes!

Casualties of War (Masters & Renegades, #2)Casualties of War by Chantal Boudreau
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full disclosure...I edited this and the previous entry (Masters & Renegades: Magic University. However, I would not put my name on something that I did not believe whole-heartedly in. That said, Casualties of War is even better than the first book.

The focus is on a few of the familiar characters from the debut in the Masters & Renegades series and takes place a while after the trials concluded. The Renegades have opened their own academy and the Master Mages are not pleased. Some go as far as to embark on an secret war that includes the magic equivalent of bio-terrorism.

This book allows the reader to become even better acquainted with a few of the originals while very smartly introducing a few new names. It is not done as a laundry list, but rather a masterful introduction that seems to be Ms. Boudreau's forte as a storyteller. As a reader, it is very easy to become attached to these people and they really do come to life on the page.

No spoilers here, but there will be some twists and turns including a moment that made me set down the book and shoot off a rather annoyed email to the author. Bravo! It is so nice to find a writer that makes the reader feel REAL emotions while reading.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Chapter Twelve: Remakes, Rip-offs and Ribaldry (or...“You mean the movie lied?”)

If all that is wanted form a zombie horror film are a few good scares and some gruesome effects woven into a terrifying story of one possible apocalypse, look no further than the series of remakes based on the original Romero trilogy.  If a bit of low-brow camp mixed in with formula, and a dash of full-frontal nudity is desired, then the oft-confused Return of the Living Dead series of movies will satisfy.  For good old-fashioned horror that keeps its audience on the edge of its seat peeking through splayed fingers, there is the 28 Days Later films.  Last but not least, for the bookwork there are a plethora of novels, novellas, graphic-novels, and anthologies.

Night of the Living Dead was re-made by protégée and effect legend, Tom Savini in 1990.  The film remained true to its predecessor in many ways and satisfied those who could not appreciate the noir of black-and-white, but would not tolerate a colorized film.  Most notably, the shambling zombies creeping in on the protagonists like the tide offered a feeling of a certain and methodical doom.

Savini focused on the strength of his talent with effects while producing a more “politically correct” story.  Barbara was no longer a damsel in distress.  Instead, she was portrayed as a fierce survivor by Patricia Tallman.  Lacking the degree of racial tension between Ben and Harry Cooper, all of the individuals seeking refuge in the farm house fight amongst themselves.  It is Barbara’s tough, no-nonsense attitude that provides the glue.  There are subtle twists and changes to the climax, but Savini stays off the soapbox and produces nothing more than a monster movie.

Danny Boyle brought his British art house horror film to the United States in June of 2003 after considerable critical acclaim.  There are numerous and obvious nods to Romero, but the Alex Garland story is its own entity.  It is in 28 Days Later that the zombies, or, as they are referred to in this film, ‘infected’, are sprinters.  In fact, when casting extras, Boyle sought out English Football and track stars to ensure speed.  It should be noted that many Romero fans supported and gave positive reviews of the Boyle film.  The actual divisiveness surrounding the sprinting zombie came when Snyder utilized them in his remake.

In March of 2004, Zack Snyder released the remake of Dawn of the Dead.  Throughout his film, Snyder “tips his hat” to Romero.  In addition, he sought to win over fans of the original films by inserting gems that die-hard fans alone would appreciate.  There were cameos by original members of  the 1978 film; Scott Reiniger, Tom Savini and Ken Foree.  Each had spotlight scenes with dialog and Foree was even cast as a television minister where he repeated his “When there is no more room in Hell...” (Dawn 1978 and 2004) line.  A mall provided the central setting for a group of survivors.  That is where the similarity ended.  The movie was an entirely different story from the original.  Snyder’s most glaring difference would be the use of “sprinting zombies”.  While seemingly small, the use of the fast moving or sprinting zombie is a source of much debate in the horror community.  Very few fans of this particular monster have no opinion on the subject.  The Snyder film, while polarizing, was actually riding the wave of zombie fiction popularity ushered in by the entirely new and different franchise: 28 Days Later. 

Speed is not the first issue that had disrupted and divided the zombie community.  In 1985, as the third movie in the Romero saga, Day of the Dead, limped into a limited release as an independent film, another zombie franchise was seeing wide commercial release.  Return of the Living Dead was seen as nothing short of an insult and defacing of the Romero name by a vast majority of purists.  This film would strip the zombie of his ability to frighten.  Even more appalling, it would create an off-shoot in the mythos that has—some believe wrongfully so—managed to survive for over two decades: the zombie as a TALKING brain-eater.  Either aspect alone is a corruption, the combination of the two is abhorrent to the fans of Romero’s creation.

When Baby Godzilla was brought to the screen, Godzilla stopped being a terrible monster bent on ruin.  He became a bit ordinary.  In fact, he served as Japan’s savior from the likes of Ghidra ad Mecha-Godzilla in future installments.

Likewise, when a zombie takes time off from wreaking carnage to get on a police radio and say “send more cops!” (Return), there is a laugh factor that has been irrevocable introduced. The Return of the Living Dead franchise has transformed a monster capable of instilling fear into a buffoon. The zombie was taking a cue from the Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors version of Freddy Krueger and zipping off one-liners. Had it billed itself as a comedy, Return of the Living Dead could be forgiven. However, by being billed as horror, the film was fostering the illegitimization of the zombie as a monster.

The other damaging effect of this new franchise is one that lingers today and has even affected some of the purists. “Brains!” (Return). With that one word uttered by a newly animated corpse, a peculiar conundrum, was caused in the worlds of zombie lore. Since the universally accepted manner in which to dispatch a zombie is a brain injury, and the contagion was spread via bite, how could a now brainless corpse rise and join the horde? The Romero-zombie was not capable of speech, nor was it a discerning eater. In fact, it was the scenes involving individuals having their insides torn out as they screamed in agony that made death-by-zombie so terrifying.

Where the Romero franchise (remakes included) as well as the Boyle film(s) maintained their mythos—a headshot was the only way to stop the zombie—the “Return” movies changed from title to title. In the first movie, headshots, dismemberment and bludgeoning would all prove useless and only cremation would suffice. In one scene, a cadaver has re-animated. It is decided that the classic head injury method be used to dispatch the creature. A pick is driven through the zombies head; yet it continues to struggle. One character exclaims, “Well, it worked in the movie!” Another replies, “You mean the movie lied?!” (Return). The movies in this franchise were merely parodies full of gore for gore’s sake. They didn’t scare so much as cause the viewer to cringe.

The zombies had been made more human.  The one thing that truly made them monsters had been diluted and weakened. People were no longer afraid of some rubber-masked creature from a dark lagoon.  Radioactive giants or mysterious beasts from strange lands could not scare us.  The news on television was full of much worse: Charles Manson, Jeffery Dahmer, Jim Jones, the Heaven’s Gate cult, Columbine High School, and Mohammad Atta. Just as the movies were showing us...WE had become the monster.