Monday Sanity Check: Dragging the Depths Edition

Mary and I have a years-long standing tradition of filling our Octobers with horror movies. The interesting thing about these marathons is that we inevitably hit some sort of theme, quite by accident. Last year it was Satan and possession. This year it’s the 1970s and living doll movies (like the fantastic Tourist Trap, can’t recommend that enough). This weekend we decided to watch the 1979 version of Salem’s Lot, as Mary’s been jonesing to watch it.

It hasn’t aged well. Don’t get me wrong, it had some creepy moments, like the kids hovering outside windows and Geoffrey Lewis as a vampire (see the photo below), but overall it suffered from corny dialogue, poor adaptation choices, and pacing issues. I mean, SEVERE pacing issues. The first hour of the story could have been cut out and it would have been all the same for it. I get that King’s book was just as much about the goings-on in a small town as the vampire threat, but this stuff dragged the movie into the mud.

salems Lot

Don’t get me started on the changes made to Barlow’s character or the limpness of the confrontation between Barlow and Callahan compared to what transpires in the novel. I’m tempted to check out the 2004 adaptation, but while it’s closer to the novel, it apparently has its own issues. Is it really so hard to put together a two-hour version of the story? It didn’t seem that hard based on what I saw, but what do I know?

Fiction Wednesday: A Coldfire Knife

Hey, welcome once again to Fiction Wednesday. This should be a rather quick week, as I find myself embroiled in two long-ish novels (Amazon says that they weigh in at a combined 992 pages, so roughly the length of a Stephen King novel). They’re long, but let me tell you, I’m in dark fantasy heaven at the moment and, as usual, find a common thread running between these two books. Great stuff, so let’s take a look at C.S Friedman’s Black Sun Rising and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

BlackSunRising

Black Sun Rising: The Coldfire Trilogy, Book One: 1 by C.S. Friedman. My second read through this book, and I’m gaining way more from it on this go-around. It’s been 16 years since last I read this series, so you can only imagine how different the subtext reads from this new perspective. The first read-through led me to believe that Gerald Tarrant (that guy on the cover) was little more than a psychic vampire. That reading holds up somewhat, but there’s a deeper, more sinister reading as well, full of an underlying psycho-sexual current that eluded a 21-year old Jonathan.

It’s quite fascinating, actually. Let’s lay the groundwork first: Black Sun Rising takes place on Erna, a planet colonized by humans about 1200 years previous to the book. Erna has never quite taken to humans and possesses an inherent defense mechanism against outsiders that humans call The Fae. This Fae is highly responsive to human emotion and can manifest wraithlike beings based on those emotions – lust, for instance, can create a succubus; fear can create monsters, and so on. The resulting wraiths are collectively known as demons, though we see that they have decidedly different species and races.

The Fae’s responsiveness is not just a negative feature, however; it also means that humans can learn to make it obey their will by strictly controlling their emotions and using clever rituals and symbols to bring their subconscious in line with their will. This turns the Fae into Erna’s version of magic, with all the boons and drawbacks that typically come with such a force. I think it’s a very refreshing concept and a great way to meld sci-fi and fantasy together.

But as humans have shaped the Fae, so too has the Fae shaped humans; certain people now have the innate ability to see and work the Fae. These humans, known as adepts, are revered and highly sought-after in certain circles. There are some religious subtexts to these abilities, with one of the main characters being a priest, but I’ll touch on that in the future. For now, just know that one of the central characters, Lady Ciani, is an exceptionally talented adept who runs a shop in the City of Jaggonath.

With me so far? Good, because here’s where that creepy sexuality starts to pick up. Demons feed on humans’ emotions and/or memories, tearing out the core of their humanity and leaving them empty shells (or outright killing them, depending on the expediency of the situation). The demons do this because, like their victims, they, too, are empty husks. They seek a more well-balanced life and, in some ways, to become human.

I think you can see where this is going. It feels like a dark mirror of rape in our world, where someone hijacks another’s body and spirit for their own ends, often due to a feeling of emptiness or a yearning to be more powerful. This subtlety did not present itself on my first read-through, but I can only assume that had something to do with my inherent naiveté at that age because this metaphor slaps the reader in the face and draws upon the reader’s discomfort to describe the attack’s horrific nature.

Not much of a spoiler since it happens in the opening scenes, but a pack of aggressive, rare demons attack Ciani, draining her memory and, unexpectedly, severing her connection to the Fae. This renders her a “normal”, vulnerable human. This leads to some moment with which even I’m not altogether comfortable; for a while it’s hard to read her increased vulnerability as anything other than a means to get the male characters moving. She even becomes a bargaining chip at one point, a powerful woman reduced to little more than an object. It’s uncomfortable reading, but I think it’s supposed to be just that – there’s an inherent horror to the situation.

This happens to Ciani not once but twice, and after the second time she begins to get close to that crime’s perpetrator (admittedly he restores what he takes), which makes the reader even more uneasy. Upon reflection, however, the attraction makes some sense, as the perpetrator is the story’s equivalent of Satan and makes a compelling offer to her. Who else but the devil would make such a deal with the very person that he rendered vulnerable?

If my recollection is correct, she does get out of the mess and is stronger for it, making this a story of survival and ultimate triumph over trauma. My understanding of the complete arc of the analogy is still somewhat incomplete, so I’ll reserve judgment for the final review.

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The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness. Boy do these two books work well together. This one is also about a world colonized by humanity; this one also feature(d) native forces who were hostile to humanity. This one is also about discovering that your view of the world was incomplete. The parallels are endlessly fascinating.

Todd is more than just a boy growing up in the dying town of Prentisstown – he is the last boy in Prentisstown and, as far as he knows, the last human boy on this planet after a virus ravaged the residents, killing half the men and all of the women, leaving the remaining men with a disorder that renders their thoughts visible and audible to just about anyone; the resulting cacophony is known as “Noise”. The virus also gives animals the ability to talk, and so Todd’s constant companion, Manchee, is a small dog that keeps up a light-hearted patter (it works a lot better than it sounds, trust me).

Talk about intriguing concepts.

Todd’s world is full of the angry Noise – it’s all he really knows, and he craves a quiet spot, traipsing off into the woods to find those places where he can only hear the speech of the animals. While on one of these expeditions, Todd discovers a “quiet” spot in all the noise, and that discovery begins to tear apart his predictable world.

I’m loving this book and can’t wait to write the review, though I’m not even at the halfway point and it has lots of time to fall apart. I trust Ness, though – he seems to have a good idea of where this is all going, and I’m happy to go along for the ride.

——

And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!

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Writers and the Just World Fallacy

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Monday morning after the onset of Daylight Savings Time is just the worst, isn’t it? Don’t get me started on the advent of DST, either. The whole thing seems like an abomination to me, and for whatever reason people have become more and more zealous about embracing it. Now I hear that the UK is thinking of going to DST full-time. I don’t even…I don’t think you can call it DST at that point, can you? Anyway, my point is that I resent losing an hour of sleep and my writing will probably suffer for the next week, so thanks for that!

Now I’d like to address an issue that’s been bouncing around in my head for the last few weeks and came to a head on Friday: the Just World fallacy.

You see this one a lot in political circles, the idea that people who are suffering somehow deserve it because they a. didn’t plan the way they should have, b. obviously did something wrong and this is karmic payback, c. are part of an inferior group of people, d. some other reason that makes the person an “other”. The fallacy, obviously, is that the world is always fair and if something happens it’s the result of a cosmic tally sheeting being balanced out by some divine accountant.

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It’s an alluring idea; it’s comforting to believe that everything happens for a reason, that there is no such thing as dumb lousy luck or random chance. Just as it’s easy to believe that a run of good luck is evidence that we’ve been favored by some unseen force, we can also believe that we somehow deserve the bad that’s randomly befallen us. You can see how such an idea pretty quickly becomes destructive.

Author note: This is not to suggest that things never happen for a reason. I’m more a firm believer in a higher order of chaos, that what appears to be random chance does balance out at some level, but one that happens far above our own level – that accident that sets you back thousands of dollars isn’t retribution for something that you did wrong, but rather a result of a chain of events that are a larger pattern that we can’t perceive. I suspect that Buddhists have a rather keen grasp of this concept.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, there seems to be a somewhat pervasive mythology that some magic combination of factors can guarantee success for just about any author (when it seems that just about every author needs his or her own individual approach). One of the common tropes is to “just write, and it will all work out”. I certainly agree with the first part – doing the work is the most crucial thing. Write, write, and write some more until your fingers are about to fall off and you best position yourself for any opportunity that may come your way. That’s fundamental to being a good author.

The second part is more troublesome, the idea that “it will all work out”. Perhaps on that macro scale, yes, but the truth is that lots of extremely talented, brilliant writers get left behind by the industry every day. Recognizing this fact is imperative for your sanity.

Wrong

The implication here is not that successful authors don’t deserve it – that seems to be a common counter-argument to this observation. It certainly can sound like I’m implying that this is all blind luck, and any idiot who stumbles through the door can win a roll of the dice. It’s not, and that’s just as destructive a belief. Success is almost always dedication meeting opportunity; you have to be prepared, and busting your ass is the only way to be prepared. That concept underlies all of my writing, and it’s why I have things like weekly word goals and milestone requirements on novels. It’s why I write this blog. It’s why I schedule appearances, and all of that. You must be prepared for those opportunities.

The opportunities, though; that’s where chaotic chance hits. They are typically a function of circumstance and luck, a function of those cosmic patterns shifting in one’s favor. You need only scour thrift store bookshelves to see this principle at work. I like to sniff out obscure older sci-fi and horror to sell on Amazon, and the contents of those books are quite sobering. Some is trite crap, yes, but some is quite brilliant and it’s difficult to understand what separated it from the Asimovs or Kings of their day. The answer, of course, is that random stroke of opportunity. If Doubleday passed on Carrie, would most people even know who Stephen King is today? Difficult to say, but one has to wonder.

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This always draws me back to one particular story that grabbed hold of my imagination, way back in 1998. The Roanoke Times published an article about an elderly mid-list writer who had been waiting for his big break since his mid-30s; he was in his 70s at the time and still the cosmic wheel hadn’t come around to him. I wish I could remember his name, but alas I can’t, a face that continues to haunt me. You couldn’t help but admire his persistence. He still wrote because he felt the compulsion, like most of us, but he also hoped that this particular book would be the one to put him over the top. His work had received positive reviews, but as far as I know, that break never came, and surely he’s passed on by now.

It’s a sobering reminder of the reality of what “success” means in this business. There are no guarantees. A writer can crank out consistently sharp work for forty years and still only end up a bit ahead of where he started; it’s vital to keep this in mind every minute of every day. This isn’t meant as a discouragement, but a message to temper expectations and be gentle with yourself – you could be doing everything right and just not hit, for whatever reason. The most important thing is to do this for the love of writing, not for dreams of fortune and fame or, heck, a steady paycheck. It’s far too fragile a thing to be certain.

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The Alternative Booker Award

Hey there, readers. I had a few ideas for today’s blog bouncing around in my head and had planned to save this one for Friday, as I already have one book blog post a week, but this thing just kept bouncing around my skull. First off, shout out to Cindy Young-Turner for tagging me in her post about the same subject. I’d encourage you to check out her list first, because she has some fantastic nominees, some of which just missed the cut on my list (especially Mistborn).

That said, here’s the deal: I name five of my favorite books. I’m taking it that these don’t have to be my top five or anything like that, and thank goodness because it could never be narrowed down that far. I’ve done a few lists like this before, so I tried to avoid listing too many duplicates, instead opting for books that have been both influential in my writing and had a wide-ranging scope when it comes my own tastes.

These are not in a “Top Five” format, by the way. That would be outright impossible. Instead, I’ve chosen to list these in chronological order of when I first read them.

So let’s start the show, shall we?

Prince of Tides

1. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. The gold standard, the grandaddy of my “personal canon”. I had only just begun to peek my literary head out of its shell when this gem entered my life. I would have to tell the long story of how I even came to write fiction in the first place if I were to give you the entire context – let’s just say I had several encouraging teachers, one of whom noticed a similarity between my nascent style and that of Pat Conroy. I still go back to this one every few years to renew a hold on my roots, and it’s still good 20 years later. Some folks might be surprised by its inclusion here, but I’m not a die-hard genre reader; in fact, I can’t stand genre writing that doesn’t feature strong, interesting characters. It’s one of the things that set literary works like PoT apart, and I wish that more genre writers would dip their toes into this sort of fiction.

600full-the-dark-tower-3--the-waste-lands-cover2. The Waste Lands by Stephen King. I’ve mentioned it on this site before as an influential work, but I’ll never stop beating the drum for The Waste Lands. Some people cite Drawing of the Three as the high point for King’s Dark Tower series, but this is the shining zenith for me. The characters are finally comfortable in one another’s company, and each experience significant arcs throughout the novel. King manages to weave these arcs together all while maintaining the overall narrative and infusing the story with a sense of wonder that took my breath away when I first read it and continues to enchant me all these years later.

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3. The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker. I’ve mentioned Imajica many times before, so I thought it time to give TGaSS its due. This novel has significantly more flaws than the former, but it was the first to open my eyes to something wider. This, more than anything, shows the difference between King and Barker: King’s fantasy worlds have a more grounded feel. Even at its most creative and ambitious, the Dark Tower series maintains its ties to what is, essentially, our reality. Beginning with Weaveworld and working through this book to Imajica, Barker showed an increasing bifurcation between our reality and the realities visited by his characters. There’s something almost elegant to the fantasy worlds that Barker fashions, yet he still maintains a connection to our world that transcends the more workaday connection established by King. I aspire to find this elegance, and while I think I see how he got there, I’m nowhere near the same heights that Barker reached. Maybe one day.

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4. Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman. This one is particularly funny, as I picked it up for superficial reasons: I loved Michael Whelan’s fantastic cover art. I read the back cover copy and it sounded all right, but I figured I would read it and forget about it. Now here I am, about 17 years later, ready to extol its virtues, and the virtues of its successors in the Cold Fire Trilogy. This book showed me that you could ignite the same sort of response that Barker and King’s works elicited while working in a more traditional fantasy framework. At first glance, Friedman’s world appears similar to a fantasy world that you would read about in any other book: there are magicians, lords and ladies, castles, swordplay, and strange creatures that resemble the old standbys of goblins and orcs, and yet Friedman turns those on their heads. I can’t give away too much lest I ruin the book, but I can say that the anti-hero on the cover kills his entire family in the opening pages in return for an unspeakable power, one that actually proves useful in his attempt to save humanity. Add in a strong female protagonist and it’s worth a read.

Red Dragon

5. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Abnormal psychology has always fascinated me, and there’s something about Red Dragon that grabbed hold of that part of my psyche and refused to let go. It helps that the book defies expectations. Oh, sure, it’s about a detective trying to track down a serial killer who has become detached from humanity and believes he is becoming a creature from a painting with each murder, but the more fascinating story is how the detective is the one that’s truly being transformed by this experience. Strong characterization, tension that refuses to let up, and a clever plot make for a timeless read. Oh, and there’s also this Lecter guy.

Several China Mieville books get honorable mention here, especially the genius City in the City. My problem with Mieville is that he’s so very close to the elegance that I described with Barker, but no one book has quite managed to put it all together. Sooner or later I think he’ll get there, though.

Now then! I also need to tag five bloggers for this treatment. I’m in…

Marie Loughin

Paul Dail

Red Tash

Cabin Goddess

Aniko Carmean

 

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Fiction Wednesday: Bats, Fairies, Bullets, and Other Things That Fly

Welcome to yet another edition of Fiction Wednesday.  I’ve been a busy reading bee of late, and will have quite a few books to report on over the coming weeks. It’s an exciting time, as I definitely find that more reading leads to more writing, which then leads to more reading. Not much wrong with that.

This week I’m offering a review of the baseball book Bottom of the 33rd, updating my thoughts on Cindy Young-Turner’s Thief of Hope (now very close to finished), talking some about The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger – The Man in Black graphic novel, and digging into the first half of Brandon Sanderson’s The Hero of Ages, the third book in the Mistborn series.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

Bottom-of-the-33rd

Bottom of the 33rd: Hope and Redemption in Baseball’s Longest Game by Dan Berry. I almost finished this one in time for last week’s deadline, but missed it by a hair. Shame, really, as the book has faded in my mind somewhat. Still, I think I can get some thoughts down here.

Chaos. That’s the word that comes to mind when thinking of Bottom of the 33rd. That’s not to imply that the game, or this book, are chaotic in nature, it’s more an observation of the random chaotic events that conspire to make things happen. Part of my love of baseball is borne of my love for seeing so many different influences and factors come together in one place. Baseball is a beautiful illustration of the Buddhist chains of causality. A player might end up in Arizona rather than Seattle because someone exercised their no-trade option, which might have resulted because of another player’s negative experience in Seattle, which in turn resulted from a chance collision in the outfield, and so on up the chain. Statistics may skew wildly in one direction or the other, but the laws of probability eventually pull them to an equilibrium, giving us a hint of some sort of order driving these random changes.

Bottom of the 33rd is about understanding how those causes converge into one place. Every game, viewed through this lens, is a miracle: the collection of talent from around the world, all brought into this one place in Pawtucket, Rhode Island; the hits that didn’t fall, the great pitches that just missed, the blown umpire call.

Bottom of the 33rd is, of course, about the longest baseball game ever played, in April, 1981, between two minor league teams, the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox; even more than that, it’s about the fates of the men that played that game, the many divergent paths that brought them to that one place in history and the paths that they would follow onward from there. Barry takes us through the game in chunks of ten innings each, hitting the high points of the game and casting a spotlight upon the lives of each key player in those points. Through this approach, he weaves a complex tapestry of lives, showing us that even one simple evening at the ballpark contains more guiding factors than we normally consider. It gives the reader a greater appreciation of not just the game, but of life in general and the enormous factors that must come together to put us at any given place at any given time. The book is highly recommended just for that, let alone the quality of the writing and the behind-the-scenes information that holds your attention throughout.  If you’re a baseball fan, you can’t go wrong.

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Thief of Hope by Cindy Young-Turner. I wasn’t sure if I’d have this one knocked in time for today’s deadline, but I made it after all, so apologies for a rather long entry this week – I need to share my thoughts now, while the book is still fresh in my mind.

Thief of Hope continues a trend that I’ve noticed of late: a female protagonist as something of a “chosen one”, with a mysterious past that lends her to great things. Hard to criticize the trope when I’ve written my own take on it, and honestly I think the idea is still fresh enough to offer interesting takes on it. Thief of Hope is one such book. While superficially the character of Sydney bears a resemblance to Vin from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, Syd is a very different person; where Vin finds a side of herself that she never expected in courtly society, Syd doesn’t seem nearly as comfortable in it, which makes a whole lot more sense to me than Vin suddenly taking to a highly superficial, fake atmosphere with very little trouble.

Of course, I’m not here to talk about the two characters in comparison, simply to state that Young-Turner’s character, story, and world are very much their own thing. Since we’ve discussed Sydney some, let’s dig into plot first. Sydney starts the story as a common street thief, albeit one raised by a man with a strict code of ethics, one who became something of a hero to the people. Sydney fears that she’s strayed far from Edgar’s principles and betrayed his method of raising her, even as we see that she has her own code of ethics driving her onward. Syd’s journey truly begins when she robs a representative of The Guild, something of a socialist worker collective that has seized control of the government and run amok, its original goals twisted by the top party members.  This brush with the Guild leads to her discovering that magic is still alive and well in the world, that there is an active resistance to the Guild, and that her own mysterious heritage will push her onto the central stage of the coming conflict. The story is a good one, and I especially enjoyed the peeks at the lives of the Tuatha, or “Fairy Folk”. More of their culture and story would be appreciated in the sequel, along with the story of the Shadow Folk, but I feel that Young-Turner gives us just enough here to whet our appetite; I’m quite satisfied with what I received on them, for now.

For better or worse, Young-Turner devotedly sticks to Sydney’s point of view through the events that follow. I found myself a little bummed at points, wishing that I could witness some of the other events that were going on (maybe some of these could make interesting short stories), and while the pacing slowed a bit here and there, it was never enough to keep me from reading onward.

Young-Turner’s strength lies in her characters and their interactions, and they shine through here. Even the subtlest of interactions is laced with meaning and feeling; these characters hesitate and stumble, they feel awkward in the presence of others and don’t know how to deal with certain situations. There’s a particularly poignant moment toward the end of the book that I’d love to share with you, but unfortunately it would be too big of a spoiler.

All in all, I found the book very enjoyable and have already started the prequel novella, Journey to Hope, which I hope to review soon.

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Dark Tower: The Gunslinger: The Man in Black by Robin Furth/Peter David. I really don’t know what to make of the Dark Tower comic series. It started with the near-brilliant inception of The Gunslinger Born and has had some stunning highs and groan-inducing lows. I never expected the series to even approach the lower points of King’s series, though some of the high points in the early books could have proudly stood next to some of the better spots in King’s version. Even so, I just…well, like I said, I don’t know what to make of it. The creative team has remained the same and they have often worked from King’s source material as time has gone on. Still, it’s so spotty that I don’t see how the same team writes this from one graphic novel to another. They went from the absolutely abysmal take on The Little Sisters of Eluria to the solid Journey Begins through to the so-so Battle of Tull, then on to the great Way Station and now to this.

I’m not even halfway through, but already the adaption is bizarre. Furth finally acknowledges at the beginning that they’ve veered somewhat off-course from the source material and that this, definitively, not the same universe as the one in the books. That’s somewhat disappointing and a relief at the same time. It still makes for a jarring read, as one moment I’m seeing something that I’d always visualized rendered on the page and then the next moment some completely new element pops up that doesn’t entirely work. I love glimpses of the past of Roland’s world, but I’m not sure if they serve a further purpose here.

I’ll have more to say in the future, but not a promising start.

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The Hero of Ages: Book Three of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.

I probably shouldn’t love this series as much as I do. I’m sure lots of people find flaws in Mistborn. It’s undeniably built around familiar fantasy tropes. Some of the story’s contrivances shine through, at times showing Sanderson’s hand at work behind the scenes. Still…I can’t ignore what a great job it does turning the fantasy tropes on their heads and, even more so, its adamant refusal to be what you expect from it, constantly turning corners that you don’t expect. It’s very much like a mystery that way. I’m still very early in this one, but expect to hear a lot more about it in the next few weeks.

——

And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!

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Happy New Year from Shaggin the Muse and my 2012 Booklist

Wow, so this is the second New Years Eve for this site. I’m planning a 2012 in review post for later this week, but for now I can just say that 2012 was a great year for my career. I published a second novel and a plethora of short works and attended my first show. I managed to crank out half a million words. More than that, I began to get my legs under me and figure out what I’d like to see out of the next few years. Next year I’ll be releasing a short story collection and another novel and attending a few shows, with an April show already confirmed. More information coming on those in the near future. For now, I just feel that I have some decent momentum going into 2013.

I hope you’ve had a great year and have a lot to look forward to next year. We only get so many of them and as I get older I realize just how important it is to do the most you can with the time you have. Yeah, I know that’s something of a cliche, but it begins to settle into your bones as you approach middle age, that’s for sure.

Now, enough of that. It’s booklist time! This year I set a goal to read 60 books (up from last year’s 50). That meant I would have to read, on average, more than a book a week. I hadn’t done that in many, many years and wasn’t sure if I would make it. I’m happy to report that I’ve exceeded that goal, hitting 64, which means I’ll probably keep my goal static next year. Let’s see what I read…

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Alexandria

Coffin Hop Day 5: The Haunted Places of the World (Fact) #coffinhop

Welcome once again, Hoppers! I’m square in the crosshairs of Hurricane Sandy at the moment, and things are a little tense in the Washington, DC Metro area, so we’ll see if I get to finish out the next few entries for you guys. If nothing else, I might be able to drag out some abbreviated versions of the longer posts I had planned. At the very least, I’ve hit the minimum-five-posts goal that I had set for myself. Just warning you in case there’s radio silence for the next few days.

Let’s get on to today’s topic: the REAL haunted places of the world. While the list of fictional places was fun, this is the stuff that I live for – the places that I like to visit when possible. I could probably write a list of 20 places; narrowing it to five was almost impossible.

5. Kolmanskop (Namibia). The discovery of diamonds in southern Namibia in the early 1900s led to a diamond rush not unlike America’s gold rush of the 1840s/50s. There was just one catch: much of southern Namibia is a desert. It didn’t deter the more courageous, greedy souls, who built small and company towns in the area; Kolmanskop was one such town. Founded in 1910, the town once boasted a school, a hospital, and even a casino.

The Kolmanskop Casino.

Kolmanskop flourished for a few years, but hit troubled times when diamond sales dropped after the first World War. As prices continued to trend downward, the town slowly emptied out, at last losing its last residents during the 1950s.

That’s when the desert began to reclaim the town.

Before long the gardens, streets, and even houses were buried under sand. Doors and windows creaked as the desolate wind pushed through them, and shattered windows stared out into the desert.

The desert may be reclaiming the place, but visitors claim that ghosts still haunt the town. They have reported hearing whispers and footsteps, seeing apparitions, and even experiencing ghostly physical sensations.

I’d love to visit the place.

4. Stanley Hotel (Colorado, USA).You may know the Stanley Hotel as the Overlook Hotel from Stephen King’s The Shining. Continue reading

The Work/Writing Balance: How to Effectively Use Your Time and Dropbox

Today I’m talking to writers. Readers, this may interest you, but…well, I want to talk to the writers for a bit.

Just us? Okay. Good. Now listen, unless you’re a Tom Clancy or a Stephen King (and if you are, hey, welcome to the site!) or…okay, some fortunate few who make a living at this, chances are that you hold a day job. Am I on track here? Anywhere in the ballpark? I suspect I am, and I also suspect you know that this balance thing is downright hard. One of my most-asked questions is just how the hell I fit all this stuff into my schedule. Well…okay, first, I do think you have to both be somewhat lucky and have an opportunity to tailor your schedule a bit. I have some advantages in that I don’t have children, which I’m sure eat up a good deal of your potential writing time.

Still, I do have a life, and I don’t just have writing time fall into my lap – I have to make it happen. I use a few different tricks, but even then some days just fall short. Plans change, work gets busy, I get stuck in training. These things happen, but I accept those setbacks and continue on as soon as I can.

My day job is, without a doubt, the biggest obstacle. It helps that I love the job and write for a living, but it still gets in the way. Thankfully, I can easily knock out half an hour in the early morning once I arrive as a way to “limber up” for the really hard stuff. These blog posts are typically a result of these tune-ups.

Then, throughout the day, I take a few normal breaks. Fifteen minutes here or there, nothing abusive, but enough to clear my head and ready myself to move on to a new topic. I read somewhere that you can only really sustain your interest in something for 45 minutes at a time, and that sounds just about right for me. Sometimes less. So, yeah, throw in maybe another half an hour. That gets me to about an hour.

I eat lunch every day, but they’re typically working lunches. It’s exceedingly rare for me to take a full hour break. The most I might take is half an hour, depending upon how busy I might be at the time. During that period, I also write. Of course, this time usually comes on days when breaks are sparse, so I’m coming out even on this.

I realize this isn’t possible for everyone. I have the good fortune to work a desk job and write for a living. This certainly doesn’t apply to everyone, but if you have the desk job, you might still be able to squeeze out a little extra time here and there.

But this isn’t the real trick. This is more a way of looking at where I find time during the day. The bulk of my writing still takes place in the late afternoon/early evening, and I can get quite a bit done within a single hour thanks to one trick: dictation. Continue reading

The Next Big Thing – Week 12: Room 3

Well, well! The ever-awesome Kim Koning offered to include me in the Next Big Thing, and how the hell could I say no? Answer: I couldn’t…not say no. Well, whatever. You know what I mean. Here, have Kim’s own answers to this thing – I suddenly want to read her work in progress!
Now, like all such memes, I’ve tried to track down the original source of this one, but as you can imagine, finding the Next Big Thing in the sea that is Google has proved nearly fruitless.  I do emphasize “nearly”, however, because as best as I can tell, author Karina Harris started this thing. I’d be happy to be corrected on this. Always credit where credit is due.
I’m actually very excited to participate in this. As Kim pointed out, most authors are more than happy to talk about their story and characters and hell, the timing couldn’t be more perfect to give you more information about my forthcoming novel, Room 3. That said, let’s look at ye olde questions…
Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:
What is the working title of your book?
Room 3. Its original working title was Entanglements, as the book’s intent is examining how our lives end up wrapped together.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The original concept (woman is kidnapped by strange organization and subjected to experiments that she doesn’t understand) came from the film Videodrome; in that film, an organization is putting out videos that manipulate the mind as part of its agenda to reshape society. Entanglements originally included a parallel story of two average joes who stumbled across this woman – Carla – and her website. She had been creating this website on a cellphone that had no signal but could pick up a wifi from next door. That idea stretched credulity, and I could never quite get things to work together. The current – and final – incarnation is an almagam of ideas that presented themselves along the road to publication. Continue reading

Drawing From the Well: Lovecraft as Influence

Please note that this is the first in a series of posts on this subject; I’ve been watching a lot of ghost hunting television and am still forming some of my ideas of the phenomenon presented in those shows. While my rational mind has one opinion of the whole thing, I have to give my subconscious time to chew on the subject and spit out some inspiration. In the meantime, let’s discuss my idea of what should constitute a good haunting, as well as some influences. Believe me, this is timely, as I’m in the planning stages for a novel that centers around haunting and ghost hunting – something that I hope to make into an ongoing series. Let’s dig into the spookiness and see where we end up today. There’s a lot more to come, trust me.

It’s hard for me to say exactly where my fascination with horror – more specifically, that of the supernatural bent – began. I’m inclined to say Poltergeist. At the very least, I remember two scenes from Poltergeist grabbing my imagination and refusing to let go. One was the infamous scene in which one of the paranormal researchers peels all the skin from his face. You know, this one (caution, still pretty gross all these years later):

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHvWoDB-PYo

Continue reading