On reading American Moor

I’ve held out on reading American Moor by Keith Hamilton Cobb, hoping to catch it live. The show had toured extensively, and I planned to see it if it ever landed somewhere in driving range. With the pandemic and the publication of the text as a paperback, I decided to read it on the page. It’s the first play I’ve read outside of Shakespeare since college.

Keith Hamilton Cobb plays a Black actor auditioning for the role of Othello. He’s the only person to appear on the stage, while the voice of a director can be heard when they interact with each other. Cobb speaks to the audience and director, often separately. He goes through his prepared monologue as he feels appropriate, and finds disagreement with a director who thinks he knows better. Tension is exposed as Cobb tells the audience what he thinks and feels in these situations where one plays nice to get at an opportunity. In pushing back against the director, the actor states, “Nobody ever plays the devil’s advocate. They play their own advocate, and hide behind that stupid idiom to avoid having to take responsibility for it” (30).

There’s pages of raw outpouring of emotion from the actor. Context, historical analysis, and personal insight all contribute to Cobb’s message on race and Shakespeare’s Othello. “Ya see, for you, at best, Othello is like your little exercise in understanding. You think you get him… you can commiserate, you have empathy for his condition. No you do not… there is nothing more infuriating that white folks actin’ like they know your story well enough to tell it without your help” (40-41).

This read left me with a lot to think about. Cobb’s insight spells out clearly, effectively, and with anger the weight of racism in artistic spaces. Every point hits hard, and the overall feeling I took away was one of contemplation. I can’t recommend this enough. American Moor by Keith Hamilton Cobb is a powerful text that has brought me to reflect upon my own biases. American Moor

 

Book Review: The Fuck-It List

Some people read for the purposes of escapism. The Fuck-It List by John Niven will not provide you with that, as his scathing brand of satire is all too realistic. It’s not a casual read that’ll take you out of the discomfort of our moment in history. The year is 2026, the troubles that burden America have only gotten worse, and Frank Brill has terminal cancer. The diagnosis doesn’t come as a surprise, and allows Frank to give himself permission to go on a murder spree. Does this sound similar to Breaking Bad without the crystal meth? Sure. But the unique perspective that Niven offers maintains my investment in the protagonist.

My favorite thing about Niven is his ability to stir empathy by creating flawed characters that are all too relatable.  Frank Brill is at the end of his life and decides to carry through as much of a hit list as he can manage. It sounds like a violent romp for the sake of it and I’d be a liar to claim it’s not, but the motives, sense of loss, and weight of the past that Frank reflects upon creates a believable portrait who gains my support. That probably says more about me than anything else.

I’ll admit, this book isn’t for everyone, but if you want an all too real satirical reflection of America in the filthiest mirror one could find, The Fuck-It List delivers. It kept me turning pages. The stakes get higher with each name Frank Brill stalks down. I enjoyed this immensely, as I do anytime Niven puts out a novel.

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The Girl Who Lived Twice: Book Review

The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz is the sixth installment in the Millennium Series. While I’ve enjoyed the Lagercrantz contributions to the Stieg Larsson trilogy, this novel brings the larger story arch full circle that has left me satisfied. Lagercrantz has proven himself to be worthy of carrying this torch. I’ve stated before that I’ll continue to read as long as Lagercrantz writes the series, and with this book he succeeds in establishing his name with the greater story world. It’s his series, now.

In the novel, Lisbeth Salander gives chase to ghosts of the past while they simultaneously haunt her. Her twin sister, Camilla, remains Lisbeth’s rival. Bad blood simmers until violence emerges at the surface. The potential for chaos spills over and into the life of her friend, Mikael Blomkvist, and forces that are out to destroy them bring them together again.

Blomkvist spends his time chasing a story about a climb up Mt. Everest where life was lost some dozen years prior to. A homeless man who used to be a Sherpa had wanted to tell his story, but madness and murder brought only questions to Blomkvist.

Themes of a haunting past as it complicates the present is central to the novel, and only by breaking those ties are we capable of moving on and reclaiming ourselves. This story plays with such elements in ways that kept me turning the pages and missing out on sleep.

The side characters that have been central to the previous five novels are pretty well left on the sidelines this time around. Berger and Bublanski exist and contribute within the confines of their established roles, but they’re much further in the background compared to earlier stories. Erika Berger is in the middle of a divorce, but beyond that surface detail there’s little of her, and Bublanski is there to serve his purpose as a police officer, and little else. If there’s anything I thought the novel could’ve used more of, it’s the secondary characters.

Other side characters are brought forward to reveal more about Camilla’s world, and the intricacies of her criminal network. Hackers and a hit man loyal to the memory of Camilla’s father fill the spaces left vacant by those who’ve made more regular appearances.

That’s the long and short of it; I enjoyed this book. I’ve enjoyed this series. Without spoiling anything, this would be a fine place to end the series, or pivot to some new direction. I’m hoping for the later, as the central cast of characters keeps me coming back. It’d be nice to see Larsson’s initial vision of ten novels through to the end, though the path there is much different with Lagercrantz at the helm.

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Optimism and the Passage of Time

The passage of time drives more dialog when the emphasis is on a full decade, as opposed to that of a singular year. I’ve lurked through the dregs of social media to find people have listed their accomplishments, from surviving to personal/professional milestones. It has been uplifting to see my friends and loved ones describe the things that made them feel most alive in the last ten years. I’ve found in them the great ability to inspire others with their plans and resolutions. Instead of the old eye roll, I found their goals to be within reach. I’m rooting for you all.

In the past decade I published three novels, and had two short stories published in an anthology. Those books are available here. I’m starting 2020 with a new novel that’ll be available in February. As Flowers with Frost concerns itself with the family of a young child who claims to be the reincarnation of a murder victim. The child leads those who listen to a shallow grave, and the accused. Pre-sale information should be available within the next week. three books together.jpg

Short term goals always include the drafting of new projects. I’m currently 17,000 words deep on a sci-fi/satire novella, and am researching for a full length novel of the Midwestern Gothic/family drama variety. My 2020 writing goals also consist of generating short stories for a collection that I intend to release in the future. In terms of writing, most of this year will be spent working on first drafts, and pushing the new novel.Death Among US.JPG

On that note, I’m so excited to share As Flowers with Frost with the world. The idea struck me out of nowhere, and from the moment I took interest in the subject matter, I was compelled to write it. As I do with all ideas that I think are cool, I slept on it. Once it had survived the twenty-four hour test and I still thought it was cool, I knew it was a project I’d see through to the end.

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I have no way of reading minds or the future. I still can’t make up or down about navigating the way to writing full time. I’m just now getting a real focus on my efforts with regards to trial and error, and have collected the experience of numerous failures. These failures are a source of pride, as I’ve learned something from them. I’m going to continue to learn and grind in 2020.

Thanks to those of you who’ve been supportive over the years, and thanks to you who are willing to give me a chance. I look forward to the potential of a new day.

 

Death Among Us: Short Story Anthology

Disclaimer: I am a part of this project.

Now that that’s out of the way, Death Among Usis a collection of short stories that are all somehow rooted in the murder mystery genre. The authors weren’t tethered by any other stipulation, aside from a request to not be gratuitous in our use of violence. The resulting anthology includes cross genre stories that venture into the historical, science fiction, and supernatural, in addition to contemporary stories of greed, revenge, and the most sordid of our shared human condition.

As it should be with any anthology, I owed it to the other writers to give their works a spin. I started at the beginning, and read the award-winning The Rose Slayer by Stephen Bentley, and the conclusion hit home for me in a way I can only describe as delightful. From there I branched out, helped myself to a sampling, and found that I’m in the company of quality.

The science fiction take on the theme, as crafted by Greg Alldredge, offered a bit of something different. As a lover of science fiction, I’m pleased with what Alldredge brings to the table.

Red Solo Cup, by Kelly Artieri stood out, as she is excellent at creating characters that come to life, a quality I find difficult to achieve in the short story medium.

Robbie Cheadle’s historical murder mystery, Justice is Never Served, is filled with a prose style that is so wonderfully crafted, I read it twice to let her lines settle in.

Michael Spinelli takes you to the desert, and leaves you there to die. His story, No Man’s Land, establishes the killer as a monster of sorts, using this language to distance killer from “normal” people, but the twist left me with the conclusion that in the grand scheme of things, we’re not so different from those we try to label as the horrific other.

The work of L. Lee Kane is gritty fun. The murders were not the main event for me, as casual violence exists throughout her narratives, and shows a world where such violence is all too normal.

The Thoughts of Emily Morales in Old Age, by Kay Castaneda is a page long train of thought that moved me in ways beyond that than I had initially expected. The quick piece is to be savored and thought upon.

The Neighbours, by Aly Locatelli is her writing debut, and a solid one at that. Her work as a book reviewer serves as a solid foundation for her own narratives. She knows what the reader wants, and how to get you there.

The posthumous works of ‘G’ left me intrigued about the mind of the author. I was especially interested in/entertained by the religious questions of Next.

 

I kind of fell into this project. I responded to an invitation on a message board, and ended up in the company of some impressive authors. This cast of international talent isn’t a group to whom I owe the above praise, and I will refrain from reviewing it on any platform where it may be deemed unprofessional. I just wanted to use my space here to say I’m touched to be among such company, and have been entertained by their work. You can find the Death Among Us here!

 

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Dark Places: Book Review

Dark Places is a dark novel. I came for the bleak style-backed up with substance I’ve come to expect from Gillian Flynn, and I was entertained. Libby Day survives the traumatic murder of her mother and sisters by her brother, and half of our time is spent with her present-day narrative, twenty plus years after the killings. Every other chapter bounces in time between Libby’s modern misanthropy to the day her family was violently torn from the world. Old assumptions are reexamined in the pursuit of money, and Libby is pressured into questioning her memory.

A group of people obsessed with obscure murder cases is willing to fund the down and out Libby Day. The group is driven by an agenda that rejects the narrative that Ben Day murdered his family. They offer to pay Libby for each figure from the past she can track down and interview. She confronts the past in a way she hasn’t considered since the event. Her coping mechanisms are hot garbage, and the pity driven donations have dried up. Libby is desperate for money, and accepts the most fruitful gaslighting campaign I’ve ever read. None of the characters are particularly likable, but those characters make up my kind of book.

As Libby closes in on the truth she finds herself running for her life. She opts not to leave the past alone, and discovers it’s an all-consuming void that doesn’t allow for growth or the healing properties of closure. Libby is damaged, and I find joy in her  narrative.

The novel concludes in a manner that left me conflicted. Without giving too much away, it felt like a plethora of coincidence packed into the smallest possible window. The pieces come together in a way that supports the ending, but I’m still frustrated.

Dark Places is fun. If the narrative styling of Gone Girl or Sharp Objects suits your fancy, this novel offers another trip through the quality storytelling of Gillian Flynn. I’m looking forward to her next release.

 

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On the Horizon: As Flowers With Frost

Renee and Nathan Matheson bring a child into the world. Hannah is their vision of the future. They’re like most new parents: sleep deprived, stressed out, and doing the best they can with what they’ve got. Once Hannah is a little over three years old, she begins to recall memories of another life. Nathan insists that their daughter has a vivid imagination, but Renee is taken aback by such stories. Hannah insists she is the reincarnation of a murder victim. She leads the way to a shallow grave and the accused. From there it spirals out of control.

Last spring I was knee deep in editing Beatrix and the Wooden Dagger. While trying to distract myself, I stumbled upon an article about children who claim to be reincarnated, thought it ridiculous, and then went down that rabbit hole. I read books on the topic, and decided I had to craft my own narrative. It sparked a piece of writing that took shape with such an organic flow that it felt effortless.

As the last of December became memory I finished the first draft of this short novel! I offered the roughest draft to a couple peers, and let them tear it up. While they went at it, I stepped away. With proper space established, I came back to it with their notes, and have continued to build upon what was already there. It’s calling for one more solid sweep before I send it to my editor for a professional polish.

What I’m getting at is I’m excited. I’m confident in my work, but this is a piece I want to share with enthusiasm. Other works I’ve released into the world without a plan, and a “whatever happens” attitude. But I want to get this book in front of you. Without the final pieces in place, I don’t have a time frame to which I can promise to adhere, but it needs said now: As Flowers With Frost is on the way.

Flowers with Frostphoto credit: Helen Killinger

Of Loss and Illness: A Personal Entry

This is a personal entry of sorts. I’ve worked up a great deal of enthusiasm for a story I began to plot just before the New Year. Started drafting it out, and got about 5k words of it down in the first five days of January. I awoke on the sixth day of the year to find I’d missed two calls from the home of my parents. I returned their call, and received the news that my grandfather on my mother’s side of the family had passed away earlier that morning. His health had been in decline since a close call in 2016. A closer call last year had his medical professionals calling him the miracle boy. His survival through those ordeals allowed him to attend my wedding and meet his great granddaughter, for which I will be eternally grateful. I’ve been luckier than most, in that I’ve had both sets of grandparents into my 30’s. My grandfather lived most of his life in Columbus, but moved to Florida with the intent of enjoying his golden years in the sunshine state. He was a working class musician and youth athletics coach for many years, in addition to the “professional” jobs he held throughout his life.

Later that day I had a Skype session with a friend who is currently residing in Los Angeles. Aside from catching up, the purpose of our conversation was to have him describe his life in Hollywood, as I intend to write about such places. It was during our chat that my wife entered the bedroom with our baby, the both of them covered in vomit. I told my friend we’d have to resume the talk at a later time, ended the session, and promptly bathed the child. The stomach bug ran through our home, and made the week the most miserable in recent memory. Everyone took a turn being bedridden. Once the stomach issue had passed our baby seemed lethargic again, and a visit with the doctor confirmed respiratory and ear infections, though both were minor. She’s been prescribed some medicine, and seems to be doing better.

I’m not sure why I’m writing all of this out. Complications from being sick and familial loss have brought the writing to a halt, except in this strange exercise. We’re heading into the weekend, my wife intent on starting her new job with a nine-hour shift on Saturday, followed by the family gathering that’ll take us into next week. I guess I’m exhausted, and instead of putting words down on my new piece of fiction I’m just here making excuses. But you’re allowed to be tired. You’re allowed to take a break. Family and health take priority, and I’ll not be shamed for it. I’ll not shame you for it either, when the time comes. I’m rambling at this point, but it’s my declaration that I’m taking a short break to recuperate and be with family. Rest easy, Grandpa.

Trashed: Graphic Novel Review

Solid entertainment coupled with documentary style insights makes for a quality read. Backderf is no one-trick-pony, as Trashed is his followup to ‘My Friend Dahmer’ that tells the story of young men doing a dirty job out of necessity. The characters are genuine in a relatable way that makes me want to share a pizza with them on a night out. They gripe about their role as thankless cogs that contribute to life as you know it. They’re a brand of people who I’d call ‘chill.’ Take this conversation for example:

“What are you doing here in th’ dark?”
“Meditating.”
“To Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood?”
“Fred is the light and the way… neighbor.” (70)

Backderf had a year of experience as a garbage man, and his knowledge on the topic shows that experience beyond the bits that are composed of research (facts and statistics are strewn throughout for context). The story is brought out of the 70’s and into a contemporary time, but one theme that hasn’t changed much is the exposure of our throwaway culture. There’s a point in the story where the crew is burdened with all that is abandoned in a foreclosed home. They pop open a shoebox full of photographs, and take a moment to flip through the sentimental memories of the people who had once inhabited the house. A materialistic culture finds no comfort or value in the commodity with which one fills their life, and thus it’s all potential waste. While one character voices a sadness over the pictures, another offers his own take, “Think of the economy as a giant digestive tract. And we’re here at the rectum of the free market to clean it all up.” (203)

Showed up for the Dahmer story, stuck around for the quality. Backderf should keep making full length graphic novels. Trashed kept me turning pages to the point where I went through it in one sitting.

 

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Blood Chill: Book Review

L.M. Bryski delivers a thriller that has every element necessary for great storytelling. Characters with elaborate backstories are revealed over time via tasteful use of flashbacks. A prop triggers the memory of a detective and leads him in the right direction. Medical/scientific backdrop is used in a way that suggests the author knows a thing or two on the topics she writes about. It’s a tightly woven narrative with realistic characters with whom I empathize.

Blood Chill takes place in the city of Janus, and the novel spans throughout a great deal of the community. Ranging from those who inhabit the newly renovated homeless shelter to the rich who run the show, there’s no class or age group left unaddressed.

These characters have the greatest pull in the story. They’re so well fleshed out and realistic, flawed and funny, weighed upon by the past and other regrets. Commentary between police officers is the main source with comic relief, and I found myself enjoying the banter of Roy Fletcher whenever he’s on the page.

I find it difficult to review thrillers of this nature because I want to delve into the details that hooked me, the feeling when there’s an epiphany regarding a narrative arc, and my thoughts on the villain(s). The fun of these reads is in unraveling the mystery, and I loathe to give anything away.

With that in mind I’ll keep it short. If you’re looking for a smart, funny, and at times culturally satirical thriller with a scientific backdrop then you must check out Blood Chill by L.M. Bryski.

Blood Chill