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.
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.
photo credit: Helen Killinger
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.
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?”
“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.
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.
I haven’t successfully finished Nanowrimo since 2012. No big deal, I don’t have to hit the milestone of 50,000 words for it to be a fruitful endeavor. Nanowrimo has been a useful motivator, and I’m grateful for that much. It’s a common banner under which the many come to encourage each other. It carries a notion that for this period of time our craft isn’t solitary, as the act is rooted in community. We leave the islands behind, and indulge ourselves in this choir. It is an exercise in writing that offers an attainable goal, if some pieces are assembled beforehand. Yeah, I believe in having a plot beforehand. Don’t worry about me… you do your thing.
Now I write year round. November is unique in that it offers the start of crappy weather before the seasonal depression really kicks in. Staying inside is still tolerable as the season inches ever close to bitter cold. It’s a good time to write.
Though I’ve only hit 50k once I have participated in Nanowrimo to some degree every year since 2011. Some years have been easier to make the time than others. Creative writing took a backseat during my time as an English major. Other circumstances have complicated getting in a proper writing session, as life tends to get in the way. That’s fine. Your work isn’t going to fizzle out if the numbers get away from you. Don’t go in with the mindset of defeat, but don’t stress yourself out over this.
(from that one time I did it!)
This year will be my first Nanowrimo as a father. I work a full time job that eats an hour and some change of drive time a day. This isn’t going to be easy, but I’ve got a plot, some characters, and chapters mapped out in such a way as to facilitate a story. I’m excited about the narrative approach, and intend to see it through regardless of how November plays out. This project will be my first time playing with fiction in a way that isn’t grounded in purely realistic fashion. As Flowers With Frost will play with the supernatural, and if I don’t jump any sharks I’m confident in a draft of potential quality (pending a few rounds of edits, of course).
Be confident that it can be done. I don’t necessarily believe in you, because I probably don’t know you… but I’m often willing to root for the underdog. My rhetoric doesn’t fully enable you to believe in me. That’s okay, too. We’re in this together, and I wish you the best. Reach out to me. My Nano name is Sellout. I can pretend to know what I’m talking about, or you can send me general hate mail. Either way, let’s do something this November.
Steven Stelfox returns in the new John Niven novel, Kill ‘Em All. It’s been twenty years since the rampage that takes place in the pages of Kill Your Friends, and if anything Stelfox is all the more sordid and bloodthirsty. Monetary success has driven him beyond excess, and to new lows at every pass. He muses that the world is, “A place where ambition still outstrips talent… Where the kind and weak are ripped apart like loaves of bread” (327). He admits early on that regardless of what’s to come he will not grow from the experience. His heart isn’t in the right place, if there’s a heart at all.
The year is 2017. Trump is taking office in the opening pages while Stelfox is presented with a job opportunity. He has settled into the luxuries of light retirement, with the occasional gig as a consultant for music industry big wigs. On this occasion a pop star is being blackmailed for his activities as a sexual predator who preys on children. With the dawning of the era of ‘fake news’ Stelfox takes control of the situation, spins it into something much darker, before he burns everything to the ground… all while making himself a profit.
I don’t want to give much away, so I won’t. Kill ‘Em All is the most wretched fun I’ve had in a long time. Niven never disappoints, and Stelfox is his most satirical creation, a modern vice figure who tells the audience just enough to keep them guessing. It’s blatantly offensive. I can’t recommend this book to everyone. It’s not for everyone. But if you’re looking for something ugly I’d start with Kill Your Friends, then move on to Kill ‘Em All.
What’s the deal with the wooden dagger? It doesn’t appear anywhere in the text, so why is it in the title? What does it have to do with the story? The answer has to do with medieval theatre and use of props in character development. Characters in the medieval morality plays were often named for traits they were meant to embody. The vice figure was one of comic relief, meant to tempt and bring folly towards characters of virtue or other such positive traits. The vice often turns to the audience, and delivers lines by breaking the fourth wall. This brings about an inclusion so that the audience is in on the misdeeds.
They would carry a wooden dagger on stage. This prop was meant as a direct gesture to inform the audience, ‘Hey! I’m the villain.’ By the Renaissance, Shakespeare had dropped the prop, but perfected the role of vice in Richard III and Iago of Othello. These characters turned to the audience, told them of the intent, and then turned back to the story world with their malice in practice. A contemporary version of this that has resonated with audiences would be comic book antihero Deadpool, or average politician Frank Underwood in House of Cards.
That’s my aim with Beatrix. She’s an antihero of sorts, who wants to fill you in on her thoughts and intent as she does whatever her wretched heart desires. The book consists of five stories that span over the course of her life, and plays with time. It’s framed with bits of the thriller, cultural satire, and dysfunctional family drama.
That’s the deal with the wooden dagger. I framed this character after the many vices I’ve come across, and hope to turn you off to humanity with her antics. If you’re still with me, give it a shot!
As always, thank you for your time.
Best consumed in one sitting, The Devil’s Lieutenant by Shervin Jamali isn’t for everyone. It’s violent, full of foul language, and plays with time in such a way as to leave the reader dizzy… so it’s right up my alley. It’s a good verses evil story where the main character takes up arms for the devil in an attempt to save his family. I kind of saw where it was going before we got there, but I’m a sucker for stories that have the devil among the cast. Too much description and I’ll give it away, so I’ll leave it with the notion that I had fun with this quick adventure. I felt that the ending pulled the rug out from beneath my feet, which in this case didn’t leave me satisfied, but it seemed the most reasonable way to go without a conclusion that went full tragedy. If Jamali keeps with the craft he’s going to write books I want to consume.
I did find a singular word that felt out of place in terms of editing, but aside from that it was a solid read.
Vonnegut is one of those authors I’m surprised was never assigned during my time as an English major. I did spend a good deal of time studying Renaissance drama and folklore, but I thought my time in classes that emphasized novels of the 20thcentury would’ve provided me with the likes of him and Atwood. As with Atwood, I would delve into their works after my time in the classroom.
Cat’s Cradle entertained, as I found the ride to have gone through unexpected turns. Even with science as an underlying subject I wasn’t expecting the sci-fi elements that emerged later in the book.
The juxtaposition of science fiction elements with the political/religious commentary allowed for some delightful satire. Some of my favorite passages involved the folly of American prejudice as human condition, and capitalism gone too far. One such passage reads,
“I guess Americans are hated a lot of places.”
“People are hated a lot of places. Claire point out in her letter that Americans, in being hated, were simply paying the normal penalty for being people.” (98)
Another passage that caught my eye…
“The hand that stocks the drug stores rules the world. Let us start our Republic with a chain of drug stores, a chain of grocery stores, a chain of gas chambers, and a national game. After that, we can write our Constitution.” (285)
The book contains casual racism and sexism, which I’ve come to expect from male authors of that era. If you can get past that it’s a brilliant read. Much like Atwood, I’ll be reading more Vonnegut.