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!

 

IMG_5263

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.

 

Dark Places

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

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.

 

trashed

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

NaNoWriMo: Because Why Not?

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.

crest-05e1a637392425b4d5225780797e5a76

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.

403139_3648458783599_196522780_n(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.

42458913_1982441848499231_5107030124297977856_n

Kill ‘Em All: Book Review

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.

44032496_10210992747008142_7317147404929597440_n