Sunday, November 25, 2012

"If you would gain a throne and hold it, . . .

fear not to make of human skulls they stepping stones."
Taitu Betul (Empress of Abyssinia) 

Is murder an outward demonstration of psychosis? Does a thirst for power, and acting on it, make someone a psychotic killer? In my previous blogs, I've discussed novels that pertain to certain psych-killers in fiction. Today, I'll highlight a case that is debatable as psychotic or as simply strategic. Was she a homicidal maniac or extreme opportunist? Maybe she was both.

Taitu Betul is often seen as a heroine in Ethiopia, and hailed the "mother warrior." In the late 1800's while battling with the Italians, she helped to keep the leaders of Italy from taking over the country. She's considered a strong female hero in her country and many websites and articles praise her strength and perseverence.

But who was Taitu Betul before she rose to power? One thing articles of praise fail to mention is that she was married several times in her life. She's alleged to have killed eleven husbands, labeling her one of the most aristocratic "black widows" of her time.  The following is a listing of her husbands:

1 – RAS ABARA (married him at age 16) 

2—A COMMON SOLDIER (reportedly stabbed him in the back) 

3—THE CONQUERING GENERAL (stabbed him through the heart)

4—RAS MOGOLO (contracted to have her husband murdered)

5—RAS MONTARA (it is sais she beheaded him)

6—GEN. TACKEL GHEORGHIS (her husband was executed after her plot to take over the kingdom of Tigre) 

7—THE GOVERNOR OK EGIOU (her husband died as a result of her conspiracy with others)

8—THE MONEY LENDER OF GONDOR. (reportedly died showing symptoms of poisoning)

9—ABEBA. (Her husband was decapitated as a result of conspiracy against Menelik)

10—ZECCARAGAGIAN (cause of death not mentioned)

11—MENELIK (reportedly died years before his death was announced)

This listing was supposedly obtained from an article written in 1914:

“The Worst Woman In the World – Dowager Empress Taitu, Who Climbed from the Gutter to the Throne, Married Eleven Times, Joined in Innumerable Intrigues and Murders, and Is Now at Last Safely Locked Up, to the Great Relief of Abyssinia,” Indianapolis Star Magazine Section (In.), Feb. 22, 1914, p. 1]

In addition, the following are quotes attributed to Empress Taitu Betul

As a woman dealing with men, let dissimulation be thy watch-word. Let no man know thy secret thoughts and ambitions.

If another woman stand in thy way, take her to thy bosom; if a man, beguile and marry him.

Harden thy heart to all pity, all remorse; then shall thy mind and heart be free, without scruple, to gain high aims.

A heart that is without tenderness of mercy alone can inhabit a body able to endure and to suffer all.

When thou hast gained thy throne, yearn not weakly for the love of thy subjects lest they perceive thy weakness and one day overthrow thee; as by blood thou gainest thy crown, through blood only shall thou retain it.


There is little other than these quotes and brief history that describe the Empress. Was she a victim of circumstance eleven times? You decide.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Perhaps you'll kill me. Perhaps I'll kill you...

Perhaps sooner. Perhaps later."
~Batman: The Killing Joke - written by Alan Moore/ illustrations/art by Brian Bolland

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I happen to love comic books. I grew up on them, which means my parents wouldn't buy them for me (not the ones I wanted) and so when I did get the ones I pined for... I hoarded them and read them, then re-read them over and over again. My favorites? X-Men (by far), Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer. and Sheena of the Jungle (yeah, laugh). There were others, but these were on my top list. Most hated? The Archies. My parents didn't mind me having the Archies comics. Ugh.

I bought the deluxe edition of "The Killing Joke," because that was all I could find at the time. It's a very nice edition and I love the artwork and coloring. The story line wasn't all that interesting for me, and I happen to love Alan Moore's works like "Watchmen" and "V for Vendetta." I think the story could have been filled with more conflict. More controversial. Instead, there are a couple of past references where the reader can "feel" for the Joker, and understand the position of Batman, but it's a numb story overall.

Regardless, I'm a graphic novel, comics lover, and the story wasn't bad. The artwork was phenomenal, and I'd love to see these two do something mind-blowing in the future. A fun read, though not intense. I enjoyed it.

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

"You're not gonna believe this,” he said to Rule.

“We got a shooting out on I-89. Lady in a station wagon. Is this piece-of-shit day never gonna end?”
~Joyride - by Jack Ketchum (2010)

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I put off reviewing this novel for a couple of reasons. One: I'm often one of the first to submit a review before reading other writers' critiques in my SHU program. I decided to do things differently this time. Second: I'm afraid I'm a real freak. I love Jack Ketchum's writing. Not just his writing, but his stories. What does that say about me? I've read how others feel that his novels are a bummer. A trip down the filthy alleyways of a twisted humanity that only exists in the worst of nightmarish dreams. And maybe it's true, but it doesn't bother me. If anything, I'm appreciative. His prose is real, and he dives into storytelling in a way that is different from others.

The first part of the story, Wayne witnesses a murder and it thrills him. His sentiment about it is not so different from those who enjoy reading about serial killers, or those who look on the internet for fatality crashes and are amazed at the blood and aftermath. Is he so different from the person who drives a car and just for a moment wonders what it would be like to plunge her/his bumper into a crowd of people taking their time crossing the road when the light is green...the person who is waiting to turn right but can't because that person dosen't dare?

"It was not the product of the kill, which was nothing but meat and emptiness when you got down to it, though the person you killed wasn’t there anymore and that was something. But the act itself, the moment of the taking and the losing. That was classy. That was important."
Ketchum (Kindle Locations 425-427). 

And that is what is important in this story when you read it. Something you need to stick in the back of your brain as your fingers turn the pages.

Another thing I really liked about the way Ketchum put this book together is that he plays with your thoughts as you read. An example is when Lieutenant Rule reflects on what he knows about Carole. Where you might think at one point she's one hell of a bitch, later you discover she had real reasons for wanting her ex-husband dead. But then you have to consider, is there ever a real reason for wanting someone dead? And does the wanting ever justify the actual act?

As a writer and student of writing popular fiction, there were some POV errors I noticed now and then. None of them seriously bothered me, but I noticed them just the same. The way the story flowed I caught myself wondering if we're too hard on POV changes in manuscripts. Perhaps. I also had a problem with some of the sentence structure. There were places on the pages that a comma would have been beneficial and kept me from reading the same sentence over a few times to catch the meaning.

I've heard others call this book "in your face" writing, but I'd rather describe it as "stare in the mirror" prose. If you enjoy traveling a road where the scenery isn't pretty, but you can acknowledge the loveliness and complexity of a sewer or waste-treatment plant, this story is for you. If you're afraid to stare into the pupils of your own reflection, or you gag at the stench of decaying muscle or mounds of stinking raw feces . . . then don't inhale the words written inside this masterpiece. This is a book best devoured by those who have a palate for the nuances of evil mixed with the subtleties of a timebomb. Overall, this was an excellent read and anyone who disagrees is going in my notebook.



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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Q" Review: Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success."

 August, 2012

The most recent “How To” book I’m reading on the craft of writing is titled
“Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success ” by K.M. Weiland  (2011).

“How To” books can be hard for me to adsorb sometimes. Once I’ve read a few, they start to sound repetitive. I have to really search for a title that tells me something I didn’t already know. Sure, these books can bring me insight, but what they don’t do is hone my craft for me. No matter how many of these books I read, I realize I won’t get any better at my writing unless I practice. And practicing means I need to make mistakes. And making mistakes means I need to take time to learn to fix them. (The tedium.) 

I chose “Outlining Your Novel” initially because it caught my eye as I skimmed through a list of writing books on I thought, “I’m an outliner, and so what can this book tell me that I don’t already know and practice?”  I figured it would be an easy read, and “Wham. Blur. Goodbye Sir…” I’d be done. Another “how to” book down the writing hatch and assignment completed.

That being said, this book surprised me. The first thing that grabbed me about it was the writer’s style. Weiland starts out with misconceptions about outlines and outliners and lays it on the line. I appreciated the author’s voice and the simplicity that she used to get the point across. She has a voice I like to read, which is odd because (as a woman) there’s not many female writing voices I like. Women tend to write passively, and are seldom strong without being their writing voices. Weiland’s voice was confident and steady throughout this manuscript, and I found it was influential as well as logical.

In her first chapter, which covers misconceptions about outlining and benefits of outlining I felt she was trying to convince the “pantsers” out there that they could indeed outline and benefit from it if they gave the idea a chance. As an outliner AND pantser, I could see her points but I wasn’t sure a pure pantser would agree with her. What I know is that it helps me if I have a basic roadmap to follow. I start with deciding how I want the beginning, the middle and the end of the story to go.

The first chapter addresses the war between outliner and pantser factions, and tries to bring the arguments together to meet in the middle. One of my favorite quotes in the first chapter is: “The individual writer is the only expert of his own proficiency.” 
It’s very true. It’s also depressing when I take time to realize I’m not as proficient as I’d like to be. Life gets in the way. I can’t write a page a day. I’m way to busy to do that, and I’m a perpetual procrastinator. I’d rather write ten pages in a sitting.

I also take on too many daily projects at once. The end result is that I do everything at the last minute. I also tend to get them done, but not necessarily to the best of my ability.

September, 2012

I've been able to take in a few more chapters since I started reading this.  Chapter 9 is my favorite so far. This chapter gets into some major veggie-pie of the writer's organizational skills. I understand that decisions are best made before writing much of the story. Getting the writing done ahead of time will save the author a great deal of rewriting work. Even though the assertion is that a pantser "likes to find out" how the story is going to go by writing without an outline, if they compromise and do some basic  gumshoe research first, they will be so much better off. (Thus says the woman with 2 novels that are only 3/4 written.) And I've realized through experience, as well as this book, to always always be sure your story contains humor, action and relationships. And for horror writers . . . lots of blood. Don't skimp on the blood.

October 2012

The final chapters. And so Weiland brings the art of outlining all together in the final pages. It's not like some major magical secret shrouded in veils of riddles. It really is a call the putting together the outline as the "road map" for the novel. Furthermore, Weiland really works hard to entice 'pantsers' that his was will help them.  I find myself visualizing pantsers much like the Frenchmen on top of the castle in The Monty Python and the Holy Grail. "Tell them we already got one!" And they chuckle while King Author appears extremely puzzled since it is his personal quest.

And so, whether outliner or pantser, our goal or quest if you will, is to complete the novel with elements of humor, action  and relationships in such a way that the reader feels drawn in and doesn't feel a sense of they've done the same thing over and over. Let the reader experience something new. Even cooks make new dishes using regular ingredients in a whole now way. Let's inspire. Let's DARE to do prose differently. And then. Oh my. Just THEN . . . we might even excite the reader.



Saturday, October 20, 2012

"David. If you kill him, ...

...he will win." William Somerset  (Seven - with Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey)

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This movie is a deep psychological thriller with strong elements of horror. It follows much of the same pattern as other movies of its kind, but whereas some of those films lack emotional intensity this one is extremely powerful. In this twisted tale, human beings are used in a game where the killer has created his own rules and everything comes down to one character defining moment. 

"David, if you kill him...he will win."

I love this movie now as much as the second time I saw it. I say the second time, because the first time, like the high a serial killer must get from her very first kill, there is as no comparison. It was a shocker that left me (literally) with my mouth gaping wide as I stared at the screen.

The script is fantastic. The story-line is action packed, suspenseful and extremely compelling. The actors play their characters well and the scene development of the murders is phenomenal. I won't spoil it for those that haven't seen the film yet, but I will say, "Don't watch trailers. Don't read any more about it. For the best impact, stop reading and see it now. The ride is worth more than the wait."

Seven Movie Poster by rodolforever
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"Cathy gazed down in horror at a close-up of neatly chiseled letters—

--an inscription at the base of the outcropping on which the mummified body of Tommy Campbell was standing. It read simply:   FOR DR. HILDEBRANT." 
The Sculptor - by Gregory Funaro (2009)

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I can't rave about this novel, nor can I thoroughly condemn it. I've read several polar opposite reviews on this work and I find my personal opinion of it mixed somewhere in the Vegemite that sits between two pieces of stale bread.

This novel starts out with Cathy Hildebrant's mentor, Janet Polk, telephoning her that a FBI agent from the Behavioral Analysis Unit is looking for her in relation to the disappearance of a well known football player because she is an expert in the field of Renaissance art. I found the premise interesting, although I found the prose difficult to read. There was a lot of unnecessary narrative and Cathy's character (part Asian/part German) did not come across as very real to me. I felt more like an outsider 'seeing' Cathy, than a reader 'being' Cathy on a protagonist journey.

The actions and the lifestyle of the Sculptor was what I found most interesting in the book. This was a  man who was independently wealthy, a nurse who cared for his disabled father at home and who practiced his grisly art in a space near his home on a mortician's table.  Chapter 7 was one of the most engaging chapters because the author really gives the reader a look inside the head of the killer. And that is what I think is the most interesting thing about serial killers and psychopaths. It's not the crimes they commit. It's how they think. It's examining the clockwork and wondering if, even in the darkest places of my own mind, if I could ever do something so sinister. So unfathomably vile.

There are things in this novel that every 'learned' writer (this decade) knows not to do. For example, the reader gets a picture of what Cathy looks like because she looks in her bathroom mirror. Any writer who has grown up in a solid MFA writing program knows that this is considered a "no-no." It announces to the writing community that this is the work of 'novice.' In addition, there are several passages littered with passive voice. The "had been's" become distracting to read over time. And there were liberal use of adverbs and some obvious tense problems on different pages. As a reader, I had problems with visualizing exactly how in the world a killer would be able to put a statue together ,such as Michelangelo's Bacchus, by himself, to include constructing a satyr with the top half of a human boy and the bottom half of a goat.

And then there were cliche's that writers know to steer clear of. Although cliche's are sometimes hard to avoid, one cliche' I never really understood is "being caught dead." How a person minds "being caught dead" anywhere, is beyond my comprehension. I mean, you're dead right? So why would you care? And if you are dead, then how are you really "caught?" It's not like you're running to get anywhere. To this day I have no idea how that phrase ever came into being, but I'm always surprised when someone uses it. I blame the content editor of a novel when a sentence like that is allowed to own a space on a published page.

(example: "Cathy could not deny that she had been a nerd all her life—never had a taste for sports; would much rather have listened to a lecture on Donatello than be caught dead at a football game in college."~ Funaro, G. (2009) The Sculptor (p. 10). Kensington Publishing Corp. Kindle Edition. 

"Show, don't tell." It's a writer's mantra. Yet chapter three provided way too much information on "The Sculptor" from the antagonist's point of view. The details about him could have deliciously leaked out of each page bit by bit. And there's the overuse of The Sculptor's chosen name. Each paragraph used it over and over, and it was unnecessary. This trait continued throughout the novel, and much could have been cut from it  (40 or 50 pages) to make a faster paced and more interesting read.

All in all, I find myself wondering who Funaro had as a content editor for this piece of work. Kensington Publishing is a mass market publisher and descriptions of it state that it publishes over 600 titles a year to include romance and women's fiction. That's enough information to make me think this  novel may have been the victim of a publisher that agreed to print it while paying little attention to the work. And perhaps the writer really needed the sale and did what he had to do to get it on the shelves. 

I do believe that this was Gregory Funaro's first published novel, and if so then I feel a greater understanding about this work. He now has a second novel available titled "The Impaler," and I wonder if his work has improved and/or if he had a better content editor on that piece. I'm not sure if I'll give "The Impaler" a chance, but I may.

After all of the varying reviews of "The Sculptor," I find myself wondering if fellow writers will be as considerate with me when my first novel hits the press. Will they look at the work I've put into it and realize that the market is literally flooded with other writers who accept next to nothing for their work? Will they value the fact that I worked hard to produce a story, or that I needed to sell it? These are questions which don't have answers. I'll only know once I read reviews of my work on peer blogs, or on Goodreads. One thing is for sure. I'll have several eyes on my work before it's published, and many critique partners and editors will provide feedback and necessary surgery to the pages before I let it loose on the world.

Chin up, Funaro. Keep on writing. And consider getting another editor and publisher. You deserve better.


Note: One last thing I found interesting in my background research was that there was a novel titled "The Sculptress" (1993) written by Minette Walters. It has a very similar approach to "The Sculptor." The prose of "The Sculptress" is decidedly more developed but I couldn't help but wonder if it was the inspiration for this novel. As an added mention, Minette Walters won an Edgar Award for her novel in 1994.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"She can’t be dead!” Annie Wilkes shrieked at him."

"Her hands snapped open and closed in a faster and faster rhythm. “Misery Chastain CANNOT BE DEAD!”

~Misery - by Stephen King (1988)

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My husband hated the movie made from this novel. He still does. Hates it with a passion. And Kathy Bates did such a good job in her hobbling scene that he can't stand to watch her in a movie ever again.

Like so many of the other assignments in this "Readings in the Genre" course, I'd seen the movie Misery a couple of times, but only read the book once several years ago. I was grateful for the opportunity to read it again last week and it brought back a ton of sketchy memories.

I won't do a synopsis of the story because synopsis of stories are overdone, but I will describe what I really enjoyed about this novel and what I thought could have been improved in it along the way.

Stephen King is a MASTER at character creation, and his development of Annie Wilkes is priceless. Paul Sheldon's character is stale in comparison, but I think the part is meant to be that way. Annie Wilkes is the colorful bird in this story. Zany, crazy and as whacked out as they come. Scary part is she always reminds me of my mother, 'whoever/whatever is out/in there, her soul.' 

I identified pretty strongly with Paul throughout the novel (feeling trapped and powerless) although I think I would have wised up faster than him and made my dear fan worshipper happy with whatever the hell she wanted just so I could get out of there. But King's dialogue that came from Annie, and the descriptions of her, burst disturbingly to wicked life throughout the pages. I admit I kept seeing Kathy Bate's face as I read. Movies do that. Replace imagination with something you've seen. But I certainly didn't sleep well the night I finished the book.

The one thing I could have done without in the book, and where I thought improvement could be made, were the minute details that seemed to drag the story down. Details are good things in a novel, but there's such a thing as too many good things. As an example, the long diatribe about the Royal typewriter was unnecessary. A few of the details were fine but after a while I was ready to smack the writer hard and tell him to get on with it. I wanted to pound that typewriter into steel granules, and overdone scenes like this make me want to stop reading (or at the very least, skip to the next good part.)

But despite some of the long and painful descriptive passages, I enjoyed this book and it reminded me of what an incredible writer Stephen King is. There's one book of his which I haven't read yet and really need to (as my friend Gina keeps reminding me) and that's the book "IT." When I get the time, "IT" will be next on my list. Send in the Clowns.


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Friday, October 5, 2012

"First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask:...

. . . what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?"
The Silence of the Lambs - (said by Hannibal Lector/Anthony Hopkins)

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There are a few films in my life that I've watched over and over again. Silence of the Lambs is one of them. I saw this movie before I knew it was a novel, and I saw it before I read the accompanying novels "Red Dragon" and "Hannibal." 

Since then, I've read all of the novels and I've seen the films. Of all of them, Silence of the Lambs is (hands-down) the best. Perhaps it's the chemistry between Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins that is most compelling. Stories about serial killers are a dime a dozen these days. Gruesome details abound in real life, and a fiction author is sure to put together a combination of details from news stories (old and new) in order to stupefy and scare readers out of their google-eyed minds. Silence of the Lambs utilizes some grotesque scenes to horrify watchers, but for the most part the scenes are done with taste. . . a gruesome finesse. 

And, for me, it's the mind game play between Agent Starling and Dr. Lector that is ultra-seductive, savory and alluring. Part of me has always wished I knew a Hannibal Lector in real life, and wondered if I'd be worthy in his eyes. And should it, or would it matter if I was? I've enjoyed this movie so often, and was eager to watch it again. This film is one that never disappoints and never fails to leave me with a little chill at the end that chases me into my dreams at night. It's one that makes me shudder with the flutter of a moth's wings against my cheek and sends me to peek into the depths of depravity of man's secret desires. Alone.

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Funerals often make us want sex—

--it’s one in the eye for death."

~Red Dragon - by Thomas Harris

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The character of Will Graham reminded me of myself as I read this novel. "He didn't want a face aimed at him all the time." He described the morgue as a peaceful place, and it is. I've been there. It's place where the dead don't complain. Where the world might smell bad, but the science makes sense.


I don't know why people continue to call the smell of blood "coppery." It's not. It smells like the iron that is in it. Rusted iron when the blood gets old. This was one of a few things that bugged me in the prose, but I could let it go.

Page 20 (Kindle version), when Will drinks "two fingers of whiskey," it's a small thing, but I would have liked to know what kind of whiskey it was. Would have told me a bit more about him. 

Throughout the novel, I enjoyed the simplicity of the prose and the natural flow of the dialogue. That's what made this book both an easy/quick read and steady pace.

As I read, I thought about how Graham let himself get into the brain of the killer, and how it both bothered and thrilled him. I compared it to those of us who write we absolutely MUST go into those dark places in order to write our scenes well and fully develop our characters and how...when we emerge from those places...many of us need a cleansing ritual in order to be all right with our world.

Another thing I enjoyed that perhaps younger readers wouldn't understand, was the trip back to the 80's. Cigarette smoke inside the diner, old style antacids and headache medicines that no longer occupy modern pharmaceutical shelves, and the absence of cell phones. The very beginnings of computers, the popularity of was a very different time, the 80's. In the criminal justice system, fingerprints were often hoarded together in large binders, and matching prints to a suspect was an onerous task. These days, CODIS has made it easy to find a set of prints from millions of persons in the system.

Forensics: Many of the forensic descriptions were accurate, which is something I enjoyed. From the chemicals described in the breakdown of a wound to the details about bite marks and other aspects of  forensic odontology. . . Harris placed an air of believability in his story because it was framed with  scientific elements that were true at the time the novel was written. 

Interesting quote observations early in the story:

"You know how cats do. They hide to die. Dogs come home." (p. 33, Kindle)

"The Tooth Fairy will go on and on until we get smart or get lucky. He won’t stop.” (p. 39, Kindle, Interesting because of the criminal profiling.)

"Men have no confidence in whispers." (p. 47, Mrs Leed's Diary.)

“He did it because he liked it. Still does. Dr. Lecter is not crazy, in any common way we think of being crazy. He did some hideous things because he enjoyed them. But he can function perfectly when he wants to.” (p.63, describing Hannibal Lecter.)

"Perception’s a tool that’s pointed on both ends.” (p. 179)

As someone who has studied criminal profiling, much of what Harris wrote in his novel was textbook for the times. The descriptive actions of sociopaths are taken right out of behavioral science journals. For example, the early start in the sociopath 'career' torturing/hurting/killing animals. . . it's one of the things that seriously creeps me out because even though it's written in a fiction novel it's true in the real world. It's true in a world I'd prefer for my brain not to admit exists.

All in all, I've got to say I enjoyed this book. Harris handles multiple POV's well in the story, and he's not overly descriptive on the setting. He uses a lot of dialogue which helped to keep the novel interesting. The one major drawback (for me) was that it was so much like the film, "Silence of the Lambs," that I couldn't help but compare them. I haven't read the novel, but comparing this book with the SotL movie, I found much of it repetitive. Overly redundant. So much so, that I wonder if I would enjoy reading the sequel novels or if I'd find them boring.

I'm sure that in the near future, I'll find out.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

"One thinks of the course that people cut through life...

. . . For some, it seems simple. They don't hesitate. They are handsome and intelligent and life opens up to them as the Red Sea opened before Moses. But even into the lives of these people a shadow might come." 
The Church of Dead Girls - by Stephen Dobyns

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What is it like to grow up in a small town? The kind of town where everyone knows everyone and the residents never fear leaving their doors unlocked?

Stephen Dobyns does an excellent job in The Church of Dead Girls, allowing us to see through the windows of a world that is just like that. If you've had the experience of growing up in a small town, as I have, you know how well he's done with this book. The descriptions of the locals, the gossip and the secrets . . . oh yes, the secrets!

The Church of Dead Girls is a novel, I must admit, that I wouldn't have picked up to read on my own. I'd never heard of it until my "Readings in the Genre" course and although I found the Prologue engaging . . .  the first few chapters of the story reminded me so much of my own childhood that I wanted to put the book down and walk away from it as quickly as I'd left town the day I turned eighteen. (Yes, I really did leave ...)

So, did I continue to read it? Yes, I did. But only because it was an assigned reading. It wasn't that the prose was bad. I actually found Dobyn's writing very smooth and I seldom discovered an error in the book (passive voice, repetitive words, etc.). What I had problems with was the style of the story. It didn't work for me.

The issues that I had with it are neither right nor wrong, but grated on me as a reader. 

First: The narrator never has a name (I had to keep calling him 'Mr. High School Biology Teacher Man with Weird Stuff in Jars' in my head, which got rather long), and he's amazingly omniscient. He can recall every single diminutive detail despite his not having been present for, say, a good 95% of the story. Even in common gossip at the local pharmacy or Wegman's, a person doesn't get the opportunity to elicit such juicy fleshed out moments of goings on between two or more people. 

Second: Regardless of Stephen King's "thumbs up" for the novel on the cover and calling it a page turner, I felt like I was eight years old again sitting in the doctor's office among everyone else in my community who had a cough and a cold. These characters were too real to me . . . in that I KNEW them (the spirit of them) and therefore I found them . . . well . . . boring. The druggies, the hippies, the wanna-bes, the professors, the teachers, the pharmacist, the local doctor . . . almost nothing was surprising. Even the narrator's own admission of being a Peeping Tom, taking advantage of a young blind girl's habit of undressing and masturbating in front of her window, was pathetic. And the blind girl? Just because she was blind she was stupid? She had to understand the purpose of windows, and the fact that her house was right next to the narrator's home. Not a moment do I believe the girl didn't have an inkling of what she was doing.

Third: In behavioral/criminal profiling, often it's the Peeping Tom who develops into the full fledged sex offender, sexual sadist, rapist or sexual serial-killer type behaviors. It has to do with fantasy and changing fantasy into reality. It has to do with power and control. I won't spoil the end totally for the reader, but once the narrator made that admission to the readers/his audience, he was prime (behaviorally) to be guilty of so much more. If his knowledge of minuscule shreds of information didn't already make me see him as an unreliable narrator, the things that followed his admission to the Peeping Tom incident made him highly suspect of more.

For information on Peeping Toms and their often 'progressive' criminal development, here's a great webpage: Profiling Rapists. Much of the research in this area is founded on work done by retired FBI agent Roy Hazelwood.

See if this case scenario seems similar to anything you read in the novel:

Yet, I wouldn't lead you to believe that I hated this book. It wasn't bad overall, but I can't rave about it either. It left a condensation of swamp water in my nostrils and a stale beer stench on my clothes. It took me back to the old cemetery where every teen who felt rebellious enough either drank or fucked  and most often did both. I was forced to relive snooty college professors in the larger town, and high school biology teachers with those same despicable formaldehyde jars with who-knows-what pickled  in them for years. A crusty iguana held captive in a tank, cases of dead worms and frogs waiting for dissection and skipping classes to go four wheeling in the two-wheel drive rusty red Volkswagon across the slippery pine-needles of the tree cluttered forest. If this book could do all of that, then it had to be well written indeed.

But I didn't love the book either. There were too many holes, too many easily contrived solutions for why things had happened and the book plodded along like the agonizingly slow assent of mercury in the rectal thermometer that my childhood doctor derived joy from placing. And like when waiting for that liquid metal to rise, I squirmed.

There were the humanistic moments of insight that I found as pleasurable as sunlight that beams down between the dark shadows of oak leaves. Some of my favorite quotes from the prose are these:

"It almost makes me believe in reincarnation, how some people's lives seem a punishment. And what could it be a punishment for if not for some previous sin?" (p. 58)

"All our emotions - - love, hate, envy, greed, pride - - have acceptable public levels, then other levels, private levels where they may move to excess." (p. 120)

"If you could look to the bottom of a human being, what desires would you find? And what desires are concealed beneath my white shirt and bow tie, my civilized veneer?" (p. 384)

And what of the author himself? Dobyns' Wikipedia reference lists all of his writing accomplishments and mentions the following which is cited (curiously) on his Facebook Author Profile as well:

It seems much of Dobyns' life was centered around the sleepy villiage atmosphere, and around education, gender and secret sexuality, lending credibility to the small town 'sound' he so eloquently placed on the pages.  

In conclusion, I can not call the book average. It is much greater than that. Disturbing, maybe, in that it causes a reader who is able to dive beyond words and pages to think of their own darkness, passions and deviant desires. Compelling because it makes us wonder what keeps us in check. 

And what doesn't.


Niedergang 3 by FlexDreams

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Norman closed the door. He went back to the office and took another drink. A congratulatory drink."

This was going to be even easier than he’d dreamed. It was going to be easy as pie."
Psycho: A Novel - by Robert Bloch

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I love this tale. I know it seems ignorant to say that I didn't even know this was a novel until it was proposed for my Readings in the Genre (RIG) course in Horror (Psychos) at Seton Hill, but it's true. Apparently, 0 out of every 10 people I tried to discuss this book with (in my every day life, not with Seton Hill students or other writers) didn't know Psycho was a novel before it was a movie. Go figure. It seems a book still manages to reach the heights of anonymity even after a film is made based on its genius.

Despite that realization, I was extremely glad to have read the novel and to understand its origins. Robert Bloch wrote this tale beautifully, and I wish I'd read the story way before I ever saw the Hitchcock version. Novels tend to hold deep meanings within the pages that never quite translate to film, and so I always prefer to read the novel before seeing the movie. In this instance, it couldn't be helped.

I found Psycho suspenseful even though I'd seen the old flick. The easy language of the read was what captivated me most. There wasn't deep introspective language, or words I needed to look up. The pages held within them a simplicity woven with shadows and intrigue. It's something a reader doesn't get much these days. There are too many inexperienced writers who try to write beyond every day vocabulary, and who make their story more complex than it needs to be. What I most enjoyed about this tale were the simple motivations of the characters, the plain language in which the story was written and the scary backdrop woven into it which allowed me to obtain the experience of being at the hotel and "living" the nightmare.

One of my favorite lines once Mary gets to the hotel:

“Sorry,” he said. “I was just tucking Mother in for the night. Sometimes she’s apt to be a bit difficult.”
~Bloch, Robert (1959) Psycho

Norman is physically different in this novel, compared to the movie. Anthony Perkins was thin and lanky in Hitchcock's version, while the Norman in the story was round. Fat.

Still, the pictures in my mind were similar to the film. I found it interesting that for the most part, as I read, I saw the story in black and white. Perhaps it was the setting combined with the influence of the movie...but Robert Block's tale was thoroughly engaging and I loved each scene as it processed through my brain.

Drawbacks in the prose were those issues in writing that most of us are "dinged" for by editors and mentors. There are tons of repetitive words, lots of passive tense and even a "grimace" (I noted this just for my mentor Timons Esaias). As a modern writer and student of popular fiction, it's hard not to notice these things now, particularly when you are slashed and hacked with red ink or track changes in Word telling you that you MUST NOT do this...!

In order to cope, I admit I did edit the electronic version of the text with highlights and comments, but I also have to confess I enjoyed the novel immensely. Robert Bloch managed to show me that even though Norman Bates was certifiably crazy, everyone is a little crazy every now and then. And we never know what might throw us off the pier into the deep end of the swamp.



Monday, July 9, 2012

Time Flies Faster than Shit...

Can it REALLY be two months since my last blog post? I can barely believe it. So much has happened in such little time and I've let this blog lie idle for too long. It's time for an update!

The Education Scene:

Since the end of my I've completed my third residency in the MFA program (Writing Popular Fiction) at Seton Hill University in Greensburg PA. It was an amazing week seeing my fellow classmates again.
In addition, I've attained a new mentor (Timons Esaias) who is renowned for his thoroughness in a manuscript critique and I hope I survive him. If I do, I know he will help me to be the best writer I can be. Aside from that, I have a huge amount of respect for him.

Soon my "Readings in the Genre" course will start up with horror writer Scott Johnson, a man who tells an excellent tale both orally and on paper. This semester his course will focus on Psychos, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to read some novels I've never read before. (Stay tuned, because you'll see the reviews unfold right at this blog site!)

I continue to work on my dissertation for my PhD through Walden University and the analysis of data is going slow. Such is the work of qualitative research. I hope to have all of the analysis completed by the end of August, and the dissertation ready to go out for its first hard edit.


I submitted one short story (Green Waters) to Rymfire's State of Horror: North Carolina anthology and had it accepted.

Another short story of mine titled "Center Mass" was accepted into an anthology (my thanks to Will Horner for the edit) as a donation to help raise money for a friend suffering from breast cancer. My own mother battled breast cancer, and it's particularly poignant for me to have a hand in this work.

My novel "Sapien Farm" is still in progress and approximately 75% complete. The goal is to have the first draft completed by the end of July and edited by the end of August. It's a hefty plan, but editor R.J. Cavender believes in it and so my own belief is fortified with his positive comments and suggestions. In addition, my Ventura Writer's Group has assisted me with editing Sapien Farm at various chapter points, and my sincere gratitude goes out to editor Broos Campbell, Mark Juris and Kim Wild & Crazy Woman for their thought comments on my work. And my dearest crit partners Gina Greenway and Joe Borrelli...not only do I get to keep them for the next go round of the MFA program, but they have been instrumental in my novel getting to where it is now.

My other novel, "The Flatulent Adventures of Dr Stench and the DC Underground," is currently on hold but not forgotten. I will soon be getting Mario Zucarello back to doing some scenes and Tarot cards for me to help with the book. I'm still on the fence about self publishing this one versus finding a publisher. It's my literary baby, and sometimes the self publishing route is just what needs to be. I want the images to go into the book in color and while a book with color pages is expensive to print, it is not expensive to "e-book." I'm still thinking on this one.

Personal Notes:

This year has been one of challenges for many wonderful writers I love and consider dear friends. If any of you read this, you know who you are. Some of these people have family members enduring serious illness or they themselves are suffering poor health. Some have lost loved ones who've passed from this life to the next on the continuing journey. My endless prayers and affection pour out to you all with deep sincerity. You are all my heros.

Final Note:

Each and every one of you take care. If you're a writer, keep writing. If you are a reader, please keep reading and share a book, a short story or a poem with those around you. Lets keep "reading" alive and well in the U.S. and across the world. Good stories are an art form that should never die, and all of you are the ones who help keep it alive.

Stay glued.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Review of "Ectostorm" written by Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson's novel "Ectostorm," the third in a series, is a book that shows sometimes a series doesn't weaken but can actually gain strength. Where some novels fail to keep an interesting plot line with successive stories, Johnson packs a wallop into a roller-coaster of prose. Stanley Cooper is a character whose voice remains true to the after-dead seeing man that he is. His 'voice' in this story is engaging and realistic, and when I read through the pages I felt just as if he were talking personally to me. I went on his journey, and I rooted for him all the way despite his character flaws which reminded me of my own. The other thing I love about Stanley Cooper's character is his humor. Scott Johnson writes this character with that semi-sarcastic/realistic-take humor in life that many of us have when something bad happens. It's endearing and it made me love the unlikely hero all the more.

Stanley Cooper goes through some major trials and tribulations in this supernatural tale, and I enjoyed the main character's insightful perspective as much as his otherworldly vision shifts. If you haven't read Scott Johnson's "Stanley Cooper Chronicles" and if you enjoy an excellent tale, then please pick this book up. It's fast paced, reads easily and it's a ton of fun. Even if you haven't read the first two, this novel stands on its own. But beware, it will make you want to go back and read the others.

Nuff said!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Writing in the Information Age...

It used to be that a writer sat down with pen and paper in hand, or maybe s/he pulled a chair up to a cozy typewriter and the writer scribbled or pounded away at story pieces in the wee dark hours. Writers still spend hours writing, although now we have computers, Word documents and spell check, and writing has become so much easier for us. Or has it?

Thirty to forty years ago, when a writer hit a mental block or couldn't breach the wall of a plot or story-line, there was little to do except maybe turn on the television, read a book or head out to a bar or a late night diner for inspiration. Today, computers wired in to the Internet provide writers with a number of distractions to pull him or her away from the unwritten page. There's facebook and Twitter and a host of community websites. There's online games, video games, Netflix and Clicker.

Mired in a quicksand of unproductive thought? There's Farmville and many other cyber-games that can pull you away from your writing task at hand, and there's nothing to stop you except the writing deadline that either your publisher, your agent and you yourself have imposed.

Don't get me wrong. There are endless benefits to the Internet for a writer. Social media sites allow an author to promote their novels and allow infinite connections with other writers, readers and potential publishers. But it is ever so easy to be pulled into the cyber-world and put off that novel unless you learn to set limits and craft a personal schedule.

Writing requires thought and time, and for some it demands a great deal of research into topics both familiar and foreign. Writing is a process. And it doesn't happen with incessant blogging, tweeting and facebook chats. In order to pump out those words that will eventually be your completed work, you need to devote time and effort toward it, but how do you do that? I say the answer lies in learning how to unplug. Consider cutting the time you spend on the Internet. If you have a hard time doing this, then just shut your Internet off for a certain period of time on your computer. Each day, set time aside some time just for writing, and DO NOT turn the wireless on, or plug in, until you've achieved your desired word count, or until you've written for a certain number of minutes.

If you hit a wall, or run into that feared 'writer's block'... take time to read your manuscript from beginning to end, or choose a few chapters you know will galvanize you. Or better yet take a trip to the bookstore (alone), and go through magazines that deal with the topic on which your plot or subject is built. Science Fiction crafters will find a world of great ideas in Popular Mechanics or Popular Science, and other genre writers will find much the same in their genre style magazines. Bring a pen and paper to the bookstore, or your i-Pad or computer. Buy that cup off coffee, sit down and read and when you've got some good ideas start writing them down. Do NOT turn on the Internet. Do NOT answer the phone. Set aside time for yourself and for practicing your craft and you'll find that the words WILL come, and the ideas will flow, and you won't be mired in the muck of Internet traffic. Instead, you'll be on your way to finishing your piece and you'll be proud of the work you did that day.

As for me, after sitting to write this short piece, I'm turning of my wireless and getting back to my novel. I try to set aside two twenty-minute intervals with a ten minute break in between to stand up, stretch and/or do some research, then off goes the Internet once again. I finish another twenty minutes and by the time I'm done I end up with a five to ten pages of useful material. The journey of 100,000 words begins with that first word, but you'll never make it if you stop and camp out on a page for too long. Keep on crafting. Keep on writing.  And know that with a little self discipline you will achieve your goal, and you'll be proud that you did.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Get a Read and Critique of Your Published Work...

Do you have trouble getting your horror novels or short stories reviewed? Do you want an honest and forthright critique from an experienced writer and reader?

I'll review your horror novels and short stories and then send you my critique. I'll give you both the good and the bad news as both a reader and a writer. My foundation background is in forensic nursing, midwifery and Public Health, as well as in creative writing. I have a MSN in nursing/midwifery, a Masters of Public Health and PhD (c)  in Public Health and I'm currently working on a Master's of Fine Arts (MFA). My first novel is in the works, but I've had poems and short stories published in places like 69 Flavors of Paranoia and I've reviewed many stories.

For a sense of how I construct my reviews, take a look at my blog and critiques of horror novels and short stories. Only you can decide if you think my review is worth what my fee. I'll dig into your story and send back a full critique for $1.00 per page of an already published novel or short story. If you like the critique, I'll publish it on my blog, Amazon and Goodreads and other websites of your choosing. If you don't like the critique, then it stays in your hands and I'll never post it. The critique stays with you. My stipulation is that if you want my review posted, then the entire review (both praises and criticisms) is placed on the Internet for all to read. I'm objective and fair, and my reviews need to read exactly as I write them.

Some writers have great difficulty getting their stories recognized, but some good reviews can help push you toward that coveted Stoker's Award. If you're interested then contact me and I'll put you into my schedule. First come, first served and I only have room for a couple of novels a month!  I can be reached at

Quirkily Yours,

Querus Abuttu "Q"

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review of "Supernatural Noir" (Stories 1-4) edited by Ellen Datlow

Welcome Reader,

Please join me as I travel on a journey through the anthology titled, "Supernatural Noir." My review will be in stages as I read through the shorts. I'll try not to include any spoilers, but share my impressions instead. If I fail, my apologies in advance. I'm not supernatural. Just a humble reader, consumer of horror and avid writer.

This anthology starts out with an "Introduction" by the editor, Ellen Datlow. I enjoyed her description of "Noir Fiction." She paints it as, "...notably dark, brooding, cynical, complex, and pessimistic." Datlow describes Noir Fiction as "...thick with criminality and rife with betrayal," and states she feels there are only a scant number of Supernatural Noir stories. The editor highlights her love for dark edgy tales which contributed to her desire to edit this book.

As I started reading the first story, "The Dingus," by Gregory Frost, what hit me dead on was that this should not have been the starting story of the anthology. It was a fairly enjoyable read, but not the page turner that should have set the tone for the book.  Frost's story was rather slow paced at the beginning and picked up toward the end, and there were places where 'passive voice' made the prose too cumbersome. The last paragraph of page 15 took me right out of the story with several "had" and "had been" phraseology in the text. This error (I call it an error) occurred in other places as well, and I noted an overuse of the pronoun "he" on pages 27 and 28. Aside from that, I thought Frost's story was solid and creative. I loved his monster creation, which you simply must read to appreciate. Still, this story would have been better presented in the middle of the book, and would have read better if it were just a bit cleaner.

Paul Tremblay's "The Getaway," was the second read in this anthology. I admit up front that I'm not a fan of stories written in present tense, and there's a ton of narration in these pages that make it a stiff piece to read. The main character visualizes and reminisces quite a bit, and then finally on pages 35 to 38 we get to some dialogue, but it's an overly verbose argument as to whether or not one of the other characters is actually in the trunk of a car during a getaway. I found myself skimming through the story, through what seemed like nothing but a perpetual state of confusion among characters, and when I finished the tale I felt as if I'd gone on a wild car ride that ended up at a dead end. I guess I expected more, and perhaps it's there and I missed it, but after reading this story three times I can't really say I found anything intriguing about it.

I took a gulp and another chance at reading the third story in this book titled "Mortal Bait," by Richard Bowes. It takes the Private Investigator route in this piece, and at this point I'm trying to remember how many stories I've read that have P.I.'s as a main character. But I easily know the number. Way too many. Passive voice creeps into this story on the first page. It's about as subtle as a 2 ton brick dropped on a gallon of jello, and again I found myself skimming. By page 50 I was more than a little disappointed. I expected a description of hours old coffee to be something other than "old and tired." Day old coffee could be 'blatantly bitter, festering like the anger of a woman waiting for her cheating husband to come home late from work again.' But "old and tired coffee?" And this piece included elves and fairies in it, which (to me) didn't fit the definition of 'Supernatural Noir.' With all of the writers out there who probably submitted to this anthology, I expected something much more "noiry."

A couple of writers I really respect told me this anthology was very good, but by the time I finished the third piece I began doubting their judgement. "Mortal Bait" didn't hook me, and could have seriously benefited from a shave and a haircut.

While reading, I began to wonder if this anthology suffered from a pressing deadline. Passive voice and excessive pronouns in the stories made the work in this book seem like a mish-mashed compilation of rushed prose. Maybe my standards are too high, or maybe because I spent $19.99 on this bound copy I expected my money's worth. But by this point, I wished I'd just borrowed a used copy from someone instead.

Only because my previously mentioned writer friends stated an approval for this anthology, did I choose to press on to the fourth story in the group titled, "Little Shit," by Melanie Tem. FINALLY, here was a story worth reading! Definitely a tale worth my $19.99! This piece of work should have been the first story in the group. It started out at a fairly rapid pace and it kept me reading...not skimming...but actually reading. Pedophilia, psychosocial schemes and themes, borderline entrapment entangled in mind-reading webs...these ideas hit the pages with an intense wave that grabbed me as a real 'noir' story. Tem's pages gave me guilty pleasure and made me want to rip out the first 72 pages of the anthology in order to give it a proper start. Her work is a gem among ordinary stones, and it was a wonderful read. Because of her brilliance, I decided to keep this book instead of tossing it into my recycling, and I will brave reading more. What will I think of the rest? Stay tuned and I'll let you know. I'm not ready to give up on this anthology, yet.

"Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene and Structure" (Chapters 7-14) by Jack M. Bickham

As I finished "Scene and Structure," (from Chapters 7 to 14) I concede that it had some nice tidbits in places.  Still nothing stood out so me as all encompassing "Yoda" wisdom of prose, but instead it had chapters with 'nice to know' info that may or may not apply to your own style of writing.

What I got out of this text was that there is a method and madness to a general style of writing. But what I know from experience is that Bickham's guidance is not the "end all--be all" to the process of novel writing. Basically Bickham used what his mentor (Dwight V. Swain) taught him, and put his own twist in the text. Linking scenes, tricks to control pace, variations of scene writing and how to fix problems in scenes are his focus in later chapters of the book. These are techniques that I think are intuitive for one style of writing but do not mesh with other styles or author preferences. 

Bickham's method works better with a linear style novel where the protagonist (ONE protagonist) starts out on a path, climbs a mountain and ends up the hero at the finish line. It's very simplistic and perhaps that's what bothers me. The dull formula can be used to tell any story and it's pattern is utterly and completely predictable.

I also felt that chapters 13 (the structure of chapters) and those following should have actually been at the beginning of the book (The Scenic Master Plot..."). If these chapters had come earlier, the book would have made more sense if I were using it to really write my novel.

Overall, "Scene and Structure" was an OK 'how to' book but I finished it feeling like I'd just attended a Republican convention. It's outline was one-sided. It's waters were stagnant, and I would have liked to see Bickham show riskier elements to the scene and structure of a novel. Instead, his narrative remains a well-worn roadmap with a brand new cover, and I (personally) want something that travels beyond the Yellow Brick Road. I'm searching for a path that goes over the field of poppies and takes flight far past the view of the ordinary rainbow. Still, for those who like concrete, this book is for you.

Just don't step on the cracks.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene and Structure" (Chapters 1-6) by Jack M. Bickham

I didn't start to get into this book until Chapter 3. Chapters 1 & 2 were more introductory, covering topics such as, "The Structure of Modern Fiction" and "Strategy: How to Start Your Story and End It." Chapters 3 and 4 really gets into the produce of what a mid-level writer needs to know. "Structure in Microcosm: Cause and Effect," really helped me think about cause and effect in my novel, and Chapter 4 ( Structure in Larger Elements: The Scene) helped me to analyze each scene in my story.

Chapter 5 (Structure in Macrocosm: Scenes with Results) resonated with me, as I have done what this author warns against which is to write a grand scene and end up in a blind alley of manuscript with no where to go. This action reminds me of that science cartoon where the guy is writing an equation on the board and in the middle of it he writes *then a miracle happens* and the rest of the equation follows. I'm actually in a tough spot with my novel right now because some of the choices my characters have made put them all in a particular place with the need to get a specific thing done and I can't quite figure out how to do it without the *miracle* in the middle. Either I'll have to scrap some chapters or be clever and figure out something that's plausible.

Through Chapters 5 and 6, Bickham's techniques suit those who plan and who outline ahead of time but is not exactly for the 'pantsers' in the crowd. Chapter 6 deals with "Planning and Revising Scenes for Maximum Effect," and so as a part time pantser I could see where his technique wouldn't necessarily work for certain writers. However, if one were to go back later and apply some of what Bickham suggests it may be helpful. As of now, I"m on to Chapter 7 and will give more reviews later. So far there isn't much in this that I haven't been told already. It's a good review for general creative fiction novel writing but there's nothing that has completely rocked my world as a writer. More soon!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"The wooden door frame was scored and gouged into a welter of fresh splinters...

Mbwun by caramitten (deviantArt)

" if something with claws had been scrabbling at it."
 ~ The Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (1995)

I read this story years ago, and when I read it again this month I had a weird sense of deja-vu. Not because I'd read the novel once more, but because there was a film that was oddly similar to it in comparison. Then it hit me. The movie "Hell Boy" (2004). The museum, the overall description/vision of the monster, were much the same. 

Regardless, I have to say I loved this novel. It reads like a well researched tale, from descriptions of the museum to the autopsy scenes. There wasn't much I found unbelievable on the pages except for a couple of autopsy and death investigation missteps. For example, the pituitary does not come out when the brain is removed. It's located in a very small space inside the skull and has to be manually extracted with a long handled scalpel (Personally done it, so I know...). The medical examiner would have to be looking inside the skull for it, not at the brain (page 61). In addition, hands on dead bodies are not covered with plastic when they are recovered and sent to the morgue from a crime scene. Plastic degrades DNA and ruins good evidence. The hands would be covered with paper bags instead.

One other mistake I noticed was on page 80, there is mention of 'ballistics analysis,' but there were no 'ballistics'/bullets to analyze. The correct term would be "blood-spatter analysis," I believe, also termed 'bloodstain pattern analysis' by some. Blood-spatter analysis is the term that's been used since the 1950's, and I was surprised at that mistake. Ballistics is the study of things related to gunfire, trajectory of bullets, examination of patterns on casings, etc. Blood-spatter analysis looks a patterns of blood in relation to a crime (or suicide). Arterial spurts, splatters from hammers or other tools used on human bodies or other 'bleeding' episodes, constitute blood-spatter analysis.

There were some lovely made-up tidbits such as the "Callisto effect," Callisto being one of Jupiter's moons, or (in Greek mythology) the nymph Artemis turned into a bear and set into the stars, but that was an enjoyable piece of fun to read amid real scientific information such as "convergent evolution."
There was a lot of research put into this book, and I enjoyed much of it.

There were some parts of the novel that dragged for me. Some of the anthropological discussions were long winded and unnecessary, and slowed the pace of the story (example page 55, Kindle version). I think the long winded pieces were merely a case of trying to incorporate too much hard earned research into the text. Some of these pieces could have been edited out for a punchier tale.

Still, there was a lot of intrigue, fast action and suspense in the prose. The monster becomes more and more real, until we actually see it through the eyes of agent Pendergast. It's evolution is still in doubt until the truth of it's origin is uncovered in the epilogue. (I still have trouble understanding how it made it back to the U.S./New York undetected.) And I loved how the ending left room for several continuations of the story. Kawakita: possibly infected (his asthma gone/his shoes too tight). Possible infection of drug users in New York city, as Kawakita doled out what he thought was a 'controlled' substance (pun intended). And what IF there were other connections to the virus-plant that were loose in the world? Many possibilities!

Overall, a very fun book, and I look forward to reading "Reliquary" in the future.