Tuesday, July 31, 2007

No. 29 - The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe

by Valerie I.J. Flint

Started: July 30
Finished: August 15

Notes: I picked this up a couple of years ago in a New Age shop in Columbus, Ohio. I was in the store and I kind of felt like I had to buy something, so this was among the books I picked up. I'm not a New Ager, but I've found a lot of the small, non-chain shops can have plenty to offer speculative fiction writers. I've been slacking on my non-fiction reading this year, so I thought I'd get around to this one now. Besides, it also ties in well with historical studies on religion and magic, an important element in the world of my trilogy. I've also gained interest in mixing horror and fantasy (something I believe Neil Gaiman is the king of, though Stephen King did a pretty good job with his "Dark Tower" series), and this book might help me some there.

Mini review: Thank the Lord I am finished with this book. It was most interesting, but quite dense. But, what can you expect from a British collegiate textbook? I learned a lot, but the tedious part was the amount of information the author provides in an attempt to prove her point, or at least to suggest her point is worth further study. Basically, the writer is suggesting the early church did not deal with magic (and, by association, paganism) nearly as harshly as the later church, and that the early church did not always try to stomp out magic and paganism, but in some cases tried to hijack magic, renaming the church's version of magic "miracles." In Dungeons & Dragons terms, the church tried to wipe out arcane magic while creating/promoting divine magics. I personally don't agree or disagree with the writer's point, but found the whole subject interesting. Whether she is correct or not, I guess there's no definitive answer, though she did back of her arguments quite strongly.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Thoughts on Horror, part II

I don't care much for horror as "morale tale." An example of this would be the early "Friday the 13th" movies. Teens smoke some pot and have sex. Teens get hacked up by a goon in a hockey mask. It's simple. If you sin, bad stuff will happen to you.

It's also stupid. And oversimplifies our existence. It's also so over the top as to almost be funny. If kids smoking a joint or two and having sex means they deserve to be tortured, mutilated and murdered ... well, without getting all religious on you, let's just say there's not a lot of hope for humanity. Maybe there's not anyway. I don't know.

On the flip side, though, I can understand an author who delves into some pretty dark and/or taboo subjects for his or her own peronal reasons. Over the years I've written at least a couple of such short stories, one called "The Second Judas" and the other simply titled "Sins." "The Second Judas" isn't worth printing because I've never gone back to clean it up beyond the first draft, and it does indeed need a lot of work. "Sins," on the other hand, has had a lot of work done to it, and it is probably pretty close to being ready for publication, though I'd like to give it one more quick line editing. Both of these stories are pretty old, "Sins" originally going back to 1994 and the other to 1997.

Here's the thing though ... both stories are so dark, touching upon subjects that are so taboo to general society, that yeah, I would fear some of the backlash. And I don't even mean from the general public, or general readers. I mean even from friends and fellow writers.

"The Second Judas" doesn't bother me nearly as much, because it's mostly dealing with religion ... and religious nuts I'm used to. I ran into enough of them as a newspaper editor ("Yer goin' ta HELL fer publishin' that there story about them gays and abortionists and anti-gunners!" which generally was answered with, "Oh, yeah? Well, you wouldn't even KNOW to be mad at the damn story if I hadn't run it!").

Not that friends of mine are religious nuts, but I don't feel any qualms about discussing religion with most of my friends. That's why they're friends. If I couldn't talk to them about something like religion without it turning into a screaming match, they likely wouldn't be friends of mine.

But the story "Sins" ... yeah, that one bothers me. And the matter of it is, it's a story of art imitating life. As a newspaper editor, over the years you read lots and lots of weird, quirky and sometimes downright horrific stories. Usually these are Associated Press stories about events that have happened in another state or country. Every once in a while they hit close to home.

But "Sins" came out of my mental/emotional struggle of trying to make sense of something horrible that happened to a family in one of those AP stories I read on the newswire. It was so horrifying that I couldn't let it go for a few weeks. Then I wrote "Sins." I still don't fully comprehend how someone could do such terrible things, but writing the story did help me some. But that's been 13 years ago. I still break the story out every few years, clean it up a little more, maybe send it out to a magazine or two that supposedly runs really dark stuff. Usually I get back something like "Sorry, but this is too dark to publish." I think one of the reasons it's too dark to publish is because it isn't about some monster, or aliens, or bigfoot, or whatever, terrorizing someone. It's about everyday people doing the most godawful stuff to one another. And I promise you, whatever you are right now picturing in your mind, whatever horrible image you conjure while trying to guess what my story is about ... the real story is worse. I don't say that to brag. I say that because ... well, because I know my mind couldn't have come up with something as horrible on my own, no matter how many horror novels I've read and movies I've watched.

My point is: Sometimes horror can be a bit like therapy. Maybe not for the reader, but maybe for the writer.

I don't know if "Sins" will ever be published, but that doesn't matter. It was my little way of dealing with a part of the world.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Thoughts on horror

Once upon a time, this writer had dreams of being a horror novelist. That was long ago, in the heydays of Stephen King in the 1980s and early 1990s. I read tons of horror stories, watched loads of horror movies and studied the occult, serial killers, the supernatural and anything else odd, twisted or that was in some other way related to the horror genre.

That dream didn't necessarily die, it just got expanded over time. In my pre-horror days, I was big into fantasy, and for the last several years I delved back into fantasy again ... thus my current trilogy. It has also come about that most of my writer friends, online and in the real world, tend to be fantasy writers.

But I've felt a bit of a draw to horror again lately. I think it started last year when I read Max Brooks' "World War Z," a collection of realistic stories about human survivors of a worldwide zombie outbreak. Brooks is somewhat known for his comical side, and "World War Z" does have some comedy, but it also has much, much more. Before I go any further, just let me say that I believe "World War Z" was the best new book I read last year (okay, okay ... "Starship Troopers" was the best old book I read last year).

Alright, back to my original point. I think one reason I lost interest in horror for so long is that I became disgusted with ... not the genre, but with some of the people behind the genre, certain writers and film directors and the like. It got to the point that the only point to horror was ... well, the horror, the blood and guts and body counts.

Now, I freely admit, the horror genre has been accused of such negativism for a long time. And some of that criticism is valid. I myself can't stand the series of "Saw" movies because, to me, there's no point other than watching humans being tortured in more and more sadistic manners. There's not much plot, there's not much conclusion ... it's just pointless.

For me, the best horror has never really been about horror. The best horror has been about one of two things, either the power of the human spirit to overcome tragedy and overwhelming odds, or the failure of humanity to overcome such.

I'll go back to Stephen King. One of King's strengths is his characterizations, because you learn to care for his good characters or to loathe/love his villains. Either way, you care what happens to his characters. His plots aren't just about grossing you out, or showing you new ways to use sharp instruments, but about humanity.

Maybe I'm just turning into a softie as I get older. I don't care so much about "breaking boundaries" because I feel like they've all already been broken. Once you've seen a dozen decapitations or impalings or disembowelings ... you've seen 'em all.

Give me will. Give me strength. Give me character. Give me love. Or show me the failings of such things. We are more than bodies and blood. The best horror tales show that.

Apex Digest

I haven't seen much talk about this magazine at my usual online writing haunts, so I wanted to let everyone reading this to know about Apex Digest. It's a science fiction and horror magazine, and it just so happens to have its home right here in my hometown.

I haven't met the editor, Jason Sizemore, but we've talked several times through e-mails. I'm doing a few book reviews for him, so hopefully they'll be included in the next edition; if not, well, then eventually.

Apex is currently closed to submissions, at least until September, so don't flood Jason with stories, at least not yet.

And for those of you who don't know, Apex Digest is a pretty well respected publication. They've published short stories by the likes of Joe Konrath, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Rowe and others.

Give them a look.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A writer's dilemma

Years ago, when I suffered from writer's block, one of the problems I suffered was that I thought of everything in short story form. I wanted to work on a novel, but I felt helpless to do so because every story I came up with worked better as a short story.

Long story short, then I started screenwriting, which helped me work my way to novels.

Nowadays, I suffer from the exact opposite problem I used to have. I think of everything in the terms of a novel.

I'm still busy working on ye ole trilogy, plus a few side projects, so I've got plenty of work. But I keep having ideas that I want to make into a short, but those stories keep expanding and expanding and expanding. For instance, I've got an idea for a character, his environment and the basic plot. But then I start thinking about the character's past, how he got to what he is and where he is at. I start thinking about certain relationships he has with other characters, and I know his far past as well as some of the things to happen to him in the future.

And then I'm lost. I've got too much in my mind for a short story.

Lucky me. Yet another novel idea. No, no. It's even better. Another idea for a series, or another trilogy.

Damn thinking like a novelist!

No. 28 - The King of Elfland's Daughter

by Lord Dunsany

Started: July 25
Finished: July 30

Notes: I've never read any Dunsany, but he's been recommended by several authors I appreciate. So, here goes.

Mini review: Lyrical, musical prose. A decent plot, with a good (but kind of mixed) ending. Unfortunately, I was bored almost the entire time I was reading this. There was nearly no dialogue and I don't need to read repetitive page after page of description ... and it's not even really description, more of a tone setting. But 200 pages of tone setting? Sheesh. I can't say it was all bad, and I'm glad I read this one, but I don't think I'll be reading any more Dunsany soon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I'm still around

Okay, I know I've not been blogging much lately. I've also not been hanging out at my usual online haunts lately.

Here's why: My PC has died on me.

My Mac still works fine (I use it for most of my writing), but it's old and I can only get dial-up on it, which suuuuuuuucks. So, I can get on the Web at home, but it's so slow it's hardly worth fooling with. What little posting I've done of late has been at my part-time newspaper job, and most of the security measures there and some older technology limit what I can do.

So, I haven't forgotten anyone. I'm not dead or anything.

As for my writing ... I'm still editing the third book of the trilogy. I'm also working on updating a few old short stories. And I'm working on a few book reviews for a spec fiction magazine (more on that at a future point ... like when my first review is published/posted so I won't look like a complete fool if this falls through for some reason).

Love to all my homies.
Darkbow, out!

No. 27 - Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows

by J.K. Rowling

Started: July 22
Finished: July 25

Notes: Stop laughing at me. No, I didn't wait in line late at night to get this book. My friend Robin did that, and she gave me the book as a late birthday present. Normally I would probably wait a while before jumping into a book I've just received or purchased, but I know all the so-called secrets will be bouncing around soon and thought I should read this one before I hear about everything.

Mini review: "Appropriate" is the first word that comes to mind when I think of how I feel about this final book in the series, and I don't mean "appropriate" in a bad way. The ending is pretty much how I expected it to be, and in some ways, hoped it would be. Despite all the raggin against Harry Potter and Rowling, I would give a new series or book by J.K. a chance. I could say plenty more, but I won't because I don't want to spoil anything for any potential readers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

No. 26 - Cell

by Stephen King

Started: July 18
Finished: July 21

Notes: I'm in the mood to read some more horror, and I've had this one for a few months. Stephen King, horror, zombies (sort of). What could go wrong?

Mini review: There could easily be a lot of comparisons between this book and King's earlier work, "The Stand," but the themes are different here, the story much narrower and "The Stand" didn't have zombies (okay, the ... things ... in "Cell" aren't technically zombies, but they might as well be). A good read. Not King's best, but far from his worst. This book would be a good primer, a good starting place for anyone not familiar with King's works.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

No. 25 - One Thousand and One Ghosts

by Alexandre Dumas

Started: July 13
Finished: July 17

Notes: Being a big Dumas fan, I was happy to discover this book at BN a couple of months ago. It has two of my favorite subjects, Dumas and horror. Yes, apparently Dumas wrote a horror book, and it's only been translated into English within the last few years.

Mini review: Not really a novel, but more a collection of haunting stories told by a group of people sitting around chatting. Dumas is himself a character in this book, as the overall story is told from his point of view, but I don't know if the gathering of talespinners actually happened or is fictional. With Dumas, it's often difficult to tell where history ends and fantasy begins. While these stories might or might not be "horror" by modern standards, they definitely fall under the umbrella of gothic, especially pre-Dracula 19th century gothic horror. If you enjoyed le Fanu's "Carmilla," or Maturin's "Melmoth the Wanderer," and other such vampiric and ghostly tales of the early 19th century, this Dumas book is for you, with the same eeiry feelings and tensions. I'm glad I discovered this book, because I didn't know Dumas could be quite this haunting (though I do remember the execution of Milady De Winter being sombre to the point of shaking me up a little).

No. 24 - The Colorado Kid

by Stephen King

Started: July 12
Finished: July 13

Notes: This is the first King book I've read since the end of the whole Dark Tower series, which sort of tied into every thing King had written up to that point.

Mini review: Not King at his best, but King's writing tends to be like pizza and sex ... even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. This is more of a mystery story than a hardboiled tale,and you won't get a nice, neat ending to tie up everything, so don't expect to learn all the answers. Reads more like a lengthy short story than a novel, but at less than 200 pages, what can you expect?

Monday, July 09, 2007

I'm only half deadly

I repeat, so much for the G rating ...

Probability of killing, 53%

You have probably seen death. You watch too many horror flicks, play too much violent videogames, or probably exposed to death by where you live. or maybe you have lots of problems with enemies or have little self-esteem. The factors add up that you need to avoid situations or people that could push you to that point.

Are you capable of killing

Yes, I am the AntiChrist

So much for a G rating ...

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Your Result: Pestilence

When the first seal is opened, you ride forth on a white horse. You wear a crown and hold a bow, and you've been unleashed to conquer and kill. Many believe that you are the Antichrist, deceiver of man.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Friday, July 06, 2007

No. 23 - The Alienist

by Caleb Carr

Started: July 5
Finished: July 12

Notes: This book was a big seller a dozen or so years ago. I'd seen it plenty of times, but not picked it up until recently when I got it used for a dollar. What drew me to the book? Well, the cover, at first, which is unusual for me nowadays. I rarely pick up a book because the cover looks interesting. But the photo on the cover had that late 19th centery, big city, serial killer look to it (I'm sometimes an amateur Ripperologist). So that made me pick up the book. I read the blurb on the back, and sure enough, it's about a serial killer in NYC in 1896. Teddy Roosevelt, and others, are historical figures, and I found that also of interest.

Mini review: It took a couple of hundred pages for me to get into this book, but it did pick up my interest. It felt a bit like "Silence of the Lambs" in the late 19th century, which means I liked it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A quote to remember for July 4th

"Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them."

"But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can."

-- excerpts from speech by Robert F. Kennedy, April 5, 1968, in Cleveland, Ohio

Short story in RayGun Revival

Oops! Yeah, it's about time I mentioned this on my own blog. A short story of mine, "Hot Off the Press," is now available in Issue 25 of RayGun Revival.

Woo hoo! Nothin' beats seeing your work published.