Thursday, January 28, 2016

Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town: A Review

Part travelogue, part autobiography, and part true crime story, Alyssa East has managed to write a book about an obscure part of the Massachusetts coast that is both fascinating and intriguing.

East writes about a 3,000-acre woodland that attracts all sorts of eccentric personalities and writes in such a manner, she gives Dogtown, as the woodland is known, an eccentric personality of its own. Though filled with anecdotes and folklore, the book has at its core a true-life murder mystery that occurred in 1984, changing Dogtown and those whose lives are interwoven with it.

As we follow the story of the crime and the ultimate arrest, trial, and conviction of the murderer, we learn more about Dogtown's history, ecology and genius loci.

All in all, a fascinating and enjoyable read.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Writing Prompt Challenge

I am a member of a writing group that meets the first Thursday every month in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and one of the challenges at each meeting is the leader gives us a writing prompt and 15 minutes to show our creativity. Below are the three last prompts we were given.

Some writers may not enjoy the exercise, but writing is like a muscle. The more you use it, and the more you use it in different ways, the better you become.

September 2015 Writing Prompt: Write a segment completely in inner dialogue.

How do I tell her she has something green between her teeth? That is so...awful! I can't concentrate on a word she's saying.

Is that spinach? Cauliflower? I have to look away. No. That might give the impression I'm bored with what she's saying.

How do I work toothpaste into the conversation? Maybe mention toothpicks? What is she talking about anyway? All I see is that green stuff between her teeth. I have to set a good first impression, but I don't know what to do! It's the visual equivalent of being hit by a crowbar.

That reminds me. I wanted to paint the bathroom green. What shade of green is that between her teeth? Do they call that Kelly Green? Irish? What in the world is she talking about?

November 2015 Writing Prompt: Describe the word 'sparkle' to a person who is blind.

"Describe the word, sparkle? Now there, my dear, is a challenge for even the most verbally gifted. Let's see if I am up the challenge.

"Imagine champagne on the tongue, the way it bubbles and tickles. Sparkling is to sight what sparkling wine is to the taste.

"Call to mind the physical sensation of petting your cat on a cold winter day and feeling the static electricity dance over your fingers. Sparkling is to the eyes what those little tickling stings are to your skin.

"And the sound of a crackling fire? Sparkling is to the eyes what those little pops and snaps are to the ear."

She slowly twirled her white cane between her fingers, contemplating. "So," she asked, "sparkling is pleasurable?"

"Yes," he responded, "and so much sparkles in this world everybody can enjoy the miracle."

January, 2016 Writing Prompt: give voice to an inanimate object

The Japanese have a belief that after 100 years, every inanimate object on its 100th birthday becomes alive and self-aware. They even have a name for the belief: Tsukumogami.

I had my birth well over a century ago, built in the Neo-Victorian style during the Industrial Revolution of the United States and since then I have stood proud and tall on East Hill Street in Boston. Since my awakening some decades ago, I have passively watched the drama of those who dwell within my walls. I have shared their joys, their sorrows, and I have also heard their secrets.

And in my way, I speak to them in their barely-remembered dreams.

The Lost Level: A Review

Brian Keene is best known for being a writer of graphic horror and though I am not a fan of splatterpunk, I am an avid reader of Keene because he writes his characters with great poignancy, presenting them as fully fleshed human beings instead of existing for the sheer purpose of being nothing but monster chow. In addition, Keene has created an elaborate mythos he has named the Labyrinth that ties all his novels and stories together. As a result, his universe is not only huge, but is just as elaborate and fascinating as the Cthulhu Mythos first dreamed up by the Old Gentleman from Providence.

In The Lost Level, Keene tries his hand at another genre and his foray in pulp fiction results in a satisfying read that entertains and is worth another reading.

Aaron Pace is a young student of the occult who gains the ability to travel the Labyrinth that connects all parallel universes and individual worlds within those universes. His fascination and exploration unfortunately traps him in an oubliette, a world with only one entrance and no exit. Known as the Lost Level, it serves as the dumping grounds of all the parallel universes that connect to the Labyrinth. People and objects that have mysteriously disappeared in our world and others end up in The Lost Level, a world of such danger that survival is only remotely possible. In his wanderings, Aaron gathers two companions, a barbarian princess and a creature that is mostly an anthropomorphic cat with a prehensile tail. In their adventures, they encounter all sorts of wonders and horrors such as piranha birds, giant amoebas, dinosaurs, large metal killer robots and other challenges that allow Keene to let loose his full range of imagination.

My only disappointment is, and I say this with great respect, is that Keene needs an editor. In chapter 12, Aaron waxes eloquent on women's liberation that detracts from the story and appears to be nothing more than the author's attempt to use his narrative as a pulpit. Also, in a world of such horror with danger at every corner, when we are introduced to "the soft valley" the sheer silliness of its existence may have seemed cute, but so nonsensical that it acted as a huge interruption to the narrative. An editor would also have steered Keene to a more satisfying ending other than the sheer info dump that is the final chapter.

Other than that, as well as some other minor hiccups that an editor would have caught, Keene's foray into adventure pulp fiction is entertaining enough that, for this reviewer, I will make sure I pick up the next two books in the trilogy.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Free Essay For You?

Well, well, well.

It appears the opening essay to my collection, Come Into My Cellar: Darker Tales From A Cerebral Vault, is completely available for free if you click on Amazon's Look Inside feature.

Bad news for me, great news for you.

Oh, well, things like this happen in the smaller universes.

Enjoy the opening essay, my dark love letter to the English language, by clicking here and then clicking on the Look Inside command and scrolling down.  You'll also get to read the opening to the first chapter of Doll Wars that I hope to complete and release before the heat death of the universe.

Go ahead. They are just words on a screen. They don't bite.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

This Is Truth

Many a time I have been writing a story when suddenly the character dimply said, "No way! I'm doing this instead. Follow me!"

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Plea to All Artists, Writers, and Poets

Some years ago, I visited an elderly man who was a veteran of WWII. He told me an amazing story of survival while on patrol in Italy where his entire squad around him died, but he survived without a scratch. He felt that since then he had been living on borrowed time and that the incident encouraged him to live a life of integrity and dignity.

I begged him to write the story down or record it on a cassette tape. Normally I would never be that insistent, but he finally gave in to my persistent plea and promised me he would write it down for posterity.

In less than a week, I officiated at his funeral. He never wrote the story down.

Two years ago, I met a man and we became very good friends. An author of three nonfiction books, we had been talking about his magnum opus, a book that would be an analysis of Christianity that had come from decades of intense, original research from his own unique perspective, but at this point his book existed only as an idea.

We had discussed its purpose and proposed outline and I had written a concise, succinct purpose of the book that we both agreed would serve as the work’s introduction.

He agreed to begin work on an outline and he contemplated a published book of 600 pages.

He put it off for two months.

Next Saturday, I will officiate at his funeral.

The lesson you should learn from this is not to leave the world with unwritten books, poems expressed only in your mind, and art only sketched in your imagination.

Life is too short to not give expression to your soul. Way too short, too unpredictable, too uncertain. As the Psalmist wrote, “Man is like a mere breath; his days are like a passing shadow.”

So when do you express your heart’s creativity?

Why, today. Start it today. There is no promise of tomorrow, so view today as a gift and begin it even if it is only a few sentences scrawled on foolscap or some exploratory lines on a canvas.