Ghosts of Lost Dreams, Lost Innocence, and Lost Loves

plague of shadows

 

Plague of Shadows: A Written Remains Anthology, edited by J. M. Reinbold and Weldon Burge (Smart Rhino Publications, Fall 2018) is the kind of book writers and readers need. Writers need it because it showcases their work and readers because it offers fresh perspectives on complex subjects.

Plague of Shadows is a theme anthology about ghosts, featuring original stories and poems by the Written Remains Writers Guild, plus a handful of reprints from well-known invited authors.

Starving Time by Jane Miller
Bark of the Dog-Faced Girl by Maria Masington
McMurdo Sound by Billie Sue Mosiman (reprint)
For Number 11 by Carson Buckingham
Powder Burns by J. Gregory Smith
The Bottom of the Hour by Phil Giunta
Neighbors from Hell by Graham Masterton (reprint)
Finding Resolution by Patrick Derrickson
The Fierce Stabbing and Subsequent Post-Death Vengeance of Scooter Brown by Jeff Strand (reprint)
On the House by Jacob Jones-Goldstein
No Good Deed by Gail Husch
Haunting the Past by Jasper Bark (reprint)
To Heart’s Content by Shannon Connor Winward
Twelve Steps by Jeff Markowitz (reprint)
Song of the Shark God by JM Reinbold
Dollhouse by Jennifer Loring
The Black Dog of Cabra by Patrick Conlon
The Angel’s Grave by Chantal Nordeloos (reprint)
Vindictive by Weldon Burge
A Hanger in the World of Dance by Stephanie M. Wytovich

 
Not surprising, two of the best original stories are by the editors: “Song of the Shark God” by JM Reinbbold and “Vindicative” by Weldon Burge. Others that  will haunt you are “Bark of the Dog-Faced Girl” by Maria Masington , a marvelous tale about adolescent angst; “For Number 11”, an ambitious tale that mixes history with the supernatural; and “Bottom of the Hour”, an interesting twist on “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

 
My favorite story is “Finding Resolution” by Patrick Derrickson. It’s more science fiction than pure horror, even if the spacecraft does have a ghost. But not only is it very well-written, the inevitable ending is so fulfilling and satisfying it brought tears to my eyes. Kind of the way Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations” did when I first read it more than half-a-century ago.

 
“To Heart’s Content” by Shannon Connor Winward is my second favorite story in this anthology. It’s  an apocalyptic tale of a lost innocence and a lost love haunting a handful of survivors.

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For Family, Friends, and Visions Past and Future

 

 

My heroes have always been smokers: William Faulkner, Raymond Chandler, my grandfather Charlie, my father Paul Anders Anderson, and my uncle Bill. All are dead now. They died a long time ago.

Jack Ketchum and Harlan Ellison, two of the wonderful writer friends I’ve always counted on to join me in the “smoking room” at sf and fantasy cons, died recently. In the “good” old days, of course, one was allowed to smoke inside a room at the con suite and throughout areas of the convention hotel, including sleeping rooms. Those days are gone.

These days, fortunately for non-smokers, those of us with dangerous visions must venture away from the convention itself to feed what is considered our “filthy” and dangerous habits in isolation. Hell, I can remember when reading sf and fantasy was a filthy and dangerous habit, and writing it was the most dangerous habit of all, attested to by the fact that many of us breathed smoke like dragons.

Back in 1966, I wrote an sf tale titled “The Last Wooden Indian” that related the coming-of-age story of a young Native American’s vision quest for the healing herb of his ancestors at a time in the future when “the only good indian is a dead indian” and the herb of the peace pipe is outlawed under penalty of death. I expanded that story into my novel Sidewinder, which saw print under my Dale Anders pseudonym.

Like “The Dead Bard Said”, a story Dale Anders penned in the 60s about a future when books exist only in digital format which can be globally modified for political correctness, the future is now reality.

I smoke this bowl of pipe tobacco in memory of William Faulkner, Raymond Chandler, and Harlan Ellison.

 

 

 

What I learned about writing crime fiction from reading Stephen King’s The Outsider

the outsider

 

 

Adverbs may be our enemies, but adjectives, action verbs, and similes are our friends.

 
Kill off characters we’ve learned to identify with.  I think this is what King really meant when he advocated killing your little darlings.

 
Threaten to kill off other characters we’ve learned to identify with or care about.

 
There’s no end to the universe. It goes on and on forever, much like some Stephen King stories.

 
Generate doubt and suspicion by demonstrating—show, don’t tell—how everything we believe to have happened in the story thus far may be untrue. Only the willing suspension of disbelief can provide the proper perspective to help set things right. There really are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

 

 
Must and can’t are dangerous words. Psychologist Albert Ellis termed internalizing such words “mental musterbation.”

 
Show that kernels of the truth lay buried—hidden amongst all that chaff that mucks up human perception—and would surely have been evident if only we’d paid closer attention from the very beginning, if only we hadn’t allowed personal bias to color our perceptions. If only Terry Maitland hadn’t shown our son how to bunt. If only we’d never loved eating cantaloupe as a child. If only . . .

 
The keys to good story-telling, like the keys to producing memorable poems and songs, are repetition and rhythm.  Play it again, Steve. And again and again and again. For old time’s sake.

 
“He thinks that if we all tell the same story, everything will be okay . . .If we all tell the same story.” King tells the same story over and over again as different viewpoint characters relate events from their own perspectives. Then he repeats, as often as needed. Soon the familiar world disappears, and a fictional world–a world that resembles the real world but isn’t the same–replaces it with a world that feels equally familiar.

 

Now that you’ve willingly suspended disbelief, anything is possible.

 

Getting lost in a King story is sort of like taking drugs. “Everything still hurts, but you don’t give a shit.” All you want is more of that old familiar feeling you know so well.

 

The Outsider by Stephen King (Scribner, May 2018) will give readers a few sleepless nights worth remembering. Highly recommended.

 

Lies is a Great Read

Lies

 

Lies by T. M. Logan (St. Martin’s Press, September 2018) piles complication atop complication atop complication as one lie leads to another and yet another.

Joe Lynch and his wife Melanie appear to be the perfect London couple, living a dream life. At least, Joe thinks so. They’ve been happily married nearly ten years and have a four-year-old son, William. Joe’s an English teacher at a private school, Mel’s an executive at a large retail chain. They own their house, two cars, and they have lots of friends.

Joe’s life begins to fall apart when he accidentally discovers Mel meeting her best friend’s husband at a motel bar. Ben Delaney is rich, handsome, smart, and ruthless. They have a super-smart fourteen-year-old daughter named Alice who sometimes baby-sits William. Ben and Beth have been married for 15 years, and Mel was maid of honor at their wedding. He’s owner and managing director of a software development company that specializes in creating computer games, and Ben loves to play games.

Why are Ben and Mel meeting at a motel when both are supposed to be working?

When Joe confronts Ben in the motel parking lot, Ben denies meeting Mel. Then he becomes angry and shoves Joe against his car. Joe shoves back, and Ben trips over his briefcase, loses his balance, and slams his head hard into the concrete. Blood oozes from his ear and Ben appears either unconscious or dead.

Joe tries to call an ambulance from his cell phone, but there’s no signal. William sees the blood and begins to suffer a severe asthma attack. Of course, Joe has forgotten to refill the inhaler he kept in the glove box, and he must drive William home and find another inhaler before the boy chokes to death. Save Ben or save his son? His son is infinitely more important.

When Joe returns to the parking lot to help Ben, the man and his Porsche are gone.

Mel returns home at her usual time on Thursday night, He mentions he’d seen her car at the motel and she quickly denies it, claiming she was playing tennis after work with Hilary Paine. When Joe insists he saw her with Ben, she admits she lied because Ben asked her to meet him to discuss a sensitive personnel problem she’d promised to keep secret.

Joe begins to have doubts: If his perfect wife lied to him, is then the rest of his perfect life also only a lie?

When Beth reports Ben missing to the police, Joe could become a suspect if he admits he was the last person to see Ben alive. Mel urges Joe to lie to the police, and things go rapidly downhill from there.

Joe turns to the internet to prove Ben is still alive, but technology is Ben’s strongpoint, not Joe’s. Someone has hacked Joe’s Facebook account and posted lies about him.

Told entirely in the first person from Joe’s POV, readers will easily identify with Joe and feel his pain as lie after lie comes to light and a noose is tightened around Joe’s neck. Is nothing and nobody what they seem?

Lies is a great read, fast-paced and unputdownable.

 

Raucously Funny

kill the farm boy

 

 

Kill the Farm Boy: Tales of Pell by Keven Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson (Del Rey, July 2018) is outrageously funny. It’s so tongue in cheek (which set of cheeks I am reluctant to say for fear of offending your sensibilities) that it’s like The Princess Bride on steroids.

Imagine making fun of literally every fairy tale and epic fantasy trope. This can’t go on or I’ll die laughing, you’ll say, but it does. One bad pun follows another. 384 pages of side-splitting hilarity.

If you love epic fantasy, you’ll love this satiric novel. Not recommended for people with no sense of humor. Lots of fun for everyone else.

 

Jar of Hearts isn’t for the faint-hearted

jar of hearts

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier (Minotaur Books, St. Martin’s Press, June 2018) is a cautionary tale about the consequences of lying. Lying to others, and lying to oneself. Sometimes lies will come back to haunt you. Sometimes they bite you in the butt when you least expect it.

Geo calls it Karma.

Georgina Shaw, Kaiser Brody, and Angela Wong are best friends. They’re normal sixteen-year-olds until they encounter Calvin James. Cal’s a 21-year-old bad boy who smokes cigarettes, chews cinnamon hearts, and hangs around local convenience store parking lots to sell drugs. Geo is naturally flattered when Cal pays her more attention than he pays Ang. There’s something about him that’s exciting and compelling.

And definitely dangerous.

She can’t help but fall in love with him. He knows exactly how and where to touch her to turn her on, and he never takes no for an answer. Suddenly, Calvin James is all she can think about.

Geo ignores her friends, ignores her schoolwork, even ignores cheerleading practice. Ang and Kai try to talk sense into her, but she can’t see the forest for he trees. She loves Calvin, and nothing else matters.

Fourteen years later, Kaiser Brody is the detective who arrests Calvin James, the Sweetbay Strangler. Kaiser also arrests Georgina Shaw as an accomplice to the murder and dismemberment of Angela Wong. Geo goes to prison for five years. Calvin goes to prison for life, but he escapes.

That’s just the backstory. The real story begins when Geo pleads guilty and goes to prison.

This story is about love and death and human relationships and compulsion and heartaches and heartbreaks and the mistakes we all make as we live and learn. It’s a hard-hitting look at the raw emotions that drive human behavior. It’s also about survival and what we all do to survive, not all of which is good or pretty. No one remains innocent nor guilt-free forever. Life quickly becomes complicated, and unintended consequences often develop when we’re not paying attention.

Jar of Hearts is a real eye-opener as well as a full-of-twists page-turner. Highly recommend for everyone but the faint of heart.

 

Somebody’s Daughter is a Compelling Read

cover125277-mediumSomebody's Daughter david bell

 

Somebody’s Daughter by David Bell (Berkley Books, July 2018) is about a missing nine-year-old girl and the petty jealousies and doubts that get in the way of relationships.
Erica, Michael Frasier’s first wife, is a bit of a drama queen. They’d married right out of college, a starter marriage, that ended in divorce a year later. Michael left Erica when her flightiness and impulsivity—two personality traits that had attracted him to her in the first place—became unbearable.
Michael’s new wife Angela is more like he is, a detail-oriented and responsible workaholic, not a wild and crazy emotionally-high-strung attention-seeking risk taker like Erica is or Michael’s sister Robyn was. Or his other younger sister, Lynne, a musician, song-writer, and former rock star still is. Robyn died when she fell off a swing set as an infant, and Michael blames himself for not preventing the fall. Although only a child himself at the time, he was the older brother and should have been watching out for his kid sister.
When Erica rings the doorbell at Michael and Angela’s house to announce her nine-year-old daughter is missing and Michael is Felicity’s father, he doesn’t know what to believe. He and Erica have been divorced nearly ten years, and this is the first he’s heard he might be a father. Angela and he have tried to get pregnant without success. Does he already have a daughter?
Or is Erica lying to get Michael’s attention? Is she trying to break up his marriage to get revenge for his leaving her? Or does Erica hope to get Michael back to be a father to their daughter?
Erica shows Michael Felicity’s picture on her cell phone. She looks remarkably like Robyn did the day before she died.
Parts of this novel read like a typical Jerry Springer episode. Who is Felicity’s father? What will a paternity test prove? Was Erica unfaithful while married to Michael? Inquiring minds want to know.
So do the local police when Erica reports Felicity abducted. Did Michael abduct his daughter? Did Erica abduct Felicity from another mother after Erica had a miscarriage ten years ago? Did a pedophile snatch the little girl when Erica’s attention was averted? Or did Angela, jealous that Erica gave Michael a child, abduct and kill Felicity because she couldn’t have children herself?
The author tosses in a few additional complications and a handful of supporting characters to keep the reader guessing. With  every passing minute, the chances of finding Felicity alive become less and less. The timebomb is ticking. The sands in the hourglass are running out.
Somebody’s Daughter is a compelling read. Highly recommended.