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.

 

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.

Baby Teeth is a Must Read

cover127477-medium baby teeth

 

Baby Teeth: A Novel by Zoje Stage (St. Martin’s Press, July 17, 2018) is every parent’s worst nightmare come true. Although seven-year-old Hanna displays the full spectrum of autistic behaviors like not vocalizing and destructive temper tantrums, she’s Daddy Alex’s little angel and Mommy Suzette’s devil in disguise.

Not unlike Bradbury’s “The Small Assassin” and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, this is more than a simple story about parental denial of their child’s murderous intent. It’s an extended metaphor of human fears, human limitations, and our failure to communicate with each other in a meaningful way.

Just as there’s a good mommy and a bad mommy inside Suzette, there’s an evil, conniving, manipulative Hanna and there’s also the reincarnation of Marie-Anne Dufossete, a girl who was burned at the stake five centuries ago for witchcraft, for casting spells and poisoning people. Is Hanna possessed? Is the murderous Marie-Anne real? Or is she merely the sign of a personality split in a deeply-disturbed highly-imaginative seven=year-old?

As Hanna is expelled from school after school for violent behavior, Suzette is forced to home school her daughter. Hanna’s idea of fun, however, is to hurt other people, especially mommy. She plots to get mommy out of the way so she can have daddy all to herself. Alex, of course, refuses to believe Suzette when she tells him Hanna acts psychotic and needs professional help. When Alex is around, Hanna behaves like the loving daughter he wants her to be.

Stage effectively alternates chapters between Hanna’s POV and Suzette’s, allowing readers access to their innermost doubts and fears. It’s a brilliant kind of she said-she said non-verbal teeter-tottering that builds suspense all the way to the end and beyond.

Alex, born in Sweden (he insists his last name be pronounced Yensen, not Jensen), celebrates traditional Swedish pagan festivals, like building a Walpurgis bonfire on the night of April 30. He uses Swedish terms of endearment for both his wife and his daughter. Suzette, born in America of a Jewish mother and a mongrel father and raised by her grieving mother after her father’s untimely death, appreciates living in a multi-cultural household and learns enough Swedish to reciprocate. Hanna, too, knows Swedish as well as English, but she refuses to talk. She keeps her thoughts bottled up inside herself until they explode in violent outbursts directed at Suzette.

And when she does talk to Suzette, she speaks the French of a long-dead witch that was burned at the stake.

Baby Teeth is a must read for anyone who loves psychological suspense at its finest.

 

The Suspense Could Kill You

the crooked staircase

 

The thrill is back as Dean Koontz returns once again to the fast-paced protagonist-on-the-run roots that made his early novels so exciting and appealing. The Jane Hawk novels seamlessly cross genres, effortlessly moving from science fiction territory into that of James Bond’s espionage and modern techno-thrillers, from noir into pure psychological horror.

None of the characters in The Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz (Random House, May 8, 2018) learned to play nice as children, and they certainly make reprehensible adults. Jane’s piano virtuoso father killed her mother and made life hell for the young girl, Booth Hendrickson’s mother made life hell for Booth and his half-brother, and the crooked staircase leads Jane and Booth straight down into a real-life hell from which only one may emerge alive.

Alternating short chapters between Jane Hawk’s POV and other viewpoint characters, including those hunting her, Koontz paints a horrifying picture of the worst abuses of government authority imaginable. Carter Jergen and Dubose are NSA employees who also work for the FBI, CIA, DHS, and IRS. They’re covert agents of the Techno Arcadians, a secret cabal of government and business elite who seek to control the world. They’re already in control of many world leaders, politicians and businessmen, implanted with nanotechnology that turns them into mindless slaves like modern-day Manchurian Candidates.

Dean pays tribute to Robert A. Heinlein, one of his mentors and idols, throughout this novel. Characters become strangers in a strange land, mannequins controlled by puppet-masters, Waldoes manipulated by monsters. Another of his idols, Charles Dickens, receives honorable mentions. And, of course, there’s always a faithful canine companion or two in a Dean Koontz novel.

We first met Jane Hawk in The Silent Corner (Bantam, June 2017) and continued her exciting adventures in The Whispering Room (Bantam, November 2017). In this third novel, The Crooked Staircase, former FBI Special Agent Jane is on the run from the Techno Arcadians while seeking revenge against those who killed her husband Nick. With son Travis safely hidden, Jane pursues Booth Hendrickson even as Hendrickson pursues her.

But bad guys Jergen and Dubose, two of the nastiest villains you never want to meet in a dark alley, are hot on Travis’ trail.

Will Jane survive descending the crooked staircase? Will Jergen and Dubose capture or kill Travis? You need to read the latest installment of the never-ending Jane Hawk saga to learn what happens next.

Or the suspense could kill you.

SF Adventure and a Romp Thru History

time shards

Time Shards By Dana Fredsti and David Fitzgerald (Titan Books, February 2018) is the fast-paced kind of rip-roaring sf adventure Doctor Who fans will love. It’s set in England and includes a time-traveling doctor of astrophysics called Merlin capable of regeneration when killed and whose companions this episode are a present-day American college-age girl named Amber, an American journalist from the 1890s who calls herself Nellie Bly, a British WWII-era SAS commando named Blake, a bumbling Oxford professor who’s both a coward and a fraud, and a displaced Celtic Druid named Cam who speaks only archaic Welsh or Gaelic, plus a smattering of imperial Latin.
Amber, attending a cosplay convention in England, is ill-prepared to survive the cataclysmic event that first shatters earth’s time-line and then jams broken pieces back together in random order. Now dinosaurs roam the English countryside, Cromwell’s roundheads burn witches at the stake, and giant scorpions prowl the woods.
Amber stumbles from one horror into another, only to be saved at the last possible moment by Blake or Nellie or Cam or Merlin.

Cam thinks Amber’s a faery queen when they first meet because of her cosplay costume. Although he’s technically two thousand years older than her, they appear to be the same age and he becomes enamored of her charms.   Stearne, a 17th-century roundhead witch-finder, believes her a witch because of her costume. He spends half the book trying to torture her or pursuing Amber and her companions to tie them all to stakes and burn them as witches.
The story is a wonderful blend of adventure and history lesson that’s a joy to read. My only disappointment came during the final pages when it was evident I would need to buy at least one more book in the series to learn all the answers and find resolution. Can Doctor Merlin restore the time-line? Will technology be the savior of mankind or its destroyer? Inquiring minds want to know, and I will buy the next book because I love the characters and care about what happens next.