A brilliant, timely, and important story by a masterful storyteller

A Spark of Light

 

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (Ballantine Books, October 2, 2018) is an amazing read. Not only does it reveal both sides of the abortion debate from the personal viewpoints of each of the main characters, it does so in an immediate life-and-death kind of way. Then the storyline begins to work backwards, hour by hour, to examine the choices that brought each of Picoult’s characters to this critical crossroads on the same day.

If only we were able to turn back the hands of time to choose over—to make vital decisions with the full knowledge of the consequences of our actions—would we make the same choices?

Do we ever really have a choice? Or do human beings only act out of necessity?

A Spark of Light tackles some heavy philosophical questions: When does viable life begin? Is it with the spark when sperm and egg meet? Is it at full-term birth? What are the responsibilities of parents? Of children? Of men to women? Of women to men? Of society to all children, whether born or unborn?

Of man to God? Of God to men and women? Of fathers to their offspring? Of women to their children? Of women to themselves?

A brilliant, timely, and important story by a masterful storyteller. Very highly recommended.

 

 

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What’s behind Dean Koontz’ Forbidden Door?

 

The forbidden door kontz

 

The Forbidden Door by Dean Koontz (Bantam, September 11, 2018) darkles with danger from the first page to the last. It’s a fast-paced thrill ride, to say the least, and much of the novel describes exotic vehicles and long motor trips from Texas to Southern California for both the pursued and their demented pursuers.

This is the fourth novel in Dean’s Jane Hawk series. Maintaining tension throughout four consecutive thrillers is difficult for any novelist, even the most experienced, and the plot does drag in places. But Dean keeps me reading because of the continuing supporting characters, especially Cornell, Bernie, Luther, and Travis and his two dogs, Duke and Queenie. Jane can take care of herself, but we come to care deeply about these others because they’re not only vulnerable but surprising. Each has redeeming qualities that make them sympathetic and likable. And dogs, as in all of Dean’s recent novels, are special.

The bad guys have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. None. Dubose, the most ruthless of the lot, is however full of surprises. Egon Gottfrey is as relentless in his pursuit as he is depraved beyond measure. There’s never any doubt in a reader’s mind who the bad guys are, despite valid FBI, NSA, and Homeland Security credentials.

The Forbidden Door opens up new possibilities for future plot twists and, despite vague foreshadowings, we still have no clue who the mastermind—Egon Gottfrey’s Unknown Playwrite—might be. I look forward to learning more in future Jane Hawk novels.

 

 

New stories for Halloween 2018

Halloween_300w 2018

Available now from Celaeno Press

What October Brings: A Lovecraftian Celebration of Halloween

Edited and with an introduction by Doug Draa

Includes my short story “That Small, Furry, Sharp-toothed Thing”.

 

It’s time for me to begin my annual Halloween marketing blitz. I’ve previously Vaguebooked about three dynamite short stories contracted to come out this fall in horror anthologies, and I’ve since received corrected page proofs to send out as ARCs and revealed cover images on FB. I’ll post complete details shortly.

I’m also confirmed to do panels, readings, and autographings at Magna Cum Murder in Indianapolis, October 19 and 20; World Fantasy Convention in Baltimore, November 1-4; and Windycon in Lombard,IL, November 9-11. The only other convention I’ve scheduled is Stokercon 2019 in Grand Rapids, MI, May 9-12, 2019. I look forward to seeing everyone there.

I intend to curtail my public appearances next year to concentrate on writing new novels. I have three successful series in print and a fourth series coming out next year. I plan to continue those storylines, and I have new Winds novels coming out early in 2019.

 

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.

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.