Zippered Flesh 3

Zippered Flesh 3: Yet More Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad, edited by Weldon Burge (Smart Rhino Publications, October, 2017), contains nineteen stories, more than half of which are new. Reprints are by Billie Sue Mosiman, William F. Nolan, Jason V. Brock, Jack Ketchum, Graham Masterton, Sandra R. Campbell, and James Dorr.

The book leads with Mosiman’s “Horns, Teeth, and Knobs”, a viciously twisted tale with a shocking ending. Billie Sue is a wonderful writer, and this story showcases her skills. It’ll make you think twice about who your real friends are.

“Upgraded” by Shaun Meeks is about teenaged angst over acquiring the latest and greatest electronic gadget. “Going Green” by Christine Morgan has a similar theme, but it’s as different as night from day, the language rich and verdant, the futuristic gizmos even farther outside the box. “Worm” by Jeff Menapace leaves one feeling hungry. “Reduced to Tears” by Adrian Ludens turns body mutilation into a religious observance, proving less is more. “A New Man” by William F. Nolan tells what bad things might happen if there’s a high-tech software glitch. “Transposition” by Jason V. Brock tells of a face-transplant gone terribly wrong. “The Rose” by Jack Ketchum is about a rose tattoo come to life. “Consume” by Daniel I. Russell is another “less is more” story with scary religious overtones of a supernatural nature.

“All Will Turn to Gray” by Jezzy Wolfe is a remarkable story, textured in rich hues and overtones unlike anything you’ve seen before. “Invisible” by E. A. Black is a meaty tale of repressed anger. “And the Sky was Full of Angels” by L. L. Soares is about coming home from war a changed man. “Shopping Spree” by Meghan Arcuri imagines Photoshopping people. “Closer” by Charles Colyott is a wonderfully poignant and romantic story you really should read. It’s the perfect emotional segue to “Dog Days” by Graham Masterton, another real tear-jerker.

“Switch” by Jasper Bark is extreme horror, very graphic, that may offend some readers. But Krasinski is a real asshole in more ways than one, and he deserves whatever bad juju or bad dodo comes his way. “Hypochondria” by Michael Zeigler tenderly tells of the dangers of medical misdiagnosis and afflictions of the heart. “Gehenna Division, Case #609” by Sandra R. Campbell furnishes a guided tour though Hell. And “Golden Age” by James Dorr celebrates the pioneering tradition that connects past generations with future generations.

My three favorite stories are: “All Will Turn to Gray” by Wolfe, “Horns, Teeth, and Knobs” by Mosiman, and “Shopping Spree” by Arcuri. “Dog Days” by Masterton is also exceptional, and one of the most satisfying stories I’ve read this year. “Going Green” by Morgan is so original, timely, and well-written it deserves special mention (and maybe a Stoker). Kudos to Burge for putting together another fine anthology of cutting-edge fiction.

Since I read an uncorrected ARC of Zippered Flesh 3, I don’t have a  picture of the cover to show you. But the first two covers give you a good idea of what the third will look like.

 

The Raven’s Daughter is wonderfully well-written

the raven's daughter

The Raven’s Daughter by Peggy A. Wheeler (Dragon Moon Press, February 2016) is a wonderfully well-written first novel. Maggie Tall Bear Sloan, half-Irish and half-Native American, is a retired big-city detective and profiler who has made her share of bad mistakes. She’s always too close to the action to see the forest for the trees. Plus, Maggie’s taste in men is atrocious. How could anyone as smart as Maggie act so dumb?

Maggie has spent most of her life favoring her father’s Gaelic ancestry over her mother’s American Indian. Maggie listens to Irish music, drinks in an Irish pub, studies Gaelic, and hangs around with white folk. She rarely sees her twin brother, Danny Tall Bear Sloan, who celebrates his Native-American heritage. If not for Flower and Bird, her twin grand-nieces, Maggie would have nothing to do with that side of the family.

When twin children are abducted, murdered, their hearts cut out, and ritually buried near Maggie’s A-frame home in rural Wicklow, California, Wild River County Sheriff Jake Lubbock asks Maggie to come out of retirement to help catch the serial killer. At first, Maggie refuses. But Jake is persistent. When Maggie thinks her nieces will become the killer’s next target, she agrees to help solve the case.

Although The Raven’s Daughter isn’t perfect (it is, after all, a first novel), it is a page-turner that’s hard to put down. The twist at the end is something I didn’t see coming because of all the red-herrings. Maggie’s character is multi-layered and full of angst. But there are a handful of typos that an editor or the author should correct, and a few loose ends that could have been avoided. I do hope the author will write a sequel that will explain the supernatural elements in more detail.

 

I loved reading The Raven’s Daughter.  I think you will love it, too.

 

My Visit to the Real World on 6-30-15

After months of little more in life than writing and book marketing, I emerged today to mow the lawn, buy new bookshelves, and do a few mundane tasks that needed doing.

Elizabeth Aisling Flygare was nice enough to buy me dinner and introduce me to mocha shakes at Arby’s. We looked for bookcases at Furniture Row, but they were oversized or priced far beyond my meagre budget. We did find a five shelf bookcase at Target for only $26.99 that I’ll need to assemble myself. I bought that, plus a ton of cat food. I also bought a container of Liquid Plumber drain restorer for my kitchen sink. The drain opener set off an alarm at checkout causing the clerk to need to scan my driver’s license. It seems that drain opener is now treated as a controlled substance, not unlike pseudoephedrine. Misguided youths are using liquid drain cleaner to get high. Stores are required by law to keep a copy of my driver’s license for 2 years each time I purchase pseudoephedrine allergy medications or liquid drain opener. If I try to buy more than the normal amount in a 2 year period, I will be declared a potential drug dealer and investigated.

And then, when I bought a Fiskars hardened steel saw that I intended to use to trim unwanted elm trees sprouting in my yard, the alarm sounded again. This time I already knew why. It’s the kind of bone saw serial killers in my Instruments of Death novels use to dismember human bodies. Heh heh. Honest, officer. I was only planning to use that saw on trees. Heh heh.

The killer of the evening, though, was a visit to the local Barnes and Noble store at Cherry Vale Mall where the fiction section was being reduced to make room for displays of toys, graphic novels, and games. None of my novels were displayed on store shelves. The customer service desk said they would be happy to order single copies to send directly to my home, but they did not stock my titles. My books were listed in their online catalog, but the titles were not part of the local store’s inventory. Neither were Andrew Vachss’ novels, nor Joe Lansdale’s, nor Alaya Dawn Johnson’s. They did carry Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Leger series and I found all of James Patterson, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Jo Nesbo.

Elizabeth asked me on the way home if I were depressed because today was the official release day for Darkness and no store had it available. It is still on pre-order at Amazon and B&N.com. I wasn’t depressed. But I was disappointed.

So now I am ensconced back at my keyboard after a brief visit to the real world. I think I will hide here for awhile until it’s safe to venture out again.

Maybe by then my titles will be in the stores where customers’ drivers licenses will be scanned and saved for two years because my books are considered dangerous when consumed in quantity.

Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Emily Bird—Bird to her friends—is the viewpoint character of Alaya Dawn Johnson’s amazing young adult novel LOVE IS THE DRUG (Scholastic, 2014). Bird is an African-American teenaged-girl in her senior year at a prestigious Washington, DC, prep school. Bird has selected Stanford as her college of choice, much to her mother’s dismay. Emily’s parents are wealthy and prominent enough, and Bird’s grades and SAT scores good enough, to get her into any college she desires. Bird is borderline upper-crust, and she has ambivalent feelings about her pretentious mother and social-climbing classmates. He isn’t even sure she wants to go to college. But if she does continue her education, someplace far from her parents is preferable.

I love reading well-written YA fiction. I prefer to think of Love is the Drug as more a coming-of-age novel where characters are forced to make real choices for the first times in their lives, and they finally have to grow up or die. Characters in YA novels refreshingly question everything and everyone. They’re raw material being molded by events and the environment and whatever nurture they may have experienced in the past. Their hormones often get the better of their judgment. And they’re in a constant state of becoming, just like people in real life.

What Bird is becoming is scared to death. A new strain of flu, more virulent than the 1918 swine flu epidemic, is killing people world-wide. The American government claims the flu was engineered by terrorists, most likely from Venezuela or Iran, and directed at Americans. The President has declared martial law. Washington, DC, where Bird lives and is nearly half-way through her senior year at an elite DC prep school where the daughter of the Vice President of the United States is also a student, has quarantined sections of the city and instituted a nightly curfew. Students become virtual prisoners at the school. Bird’s parents are biochemists who work for the US government, and they are out of town on a secret mission. Their jobs are so top-secret Bird knows nothing about what they do nor where they work. When Bird innocently lets slip, during a party she attends with her boyfriend Paul, that she knows the actual name of the company her parents allegedly work for, government contractor and secret agent Roosevelt David takes a special interest in Bird and Bird’s friend Coffee. Coffee is the son of a Brazilian diplomat stationed in Washington, and he is a whiz at chemistry and notorious for dealing drugs to other students at school.

Bird wakes from a coma eight days after the party. She finds herself in the hospital with stitches in her head and an IV in her arm. She remembers little of what happened the night of the party. Was she drugged? Did Coffee drug her? Did Paul? Did Roosevelt David? Why?

The mystery deepens. Is Bird paranoid or is there a real conspiracy going on?

Love is the Drug is filled with great imagery and decent dialogue. The character insights are interesting. Sometimes even adults act like children, and sometimes children are more adult than they get credit for.

Identity is a recurring theme in this novel. Is one defined by family? By friends? By color? By education? By age? By sexual orientation?

What’s in a name? Would a bird, by any other name, be able to fly?

If you love science fiction or a good mystery or a well-wrought apocalyptic tale full of secrets and delusions and paranoid speculations, then Love is the Drug is a book you want to read. It’s not perfect, but the story is superbly crafted. The human conflicts—both internal and external—seem real. The conspiracies seem plausible. The book may be a tad too long and might benefit from some selective editing near the end. But by then you’re so hooked you don’t want the novel to end and the final twists and turns of the plot keep the pages turning. Although this novel is suitable for young adults, it’s not a juvenile book by any means. It’s adult fiction at its finest.

It’s great to be writing

It has taken me an entire week to get up to speed on novel writing after months of book tours and attending conventions and book signings. I cherish my alone time at the keyboard. Just as absence from a loved one is said to make the heart grow fonder, so does absence from writing make the words flow faster as if to make up for lost time. Many of the characters and plot ideas became fleshed out in my mind while I was away. I know exactly where I’m going with Pinking Shears, and I can’t wait to get there. I have several short stories stewing on back burners, and a new novel, Piano Wire, is now part of my Instruments of Death series.

ITW Roundtable Discussion June 15-21, 2015

Beginning June 15 and continuing all week, I will be one of the International Thriller Writers Featured Authors discussing craft on the ITW Roundtable. The topic this week is: Readers of thrillers appreciate realism. How much can writers play fast and loose on politics, foreign relations, technology, careers or personality traits?

Here is my opening statement:

My novel Abandoned (part of my Winds-series of supernatural thrillers) is about as real as it gets. I set the novel in real cities, and most of the action takes place in Rockford, Illinois, my own home town. I name names, places, and events. The technology is real, the animosity between Palestinians and Israelis is real, the workings of military bureaucracies in the United States and the Peoples Republic of China is real, and the political thinking of radicalized militias is real. The story itself, of course, is fiction. The characters are inventions of my imagination. The hacking of the electrical grid and defense systems, however, is a very real possibility. I worried about putting ideas into terrorists’ heads, and I worried about alienating readers with religious and political ideals decidedly different than those my characters fought for. So far, I was wrong to worry. I have received no death threats, no one has sued me for libel, and religious fanatics chose to debate my premises–which led to lively discussions online and at book signings–rather than to picket my works. The second, third, and fourth novels in the series are also set in real places that are readily recognizable by readers. The military situations and step-by-step procedures are artifacts of my twenty-some years as an Army Warrant Officer. The internal conflicts of the characters came from my graduate studies in developmental and abnormal psychology.

The novels in my Instruments of Death series from Crossroad Press are based on my years working for the American Society of Clinical Pathologists and discussions with my Uncle Eric Ekebom, a former detective sergeant and Criminal Identification Specialist. It is a fact that people kill other people with a variety of instruments: claw hammers, meat cleavers, axes, icepicks, and whatever else is handy. Although the cases are based on actual events that made newspaper headlines, the characters, places, and events in these novels are figments of my overactive imagination.

To view the roundtable discussion and make comments, go to http://www.thebigthrill.org/thriller-roundtable/

Drill Thrill

When my dentist asked me today during my semi-annual exam and cleaning to tell him what Darkness is about, I said, “It’s about gods and goddesses and demons and hell and ordinary people caught in the middle.”

“Oh,” he said. “It’s like real life.”

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s about sacrifice and repentance and rebirth and death. The important things that keep nagging us but we don’t like to think about.”

 

 

 

Something to think about the next time you have your teeth cleaned: Ever hear the story about the dental hygienist who strangled her patients with dental floss? I didn’t either until today when my dental hygienist had placed a suction device in my mouth so I couldn’t scream. Then she began extracting yards of unwaxed dental floss and looked down at me with a face covered with goggles and white face mask and she cackled with glee. Helpless, I watched horrified as she wound the floss around her gloved fingers the way demented characters in my novels would wind piano wire to create a garrote. Why she let me live to tell the tale is beyond me.