July 28, 2011

Chasing Tale (Digital Edition) July 28, 2011: Ray Banks, Lee Goldberg, Layton Green ...

There are a few reasons I enjoy reading novellas. One reason is that they're just long enough to read off a computer screen without that feeling my eyeballs are going to melt--especially since I spend so much time in a day looking at a computer screen anyway. Another reason is that they are idyllic for a quiet evening, or if you're going to be someplace doing next to nothing for an hour or two (hospital waiting rooms spring to mind).

And another added bonus is that novellas are a great length for testing out new authors. Like that novella by Tom Piccirilli I reviewed a couple days ago, Every Shallow Cut. If you've never read his work before, that is a great place to start, because it's a superb story and will take you no time at all to read it.

Some folks love those giant moose-stunner novels. You know the ones. The kind of books, especially the hardcovers, that feel like you're reading stone tablets. They're not my cup of tea, though they'd probably be more palatable with an e-reader. But, for me, I'm turning into a novella lover more and more. I downloaded a couple of them this past month, and I've found they sneak their way up the reading pile quicker than novel length works.

Let's take a look:

Gun by Ray Banks - Right after the Fourth of July weekend, I started seeing a few authors on Twitter hyping the availability of a free novella called Gun. Free is in my price range, so I got myself a copy from Ray. I get the feeling it's about a gun, but I could be wrong.

Jinn Nation by Caroline Barnard-Smith - Caroline asked if I'd care to take part in her blog tour, which will be swinging by this blog in mid-August, as well as review her new dark fantasy novel. I'm still bogged down in review commitments, but she was generous enough to offer a review copy anyway. It may be 2012 by the time I read it, though.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes - I was trolling through the Kindle Store last week and stumbled across Lauren's novel, which was being promoted by Amazon's The Big Deal promotion. Only 99 cents at the time for an award-winning title. Eff yeah.

Die Lover Die by Lee Goldberg - Lee sent me one of his novelettes for review. It's a ten thousand word powder keg by the looks of it, so it ought to make for a fun evening some time late in the summer. It's associated with the Top Suspense group I've seen Lee and other authors promoting this year. Not a bad way to get the word out.

The Egyptian by Layton Green - Green's previous novel, The Summoner, was one of those novels I didn't expect to enjoy quite as much as I did. So, Layton has provided me with a review copy of its sequel. The review for this one ought to appear in late August, presumably, but don't hold me to that.

Peter the Wolf by Zoe E. Whitten - Zoe seems like the kind of author who enjoys quirk. She's written zombie erotica, even a pair of novellas through Belfire Press called The Life and Death of a Sex Doll. Not too sure what this dark fantasy is about, but I'll bet there's some quirk to it.

How about you? Do you have a preference on story length? Anything good that you've downloaded recently that you would recommend to a guy like me?

July 27, 2011

Getting Graphic: "The Walking Dead Volume 2: Miles Behind Us" by Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead Volume 2: Miles Behind Us
written by Robert Kirkman
illustrated by Charlie Adlard
Image Comics (2004)
Available via: Amazon / Book Depository

After reading the first volume, Days Gone Bye, in the wake of the fanfare over the TV series, I came to appreciate Kirkman's approach to the Romero-esque zombie, even though I didn't find the story to be terribly different from other zombie tales I've read or viewed. In the series' second volume, Miles Behind Us, it becomes more clear how Kirkman is differentiating his franchise and how it is shaping up to be a genuine gem. In other words, I find myself hopping on the bandwagon.

Rick, the sheriff who woke from a coma in the first book to find himself hip-deep in a zombie apocalypse, has been reunited with his wife Lori and their son Carl. The bad news is that they, and the motley crew of survivors they're traveling with are getting low on supplies and need to move on from the outskirts of Atlanta to find a safer place to make camp--possibly to call home. The nerves and emotions are already frayed on most everyone in the group, especially after Rick's best friend went homicidal, after starting a relationship with Lori in Rick's absence only to see it disintegrate once Rick returned.

To make matters worse, it's winter, and I wouldn't have guessed Atlanta to be a place that attracts much snow, but they sure have a fair bit to contend with while trying to traverse the roads and stay warm at night in their crowded RV. A lot of twists and roadblocks, both literal and proverbial, are thrown in their path, but all of it feels organic, not the least bit contrived despite the fact they are in a wasteland of the walking dead. They are joined by a trio of stragglers, Tyreese and his teen daughter and her ill-tempered boyfriend. Their presence throws a whole new dynamic into the mix, and seems to setup something surprisingly ominous in later volumes.

The mere story of wandering a zombified Georgia landscape is enough to satisfy the most ravenous readers, looking for zombie action, since there is plenty of them to shoot, smash, and slice. But it's the whole interplay and development of each character and the relationships that grow between them that is where the real draw for this series resides. This second volume exemplifies that, and I'm officially a fan of the series now, eager to sit down and watch the televised adaptation (should be able to borrow the first season on DVD relatively soon).

There is a great pseudo-cliffhanger to the end of the book, which has me keen on diving into the third volume and seeing where this lot ends up--and who will survive.


July 26, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Supernatural Noir" edited by Ellen Datlow

Supernatural Noir
edited by Ellen Datlow
Dark Horse (2011)
ISBN 1595825460
Available via: Amazon / BookDepository / Indiebound

The ARC of this anthology came at the perfect time, as my reading tastes this spring and summer have been tuned to the noir and dark fantasy genres. So, to see a slew of authors each offer up short stories with a blending of elements from both genres, with Ellen Datlow expertly compiling the stories together, well ... let's just say this might have been the perfect summer read for me this year.

Now, being an anthology, this book offers up a mixed bag, even if does seem like the theme narrows the borders in which the authors can play. The truth is that noir fiction can be pretty damned diverse, and throwing in a supernatural bent only offers more freedom. It boils down to tone, I suppose. In any case, an anthologist like Ellen Datlow is about as reliable as they get when it comes to getting the best from the best.

Right off the bat I was charmed by a gritty heist story by Paul Tremblay called "The Getaway." A getaway driver speeds his cohorts out of town after a botched robbery, only to find the leader of the pack isn't in the car anymore. He's just disappeared, and the rest start to wonder just what the guy they robbed might have had to do with it. This was had a good deal of tension and a cool bit of paranoia.

A great little tale of the wayward soul seeking redemption came from Jeffrey Ford's "The Last Triangle." A washed-out addict winds up at the end of his rope and going through a rough bit of rehab in an old woman's house. But she doesn't throw him out, and instead recruits him into helping her investigate a mystery involving some rune-like symbols graffitied around town. The dichotomy of the two characters felt familiar, but the magical flavoring and Ford's way of moving the story along made it feel unique. Quite liked this one.

After that came Laird Barron's "The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven." Young women hiding out in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, hiding out from the law and the men in their lives, are swept up in a local legend and an animal hide with some powers that imbue through whoever wears it. A damned strange story with an ending that really packed a punch. It wound up being one of my favorites from the bunch.

A bit of a quirky one came from Joe Lansdale's "Dead Sister," which had a fella hired by an alluring woman to find out who is digging up her sister's grave each night. I found this one creepy as heck, but with an odd bit of humor to it that kept the rather macabre subject matter from being too gruesome.

Those are just a few samples of what you can expect from the anthology. Sufficed to say that I didn't really find any of them to be a disappointment, and I was really happy to finally get a chance to sample the works of some authors I've not read from yet, but have heard tons of praise for. It's just about as good as I could ask for from a themed anthology and I hope there is second volume sometime down the road. I suspect Supernatural Noir could be a wellspring of stories if this batch is any indication.


July 25, 2011

Rabid Rewind: R.E.D.

starring Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Karl Urban, and Richard Dreyfuss
directed by Robert Schwentke
written by Jon & Erich Hoeber
based on the graphic novel by Warren Ellis & Colly Hamner
Summit Entertainment (2010)

While Hollywood has been raiding the comic book shelves for superheroes over the last decade, they've also been churning out a surprising number of movies based on graphic novels and comic books that don't involve men in masks and spandex. If not for the DC Comics logo appearing in the opening credits of R.E.D., I would never have known this was based on a comic. And, once I became aware of that, I immediately started comparing it to another movie based on a comic book about guys with guns up against the C.I.A. That movie was called The Losers and it wasn't all that great.

R.E.D. is helped a good deal by a remarkably high-caliber cast. Getting just a couple of these actors in a movie is quite a get, so I have to wonder how many incriminating photos the director, Robert Schwentke, or whoever, has on the likes of John Malkovich and Helen Mirren. The movie's got explosions, snappy one-liners, gun fights, fist fights, and a car chase or two for seasoning, but I wonder how much of this would wow me if it was a cast of derelict actors. My guess: not much.

The movie starts out with a bit of an odd duck feel, as Bruce Willis plays Frank, a retired C.I.A. black ops agent whose only joy in life comes from a monthly phone call to a customer service rep, as they lament their boring lives and casually flirt with each other. Ten minutes of this and I was wondering if I'd picked up the wrong movie, but the action ramped up fast as the henchmen with guns go after Frank, dying in quick fashion as the old guy is as good as he ever was apparently. But, he believes they found him because of his phone calls to the cute customer service rep, so he hauls as to her house and saves her. She's understandably freaked out by his unannounced arrival, but he explains that she's a target and then more guys with guns arrive to back up that claim. At this point, I wondered if Frank was simply paranoid and she was not a target at all, but then it turned out she was. It kind of stuck in my craw a bit--didn't even know I had a craw--but I went with it and enjoyed the rest of the movie.

With a seemingly limitless number of bad guys, and a couple bad girls, after him, Frank discovers there are others being targeted for termination, and it all revolves around a botched mission in Guatemala. And with the C.I.A. after him too, he has to evade capture, being killed, and still figure out who is behind the killings. This mystery might look better on paper, but for me, it served as mild distraction from what this movie did best: blow stuff up.

I was unconcerned with the intricacies of plot, as far as this movie goes, though. What I wanted to see, and relished every second of, was the likes of Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, and Brian Cox playing bad-ass action stars. Helen Mirren was especially awesome rocking the firearms with a Martha Stewart haircut. As for Bruce Willis, he delivers what he's known for, and his donnybrook with Karl Urban was one of the best parts of the movie for me. The ending was rather ho-hum compared to the eighty minutes that preceded it, but I wasn't really expecting this movie to hit it out of the park.

The Bourne Identity this is not. Thankfully, however, it's not The Losers either.

July 21, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Every Shallow Cut" by Tom Piccirilli

Every Shallow Cut
162 pages
ISBN 9781926851105
Available via: Amazon and Book Depository

One good way to enticing me to read your book is to put a dog in it. One good way to repel me is to put a cat in it. Tom Piccirilli opted for dog. My kind of author.

This isn't a story about a dog though, even if it is an adorable old bulldog named Churchill. It's about an author at the end of his rope. He's lost his house, his wife, his career, and the story starts off with him being beaten and robbed of his few remaining possessions in front of a pawn shop. All he has left is his car and his dog. Throw in a steel guitar and you've got yourself a country song. After he's patched up, he pawns off what he can and buys something he believes he'll need: a gun.

Have you ever had an disquieting feeling go through you, one that feels like when you're in a sawmill? That's kind of how this book makes you feel as you read it. There's a menacing shadow over this guy as he makes his cross-country journey to see his estranged big brother. He's not going on a killing spree or anything as explosive as that, but he's a lit fuse. He drives from Colorado to New York to reunite with his estranged brother, as well as his literary agent. Every relationship he has is strained, if not ruined by how his life has been led. The guy, who is never named, is sympathetic on one level for the hardships he faces, but he's not a very likable guy.

The narration is a combination of frenetic ramblings and brooding contemplation. Piccirilli gives you the idea of what's going through the guy's head as it's happening, not much of it pretty. A feel good story it is not, but it wound up being a story that resonated--like that hum I mentioned--and is rightfully earning praise from just about everyone who reads it. It's a novella length work, which is a perfect fit for a story like this, as it lasts just long enough for the story that needs to be told to have its turn in the spotlight. The ending may not be what you expect, but it's about as close to a perfect ending that you could ask for.

If you have any appreciation for dark fiction, then you should most definitely read this book.

July 20, 2011

Wish List Wednesday: Jim Gavin's "Arena of the Wolf"

Dark Regions Press has a new book out this month that caught my eye. What makes this book stand out?

Two words: werewolf rodeo.

I've read some really good werewolf stories, and some not so good ones. I have the feeling Arena of the Wolf by Jim Gavin (with cover art by Alex McVey) could be a good one, since the premise strikes me as original enough to give a breath of fresh air to a well-worn genre, and Dark Regions seems like one of those small press publishers that has a knack for picking out some quality horror.

Here's the write-up via Dark Regions:

Jerry is an over-the-road trucker with a couple of exes and a few late payments to make. Sometimes it seems like the least of his problems is that he's a werewolf - until he wakes up in the middle of a rodeo where he's the bull! Forced to compete in bizarre, brutal events for the pleasure of a bloodthirsty crowd, where death is "extreme sports entertainment" for the masses. Jerry must choose between a prisoner's life in a world where his curse makes him a star and a life of freedom that he knows can only end one way - a silver bullet through the heart. A desperate man's struggle with despair and hope is just another show in the ...


July 19, 2011

Getting Graphic: "Preacher: Book Three" by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Preacher: Book Three
written by Garth Ennis
illustrated by Steve Dillon
DC Comics/Vertigo (2010, hardcover)
ISBN 9781401230166
Available via: Amazon

Preacher is shaping up to be my favorite comic book series, over Gaiman's Sandman series. It's been that damn good so far.

It's been quite a few months since I read the second volume, so I'm not sure if I missed something, but it felt like I had missed an issue or two by the way this hardcover started out with its main story arc. Still, I was able to dive right back into this universe and fell in love with its characters all over again.

The book started off with an origin tale for the Saint of Killers, the hard-hearted gunslinger who is hunting down Custer and his friends, apparently under the orders of God himself. It was even more brutal and tragic than I expected, and in a sense I came away rooting for the guy. I mean, he had his life and family torn apart--and blew the Devil's brains out. Not too shabby.

From there, Cassidy the Irish Vampire took center stage with a romp through New Orleans that had him meeting up with a poncy bloodsucker and his band of groupies. This was a fun one, with plenty of humor directed at the gothic vampire crowd. I can only imagine how Cassidy would react to the Twi-hards these days.

Once those two stories got out of the way, it was back to the main story with Reverend Jessie Custer, with his girlfriend Tulip and Cassidy, hot on the trail of the Almighty God who has gone into hiding. The story got a bit winding and still with a fair bit of contemplation, rumination, and even a soap opera style fiasco for good measure, as opposed to the previous two books and their breakneck action and suspense. Still, the characters were spot on, and I was unable to put the book down come the end of the night. The nature of this little trinity changes over the course of this book and really has me eager to see what happens in the next volume.

I can't say a bad thing about this book. It was damn near perfect. I think the only thing that would have made it better is if the bald-headed bastard, Herr Starr, who is trying to hunt Custer down and make him a martyr had a larger role in the book. As it was, his pent-up rage over the new scar on his head courtesy of Custer, which gives his cranium the odd resemblance to a penis, was hilarious.

|Even if you don't read graphic novels or comic books, I think you'd be doing yourself a favor by tracking down this series through a shop or library, because it's been a treat so far, in my humble opinion.

July 18, 2011

Rabid Rewind: "The Expendables"

The Expendables
starring Sylvester Stallone, Nathan Statham, Jet Li, and Eric Roberts
directed by Sylvester Stallone
screenplay by David Callaham & Sylvester Stallone
Lions Gate (2010)

In what can only be described as the brutish man's answer to Little Women, The Expendables dares to put Hollywood's biggest action stars--and egotists--on screen at the same time. But, does that mean it's a buffet of beefcakes and bullets, or simply a gaggle of gas-heads and groan-inducing dialogue? The answer: a little from column "A" and a little from column "B".

I don't think I need to dwell on the heady plot for this film, mainly because there isn't one. There are some bad guys in some "foreign" place doing things that bad guys do, and Sly Stallone is the leader of a bunch of macho mercenaries who are going to save the day with as many explosions and gory bullet wounds as possible. That's it. It is the epitome of the old school summer blockbuster. It's a throwback to those one-liner laden flicks from the 80s and early 90s. If you loved those movies, you were bound to get a kick out of this one--and revel in a nostalgic smorgasbord.

The thing that wound up dragging the movie down for me was when the bigger names in the film started hamming it up. Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, and Arnold Schwartzenegger each have their cameo appearances, and each of them seems to be either poking fun at the movie with their hammy performances, or they're just too attached to the past to do anything but lean on their past glory.

Why am I harping on the quality of acting, though? Was the action spectacular? @#$% yeah, it was! If nothing else, I got to see a ton of stuff blow up and a countless number of meat puppets hacked, slashed, shot, punched, pounded, and blown to bits. Gratuitous violence hasn't been this fun in a long, long time.

It's a guy's movie. It's not a date flick, and god bless you if you've got a gal who wants to sit down and watch it with you. Chances are more likely, however, your lady friends are going to questions your higher reasoning capabilities when she hears you yipping and yahooing through the flick. Buy her some flowers and rent The Notebook--or maybe Little Women.

July 15, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Wild Hunt" by Jared Sandman

The Wild Hunt
Self-published (2010)
Available via: Amazon

Everything has a past, and more often than not those things can have a dark aspect to their past that gets swept under the rug over the years until it becomes myth or urban legend. Sometimes a bridge carries the stigma of hosting more than a couple suicides. Sometimes a fixer-upper purchased by a young family was the site of a grizzly murder. And sometimes a birthright that's more of a curse can stain the lineage of a family for generations. In this haunting novel by Jared Sandman, it's the family curse of several townsfolk that becomes the focus.

Jared Sandman's The Wild Hunt offers a ghostly tale of a young couple trapped in a small town as it contends with a long forgotten curse that has come back to prey on the descendants of the townsfolk connected to the curse and the Lord of the Hunt.

Erik and Allie Herne are newlyweds moving from the city of Minneapolis to the small town of Wodanfield, into the old farmhouse Ellie inherited from her abusive uncle. It's supposed to be an idyllic new start in their relationship, strained by Erik's career and Allie's mental illness. They don't even see the house together for the first time before they see a large, shadowy creature stalking along the treeline. And when they meet their neighbor, Ivan Hertz, it doesn't take long to figure out things are askew in the small town. For starters, no one celebrates Christmas, holing themselves up in their homes at night for some unspoken reason.

Enter the Lord of the Hunt and his band of horsemen from beyond the grave. They're hunting down townsfolk in a seemingly random manner, but there's a purpose to their carnage, and the Hernes discover they are connected to it all somehow--and become targets themselves.

It's a strong premise, and I'm a sucker for a good ghost story, particularly when in a small town or rural setting. This novel fell flat with me, though. I didn't hate it, but I found there were interminable stretches of stale dialogue and extraneous exposition that really bogged down the pace and intensity of the story for me. Some of the stuff with the horsemen was really good, even with some murkiness to their motivations in the beginning. It just wasn't enough to hold my interest.

Sandman has a new novel coming out in August to follow up his three preceding efforts, so I might have to try that one some time down the line and hope I take to it better than I did with this novel.

Guest Post & Giveaway with Jared Sandman, author of THE WILD HUNT

Jared Sandman’s Blogbuster Tour 2011 runs from July 1st through August 31st.  His novels include Leviathan, The Wild Hunt and Dreamland, all of which are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.  His next book, The Shadow Wolves, will be released in August.  Follow him on Twitter (@JaredSandman) and be entered to win one of several $25 Amazon gift cards.  See rules at www.jaredsandman.com for eligibility.

*    *    *
Online Piracy
by Jared Sandman 

A new battle is being waged in the digital age between pirates and content providers.  This very subject is being debated in Manhattan at all the major publishing houses.  I would guess the majority of people under age thirty have resorted to piracy at one time or another, whether ripping their favorite songs or downloading new movies or TV shows from some bit torrent site.  This is technically stealing, and it’s against the law.

In the past two weeks, I’ve seen my novels crop up on various piracy sites.  I’m not going to do anything about it because there’s nothing to be done.  You can’t fight without having it devolve into a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole.  Get your work removed from one site and watch it pop up in three others.  One can try going after the offending websites’ sponsors and advertisers, but that’s a temporary patch to the issue at best.

From what I’ve learned about piracy, the vast majority of pirates exist outside the United States.  They are people who are desperate for American products:  movies, books, TV, music.  They can’t be in America so they live vicariously through our entertainment.  It’s an international problem with no easy solution; the harsh reality of the digital realm is that copyright becomes nigh impossible to enforce.  Most products being pirated can’t be purchased in their countries anyway, and if they are available it’s certainly not at an affordable price.

Some writers are deadset against piracy.  They want every cent that’s owed them and view pirates as bloodsucking parasites.  I think anyone who takes that hardline stance runs the risk of suffering a Metallica-like backlash.  When that rock band went after music pirates a decade ago, they lost a lot of loyal fans in the process.

I think the majority of people who pirate content are willing to pay for it.  What’s forcing them to pirate isn’t ease, rather price point.  If companies sell their wares at more affordable rates, people will gladly pay.  Nobody wants to be a pirate.

Rather than seeing each illegal download as a lost sale, consider it free advertising.  It’s not anymore a lost sale than libraries loaning out books, someone lending a book to a friend, or used bookstores selling out-of-print paperbacks.  I can’t be angry at those institutions because I’ve gained so much from them over the years.

Authors whose books are pirated end up selling far more copies in the long run.  This seems counter-intuitive, of course.  My theory is that pirates are far more likely to tell others about a book they really like.  If someone received a book for free, the least he or she can do is become an advocate for the writer if the story was any good.

Later this fall Scribner is releasing Stephen King’s new novel as an “enhanced e-book” --  for $18.99.  Watch the one-star reviews roll in from pissed off Kindle users looking for a way to  protest what they consider price gouging.  You’ll probably be able to pick up the hardcover for cheaper than that at your local retailer.  People aren’t stupid; they understand when they’re being cheated.  They know an e-book doesn’t cost the publisher nearly as much as the print version because there’s no paper, printing, shipping or warehousing involved.  

For a straight novel, there’s no reason why an e-book should be more than $5.  For books heavy with graphics or those that are interactive, publishers can be forgiven to raise prices a bit (but even then no more than $10).  In my experience anything less than five bucks is an impulse buy, and probably the best price point is between three and five dollars.  For example, all my books are between $2.99 and $3.99.

The best defense is a good offense.  So long as writers price their work affordably, the effects of illegal piracy will be minimized.


Thanks to Jared for stopping by on his blog tour. He was also generous enough to provide a review copy of his novel, The Wild Hunt, and you'll be able to read my review of that later today.

July 13, 2011

Guest Post by Teresa Frohock: Wicked Women Rule

As part of Teresa Frohock's blog tour, I welcomed her to stop by and offer up a soapbox from which to proselytize her opinions. Enjoy. And after you've finished reading, she's provided a ton of links for you to find more information on her and her work.

by Teresa Frohock

Chiaroscuro. I love the word. It is the artistic use of light and shade, and is generally used in reference to paintings and photographs, but the word can also be applied to what writers do with their villains. We contrast the wickedness of our antagonists against the good in our heroes.

I didn’t realize it until an interviewer asked me a question about my use of a female villain in Miserere, but there aren’t many real female villains out there. Oh, we used to have bad girls galore: Cleopatra in Freaks; Bette Davis as Jane Hudson in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane; Margaret White in Carrie—hell, just about all the women in Carrie had some kind of hang-up; O-Ren Ishii, but like Rose McGowan’s character Marique in the latest Conan, she doesn’t really count, because both characters were subordinates to the male villians (O-Ren Ishii to Bill and Marique to Khalar Zym).

So why don’t we have more women as villains?

Are we frightened of showing mean women?

Other women aren’t. Gillian Flynn isn’t afraid to strip away the lace and petticoats to show us evil women. She knows what I know (and what a lot of women like to deny) and that is: not all of us are good girls—not many of us are good girls.

And we grow up to be wicked women.

Many years ago, another woman advised me against having a female antagonist. Her reasoning was that men would use a female antagonist as an excuse to heap more abuse on women. I was astounded that she would think men were so stupid. I mean, there is a constant barrage of male antagonists out there, but no one is damning the entire male gender on the basis of Khalar Zym or Anton Chigurh. Most of us are intelligent enough to know the difference between reality and fantasy.

So it never occurred to me to make Catarina anything but female and violent. She uses sex as a weapon; it’s not about satisfaction, it’s about power. She is physically and verbally abusive—in many ways, she exhibits the personality of an addict. I could have made her male and given her all those attributes and no one would have blinked an eye.

Does that mean we expect that kind of behavior from men? Is that why we have no problem with male villains? Guys are born to be power hungry and driven—we expect violence from men?

Women are expected to be loving, maternal, and those expectations can work against a man. Aggression is the antithesis of making love, yet violence is intimate. The abuser knows they have succeeded by watching their victims. Success is evidenced with a wince, the tick of an eye, the twitch of a muscle.

There is no warning. Oftentimes, the victim doesn’t realize violence is coming until after it has happened. And when it comes from a woman, someone who is expected to be tender, loving, then the shock is two-fold.

I wanted to write about a woman outside of cute little Buffys-slaying-vampires, and she had to be an older woman, because evil becomes more poisoned with age. With Catarina, I wanted to move beyond our expectations of women. She never was a good girl and she has no excuse.

Some people are born evil.

Some of those evil people are women.

Wicked women rule.

Miserere: An Autumn Tale (http://www.nightshadebooks.com / July 1, 2011)

Exiled exorcist Lucian Negru deserted his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his sister
Catarina's soul, but Catarina doesn't want salvation. She wants Lucian to help her fulfill her dark covenant with the Fallen Angels by using his power to open the Hell Gates. Catarina intends to lead the Fallen’s hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven’s frontline of defense between Earth and Hell.

When Lucian refuses to help his sister, she imprisons and cripples him, but Lucian learns that Rachael, the lover he betrayed and abandoned in Hell, is dying from a demonic possession. Determined to rescue Rachael from the demon he unleashed on her soul, Lucian flees his sister, but Catarina's wrath isn’t so easy to escape. In the end, she will force him once more to choose between losing Rachael or opening the Hell Gates so the Fallen's hordes may overrun Earth, their last obstacle before reaching Heaven's Gates.

Read the first four chapters of Miserere FREE here http://www.nightshadebooks.com/Downloads/Miserere_%20An%20Autumm%20Tale%20(Sampler)%20-%20Teresa%20Frohock.pdf

Book Trailer Link: http://youtu.be/3MvCHEp0EVA

Raised in a small town, Teresa Frohock learned to escape to other worlds through the fiction collection of her local library. She eventually moved away from Reidsville and lived in Virginia and South Carolina before returning to North Carolina, where she currently resides with her husband and daughter.

Teresa has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.
Miserere: An Autumn Tale is her debut novel.

Teresa can be found most often at her blog and website http://www.teresafrohock.com.
Every now and then, she heads over to Tumblr and sends out Dark Thoughts http://teresafrohock.tumblr.com, links to movies and reviews that catch her eye. You can also follow Teresa on Twitter http://twitter.com/TeresaFrohock and join her author page on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Teresa-Frohock/134892453223242.

All Things Books: http://speedyreader-allthingsbooks.blogspot.com/2011/05/interview-with-author-teresa-frohock.html

Down at Lucky Town with Alex Bledsoe: http://downinluckytown.blogspot.com/2011/06/interview-with-teresa-frohock-author-of.html

Layers of Thought: http://www.layersofthought.net/2011/06/interview-with-teresa-frohock-debut.html

MuseTracks: http://musetracks.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/its-pitch-day-at-agent-shop-with-weronika-janczuk/
The Written Connection: http://www.uninvoked.com/writingblogs/wordpress/?p=75

July 12, 2011

Getting Graphic: "Birdwatching from Mars" by Barry Napier and Luis Puig

Issue #1: The Ghost of the World
written by BarryNapier
illustrated by Luis Puig
independently published (2011)

While I've read my fair share of self-published novels and novellas over the last year or two, Birdwatching from Mars marks the first time that I can recall reading a self-published comic book. Given the precarious nature of finding quality work in the morass of self-published books for sale, I usually start reading such works with both naive optimism and well-earned wariness. Fortunately, I'm already familiar with Barry's ability as a storyteller, so I was put at ease from the get-go.

Birdwatching is a high concept piece of work that deals with an end of the world scenario that's quite familiar, yet offers its own fingerprint on the genre. We see the ravaged world through the eyes of three characters, years after an asteroid on a collision course prompted the evacuation of Earth to a settlement on Mars. Dante, a battle-tested survivor with a makeshift machete; Frank, a starved wanderer on his way to Utah; and Colonel Stone, an overwhelmed protector of a select batch of survivors in the underground Utah bunker that is attracting Frank, Dante, and others; they each try to make sense of a world long collapsed, haunted by ruins, cannibals, and it would seem a new predatory creature at the top of the food chain.

In about twenty-two pages or so, Barry and Luis offer the introductory glimpse of this world and basically set the stage for whatever they have cooked up in the succeeding issues of this comic series. There's very little dialogue from which to get a sense of these characters, aside from a couple of private conversations between Colonel Stone and the lone senator inside the compound. Instead it is the visuals, along with a fair amount of exposition, that the reader must use to grasp how dire humanity's situation really is. For those in the safety of the bunker, resources are perilously low and risk a riot if the truth is revealed, while the few survivors above ground who haven't abandoned their civility forage for what little is left as they are drawn to the Utah installation out of some remnant of hope.

All while a new civilization on Mars is presumably being built--and watching Earth's dying days play out.

It's not an earth-shattering, jaw-dropping debut, but a more forlorn unveiling. You basically read through and watch Barry and Luis set the chess pieces on the table, left to wait as future issues set those pieces in motion. I'm conditioned the graphic novel, which compiles several issues into one compilation and gives a fuller reading experience, so for me I feel like I've gotten only a taste of this story. Still, I am interested enough to see where this story goes in future issues.

July 11, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Salt

starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, and Chiwetel Ejiofor
directed by Phillip Noyce
written by Kurt Wimmer
Columbia Pictures (2010)

Angelina Jolie might be the best action star of the past decade. Think about that for a second. For the first time that I can think of in cinematic history, the most bankable--and convincing--actor with a litany of action movies to their credit, Angelina Jolie tops the list. Throw out the names like Jason Statham and Vin Diesel, and while they have their own admirable level of success, does any guy come close to the A-list caliber that Jolie can claim?

Salt feels like a movie custom-made for Jolie, though it seems the role of Evelyn Salt was originally written as a male character intended for a Tom Cruise style leading man. She's runnin', she's gunnin', and looking about as sexy as she ever has the whole way through.

The initial premise is pretty slick, even if it isn't all that original. Salt is a CIA operative getting ready for a desk job so she can settle down, until a Russian spy turns himself in out of the blue and warns that the Russian president will be assassinated by a secret spy working inside America's borders--and that spy's name is Evelyn Salt. From that point on, it's a cat-and-mouse chase as Salt goes on the run, claiming innocence and desperately trying to reach her husband whom she feels is under threat of being killed off by whatever cabal is orchestrating this conspiracy.

As the movie progresses though, there is a house of cards being built, as the plot becomes increasingly convoluted and events leading towards the climax become all the more dependent on things happening in a very specific way. If I had been scrutinizing that plot more closely, I probably would have found my intelligence being insulted. As it stands, I was looking for straight-up popcorn fare from this one, and was satisfied by what I got.

There are moments where it really feels like it's trying to be The Fugitive. On that front, the movie pales. Where it shines, I thought, was where it felt more like a Mission: Impossible offshoot. It's no Bourne Identity, but the fight scenes are tightly shot and embrace that style. And the whole "who is double-crossing who" scenario plays out with just enough intrigue to keep me from throwing popcorn at the TV.

I guess you need only be a fan of action movies and Angelina Jolie to enjoy this movie. If you're repelled by either of those ingredients, then Salt is more likely to leave a sour taste in your mouth.

July 8, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Zombie Feed Volume 1" by Jason Sizemore (editor)

The Zombie Feed Volume 1
edited by Jason Sizemore
an imprint of Apex Publications
Available via: Amazon / direct from Apex

A few years ago, I was pretty sure the zombie phenomenon had run its course. I think it's safe to say I was way off. But in 2011, you'd think now the zombie trope was worn out. The publication of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies should have made that clear. But, like vampires and other long-running creatures of the night, the walking dead are continually dusted off by authors and thrown into new stories, to explore multiple facets of the human condition. Zombies are here to stay, and as such, Jason Sizemore has plumbed some of the more engrossing stories from burgeoning authors of every stripe.

The Zombie Feed Vol. 1 offers up seventeen short stories, each with its own variety of zombie, and each with its own way of looking at the characters who must either contend with the undead or with being the undead. The table of contents looks like this: "Not Dead" by BJ Burrow; "Tomorrow's Precious Lambs" by Monica Valentinelli; "Cold Comfort" by Nathan Tapley; "This Final December Day" by Lee Thompson; "Broken Bough" by Daniel I. Russell; "The Sickness Unto Death" by Brandon Alspaugh; "A Shepard of the Valley" by Maggie Slater; "Twenty-Three Second Anomaly" by Ray Wallace; "The Last Generation" by Joe Nazare; "Bitten" by Eugene Johnson; "Lifeboat" by Simon McCaffery; "Rabid Raccoons" by Kristen Dearborn; "Zombies on the Moon" by Andrew Clark Porter; "The Fare" by Lucien Soulban; "What's Next?" by Elaine Blose; "Goddamn Electric" by K. Allen Wood; and "Hipster in Love" by Danger_Slater.

Rather than dive into every story, I'll simply highlight a few of the stories from which I gleaned the most enjoyment.

"Tomorrow's Precious Lambs" involved a blue-collar kind of guy working for a company tasked with disposing of zombies as if he were a termite exterminator. He's called to a wealthy family's home to exterminate a child zombie sheltered by her parents who insist she's not infected. She is though, but that's not the real problem. The exterminator will have a harder time dealing with the father than the daughter. I really liked this one for taking the zombies, making them seem mundane in a sense, then twisting the story into something else just as disturbing.

In Lee Thompson's "This Final December Day," Frank, a former police officer, is on a journey to rejoin a woman he loves, yet abandoned in a sense to go off on his own crusade amidst the zombie uprising. Along the way, he joins forces with a young photographer who helps him navigate through the ruined streets and ravenous hordes. There was a bleakness to this story that felt very familiar compared to other stories, but really resonated as Frank struggled through. And the ending packed a real punch, in my opinion.

"Shepard of the Valley" by Maggie Slater might be my favorite of the bunch. A man of faith makes his home in a desolated airfield, undisturbed by any savagery from other survivors in a desperate situation. He's gather a dozen or so zombies and "saved" them, so to speak, fashioned them in restraints and electronic devices that essentially domesticate them--keep him company. A young woman he mistakes for a shambling zombie at first, one more to his collection he initially hopes, offers the first sign of real companionship. She's a bit rough around the edges though, and is pretty handy with a shotgun when pushed. I loved this story for its tragic strangers in the night tale, with tinges of I Am Legend and other tales that show how deep loneliness can go.

Then there was "Lifeboat" by Simon McCaffery, which shows a view of a viral zombie outbreak from the view of a cruise ship's deck, as they meander the Caribbean and south-east American coastline for safe harbor. There's not a lot to be found though, as the outbreak has gone global, and docking for supplies is done in short, harried bursts. Even worse is that other human survivors off-ship see them as one more prize of resources to be hunted down. The ceaseless danger of the zombies, the high seas, and other ships is captured very well and made for a really good story.

I'll also offer a nod to a couple of quirky tales, "Rabid Raccoons" and "Cold Comfort", for their humor interspersed with horror.

I'd say seventeen stories is enough to offer variety to any zombie fan. And for those who haven't dipped their toes in this genre could find a nice sampler with this volume. You aren't likely to enjoy all of the stories, but I'll bet you'll find a couple with which you can warm up to the undead. For me, it provided a great window into the worlds of some authors I was otherwise unfamiliar, as well as get a little more goodness from a few whose names I'm already aware (Lee Thompson and Daniel Russell to name two). I'll be interested to see what The Zombie Feed Volume 2 has to offer someday, but for now I'll simply recommend this first volume.

July 7, 2011

Chasing Tale in June: Victor Gischler, Duane Swierczynski, Kaaron Warren ...

There was a postal strike in June up here in Canada so my mailbox collected nothing but dust for the last three weeks. I got a hunch the next Chasing Tale blog post will have a lot of books due to what's out there in mail room limbo still trying to find its way to me. Before the postal workers got locked out by management though, I did get a few books to add to my to-be-read pile.

Shotgun Opera by Victor Gischler - In Wish List Wednesday #92, I mentioned a novel by Victor Gischler called Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse. The title says it all. Well, I haven't added that one to my shelf yet, but I did manage to snag a copy of this crime novel about a man and his nephew warding off a slew of assassins on his farm. If I like this book half as much as I love Gischler's flare for book titles, then I'm gonna love it. Available via: Book Depository and Amazon.

Off Season by Jack Ketchum - I won this paperback courtesy of Martha's Bookshelf. I've read three Ketchum novels so far (She Wakes, The Girl Next Door, The Woman), so when a chance arises to get my hands on another one, for free at that, I'm happy.

Though Not Dead by Dana Stabenow - Donna Freedman hosted a big giveaway on her blog a while back, in which she was giving away a slew of prizes from sponsors. I entered and wound up winning a signed hardcover edition of this Kate Shugak novel. I've never read Stabenow's work before, but the cover and premise for this book are enticing. And, considering she mailed it all the way from her neck of the woods in Alaska, I will certainly make it a point to read this book sooner rather than later, as well to share it with any mystery lovers in the family. Available via: Amazon and Book Depository.

Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski - I mentioned this novel back in Wish List Wednesday #46, and after I was wowed by Swierczynski's Fun and Games which I reviewed a few weeks ago, I knew I had to read more of his work. I first became aware of his work when Brian Keene listed this novel as one of his favorite novels from 2009. A good enough recommendation for me, and wouldn't you know I managed to finally get myself a copy. Available via: Amazon and Book Depository.

Slights by Kaaron Warren - Wish List Wednesday #94 had me expressing interest in this title. I got it and was a bit surprised at how hefty it is, weighing in close to five-hundred pages, but that's of no consequent really since the premise is so damned intriguing. I'm not one who normally expresses any kind of brand loyalty towards publishers, but like Chizine Publications and Belfire Press, I'm consistently impressed by the quality of stories coming from Angry Robot Books. I suspect this one will be no exception. Available via: Amazon and Book Depository.

So, what have you added to your book collection lately?

July 6, 2011

An Interview with James Reasoner, author of "The Blood Mesa" & "Under Outlaw Flags"

If you've been following this blog for any length of time you'll know that I've been getting a real kick out of the ongoing novella series, THE DEAD MAN, created by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. Just yesterday, my review of the latest installment, The Blood Mesa, went up on the blog.

And today, I'm fortunate enough to present a brief interview with its author, James Reasoner, the acclaimed author and Texas native of more books than I dare count. So instead, let's just get to the interview.

Gef: You had mentioned that The Blood Mesa marks one of your most brutal works, a purposeful attempt on your part to cut loose. Was this something that you had been looking to do in your writing for a while, or just something you tackled when it came to you?

James: I’ve always included a lot of action in my work, and I’ve never been shy about going over the top when it felt right.  It’s never been quite as graphic as in my Dead Man story, though.  I think I saw this opportunity when I was reading the previous books in the series, and when I actually started writing, I knew that was the way I wanted to go.

Gef: What were your initial thoughts when you were approached to contribute to The Dead Man series? With multiple authors each writing about the Matt Cahill character, did you have concerns of "too many cooks spoil the broth" or saw a unique opportunity to, in a way, become part of a writing team on a series?

James: I’ve written for a number of different multiple-author series, so this was just business as usual for me, with a slight difference.  Most of those other series I’ve worked on didn’t have much, if any, book-to-book continuity, so I had to be more concerned with this book fitting into the flow of the rest of the series.  Luckily, with Lee Goldberg and Bill Rabkin supervising everything, that wasn’t a problem.

Gef: How did the premise for The Blood Mesa and an archeological dig as the backdrop for the action come about? Was it something that Lee Goldberg brought to you as an idea, or was this something that had been brewing in the back of your mind and thought it would suit Cahill's journey?

James: This was one of the storylines from Lee and Bill’s original premise.  I made some changes to it, in consultation with the two of them, but the basic idea was theirs.

Gef: Do you have any kind of preference when it comes to story length in your work? Since The Dead Man is a series of novellas, did the condensed framework appeal to you, or was it just another day at the office?

James: I love these novella-length works, both as a writer and a reader.  I’ve written a lot of longer books in my career and continue to do so, but The Dead Man and my Rancho Diablo novella were very enjoyable breaks from that.

Gef: My first chance to read your work came with The Blood Mesa, so what would you recommend I hunt down next? Is there anything particular you've written so far that you'd want to hang your hat on, or do you even bother with picking favorites?

James: My favorites among my novels are DUST DEVILS, a contemporary hardboiled crime story set in Texas, and UNDER OUTLAW FLAGS, a historical novel that’s part Western, part World War I novel.  DUST DEVILS is available in hardback and trade paperback editions, as well as an e-book version.  UNDER OUTLAW FLAGS is available as an e-book.

Gef: I'm a guy who keeps meaning to read more westerns, which you appear to be well versed in. So, aside from Louis L'Amour and Larry McMurtry, who would say are the authors I need to be on the look out for? -- present company included, of course.

James: I’m writing a Western series for Berkley called REDEMPTION, KANSAS, with one book out so far and at least two more to come.  I’m also doing a Western e-book series called RANCHO DIABLO with my friends Mel Odom and Bill Crider, with three books out so far under the house-name Colby Jackson, and many more to come, we hope.  Among current Western authors there are probably too many excellent writers to list and most of them are my friends, but for readers who like crime and horror fiction, I always recommend the Westerns of Ed Gorman, who has worked in both of those other genres.  Some older Western writers whose work I really enjoy are H.A. De Rosso, Lewis B. Patten, Luke Short, and Dean Owen.  All these writers fall on the more hardboiled side of the Western field, and their books are pretty easy to find.  And one of my all-time favorite Westerns is a novella by Robert E. Howard called “The Vultures of Wahpeton” (often reprinted with “Whapeton” in the title, which isn’t really correct).  Had Howard lived I think he would have been a major Western writer.

Gef: A big thanks to James for taking part in this little interview. I encourage everyone to visit his website, and especially his blog Rough Edges. You can also check out the blogs for The Dead Man, Rancho Diablo, and even Western Fictioneers (a blog co-written with wife, Livia).