Category Archives: Writing

Electric blue, page 92.

31. They Thirst – Robert McCammon

Some of the territory this book covers is familiar- if only listening, and, say, heeding warnings were revered qualities. They’re not in this book and they don’t seem to be in real life either. If only.

Anyway, this is McCammon’s take on the ensemble vampire story, and he chose a large amount of space to work with, which works to his disadvantage. It’s lengthy and wordy and a little flat in a way that reminds me of They Live (They live, they thirst. They’re doing so much!) and it’s not going to show you anything new if you’ve already read any vampire books, or, say, The Stand and Salem’s Lot. It’s one of McCammon’s early novels, and having read the later-written Swan Song first, I can see attempts at what he will achieve with an ensemble cast and a slightly out of the way supervillain. I am inclined to give some points for effort, although certain characters that become important are completely out of left field when they suddenly appear (Ratty…) and others with potential are too flat to invest in because there are so many people to follow (Andy and Solange, in particular). The main aspect that interested me was the Hammer Horror throwback of the castle.

Mortemer and Belvedere in their own ensemble drama. Father and son, scampering over a quilt on a double bed, scampering in search of a good hiding spot... to take a nap.

Mortemer and Belvedere in their own ensemble drama. Father and son, scampering over a quilt on a double bed, scampering in search of a good hiding spot… to take a nap.

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Art is a flat circle.

10. Broken Monsters – Lauren Beukes

Outsider art, taxidermy I don’t have to see, serial murder, solid female characters – well, solid characters in general, and some very unexpected surrealist imagery…it’s like Beukes had several of my reading habits in mind when she started writing.

Each character has a different angle on the central story and brings a different part of Detroit’s atmosphere in as well. It was really fun reading a book about Detroit that brought in the broken parts but also did some taking to task of the pretentious humans making artistic lemonade out of ruins.

There’s a lot to Broken Monsters. A lot of detail, a lot of tension, a lot of pieces that normally would have made me cringe treated with enough information and deference that I can tell she did a lot of research, essentially it provides a lot of reasons to follow Beukes as an author.

Merricat giving that look that means "I know you didn't say what you wanted to say about scenes that reminded you of True Detective's antler graffiti in this review."

Merricat giving that look that means “I know you didn’t say what you wanted to say about scenes that reminded you of True Detective’s antler graffiti in this review.”

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[Judge Perd is not a judge.]

3. An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamison

“A Memoir of Moods and Madness” and a stone cold classic for anyone interested in mental health, An Unquiet Mind is also an engaging read. Jamison’s experience with manic behavior was extremely interesting to me – her description of running rather endlessly around a parking lot during the process of earning her degree and using “we’re psych students” as the reason when questioned stood out in particular. It sort of suits the trope of going into psychiatry because one has psychological issues, but, that doesn’t have to be true. It’s very possible to ignore your own symptoms regardless of what you’re learning about or what level of professional development you’ve achieved. Brains are tricksy.

One thing to remember while reading An Unquiet Mind is that, especially if you don’t have anyone to catch you or clean up the giant mess you may have made while manic, this is definitely not an instructional manual for what to do if you are also experiencing manic or depressive episodes. It’s a memoir, and it has helpful examples, but it is not a self-help manual. You may recognize yourself, you may end up being a little envious of some of the things Jamison has gotten to do, you may not even care about getting to stay in England for long periods of time to write (I miss it). It always amuses me that I know the struggle to publish as an academic writer exists, but when you read material from people who have ended up with published work, when they discuss writing their proposals it’s just like a given that it’s going to happen- of course it did, but, somebody should write in one of their failed projects too, give the folks at home something to relate to on the other side because there’s a lot of failed academics out there who probably assumed their work was going to get published too… (Full disclosure, I am not an academic writer. I’ve just seen a lot of stressed out academics as a librarian and I’m guessing not all of them had a streamlined path to publish their research. And I’ve read or skimmed a crapload of extremely dry articles, so I wonder if the academic writers with stronger writing voices are getting shafted.)

Twiglet, a stone cold classic anchor pig.

Twiglet, a stone cold classic anchor pig.

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There are so many things to make us cry, or even crye, nowadays.

1. Who Made Stevie Crye? – Michael Bishop

Odd title + residence in a locked case of the library = I’m interested. In order to get to the area of the library where this book is held, you have to ask for an item (Pfft, normal patrons), or work there and have the ability to sign out a key, take the elevator up past several mezzanine floors, then unlock a door that’s just a little bit too short for your average bear with a security grating for a window. The secretive spaces of libraries are my favorites- you never know what all is in them and if you haven’t committed yourself to the work in some way, you’ll never get to see the weird stuff, or the bound volumes of Playgirl. Yes, academic libraries are hiding their porn from you, patrons; we just keep it for posterity, do not want to let it get it all sticky, and we library staff only use it for the articles. Literally. There’s this Chris Burden (you may know him as the performance artist that crucified himself on a VW Bug and let someone shoot him in a gallery, that’s how I know him) article in a 1970s issue of Playgirl that actually gets asked for a lot. It’s a pretty interesting interview and a bit of a letdown for all the staff in my department who were wondering if we were actually being asked to scan some guy’s (Chris Burden not the household name I figured someone who nailed themselves to a Bug would be) pictures from a skin mag – not so much.

What I gleaned from skimming through Who Made Stevie Crye? (no dust jacket, academic library) the beginning and intermittent illustrations was that there’s a monkey involved, someone loses all their flesh, and there’s what appeared to be a possessed typewriter in the story. It also said “A Novel of the American South” on the title page and any long time readers, first time callers know that I lived in the South and I miss many parts of it.  I figured it was horror, and it was published in 1984, I also love 1980s horror so it seemed like I might have found a diamond in the rough, as they say.

Well, that whole “set in the South” thing kept popping into my head as I read about how cold it was and the repeated turning on of the heater in Stevie’s writing room. It’s set in Georgia, but in winter, which is something that could have been easily changed and doesn’t truly contribute to the plot beyond being confusing. The humidity makes people crazy down there, which is helpful when you’re writing a horror story; a thick atmosphere is a tense atmosphere… It is just as easy to turn on a space heater in Wisconsin (where the publisher is, and the reason why this book was behind a locked door) and have the same level of haunted typewriter and monkey involvement and not make me wonder why you set the story in the South.

What Made Stevie Crye? also reminded me of one of my least favorite things about female main characters written by dudes, they are hysterical. A lot. Stevie super needs to get some writing done (I do believe in the 1980s there’s a shred of a chance one could support two children with a freelance writing career.) and her typewriter shits the bed and she doesn’t want to pay its actual manufacturer to fix it. It’s so fun reading about customer service calls. The true horror was making me read about how much it costs to fix an electric typewriter. So, of course, she ends up taking the typewriter to some nutball genius who has a pet monkey he named Sucrets (Seriously? Somebody’s shitty at pet names and that person is Michael Bishop.) and will NOT STOP VISITING after he “fixes” her typewriter. Stevie freaks out about her kids, at her kids, about the monkey, about the monkey’s finger-blood sucking habit (Ew.), about her dreams (The one with the man body with a monkey head is worth freaking out about, also the incest one, ew.), about her typewriter becoming sentient and teleplaying her dreams, about visitors, about the heater, about the stereotypical magical fortunetelling woman she finds to help her (The fortune teller has a manual typewriter. Typewriter fight! Note, typewriter fighting is way less interesting than it sounds…at least in this book.), about her book proposal, and basically betrays the majority of the sense of competency I believe a real woman would have so she can freak out. She just didn’t ring true to me and so I didn’t really care why she was so upset about having a monkey in her house, eating an egg sandwich. The horror! Plus the “reasoning” behind the whole enchanted typewriter thing sucked and even Stevie seemed to have a sedated reaction to it, most realistic thing she did.

I did a little research and found that this was supposed to be one of those “unexpectedly funny” books, but, it really didn’t work for me. I enjoy oddness for its own sake, I’m a fan of both Splatterpunk anthologies I’ve read and they’re a great example of truly bizarre things that can elicit a smirk. Maybe it would be funnier if the setting made sense and the main character seemed a tad realistic before things started making her go off the rails. Horror and comedy do have a lot in common. Or if they gave the monkey a mint julep instead of a fondness for Sucrets and finger-blood; actually, I believe that in the South, Capuchins drink a sweating glass of sweet tea before they invade your home and tear up your daughter’s stuffed animals and unzip their monkey skins to reveal their tiny little man bodies. Afterwards they fan themselves on your porch swing.

Finny just realized he left his space heater on...but he lives in Wisconsin...and it's still winter...so that's pretty normal beyond the improbability of me letting my guinea pigs manage their own space heaters. He also left his typewriter on...

Finny just realized he left his space heater on…but he lives in Wisconsin…and it’s still winter…so that’s pretty normal beyond the improbability of me letting my guinea pigs manage their own space heaters. He also left his typewriter on…

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Woo! Lab exposition!

34. Parasite – Mira Grant

Mira Grant likes to write about what people are eating for breakfast. I noticed it in the Newsflesh trilogy, and I noticed it in Parasite. Also, she likes to include the possibility of cold cuts, luncheon meats as they are known in some circles, as a possibility for breakfast, which for me is as alien as the idea of eating a tapeworm to remain healthy…which is also a very basic way of describing the source of dramatic conflict in this book. The tapeworm has already been eaten, but, the person who ingested it has an entirely different personality than they did before the car accident that caused them to eat it for survival and indebted them to a giant, creepy corporation that wants everyone to have tapeworms. Gross. Post-accident Sal (nee Sally) is super scared of cars even though she doesn’t remember her accident. She also enjoys the luncheon meats and having other conflicts of personality that make her vacillate between being a super lame scaredy cat and an ingenious detective as a character. I had a hard time with this. I also had a hard time with many of the other characters. They felt manipulated to me- perhaps by their own tapeworms. Also, this book is, like, super long and it shouldn’t be.

Pammy and Thaddeus enjoyed a nice carrot, some pellets, and a helping of hay for their breakfasts. Thaddeus whistling for me to dish out said breakfast at 7:30 AM on days when I did not have to be up that early was more thrilling than the cliffhanger ending of Parasite.

Pammy and Thaddeus enjoyed a nice carrot, some pellets, and a helping of hay for their breakfasts. Thaddeus whistling for me to dish out said breakfast at 7:30 AM on days when I did not have to be up that early was more thrilling than the cliffhanger ending of Parasite.

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Class of 1984 might be our best case scenario soon.

26. Schoolhouse – Lee Duigon

1988, a time when horror paperbacks were plentiful and there were more than enough skeletons on covers to scare all the children in line at the grocery store. Schoolhouse has a skeleton teacher (with bun and pointer, but no shoes, I feel like she could’ve been wearing shoes) with both an apple and another skull on her desk. Another skull on her desk! And the background isn’t just black, there’s a chalkboard and a spider web and everything. Pinnacle getting their money’s worth out of the cover artist. It’s a full painting. There are many parts of me that wish publishing still allowed for this style of cover and for a proliferation of bizarre horror novels.
Schoolhouse’s staying power is in its weirdness. If one went to public school, one generally could be led to believe that something weird is going on…especially in the 1980s, when the something weird didn’t have to be related to state budget cuts and elected officials painting teachers as the enemy for wanting proper resources because public schools’ mission is give EVERY student an education, and they don’t actually leave any children out.  Perhaps a digression, but things were different then and if your teacher was an enemy, it was probably because they were possessed by an alien beast creature sliming its way to the surface (now those are just lots of repugnant elected officials, possessed by somebody else’s money). Schoolhouse very much treads the line between horror and science fiction and who knew that would be a preview of our educational system today – vouchers and creationist textbooks, anyone? Scary stuff.

Danger Crumples and Ozymandias have very different investigative styles. Danger leaves no pillow un-turned, Ozy knows H.P. Lovecraft-style slimy beasts don't hide under pillows.

Danger Crumples and Ozymandias have very different investigative styles. Danger leaves no pillow un-turned, Ozy knows H.P. Lovecraft-style slimy beasts don’t hide under pillows.

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“This week in Ravi is the Best” from Jane Says is one of the things I’m most looking forward to about the show coming back.

29. iZombie I: Dead to the World- Chris Roberson & Michael Allred

30. iZombie II: uVampire- Chris Roberson & Michael Allred

32. iZombie III: Six Feet Under and Rising- Chris Roberson & Michael Allred

33. iZombie IV: Repossession – Chris Roberson & Michael Allred

My issues with the iZombie comics are basically the same issues I have with the depiction of female main characters by male writers occasionally – overly sexualized drawings (Such a comics norm, but, is it really necessary to have so many skin tight outfits in a non-superhero or athletic setting? Must one be aerodynamic to be a zombie? Who is this for? I miss Daria. Tangent.), seeming agency revealed to be influenced mainly by dudes (Daria squint. I really do miss her.), and of course, that female main character must be sacrificed (and she’s nude…because she becomes a Grow Monsters- those are heroic tits I guess) in order to save the world. Gwen seems nice, has some quirks, and barely felt real to me. Why did she like that Horatio guy exactly? Sometimes vampires aren’t necessary. Why does she call Scott “Spot” if he’s really her friend? He didn’t seem to need his self-esteem lowered any further. How many characters do we need in this story? Really, Amon? REALLY? What a dick.

Reading the comics just made me feel like I missed something. I loved Gwen’s Halloween costume in the first issue (Shaun). I like the idea of a were-terrier. I thought Dixie seemed like a pretty cool diner owner and needed some more scenes, maybe a spotlight issue, and after a little research I see the series was ended after 28 issues due to low sales. That makes some of the plot line drops and the wrap up make more sense. I can’t help but wonder if maybe Gwen’s choices weren’t as a result of a dude-issue (whether it’s Amon or Horatio) it might have found a female audience just a bit more solidly. The agency and dude influence issues are definitely something I don’t notice as much when watching the iZombie television show. Also, Liv Moore wears a lab coat a lot of the time. Doesn’t seem to make her less of a zombie or solid heroine. All I can say is, the show better not specifically end with Liv becoming a Grow Monster to eat an alien entity bent on devouring the world. Although if it does, it will just be one more reminder of what women won’t be able to get any credit for after that disaster of an election. If they go that route, maybe she’ll just let the alien eat us. I think we’d be better off…at the least it would be unexpected and it’s not like we’ll get equal pay or recognition before I’m dead anyway.

Now is the time on Guinea Pigs and Books where I brag about how Rose McIver liked the postcard I gave her of this painting. She asked me if she could keep it, which was the sweetest possible thing she could have done. Rose McIver is excellent and very small, not unlike Ozma, the guinea pig playing her in the painting.

Now is the time on Guinea Pigs and Books where I brag about how Rose McIver liked the postcard I gave her of this painting . She asked me if she could keep it, which was the sweetest possible thing she could have done. Rose McIver is excellent and very small, not unlike Ozma, the guinea pig playing her in the painting.

 

Thankfully, the very small Ozma will never have to worry about any of the things I get to worry about or becoming a zombie.

Thankfully, the very small Ozma will never have to worry about any of the things I get to worry about or becoming a zombie.

 

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If a copy of Dracula mated with a copy of The Da Vinci Code and the offspring was repeatedly slapped round the face with the Manhunter soundtrack…

49. Blood Legacy – Prudence Foster

Florida- scene of many neon-hued, blood-soaked evenings scored by synthesizers. I imagine if this novel had made it onto film they would have gone with off-brand classical played on a broken keytar – extra loud cues every time main character Angelique has a hysterical moment. Sometimes characters take things in stride or try to make sense of bizarre situations like a pale, apparently enticing (from the description, he has terrible hair) Count courting a bookstore owner with a fondness for overreaction, Angelique just goes all out with the hand waving and wailing and frankly, I was hoping she’d just give in to the dark side. I think she would have been a lot happier…but that meddling police lieutenant got in the way, as they do when you need someone with a solid moustache and a sport coat to keep the histrionic bookstore owner from realizing their destiny.

Side note, while trying to remember the lead character’s first name (my copy of this ridiculous narrative wasn’t handy), I found that two of the reviews on Amazon got the author’s name wrong – Who is this ‘Prudence Board’ that writes such amazing works? – while extolling the virtues of Blood Legacy. Suspicious.

Horace doing his best Halloween version of Manhunter. So dramatic and orangey. Do you see?

Horace doing his best Halloween version of Manhunter. So dramatic and orangey. Do you see?

 

 

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This apocalyptic levity should’ve been in print.

5. The Zombie Whisperer – Jesse Petersen

Sarah and Dave return to Seattle to conclude the Living with the Dead series. I really enjoyed this entire series. It means a lot to me to see other writers working with horror tropes allowed some damn humor. I see no reason to try to survive in the zombie apocalypse if I’m just supposed to talk about surviving all the time. Recently, I did admit at a Torchy’s Tacos that I do not want to live if the zombie apocalypse were to happen. I think my massive problems with allergies are enough reason to just wait to be eaten. I don’t want to be around when the air conditioning stops working or when everyone who was enjoying some nice Torchy’s Tacos suddenly starts eating each other instead.  Not for me. Sarah and Dave survived, they kept their marriage together, they can make survival tacos out of canned black beans and re-populate the world in my imaginary memory if they must. They’ve certainly taken up the torch of sarcasm in the post-apocalypse and for that I salute their story and heartily give up the idea of having my own.

Anyway, as a whole, I’m keen on this series as I said. On its own, The Zombie Whisperer is a bit weak for reasons that seem unfortunate. There’s just a smidge too much crammed into a small amount of space with some scenes that seem like they’re the correct length and others that felt rushed and although it makes sense, the couple-based complications of the last one are a little too on the nose for me. I definitely know that when ending a series things get complicated and I’m glad the action returned to Seattle, a nice full circle works in its favor. There is a bit of a scattered feeling to it for me, and I’m not sure that’s not influenced by the reading it as an ebook in Courier type… I have to say I’m also disappointed in the publishers for not giving the series a proper end in print. Tangential short stories only in eformat? Fine. But the end of a print series should be in print with the same cover style, out of respect for the series and its author if nothing else.

Twiglet knows how important it is to end a series right. It is just as important as knowing how to pose on top of a pumpkin, a skill Twiglet mastered in mere minutes.

Twiglet knows how important it is to end a series right. It is just as important as knowing how to pose on top of a pumpkin, a skill Twiglet mastered in mere minutes.

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The Future is in the future

14. Forest of Memory – Mary Robinette Kowal

“What is dead may never die” is not a line from this book but it does sum up dealing in nostalgia for me. In this novella, the reader is presented with the unedited (she’s typing it using a typewriter, which I do wish I had the finger strength to use myself – can’t hit those keys right at the same speed I can on a computer, damn it) perspective of Katya, who deals in “authenticities,” i.e. objects from the past that people in this version of the future collect, when her AI goes down and she’s left with nothing but reality and what’s right in front of her in the wilderness. And also some guy doing a mysterious job that she cannot research using her AI. Ha. Trapped. This was an odd story, and many of the concepts in it could benefit from further exploration because it did end rather abruptly with many unanswered questions. My main takeaway was one of recognizing my mortality again. I like things, I’m isolated, in this future someone is totally going to loot my living space and make a lot of money I will never have. Whee! Future!

Peregrine says you should get some objects for people to steal with her on them from this store, which is only online and not a brick and mortar place, but deals in nostalgia nonetheless:  Choose wisely.

Peregrine says you should get some objects for people to steal in the future with her on them from this store, which is only online and not a brick and mortar place, but deals in nostalgia nonetheless: Choose wisely.

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