Category Archives: Writing

If only we could do something about those wacky billionaires.

46. Stolen – Kelley Armstrong

Adding witches, vampires, demons, a mad scientist, and a sadistic billionaire to her urban fantasy (but this one’s mainly set in an isolated compound) series may have seemed like a good idea at the time for Kelley Armstrong. Second book in the series, throw in everything. And in fact, the Otherworld books are usually fun to read regardless of how many types of supernatural characters have been thrown in – besides, Charlaine Harris did the same thing and it happened on Buffy and Monster Squad and there are so many, many more. If one supernatural thing is real, they all must be! Here’s a kitchen sink for your trouble! It does get tiresome having to learn everyone’s powers over and over – oh you’re not all demon, you’re just half demon and a jerk- okay. On something else, you’d be super tortured and whining about not being able to find love or something…

In the context of Stolen, which came directly after Bitten – a novel dealing entirely with werewolves – it’s quite the expansion on what I thought was going to be a series dealing with the issues of one main species. And in the setting it has – some jerk billionaire uses his resources to capture and hunt different supernatural species, it makes it work. Armstrong’s female characters are very strong and very capable and I appreciate that. Even the imprisoned witches and Elena the werewolf are resourceful and making the effort to make do with their circumstances while finding a way out. It’s far more realistic than panicking and waiting for male characters to help them out…and sometimes it seems like stories have to be set in a fully supernatural universe for that to be truly understood.

Ozma, planning her escape from the couch full of pumpkins.

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Act 4 Hope is a Demon Bitch – Hamlet 2

13. Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression – Nell Casey, ed.

To an extent, shorter essays can help make the symptoms, the coping mechanisms, and the general feeling of depression much more comprehensible. When reading longer memoirs I’ve had a harder time finding pieces of what I experience and part of that is just the lack of differing viewpoints. A first person story is never going to have the thoughts of the person watching the one with depression, the friend or significant other trying to understand what they’re going through or helping them, and that’s not enough when trying to root through all the possible rabbit holes of information on the disease. It’s not enough to know the pain of one person, even if there are bits of that pain in all persons with depression. I’m very glad the Unholy Ghost collection was put together because of all of the viewpoints represented.

In the first essay, “A Delicious Placebo” by Virginia Heffernan, I found the description of her endlessly trying to get to the root of her depression incredibly jarring. It hadn’t occurred to me that finding more and more information about Why wouldn’t fix the situation or stop much of anything. I’m used to research, I’m used to figuring things out as a method for solving problems, I am not used to simply accepting that there is a problem to be coped with instead of fixed. Another essay I found incredibly useful was Meri Nana-Amah Danquah’s “Writing the Wrongs of Identity,” in which she mentions that “For every twelve joys, I had twenty-five sorrows… So much wasted time.” I can relate to that way more than I like.

Another aspect of depression that came up for me when reading these essays was class. There are certain classes of people who are not allowed to admit to themselves or say to others that they have depression. They don’t have money or time to deal with it the way someone of a different class would. They basically have to pretend that there’s nothing wrong with them and if that becomes impossible, they feel weak and are presumably seen by others of the same class as weak. And there is a lot of class warfare in this country that goes under the radar because people don’t even realize they’re being classist. I am sort of in between classes for a few reasons and I’ve found through dealing with my depression that those class barriers when you can’t “perform” are as solid as a steel door. If we want people to be able to get the help they really need, we as a country need to admit that healthcare is a right and that all illnesses are illnesses, not personal failings. No one asked to have their brain broken. No one.

Ozma displays extraordinary self-care and also owner-care skills by grooming on top of a pumpkin mid-photoshoot.

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“This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation.”

63. NOS4A2 – Joe Hill

Victoria McQueen felt very familiar to me, and not just because we’re both good at finding things. When I originally read the description for NOS4A2 before the book came out, all I could think about was Regan, the main heroine of my Squirrelpocalypse trilogy . I know that Joe Hill and I aren’t working on the same level, but we are working within the same territory. We’re a little bit like the two camps in The Thing. I’m the Norwegian one, for a variety of fun reasons. And it’s little comparisons such as that one that give me the indications that Hill and I are neighbors. Allusions are part of the fabric of our writing. The Thing is, heh, if you know what one of us is alluding to, you’ll either love the whole story more or start to resent it.

I recognized many things in NOS4A2 just as I have in other Hill works. The one that most significantly sparked for me was the bridge. I knew I’d seen it before. The vision that Vic crossing it put in my head was straight out of something that, at the time I read this, I hadn’t seen in a very long time – In the Mouth of Madness. It’s that bridge. Those lights between the boards. That rickety slapping. NOS4A2 is a masterwork of allusion and it’s also just an amazing damn original story- always what I’m aiming for as well. Christmasland reminded me a little too easily of his father’s work, which is neither here nor there, as it mostly made me worried the ending wouldn’t be satisfactory.

Merricat would’ve burned down both camps. She was a finisher and fierce little pig.

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One of the characters is named Daria. Guess what she’s like.

31. Silk – Caitlin R. Kiernan

I’m not going to lie, there are parts of me that just wish I was a lot cooler in the 1990s. And by “cooler” I mean, older and able to get into clubs where I would have died quickly of an asthma attack because there weren’t any smoking bans back then. Sigh. But I would have seen so many more bands I like in person (surely!) and worn my leather pants with purpose. (I had one pair. They were a very important Christmas present for my psyche. I am proud to report that they didn’t squeak when I wore them, but I did not have nearly enough opportunities. I still have them, but I’m not sure if they fit as they were last deployed on my birthday in 2005.) I probably would have said a lot of really annoying things about how “maybe I’ll just, like, write a novel about vampires or some shit and like, send it in to some random horror publisher,” that totally would have worked out. Totally. Maybe I would have developed a taste for coffee. Perhaps I would have seen Slayer in a much smaller venue than they play now – and developed permanent tinnitus early on. Dreams. As Mitch Hedberg said, “I’m sick of following my dreams. I’m just going to ask them where they’re goin’ and hook up with them later.”

Anyway, all I could think about while reading Silk was the 1990s. And how ridiculously familiar many of the characters were to friends I’ve known since I did become old enough to get into music venues. Yes, let’s all hang out in the parking lot and speak way too loudly for no reason at 2AM. Let’s. Let’s also never shut up about coffee, oh wait, that’s STILL HAPPENING. Also the smoking. I have one terrible ex-boyfriend who fancied himself a filmmaker who did that thing that everyone who smokes and had a video camera when they weren’t ubiquitous on phones does where they film someone smoking in black and white and linger on the smoke. Linger. Soundtrack it with Portishead. I know I would have loved this book and considered it to be somewhat aspirational when I was in middle school – because I had no idea how annoying most people were going to turn out to be. Even me.

Silk is a little more plot conscious than some of the other Kiernan works I’ve read, but reading it as a jaded, cynical adult with some failure under my belt I had very little ability to care about the characters – partly because they’re interchangeable, partly because the genesis of Kiernan’s atmostpheric, impressionist writing style is here and it doesn’t give much room for fully developing her people.

Pickles imitates the Hype Williams’ music video staple – fish eye lens. She’s all nose here, and not too long ago someone told me guinea pigs are “all nose” and I’m a little irritated to find proof as I don’t like how he said it. Damn it, Vincent.

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“On the business end of a beam of despair”

4. Them or Us – David Moody

Welcome to the post-post-apocalypse, where if you can’t get your mental shit together, you’re doomed. Then again, you always were doomed, even if you could get your mental shit together because there’s some probably tiny handed dictator waiting to only give you food if you’re fittingly sycophantic and brutal. Sheesh. How do these people gain power? Oh wait, regardless of country, sometimes they get voted in.

Them or Us is a fittingly bleak and mildly brutal end to the Hater trilogy, set in Lowestoft, and yet, The Darkness’ fate was not mentioned. I assume Justin and Dan and co. are fine and were in a bunker when the bombs fell – after all, bombs are really only supposed to fall on Slough, isn’t that how the poem goes?

It was the coming of the …Belvedere. Damnit, too many syllables, and “Bel Bel” just doesn’t have the same ring as “Black Shuck.” He was certainly “a curious beast” though. Oooooooh.

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Fitter. Happier. Whatever.

16. Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig

A common problem amongst depressed persons and persons with depressive tendencies is isolation. Some people are truly isolated and some are just mentally isolating themselves, both have valid situations, but this conceptually is one of the reasons that Reasons to Stay Alive was not particularly useful for me. When I was finished reading this I wanted to read a memoir of depression that didn’t end with the person happily married. Why is that the end? It doesn’t seem like it should really be the end, based on my recent experience listening to several married persons talking about how much they hate being around other people. I didn’t want to be insulting, but I did feel the urge to remind them that a quick way to get rid of all those people they know is to get divorced and move alone to a place they’ve never been. It’s entirely possible to get to a location where no one knows you and then you won’t have to worry about anyone asking how you are or being interested in your existence.

I have yet to find any books related to depression that don’t emphasize connection with other people as a “way out” and yet I’ve noticed that consistently finding connection in person is one of the things that is dwindling as technology addiction continues to manipulate peoples’ ability to communicate and muddles the line between the figurative desire for isolation (“Ugh, I hate being invited to do things.”/”Why isn’t anyone liking my latest instagram!?”) and what it really means. I’m glad that Matt Haig was able to maintain a meaningful connection throughout the episodes that he relates in Reasons to Stay Alive and that he found his reasons. And I know that in some cases, it doesn’t matter that someone has connections or support, they’re still not going to cope; but I still want to see the other side of that explored in print. I think that this era of technological disassociation and nutball governance requires new kinds of reasoning for hope. For the most part, mine’s finding the absurdity in small things. Mostly words and cavies.

 

Mortemer and Murderface in their dotage, napping. They are unable to like any of my posts to this very day.

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She could’ve killed someone with a pencil.

17. Night World: Huntress – L.J. Smith

You know how sometimes you have to like rejoin the gang of vampires you used to lead for the good of the universe even though you were like doing really well paying more attention to your human half? Keep up. Jez Redfern, like John Wick much later, has to return to her old ways for some serious action in order to keep evil from winning the apocalypse at the millennium/taking revenge a network of evil dudes/co-workers and stupid-Russian-Theon for stealing your car and murdering a very important dog. Maybe, just maybe, my analogy is not totally sound, but if there’s ever a movie version of Huntress and Jez Redfern says “Whoah,” I’ll know it’s meant for me.

A special hardcover collector’s edition of each of the Night World books is being released this year, if only this year was also actually going to see the release of the final Night World book… There is a rather hilarious Amazon page for “Strange Fate,” the tenth book – in theory – filled with the kind of frustrated commentary George R.R. Martin is surely used to dealing with, it’s been over 20 years of waiting for L.J. Smith’s fans. I’m waiting on her too, I’ve got to say Night World is a great series. A little melodramatic, but they’re for teenagers and everything is life and death. EVERYTHING. Maybe you don’t understand. Maybe you should go slam your bedroom door.

Mixtape –
1. Tread Lightly – Mastodon
2. White Light Suicide – Witchcraft
3. Raise A Paw – Melvins
4. Things Present, Things Past – Blood Ceremony
5. Dendrofil for Yggdrasil – Kvelertak
6. For Blood – Bass Drum of Death
7. Skin Traps – Electric Six
8. Never Let You Down – Greenskeepers
9. I Hear Voices – Kasabian
10. Reload – Ministry
11. The Needy – Logan 5
12. Feral Love – Chelsea Wolfe
13. By Your Definition – Witchcraft
14. I’d Kill for Her – The Black Angels
15. The Way of Vikings – Amon Amarth

Peregrine and Ozma are waiting here until someone tells them they have to take vengeance for their old names: “Pippa” (I adopted Peregrine and Merricat as a pair formerly known as “Paris” and “Pippa,” so I’m assuming there based on the order of their appearance in their adoption photo) and “Mitzi.” Seriously. Mitzi. That’s a dog name. Pippa is a dog name too.

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She got Swayzed.

35. The Secret Bedroom – R.L. Stine

Every time I switch towns I eventually run into the same old story – there’s that creepy house where somebody got murdered. And you know, in Mississippi, it was my house. It was drugs. No unfinished business. Lea of The Secret Bedroom is not so lucky. I mean, it could’ve been drugs, but, it wasn’t mentioned specifically if drugs were involved in the 100 years ago murderage, so… Lea is not so lucky in many ways. She falls victim to the many tropes – she’s a new kid who spills on the prime bitch at school, then gets asked out as a joke but she doesn’t know until she gets stood up, in her wallowing she hears footsteps upstairs in the boarded up bedroom, the girls she ends up being friends with are either too popular to keep up getting to know her or they found a boyfriend and no longer cared (Friends!), AND her parents keep leaving her alone in their haunted house (Thanks, Lea’s parents.) and she would be okay with it – if it was being haunted by Patrick Swayze. Patrick Swayze, gateway ghost.

Mixtape –
1. School – Nirvana
2. Misery Keeper – Electric Citizen
3. Zero – Smashing Pumpkins
4. Phone Call – The Faint
5. Mother Father – Swans
6. Sick, Sick, Sick – Queens of the Stone Age
7. My Dreams – Electric Six
8. I Only Said – My Bloody Valentine
9. Lost Boys and Girls Club – Dum Dum Girls
10. Your Sins Will Find You Out – Eli “Paperboy” Reed
11. Everybody Dies – Those Poor Bastards
12. I Dreamt – The Black Angels
13. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now – The Smiths
14. Love Can Destroy Everything – The Raveonettes
15. Noorus – Chelsea Wolfe
16. Ripe – Nine Inch Nails

Pammy and Thaddeus chomp down parsley in an attic bedroom. There’s no corpses in there or anything. Also no Swayze or Swayze-related materials. They’re like the wind.

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It could’ve just been The Cretins.

Welcome to year four of YA Megamix Summer! This year’s theme is “Class of Soon to be Nuked High” in honor of the the world teetering on the brink of destruction based on the whims of a moldy orange madman. Good luck having a future, enjoy these glib reviews and mixtapes for the next three months and if the country is still here at the end of August, we’ll resume our mental health/horror programming.

 

24. The Night Walkers – Otto Coontz

Way to not end the story, man. Maxine is cured, no one else is, and there’s no resolution beyond blaming the guy who runs the dump for the pollution. Writing is about making choices. When you bring things up, like “the soul” a few times and have Nora the Cassandra thinking that’s the “leg up” they have and then never resolving anything… At 163 pages, you could have added another chapter or two and resolved the story. I expect more of an author that admits to being the puppet and mask maker for the San Francisco Mime Troupe AND being concerned about environmental protection in his bio.

 
Mixtape –
1. A Forest – The Cure
2. The Number of the Beast – Electric Six
3. Home Sick Home – Faith No More
4. Damned If She Do – The Kills
5. Time for Death – GWAR
6. Under My Chin – Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster
7. Infected Girls – Electric Six
8. Burning in Hell – Electric Citizen
9. Iron Moon – Chelsea Wolfe
10. The Angry River – The Hat
11. If Wishes Were Horses – Witchcraft
12. My Mule – Abner Jay
13. Sore Eyes – Widowspeak
14. Old Pine Box – Those Poor Bastards
15. Forest Clouds – Windhand

Duncan was in charge of emotional support while I wrote the outline for Day of the Robots. She didn’t even put that in her bio because it took second fiddle to seeing works from the Louvre at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art in 2009 and almost auditioning for a season of So You Think You Can Dance? in the same day.

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“I learned it by watching YOU!”

9. Feast – Graham Masterton

Having spent a very, very, very small fraction of my childhood inside restaurants I didn’t like with my father, I can relate to some elements of Feast. I never stormed off to speak to a mysterious dwarf when he would ask me about school even though I only ever saw him over Fourth of July weekend, but I certainly rolled my eyes super hard and reminded myself I’d be going home to my own things soon enough. Being able to relate to any aspect of Feast probably seems terrible if you’ve read the book, but, whatever. It’s probably better that I didn’t get kidnap-inducted into a flesh-eating cult during one of those Fourth of July weekends. It’s not like I was doing anything fun instead. Mostly I was sneezing. Stupid summer.

I could also relate to seeing one’s father as selfishly involved in their own shit instead of interested in me, so, thanks for all the non-vulgar relatability for once, Graham. Thanks. Charles McLean, restaurant critic, and his son Martin are using their quality time as a vehicle for Charles to do work and Martin to be bored while eating in Connecticut. Charles finds out about and begins trying to get an invitation to a super underground restaurant that turns out to be a bit of a front…for a cannibal cult. A self-cannibalizing cult. See, eating yourself prepares you for meeting God, because cult-logic is the most solid kind.

It must be said that Feast was not as gross as I expected it to be. And I expected a lot because all the other Graham Masterton books I’ve read have at least one specifically disgusting or vulgar scene that just sticks in my head and will not leave (olive oil, dog in a pool, fishnets *shudder*); but Feast didn’t have one of those for me. Guess I got too caught up in the relatively ancient hype this time.

Sure, Horace will join your cult. After he finishes napping on his froggy. You're not his real dad.

Sure, Horace will join your cult. After he finishes napping on his froggy. You’re not his real dad.

 

 

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