Month: December 2011

Stargazer (Vols. 1 and 2)

Longtime readers of this blog might remember my glowing review of Von Allan’s debut graphic novel, The Road to God Knows, a lovingly wrought tale of a young Ottawan’s quest to attend a pro wrestling match in an effort to escape from the doldrums of her otherwise dreary life. Allan’s latest effort, Stargazer, explores similar themes but sees the writer/artist expanding his artistic palette to include strong elements of science fiction and fantasy–and succeeding wildly in his creation of an emotionally complex and touching imaginary realm.

This time around, a young girl named Marni is bequeathed a mysterious artifact that transports her to a mysterious realm along with two of her best of friends. Grieving over the recent loss of her mother, Marni finds herself on a quest that is as much about self-discovery as it is about finding her way back home. Along the way, Marni and company encounter a race of gentle satyrs and their robotic guardians, uncover the mystery of an apparently lost civilization of three-armed lizard men, and confront a terrifying monster straight out of their darkest nightmares.

While Stargazer certainly evokes “little girl lost” tales a la Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, Allan puts a new twist on the formula by sending three friends into the mysterious realm on the other side of the proverbial looking glass. In so doing, he gives his characters the opportunity to come of age even as they bump up against the limits of their friendship. In this sense, the graphic novel is a spiritual and emotional cousin to Stephen King’s “The Body” in that it’s as much about growing up as it is about exploring the unknown.

Of special interest to those interested in the process of creating a graphic novel are the books’ “extras” in which Allan walks readers through his early brainstorming sessions and provides sample pages from the script that eventually evolved into the finished product.

Overall, Stargazer is an excellent graphic novel by an artist whose talent is only rivaled by his heart. Perfect for readers of all ages, particularly those with a love for the fantastic.

-Review by Marc Schuster

Interview with Nick Marsh

Nick Marsh is a veterinary surgeon working in Devon, UK. In addition, he is the author of the Conduit sequence of novels about Alan Reece, a young man who discovers he is Earth’s ‘Conduit’ – a link between the material world, and the shadowy world beyond. In this interview, he joins us to talk about his latest project – a fantasy novel, The Ancients, now available as an Amazon Kindle e-book.

Welcome, Nick!
Hi Marc, thanks for giving me the chance to talk to you!

My pleasure. Let’s start with some information about your latest novel, The Ancients.
The Ancients is a fantasy novel, set in a country torn apart by civil war. It follows the fortunes of Dazlar, a knight returning to his homeland, and a young woman with no past. Together, they attempt to piece together her missing memories, not realising the danger they are putting themselves in by trying.

I’ve wanted to write a fantasy novel for a while; of course, me being me, I couldn’t resist throwing in some science fiction too. Maybe it’s a reflex for me – the Conduit novels started off as a straight novel about life as a vet, and before I knew it a transparent cow had crept onto the page. There’s probably a medical term for it. Don’t misunderstand me, The Ancients is in almost all respects, a fantasy novel. I’ll leave it up to the readers to discover where and when the science fiction enters the frame!

What drew you to this story?
I wanted to explore some ideas that I’m very interested in – themes like the nature of reality and the meaning of life, how different people and personalities react to serious cracks in their belief system. All of that is in The Ancients, to some degree. It’s a nice way for me to examine the ideas without being put in a rubber room (well, not yet, anyway).

On a less pretentious level – I’m a nerd, and I’ve rolled a fair number of funny-shaped dice in my time. I just wanted to try my hand at a fantasy, and I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed doing so. Call me an old softie (actually, I’d prefer it if you called me a young softie) but I wanted to write something of a character story too. In all my favourite novels – the ones I keep returning to – it’s not the setting or the story that move me and make me read them again, it’s the characters, ones that feel like real people. I hope I’ve achieved something close to that with Dazlar and the others.

Who are some of your literary influences?
Well, that varies depending on which book I’m writing. For The Ancients, Lord of the Rings, the Dragonlance Chronicles, and many geeky evenings playing Dungeons and Dragons all played their part, but casting the net a little further, Philip K Dick, William Golding and even Charles Darwin have all warped my fragile little mind. For the Conduit novels, Douglas Adams and H.P. Lovecraft are both strong influences, if rather strange bedfellows.

The Ancients is available as an e-book. Do you have any thoughts on that medium that you’d like to share?
Well, as I reply to this, it’s a few days after Christmas, and I’m still umbilically attached to my shiny new Kindle. A few minutes after unwrapping it, I did the same thing everyone else does when they got a kindle – downloaded an enormous number of free classics which I’d love to read but am well aware I will never get round to looking at. My own kindle now contains the complete works of Shakespeare, Wodehouse, Dickens, and many others, which have about of much chance of being read as a Christmas sprout on my plate has of being eaten. But they’ll make me feel clever if anyone has a look over my reading list.

Seriously, though, you don’t have to be Stephen King to realise that the world of publishing is undergoing a seismic shift at the moment. For myself. a child of the seventies, I think I still prefer the feel, the look, and even (please don’t think I’m too weird) the smell of an actual book, but I can see many advantages to eBooks. The portability, the ability to search and quickly find quotes. It’s nice to be able to read PDFs and other electronic documents on my kindle too. I suspect that the eBook may eventually replace the paperback as the easy, cheap and disposable read, whilst the hardback will still be around for presents and bookshelves. But who can say for sure about the future? I’m still waiting for my hoverboard from Back to the Future part 2.

 In addition to writing, you’re a full-time veterinary surgeon. Where and/or how do you find the time to fit writing into your schedule?
Ah, now, I came prepared for this one! I wrote a short article for the New Writers UK Newsletter about that very topic. http://www.newwritersuk.co.uk/newsletter_july2011.pdf

For everyone who doesn’t follow the link – quick summary, black magic.

I understand that you’re currently working on a new novel. Can you talk about that one? What’s it all about?
Absolutely! The Express Diaries is a globe-trotting (well, Europe-trotting) story of intrigue, secret cults and dark magic set on and around the Orient Express in 1925. It’s inspired by my good friends at http://www.yog-sothoth.com, a site dedicated to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, although I’ve taken it in my own direction.

I’m currently working my way through the second draft of the novel, and hopefully it will be coming out at some point next year. I might be able to get an extract to you soon!

Is there any chance we’ll get to see a third installment of the Conduit series at any point in the future? Or are you working on anything else?
I hope so, yes, I’ve got lots more ideas of horrible things to put Alan & the gang through. I’m giving him a bit of a rest at the moment, poor chap, as I’ve put him through the wringer recently. As soon as he’s recovered enough, I’ll send him on his way again! I’ll keep you informed.

As far as other writing projects go – I’m mainly working on my blog, Maybe it –should- happen to a vet (http://lordof1.blogspot.com) , an intimate and (hopefully) humorous examination of what it’s like working as a vet at the dawn of the 21st century. It’s a great stress reliever for me, and a bit of an insight into my life outside of writing. Comments and opinions on my blog would be enormously welcome!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!
No problem at all, Marc, thanks for inviting me.

In addition to checking out Nick’s blog, you can visit him online at  http://www.nick-marsh.co.uk. And be sure to take a look at The Ancients, as well!  Click here for US purchse. Click here for UK purchase.

Angels Carry the Sun – Review by Nancy Orlando

If you enjoy unexpected twists, thought provoking poetry, and side trips into the past, this is the book for you.  Author Phoebe Wilcox and Lilly Press have combined to bring us what the book cover describes as “a tale of love, lust and lyricism.”  But don’t jump to conclusions about what you’ll find between the covers; this is not a light-hearted tale of romance.  This book will keep you turning the pages and you’ll never expect what happens in the end.

We meet the main characters of the story in an early 1980’s high school classroom as Mr. Everett Finn is eating his lunch.  While he eats, student Flora McDermott watches and shares his potato chips.  Right now you’re probably thinking typical school girl crush; but this goes far beyond what you may have witnessed in your youth.  You’ll have to read on and interpret for yourself the letters and poetry that Flora writes to him.  He knew he should report her behavior to the school; however, ego over-ruled reason.

Her best friend doesn’t understand the attraction to a man old enough to be Flora’s father but tries to be supportive.  She even does the driving when Flora wants to follow him from school to locate his house.

You’ll learn about Flora’s mother, sister, and father through vignettes inserted in the story line.

But don’t forget about Mr. Finn’s home life.  There are issues in his marriage that contribute to the events that unfold.  And you won’t want to miss what happens when his wife, Lottie, discovers he’s been holding on to some of those letters.

I found Flora’s mother and Lottie to represent two varying parts of the 60’s culture even though it is now the 1980’s.  And as the story moves through time, Flora’s new friends from college add to the mix of unusual characters influencing her choices.

When Flora’s schemes combine with suggestions from friends about what the relationship could or should be collide, you won’t want to miss the craziness that ensues.  This book will keep you glued to its pages until you reach the very end.

Review by N. Orlando

Domestic Apparition – Review by Cindy Zelman

Meg Tuite’s book, Domestic Apparition, struts boldly along the edge of a tight rope woven of hilarity and tragedy. You might laugh and cry in the same chapter, on the same page, in the same sentence. This book is brilliant.

As a reader, Tuite leaves me spell-bound as she explores the lives of a modern family: Dad, clearly a son of a bitch who shows mom the right way to slice a tomato in an astounding metaphor of abuse. Mom, who barely says a word, until Michelle hears a tragic cry come out of her one day over a deep loss. Older sister Stephanie is a rebel, perhaps a lesbian, or maybe just a lesbian to spite mom and dad; and narrator Michelle is a wonderful interpreter and tour guide of the harsh world in which she must navigate, exposing the truths and underbellies of our American family life.

Published in 2011 by San Francisco Bay Press, each chapter of Tuite’s book is its own work of art – ranging from the beautiful prose poem of “Religion,” to the dazzling narration of Michelle-turned-observant- anthropologist in “Family Conference.”  Most of the stories in the book have been published in literary journals and “Family Conference” was a finalist in the Glimmer Train Short Story Contest for New Writers in 2010.

This is a book for readers and writers.

Tuite mesmerizes the reader as we learn, through Michelle’s eyes, the story of her life, beginning at the age of six when she is drafted into the “human abuse” of Catholic schools, replete with wretched nuns assuming men’s names; and through her early adulthood, where, working for a bloodsucking corporation, a true human connection is finally, and unexpectedly, made.

As a writer, this is one of those books (few and far between) where I say on nearly every page: I wish I could write like this. Meg Tuite goes wild with the English language but never loses control. I am enthralled by her abilities to do what she does with prose. She is a brilliant stylist and storyteller. Open to any page and you will find a sentence (usually many) that will knock your socks off.

Here’s one:

“Every night my grandmother limps out of the liquor store with the submissive stoop of the genuflected and the promise of a liturgy to come in a bottle.”

I’m still looking for my socks, which were blown clear across town by that sentence and so many more.  Brava!

Interview with Tony Rauch

Tony Rauch

A man comes home to find a smelly beast watching TV in his living room. A paperboy spies on the suspicious new owner of the most nondescript house in the neighborhood. A man and his wife awake to find the roof torn off the top of their house… These are just a few of the premises behind the bizarre, inventive, and entertaining tales in Tony Rauch’s fiction collection, eyeballs growing all over me… again. Curious to know more about the author, I dropped him a line with a few hard-hitting journalistic questions…

Tell us a little bit about your book.

Well, here’s the description for the latest one – eyeballs growing all over me . . . again: A 140 page short story collection of imaginative, whimsical, dreamy, absurd, surreal fantasy, sci-fi, and fairy tale adventures. These fables will make great story starters for young adults and reluctant readers. Some of the pieces are absurdist or surreal adventures that hearken back to imaginative absurdism, sci-fi, and fantasy of the 1950s. With themes of longing, discovery, secrets, escape, eeriness, surprises, and strange happenings in everyday life, readers will delight in these brief but wondrous adventures.

Samples can be found on my website –  http://trauch.wordpress.com/.

What do you mean by “story starters”?

Some of the stories have traditional beginnings, middles, and endings. These are self-contained entities that make sense, where much of the information is provided for the reader.

Some stories are “micro-fiction,” “flash fiction,” or “fiction-against-scale” type smaller pieces.

The story starters are just fragments or open-ended beginnings designed to get you thinking about the ending, or possible endings. Some also have the middle, or parts of a middle. Some just have the middle. Some are designed to lead you down one possible path. But others just get you started, and can then go in any general direction. So your brain can devise a possible ending, or several different possible endings. These types of stories are meant to be more interactive, less passive, that hopefully engage you directly, that get you to think about what you would do in a situation. They do not have all the answers pre-packaged, pre-prescribed to you, though some people are uncomfortable with that kind of ambiguity.

Hopefully all the stories can draw a reluctant reader in. And hopefully their brevity will give a sense of accomplishment to reluctant readers after reading.

What initially got you interested in writing?

When I was a kid, my friends and I would draw a lot, and those drawings basically became illustrated stories with few words. I would also draw pictures, then assign captions and little explanations to them.

When I was in college I ran across some books of very brief writing that opened some previously unknown doors in my mind. These stories basically trimmed all the unneeded info, leaving a quick, punchy adventure. I happened across the anthology “Anti-story – experimental fiction” in the school library and it got me reading Donald Barthelme. Also, a friend had Richard Brautigan’s “Revenge of the Lawn” which really blew me away in its briefness, simplicity, directness, and imaginative tales, descriptions, and writing style.

I was in a lot of art classes in which you had to write brief notes about what you had drawn or painted. My adviser was one of my teachers and suggested I take some creative writing courses as electives as I needed to fill in more electives. He recognized this writing as the bare bones of stories and seemed to think I had enough material to really do well in the writing courses. I was always into art, creating, and writing, so this was a natural progression. I was already leaning naturally to the creative writing classes anyway, so having to fill in elective requirements was a great excuse to spend time and money on some creative writing courses.

In the writing classes I met more writers and was exposed to more published story types and writing styles and themes. Then I had some pieces in the school literary journal a few years in a row, so it snowballed from there.

Who are some writers who influence you?

That would be a long list. Mostly imaginative short story writers -

Older writers: Donald Barthelme, J.D. Salinger, Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Charles Bukowski, Leonard Michaels (murderers), Antoine de Saint Exupery (the little prince), Dr. Seuss (cool illustrations), Roald Dahl, Steve Martin (cruel shoes), W.P. Kinsella (the alligator report), Jim Heynen (the man who kept cigars in his cap).

Contemporary writers: Barry Yourgrau, Mark Leyner, Adrienne Clasky (from the floodlands), Etgar Keret, Stacey Richter, James Tate (Return to the city of white donkeys), Stephen-Paul Martin, Will Self, Denis Johnson (Jesus’ son), David Gilbert (I shot the hairdresser), David Sedaris, Paul Di Filippo.

Bizarro authors: D. Harlan Wilson, Andersen Prunty.

Science fiction from the 40s, 50s, and 60s: Rod Serling, L. Sprague De Camp, Ray Bradbury, Phillip K. Dick, Charles Beaumont.

What kind of effect do you hope your writing will have?

Great question. Hopefully -

  • To get people’s minds thinking about possibilities.
  • To get people to think about connecting previously unconnected ideas in their minds.
  • To get younger people away from video games and “reality” television.
  • To re-instill a sense of wonder, discovery, and possibilities about the world.
  • To keep my many many demons at bay.
  • To ultimately have a cheese named after me. Hopefully an unusually offensive smelling one.

What is the most surprising thing you have learned as a writer?

Another great question. Several surprises -

  • How much work it is. How long things take. It’s tough to be patient, though I am trying.
  • How much you have to sacrifice just to be minimally competent.
  • That it’s tough to get the word out that my books exist.
  • That a lot of institutions and publications are surprisingly very close-minded and provincial, and then there are others that are surprisingly very open-minded.
  • That a publisher and a small group of people found something curious and of value in some ideas that had just popped into my head.
  • That the landscape of literature is constantly changing, although quite slowly, and that there are endless possibilities out there in terms of getting published in quality online journals.

For more information about Tony Rauch, visit him on the web at: http://trauch.wordpress.com/.

Germ Warfare

Cold and flu season is upon us, so what better way to celebrate than with a bit of germ warfare — or at least a copy of Germ Warfare: An Anthology of Comics for Germs and their Generous Human Hosts?

This bizarre collection of comics takes a microscopic look at the world of infectious bacteria and offers, among other things, a germ’s eye view of the atrocities we humans commit every time we pump a dollop of sanitizer onto our hands or take a dose of penicillin.

Other highlights include several visits to the home of germaphobes Stew and Berryl Sterrel as they struggle to remain germ-free despite the best efforts of their baby and a comical retelling of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds.

Overall, this collection carries a strong underground comics vibe – none of the offerings more so than the Mark McGinty penned and Lupi McGinty illustrated “Perched on the Denim Slope,” a graphic homage to JG Ballard’s “The Drowned Giant” whose art is reminiscent of Charles Burns and the Hernandez brothers.

Bizarre, funny, and kind of gross, Germ Warfare is the perfect gift for the germ warrior in your life!

-Review by Marc Schuster

Badlands

I will gush in this review because I must. I read the last sentence of Badlands by Cynthia Reeves and could say nothing other than, “Oh my God.” I was challenged by this novella. I was mystified. I was enchanted, and I was taken in. But most of all, I was moved.

Badlands depicts the last hours in the life of Caroline Singleman, an erstwhile aspiring archaeologist who traded in her dream of uncovering Eden to raise a family with her husband, Daniel. Wracked with cancer, Caroline’s mind drifts from memories of her days in the field to hallucinations of the Lakota who perished in the Battle of Wounded Knee to moments of acute clarity in the here and now with Daniel and their children. Daniel, meanwhile, is struggling with his own ambivalence toward Caroline’s slow, tragic passing even as he discovers new details about his wife and her nearly forgotten past.

Given the subject matter, it only makes sense that this book offers some very heavy reading. At the same time, though, the hypnotic, dreamlike narrative coupled with Reeves’ poetic mastery of language makes for a transcendent reading experience. Stylistically, Badlands feels like a not-to-distant cousin of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway or, in its more poetic passages, Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Throughout, Reeves demonstrates that she can stand her ground with either of these literary giants.

A key theme in Badlands is the passage of time. Or, more accurately, the struggle, in the author’s words, to “pinpoint the moment one thing became another.” What, the novella dares to ask, is the difference between the past and the present? Where does yesterday end and today begin? It’s a conundrum that Reeves depicts with stunning clarity via Caroline’s obsession with the massacred Lakota, yet it’s the protagonist own gradual march toward her inevitable end that puts the finest point on the issue.

At some point, we’ll all face death. At some point, we’ll all experience the moment of crossing over, of changing from one thing into another. It’s what we do with all of those other moments — all of those “becomings,” all of those transformations from one day to the next — that matters, the novel all but cries out. Life happens in the interstices of time, yet it’s only in retrospect, only as we stitch together the aggregate impressions of memory, that we manage to make sense of it all.

All told, Badlands is a complex, beautiful, moving book from an author who understands better than most what it means to be human.

-Review by Marc Schuster.