Do the Dead Dream?

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 10.37.25 AMFall is upon us and Halloween is nigh, so if you’re looking for a good scare (or several dozen good scares), then look no further than FP Dorchak’s anthology of short horror fiction Do the Dead Dream? Collected here are forty-five short stories spanning the entirety of Dorchak’s writing career, many of which originally appeared in such esteemed publications as Black Sheep, Apollo’s Lyre, and The Waking Muse. And in each story, Dorchak’s skills as a storyteller with a penchant for considering not just alternate realities but alternate ways of thinking about reality are on full display. In other words, Do the Dead Dream? isn’t just scary… It’s also deep.

Truth be told, things get deep pretty quickly (and literally) with a piece titled “The Wreck,” in which a diver is inexplicably and undeniably drawn to mysterious shipwreck at the bottom of the sea. In this story, gets at the heart of human desire — particularly that brand of desire that is rife with conflict: The diver in question knows that his oxygen supply is limited, yet he keeps pushing, keeps going deeper and deeper in search of the truth behind the mysterious wreck. What mysterious force keeps pushing him? Or, more accurately, what mysterious force keeps drawing him in? And, more to the point, the story all but demands, what makes all of us keep seeking truths even when doing so might work against our better interests?

The theme of searching for truth continues in the following story, “The Walkers,” which finds the member of a mysterious tribe of — well — walkers sent to the rear flank of a long march to check on rumors of death and destruction. Once again, the truth (as Fox Mulder used to say) is out there, but it certainly isn’t pleasant. Also bound up in this particular tale is some subtle commentary on class and knowledge. To wit: Do the upper echelons and decision makers of society know something the rest of us don’t? And would society fall apart if suddenly we all knew it?

Not surprisingly, the search for truth raises more questions than it answers throughout Do the Dead Dream, but for my money, that’s always a sign of good art. Indeed, it’s also a hallmark of all of Dorchak’s work, particularly his novels like Sleepwalkers and Ero. Additionally, this is a substantial volume — forty-five stories spanning nearly 500 pages — so the creepiness and intrigue will certainly carry you well past Halloween and into the new year — and probably beyond!

 

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Dick Cheney in Shorts

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 12.54.49 PMMaybe it’s because he’s working with a new, more progressive press, but Dick Cheney in Shorts finds author Charles Holdefer in a puckish, experimental mood a few beats off from the more realist tone and style of his previous works like The Contractor and Back in the Game.  As the title suggests, the specter of former US Vice President Dick Cheney playfully drifts through this collection of short works and takes a variety of forms including (but not limited to) a curious if somewhat prudish customer in a “luxury pet shoppe,” a little boy with butterscotch hair who taunts his father’s demons, a figure very much like the historical Dick Cheney who shows up in short pants at a cookout attended by a man with a pair of horns protruding from his forehead, and — in the biggest stretch of the collection — admitting that he misled Americans about weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war in Iraq. In addition to Cheney, the figures who populate Holdefer’s imaginative landscapes include a man haunted by a phantom penis (a Dick of sorts, one is forced to wonder?), a syphilitic Bavarian baker who invents the fruitcake, and Leo the Lion of MGM films fame. Marked by a combination of repressed desire and existential angst, the characters all search for meaning against a backdrop of blabbering televisions and endless stretches of highway. In other words, these characters, as bizarre as they may seem, essentially inhabit the “real” world that you and I call home. This juxtaposition gives Holdefer’s fiction a dreamlike quality akin a David Lynch film in which identity is a fluid concept and the bizarre sits neatly and without comment next to the quotidian. Indeed, if the “Book Club Questions” that accompany Dick Cheney in Shorts (e.g., “Do you think enhanced interrogation would improve the honesty of your group?”) were ever actually used to guide a book discussion, Holdefer’s miracle would be complete as such an act would allow his fictive vision to bleed over into reality. Who knows, dear reader? Maybe you’ll be the one to make it happen.

The Fifth of July

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 9.31.54 AMIn her fourth novel, The Fifth of July, Kelly Simmons deftly explores the heartbreaking ambivalence of family life in upper-upper-middle-class America while also offering readers a classic page-turner in a style reminiscent of Agatha Christie.

At the heart of the novel is the Warner clan. Vacationing in their summer home on Nantucket, the Warners represent three generations of privilege. The family patriarch, Tripp Warner, is suffering from dementia, and his wife, Alice, is a closet anti-Semite who can’t stand the fact that their new neighbor is Jewish. Indeed, that their daughter, Caroline, suffered a sexual assault at the summer home in her youth seems not to bother the elder Warners so much as the fact that their new neighbor wants them to remove a widow’s walk from their roof in order to improve his view of the ocean. Caroline, meanwhile, is doing all she can to protect her preteen daughter from the predators who haunt the seemingly idyllic island. Within this largely dysfunctional context, Caroline’s husband, John, and brother, Tom, try in vain to maintain some modicum of normalcy, but their efforts are thwarted by the mysterious appearance of a Swastika on the front lawn and the increasingly erratic behavior of patriarch Tripp.

References to various shadowy events drive much of the novel. We know that something happened to Caroline when she was on the verge of adolescence, but we’re not sure what. We know that a tragedy or a crime is about to occur, but its exact nature remains unclear through much of the book. We can probably guess who cut the Swastika in the Warners’ lawn, but then we’re forced to guess and guess again. This constant guessing and second-guessing is what makes The Fifth of July a compelling read. Despite their cultivated outward shine, the characters are all so damaged that anything could have happened and anyone could have done it.

A Visit to California and New Material from Laini Colman and From Apes to Angels…

Zapateria: The World of Zapatero

Wow! I just noticed that my last blog post was on June 6. Where does the time go? In my case, some of it went to California for a while…

I also did a bit of traveling more locally and worked on some music. At the moment, I’m having visions of a concept album about a robot who learns to play the (virtual) flute after humanity has been wiped from the face of the planet. The music has a bit of a mechanized Sergio Mendes & Brazil ’66 feel to it.

And speaking of music and robots (or other-worldly beings of one sort or another), Laini Colman has a new track out — a hypnotic cover of Bjork’s “Human Behaviour.” Though Colman freely admits that Bjork is an acquired taste, her cover of the song has convinced me that it’s a taste worth acquiring. With a drum track reminiscent of…

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Tracking the Man-Beasts

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 9.26.51 AMIt would be tempting to paint Joe Nickell, author of Tracking the Man-Beasts, as a bit of a wet blanket — like the well-meaning uncle who tells kids there’s no such thing as Santa Claus or the neighborhood know-it-all who has an answer for everything. But that’s not what he is — not even close. Far from being a cantankerous curmudgeon who laments humanity’s gullibility in the face of the seemingly inexplicable, he’s a clear-eyed, level-headed investigator who revels in uncovering the truth.

Given the proliferation of man-beasts over the centuries, Nickell is wise to divide his investigation into five categories: “Monster” Men (including a wide range of circus “freaks”), Hairy Man Beasts (of the Yeti and Sasquatch varieties), Supernaturals (like werewolves and vampires), Extraterrestrials (in various shapes and sizes), and Manimals (which take the form of either human-headed animals or animal-headed humans). Throughout the proceedings, Nickell offers a fascinating blend of historical context, pop psychology, and personal experience to explain the seemingly inexplicable. While several of the man-beasts in question are revealed as hoaxes, many others emerge as manifestations of humanity’s greatest hopes and fears. We see Yeti in the footprints of mangy animals because we want to believe that nature still holds mysteries. We see little “green” men in place of barred and barn owls because we want to believe we’re not alone. And, of course, we tend to see all of these phenomena in under cover of night because that’s when our fearful imaginations are most fertile.

While Tracking the Man-Beasts thoroughly debunks the mythologies surrounding many cryptozoological legends, the book’s ultimate revelation is humanity’s infinite capacity for ingenuity and imagination. To borrow a phrase from The X-Files, the truth is certainly out there, and Nickell’s investigation drags it, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the light of day.

Submissions Being Accepted at End of 83

Submissions are now being accepted at End of 83, a literary magazine published online and in print by the Baltimore Writing Hour, a public writing group in Baltimore, MD. End of 83 seeks to publish the best in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, illustration, and photography. They love good pieces about Baltimore and the Mid Atlantic but do not exclusively […]

via Call for Submissions: End of 83 Magazine — JMWW

Who Knew?

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 12.38.28 PMOn the surface, Richard F. Libin’s Who Knew? is a commonsense guide to the somewhat lost art of salesmanship. The problem, as Libin describes it, is that even seasoned salespeople have lost sight of what selling is about. In his words, “Most people believe that selling something means persuading someone to purchase a product or a service. This is where salespeople and sales in general start to fail. Effective selling starts with the customer, not with what you are trying to sell.” In other words, sales isn’t about products. It’s about people. And while good salespeople certainly have expertise about the products and services they are selling, the best have greater expertise in relating to others.

Appropriately, Who Knew? is as much a guide to selling as it is a guide to relationships, and Libin’s advice is applicable to people in all walks of life. What’s more, it’s easy to understand. Whether he’s extolling the power of positive thinking, sharing anecdotes from his own experience as both a salesperson and a customer, or proffering strategies for improving one’s listening skills, Libin comes across as a down-to-earth, practical tutor whose aim is to share his experience. Reading his book is like being with someone who’s been in the trenches, has no plans of leaving them, and is now on hand to help anyone who needs some advice.

Ultimately, Libin’s is a gospel of mindfulness. In sales as with everything else in life, we need to be present in all of our dealings. Or, in Libin’s words, to succeed, “You must be 100% in the game and ready to work with a single-minded focus for each client.” A tall order in a world that’s increasingly filled with all sorts of distractions, but one worth heeding nonetheless.

An excellent primer for anyone considering a job in sales or looking to brush up on their sales practices, Who Knew? also works as a practical handbook for the myriad social exchanges we all experience in everyday life.