Saturday, June 30, 2012

Summer Reading #2: Running with the Demon

Terry Brooks is known for his novels of high adventure starting with The Sword of Shannara. I picked up Running with the Demon at my local library's book sale having already journeyed with Brooks through his realms of fantasy. I was excited to see what he would do in a more realistic setting and I was pleased with the result.

Running with the Demon is about a force of great evil invading a small Illinois town and the people who stand against it. Magic and nightmarish creatures called "feeders" run amok in the forests surrounding this small town as it prepares for a 4th of July celebration. At the same time a stranger rides into town on a quest to hunt down this evil while being plagued by visions of an apocalyptic future should he fail. Events quickly spiral out of control as people become possessed by this evil and jeopardize the future of the human race.

I must admit, I was a little skeptical when I first started reading this novel. There was this uncomfortable feeling that I was diving into a saccharine sweet modern fantasy tale without substance to it. Knowing that the author was Terry Brooks, though, helped me read on and get over this feeling. Magic and fantastical creatures play such a vital role in this novel that these characters could easily inhabit the realm of Flick Ohsmford and the druid Allanon on their quest for the sacred sword. Brooks just can't seem to resist the allure of fantasy. But then again, the genres of horror and fantasy are so closely related that it's sometimes hard to tell the two apart. Horror usually involves fear of the unknown, while fantasy is filled with creatures and powers beyond our ken. What is scarier than facing something that you can't understand?

I appreciate Brook's ability to capture the mood and voice of Midwestern folks. Being raised in the state of Missouri, I could easily imagine the people of the town in this novel. The rising tension in the second half of the novel was also very well done. It was fast but not so fast that it left me behind. It had me rooted in place and wouldn't let me go until the story was over. Unlike The Tommyknockers, which felt like prolonged torture (the good kind of torture, mind you), Running was more like a short and sweet roller coaster that strapped me in for an exhausting ride. I'm not saying that it was better than the last book I read, but it was different and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Next time I'll be taking on a much shorter book by Frank G. Slaughter (god, such a great name!) in a work of historical fiction called The Purple Quest.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Reading #1: The Tommyknockers

 Hi, all.

I thought it would be fun to write down my thoughts about books I'm reading over the summer. Aside from job hunting, what else is there for a college grad with a BA in English to do?

So anyway, today we have some classic Stephen King with the The Tommyknockers. Mr. King is not for everyone. The man once described his work as "the literary equivalent to a Big Mac with fries." Sure enough, there is a lot of greasiness to his characters and plots. Course language, sex, violence, death, monsters, and other nasty bits. If you're looking for something more "intellectual" then you're better off reading something else. Like a gardening magazine. You know, something safe. That is, of course, until the tomatoes come alive and try to eat you...

This novel starts with Roberta Anderson, a writer who discovers a piece of shiny metal buried in the woods near a sleepy New England town. She becomes obsessed with this thing and starts digging it up. She discovers that this piece of metal is part of an alien spaceship and her digging it up opens a kind of Pandora's box over the town. The locals begin to have ideas for fantastic inventions. Floating tractors, automatic postal sorting machines, typewriters that read your mind and write your stories for you, portals to other dimensions, and ray guns. However, the people in town start to lose their identities and become linked in a hive mind directed towards the goal of unearthing the rest of the spaceship. Horror, madness, and death quickly follows as the influence of the craft reaches out to more people and threatens the future of  the entire human race. The only man who seems capable of stopping the coming destruction is Anderson's friend, Jim Gardener, who is often drunk out of his mind and too afraid to commit to anything serious.

I have always enjoyed reading King's work. His prose is warm and fluid and always drags me in no matter how outlandish the situation is. I particularly enjoy his use of parenthesis to show how his character's stream of consciousness, which often results in said characters talking with themselves and falling into madness. I have yet to read any other author who is capable of showing such deep psychological turmoil in their characters. I also enjoy how he captures the dialect of the Northeastern United States, which always brings those chaw-chewing, gossip trading New Englanders to life. If you are familiar with other stories by King, you may recognize echoes of It, Pet Cemetary, and Cell in this novel. At one point in the story, a news reporter is murdered by a flying Coke machine. King never trusted machines.

Some people might be annoyed with the fact that, like most of his other works, the protagonists in this story are writers. Critics may see it as egotistical or lacking in creativity on King's part. I am not bothered by this because the protagonist's careers are not a driving force behind this story. The horror of losing their minds to an alien force and losing the ones they love to this force is more dominant than anything else. Besides, King is very passionate about the craft of writing. Who are we to say to an author that he or she are not allowed write what they know? On the other hand, this is a trope that can be overused and could be seen as weak writing. However, King is one of the few authors who can pull this off and still deliver a powerful story.

As I've mentioned before, King is not for everyone, but if you're in the mood for the literary equivalent of an order of fast food delivered by solid writing, then this is a good book to read. Next time I will look at Terry Brook's Running with the Demon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury 1920-2012

Ray Bradbury's work has been a great inspiration to me ever since High School. I was a sophomore when I first read "Fahrenheit 451" for Mr. McKeon's English class. It was one of the first books to really scare the living crap out of me. The metallic dog was the most gripping part of the novel, shortly followed by the planes flying overhead to drop atomic bombs on the cities sleeping on the horizon. The whole novel was terrifying, but it showed me how powerful books can be and why those in power would fear them.

The next Bradbury novel I read was "The Martian Chronicles." I was sitting in a school bus coming home from a marching competition. The kids around me where talking about the shiny trophies we won while I was getting lost on the face of Bradbury's Mars. The bus was rolling down a stretch of highway cutting through barren hills. The sun was setting and the sky was turning orange and red. I looked up and felt my heart race. For a moment, I really thought I was on the desolate surface of Mars. Australia was gone. The message from Earth had come screaming into my ears: "War! War! Come home! Come home!"

"Dandelion Wine," "Something Wicked This Way Comes," and his short story "There Will Come Soft Rains" are other fantastic stories that continue to inspire me. His work was groundbreaking and will continue to be read for years to come. The man will be missed.

How about you? What are your favorite books, poems, or short stories by Ray Bradbury?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Fun, Fun, Fun

I was feeling jazzed with myself the day after seeing my story "Georgia Peach" published online. It was like I had pole-vaulted to the moon and back and still had time to win the Daytona 500. I was eating breakfast Saturday morning, letting the word PUBLISHED take laps around my subconscious, when I noticed the June issue of Newsweek magazine sitting on the table. Believe it or not, folks, but I read other things aside from horror. I start reading the magazine until I come across an article that makes the Cocoa Puffs in my stomach do a little dance. The article is called "The Beach Boys' Crazy Summer" by Andrew Romano. Now, if you've read "Georgia Peach" (and if you haven't by now, I suggest you do), you'll notice that a certain Beach Boys song is a recurring element in the story. I think to myself, "damn, what are the odds?" So I start reading.

But the more I read the faster those little chocolate corn starch balls dance in my stomach juices.

This particular article focuses on Brian Wilson, who wrote, produced, and sang most of the Beach Boy's greatest hits. A recent photo of Mr. Wilson accompanies this article. His hair is gray and his skin covered in wrinkles; he is certainly no longer the image of eternal youth. His hands are clasped against his cheeks and his eyes are closed. He appears to be in a state of meditation. The man suffers from schizoaffective disorder. Sometimes he hears voices. Voices that say "I'm going to kill you." Did these voices come from the drugs he consumed or from his abusive father? Wherever these voices came from, Wilson has been able to channel his frustrations into great music and the world is a better place for it. But reading this article got me thinking about an old video with Wilson and the Boys playing in front of a crowd of screaming teenagers in 1965. They sing "California Girls" on a stage designed like a beach boardwalk complete with dancing extras and a billboard advertising fifty cent hamburgers. Wilson is hitting those high notes and strumming his guitar and smiling and all I can wonder is this: did you hear those voices back then, Brian? (I wish they all could be I'm going to kill you California girls.) Did you use the power of your music to drown them out, to stay sane and not have a break down on national television?

Fortunately, this was never the case. An interviewer asked him if he ever heard these voices while singing. "No," Brian said, "not when I'm singing, no." The interviewer then asks when he hears them. "When I'm not singing or writing." The same can be said for many artists.

Keep doing what you do best, Mr. Wilson. Just remember, folks:
Don't worry baby
Everything will turn out alright.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Woo Hoo! (Part 2)

Heya, folks.

"Georgia Peach" is now up on SNM magazine's June Jilted Lovers issue AND it is the magazine's story of the month. This story will also appear in a print anthology later this year.

Here's the link to the website:

Once you're at the website click on "SNM June/July Issue 2" and scroll down to the bottom until you see my mugshot.