Guest Post: Research and the Author

My version of research usually involves thinking things up and then pretending they’re true. Since I work predominantly in the urban fantasy, horror, and sci-fi realms, that approach works fine for me. Were I to, say, switch to historical fiction, it might not work so well. Fortunately for everyone, UK author Lyssa Medana is here to teach us how to take a more disciplined and realistic approach to research. So, pads and pencils, everyone; class is now in session. -EL

What is Research?

Not everyone uses glasses for research, but if I don’t have mine on everything is just blurred squiggles.

Research is a tricky thing. You may think that you are just strolling along, admiring the flowers in the neighbours’ garden and enjoying a sunny afternoon. However, three years later, when you need to describe a sunny suburban garden, you have that memory. You have already researched the flowers in a sunny suburban garden. You didn’t realise that you were researching. You thought you were just enjoying yourself.

Or you could be knitting or working on a crossword with a YouTube documentary running in the background. The gremlins have led you to a surprisingly entertaining video on medieval food. Six months later, when you are describing a medieval feast, a memory prods you. You may not be able to remember the details, but you know enough to start you off.

Or there’s the more traditional methods. This involves visiting libraries and bookshops to find books and papers on the subject. Or perhaps it involves visiting an area so that you work out the atmosphere and the layout of roads and buildings. And there is the wonderful time spent reading and watching things that aren’t exactly about the subject but are vaguely background material. That background material can point you in the right direction when you are looking, for example, for what sort of saddle was used in tenth century France, or when sugar reached Europe.

Why Research?

The main reason to research your material is so that you don’t look like an idiot. No matter how obscure, no matter how arcane, if you get a detail wrong there will be some kind soul out there that will helpfully correct the tiny, tiny detail and post it absolutely everywhere. They will make a meme and share it in places you never knew existed. It will haunt you.

And, to be fair, it is also to help your readers. I remember reading a book set in an alternative London around 1900. It was a cracking book, which I really enjoyed, but I ended up feeling a little let down. At one point the heroine served a breakfast that was sausage gravy and biscuits. Most of the readers here will enjoy the thought and recognise that as a good and substantial breakfast. To me, and any other Brit, it sounds weird. I have no idea what sausage gravy even looks like. To me, biscuits are things like chocolate chip cookies and Oreos. The thought of that lot with any sort of gravy first thing in the morning is not inviting. It’s normal in all sorts of places, but not in any sort of London, not without an in depth re-writing of history.

The reason I mention the biscuits and sausage gravy is that it is the first thing I remember when I think of that book and that is such a shame as it was a great story. It was a minor detail that was easily overlooked and yet had such an impact on me and lessened my enjoyment. I haven’t followed up any of the sequels yet, as that silly, simple detail took off some of the shine.

How to Research

Now that’s a library. Ours in NM just have terrible fluorescent lighting.

This will vary from writer to writer. Despite all these notes, I don’t spend hours and hours poring over research material before writing. Sometimes I don’t really bother much at all. If you are writing a little flash fiction as a writing exercise, you do not usually need to spend much time on the background. The research is to keep your ears and eyes open. It’s remembering situations and conversations that you have had or overheard. That sort of research is ongoing as you slot details away in your memory.

Other background research can be reading and browsing around a particular subject. If you want to write a swashbuckling tale set in late eighteenth century France and the French Revolution, you can settle down with a snack, a drink and a comfy chair to enjoy some background research. For this period I would start by re-reading some of the Scarlet Pimpernel books by Baroness Orczy (which are great fun and possibly less than accurate) or watch some of the Sharpe episodes with Sean Bean (also great fun but no idea of the accuracy). Depending on the detail I needed, I might look at some YouTube videos of re-enactments of the Napoleonic Wars. The amazing people who take part in the re-enactments can be fanatical about authentic detail and will discuss the implications with anyone standing still long enough.

The next part depends on your style of writing. If you are a writer that has a meticulous outline of the story, then sorting out the research is easier for you. You will know the settings and locations and will be able to check contemporary maps (urban planning can do far more damage to a road system than two world wars and a few revolutions), buildings, clothing and food. You can make notes in a methodical manner, informed by background reading, and be ready to go. If, however, you are a pantser like me, you will find yourself breaking off in the middle of writing a tense confrontation to quickly check what canned soups were available in 1893. But as you have still done the background reading, you know that not only were canned soups available in 1893, but where to start looking for ideas.

However you go about it, the first general sweep over the background will let you know of websites, books, papers, videos and people who are able to help you with the fine details and give you a chance to make notes of the information that you need. I also suggest that after you have finished the first draft, go over some of the background information and any notes again before starting to edit.

I’ve used historical examples but contemporary settings need the same care. I have never been to New York City. If I want to set an adventure there, I really ought to visit. Getting the indefinable feel of the place can make all the difference if you want to add atmosphere. If I can’t make it in person, I can still get a small feel for the place. I can use online maps to see how roads and buildings are laid out. I can check out Facebook pages, blogs, podcasts, contemporary films and tv programmes for more information. I can check house and rent prices from realtors, the cost of tickets to the theatre by looking on maps, finding the theatre and checking their website, and I can even find the cost of a subway ticket ($2.75 at time of typing which sounds like a bargain to me). You don’t need these huge swathes of detail, but they can build up a background and add colour. All you need to do is get a sense of the wider setting and then know that there are more resources than just the library if you need them.

When to Walk Away.

Flowers are always good. Unfortunately, I live in a desert and our flowers hate people.

Earlier, I mentioned the biscuits with sausage gravy. It took a little of the shine from the story, but that story was still an epic story. It had great characters, interesting twists and great pace. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, I think that a great story with a weird breakfast is much better than a poor story that centres around the availability of sausages and savoury scones in late nineteenth century London. If the research gets in the way of the story, junk the research.

Authors write to entertain. Readers want to be entertained with tense confrontations, romance, daring deeds, excitement and horror. They aren’t concerned with the nature of the dyes in Fay Wray’s dress as she is swept up by King Kong. They want to get to the action!

I like to think of research as the shapewear of fiction. It isn’t particularly attractive by itself and you don’t need to see it, but it helps the story look more alluring, keeping the curves of excitement in just the right place.

Where to Research

I hate to admit it, but I’ve learned more than I can to think about from YouTube. Install a toilet, change the fan on a Dodge Caliber, completely rebuild a laptop, etc.

Apart from the obvious resources of keeping your eyes open, long rambling conversations with strangers and anecdotes from family, here are a few places that I pick up information.

Wikipedia – My personal opinion (and there are many differing opinions on this) is that Wikipedia is good enough for fiction. It’s not just the content of the articles, but also the wonderful list of references at the end that can lead you to all sorts of interesting places. Wikipedia isn’t just a list of articles. If you scroll down the front page and keep your eye on the left hand side bar, you can see a list of related sites. Wikisource and Wikibooks are free books and documents which are always a temptation. There is the Wiktionary and also Wiki Commons with some amazing pictures. To take an example from above, I checked for images of New York and I found some wonderful pictures to get a sense of the place, together with a variety of maps of different dates.

Project Gutenberg – This is the most amazing resource of free ebooks. Most are old books and out of copyright, but contemporary travel accounts of, for example, nineteenth century Greece, are great background. There are also cookbooks.

Libraries – If you head to a central library, they often have an archive of old newspapers and magazines. I can, and have, spent hours enjoying the adverts and advice mixed in with the news and opinions. Their reference section is usually reliable and the librarians are amazingly helpful.

Going Official – Local and national governments have all sorts of bits of information tucked away. This can range from street plans to records. It can also have details like the opening times of public parks and contacts for local history groups.

Company Records – that’s where I’ve found information on the history of aluminium smelting and the timeline for tinned tomatoes. It’s always worth checking to see if there are insights there and quite often there are snippets and insights that give an extra polish to some detail.

YouTube – I’ve already mentioned that re-enactment videos are a great source of background. Did you know that a lot of universities have their own YouTube Channels, including Yale. You can dip into all sorts of lectures for free. Many big museums and art galleries have channels as well. Away from the academic channels, I strongly suggest reading and watching a variety of sources as some YouTube channels are more reliable than others. There are some really great and trustworthy sources, but also some that are seriously misleading.

Facebook and other social media – Speaking of reliable, you can find all sorts of local history groups, interest groups, hobbies and schools on social media. I do not suggest that you take advice on there for anything concerning health, wealth or religion.

And here’s a tip if you are struggling – if you need to know a detail but aren’t sure, go on somewhere like Reddit or Quora and post the question. Then change to a different account and confidently post an absolutely, definitely, completely wrong answer. Then go make yourself a beverage of your choice and come back in about five minutes. You will find there at least fourteen pages of hotly disputed facts, some serious feuds, a few off colour jokes, a reference to Hitler and, in amongst the wreckage, the correct answer.

Have fun writing.

I would love to hear your reaction to this, and if you know any great places for information, it would be wonderful if you could share.

Lyssa Medana is a wife and mother who loves telling stories. You can find her on her blog, Always Another Chapter and she would love to hear from you.

You can also find Lyssa on Facebook, so drop her a line and say, “Hi!”

Book Review – Revived by Barbara Avon

There’s an old Biblical saying that goes the wages of sin is death. The underlying interpretation wasn’t necessarily that if you sinned, you died physically, although that has been known to happen from time to time. Rather, the message was really about spiritual death; the loss of ourselves in our undying quest for gratification. I guess you could say it stands to reason that every little bad thing we do clings to us like a desperate, needy girlfriend with a drinking problem and a violent temper. Hooked into that theory is a message of atonement: Y’all done fucked up and need to fix it.

Years ago, I read a story about the Hellbound train where the passengers weren’t necessarily being dragged to Hell for eternal punishment because, let’s face it, that’s a dumb idea and a complete waste of resources. Rather, the passengers got to experience every little bad thing they did from the perspective of the recipient of those actions. A little experience goes a long way, especially when you get to see things through someone else’s eyes. Personally, I like to think my atonement will be brief, but I like to think a lot of things that aren’t necessarily true.

So, this leads us to the latest afterlife mindscrew from Barbara Avon. Recall, last year I did a review of her Owl Motel, which follows similar patterns. You die and – guess what! – all the bad shit you did in life is waiting for you on the other side. In the case of Revived, all the bad shit you did in life comes back to visit you after you come back to life after being dead for a while. That’s right; some things you simple can’t escape. Just like that clingy girlfriend, there are some things you can’t escape by simply dying. Some things require the afterlife equivalent of steel brushes and bags of lye. But, let’s be honest, you weren’t really using those top layers of skin anyway.

There’s a lingering scent of terror throughout the whole of Revived. It’s not necessarily a tale of punishment and redemption – in fact it could be argued that the main character never achieves redemption. Revived is a look back on a life that our main character thought was, at the very least justifiable, if not actually okay only to closely examine just how nasty it really was.

Like many good authors, Avon has latched onto a tale as old as time itself – the notion that there must be atonement – and used it to springboard into a modern, terrifying ale. Revived doesn’t pull punches. It gets in your face and shrieks at you like a coked-up banshee. It’s one hell of a ride and I loved every page of it. Even if you kick the morality subtext to the curb, there’s still a river of unexplored misery snaking through here and the kick in the gut that comes with exploring that misery.

If you’re looking for a story that doesn’t flinch at exposing the ugly, this is a good one. Well written, well paced, generally superb. Just don’t expect to let it slide off you because it’s going to hang out with for a while whether you want the company or not.

Escaping through the woods, he remembered the way he had disturbed tree branches and how the snow had fallen in clumps on his head as if God was smiting him for his sin.

Steven Gold was a man who turned heads. Men in suits wanted to be him. Women wanted to know him. Little old ladies wished to adopt him to fill the void of missing grandsons. His surname suited him. He lived an idyllic life with his wife of eleven years, Cassie, an artist whose passion for life was so deep, she blocked out the childhood memories that were the cause of her anxiety. On a rainy night, a celebratory dinner proved fateful when Steven was struck by a car. He died for a full 60 seconds. When they revived him, his sins followed him back. Set in 1994, “Revived” is a haunting psychological horror that reminds us that being sorry for our sins, does not free us from damnation, and that not even the ones we love the most can save us. He should have stayed dead. Some disturbing scenes.

Get your copy on Amazon
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WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

This is likely going to be the last of the We Are The World Blogfest posts. It’s been going on for years now and this will be my 46th post. Yeah, I’ve missed a few here and there and, let’s face it, they haven’t all been winners, but I like to think we’ve brought a bit of light into an ever-darkening world. Hell, even if it’s just been my silly pictures at the end of each post, it’s better than poked in the eye with a stick or getting whacked in the lips with a dead weasel. A smile, even if it’s just in passing, is something to strive for. Smiles are free to give; you just have to find something good and talk about it. Or, you know, post some weird-ass gifs and pictures of dogs.

Ball of floof

See. You just smiled. Admit it. No one can resist the power of dogs.

Here’s the thing: The silliness will continue. The tragedy will continue. The general weirdness of the world will continue. And we’ll all continue to survive and thrive because that’s what we do. Even if it means we have to go to the mall and throw cheeseburgers at teenagers or watch movies about people in tights slamming each other around, something will always keep our heads above water.

So long, WATWB; it’s been a hell of a run and it proved a small group of people can do something good. Maybe, at some point in the future, we’ll try it all again. Until then, just be the person who can look at the world and get the joke.

Special thanks go out to Damyanti Biswas, Belinda Witzenhausen, Sylvia McGrath, Mary J Giese, Simon Falk, Lizbeth Hartz, and all the others who kept the faith alive when the crew was up against it, the breaks were beating the boys, that got out there and gave it all they got and won just one for the Zipper.

And now your very last moment of Zen.

Book Review: Shiver by Gevera Bert Piedmont

Word to the wise: If you get a chance to hock your book somewhere, you take it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a book blast blog or some lunatic lying stoned out of his gourd in the gutter. If you get a chance to push your book, do it and don’t look back.

Why do I bring this up? Well, Gevera Bert Piedmont has a wonderful book about mermaids and sharks that I accidentally stumbled across on one of my many sojourns across the seedy side of the Internet. It may have been in a group on Facebook or it may have been one of the writers’ threads on Fark. At any rate, I saw it and something about caught my eye. Probably the fact that it had a mermaid on the cover and I’ve never read a book about mermaids. So, what the heck, right?

Well, what I found wasn’t entirely what I expected, but it was much cooler. So, yeah, mermaids. But there’s also snappy dialogue, a fun plot, and a wildly exciting ride with podcasters, a high-tech arm, crab cakes, and a self-proclaimed mad scientist. All set in a town that Lovecraft would have written if he had any sense of humor or ability to write fun, quirky characters instead of loquacious, brooding husks of people broken down by the unseen horrors of deep, dark madness.

Now, I won’t give away the plot because this a tight cross between horror and mystery and the rules are you never give away the plots to those genres. Suffice it to say: Mermaids. But not like you expect. Add an exceptionally clever way of turning the initial antagonists into likeable – or at least relatable – characters while turning the possible victims into ample antagonists, toss in some outsiders who use their heads to find a third way, and you get a story that starts off horror-ish, turns into a great mystery, and ends on a note that makes you pang for more of Mickey’s down-to-Earth relatability and Pris’s wild-on-the-stick energy even if we never do get see the energy-sucking fey.

All in all, Shiver is just a damned fun book to read. It carries its somewhat lofty notes easily and doesn’t get overburdened by itself. And, at the end of the day, a fun book is a far better read than a lofty tome that leaves you wondering if you should slit your wrists or someone else’s.

Get it and enjoy it. It’ll leave a smile on your face.

A 25-year-old one-armed woman, Mickey Crow, and her best friend, reluctant socialite Pris, are hired by a friend to investigate a mysterious midnight disappearance of a lifeguard trainee for their paranormal podcast, the Contrary Crowcast.

Shell Beach turns out to be an odd place full of strange people. Why does the diner’s waitress have a swimming pool full of sharks? Why is there no internet? Did that old fisherman with one leg really inspire the author of Jaws? Who is in the water constantly calling for help?

The answer will make you SHIVER.

Get Shiver on Amazon.

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#WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

Thanksgiving is the quiet time before the madness as far as I’m concerned. For those of you that don’t live in the US, the day after Thanksgiving is widely known as “Black Friday”. Not to commemorate the stock market crash of 1869 or the stock market crash of 1929 or the stock market crash of 2008, but rather it’s because this is the one magical day when retailers hope to “get into the black” and hopefully become profitable. So, like all good Capitalists, they drop some blood in the water in the form of cheap-ass electronics no one needs at deep, deep discounts and let the consumer sharks feast on each other.

In past years, Black Friday has been responsible for a number deaths by trampling and at least one person waving a gun around in WalMart because she really, really wanted that XBox. It’s also the day I stay as far away from stores as possible. Partially because I don’t really like crowds and hate being trampled, but also because it’s all just a bunch more crap I really don’t need. So, I largely eschew buying a bunch of presents and focus on being happy that I’ve got my wife and son around.

Samantha Baines, a children’s book author, took things one step further and pledged to send a gift-wrapped copy of her own book to anyone who asked for it so no one will have to wake up Xmas morning without a gift under the tree. You can read her story here.

But, you know what? That kind of got me thinking. I don’t have a bunch of copies of my own books lying around, but I have plenty of digital copies. So, if you want one of them or all of them, drop me a line and tell me what format you want and I’ll be happy to email you copies.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are: Sylvia Stein and yours truly.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~
1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).
2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.
3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.
4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.
5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.
6. If you’d like to join the madness, check out our Twitter feed or Facebook page.

And now, your moment of Zen.

Book Review – Gods Are Born by D.W. Hitz

I love a good superhero story. I especially love the ones that break from the norm. The superhero genre is one of those places where it’s easy to go the established route. Guy (or gal) puts on tights and fights crime. Plug a little wiggle room into and you wind up someone in tights violently fighting crime. Maybe you get an anti-hero or two who are almost as bad – or worse – than the criminals they’re fighting. Toss in a supervillain to give the hero or heroine a need for their skillset and powers and do your best to keep making the stories crazier and crazier while avoiding calling it what it is: Gods fighting gods while the rest of us look on and wonder whether or not our insurance will cover the damage to our car when some asshole drops another car on it. Probably not. Act of god and all that.

D.W. Hitz, in his book Gods Are Born, does away with both the notions of tights and crime fighting and gives us some human character with very human flaws who had power foisted on them. Rather than immediately head out to make things right by punching evil in its sniveling little face, most of them are simply trying to survive like normal people. At some recent point in the past there was a devastating war between some of the gods that left the world a complete train wreck. Imagine an entire planet run by Texas and you’ll get the idea.

All the characters – gods, as Hitz calls them – have very normal human traits. Some want to rule over everything and have zero qualms crushing anyone in their way, others use their power to make a quick buck, while others use their powers to remain hidden away from the world. In other words, these are all people with all of the usual quirks and failings people tend to have. They’re not perfect and they don’t have some internal quest to fulfill. Most of them just want to be left alone. And that is a pleasant change from stories about people with a mad quest to save the world from itself.

Of course, this is a story, so almost no one gets their wishes fulfilled. In fact, a goodly number of them see their dreams crushed, often violently. Which bring us to the 400lb gorilla in the room. While officially marketed as superhero fiction and first contact sci-fi (there are aliens in the book, BTW, but they’re less interesting than the gods), the cover almost shrieks YA. Not that there’s anything wrong with YA, but Gods Are Born doesn’t feel YA to me. The cover isn’t necessarily bad, it just doesn’t fit with the book in my opinion. This is a mature read covering some dense turf and handling it well. So, ignore the cover and listen to the story: This is about people with godlike powers trying to figure out what to do. And not a single one of them has chosen to fight crime. It’s YA in the same way The Dark Knight Returns was YA. In other words, not really YA at all. Not that a younger audience wouldn’t be able to read it or appreciate it, mind you, it’s just written for an older, wiser reader. A serious story on serious Earth, if we were to look back at the bat again.

So, where does that leave us? Honestly in a good place. Ignore the cover art and focus on the story. There’s a good deal of exposition – mostly the bits about the preceding war – that is fertile soil for a novel unto itself. (Yes, D.K., I am asking for a prequel). More to the point, we’ve got fully realized characters striving to just make it in a world gone pretty bonkers. Superheroes, but not the goody two shoes kind we’re used to.

Definitely a good read and worthy of a prequel.

This is not the world you know.

When aliens crashed on Earth, everything changed. Humanity has been decimated by predators and plague. Electromagnetic waves render most technology useless. The survivors are afflicted by strange mutations—some troubling, others amazing.

Kaysa simply desires to live her life. When forced to use her powers, someone always gets hurt.

Tony loves being a hitman. The pay is good, and with his abilities, most jobs are a cakewalk.

The bloodthirsty King of the Republic is unsatisfied. A power greater than his own beckons to him from the beyond.

And to realize his destiny, he must bring the others to it.

Gods are Born follows the paths of seven extraordinary beings as they struggle to survive, to find peace within themselves, and ultimately to defeat the King…

…and something far worse than they can imagine.

Get your copy on Amazon

Follow D.W. on Twitter

Check out his website

#WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

I got both my Covid booster and my flu vax shot last night. Same arm. One show two inches above the other like a badass. Other than a bit of soreness in my arm that may just be due to my earlier badass workout, I’m all good. No second head. No super powers. No 5G brainwaves. No more government tracking than usual. It could be the tinfoil fedora I wear around, but it’s beginning to look like all the horror stories of the vax turning people into slavering mutants were just the fevered dream of people who know fuck-all about how the world works.

But I digress.

We’ve tried vaccinations and masking and while those work to some extent, there’s still a contingent of mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers out there who seem hell-bent on dragging this whole pandemic out as long as possible in the name of their freedoms. At this rate, it doesn’t seem like there’s that much we can do to smash Covid in its tiny balls. It’s too quick for us, too ready to change, too fully ingrained into the environment for us to ever be completely rid of it. Which means years from now you could be innocently planing boards or robbing sperm banks, take a breath at the wrong time and – bam! – your sense of smell and taste have borked off and a fever is treating your body like a two-dollar whore.

The vast majority of people who get that level of sick – especially when they’re fully vaxxed – is will walk away from it within a few days. But what about the drooling idiots who refuse to wear masks because reasons and refuse to get vaxxed because they’re worried they’ll grow a second head? Or, worse yet, what about all those countries that simply cannot afford to vaccinate their populations?

Take those problems together and you’ve got yourself a recipe for problem soup with a side of endemic bread topped with a delightful ivermectin crema.

Fortunately, the big pharma groups have decided to play a little ball with the world. Don’t worry, they’re getting paid so it’s not like they’re going hungry. Merck, for instance, developed a pill that seems pretty damned good at stopping the bad Covid infections before they become disastrous put-you-in-the-hospital-with-a-tube-rammed-down-your-throat-and-not-in-a-sexy-way infections. And Merck, possibly looking forward to an endemic future where Covid pills are a regular thing, has agreed to share the formula royalty-free with others until the WHO (not the one with Pete Townsend, the other one. The one with the doctors) has decreed that Covid is no longer a world-wide emergency. Considering the fact that Covid will be with us probably forever, that means Merck has years of royalties to look forward to even after the pandemic is “over”.

So, on the one hand, good for them. Merck’s putting people over profits at least for the time being. On the other, maybe we don’t need to throw out our shoulders patting them on the back since Covid will never fully go away.

Check the original story here.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are: Sylvia McGrath and Belinda Witzenhausen

~~~GUIDELINES~~~
1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).
2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.
3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.
4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.
5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.
6. If you’d like to join the madness, check out our Twitter feed or Facebook page.

And now, your moment of Zen.

Book Review – Night Shadow by B.K. Bass

2019 was the last time the world was normal. Our president was loud-mouthed idiot, but we’d learned to make fun of him, everyone was still working in offices, and we didn’t have to wear masks everywhere or listen to mouth-breathers explain how vaccines turned us into mindless robots with 5g connectivity. Covid was lurking, but it was still in the shadows, and we all had heady expectations of 2020 being a great year instead of the massive cluster-fuck it turned out to be.

2019 was also the year I got to read B.K. Bass’s first entry in his Night Trilogy – Night Shift. It was a novella focused on taking a traditional hard-boiled detective and dropping him into a cyberpunk reality with all the fun gritty nastiness one would expect from such a mashup. Early 2020 saw the release of part two – Night Life – where the antes were upped and nastiness got, uh, nastinesser. Nastierness. Let’s just call it a good time in a city that likes to eat people.

Now 2021 is grinding to a halt and sharpening its claws for one last dig into our throats, but at least we’ve got the conclusion of Bass’s trilogy – Night Shadow.

Night Shadow finishes the adventures of Harold Jacobson, now on the run and hiding out while he plots his revenge. The world has other plans for him, though, and Harold finds himself stuck in the middle of fiery revolution that will leave the city quietly sobbing to itself in the corner. Being the badass that he is, ol’ Harold will find a way to use the revolt to his own gains.

While the first two books in the series focused on corruption growing like a cancer in the shadows, Night Shadow lets the cancer loose on an unsuspecting city. My guess would be Night Shadow was heavily influenced by the events of summer 2020 (see, there was a reason I was talking about last year). 2020 was the year the United States exploded. Too much pressure, too much uncertainty, and way too much fear and loathing. Bass manages to capture that powder keg atmosphere in Night Shadow and isn’t afraid to let it loose.

It could be argued that there’s a certain meta-ness to the story. A hint that while the revolution is of the people and for the people, there are plenty of folks out there who, for better or worse, have no qualms about using the chaos to their ends. The final entry in the Night trilogy is bigger and badder than the first two and takes us in an unexpected direction. It still feels like part of the trilogy, though, and that’s no mean feat to pull off.

Taken as a collection, it could be argued that there was a certain prescience in the trilogy. All the corruption and violence of the first two books only served to increase the pressure until an explosion was inevitable. The ethical quandaries of exploiting the explosion aside, the only question left to ask is whether Harold did the right thing for all the wrong reasons or the wrong thing for all the right reasons.

And questions like that are what cyberpunk/detective-noir mashups are all about.

New Angeles is in turmoil.

The government, the corporations, and the organized crime families have the city in an iron grip. As that grip tightens, the people decide they will not take it anymore. When the citizens rise up and the city burns, Harold sees an opportunity to exploit the chaos.

But is his crusade one of justice, or vengeance?

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Book Review – The Evening Lands by C.L. Spillard

Some people get guardian angels. Others get guardian devils.

That’s a key element in The Evening Lands, a philosophical masterpiece from Dr. C.L. Spillard. Evil isn’t necessarily something we are, it’s something we do. So, even though Mills is a guardian devil, he has something of a close relationship with Verity Player, a woman who’s outplayed him in the past. This interplay between human and devil is at the heart of Dr. Spillard’s deep dive into the nature of evil.

It’s not the entire plot, but it’s a key portion of the plot. The basic plot is in the blurb below. Anyone who’s read this blog for a while now knows a couple of things about my reviews. Notably, I very rarely regurgitate the plot – this a book review not a book report. I also won’t review a book I didn’t enjoy. If you want to read negative reviews of books check Amazon, there’s always someone who didn’t like a book and wants the world to know about it.

While I very rarely discuss plots, the subplot of Mills and Verity is an import piece to understanding a book that sometimes reads like a dream. That’s not a bad thing. We need more books that read like dreams and we need more tales where not everything is laid out in easy-to-digest chunks. Sometimes pondering a portion of a book is a good thing. It makes us think through things the author wants us to think through.

The Evening Lands isn’t a completely traditional book. The important elements aren’t necessarily the things happening in the foreground; they’re the parts happening in the background. The vague shapes lurking in the shadows, ready to leap out at you. It’s also one of the rare books where the plot is moved along largely through dialog rather than traditional narrative.

It is, in a word, brilliant.

It’s an easy book to read, but it’s not an easy book to get, at least not to squeeze the important parts out of it. But much like climbing a mountain, the view from the top makes it all worth it. If you’ve ever seen black box theater with all of its intimacy and grandiose nuance, you’ll recognize what The Evening Lands feels like.

Dr. Spillard is asking big questions here. What is evil? At what point does regular dickishness tip over into bald-faced evil? Fortunately, she’s not shy about providing some answers. She’s also not shy about poking the United States in the eye because, let’s face it, we in the US are full-on into dickishness and it would take just a nudge to push us face-first into evil.

Her guardian Devil plans to drive the world mad through fear—the fear on which he feeds. Verity needs allies—and fast. She crosses the ocean to meet The Professor and agrees to participate in his gruesome, dangerous experiment into the nature of Evil, hoping that in return he will use his knowledge to help her.
She never expects him to hold her captive and threaten to destroy her mind!
Can Verity escape The Professor’s lab and save the world from the wrath of her Guardian Devil?

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WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

This post might piss a few people off, but fuck it; here goes.

Robert E. Lee was a vicious bastard. In a world of slave owners, he reveled in cruelty. And yet, for some reason, there was a 12 ton statue of him in Richmond, VA. The question of whether or not he was a great general is debatable, but the question of whether or not he was a decent person is crystal clear.

Now, before we get too deep into the weeds, remember something: I’m not calling you a racist. So put down the pitchforks and torches and listen for a moment.

Lee has been lionized by history as a great man, a scholar, a gentleman, and a war hero. But the simple fact of the matter is he was a traitor to the country, a slave-owner, and an avid believer in the racist treacle he espoused. To sum it up: he genuinely felt blacks were not smart enough to take care of themselves. And for this he got a statue.

That big ol’ honkin’ statue of Lee astride his horse was erected in 1890, not long after the US Civil War and a time when the South was still licking its wounds and referring to the war as “The War of Northern Aggression”. They’d been hurt badly, stomped into the ground by Grant’s larger and better outfitted armies and Sherman’s march to the sea. The Confederacy was smashed and dragged kicking and screaming back into the United States where it’s continued to be a thorn in our side.

Last summer, after Derek Chavin – bastard and murderer – knelt on the neck of George Floyd for nine minutes, people had enough. The statue of Lee was graffiti tagged eight ways to Sunday and calls to remove a memorial to white supremacy were renewed. In a similar vein, the statue of Juan De Oñate, another brutal murderer and general bastard, was removed from Old Town in Albuquerque, NM. It’s almost as if the country is waking up and looking at the past without the rose-tinted glasses we were handed in elementary school.

And what went up in place of Lee’s statue? Nothing for now. But just a couple of miles from Lee’s old statue a monument honoring abolition was erected. Now, you tell me which is better for a country that has right in its Declaration of Independence the phrase “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”? A monument to white supremacy and failed insurrection or a monument to actually trying to live up to the words we like to say?

You may now pick your pitchforks and torches back up. The comments section is below.

Read the article here

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are: Susan Scott and yours truly.

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