Book Review – Paralyzer by Silas Payton

First up, let me give the official full title:

Jack Daniels and Associates: Paralyzer (Kindle Worlds) by Silas Payton

It’s a little long to look good on my blog, especially if you’re reading on a mobile device, but that’s the official full title of Paralyzer.  It immediately begs a few questions: who is Jack Daniels, who are his associates, and what is Kindle Worlds?  Well, for starters, you’re wrong.  Jack’s a woman (Jacqueline) not a guy.  That still doesn’t answer the question and I hate it when people point out I was wrong.

So that still leaves the three questions, all of which can be answered quite easily.  Those answers will make this kind of a special review because while Payton’s story is really cool (and creepy as hell), what he did is also really cool (and not creepy as hell).  So, we’re gonna break this review down into a few sections and answer:

  1. Who Jack Daniels and her associates are
  2. What Kindle Worlds is
  3. The actual review of Paralyzer

I love numbered lists.

So, to start this off, Jack Daniels is a creation of Joe Konrath.  She (and her rogues gallery of associates) are characters created by Konrath in novels like Shot of Tequila, Bloody Mary, Rusty Nail, Whiskey Sour, and Dirty Martini.  Note to self: need a drink a now.  JA Konrath is a well-established author with more books under his belt than I’ve written words.  At some point in the past he was approached by Amazon to take part in a new concept they had: Kindle Worlds.

Which leads to point number two: What is Kindle Worlds?  Well, Kindle Worlds is a chance for authors to experiment with the characters and worlds of other authors.  Take their creations and use it as the backdrop for your own story.

If that sounds a lot like fanfic you’re absolutely correct: it’s exactly fanfic.  There’s a general feeling that fanfic is somehow a bad thing, but that’s a bit misleading.  Sure, there’s some real crap out there, but there are also some remarkable things that have come from fanfic.  Sure, Fifty Shades of Gray started its life as Twilight fanfic and has sold 125 million copies worldwide.  You may not care for the story, but it’s hard to argue that something that started as fanfic can resonate far and wide, far beyond its original source material (not that the Twilight series is a failure.  It, too, sold a bajillion books).  If you need another example of this take a gander at Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy.  Heck, take a look at any of the myriad Star Wars or Star Trek books out there.  Sit back, take a deep breath, and realize those are all essentially fanfic.  And some of them were pretty damned good.  Check out FanFiction sometime, there’s some good stuff on there.

Don’t take my word for it, though.  Check out Konrath’s post on Kindle Worlds.  He makes a very clear case that it’s quite the wonderful thing for quite a lot of reasons.

So, this leads us to the final section.  The actual review of Silas Payton’s Paralyzer.

Paralyzer, as has already been established, is part of the Kindle Worlds, but the story is all Silas Payton.  It takes place in Toronto, not Chicago, has additional characters beyond Konrath’s, and tells a story that makes use of Konrath’s world without invading it.  And Paralyzer has some seriously freaking creepy scenes.

Imagine finding yourself paralyzed and strapped to a table, able to feel everything but unable to move or scream while a doctor slowly cuts out your organs and dismembers you so he can sell your parts to rich people.  That’s the bad guy in Paralyzer and that’s what he does.  Even beyond the general terror of that situation, Payton does a miraculous job of ratcheting up the tension and maintaining it throughout the story.  I don’t like to throw out nonsense like “Edge of the seat” or “Couldn’t put it down”, but after a certain point in the story I just had to know how the story ended and found, much to my chagrin, that I couldn’t put it down.

Paralyzer is gritty crime drama, full of characters I’d like to know more about.  It also features the world’s meanest cat and has some genuinely funny moments.  The characters will hook you, the humor will keep you entertained, but it’s the tension that will keep you rooted to the book.

paralyzer

Get your copy of Paralyzer here

Follow Silas on Twitter

Check out his blog

By the way, in keeping with Konrath’s tradition, Paralyzer is both the title of the book and a drink.  Here’s the recipe from Drinksmixer.  You’ll need to provide your own ambulance.

1/2 oz tequila
1/2 oz vodka
1/2 oz Kahlua® coffee liqueur
4 oz light cream
4 1/2 oz Coca-Cola®
Pour tequilla, vodka and kahlua over ice in a collins glass. Half-fill with coke, and top with light cream or milk. Stir gently with a straw, and serve.
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Magical Realism

We’ve recently started watching Narcos on Netflix.  It’s a fascinating and amazing story, the vicious  tale of Pablo Escobar and his insane ability to sell cocaine to America.  Honestly, I highly recommend it.  Anyway, at the start of the series there was a definition for a genre I was unfamiliar with: Magical Realism.  It’s the idea that “magic” can exist in an otherwise mundane world.  The Harry Potter series is a perfect example of this, as are numerous other works.  Salman Rushdie did it with The Satanic Verses (and other works).  I’ve actually read The Satanic Verses (and one other who’s name escapes me at the moment).  It didn’t blow me away but I  didn’t feel the need to declare fatwa over the book.

Magical Realism is also common in Latin American literature and, I would argue, in a lot of the myths and legends that we’ve woven together to explain both our world and our place in it.  Religion makes common use of Magical Realism to inspire awe and to remind you that you’re really not that special when compared to the one true whatever.  I suppose one could make the argument that Magical Realism is very much present in the horror genre, especially in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King.

From Rushdie to King and back again there are commonalities in the stories.  King’s stories take place in Maine and deal with the repercussions of day to day life when something outlandish is dropped in.  Lovecraft’s stories revolved around the mysteries hidden just behind the veil and the things you really didn’t want to admit.  Rushdie’s stories – especially The Satanic Verses – deal with extremely strange events set in a very real world.

That’s the kind of thing that would make the world more interesting.  It could be the lights in the sky that followed us from Durango to Farmington or the invisible person sitting on the bed or the way my dogs were always skittish in the hallway.  Sure, maybe there were rational explanations for these things but maybe there weren’t.  Maybe the only rational explanation is UFO, ghost, and God-only-knows-what-but-it-seems-to-be-leaving-us-alone.

Like I said, I hadn’t heard of Magical Realism before watching Narcos, but it struck me that I was inadvertently writing in that genre.  My goal with Henchmen was originally to bring the superhero and supervillain genres a bit closer to the ground.  It didn’t exactly work out that way, but that was the original intent.  I wanted to take the regular world we all live in and lift up the corners a bit; see what’s hidden behind the curtain.  What I found were a Valkyrie, a tentacled horror (my nod to Lovecraft), and the God of Dreams, along with a menagerie of other weirdness.

Take those things, add a dash of danger, a pinch of unbridled anger, half a cup of desperate need for revenge, and a hefty dose of the real world.  Cook for eleven months at 400 degrees. Voilà: Henchmen.

At least now I can have a somewhat snooty response handy when someone asks me what genre I write.  It’s not horror, or action, or comedy: it’s Magical Realism.

Scrap That TOC Post From Earlier

Back in May I posted a quick and dirty primer for making a table of contents.  It was just my way of doing things and I wanted to share it in the hopes that it might help someone.  Last week I was putting together a final collection of short stories for distribution to Smashwords and had to follow their model of making a TOC.  It was much easier.

Don’t do it the way I posted about earlier; that’s old and busted.  The new hotness is actually easier to work with and produces better results.

The way to do it correctly is this:

1). Use whatever you want for your chapter headings.  I still use Word’s Heading 1 style because it throws the chapter title into the navigation pane and that makes editing easier.

Head 1 sample

2). Highlight the chapter heading in your manuscript and select Insert in the Word ribbon (that thing at the top that replaced easy to understand menus) and click Add Bookmark.

Insert Bookmark

Repeat this process for each chapter header.  Note: you can name the bookmarks whatever you feel like.  Make them something easy to remember.  I used the chapter name (or a variant) with no spaces in the name.  Spaces are bad, mmkay.  Don’t worry, no one will be able to see them but you.

3).  Type out your Table of Contents and style it however you please.  That’s one of the major drawbacks to using Word’s Table of Contents generator: it’s brutal to clean up the formatting.  This way is nice and easy and you can make it look however you want.  Once you’re done, highlight each chapter and go Insert on the ribbon bar and click hyperlink.  Make sure to select the Places in the Document button on the left.  Select the bookmark you created earlier and click okay.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Create Hyperlink

4). Voila.  Note, Smashwords is still trying to get epub submissions (you still have to submit a Word 2003 or 2007 doc file) to work and a lot of your formatting will go out the window as soon your book hits a Kindle (or other tablet).

Sample

This example is from the Kindle preview tool that Amazon built and is showing how the mobi file will look on an e-Ink device.

Simpler, easier, faster.  I believe you can do the same thing with Libre Office and Open Office.  Ditch Word’s TOC generator and do it the easy way.

Book Review – Darlene Bobich: Zombie Killer by Armand Rosamilia

It’s real easy to completely screw up a zombie story.  You wouldn’t think it would be, but it is.  Look back at the movie World War Z; it was a real stinker even though the book was phenomenal.  A few years ago I came across another zombie story that featured an Egyptian mummy that had also been reincarnated in the great zombie uprising of the early 2000s.  That book wasn’t my favorite.

I like my zombie stories straightforward: World War Z (the book), The Walking Dead, that kind of thing.  In a zombie outbreak there’s no time to get fancy, there’s no time to ponder the philosophical aspects of the undead, there’s just run and hope for the best as civilization collapses around you.

Some zombie stories make effective use of the zombies as a form of social criticism.  As I understand it the hordes of zombies in Night of the Living Dead were meant to spear runaway consumerism and the brainless masses that descend on every new Apple product. Er, every store on Christmas.  Other zombie stories take a different route and get down to the nitty gritty of a world gone mad.  Imagine taking a shower as a luxury or dreaming of eating luxurious foods like Vienna Sausages.  All too often we get ourselves wrapped up in the magical elements of society: clean running water, plentiful food, no one trying to eat us while we go about our business.  Those things could easily go away in the wake of a disaster.

That’s the world Darlene Bobich inhabits.  Darlene Bobich: Zombie Killer opens with the titular character killing her own father after he turns and tries to eat her face.  The rest of the book is about Darlene trying to come to grips with her new world.  In the end it’s just her, her wits, and her gun against hordes of zombies and the extremely bad people that crop up when society collapses.

This is the literary equivalent of a bottle of good tequila, a pack of smokes, and rough and tumble bar. In other words, great fun. Traditionally zombie stories revolve around a male protagonist trying desperately to be the good guy so it was nice to see a twist where we follow around a woman who’s not trying to save the world, just save herself.

The story jumps around a bit, something noted by another reviewer on Amazon.  I found that only added to general feel of confusion and seat-of-your-pants living that the characters in Darlene Bobitch occupied.  The only real problem I had with the book was now I need to read more of Armand’s work to find what happens to Darlene and her trusty Desert Eagle.

zombiekiller

Get a copy here (for free last time I checked)

Check out Armand on Twitter

Armand’s Website

Follow-up

Late last week, on the way home from school, my son tried to convince me something he had heard was the TRUTH.  For starters he’s decided he’s going to be a cryptozoologist and he already knew almost everything he’d need to know to do it.  While that would be an interesting career path, that wasn’t the true zinger of the conversation.  He had heard, probably on the playground, that the U.S. Government was distributing guns and paying people to hunt Sasquatches in the Florida forests.

shocked
OMG!

Being that he’s nine I took this with a grain of salt and calmly explained a few things to him that the U.S. Government

  • Has no vested interest in Sasquatch one way or the other; it simply doesn’t show up on their radar
  • Is not in the business of giving out guns

I also asked him why anyone would want to hunt and kill Sasquatch – a creature that (if it exists) is causing no apparent harm and is no threat to anyone.

No one can capture a clear image of Sasquatch because the creature itself is blurry.
No one can capture a clear image of Sasquatch because the creature itself is blurry.

To his credit, he listened calmly to the arguments and agreed that there was no way what he had heard was true.  As for his final assertion – the one about being very close to knowing what he’d need to know to be a cryptozoologist I asked him one question: What do you know about the Mongolian Death Worm?  He admitted he’d never heard of it and I explained the wee beastie briefly.

It would seem he has quite a bit of study before he can say he’s a cryptozoologist.  At least he listened to reason, which is more than you can say for a lot of people out there.

A few months ago I wrote about a little military exercise known as Jade Helm 15.  It was a military exercise that took place on U.S. soil and was intended to train American troops in a variety of things including escape and evasion and less than linear warfare.  All very important things in this day and age.  Exercises like these take place pretty regularly and are mostly innocuous.  What blew this one up was a unclassified PowerPoint presentation that got leaked that labelled Texas as hostile territory.  Alex Jones, of the famed InfoWars site, saw those labels and decided that meant the U.S. Government was about to invade Texas.  Soon the Governor of Texas was making noise about keeping an eye on things, Chuck Norris was asking questions, and even Ted Cruz – who never met a crazy theory he didn’t love – was making noise.

All of these folks ignored a couple key facts about the situation:

  • Texas was already part of the United States
  • The U.S. military already had thousands of troops stationed in Texas, just like there are lots of U.S. troops all over the country.  Yes, even in Albuquerque.

I can get Alex Jones blowing this all out of proportion.  That’s just the kind of thing he does.  But shouldn’t a Governor and a United States Senator be a little smarter?  And why didn’t any of these people stop to think about what they were saying?  It makes almost as much sense to say the United States military will be taking over Texas as saying the Government is handing out guns and paying people to hunt Bigfoot.

My guess on this is our good friend Cognitive Dissonance, a wonderful tool we’ve adopted to allow us to continue believing what we like to believe.  If we start from the premise that we don’t trust the Government then everything flows neatly from there and all the crazy theories (faked Moon Landing, Kennedy was killed by the CIA, Obama is a foreign-born secret Muslim, Jade Helm 15 was an attempt to take over Texas) suddenly work because they fit with our internal narrative.  It’s a beautiful bit of IRL novel writing.

No, really. I'm handsome. The mirror is just lying.
No, really. I’m handsome. The mirror is just lying.

The crazier parts of the Jade Helm 15 nonsense would have made a great novel.  A secret Government cabal decides to invade a state because the state has far too many people who KNOW TOO MUCH.  They can’t flat out invade because no one would stand for it, so they concoct a story about an exercise that’s supposed to take place nationwide.  The exercise goes off as planned, but all the troops working in Texas are loyal to the cabal.  Instead of rubber bullets, those guys are rounding up dissidents and disappearing them.  A former vet witnesses a disappearance and saves the plucky, but smart daughter of a patriot.  Together, they sneak out Texas and blow the lid off the whole thing.

Great summer read.  I might consider writing that.  Well, that and the one about the Texas gold.  Both of those would make some cracking good stories because they have enough of an element that all novels need: Truthiness.

truthiness

Now that Jade Helm has blown over and the only change to America is Texas is now part of the United States, we should be able to look back on the whole thing and laugh.  Well, that and write books using the whole mess as a backdrop or clever plot device.  Because, in the final analysis, a good story needs only a few things: relatable characters, a clever story, and a hefty dose of truthiness.  It doesn’t matter that there’s no way a story can be real, what matters is that it feels real to the reader.  No one will read a story where it’s patently obvious that the events of the story could never happen.  But a story where the events could be real, especially if they’re pretty outlandish, and you’ve got a winner on your hands.

I’m hoping, in the future we’ll see people spinning yarns about the things that really matter: like how werewolves have been secretly infiltrating our school system in the hopes of creating an army to fight the vampires.  That’s totally real.  I also hope our elected leaders learn to think a bit before they start shooting their mouths off, but that’s never happened.  A story about werewolves taking over the schools seems plausible.  A story about elected leaders thinking a bit before they start talking is about as plausible as a story about the government handing out guns and paying people to hunt Sasquatch in Florida.

Language

There’s a phrase we use in Kenpo periodically: Simultuously.  Don’t look it up in a dictionary, you likely won’t find it.  It means to do some things at the same time.  “Grab his wrist and simultuously break his knee.”

The story goes, and I heard this one from the head of our system, at one point in the distant past he had a guy show up and ask for some training.  Nothing formal, you understand, just some new ways of looking at things.  It turns out the guy was British SAS.  What he was doing in the States, let alone how he wandered into a Kenpo school, I’ll never know.  What I do know is this guy was apparently looking for some less than lethal tactics to employ when faced with dangerous people and he and his squad were being filmed.

SAS. So bad ass they don't even need to see their prey. Yes, I said 'prey'.
SAS. So bad ass they don’t even need to see their prey. Yes, I said ‘prey’.

Now, I don’t know a whole lot about the British SAS save to say they’re some absolute bad asses, the kind of people you really don’t want to mess with.  Traditionally, in a bad situation, they’d just shoot the bad guys and call it a day.  Problem is they now had press following them and having the press recording SAS troops casually killing bad guys just didn’t translate to good publicity.  It really didn’t matter that the bad guys would gleefully blow people up, there was due process and stuff like that involved.  As a result of that kind of publicity, this guy was looking for a few ways to really hurt someone without actually killing them.  Kenpo is good for that.

So, while he was training this guy, my instructor hears him repeatedly use the word simultuously.  Apparently he had picked it up in training from his sergeant and said, “When an SAS sergeant says the word is simultuously, the word is simultuously.”

Language changes over time.  It evolves and grows and accepts new words and changes the values of existing words.  That’s what makes a language a living language as opposed to a dead language.  Take Latin, for instance.  In high school we were all required to take a foreign language.  At this point I was getting okay with Spanish but rather than doing the logical thing and continuing to learn a language that’s actually pretty common in New Mexico, I chose to study Latin so I could, uh, converse with other people who spoke Latin.  Both of them.

Senātus Populusque Rōmānus. "The Senate and People of Rome."
Senātus Populusque Rōmānus. “The Senate and People of Rome.” Your interesting but useless bit of trivia for the day

One of the things my Latin teacher liked to point out to us was the fact that more people spoke Latin today (this was in 1989) than spoke it during the heyday of the Roman empire.  What made Latin a dead language was not the amount of people that spoke it, but the fact that no new words were being added to Latin.  It was a language stuck forever in time; unable to describe things like Internets or computers or Wal Marts because those things didn’t exist when Latin bit the dust.

Even biting the dust was a phrase beyond the grasp of Latin.  It does however have cool phrases like “tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito.”  For the uninitiated, that means “yield not to misfortunes, but advance all the more boldly against them”.  It’s a tad more elegant than “When the going gets tough, the tough get rough.”

Thus if we accept that English (both traditional and American English) is a living language, then we have to accept that it will change over time.  Words that mean one thing at a particular point in history could means something completely different at a later point in history.  Take, for instance, the word awful.  Nowadays everyone knows awful isn’t a good thing, awful things are things to avoid because they’re really, really bad.  It wasn’t always that way, though.  Awful used to mean “worthy of awe.”  Literally full of awe.

THAT'S RIGHT!
THAT’S RIGHT!

What does all this mean for writers?  We’re supposed to follow the formal, traditional applications of language.  That just means our words will be as indecipherable as l33tSp3@k at some point.  Remember, Shakespeare wrote in the vernacular of his time, a vernacular that has since slid out of common usage.  He wrote for the common people, he just happened to do it in iambic pentameter.  His plays were reportedly wild affairs, full of drunkeness and wanton displays.  It wasn’t uncommon for the people watching the play to storm the stage when the show was over and steal the furniture.  To Shakespeare’s audiences, putting on our fineries and going to see Romeo and Juliet would be the rough equivalent of going to see a Mötley Crüe concert in a tuxedo.

For the record, Mötley Crüe puts on a one hell of a show.  There’s fire and half-naked women dancing on ropes and motorcycles on the stage and some stuff gets blowed up reeaal good.  It’s a lot of fun.

YEEAAAHHH!!!
YEEAAAHHH!!!

Which begs an interesting question.  Should we write in the vernacular or stick to more formalized styles?  Depends on the audience, I guess.  Books like Fight Club and Trainspotting were very much written in the vernacular.  Trainspotting was so vernacular I found myself reading it in an accent, albeit not a very good one.  It worked, though.  I’ve never really gotten into the more formal styles of writing like the classics that defined their various genres, so I can’t say whether or not I’d read them in a stiff, upper-class accent.  I probably would and I’d probably wear a monocle while I did it.

I tend to write using a fair mixture.  Dialogue, in my opinion, should very much be vernacular.  Dialogue should be written like people actually talk, although it’s brutally difficult to account for everyone talking over each other.  As for the rest of the story?  That’s up to the writer.  Just remember, what seems fluid and easy to read now may not be that way in the future.

On the plus side, maybe a few hundred years from now a class will be discussing Henchmen and trying to dissect why the author didn’t use any numbers in his words.  Obviously, he wasn’t l33t.

Let the language evolve.  Embrace the change, and learn how to use it.  There was a time when the term Internet was only used in science fiction novels, now it’s a common trope.  Autotuned, crowdfunded, freegan, and twerking are all words that are new to the Oxford English Dictionary for 2015.  Even if it’s not in the OED, that doesn’t mean it’s not really a word.  Ain’t comes to mind.  It’s a bizarre word, ain’t it?  It’s been floating around for decades and is still considered informal, but it’s recognized as a word.  Back in college we had a debate about ain’t in a rhetoric and argumentation class.  One of the people in class was adamant that ain’t was not a word.  My professor’s response?  “Sure it is.  People use it, that makes it a word.”

All this is not to say you have to use vernacular (unless that’s your bag, baby), but you can certainly use a mixture of formal style and vernacular style to give your book a bit more pop.  And you can do both things simultuously.

Just quit using apostrophes to make words plural, please.

APOSTROPHES DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!
APOSTROPHES DO NOT WORK THAT WAY!

 

Which Book Promotion Services Work?

Looking for book promotion places? Some will do you good, others not so much.

Andrew Updegrove: Tales of Adversego

FBT 110About a month ago I posted a piece on trying out the various book sale promotion sites that are available, and promised to report back on progress. Here are some preliminary findings, as well as an example of one I have running today at Free Kindle Books and Tips so that you can get an idea of what one looks like (perhaps you might want to invest $0.99 while you’re at it).

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