Book Review – A Stitch In Time by Senan Gil Senan

I like story compilations. Some people hate short story collections for various reasons, but I’ve always enjoyed them. Short stories are a great way for authors to flex their creative muscles and readers get a vehicle to see what an author is capable of. Senan Gil Senan’s newest compilation follows on the heels of Beyond The Pale and The Fifth Seed, both excellent books in their own right, but with A Stitch In Time, Senan has delved headfirst into the magical mysteries of time.

Rather than take the easy way out and wax philosophical about what happens when you change the past or getting into the weeds of the multiverse, he takes the opportunity to examine how time can create and change reality like the loom of a mad-genius weaver. There are six stories in this collection and all of them play with time in some brilliant ways. From the curious case of a man who may or may not be mad to the dark choices that lead an officer to play with time to cover up her mistakes, A Stitch In Time takes you for a ride.

That ride isn’t always easy, but the destination is worth getting to.

Six thought-provoking stories from six different genres bound by one principle – Time.

TIMELESS:
This is a heartfelt story of a child that is left feeling disassociated from life following the physical impact of an explosion and the resultant emotional trauma from the death of his mother. The story of his life unfolds as he recounts it during his final timeless moment, one of the many that befall him, causing the world around him to slow to a standstill. All these timeless moments seem to be inextricably linked in his life and anchored to one seminal event. That being the moment he first falls in love with a soul mate that makes him feel included and at peace with this heartless world which he has always despised.

CLOCKS SLAY TIME: 
A bizarre corruption in his consciousness leaves a man experiencing his life in a non-sequential jumbled order. Despite not being able to remember his name or even where he lives, he manages to get by living only in the moment. Until he encounters a particular girl who by just being in her company, allows him to make sense of his confused existence. This is a love story set against a background of distorted time. The non-sequential order of the chapter numbers reflects this, although this story can also be re-read by following the 11 chapters in sequential number order. It then becomes a completely different story; it is a matter of perspective.EPSILON:
An exorcist encounters a man of whom it is unclear whether he is possessed or suffering from some kind of psychosis. This is a modern horror story which shows how distorted reality can be just as frightening as the depths of hell.HELLO FRIEND: 
When the world’s leading social network rolls out an artificially intelligent App aimed at engaging the lonelier and more socially challenged people in society, strange results enfold. Is this just a clever program or has the artificially intelligent computer program become sentient and is directing events in their lives?
This tale tells the story of a disparate set of characters who without knowledge of each other, become entwined in each other’s lives, like pawns being moved by a chess-master.HOLD THE BRIDGE: 
A female officer is unexpectedly awakened from deep stasis, two and a half years early on a long distance space voyage. She is joined by another crewman who is also oblivious to the reason for their premature awakening. They can return to stasis sleep but decide instead to investigate first, searching for any anomalies or problems that might need their direct intervention. Events induce a sense of paranoia when it becomes evident that they are not alone and an alien entity might be onboard and impersonating both of them. As the senior officer, it is imperative that she secures and holds the Command Bridge of the vessel against all odds.

THE FALL AND RISE OF THE EL: 
The EL is an advanced race of timeless spiritual light beings that think and act collectively and have been assigned a protective role over a particular solar system. They must initiate and oversee the restoration of a frozen planet which once supported much life. Once its ice has retreated, their stewardship requires many of their collective to descend substantially in vibration and take up mortal physicality in order to carry out their duty on the dense planet below. However, divisions in their unity and purpose arise after they opt to manipulate the genetics of one particular species in order to turn them into a helper race of infertile automatons to which they can delegate much of their menial tasks. The heavy density of this world causes the EL many difficulties, one of which is a growing sense of individuality which threatens their collective consciousness. This individuality also threatens to infect the helper race who have been infused with DNA from the EL.

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Could It Be…Satan?

Back in the mid 1980s, I was walking in the ass-end of nowhere with a pastor from one of Farmington’s local churches. I had gotten suckered into going on a “retreat” with a buddy’s church group. At the time, I had no idea this meant driving into the desert and drinking Kool-Aid. You can derive your own subtext to that statement.

At the time Farmington was largely run by the Baptists and they ruled it with an iron fist. Most of my friends were involved to some degree or another with one of the churches, so I wound up going on the odd retreat or spending the night at a lock-in, or any number of the other wholesome activities they ran.

Anyway, I was walking with this guy and we were chatting while the rest of the kids were off doing whatever it was they were doing. Now, I’m going to stop you right here: nothing untoward happened, so if you’re looking forward to a juicy rape scene or something, it didn’t happen. He was a nice, if strangely devout guy.

The moon that night was so full you could walk across the mesa and see every speck of dust. So, we just kind of wandered away from the group and talked. In time, he guided the conversation to the church and ongoing war that Satan was waging against the world. He told me a story that’s stuck with me over the years. It seemed some concerned parents had brought their son to his church because they were worried he was falling into Satan’s charms and were hoping this guy’s church could bring him back to the light of the Lord. “This kid,” he told me, “wanted to curry favor with Satan so badly that he sacrificed a rabbit by putting it in a box with a bunch of maggots. The maggots ate the rabbit alive.”

That’s the kind of thing that belongs in a horror story somewhere, so needless to say I was shocked. But the story got better.

He was driving the kid to a church somewhere to drive the Devil far from him when he put some clean Christian rock in the car stereo. The kid, probably used to heavier fare, was apoplectic. Without warning, the tape erupted from the tape deck and flew across the car! The power of Satan had flooded this young man and the Christian music was painful for him to hear.

When you’re sixteen and walking through the desert under a huge full moon with a guy who’s not supposed to lie – ever – stories like that take on an amazing gravitas.

I know what you’re thinking; there’s no way any of this happened. It has to be just another story I made up to sell books or something, but I assure this conversation took place. I can’t vouch for the events in the car or the existence of the kid, but this pastor actually took me aside and told me this story. It ended with a warning about the power of the Devil and an admonition to go his church and be safe.

I never did find out what happened to the kid. I suspect they read the Bible at him until he cracked. Fuck his religious rights; those only count if you’re following the right religion.

In retrospect, with thirty years of experience under my belt, the whole event was nothing more than the usual brainwashing attempts. Get someone separated from the pack, feed him some scary stories, and get a quick and dirty convert.

But at the time, it didn’t seem all that out of place. The whole country was nuts about Satanists. They’d become the new commies now that great Communist empire of the Soviet Union was cracking at the seams we needed someone to be scared of. Someone, somewhere, trotted out the old standby and started blaming everything that went wrong in the world on devil worshipers. It probably wasn’t a difficult thing to pull off. This was, after all the heyday of hair metal and plenty of bands were turning to evil for the shock value.

What? You thought Marilyn Manson was the first person to use shock music? Fuggedaboutit.

Satanists were even the main antagonists in movies.

The threat, back then, was very real and in deeply religious Farmington, New Mexico, we actually had school gatherings about the dangers of Satanism. Our dress codes at school extended to ban shirts that were evil or in any way promoted Satan. Basically, any shirt Iron Maiden ever made.

Nowadays, in the enlightened 21st century, most people have forgotten those time and Satanism has faded into the background noise. The idea of sacrificing animals to the Devil to get favors is pretty much gone, and if you tried to tell the story of a Christian rock tape getting pushed out of a cassette deck people would think you were bonkers.

Except Jack Chick; he’d think you were totally onto something.

All that mania, all the paranoia, and the sheer bonkers madness of the time has stuck with me over the years, even as I over-analyze the meaning of it all. Sure, it was another power grab by the religious right, but it was a fascinating time and it got me wondering what the world would be like if all that craziness was real. If sacrificing a rabbit – in an admittedly gruesome way – would net you the power to forcibly eject Stryper cassettes, what other things could be lurking under the covers?

A few years ago I scrounged up a copy of the Satanic Bible and actually read the damned (get it, double entendre there) thing. It was interesting – a bit over dramatic, but it had some good zingers in it.

Don’t try this at home. It’s impossible to get the smell of brimstone out of your drapes.

The Satanic Bible, 80s hair metal, and the general mania of the time all congealed late last year into a story. Any of you following me on Twitter have probably seen the tweets about Roadside Attractions; that book is a direct response to all of those things I grew up with.

It also got me thinking about the way we tend to blame groups for our problems. No jobs? Must be the Mexicans. Things seem out of place and scary: Liberals. Anything bad happens in the world? Smells like Muslims. I’ve lived through the ever-present threat of Communism, the existential agita of Satanism, and enough made-up threats to know it’s all just another bullshit power-grab by someone or another. Keep people scared and you keep them in line.

Or maybe it’s always been Satan. He is the father of all lies, after all. All I know is, I’ve got a kick-ass book in the works and I learned to avoid blaming The Other for all my problems.

Got any good stories of the 80s? Let’s hear those comments.

Happy New Year

I’m not much on resolutions. I figure I can break promises to myself without resorting to once-a-year resolvathons where everyone decides they’re going to make magic until it gets too difficult or time-consuming. You’ll see this at the gym where it’ll be packed with people until the end January, you’ll see people trying to start businesses and people deciding to write books only to decide it’s easier to kick back and watch TV.

Let me just say, if it’s worth doing, it doesn’t matter a whit how hard it is. A buddy of mine likes to say success at cycling is a matter of how much pain you can take before you quit. Writing a book means you’ll be eventually hit a point where your eyes are closed and you’re still writing. Being successful at martial arts mean sweating and bleeding on mat so you don’t have to on the street. Starting a business means endless stress and long hours.

All of these things are worth it. None of them are easy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. And, let’s face it, it feels so fucking good to succeed when the odds are against you and you have to bust your ass to get it done.

I hope your next year is great. I hope all the ass-busting and endless hours and sleepless nights pay off. But most of all, I hope you don’t quit. Keep cycling. Keep writing. Keep fighting. Keep going, even when it seems like the world is against you because the difference between success and failure is the amount of times you can get knocked down and get back up.

Happy New Year, everyone.

And now, your moment of Zen.

Book Review – Rainbow Monsters by Sylva Fae

Let me stop you right here: this is a children’s book, so if you’re looking for a panoply of colorful monsters tearing things up, you’re in the wrong place. I pitched that idea to Sylva, along with the rest of the plot including aliens, missiles, and gun play, but she felt none of those things were appropriate for younger audiences.

Instead, we get a happy story, full of brightly colored monsters laughing and playing that’s perfect for very young kids. This is the kind of book my son would have loved when he was much younger than he is now and would be much, much easier to read than Fox In Socks.

This is a wonderfully clever book about colors and monsters and activities. The only real downside is my son is now too old to appreciate books like this, but when he was a wee lad it would have been great for learning about colors. The extra activities at the end of the book make it a truly remarkable departure from the normal children’s books that just throw some words and images on the page and call it good. Sylva has put together something that you can not only read to your kids, but interact with them, too.

On a mixed up rainy, sunny day,
The rainbow monsters love to play.

Jump on a cloud and join the rainbow monsters in their fun and games. Come and meet each of the monsters and learn the colours of the rainbow.

Get a copy for the little monster in your life here (paperbacks also available)

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Show Me The Stuff

Here’s an interesting factoid for you: The cast of the original Star Trek were among the last actors that were trained by picture. Apparently, when they were learning to act, part of their training consisted of showing them pictures of people doing particular faces to represent various emotions. This is what a scared person looks like. This is what a happy person looks like. So on and so forth.

Better than his Spocked face.

In a way, it makes a certain kind of sense. As a TV actor, part of the job is making sure the audience understands what’s going on. If you make a particular face, everyone knows you’re shocked. Then we don’t have to expend additional energy trying to decide who’s shocked, who’s got ennui, and who’s blasé about about life; we can focus on the antics of Spock and Bones.

What does all this have to do with price of tea in China? Funny you should ask. But first, allow me to digress.

Back when I was still teaching Kenpo, I learned more teaching than I did learning. The reason was I had to not only be able to teach the techniques as I learned them, but be able to explain why the technique worked. It required an in-depth understanding to do it well.

Editing can change things.

Editing a book is kind of like teaching. It forces you to look at things differently. While I’m editing someone’s book, I’m also mentally editing my own works and noting what works and what doesn’t work when I’m reading it instead of writing it.

I’ve recently been editing a book for some folks. While it’s not a bad book, there are a few things in there that had me scratching my head and a few things that could really be expanded. In the writing world, we love to say “show, don’t tell.” The things that needed expanded fell into the “show, don’t tell” category. It wasn’t that they were bad lines, they just needed some expansion.

I’m not going to reproduce their lines here. Like I said, they’re not bad lines. But you see bad lines all the time. Little throw-away lines that would be easy to turn from bland to interesting.

Take this:

“I could tell she was upset.”

It’s a classic example of tell, not show. It’s also boring and feels half-assed. To make it interesting, look back to the way the original cast of Star Trek was trained and start asking question. How could I tell she was upset? Well, she looked upset. What does that look like? If you were to paint a picture of someone who was upset, what would it look like?

Steam always comes out of ears when people are upset. Seriously, watch a cartoon sometime.

That’s the essence of showing instead of telling.

An upset person can scowl, furrow their brow, snort, frown, grimace, narrow their eyes, glare, yell, blow steam out of their ears, and break things. Think about a person you’ve known and what he or she looked like when they were upset. Then write that.

Instead of “I could tell she was upset” how about:

“Her glare could peel the paint off a battleship. Those expressive brown eyes I love so much wouldn’t meet my gaze. She was completely focused on the bent spoon in her hand when she said, ‘I can’t believe you cheated at Street Fighter 2. I had that match and you know it’.”

Without ever saying “she’s upset” we know she’s upset. If in doubt, toss in a line about steam coming out of her ears.

Show it, don’t tell it.

Got any tips for showing instead of telling? Drop ’em in the comments and let the world see. In the interim, keep writing.

Writing Process

 

I type like the wind.

Stephen King has repeated said he writes every day. I saw him when he was in Albuquerque being interviewed on stage by George R.R. Martin. Martin, at one point in the interview asked, “How do you write so fast?” Or words to that effect. I seem to remember him asking “How do you write so fucking fast?”, but that may just be my unrequited love affair with the word ‘fuck’. Either way it was asked, King’s response was “I write six good pages a day. Every day.” Again, words to that effect. I don’t seem to remember King saying, “I write six good fucking pages a day”, but he might have.

At any rate, this was not new information. I think everyone knows Stephen King writes every day. He’s been forward about that for years. After all, it’s his job and you don’t blow off work just because you don’t feel like doing it. On the other hand, George R.R. Martin is famous for taking years to knock out a new novel. In Martin’s defense, let’s face it, A Song of Fire and Ice is some crazy complicated shit and each scene has to work with every other scene that has come before it. So, it’s not entirely surprising that the TV series will likely end before the book series.

So, what does all this have to do with the price of tea in China? I’m of the opinion that writing every day is a good thing. It could be a couple lines, it could be a few hundred, but I write something every day almost without fail. For me, it’s just become something I do out of habit and I feel bad if I don’t do it. Writing is my way of unwinding and I feel a bit lost if I don’t get some in every night.

House is on fire, but I’m almost done with this chapter.

But that’s not necessarily for everyone. A couple days ago I came across a Twitter thread about exactly that thing. The general gist of the thread was that feeling like you have to write every day is bullshit. Life, it seems, oftentimes has other plans for our free time. Be it work, play, or a new Star Wars movie coming out, sometimes you simply can’t find time every day to put words on pages.

Besides, as I’ve repeatedly said, I didn’t start writing to follow everyone else’s rules. The world is already full of people following everyone else’s rules. My rule is trying my damnedest to write something every day, but it’s not for everyone. Rules are for suckers, anyway. Make your own rules.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post about the magic of writing. Now that the year is coming to a close, I’d like to reiterate what I wrote then: If there’s something you love to do, find time to do it. It doesn’t matter how far you go. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. It matters that you go.

So, get out there and go.

What about you? Got any thoughts on writing every day? Drop ’em in the comments; I love comments and am usually fairly good at replying to them.

And now, your moment of Zen.

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Book Review – Prey Till The End by S.L. Eaves

I recently wrote a post on the urban fantasy genre and how it can be a lot trickier to work the paranormal into the real world and have it be believable than most people think. The true mark of understanding in the genre is when you can read a book set in our world and have critters like vampires and werewolves make sense in the context of the story.

Of course, vampires would work with the Defense Intelligence Agency. If any government group is going to know about vampires, it’s DIA. That’s exactly the kind of thing they’d find out about and vampires, justifiably, would be leery of working with them.

It’s the little details like those that can make a good urban fantasy story pop. Lori’s smoking – she’s dead, after all, it’s not like she’s going to get cancer – and drinking, the fact that she’s not 100% on board with being a vampire, and her moral flexibility all add to the gritty realism of a world where vampires are real, werewolves are real, and at least part of the government knows about it.

I guess that’s one of the things that doesn’t ring true about a lot of stories where vampires are running around doing vampire things and absolutely no one knows about it. It would only take a handful of people being drained of blood before even the most jaded cop would wonder if the stories were true.

So that’s the world of Prey Till The End, S.L. Eaves’s latest brilliant mix of urban fantasy, thriller, and horror story. I reviewed Dead And Damaged a little over a year ago and found it a cracking good story about how vampires and werewolves would be excellent fodder for any number of secret groups that would absolutely love to use that kind of genetic material to make super soldiers.

In Prey Till The End Lori, our protagonist from the previous book, finds herself stuck between an alpha werewolf who wants violent revenge, a rogue group of vampires doing nasty vampire stuff, and the purebloods that will kill every vampire if the rogues aren’t stopped.

Through her eyes, we see a world that looks and smells real. It’s soaked in booze and reeks of cigarettes, the coppery scent of blood, and the musky smell of werewolves. S.L. brands Prey Till The End as the final installment in the Endangered Series. Maybe that’s the case, and I can certainly understand the desire to move onto other things, but I’d like to see more of Lori’s life (death, she’s a vampire) in the future, even if it doesn’t follow on with the theme of the rest of the stories.

This is a really good, just like the previous one, and it’s nice to see someone taking classic monsters – vampires and werewolves – and doing more than making soft-core erotica with them. S.L. has created a great twist on the traditions and not only brought those creatures into our world, but managed to make the fantastic seem real without feeling mundane.

If you like action tinged with horror and topped with a thriller cherry, check these books out. They’re great and great fun.

The 3rd installment brings the The Endangered Series to a gripping conclusion that will keep you on the edge of your seat till the last page. 

Seven years have passed since Lori exiled herself from her clan. Seven years without bloodshed, without demons, without torture, without premonitions. Seven years of peace and quiet in the civilian life she’s cultivated for herself.

Seven boring years. 

Then Vega appears at her doorstep with alarming news: a former member of his clan is responsible for the recent string of homicides across the southwest and the Purebloods are holding her clan responsible. To make matters worse, this traitor is working with an enemy from Lori’s past who is hell bent on revenge.

Now she’s faced with returning to the world she’s tried so hard to escape in order to save the only family she has left. Lori finds unlikely allies in a slayer and a werewolf hybrid, both survivors of S&D Pharma’s experiments. Together they fight to stop the vampire’s killing spree and absolve her clan from the Pureblood’s wrath. That’s if a ghost from her past doesn’t succeed in stopping her first.

Get your copy here.

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