Review: Bloody Waters by Jason Franks

I’m a wee bit behind on my reviews as I read like a fiend through January… then life laughed and laughed and laughed at me (I also believe it gave me the finger) when I wanted to keep the pace through February.  Sooo, without further ado…

*taps microphone* Check, one, two… One, two.

Welcome to the stage… Bloody Waters!    *crowd goes wild as Clarice Marnier strides on stage with Motherfucker*

Bloody Waters is Jason Franks’ debut novel released through Possible Press, and a damn fine debut it is. This is the first of Franks’ work I’ve read, and as with any book, you go into it with excitement and a little trepidation: ‘please be good, please be good…’

Well it wasn’t good – it was fan-freakin’-tastic.  Now before we go any further, I’d better put the requisite spoiler warning in…

SPOILER WARNING! THAT’S RIGHT. SPOILERS. LIKELY LOTS OF THEM.  SPOILERS I MEAN. SO READ AHEAD AT YOUR OWN RISK, ‘CAUSE, YOU KNOW, SPOILERS.

Bloody Waters

The story begins with the a chat between an old bluesman and the devil at a crossroads (think Robert Johnson folklore) and the horny dude’s warning of ‘rock and roll badness’ on the horizon. The devil is worried, you see, and the bluesman tells him ‘rock and roll boys ain’t nothin’ to concern himself with.’ The devil agrees, ‘but this one’s a girl.’

It’s the … quirk in the supernatural I really found enjoyable. Satan? He’s a character who holds his own here, and the interactions between him, Clarice, and Clarice’s boyfriend, Johnny, were some of the highlights of the book for me. Kudos to Franks on the great dialogue. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bloody Waters follows the life and times of guitar virtuoso, Clarice Marnier.  There’s nothing Clarice wants more than to be a rock guitarist, and when Clarice sets her mind to something, nothing (and I mean nothing) will stand in her way.  She’s focused, forthright, stubborn and proud – she’s a pretty kick-arse character who can actually kick your arse. And seriously, anyone who names one of their guitars ‘Motherfucker’ is alright by me.

You see, no one knows guitars like Clarice, and no plays guitar like Clarice. She has a single-mindedness that sometimes comes across as arrogant, but it didn’t take me long to realise that her no-nonsense attitude is what makes her… Clarice. Oh, and keep an eye out for her one-liners and terrifically and sometimes groan-worthy puns – they’ll put a smile on your face.

After being blacklisted by the music industry, Clarice seeks out band members to form ‘Bloody Waters’, a band she knows is the best out there, but no one will touch them. So Clarice, with the help of boyfriend and frontman, Johnny Chernow, make a deal with the devil for a second chance at taking the world by storm.

And storm the world they do. No band is bigger; no guitarist is better, and no one wants to bring them down more than the music industry that spurned her.  Ensuing battles with demons, wraiths, witches and all other manner of supernatural nasties, then throw in some gangsters, other rock bands, crazy fans and you’ve got one hell of tale taking place on the pages. Most of the supernatural takes place toward the second-half of the book, but there’s no end to the magic that rips through the story.

While Clarice is the star of the book (and the band), frontman Johnny Chernow really does hold his own in this book, and holds his own against the force of nature that is Clarice. He’s also one of the most easy-going warlocks about – nothing much rattles his cage. Without Johnny, a lot of what Clarice can achieve on the supernatural level would be impossible, and while I would have liked to have seen some more…tenderness toward Johnny on Clarice’s part, the final revelation makes you understand why she is the way she is.

pentagram

There’s a lot at play in the novel, but Franks’ works well to not only keep the reader hooked but also guessing as to what’s really going on. The interactions with the Devil always hint at some ulterior motive (no real surprise there, he’s the Devil, Father of Lies and Deceit), and he has an almost soft spot for Clarice, but always at the back of my mind was the crossroads talk with the bluesman at the beginning of the book.

But it’s the revelation at the end of the book I didn’t see coming, and one that was so brilliantly thought out and delivered, it had me reflecting on it for quite a long time afterward.

The only negative I found with my copy of the book was that it could have been edited and proofread with a more expert eye. There were more than a few typos and grammar issues that should not have slipped through. However, the standard of the story and the storytelling itself made this (almost) easy to overlook.

Franks takes the reader on a fast-paced ride filled with black-humour, bloody battles, and a look at ideology from an altogether different standpoint.  His characters are well-fleshed out, engaging, and were perfectly suited to the parts they played. I flew through this book, so engaged was I with the story and the characters. I sat up ‘til 3am to finish it, and if that isn’t the sign of a good book, I don’t know what is.

On a Goodreads scale, I give it five stars. And no, the devil didn’t make me do it.

five stars

 PS. Check out Jason’s comics/graphic novels — they’re well worth the look.

Artful Conservation of the Imaginarium

Art, how I love thee! Like my collection of books, my collection of art is getting to a point where I’m running out of wall space. But I’ll not stop buying either, ‘cause that’s just crazy talk. Crazy talk!

The difference between my buying of books and my buying of art is that I don’t actively seek out art. It kinda finds me. In my previous post here, I mentioned that should I meet the deadline for the Black Friday Wager (the completion of the eleventy-first draft of my novel), I would win by not only having a completed novel-draft but get the bonus of some art as well. And it was a bet I won. That’s right – draft complete! That was the bet I had with the wonderfully-crazy Elizabeth Wayne.

It was Elizabeth who put me onto the artist from whom I get to choose two pieces. I already have two artworks (below) from Jeannie Lynn Paske’s ‘Obsolete Worldthat sit perfectly on the walls of my hallway. There’s a melancholy about each piece that really struck a chord, and her use of colour, light and shadow reinforces the solemnity she creates in her work.

Flight of the Recently Departed
Flight of the Recently Departed

In Paske’s own words: ‘Obsolete World is a name that was originally taken from the 1961 Twilight Zone episode “The Obsolete Man” where in a future totalitarian state, Burgess Meredith’s character (a librarian) is a man put on trial for the crime of being obsolete. I had always loved that episode and I pictured a similar scenario in which the make-believe creatures of childhood suffer a similar “crime” as one grows old. I took to the task of conserving these victims of consequence, and created Obsolete World as a place where my own creations could safely while away the hours.’

As a writer, I live in make-believe worlds with make-believe creatures –creatures of my own creation. I breathe life into them; give them purpose and reason, lives and loves – both beautiful and terrible. I laugh with them, rage with them, bleed with them when I must. I’m connected to them in ways that might seem a tad odd to non-writerly folk, but a little piece of you goes into each creation.

Once the story is done, I leave them to their world, their lives (or their deaths) and move to the next creation. While they are never truly forgotten, do they venture into the realm of obsolete?  Like the imaginary friends we have as children. Or the teddy bear that knew all our secrets and gave us unconditional succour. What happens to them? Where do they go?

Lovely Intangibles
Lovely Intangibles

There are those ‘creatures’ we can’t let go – we all have them. Mine is a teddy bear I’ve had since my second Christmas – Pink Teddy, her name is (cut me some slack; she’s pink and I was two when I named her).  She hasn’t always been with me.  I put her atop my cupboard when I was a teenager where she stayed for a long time; she didn’t come with me when I moved out of home, and she was soon consigned to memory…until my parents returned her to me when I was 35. I remember opening that shoebox at Christmas not at all expecting Pink Teddy to be inside. My parents had a bet: my father said I’d cry, my mother said I’d smell her. I cried as I put my nose to her tummy and breathed in deep. I’d reconnected with my past and all the memories that came with Pink Teddy’s return.

It’s this part of Paske’s work that resonates – the memories of what once was – and why there’ll be more of her art on my walls.

Pink Teddy
Pink Teddy

Horror and Writers and Interviews, oh my!

This February marks the 6th annual ‘Women in Horror Month’. Started by Hannah Neurotica, WiHM aims to: [assist] female genre artists in gaining opportunities, exposure, and education through altruistic events, printed material, articles, interviews, and online support. The vision is a world wherein all individuals are equally given the opportunity to create, share, and exploit their concept of life, pain, and freedom of expression.

I have mixed feelings about WiHM, but I understand the need for its existence (this will be the subject of a post later in the month). I will always support authors – especially in my genre – and particularly female horror writers. Hell, I am one. Pay it forward and pay it back; karma will always be good to you.

I’ve received a lot of support from horror writers and readers, and I’ll be forever thankful for it. One of those who helped me enormously at the beginning of my writing career was the extraordinarily talented and supremely wonderful Kaaron Warren – one of the best horror writers about, no doubt.

I was lucky enough to be mentored by Kaaron, and what she taught me I will never be able to repay – her knowledge of storytelling and the industry was priceless. She was always there to look over my work (no matter how nervous I was) and answer any questions I had (no matter how ridiculous they may have been). I hope to one day help others as she did me.

WiHM 2015

Support comes in all forms, and I was the beneficiary of said support from the very talented Greg Chapman when he asked to interview me for WiHM. His questions were insightful and ones that deserved to be delved into. Not only that, I was interviewed along with Kaaron, which was like the icing on the cake for me.

The interview is here, and you’ll see that I’m far more ‘chatty’ than Kaaron – she really does know how to get to the heart of things succinctly! Our interview is part two of a series Greg’s doing. You’ll find part one here, where he interviews Marge Simon and Stephanie M. Wytovich – two very talented author/poets from the United States.

Greg asks us all which female horror authors we believe should be read, and if for nothing else, take a look at the lists the four of us offer – they’re wide-reaching and wide-reading.

So if you’ve never read horror written by a woman, or would like to read more horror written by women, check out Greg’s interviews.

Right then, time for me to get back to destroying a world of my own making. Horror writing really does rock!

 blood spatter

NOVELS AND ELEVENTY-FIRSTS

There’s a count-down calendar on this page. See it? Over there on your right… scroll down a little… a little more… Bingo! TWELVE DAYS TO GO! Ahem. ‘pologies. Didn’t mean to yell.

This is my second round at ‘The Black Friday Wager’ and my second attempt to finish the first draft of my novel. Well, to be completely honest it’s really more like draft eleven of the first draft of my first novel. ← That makes a weird kind of sense, trust me.

‘The Black Friday Wager’ is the brainhild of Elizabeth Wayne and Marty Young. Now, when I say ‘brainchild’ I mean a lovechild born from a sarcasm-riddled back and forth between the two on Facebook (it was a short pregnancy and a relatively pain-free labour – so not like actual births with the swearing and the pain and the blood… Hmm, now I think about it….)

BFW 2

The idea behind the BFW is a support network with incentives. We all have goals we’d like to achieve be it with writing, exercise or quitting the smokes… you get the idea. What the BFW allows those in the group to do is set a goal they’d like to achieve by the next Black Friday in the calendar year then another group member takes them up on said goal and a wager is set (decided upon by the two wagees).

I didn’t hit my goal last time ‘round, which cost me a bottle of scotch (happily delivered), but I’m very close to hitting my goal of finishing this eleventy-first draft of my novel. With twelve days to go, I just passed the 60,000-word mark, and I know I’m on the home stretch, which holds both relief and excitement.

Relief because this is the longest piece I’ve ever written, and there were times when I lost faith in myself as a writer and believed it was just something I could not do. I raged and swore, hated and kicked, and there were quiet moments of despair. Writing a novel is hard; writing a first draft of your first novel can be soul-destroying at times but here’s where the BFW group kick in. Beyond anything else they’re a support network, even those with whom you have a wager want you to succeed as much as you want to succeed. They’re your cheer squad, your sounding-boards, your oracles and your pickers-up when you’re down. I could not have come this far without them and I’ll be forever thankful.

And excitement because I can see where this novel is going; I know where the characters are going (not anywhere good, ohh no, not anywhere good at all), I know what they’re doing and what they hope to achieve despite all the crap I’m going to be throwing their way. And it’s a lot of crap. Apocalyptic worlds are never a fun place to be… for them. For me, I’m finally starting to enjoy myself, enjoy the process, and that’s something that’s been seriously lacking.

It’s been more stressful than I thought it would be, but that’s due to the unwarranted pressures I put on myself. I’m my own worst critic, and being an editor that tends to double the self-recriminations. It may not be right but it’s honest.

Is the draft good? Some of it, yes. But not all. Hell, some of it’s pure shite and I’ll admit that a lot of it will probably go in the rewrite, but it has created a greater focus for the story and a much better understanding of the characters and the world they inhabit. And that is all kinds of good.

BFW

So, with Friday the 13th closing in fast, my wager with the ever-wonderful and crazy-smart Elizabeth Wayne looks like being a success. And I don’t mean just the success of having a completed draft with ‘End’ sitting at the bottom of the page, or the fact that I’ll receive two illustrations from one of my favourite artists – Jeannie Lynn Paske – but the success of understanding that I can write long pieces, that I can be kind to myself – I should – and that maybe the short-story form isn’t the only place I can lay my hat.

ELEVENTY-FIRST, IT’S TIME TO END YOU!

Review: Dying Embers by M.R. Cosby

It’s review time again!! And in light of my previous post, I’ll write it any damn way I please! Huzzah! So let’s try doing this one a little differently. Why? Well… why not?

Imagine if you will that I’m a rather portly town crier who loves the sound of my own mead-thickened voice. Gold brocade hangs by a thread from my dirty red coat and wilted plumage sprouts from my tricorne hat. *burps* S’cuse me. My breeches are more grey than white, and my scuffed boots are in desperate need of a shoemaker and some elves.

The bell tolls… “Hear ye, hear ye! The first book review for 2015 is that of Dying Embers by MR Cosby!”

As I duck the throw of rotten fruit and sidestep the splash from chamber pots being emptied from second-storey windows, I remove the heavily-stained parchment from my back pocket… Where’d I put my bell?

“Disclaimer! Said reviewer has met Martin Cosby once at his book signing. She arrived late and all the wine had been guzzled! She’ll know better next time. She and Martin interact on Facebook, usually in the form of deriding their cock-up of a prime minister and the embarrassment that is their government! Onwards to review!”

Dying Embers

Dying Embers is the debut collection from MR Cosby, published through Australian small press, Satalyte Publishing. Comprised of ten short stories, Dying Embers is the first I’ve read of Cosby’s work and it is fine storytelling indeed.

The horror genre encompasses such a diverse range, and more often than not Cosby’s stories sit well on the side of psychological horror. And he delivers this well.

We begin with The Next Terrace, and this sets the tone for most of the stories within. Here we meet the very staid Robert and his friend, Terry the risk-taker. It’s on a visit to Robert’s grandparent’s home that things take a weird little turn. As with most young boys, a hole in the wall that leads to the adjacent terrace is too difficult an adventure to refuse. That night, Terry cajoles Robert into following him through, but Robert takes a step or two then freezes. It’s what happens afterwards to the two boys that has the reader wondering. Cosby doesn’t quite come right out and tell you what’s going on, but rather leads you through a maze of clues to the denouement (spoiler-free!). I quite liked this story, and it set me up to the style of storytelling Cosby employs.

It’s the use of denouement through Cosby’s stories that work well… but I’m not a fan of it for every story. I, too, have used it, and it’s a great storytelling tool, but it doesn’t work for all stories, and I believe (note: my opinion) that it shouldn’t be for all stories within a collection.

The thing is, the storytelling is bloody good. Cosby either tempts you into the story, or drags you in, but either way you’re living the world of those of his characters. I found this to be especially the case with La Tarasque and Abraham’s Bosom, both of which paint the landscape and surrounds of the story beautifully and works wonderfully as a juxtaposition to the horror.

Both of those stories were in my favourites of the collection, as was In Transit. This story, about a businessman who values his travelling time and expenses as not only a deserved luxury, but a way to spend some time away from his family; not that he dislikes them, mind, it’s just… hey, we all need a break, right? But things, just small things really, start to seem a little off to Pendleton. The demeanour of other passengers, travelling ‘economy’, and a gate that doesn’t exist… but does it? It’s this slow build of tension via the reveal of these little anomalies that had me list this as a fave.

Another favourite was Building Bridges, but this was also tinged with a bit of disappointment. It would have been my pick of the collection had it not been for the denouement. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Brentwood is a man trying to connect with his family (especially his children) after suffering a debilitating illness. A trip to the museum to see the dinosaur exhibit seems a good place to start, but after losing track of his family, or rather being accosted by an odd homeless man, he spends his time chasing after them. But Brentwood finds himself in an altogether different place; there are dinosaurs sure, but not quite like he expected. Cosby works the off-page building of tension here very well, and I was racing along the darkened corridors with Brentwood. And even I knew (like Brentwood) that the “dinosaur expert” he encountered was a little… off. As was the “dinosaur” the expert was waxing lyrical about.

It’s the chase though, toward the end of the story that really had me racing through the words – a sure-fire sign that the tension is done extremely well. And as the monster closes in… ZAP! We’re in denouement. Noooo! I wanted to see that final confrontation, to feel the fear, the terror as it closed in and got all nasty on Brentwood’s arse. Now don’t get me wrong, the denouement works to finalise the story, it just didn’t work for me. Especially after the terrific build.

noooo

And that’s where, for me, the collection didn’t quite pack the punch I was after. As a friend of mine said: “It didn’t hit you in the feels.” Thing is, the stories are extremely well told, and the tension and horror of the situation is conveyed with a lot more skill than others I’ve read. Cosby knows how to tell a tale. For me, though, it’s the visceral side of the horror genre that has its claws sunk into my heart.  Again, this is personal taste, and mine runs to the bloody side of things.

So, overall, this is a very well-written collection of psychological horror that sits well within its genre. If you’re looking to tease someone into the wonders of horror without the splatterpunk most associate with horror, then this is the collection to get them started on their journey of horror-love. For those who like some blood and gore with their horror, this probably isn’t the collection for you, HOWEVER, there are some damn fine tales within that are well worth the look.

On a Goodreads scale I give this a four-star for the art of storytelling.   

4 stars

 

It’s My Review and I’ll Write What I Want

Yesterday I was directed to a blog post written by a newish author (who shall remain unnamed) who was having a bit of a whinge about reviews and reviewers. This author had provided a (misnumbered) list of how they thought reviewers should go about writing reviews, especially reviews of said author’s work. Yes, you read that right.

Oh, but it gets better. This particular author loved five-star reviews (fair call; who doesn’t?), and was happy to accept a four-star review, but when it came to anything lower than that, well, things got a little creepy. If a reviewer wanted to give this author’s work a three, two or one-star review they wanted the reviewer to get in touch before posting the review so they could chat about the raising that little star-rating to an acceptable four or five-star.

The author’s reasoning? Well, once you weeded out all the ‘woe-is-me’ bullshit, it was pretty much… woe is me. It affected sales, it was mean, they don’t understand the book (ie the reader is stupid), it was mean, it hurt my feelings, it was mean, it was mean, it was mean!

crying

If that wasn’t bad enough, the author went on to say that those reviewers who’d received ARCs should always post positive reviews, regardless of whether they’d been asked for an honest review. You see, if they give you a free book, you must write a good review. Right? Right?

No.

As someone who reviews the books I read, my back went up. Who are you to tell me or anyone else how to review a book? Not that I ever plan on reading anything this writer offers. And that’s not just based on the cluster-fuck of the blog post, but on the blurb of said book that was garnering those meany-mean-mean reviews. It was awful, that blurb, truly awful. Long-winded, confusing, and so poorly written it gave me enough insight into what lay inside.

It’s clear the author didn’t employ an editor to look over their work, but has rather written the book then chucked it up on Amazon wanting to make some quick cash. That is not a writer. A writer labours over their words, each and every one of them; a writer ensures the plot works and that the characters are more than clichéd cardboard cut-outs. From the reviews I’ve read of this book, there’s a whole lot of wrong with it and not a lot of right.

It would be these reviews that had the author throw a hissy-fit – a lot of which were removed by Goodreads, it seems. Poor form by the author and equally poor form by Goodreads.

What the author failed to understand is that reviews are opinions of readers, and no book is going to appeal to everyone. The author believed there was an implied contract: read the book and love it or don’t say anything at all. Sorry, kiddo, time you entered the real world where people can form opinions that differ from yours.

This writer appears to be relatively new to the game, and a blog such as theirs could be career suicide. Readers remember, as do publishers. There were some scathing comments, and word had spread quickly about the pomposity of the post, but the author kept defending their position, digging that ugly hole deeper and deeper.

just stop

Most authors aren’t like the one that garnered this post. They’re thankful for anyone who takes the time to review their work – good or bad. But there are those out there whose sense of entitlement eclipses good sense. You wrote a book, but you’re not alone in that endeavour. You sold a book? That’s great! You got a sucky review? Thems the breaks.

I review books for other readers, not the author. The author gets my review as a by-product only. I’m honest, hopefully amusing, and deal with the story and characters and the writing. I take my time with them – and there’s the kicker: MY time. No author has the right to demand anything from me. I paid for your book; be happy about that. If I don’t like it, then I’m the one out of pocket. You? Well you’ve still got my cash. I think you’ve got the better deal here, no?

Oh, and if you don’t like my review, you could always return the cash…

Addendum: It seems the author has seen the error of that ridiculously self-important post and removed it.

Addendum to the addendum: The author has since issued an apology for said post. 

Writers and the ‘Real’ World

Writers, by and large, are a solitary folk. We live in our heads as much (if not more) as we do the ‘real’ world. Even when venturing into the gathering places of other humans, a part of our mind is ticking over with story plots, envisioning (and having conversations with) characters, trekking through worlds of our own creation. We function as other non-writerly folk do, but part of us is always lost in our words and our worlds.

imagination

The advent of social media has brought us solitary creatures together, given us a sense of community and understanding. Still, we continued to sit before our screens and ‘interact’ with other like-minded beings, and the sometime sense of isolation drew back a little. However, the thought of interacting face-to-face can often be an altogether different beast. A terrifying thing wrought with insecurity and panic. Our created worlds are safe havens, places we know and love that offer security and acceptance.

So it was with much trepidation (and a little fear, truth be told) that a couple of years ago a small bunch of Sydney horror writers who’d interacted online finally decided a meet was something we should try. You know, in person, face-to-face with conversation and all that jazz. And beer, let’s not forget the beer.

Jo and Cat Me, Tracy and Jase

And so the Sydney SHADOWS was born. That first get-together was a little daunting I have to say, but it soon grew into a core group of about ten who now can’t wait to meet up and talk shop and shenanigans. You see, no one understands a writer like another writer – they get that excitement of a new story/idea, the joy of publication and the suckiness of rejections. They know you live in alternate universes that are as real as the one our bodies inhabit. Among us there’s a wealth of experience and information we readily share with one another, but more than that we’re letting our hair down (well, those of us with hair), swearing up a storm, and acting silly as only writers can. Sure, we get strange looks from those at other tables, but we’re writers – even out in the world we bring our own worlds with us… while creating fantastical places in a hubbub of shouted ideas. (Cake drones! Ahem…)

Rob and Alan Me and Tracy  Jo and Rob Alan and Rob

Three or four years ago if this opportunity had come up, I’m not sure I’d have taken the leap, but now I can’t imagine not meeting up with this lot. We drink, we talk shit, bond over hats, and boy do we laugh. It’s a letting off of steam, of the build-up of all that we carry around in our heads, which can sometimes be very dark stuff.

There are times when my husband will ask: “When are you getting together with your people?” That’s his not-so-subtle way of telling me he can’t help me with the writing stuff that’s driving me crazy, and/or I need to get out of the house (and stop wearing my pyjamas all day).

Alan and Tracy Tracy and Me

Being (physically) around other authors brings a normalcy to what most of us experience when we tell other humans we’re writers (especially a horror writer) – a frown of distaste, a look of incredulity, a gasp followed by ‘but why?’. And meeting up with like-minded specimens is damn inspiring, no doubt about it.

So yes, writers are, by and large, a solitary folk, but when we get together it’s a celebration of what we do and who we are – warts and all. And for writers, there’s not a lot better than that.

Me, Alan, Jason  cat

(If you’re looking for fantastic writers and great reads, check out some of the work from Sydney SHADOWS members: Joanne Anderton, Catriona Sparks, Alan Baxter, Robert Hood, Andrew J McKeirnan, Marty Young, and Jason Crowe – you can’t go wrong!)

(All pics courtesy of the wonderful Cat Sparks, who can take a photo like no other!)

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