Monday, December 24, 2012

May The Joy Be With You

 

May you all be happy and safe and content in the coming year(s) and may your pages never be blank and your inner muse never be blocked.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Patriot No. 1 by Bleeding Ink Productions

(Patriot issue No. 1 of 4.)

To paraphrase Bruce Wayne's praise of Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, I believe in Jesse Grillo. I believe enough in the work I have seen from him and his comic book production company, Bleeding Ink Productions, that I helped fund Patriot, a four-issue miniseries he marketed on Kickstarter. Obviously, since I was funding a product that had not been completed, I was going on Grillo's past work and the premise of Patriot.

I was not disappointed with the results.

Patriot follows the story of the titular character after he discovers he has but weeks to live after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. He decides it is time to stop simply capturing and imprisoning his enemies only to see them escape and commit the same heinous crimes again and again. He decides it's time to put an end to their murderous activities...permanently. The plan does not go over well with his teen-aged son and is accepted with even less approval from his teammates in the Union of Superheroes.

The book overall is strong, especially from an independent with very little funding. Grillo handles the writing and does it capably. Jeff Slimmons' pencils and inks have a very pulpy feel to them (imagine some of the horror comics from the 40s and 50s) and Melissa Martin Ellis' colors complement the artwork perfectly. Together, it all has a very personal feel, not like many of today's comics, especially from Marvel, that feel as though they are generated by a computer graphics program.

The premise itself is interesting, especially with the "Death of the Family" story arc featuring the Joker currently taking place in the Batman titles. It has been said for years (decades) that Batman's strict adherence to his code of never taking a life has, in fact, cost hundreds if not thousands of lives. By allowing the Joker to live, Batman has indirectly caused the deaths of every victim who has been killed at the hands of the Clown Prince of Crime. The same can be said of Two-Face, the Penguin, et. al., but the Joker is easily the most diabolical and purely evil of Batman's Rogue's Gallery.

Patriot's bailiwick is unique in that his decision to turn to murder is a result of his own impending mortality. We've seen comics such as The Punisher that have been cut and dry from the very beginning: do evil and be killed, period. Patriot, based on the reactions of those around him when he reveals his plan, was very much in the mold of Superman -- a god-like being who chose to simply stop criminals and allow the proper authorities mete out justice. It is a familiar storyline with an added twist that provides the reader with a What Would I Do In That Situation? scenario.

Another unique aspect of the book is the lack of thought balloons and the third-party narrative the vast majority of comics employ. Not using thought balloons is becoming a topic amongst comic creators and fans on social media such as Twitter and while many believe the tried-and-true use of internal monologues should continue, not using them provides a more in-the-moment experience. It provides the reader an opportunity to consider for themselves what the characters could be thinking and what their motivation could be rather than having it spoon-fed to them.

As with any new comic, hero and villain names can be clunky and hard to process and Patriot is guilty of this in certain instances. However, if you take the names of heroes that have been around for decades such as Wonder Woman, Aqua Man, Spider Man, Mr. Fantastic, and the like, the names of the new heroes don't sound as awkward.

The other thing to consider is that Grillo is working mostly alone with a shoestring budget. The bigger the budget, the bigger the staff and the more people to assist with editing and to bounce ideas off of. Considering that Grillo has little name recognition among mainstream comics fans and the aforementioned next-to-nothing budget, Patriot, along with his other titles, should stand out as a triumph of David versus the Goliath of the Disney-owned Marvel and Warner Bros.-owned DC Comics. Grillo has talent and a strong portfolio; brands like Dark Horse, Radical, Vertigo, and others would be well-advised to grab him while his price is still low.

For more information on Bleeding Ink Productions or to check out its line of comics, visit them at their official website.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Minion's Excuse for Ignoring Auntie Heather

(Who would want to ignore Auntie Heather? She's delightful! Photo by Kurt Bali)

OK. So Heather Brewer, known by her thousands of minions as "Auntie Heather" is awesome. I don't think there's any denying it. She also hosted an event in St. Peters, Mo., Oct. 30 to promote her latest book and the second book of the Slayer Chronicles, Second Chance. It wasn't just a regular book promotion stop for me. Brewer, a resident of St. Louis, honestly moved me that night as she talked about being bullied as a child and her struggles to become an author, or what she thought at the time was an author. I was moved to tears on a number of occasions during her talk, as were many others. I was there to cover the event for Walrus Publishing and was going to make my deadline for once.

So, what happened?

Well...I lost my notes. Seriously.

Bad news: I'm an irresponsible man-child. Good news: I found the notes yesterday! Alright, it's been well past a month since the event, but the things she said are timeless and, hey! the book has only been out two months so it's still relevant. Yay, stretching my worthlessness into a plausible excuse!

Anyway, I'm going to start working on the story immediately and all of Auntie Heather's gloriousness will be passed on to you.

Monday, December 10, 2012

DC Comics Stays Classy; Fires Gail Simone Via E-Mail

(Concentrated red-haired awesome, Gail Simone. Photo by Luigi Novi)

In a world filled with assholes, douchebags, and scoundrels, DC Comics decided to make a solid run for Dick of the Week by firing Gail Simone. If you don't know who Simone is, run, don't walk, fucking run, to your nearest comic book store and grab any issue of Batgirl produced during the New 52 era. I personally recommend the recently-released Batgirl Annual #1. Got it? Awesome, isn't it? Well-written, well-plotted with characters you really care for and empathize with, right?

Yeah, DC decided to shit-can her. From one of the more popular titles out right now. Via e-mail.

Unless Santa Claus gives an orphan the finger while kicking a puppy, DC could have that Dick of the Week title wrapped up. I'm writing this as a fan and not as a comics insider because 1) I'm a fan, and 2) I'm not a comics insider and as a fan, I think what DC did was bullshit.

(Yeah, she responded to a compliment I gave her, so we're pretty much besties.)

Simone has been at the helm for some of the best, and underrated, comics in recent years for DC, including Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, and Fury of Firestorm. Her work on Marvel's Deadpool is, in my opinion, the catalyst for making that title one of the most popular in the Marvel Universe. Wade Wilson went from a meh character with corny one-liners to an anti-hero spewing laugh-out-loud comments that were cringe-worthy in their darkness and inappropriateness.

On the flip side of that was Batgirl, a book that has all the bang-pow superhero stuff you could ask for, but also provides a back story worthy of one of the most interesting characters in the DC Universe. Something of a fringe character in the past, Alan Moore's The Killing Joke put her in the limelight when the Joker put a bullet in her spine and paralyzed her. No longer able to be Batgirl, Barbara Gordon became Oracle, the eye in the sky for Batman and the Bat Family as well as the leader of the Birds of Prey, a female group consisting of such super heroines as Black Canary, the Huntress, Lady Blackhawke, and others.

(Don't. Just don't. Be a grown up. Photo by ComicVine.com)

Simone's run on Birds of Prey was very notable in that since it was a comic about women written by a woman, it would be, well, all girly and shit. They would talk about boys and, er, women stuff, and it would be unreadable. Nope. Not even close. In fact, it was reading some of the trade paperbacks of BoP at my local library that convinced me I should give Batgirl a shot when the New 52 kicked off. I already had all the Bat titles plus Justice League in my pull file at my local shop, but after reading Batgirl #1, I was hooked.

So. We have cred with the fanboys in a male-dominated field, a book that is popular in aforementioned field, and a legion of fans who went absolutely batshit (pun intended) on Twitter Sunday when Simone confirmed she had been given her walking papers. Via. Fucking. E-mail.

Sports fans will remember this. Remember when Jimmy Johnson, formerly a championship coach, now an analyst and spokesman for big-dick pills, won his second-straight Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones, prior to his permanent impersonation of the creepy preacher from Poltergeist 2, fired his ass? This is kinda like that, but different.

It's like that because there's an obvious analogy to be made between the two instances and different because I love what Simone has done with Batgirl and abso-fucking-lutely hate the Dallas Cowboys. I taught my son when he was four years old that the Cowboys set fire to kitten rescues on Christmas Eve. Truth hurts sometimes. I bring up the Jones/Johnson situation because of this: Rumor has it, there was some friction between Simone and her editor. Obviously, I don't know for sure but if the internet says it...

Anyway, the point I'm laboring to make is, if you're successful, you bust your ass to get along. It doesn't matter if you literally fucking hate that person to the point you wish their grandparents would come back to life so you could kill them all over again, you make an effort to get along. Batgirl is a magical title and it's because of the combination of Simone and Ardian Syaf (pencils) making it thus. I'm not saying you should suffer assholes gladly, but if I'm Simone's former editor and she walked by my desk, knocking my coffee cup off my desk daily and giving me wet willies in front of my kids, I'd suck it up a little because you're part of a profitable team and, in the end, that reflects on you. Plus, I'd teabag the shit out of her laptop when she wasn't looking. But I'm passive-aggressive that way.

Monday's news from Simone was much more positive as some of the biggest names in comics, such as Neil Gaiman and Batman's Scott Snyder, coming to her defense on Twitter. The lady herself made several comments, basically saying she's receiving a ton of offers that are actually more lucrative than her gig on Batgirl. She also said she's spoken with the heads of DC and they have told her they are sorry things ended the way they did and there was some miscommunication between the firer and the firee i.e. they shit-canned her without getting their ducks in a row first.

I'd like to say I'm not going to read Batgirl or any DC Comics titles anymore. Based on things I've read, they probably deserve it. While I enjoy the New 52, it was done (allegedly) against the wishes of most of the creative staff and according to a panel I attended with Denny O'Neil, comics are a brutal business no matter where you are with constant power plays between the creative teams, the editors, and the publishers where the biggest losers tend to be the fans. Kind of like this situation, for example.

I'm still going to read DC Comics. And Batgirl. At least for awhile. Simone's final issue is #16 at the end of the "Death of the Family" arc with the Joker and the other Bat titles. Batgirl was special because it was believable. Suspension of disbelief is hard to achieve sometimes, but Simone made it easy. You liked Barbara. You pulled for her. You felt her pain, her confusion, her fears of being put back in that damned chair. Prior to this, the closest I've felt to a character was Kitty Pryde in the X-Men of the 80s when Peter Rasputin told her he didn't love her anymore because of his feelings for Zsaji, the healer he met on Battleworld during the Secret Wars arc. Chris Claremont handled that amazingly and it left a lasting impression on me, both as a comics fan and as a writer. That is what Simone has done with Batgirl.

So Gail, I'm still going to read Batgirl. And other DC Comics. But I'll be thinking of you. Anyone that comes along, no matter how good, will just be a silver medal.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: I Am Not A Serial Killer


If you combine Encyclopedia Brown and Dexter, you get John Wayne Cleaver, the protagonist(?) of Dan Wells' debut novel I Am Not a Serial Killer.

This is another in my line of "I know it's an older book, but if I haven't read it, it's new to me" book reviews. I was introduced to Wells this past summer on the Dark Days Tour as he was promoting Partials with fellow authors Veronica Roth, Aprilynne Pike, and SJ Kincaid. The Partials series falls more in the Young Adult genre and the next book in the trilogy, Fragments, is scheduled for release in Februrary of next year.

In addition to being his first novel, Serial Killer is also the first book in a trilogy, followed by Mr. Monster and I Don't Want to Kill You. John Wayne Cleaver's tale is, at first glance, typical YA fodder: High school-aged lad placed into a supernatural situation where he has to rely on heretofore unknown abilities to win the day. This is kinda like that.

Kinda.

John Wayne Cleaver was given his name by his deadbeat dad because of said father's love for The Duke. The problem is, young John is a medically-diagnosed and admitted sociopath who struggles to keep the would-be killer within him at bay, so the name John Wayne takes on a rather unfortunate and much different connotation (I mean John Wayne Gacy, the clown you didn't want to hire for your kids' birthday party). His father, his sulking sister, his single mother and her pragmatic sister all figure into why John is the way he is as he helps out at the family mortuary.

Did I mention his mother and aunt run his small town's funeral home? No? Well, yeah, they do. That's not an unfortunate piece of the story for a kid who has a knowledge of serial killers Wikipedia writers would be green with envy for.

The story takes off when some very grisly murders begin taking place in John's backyard. Figuratively. They don't literally take place in his backyard. I meant in his town. After a couple of the victims show up at the family business, John decides to do some sleuthing and discovers that the killer is not only someone he knows, but someone with a very dark secret. As though being a murderer isn't dark enough.

Reading a synopsis of Serial Killer would lead you to believe you know how the book is going to play out and you would be wrong; dead wrong (see what I did there?). The brilliance of this book lies in two things: 1) Wells' research into psychology and sociopathy, and 2) changing the way you look at the protagonist and the antagonist in this story. Cleaver, while admirable in his desire to do the right thing, can be hard to like at times. The killer, while committing some truly grisly murders, has a part of his story that readers will empathize with.

Trying to put this book in the YA category is a back-and-forth fight. On the one hand, it's textbook Young Adult fare, in that there is the young person trying to take on a foe that is completely out of his league. That's a staple of YA literature. But on the other hand, every relationship Cleaver has, whether it's his family, his so-called best friend, and his potential love interest, is effected by his sociopathy, his obsession with serial killers and death, and his battle to keep his darker self from gaining dominance. Wells hasn't written another Twilight; this is no sparkling vampire or buff werewolf. John is a potentially dangerous young man and should absolutely be viewed as such. He should, however, be seen as a young man with a legitimate disease and an individual who is the target of bullying and ostracism at his school, topics that many, if not most, teens can relate to in today's society.

As a man nearing 40, I really enjoyed this book. I found it to be a quick read, an entertaining read, and a memorable read. While this book can be extremely violent, I do think young readers (high school-aged readers) would enjoy it as well. I think there are many battles fought by Cleaver that teens can identify with. The metaphoric ones. Not the ones dealing with a mass murder. Call the police, kids; that's why they're there.

For more on Dan Wells, you can follow him on Twitter or at his Writing Excuses website.

Friday, November 2, 2012

NaNoWriMo Time, Bitches!


November is National Novel Writing Month, known better as NaNoWriMo. I gave it a shot last year and by "gave it a shot" I mean I set up my page on their official site and proceeded to write not a single word.

This year, however, is different. Yesterday was Day 1 and I dropped 1,774 words. Yeah. Like a boss. I'm doing it this year, dammit. The tentative title is Hannibal Preston & the Adventures of the Six Gun Wizard. Probably won't stick, but who knows. And in case you noticed it's the name of this blog, there's a reason. I've been thinking about this novel for the past four years and I'm just now getting down to the process of writing it.

NaNoWriMo was a big factor in my hitting the laptop and finally telling the story, but another was attending a book signing by Heather Brewer this week. You can read about that event in the next week or two over at Walrus Publishing, but suffice it to say, it was inspiring. We share a very similar past and upbringing and something just clicked.

So I'm doing this. NaNoWriMo is the beginning. This novel is getting written. I have given myself a deadline of Jan. 1, 2015 to get it published. Gonna. Fucking. Happen.

Here's the opening of Hannibal Preston.

Hannibal held a wand in one hand, a smoking pistol in the other as a wizard lie dead at his feet.

Hannibal was fucked.

Perhaps “wizard” isn’t the most accurate description of the man on the floor with a brand new hole in his head just above the left eye. “Charlatan” would be a generous term. “Asshole” would be closer to the truth and more in line with the thoughts racing through Hannibal’s mind as he heard the rumble of the so-called magician’s loyal, albeit mislead, followers.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As Hannibal is barricading the door, preparing for the arrival of several pissed-off, recently-made-leaderless minions, we’ll go back to the beginning, a time before our protagonist was the recipient of the murderous rage of a small city. In the beginning, Hannibal was only loathed by a few. To their credit, though, they had years of practice.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

G. Norman Lippert & the Son of Harry Potter

(St. Louisan G. Norman Lippert)

Do you miss Harry Potter? Miss the adventures he and his friends had on the grounds of Hogwarts facing Voldemort and his evil minions?

So did G. Norman Lippert. Only instead of pining away, he decided to do something about it. He decided to continue the Potter legacy by writing about The Chosen One's son, James. The extraordinary books, given the blessing by JK Rowling herself, can be downloaded for FREE at a number of sites. For the full story on Lippert and how this all came to be, check out my interview with him at Walrus Publishing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bob's Ghost

The moment he entered his home, Bob knew the ghost was gone.

Over the past four weeks, the ghost had always welcomed Bob home, whether in the evening when he came from work or Saturday afternoons when he returned from his weekly visit to his Mother’s or Sunday mornings after church. The ghost was a voice Bob had grown accustomed to hearing and now that it was gone, Bob was saddened and confused.

Bob waited at the door another moment, hoping the ghost would speak. Perhaps she (the ghost’s voice had a decidedly feminine character to it) was playing a game. Or busy. Bob had no previous experiences with ghosts, so maybe today, the third Thursday of the month, was when they ran their errands. A smile touched his lips as he thought of the ghost at the spectral grocery store. Maybe the ghost was at the ethereal DMV. He wondered if theirs was as much a bother as the one he visited annually to update the tags on his ten-year-old compact sedan.

When it became apparent no greeting would be forthcoming, Bob removed his shoes, placed them neatly on the little mat by the door and eased his feet into the slippers just as neatly located next to the newly-removed loafers. He placed his laptop bag on the small table in the small foyer near the entrance of his small home. He walked into his living room, also on the smallish side, and turned on the lamp. The sparsely-furnished area was instantly illuminated, putting on display an older recliner, a new couch, a stationary bike he used often (a fact that filled him with no small amount of pride considering he could still wear the suit he wore at his high school graduation), a glass-fronted cabinet displaying mementos of his life (there weren’t many), and a 50-inch high-definition flat-screen plasma TV mounted on the wall. The latter was a gift to himself. Not a birthday gift or a Christmas gift; a just-because gift.

He referred to these self-awarded pleasures as his Stuart Smalley Presents, a reference to the Saturday Night Live character whose credo of “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” never failed to give Bob a chuckle when he thought of it. While Bob felt, for the most part, he was in fact good enough, he had neither felt particularly smart at any point in his 30-some odd years on Earth, nor did he necessarily feel that people liked him. He was not disliked, that he knew of. In fact, had an independent survey taker decided to take the time to conduct a poll of the people in Bob’s life (his mother excluded) to suss out for themselves Bob’s popularity, said pollster would find Bob barely moved the needle of recognition beyond being the person occupying Workstation 42 at the call center where he adequately convinced people of their heretofore unknown need to purchase additional insurance, regardless of their level of financial protection in the event of a disaster at the time of his call. Bob was simply “there.”

Simply “there” was how Bob had come to think of the ghost. He was startled when she had first spoken to him, one night little more than a month ago. Since then and until this morning when he had heard the ghost’s voice the most recent (last?) time, wishing him a good day at work, he had come to think of the ghost as something slightly supernatural and odd, but beautiful and unique, like the Northern Lights or those fish at the bottom of the ocean with the odd stalk on their foreheads that had the naturally-occurring little light…for the life of him, Bob couldn’t think of what they were called. It would come to him. Things like this usually did when he stopped thinking about them. So he made the decision to stop thinking about what that particular form of aquatic life was called and did.

Bob sat down in his chair and picked up the remote to his television, but did not turn it on. He sat quietly staring at it, though, as if it were. He was thinking. He was thinking about the ghost and why she hadn’t spoken to him. Was she mad at him? That thought gave him the teensiest bit of discomfort, but had you asked him why, he wouldn’t have been able to put his finger on it. He didn’t believe so. He and the ghost had a very cordial relationship with the biggest bone of contention being what to watch Tuesday evenings.

Perhaps the ghost’s time with Bob was done and she had been called home, like Dudley in The Bishop’s Wife, one of his favorite movies. He didn’t feel that was the case. He had no great struggle in life. He had experienced the usual hardships in life; deaths, separations (most recently in the form of a divorce from his wife of slightly less than two years), the usual spate of slings and arrows one faces in the course of a normal existence. Or at least if she had been a part of Bob’s life for a specific purpose, he was unaware of it. But that didn’t feel right. If the ghost were a guardian angel, Bob believed that topic would have been broached by now.

So Bob sat, pondering. Unable to come to a satisfying conclusion, he got up from his chair and walked into his kitchen, turning the light on as he did. His kitchen, like the rest of his home, was small, but clean in a manner that states the person in charge of tidying up was, at least slightly, obsessive compulsive. Everything was in its place, perfectly aligned. All plates were stacked in perfect order, like equally-measured porcelain pancakes. In the silverware drawer, the slots designated for the forks and spoons were filled with an even number of utensils, piled perfectly atop one another. Had a white-gloved military inspector entered the kitchen, or any room in the house, Bob would have passed with flying colors.

He walked with purpose to the glass-faced cabinet above the sink, opened it, and retrieved a three-quarters full bottle of Jameson’s. As he did this, he was reminded of Tina, his newly-divorced wife. Tina was a tiny woman; barely five feet in height and barely one hundred pounds in weight. With a flawless Irish accent, he would refer to her as his “wee slip of a lass.” He usually did this as he would fill a shot glass with the Irish whiskey, hoist it to his lips, pinky finger out, and consume it in two or three sips. It was what Tina referred to as, in her not-so-flawless Irish accent, Bob enjoying his “wee sip of a glass.”

As he thought of Tina, Bob had a slight feeling of discomfort. It wasn’t a terrible feeling or a sense of something dreadfully wrong, nor was it long lasting in duration. Just an odd twinge that was completely forgotten as he finished his “wee sip of a glass.” As a matter of fact, Bob had not thought of Tina much at all since the divorce, a short, painless process lasting less than a month from the time she announced she felt it would be best for them to part to the day the couple stood before the same judge who had married them, decreeing the marriage irreparably damaged and approved the motion to divorce.

Having finished his whiskey (in three quick sips), Bob replaced the cap on the bottle, putting it back in its place. He was washing the shot glass when the ghost spoke.

“Bob.”

Although he started, he did not drop the glass. As he set the shot glass down, he considered not responding, thinking his silence would relay to her his hurt that she had waited so long to speak to him. Bob also considered the opposite: asking why she only now spoke and if he had done something wrong.

He did neither because he sensed a tone. He was familiar with a tone. It was what he had heard from his mother growing up when she needed to stress to Bob the importance of listening to grownups. After all, she would say (so often, he thought it of others no fewer than five times per day, every single day of his adult life), “God gave us two ears and one mouth because listening is far more important than talking.” He had heard a tone from every boss he had ever worked for when they wanted to ensure he would do exactly what he was told, to the letter. “Wandering off the path” is how many referred to it. Bob never wandered off the path. The path was well-worn without a single footprint in the grass on either side.

The ghost had that particular affectation in her voice, so instead of passive aggression or an inquisitive mea culpa, Bob did what he always did. He turned to the direction he thought was the voice was originating from, smiled, and said, “Why, hello there. How was our day today?”

The ghost completely ignored Bob and, with a tone, said, “You haven’t checked today.”

He was taken aback. Two things slammed through Bob’s mind: The ghost had never brought this particular subject up and she was right. He hadn’t checked today, primarily because her not being here had confused him and caused him to forget. Bob was good about following directions but only if his daily patterns were not interrupted. Many people did not react positively to change, but in Bob’s case, confusion reigned in his mind when things did not happen exactly the way they were supposed to.

“You weren’t here,” Bob said, trying to (avoid eye contact) sound nonchalant. “I forgot.”

“Don’t bother,” the ghost said. “It’s gone. It’s gone and you need to take care of the situation.”

A panic chilled him to the very core of his soul. It’s gone, Bob thought. But what is it? He could not remember, but he knew it being gone was bad. Very bad. In fact, it would be the most bad thing to have ever happened in Bob’s life.

Bob ran through his small house to his small bedroom. Entering the room, he saw his bed, still perfectly made from this morning; the night table with the digital alarm clock; and his reading glasses atop a book, one of a series of weighty tomes regarding a young magician and his friends. His oak dresser was across from the bed, a chair next to it. His closet door was closed tightly as it always was. Bob made these observations in the span of an eye blink, but knew the ghost was right.

It was gone.

“What are you going to do, Bob?” said the ghost from behind him. Bob didn’t know. Bob didn’t even know what it was, only that it should be here and it wasn’t. He was about to respond when he suddenly thought: She asked me what I was going to do. All their conversations had been from the point of view of we. “How are we doing today” or “What are we going to watch this evening?” The ghost had asked, rather pointedly, what he was going to do. And it was a valid question because Bob had no idea what he was going to do considering he still couldn’t remember what it was or why he should be concerned about its disappearance.

In the midst of his anxiety, Bob was reminded of his and Tina’s final conversation. A similar feeling coursed through him then as now. She was returning home to retrieve the last of her things. Some clothes, a few movies she was fond of that, a couple small knick-knacks of personal value to her. Bob was busy baking bread prior to her arrival. She loved his homemade bread. He wasn’t, surprisingly, cooking her favorite treat in any effort to win her back. As with everything and everyone else in his life, when it was gone, it was gone. Jobs, friends, the very few girlfriends he had had, material things, whatever. When they left his life, he spared them hardly a second thought. That was another of his mother’s lessons: “Don’t focus on what you’ve lost. Look forward to what you can gain.” In his mother’s case, that lesson translated to: “Don’t worry about those things I told you to leave alone in the first place. Return instead to paying attention to me.”

No, he was cooking the bread for Tina simply because he knew she would like it and would cheer her up. While Bob really had no emotion about the divorce, the same could not be said for Tina. She was absolutely elated. She had never truly loved Bob, but had never hated him and never took advantage of him in any way, either. She had been in a spot in her life where family and friends had begun to turn up the pressure about getting married and Bob, whom she had met at a conference at work, seemed as good a man as any. He was well-mannered, attractive enough, and gave off the distinct vibe of a man who would not wander off the path.

And he didn’t. Which was good for Tina because had Bob set his feet upon the virgin foliage lining the path of his life, he would discover Tina’s girlfriend of eight years and their plan for Tina to stay married to Bob until gay marriage was legalized in their state, which it had been two months ago. Had someone actually confronted him and informed him his wife was a lesbian, Bob couldn’t have been more surprised had he learned his mother had played shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, was a three-time All-Star and former league MVP. Their sex life was normal (his and Tina’s). At least it was what he considered normal. He had never been comfortable with the act in the first place, but the fact that Tina allowed him to engage her in coitus from time to time, making the expected movements and moans, made him think they had at least an average sexual relationship. Tina saw sex with a man as a physical act used only to get things done. She and her partner had an understanding. That understanding was, if it took taking the high hard one to get a promotion or a vacation or, as in this case, the attention away from them until they could legally live their lives as they saw fit, then that was no issue whatsoever.

So Tina stuck it out with Bob for a couple years and actually grew to care for and pity him. True, she never loved him, but she made sure to never hurt him. She understood the psychic trauma his mother (vile, vile woman) had inflicted upon him and while she knew she was not going to deviate from her plans, she would make his life comfortable as possible. As such, it was with mixed emotions she watched her governor signing the bill for marriage equality into law. She loved her girlfriend and knew they would live happily ever after, but she also knew Bob was going to be hurt.

It was with great surprise, however, she discovered he didn’t seem to be upset that night she had told him she didn’t feel the spark was there anymore and that she wanted a divorce. Bob had smiled a sad little smile and said OK. Mostly because he wasn’t surprised by the announcement, but also due to the presence of a tone.

She entered the house while Bob was taking the bread out of the oven. He had already packed her things neatly into two medium-sized boxes sitting next to the front door. She smelled the fresh bread and smiled her own sad little smile. Bob may have had the emotional range of a sack of nickels, but the man could bake his ass off, she thought.

“Ah, my wee slip of a lass,” Bob said in his perfect Irish brogue as Tina walked into the kitchen.

She smiled as her eyes caught sight of the shot glass on the counter. “I see you’ve had your wee sip of a glass.” Their eyes locked briefly, but they looked away just as quickly. Tina turned around, taking her jacket off and setting it on the kitchen table. “My mom and dad said to tell you hi and to not be a stra-“

Her words were cut off as Bob put his hand across her mouth from behind with a strength that astonished her. Or rather, would have astonished her had she had time to be astonished. She didn’t. The moment he silenced her, the serrated edge of a bread knife touched her neck, just below her left ear. It began moving to the right, digging deeper into her flesh and her throat as it made its journey to her right ear. By the time the knife arrived near the diamond earring in Tina’s dainty earlobe, the knife (a gift from her), had cut to her spine, blood erupting from the wound in seemingly impossible amounts.

He kept his hand on her mouth, holding her to him as she struggled. He felt her weakening, weakening until she became a dead weight that he slowly lowered to the floor, now flooded with his ex-wife’s blood.

“Bob, we need to take care of this.”

It was the first time he had heard the ghost. He was surprised, but not startled, just as he was surprised by what he had done to Tina, but not horrified or panicked. He listened to the ghost (he thought of it as “she”) and did what she told him. After cleaning the kitchen and removing every drop of blood, he cleaned Tina as best he could, wrapped her in two of his bedsheets, and laid her beside his bed. The ghost had said this was for the best until they could decide how to best dispose of her. 

It was Tina, Bob realized back in the present moment. He had killed her. He had killed Tina and had kept her in his (their) bedroom for the last four weeks. And now she (it) was gone. Bob’s legs gave way and he fell to the floor on his behind, panic threatening to shut down his mind.

“We’re going to take care of this, Bob,” the ghost said.

“Really? This is really going to be OK?” Bob asked, a mixture of stark fear and childish hope in his voice.

“Oh, yes. We’re going to be just fine,” she said. “There is a box beneath the couch. Get it and open it.”

With no hesitation, Bob leapt to his feet and ran to the living room. He shoved the couch from the back, looking down as he pushed. There was a smallish cardboard box there. He leaned down and picked it up. It was much heavier than he had thought it would be. He hesitated briefly, then opened it. Inside was a gray .380 pistol. He stared blankly for a moment and finally asked, “What am I supposed to do with this? Do I shoot myself?”

For the first time since he had known her (it), the ghost laughed. “Oh, no, Silly Bean!” Once again, ice water filled his veins. Silly Bean had been Tina’s pet name for him. “You need to take the gun, then look outside.”

He pulled the gun from the box, setting it in the middle of the couch. His eyes blank, sweat beginning to bead on his upper lip, he turned around and walked through the foyer to the front door. He looked outside through the window on the left side of the entrance. The entire street was filled with police. He saw at least five police cars, all with their lights flashing, what looked to be dozens of officers, two ambulances, four news vans with the tall satellite antennas and, of course, the entire neighborhood, members of which who would later provide the great stereotypical quote to the assembled media, “He seemed so normal.”

An officer must have noticed the movement of the curtain because a second or two after Bob looked out the window, he heard an amplified voice pierce the air.

“PLEASE COME OUTSIDE WITH YOUR HANDS ON YOUR HEAD! WE DO NOT WANT TO HURT YOU! WE JUST WANT TO TALK!”

“Bob, they’re not going to talk to you,” the ghost said. “There are twelve snipers on the rooftops across the street. Why do you think there’s an ambulance and no paddy wagon? You’re going to the morgue, not the jail.”

“I didn’t want this!” Bob wailed. “I didn’t want any of this! I just want to lay down, read my book, and go to sleep. You told me we were going to be fine!”

Again, the ghost laughed with no trace of malice. “Oh, Silly Bean! That’s a royal ‘we!’ Let me rephrase. I’m going to be OK. You are fucked.”

Hearing this, Bob’s lip quivered just slightly and the first tears began to appear at the corner of his eyes as he continued to look in the direction of the voice. “You say you didn’t want this?” the ghost said. “Then you shouldn’t have killed me.”

“T-tina?” he whispered hoarsely.

“Yes, Silly Bean, it’s me,” she said, a smile in her voice. “I have to say, I never thought you had it in you. But you know what they say, still waters run the deepest.”

Bob looked as though he had aged 30 years in the past five minutes. Tears were falling freely down his pale cheeks, mixing with the nervous sweat from his brow. “Tina. Oh God, Tina. What do I do? What do I do?”

“You’re going to walk out the door and you’re going to take your medicine. You’re going to have a wee sip of a glass today, Bob!”

Bob looked around, the weight of the situation finally settling into his brain. He had killed his wife and either her ghost or his own guilty subconscious was going to make him pay for it. He began to shiver like a man caught in a blizzard as he went into shock. He again peered out the window and saw the officers and for the first time, saw they were not only armed, but standing with their weapons pointed directly at the front door.

“SIR!” the voice from the bullhorn screeched. “PLEASE COME OUTSIDE SO WE CAN TALK ABOUT THIS!”

“What should I do?” Bob asked aloud, but the ghost (Tina) was gone. Truly gone, Bob believed and he was right. For quite possibly the first time in his life, he was truly alone. No one to tell him what to do. No one to make his decisions for him. It was just Bob.

He placed his left hand on the knob of the door and turned it. He looked down at his hand and then looked straight ahead, pulling the door open. As he did, the assembled mob released a collective gasp. He thought he heard the klak-KLAK! of a pump-action shotgun as the lights from the media’s cameras blinded him. He stumbled two steps and stopped.

“GUN!”

The word shook him out of his stupor and he looked at the .380 in his right hand. He had forgotten he still had it. As he looked up, he raised the gun, meaning to tell the small army of policemen this was a mistake. They did not give him the chance.

The first volley of bullets were close enough he could feel them zipping past his face. As a bullet found and shattered his left knee and the one that would crash into his brain, killing him instantly less than a second away, Bob thought, lantern fish.

It was called a lantern fish.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Terry Brooks Marks 35 Years of Writing with New Shannara Trilogy

(Terry Brooks at Left Bank Books promoting his latest Shannara trilogy. Photo by Kurt Bali.)

Terry Brooks swung through St. Louis recently to promote his latest Shannara trilogy, Wards of Faerie, and I was there to review the event at Left Bank Books for Walrus Publishing. As usual, I'm a little late in getting this posted, but you can't rush talent. Or whatever it is I put down on a Web site. Anywhoodle, it was a blast to cover it and if you ever get the opportunity to listen to Terry speak about his books, do yourself a favor and do it. Great sense of humor and a true love and appreciation for his fans. For the entire write up, click HERE.

Monday, September 24, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Highway to Hell by Armand Rosamilia

 

You know those stories about the zombie apocalypse where there's some humor and features a couple of zombies you almost feel sorry for or think are cute?

Yeah. This ain't that. 

Highway to Hell is a 74-page novella written by extreme horror writer Armand Rosamilia. Yes, I know it was published nearly two years ago, but I'm just now getting around to writing about it, so it's new to me.

Rosamilia has done an interesting thing with this little piece of disturbing genre literature: He's redefined one of the most popular storylines in horror today. It's like completely changing the vampire myth to make it possible for said bloodsucker to be out during the day. And sparkle. But not suck. Figuratively. Or literally? Fuck, I don't know. I haven't worked this out completely and I've been drinking.

Anyway.

With the popularity of The Walking Dead and movies like Zombieland and 28 Days/Weeks/Months etc., the dystopian nightmare that is the dead rising from their graves and taking over the world has become a little played out. But in the first couple pages of Highway, Rosamilia changes the game. How?

Zombie rapists.

He's not called an "extreme horror" writer for nothing. In the very first pages of the story, when zombies are fisting their victim and violating them in the most brutal, sexually-depraved manner possible, it's safe to say this isn't your father's zombie story. Some authors, especially horror authors, will attempt to go for the shock value and ride the story on that and that only. Rosamilia is different, however.

His characters are relateable. You feel empathy for them. You understand them. You get them. As a reader, you can understand their bravado and at the same time, their insecurities. These are real people. Zombie apocalypse stories are nothing new at all.  While, in my opinion, Max Brooks did it best with World War Z, what Rosamilia has done in a very short span has made the reader not only feel a kinship with the protagonists, his style of writing truly makes you want to know what's going to happen next.

And then there's the zombie rape. The cannibalism portrayed in the vast majority of zombie movies focuses on a longstanding worldwide taboo. What Highway to Hell has done has made a zombie attack feel even more personal. It's safe to say, most people don't feel they will ever be a victim of a cannibal, especially one who intends to dine upon you whilst you still live. Rape and sexual assault, however, is a different animal. The idea of being violated in that manner is something real, something tangible. While it's a base fear many women have, it's something men are terrified of in a very dark place they rarely, if ever, speak of. The rape of a woman is horrible. The rape of a man is, in that man's mind, horrible, unnatural, and nearly impossible to ever recover from. That is what makes Rosamilia's story all the more terrifying. The idea of being eaten alive is gruesome; the idea of having your genitalia and various orifices violated in as graphic, gruesome manner as possible is truly disquieting.

Rosamilia isn't for everyone. I equate what he does to music, specifically metal. If someone tells you they're a metal fan, more often than not, they're talking about Metallica, Slipknot, Godsmack, and maybe, maybe, Slayer. When you bring up bands like Cannibal Corpse, Goatwhore, Cattle Decapitation, et. al., that "metal" fan is looking at you like you just ate the head off a kitten. Rosamilia's writings are like those latter bands. He's not for everyone, but if you can get past the squeamishness of the subject matter, you will be entertained.

For more on Armand Rosamilia, check him out at his Web site, his official page on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Rare Titanic Family

 

Once again, the great folks at Left Bank Books hosted another great literary event, this time with Dr. Julie Williams, author of A Rare Titanic Family. The story focuses on her great uncle, Albert Caldwell, his wife Sylvia and their son Alden and their escape from the ill-fated Titanic. The book itself is a compelling read, but if you have the opportunity to see Dr. Williams promote it, do not hesitate. She's a natural showman and is a wealth of knowledge and humor. For the full story I wrote for Walrus Publishing, click HERE.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dr. Deborah Harkness Brings the Magic to STL

(Dr. Deborah Harkness signs copies of her new book, Shadow of Night, at a recent visit to the Schlafly Branch of the St. Louis Library. Photo by Kurt Bali)

Had a lot of fun a week or so ago when I attended a panel hosted by Left Bank Books (which are always fun) featuring Dr. Deborah Harkness as the guest of honor. She was in St. Louis promoting her new book Shadow of Night, a sequel to A Discovery of Witches and the second book in the All Souls trilogy. Even though the audience was predominantly female, based on listening to her speak and what I've read of her books, Harkness should not be on the verboten list when it comes to male fans of the fantasy genre. I did a little write up for Walrus Publishing and if you would like to take a look, click HERE.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Wendig's "Blackbirds" Dark, Gritty & Fun as F***

(Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig, Angry Robot Books)

I stumbled upon Chuck Wendig about a year ago when I literally StumbleUpon'ed his website/blog Terrible Minds. It was a very short story that was very, very good and from that moment, his blog has been a regular stop for me. I've purchased and read his numerous ways on how to be a better writer, I've participated in his flash fiction challenges, and I've found great wisdom via his Twitter account.

While he's penned other pieces, Blackbirds was his first original novel (Double Dead, the story of a vampire who awakens during a zombie apocalypse, is part of a line of books by various authors called Tomes of the Dead) and I purchased it immediately.

Before I go much further, yes, I know the book's sequel, Mockingbird, is about to drop, so it makes this review seem a tad late. To that I say, piss off. Blackbirds hasn't been out long and to get to Mockingbird, you have to go through Part 1 and I'm telling you about Part 1.

I loved it. Miriam Black, the story's anti-hero protagonist, is easy to feel sorry for, but not very easy to like, at least not in the beginning. She's a drifter, a thief, a drinker of hard liquor and smoker of cigarettes. She uses vulgarity like a master artisan weaves a tapestry. She also has the ability to discover, based on flesh-to-flesh contact with another person, how that person is going to die. She knows the gory details, down to what that person is thinking, the circumstances leading to their demise, and the exact date and time.

She drifts through life, hitching rides from seedy motel to filthy biker bar, getting money when she can, taking advantage of those about to die. Black runs with no real direction, no real plan. That all changes when she meets Louis, a truck driver with a heart of gold. He gives her a much-needed ride on a rainy night and she discovers, after touching him, he dies violently at the hands of a psychopath as he calls out Miriam's name.

After getting involved (by getting involved, I mean fucking) a con man named Ashley, Miriam runs afoul of the decidedly nasty folks who are after the aforementioned shady young man. Louis gets involved, Miriam does bad things, then some good things, more bad things, takes part in an interview regarding her past and powers, and then has a big showdown with the bad guys.

I'm not trying to simplify the book, but I don't want to ruin it. The theme has been done before, but as with any story, the greatness or not greatness (Suckness? Crapness?) lies with the author and how he is able to describe his universe to readers and Wendig is a master of it. He provides readers with a nearly overwhelming pallet of vivid scenery and character construction. Example: "She was as pale as a tanless ass." That shit REEKS of awesome. His dialogue is expertly-crafted. Many authors are able to write well and make the reader feel as though they are part of that world until the characters open their mouths. Conversation is not nearly as easy to write as people think, but Wendig nails it.

And let's get something straight: Yes, Wendig curses. A lot. On his blog. Within his Twitter feed. In his stories. In his writing tips. Again, however, it is not gratuitous. Wendig caters to a certain core group of readers. Snooty, aloof Shakespearean poets are not going to get anything out of his tips; a young writer who loves Christopher Moore, Neil Gaiman, David Sedaris, etc., will not only love the natural flow of Wendig's four-letter-word-filled advice, but will truly learn from it. He speaks the language of his fans and as a result, has built a following of devoted readers.

Blackbirds is a quick read, a fun read, and one that sticks with the you long after the last chapter has been finished. Wendig draws you in, engrosses you in his world, and, most importantly, makes you genuinely care for people who are, on the surface, pretty unlikeable.

In summary: Order the fucking book. You'll be a better person. And you'll learn a shitload of new curse words. Click HERE to start your journey with Miriam.

Randy Blythe is FREE...now what?

(Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe was FINALLY freed from a Czech prison, but his troubles are far from over. Photo courtesy of Willie-Adler.AllAxess.com)

After spending more than a month in a Czech prison in Prague for what can be generously described as a trumped-up charge, Lamb of God lead singer/screamer/growler Randy Blythe is finally back in the U.S., no thanks at all to the U.S. government. Rolling Stone, who also provided zero voice to his plight while he was actually incarcerated, took time from their busy schedule of promoting Madonna and Justin Beiber to talk to the Richmond, Va., native. For the full interview, that includes Randy's description of life in prison and his (limited) interaction with the U.S. embassy, click HERE.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

REVIEW: 'Dark Days' in St. Louis

 

Had a great opportunity to view a panel recently with four of today's best Young Adult authors: Veronica Roth, Aprilynne Pike, Dan Wells, and SJ Kincaid. Wrote up a piece on the experience for Walrus Publishing and they were kind enough to run it on their website. If you would like to read what some great writers have to say about the art of being a scribe, how to get into the business, or just some info on some great books, click HERE.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

I am the Walrus! Or At Least Published at Walrus

(All four variant covers of issue No. 1 of Legends of the Dark Knight, autographed by Denny O'Neil. Yeah. Dig me.)

So I've been talking for almost a month about how I was going to write up my experience with legendary Batman writer Denny O'Neil (I know, he did other stuff, shut up) from his appearance at Project: Comic Con here in St. Louis June 9. I was honestly going to blog it and then I became involved in a relationship with locally-owned and operated Walrus Publishing, a group by and for St. Louis-area writers. It happened in STL, Denny's an STL native, so I waited so I could have the story published on their site. Everybody's happy.

To read the awesomeness that was Denny O'Neil, click HERE. I'm going to write some other stuff for Walrus as well, such as book reviews and literary event coverage. I'll post some info here, but be sure to check out the Walrus Publishing website by clicking on the link over to the right on this page. You won't regret it.