Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Good Samaritan Detours from the Road to Nowhere

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

A man who sometimes calls himself Sam is on the road after a tragedy that destroyed his family and alienated him from his only child. He moves across the country, never staying very long in one place, a rootless man who is tethered only to the cell phone on which he hopes in vain that he will one day hear the voice of his daughter.

Then one rainy evening, while riding the elevated train through the streets of Chicago, he chances to look out the window and sees a young woman being assaulted in a parking garage. Instinctively, he leaves the train at the next stop and races back to the scene where he finds the woman unconscious on the floor of the garage. The assailant has fled, leaving in his wake a clue that gives “Sam” a pretty good idea of where the guy is headed.

After calling 911, Sam takes off after the attacker. There’s no reason for him to be involved, and for a long time now, he has made a habit of remaining uninvolved with the world as a whole. But his moral underpinnings have been outraged by the brutal attack, and almost instinctively he determines to mete out some justice, if at all possible.

Following the lead, Sam surprises the assailant and gives the thug a taste of his own medicine, but in doing so, he unwittingly inserts himself into a mysterious and very dangerous drama that is playing out between the victim of the original attack and the powerful forces that are arrayed against her. And once he has done so, he makes a target of himself and others as well.

What follows is an engrossing tale that plays out in unexpected ways. “Sam” is a very intriguing protagonist, and Jim Fusilli has placed him in a well-written, clever and compelling story. This is the first book in a new series from the author of the excellent Closing Time, and readers will look forward to the next installment in Sam’s story, Billboard Man.

A Magical Summer

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
Reviewed by Diane K. M. 
My rating: 3.5 rounded up to 4

"You can't change where you come from, but you can change where you go from here. Just like a book. If you don't like the ending, you make up a new one." -- Lost Lake

I read so much heavy stuff that it was nice to escape into this lovely story about a woman trying to start a new life after her husband's death. Kate and her daughter, Devin, find an old postcard from Lost Lake, Georgia, which is where Kate spent a wonderful summer when she was a girl. On a whim, the pair drive down to see if her aunt is still renting out cabins there, and discover that the lake holds a bit of magic for them. 

There's a colorful cast of characters at the lake that summer, including a woman who has special charms to seduce men, a French cook who can't speak but who has a persistent admirer, and a local handyman who fell in love with Kate when they were kids. Ooh la la! 

Your enjoyment of this book will probably depend on how much you like the Women's Fiction genre. (I hate the term Chick Lit.) This is the fourth Sarah Addison Allen novel I've read, and it's filled with the same southern charm, magical realism, romance and family drama that are in her other stories. My favorite book of hers is still The Peach Keeper, but Lost Lake is a delightful read.

In the Acknowledgments, Allen says she was diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer in 2011 and has now had two years in remission. She wrote, "The year of horrible change brought me to an amazing place in my life." There was more grief in this novel than in her previous books, and the writing was deeper. Good for her for breaking through and finding the strength to write again.

Choosing Work Over Love

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Why did I wait so many years to read this book? It's beautiful. I loved it so much that I finished it in almost one sitting. I feel a bit like Mr. Stevens, sitting on the pier at the end of the story, wondering how his life could have been different. While Mr. Stevens is thinking of a lost love; I'm thinking of the bad books that could have been avoided if I had picked up Ishiguro instead.

The story is told by Mr. Stevens, a traditional English butler, who served under Lord Darlington for several decades. The narrative begins in 1956 with Stevens adjusting to a new master, who is an American gentleman. Stevens sets out on a car journey across England to meet with a former housekeeper, Miss Kenton. During the journey, Stevens reminisces about his pre-war experiences at Darlington Hall and his relationship with Miss Kenton. There are themes of dignity, the purpose of life, how time is spent, choosing work over love (or love over work), and what constitutes greatness. Everything is shared from Mr. Stevens' perspective, who relates his thoughts in a stream of consciousness, occasionally recounting conversations with others.

Let me pause here to discuss a theory I have, which is that there are two kinds of readers: those who like stream-of-consciousness narrative and those who don't. I am firmly in the former camp, but I've heard several readers say they loathe SOC. The structure of "Remains of the Day" reminded me of another book that I loved: Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse." Both involved SOC narration, both stories take place over only a few days, and both had themes of lost time. 

I liked the movie version of "Remains of the Day," but the text moved me even more. I desperately wanted to shake Mr. Stevens and try to get him to wake up to his present life, instead of being so consumed by his profession. Of course, Miss Kenton tries to do this several times -- she brings him flowers, she teases him about a romance book he's reading, she tries to comfort him when his father dies -- but Stevens is so obsessed with being dignified and restraining his emotions that he can't break free.

Because this story is so well-known, I think I can get away with sharing a favorite passage toward the end of the book. Stevens is in a reflective mood after saying goodbye to Miss Kenton; he's sitting on the pier and is chatting with a stranger:

"Lord Darlington wasn't a bad man. He wasn't a bad man at all. And at least he had the privilege of being able to say at the end of his life that he made his own mistakes. His lordship was a courageous man. He chose a certain path in life, it proved to be a misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship's wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can't even say I made my own mistakes. Really -- one has to ask oneself -- what dignity is there in that?"

My dear Mr. Stevens, I shall remember your story and will keep it on my bookshelf. I'm sure our paths will cross again.

Don't Be Cruel: An interview with Edward Lorn

Today's guest is Edward Lorn, author of Cruelty, an episodic horror novel, and other works.

What was your first published work?
A coming-of-age novel entitled BAY’S END. I caught a lot of flack over the language used by the kids in the book. I don’t regret a thing though. Growing up, I could have made sailors blush with the language I used. I wanted to capture that time. To this day, BAY’S END is still my favorite out of all my work.

What made you decide to go the self-publishing route for your most recent works?
This answer is easy and kind of boring. My publisher doesn’t take serial novels or novelettes. CRUELTY is an experiment I’m trying, and CRAWL just didn’t want to be any longer than it was. I refuse to lengthen a piece simply to catch a publisher. I also missed the fun of self-publishing. Being a cog in the wheel of a company isn’t half as much fun as running the show. It also gives you more freedom; freedom to succeed and call that success your own, or to fail without having to worry about letting someone else down.

What was the inspiration behind Crawl?
Strangely enough, a sad love song. “Say Something” by A Great Big World/feat. Christina Aguilera came on the radio one day and I absolutely fell in love with it. I wanted to delve into the broken relationship between two people on the verge of a collapsed marriage. I’d never tackled something like that before. Very quickly, the first half of CRAWL spooled out in front of me. When I got to the car accident I knew the story would be a keeper. I had no idea CRAWL was going to turn out so intense though. All I wanted to do was tell a tale about a couple whose relationship is crumbling. Sorry, Juliet.

What was the inspiration behind Cruelty?
Baby dolls have always terrified me. I have an eight-year-old daughter and I won’t allow her to keep them in the house. Luckily she makes due with her Monster High dolls. With my debut novel, I tackled a fictitious version of a dog bite incident I had when I was a preteen. It was cathartic. I figured I’d try that again with CRUELTY. I’ll just say that the magic did not work twice. I’m even more scared of dolls now than I was before. But at least now I get to share my nightmares.

What made you decide to do Cruelty as a serial novel?
Because the novel was 150,000 words of disjointed madness. It wasn’t until I finished the first draft of the novel that I sat back and said, “Who the hell is going to read this?” I jumped back into it with the intention of rewriting. While I was doing my first real read-through, I felt like I was watching a television show, the literary equivalent of a cable TV drama, only with slasher film overtones. I started doing some research and I found that Kindle serials weren’t all that uncommon. Scott Nicholson had announced his McFall serial, and the guys behind YESTERDAY’S GONE seemed to be doing pretty well, so I thought, “Why not?” So I self-pubbed it and rode the risk. It paid off in the end and the serial is becoming quite popular.

How many episodes are currently slated for Cruelty? 
Ten in all. Episode Five will be a mid-season finale. I’ll take a break for a month or two then come back for the final five episodes.

Biggest lesson you've learned with Cruelty?
That I should have had the entire book edited all at once instead of a chapter at a time. I’m having more and more problems finding quality editors with openings in their schedules. I think I found the answer though, so all’s good.

Any plans for non-horror works?
BAY’S END and HOPE FOR THE WICKED aren’t technically horror. One’s a coming-of-age tale with a single horrific incident that changes a group of friends’ lives forever, and the other is a thriller about a married couple who just so happen to be retried killers with a code of ethics, respectively. In the near future I have a collaboration with Linton Bowers, who’s new to the publishing scene. It’s a science fiction outing about a murder on a space station. The book is called PORT IN A STORM, and we’re halfway through with it.

Jason vs. Leatherface: Who comes out on top?
Machete beats chainsaw in my world. I never saw Leatherface as an unstoppable killer. In fact, Leatherface’s family scared me far more than he did. I’d hear that engine coming from a mile away. Blades and arrowheads and sleeping bags don’t make a sound. Extra points to anyone who knows why I included sleeping bags. One of my favorite kills of all time.

What are you reading now?
STEELHEART, by Brandon Sanderson. I’ve been branching out as of late and reaching beyond the horror genre. Any writer worth his salt is an avid reader. Need to keep your skill set honed.

What is your favorite book of all time?
Currently, NIGHT FILM, by Marissha Pessl. That book infected me, and I will be judging books based on that novel for a long time to come. Before that, Stephen King’s IT held the top spot for me for over twenty years.

What writer would you say is your biggest influence?
This is a tie between Stephen King and Richard Laymon. King is far more verbose than Laymon ever was, but King can make you care for a slice of cheese if he tried. Laymon was much quicker with his character development, if he developed character at all. What I loved about Laymon was how twisted that man was. He didn’t give a flying fornication for sensitive readers or censorship. He knew his audience and he wrote to please them. His content is the most intense I’ve seen outside of dark fantastic, gorehounds like Edward Lee and Brian Keene, who seem only to be doing what they do with the sole intent of making people sick to their stomachs. Characters be damned. Jack Ketchum is the present day Laymon, but he’s not really an influence of mine.

Is there a particular book that made you want to be a writer?
DOLORES CLAIBORNE, by Stephen King. Before that novel I thought horror was all about monsters: vampires, werewolves, and masked serial killers. I got to part where she throws her husband down the well and had to put the book down. I heard that man scratching at the walls of the well every night for a full month. I ended up finishing it, but I’ll never read it again, and I have reread almost everything King’s ever produced. I went away from that book with one goal. I wanted to do that to a reader. Scare the bejeebus out of them with nothing but my imagination and some well placed words.

What's next on your plate?
PENNIES FOR THE DAMNED, the sequel to HOPE FOR THE WICKED, will be out at some point. I’m in the thick of rewrites now, and not sure when I’ll be done. I have a collaboration other than PORT IN A STORM with Linton Bowers, too; a novel entitled CHUCKLERS that author Jeff Brackett and I are writing together. The book is based on a short story I wrote called “He Who Laughs Last.” Then I have two novellas, SICK LOVE and PRETZEL, that I’m currently writing, and a novel, OLD SCRATCH. I’m always busy, but 2014 will be my busiest year yet.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Everything you write should be looked upon as expendable. Never write a story, novelette, novella, novel, epic, anything with the sole intention of getting it published or publishing it yourself. Write for you first then the reader. If you find yourself bored with a story, odds are your reader will be bored as well. Finish everything you write, no matter how much you hate it, and then tuck it away. This is about practice, and you should practice how you want to perform. If you’re constantly throwing away manuscripts, you’ll never learn how to complete one. This writing game is a game of averages. You’ll eventually come across the diamond in the rough. Or you won’t. Then I suggest taking up another hobby, like collecting your toenails or cat hoarding.

Oh, and for the love of Tom Cruise, read! Read, read, and read some more.

Cruelty - Episodes 1 & 2

Cruelty (Episode #1)Cruelty by Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Will Longmire went to a prostitute's house, he didn't think she'd kidnap him at gunpoint and he damn sure didn't think he'd see her run over by a grotesque baby doll driving a car...

Yeah, you read that right. This is one messed up little story. Cruelty is a Kindle serial novel by Edward Lorn, a self-published author who seems to do everything right. Other author-publishers take note: Having someone else edit your stuff and getting a professional do to the cover goes a long way. Being a talented writer doesn't hurt either.

This is the first episode and if the quality holds, this thing this is going to take off like a wildfire by the time its finished. A giant murdering baby doll named Cruelty is scary enough but having it call its victims mama is the icing on the creepy cake.

At the end of the tale, there's an author's note saying you're probably cursing at your ereader at the way the first episode ends. He wasn't wrong. The first episode of Cruelty is satisfying as a short story but hints at greater and gorier things to come.

If you're looking for an example of self-publishing done right, look no further. Four out of Five stars.

Cruelty (Episode #2)Cruelty by Edward Lorn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While police are investigating the crime scene Cruelty left behind, some meth dealers are looking for William, and Innis is held captive...

The second episode isn't as horror-packed as the first installment but it has its share of creepiness. The cast of characters swells to include a host of cops and a couple meth dealers, along with William's friend Kirk.

Cruelty isn't in this one as much but he makes the most of his screen time. Edward Lorn stuck a disclaimer at the beginning of this episode and he was right. Cruelty is not for the squeamish.

My favorite chapter was the last one. It featured Merlo the cowardly dog.

And now the wait for the third episode begins. With Will in trouble and Innis in much much deeper trouble, episode 3 should be the best one yet.

Ed assured me it would be released in short order so I won't have to drive to his house and punch him in the junk. 3.5 out of 5 stars.