Thursday, April 17, 2014

Killer by Jonathan Kellerman--Book Review

Photo, from Kellerman's Facebook page
Another step in the right direction from Kellerman, whose last book, Guilt, was also very good.  Both novels are more readable and much less judgmental than were his previous 8 to 10 works, perhaps more.  The last two books are also much less vicious and violent.

By now, if you've read Kellerman's twenty-nine Alex Delaware novels as I have, you've figured out his formula: The first 10%-20% of the work sets up the very large cast of characters, their backgrounds, and any of the many conflicts that may--but often, not--have anything to do with the book's major crime.

Then the vast majority of the book is Q & A between Delaware and Milo and the large population of characters in the victim's lives.  There's a ton of supposition, a lot of maybe this and perhaps that, by Delaware and Milo and many of the supporting cast.  The vast majority of the time, none of it pans out.

About 80% to 85% of the way through, we meet a seemingly-minor character who rings Delaware's alarms.  That starts the unraveling.  The rest of the book is a slippery slide to the ending, which neatly wraps things up.

This has always been Kellerman's M.O., though a few times in the past, the seemingly-irrelevant character would come completely out of left field.  As a consequence, the reader (well, at least this reader) would feel cheated and more than a little aggravated.  In this genre, you have to give the reader at least a chance--however small--to be able to figure it out (or at least to suspect) who the killer might be, and what might have happened.

That's what happens here, with Killer.  (A ridiculous title, as it could have been the name of any of his novels, and there's more than one killer here, anyway.)

The unraveling happened when and how I figured, and I honed in on the seemingly-irrelevant character right away.  The character appears when I suspected, as per the blueprint above.  This was aided because I wasn't buying all of the suppositions Delaware and Kellerman were selling.

Ultimately, this was a very quick and satisfying read, done just right.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dark Visions, Vol. 1--Memorably Good (and Short) Horror Stories

Photo: book's cover, from

If you like horror, and you like short stories, go get a copy of Dark Visions 1: A Collection of Modern Horror, an anthology of original short stories, edited by Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson.  It's available on Amazon, here.  A few notes about a couple of the stories to show you why it's so good:

--Mister Pockets, by NYT bestselling author and multiple Stoker Award-winner Jonathan Maberry.

Very effective short story about a "twelve-year old fat kid" who is barely beginning to understand his place in the world, and where others think his place is.  His place at present is in a town that's just recovering from The Trouble.  Nobody talks about it, but it happened, and it may be happening again.  What's The Trouble?  Well, suffice it to say that the kid goes one-on-one with a very pretty and very alluring vampire-like thing, and he would've been done for had he not earlier given a candy bar to a strange-smiling homeless man, nicknamed [see title].  (Great title, by the way.)

Maberry may be one of the more successful horror writers I've not heard of before.  The short author bio before the story lists an unbelievable amount of writing this man has been paid for since 1978.  If that sounds a little like envy on my part, it's because it is.

The Weight of Paradise by Jeff Hemenway

Creepy story about scientist-wannabes who find a cure for cancer.  By doing so, the cured become immortal.  But, as it turns out, forever comes for a price, and it's painful.  If you're familiar with the genre, you've seen this sort of morality tale before, but not as well-done as this.  It's a horror tale with the wistful sadness of some of Jack Ketchum's short stories.  That's a good thing.

Incidentally, it's always cool to see that a professional  author has been published in the same magazines as you.  In this case, Hemenway's been in Big Pulp, the same good folks who recently purchased the rights to my story, "The Zombie's Lament."  Another author, later in the collection, will soon be published in Space and Time, as I was.  Cool deal, man.  Good for the old ego.

The Troll by Jonathan Balog

A 20-page story that reads like 10, which is one of the things I look for in a slightly-longer short story.  (I like my short stories short--10 pages or fewer--and I tend to write very short ones, too.)  Anyway, the troll of the story looks more like a metrosexual pimp, but what he tells the 12-year old narrator to do is a bit more.  Though he does pimp the kid out, if I may be so bold.  The troll is quite a bit like Pennywise the Clown, except when the story's done, the reader may wonder who the real troll was--the troll, or the narrator?  A good study of adolescent evil.  Very well-written, and very quickly read.

Delicate Spaces by Brian Fatah Steele

Perhaps my favorite so far in this collection.  A group of paranormal researchers answer a dare for free rooming at a hotel that wants to drum up business, hoping they'll stay longer.  Very realistic dialogue and action make the reader feel like he's observing the middle of something, just being dropped right in there.  What they see before they're about to leave will catch the reader breathless.  Very professionally written and described; you'll feel this frightening incident could actually happen.

There are 13 stories in all, and there's a lot to like here.  So, suffice it to say, if you like your horror in small pieces, you'll like this book as much as I did.  Again, it's available here at Amazon.  The Kindle is only $3.99, and a new paperback starts at $11.94.  It's worth it.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

My HWA Screw-up / Nice Authors

 Photo: HWA's Stoker Award for Specialty Press, won by Gray Friar Press from the UK.

Well, this is embarrassing, but here's my admission:

As a member of the Horror Writers Association of America, I thought I was eligible to vote for the HWA's Stoker Awards, but I'm not.  Unfortunately, I didn't know that until after I'd asked for some review copies of some nominated works.  In other words, I emailed a few writers and asked them for review copies (which voters are supposed to do) so I could consider voting for their works.

Except then I found out I wasn't eligible to vote.

And the books had already come.

So let that be a lesson to you: When you join a club, know its rules.

Immediately I knew I had to email all these writers back, admit my mistake, and ask them if they wanted me to pay for the book, or pay to send it back to them.  Books, especially hardcover books, are not cheap.  I'd received seven books overall.  The least costly: $14.00.  The most: $26.00.  Overall I'd received over $120.00 worth of stuff under incorrect pretenses.

Could this have gotten ugly?  I don't know.  But as a professional writer / novelist wannabe, I certainly didn't want to take that chance.  More importantly, bottom line: I had a writer's property that initially I shouldn't have had.  That's bad in of itself; for a professional writer / novelist wannabe like me, that's really, really bad.

I put off sending out the emails for a few hours, which is very unlike me.  But finally I sent them; each one began, "Well, this is embarrassing, but..."  It took me about seven hours to send out all of the emails.  Each one was painful.  Doing that really, really sucked.  What a professional they must think I am!

The writers were very nice, of course.  Some just asked that I post a review, which I was more than happy to do.  A few didn't ask me to do anything and said not to worry about it.  One of them even said that sending the emails was a classy thing to do.  (Having class is not something I'm often accused of.)

So one of the few good things to come out of this is that I can now review each of these books and collections.  Which I will do.  The voting has been done, too.  The results will be announced this summer during the World Horror Convention in Portland, Oregon.  I read these books and write these reviews now not for the Stoker Award, but for the books and the writers themselves, which I am more than happy to do.

And I'm happy to say that they are all nice people as well.  Each one could have given me a hard time, but didn't.  A few of them even said kind things.  So, here they are, in a list.  Please consider reading their books--the ones I'll review, or any other.

Eric J. Guignard, Editor: After Death... (short story collection)

Jonathan Moore: Redheads  ("Part horror, part CSI, part revenge thriller..."--Jay Bonansinga, NYT Bestselling Author

Michael Knost and Nancy Eden Siegel, Editors: Barbers and Beauties (short story collection)

S.P. Somtow: Bible Stories for Secular Humanists ("Skillfully combines the styles of Stephen King, William Burroughs, and the author of the Revelation to John!"--Robert Bloch, author of Psycho / "He can drive the chill bone deep."--Dean Koontz.)

Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson, Editors: Dark Visions, Vols. 1 & 2 (short story collections)

Christopher Rice: The Heavens Rise.  And check out the Internet radio show of this NYT bestselling author, too. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter

Photo: book's cover, from its Wikipedia Page

Outstanding collection of first-person observations of many ballplayers--mostly from the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Cincinnati Reds--from those who began their careers in the late-1890s / early 1900s (Tommy Leach and Sam Crawford) to those who finished their careers in the 1930s and 1940s (Paul Waner and Hank Greenberg).  I really liked this book because it initially talks a lot about many of the players I have in my 1909-1911 T206s, who I didn't know a lot about, outside of their names and stats.  It's nice to be able to put a personality to the face on the card.  It was also interesting to hear about what baseball was truly like in the early 1900s by those who played it, and about what they thought about their contemporaries.

Some of the things I learned:

--Though they were called "the minors," such teams were not like the minor league teams today.  The starkest difference is that these teams were not in existence to feed players to the parent team, like such teams are today.  (For example, the Pawtucket Red Sox is the AAA team for the Boston Red Sox.  The Pawsox's sole purpose is to provide a place for players to play so that Boston can call them up if it needs to.  If Boston did need a player, a phone call brings him to Boston.)  But in the early 1900s, smaller teams were not there to just supply players to the big-league team.  That type of farm system didn't exist until the 1940s.  Instead, a team in the Pacific Coast League, or the Mid-Atlantic League, or the Triple-I League, or the Southern League, or the Tri-State League--or in tons of other amateur, semi-pro or professional leagues--had to be paid for the player.  The players interviewed said that these teams were often helpful to the player's chance to make the majors--but they didn't have to be.  A few players said the smaller team's owner would involve them in the transaction process--and often take a lesser deal to grease the wheels for the player.  But the insinuation was that the team could hold on to the player for a year or two more than today's minor league teams would, thereby making their big-league careers shorter. 

--Many players said the pay between the smaller team and the big league team were almost the same.  In many cases, the big-league team only paid about $50 more per month--and the player wasn't always crazy about receiving more money, but playing much less often, at the big-league level.  A few were happy to be sent down so they could play more often, even if they were paid a little less.

--Managers played a much bigger role in the contracts and finances of the team and player than they do today.  The manager signed players to contracts and haggled over salaries.  Players often went directly to the owner when they were annoyed with the manager--but they had to deal with the manager first.

--Players frequently jumped from one team to another, often in the middle of contracts.  Many HOFers jumped to the Federal League (in the mid-1910s) mid-contract simply because someone from that league offered them more money--often a few thousand more, which was a lot back then.  They didn't hesitate to do this because teams would unceremoniously dump players with no notice, or lower their salaries despite career years, or trade them at any time, or send them to a lower league at any time.  For example, as late as the 1940s, the Detroit Tigers just flat-out sold Hank Greenberg to the Pittsburgh Pirates, for $75,000.  Greenberg had 44 homers and 127 RBIs the previous year.  Anyway, nobody was loyal to anybody.

--And the owners were very, very cheap.  Because they could be.

--The consensus was that Honus Wagner, and not Ty Cobb, was the better player 1900-1920.  After that, everyone agreed it was Babe Ruth.  The players were clearly in awe of Wagner and Ruth--even the other HOFers.

--Honus Wagner was apparently a Gold Glove-caliber player at any position at all on the field.  Even if Cobb was slightly the better hitter (which was not a given), Wagner was the much better defender.  Players were just as impressed with Wagner's defense as they were with his offense.

--Hall of Famers got traded shockingly often.  Managers, too.

--Supposedly the earlier players were uneducated, right?  Not so, say these players, and they knew tons of examples of ballplayers and the colleges and universities they'd attended.  They all said that the percentage of all players being college-educated was much, much higher than the percentage of college-educated people amongst the general public.

--Having said that, there were a tremendous number of hicks and "rubes" as well.  Literally, like Rube Waddell, and Rube Marquard, and...

--Most of the ballplayers didn't mind receiving slightly-lower pay on the smaller teams because even that pay was light years ahead of what was waiting for them outside of baseball.  Lots of miners and other hard-laborers amongst the ballplayers, and those players did that kind of work during the off-season.

--Players barnstormed as often as possible outside of the baseball season.  And they would go anywhere, even to very small towns and sparsely-populated areas.

--Most players loved John McGraw.  A few didn't.  Sometimes they seemed to be talking about different people.  Same thing for Ty Cobb, except most said Cobb was "very hard to get along with."  But they all respected his fire and passion.  A few said Cobb was okay to be around.

--All of the players cared a lot about their peers being nice guys.

--If you were injured, you lost your job.  Period.  And no play equaled no pay.

--Quite a few of them, such as HOFer Sam Crawford, had careers outside of baseball that lasted 25-35 years after they retired.  And, surprisingly, players lasting beyond age 40 was common.

--Most of them said that the ballplayers playing while the book was being put together (50s and 60s) were much better, overall, than were their peers.  And they all said that Willie Mays (not Mantle, Aaron or anyone else) was the best present-day player.

--But they all also said that their peers were much more baseball-smart than were the present players, mostly because the present-day players just wanted to hit homers, while their peers had to scratch and scrape for runs, because homers could not be hit in such huge ballparks with such a dead ball.

--Many pitchers between 1900-1930 blatantly marked up the ball.  Emory boards, tacks, spit, powder, and--most often--tobacco juice were loaded onto the baseball to make it harder to hit and to see.

--All of them said baseball life was lonely.  Which made nice people so important.

--Because only one umpire worked a game in the early-1900s, if there was a play at the plate (where the one empire therefore had to focus), baserunners would often not come anywhere near second or third base as they rounded the bases.

I could go on and on.  If you're into history, or baseball, or the history of baseball, you'd find this fascinating. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"The Zombie's Lament" Purchased by Big Pulp Magazine

Photo: from Big Pulp's Facebook page

Mr. Bill Olver and all of the other good folks at Big Pulp have purchased the rights to my short story "The Zombie's Lament" for its anthology series.  Volume One of this anthology will hit the stores, online and physical, in June 2014.  Volume Two will be published in April 2015.  That one will have my story.

It's about a guy who loses the love of his life, gets bitten in the face by a zombie, and tries to apologize to his beloved before he turns--or dies. 

So if you like zombies--and who doesn't?!?--save your pennies and buy Volume One from Big Pulp in June.  And, it goes without saying, but if you know me, you know I'll say it anyway: Mark April 2015 on your calendar to buy the volume with my story in it.  No, seriously, go mark it right now.  Please?

What is Big Pulp?  Well, here it is, straight from the editor, Bill Olver, from Big Pulp's website:

On March 3, 2008, we debuted with Simon Petrie's "Dragonsick", the opening story in our first quarterly online journal. At the time, I had no idea what kind of response we'd get from writers or readers. I worried that no one would submit to an unknown market and that readers wouldn't find us on the web. I also didn't know much about putting together a website, designing a publication, working with writers and artists, writing contracts, or selling anything. 

In retrospect, there was a lot I didn't know. 

But I did know good stories when I read them. I knew what I liked and I knew I wanted to create something I didn't see on the newsstand - a venue that mixed and crossed genres, was open to new writers, and pushed against the envelope of what's considered genre fiction. 

Did we succeed? Some days more than others, but over the past six years, we've refined and redefined our offerings, with each iteration getting closer to the vision I set out to achieve. We've published hundreds of stories and poems, which in combination have created a brand alongside of genre - the Big Pulp story.

At best, a Big Pulp story is smart, literate, and thought-provoking. It's got attitude, rarely takes itself too seriously, and isn't afraid to poke where it doesn't belong. It defies expectations and tropes. It hits you where you live and sometimes in the nuts. A Big Pulp story is sci-fi, it's fantasy, it might be a mystery or horror or romance, but it's rarely what you expect. 

In December 2010, Big Pulp moved into print. In 2013, we branched out into themed anthologies with Clones, Fairies & Monsters in the Closet  [...] and The Kennedy Curse. And now in 2014, we're launching a new line of publications that will continue to mix and match conventions and stretch the boundaries of what genre can do. 

Six years! I can't believe how quickly the time has passed or how far we've come as a small press. I'm proud of what we've accomplished and the writers we've published. 

Happy anniversary to us, our writers and artists, and all our readers! We couldn't have done it without you, and we hope you'll stick with us for our seventh year and beyond! 

Bill Olver

So there you have it.  It's good stuff, so check it out, and look for mine in 15 months.  Yeah, I know, but that's publishing.