Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Voting for the Bram Stoker Award for the HWA: Young Adult Horror Novel

This is the first of a couple of blog entries of my thoughts about the nominees and the nominated works.

I'm in the fortunate position of being able to vote for the upcoming Bram Stoker Awards, a prestigious award given by the Horror Writers Association of America (of which I am a member; so there) in several categories, including "Superior Achievement in A Novel" and "Superior Achievement in A Young Adult Novel" and "Superior Achievement in A Screenplay" and so on.  You get the idea.  Winners are announced at the World Horror Convention in Portland, Oregon on May 11th, 2014. 

Each category has five or six nominations.  I recommend the following writers and their works.  I offer some Honorable Mentions, too.  If you haven't read them, do so.  I will offer relatively decent reasons for each.  In full disclosure, I will point out that I "know" a couple of these folks only in the sense that we have emailed a few times.  But I have read the works of those I recommend as well, so I am not nominating them only because I "know" them.  (I don't know Joe Hill, for example, as an e-friend or otherwise.  I just like his stuff.)  And as e-friends, I do not know them in the sense that we hang out and have dinner and drinks.

Okay?  Ya get it?

1.  Superior Achievement in A Young Adult Novel: Unbreakable by Kami Garcia.

I couldn't say it better than this, from the book's Goodreads page:  

Supernatural meets The Da Vinci Code in this action-packed paranormal thriller, the first book in a new series from New York Times bestselling author Kami Garcia.

I never believed in ghosts. Until one tried to kill me.

"When Kennedy Waters finds her mother dead, her world begins to unravel. She doesn’t know that paranormal forces in a much darker world are the ones pulling the strings..."

[Me, again.]  Isn't that a great line, in italics?  I never believed in ghosts.  Until one tried to kill me.  Now that's a grabber!  Very indicative of why I loved how this book was written, and that's rare coming from me.  But there are so many good, quick, short sentences that really grab you.  Especially good was how Garcia wrote the scene where Kennedy finds her dead mother: really good, to-the-point, minimalistic writing that says just enough to paint a grisly and tragic picture.  Plus, there's a lot of action, and a bit of romance, and it moves, moves, moves.  Teens will love it, and they'll read it lickety-split. 

The book opens with an appropriately chilling graveyard scene, so how can it go wrong?  

If you know a teenager who likes this genre, get it for her, or him.  If you are such a teenager, read it.  At a quick glance, at least 86% of the readers on Goodreads gave it at least 3 stars.  And that's the target audience.  And they're not easy to please, and they'll tell it like they see it.  Impressing them is impressive, in of itself.  From the same Goodreads page:

Kami Garcia is the #1 New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal & international bestselling co-author of the Beautiful Creatures Novels (Beautiful Creatures, Beautiful Darkness, Beautiful Chaos & Beautiful Redemption). Beautiful Creatures has been published in 50 countries and translated in 39 languages. The Beautiful Creatures movie released in theaters on February 14, 2013. 

See the YouTube trailer.  See the author's webpage here.  

Next up:  Superior Achievement in the Novel

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Approximate Word Count Is Back

Just a quick shout out that...Well, see the title.

I've been writing since it's hiatus and its sporadic entries, but I've been lacking writing consistency for quite awhile.

But I've been more consistent, though not at the same time every day, since earlier this week. 

::knock on wood::

If you'd like to give it a look, click on the tab above, or click this link.

It's good to be back!!! 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Same Parents, Second Faith Healing Death

Photo: Herbert and Catherine Schiable

The entire (very short) article, by MaryClaire Dale, reporting for the Associated Press, at this website:

A Pennsylvania couple who believe in faith-healing face 20 years or more in prison in the death of a second child who died without seeing a doctor.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible are being sentenced Wednesday in the death last year of their 8-month-old son, Brandon. At the time, they were under court orders to seek medical care for their children after their 2-year-old son, Kent, died of untreated pneumonia in 2009.

The Schaibles are third-generation members of a small Pentecostal community, the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia.

A lawyer for Catherine Schaible, 44, plans to explore their religious beliefs at the sentencing. Her 45-year-old husband's lawyer argues that no malice was involved.

The Schaibles have pleaded no contest to third-degree murder in Brandon's death. They have seven surviving children.

"We believe in divine healing, that Jesus shed blood for our healing and that he died on the cross to break the devil's power," Herbert Schaible said in a 2013 police statement. Medicine, he said, "is against our religious beliefs."

A jury had convicted both parents of involuntary manslaughter in Kent's death, and they were put on 10 years of probation that included orders to seek medical care if any other child got sick.

After Brandon's death, an irate judge found they had violated parole.

Prosecutors have described the boys' symptoms as "eerily similar," and said they included labored breathing and a refusal to eat. Catherine Schaible's lawyer, though, said her client tried to feed Brandon during his illness and applied baby powder to keep him comfortable.

Their pastor, Nelson Clark, has said the Schaibles lost their sons because of a "spiritual lack" in their lives and insisted they would not seek medical care even if another child appeared near death.

Now, just a few things from me:

--While the lawyer for Catherine Schiable can investigate whether she has the right to believe as she does, someone has to tell these two that the important person in this whole case isn't one of the parents, and so therefore their religious beliefs, while obviously important, isn't the #1 thing to take into consideration.  The most important person is the dead 8-month old son, Brandon.  So how about someone spend a little time investigating his rights, starting with his right to stay alive?

--Am I reading this right?  Did the courts give the Schiables 10 years' probation after they were convicted of manslaughter for the death of their first son?  They've done this before.  And we're shocked that such people would do it again?  Did the first judge really think that such people would change their religious beliefs simply because a judge told them to?

--Note to the Pennsylvania courts: They have seven surviving children.  Key word there is "surviving."  Which in this case translates to: "Their parents haven't killed them yet."  They've done this twice now.  They will do it again, even if you tell them not to.

--No one from the courts was going to the house to check on the eight remaining kids until Brandon died?  Someone will say that there isn't enough people to check on everyone, but I'll bet someone was checking on the kids of the parents who were poor, or amongst a minority--but who hadn't already been convicted of killing one of their kids.

--Yet another example of the continued battle between scientific facts and religious beliefs in this country: pneumonia isn't the Devil.  It's an infection caused by a virus or by bacteria.  You can believe that Jesus can win a battle with the Devil.  That's fine.  But antibiotics can win a battle with pneumonia.

--Beliefs are not facts.  If they were, they'd be called "facts" and not "beliefs."  You can believe whatever you want.  When it crosses the line in your psyche into "fact" land, you'd better have what scientists call "proof" or "provable evidence."  If you don't, you have to understand that when you say something is against your beliefs, than it's just that--a belief.  Not a fact.

--Note to faith-healing believers: If They exist, God and Jesus want you to save your kids.  They really do.

--Did you see at the bottom of the article that their pastor says they'll do this again?  Don't you think that the pastor--or even one of the Schiables--said the same thing after Kent died?

--Speaking of this pastor, can the PA law go after him now?  Now that the parents themselves are in jail, how about charging this guy with being an accessory?  He is wielding a gun, an obvious weapon, except it's verbal and not physical.  I know it's a touchy thing because now we're talking about religious beliefs again, but--legally speaking--if Person X tells Person Y to jump off the bridge because Jesus wants him to, and then Person Y jumps off the bridge, isn't Person X culpable at all?  Religion is being used like a drug here, like Ecstasy (the literalism is intentional).  It is against the law to control someone using an actual drug, and then have them commit crimes for you.  I mean, didn't Charles Manson do exactly that?  Like this pastor, he never lifted a finger to do any of the killings himself.  And I have to think that the Schiables told their pastor they were taking a wait-and-see approach with their son's pneumonia, so isn't he also culpable for that reason? So why not charge the pastor?  Can someone with legal training please explain this to me?

--There's a twisted version of Munchausen Syndrome going on here.  I mean this literally.  Notice that the parents very clearly believe that this case is about their religious beliefs, and not really about Brandon at all.  It's like this is their way of having all of the attention, of preaching about their religion.  Their their their.  In interviews, they keep saying "my," or "our," as in: "Medicine is against our religious beliefs."  It's narcissism.  Once parents like this are convicted of killing one of their kids because of their beliefs--whatever they are--can't we then at least put them in a mental health facility?  Narcissism and Munchausen's can be very dangerous personality disorders--as we see here--so if there are legal issues because of religion, can we not go this route?  Again, someone with legal training needs to explain this to me.

--If these parents were to say that the family dog told them to withhold medicine for Kent, wouldn't they have been in a jail or in a facility after that?  I don't mean to offend by comparing Jesus to the family dog--that's not what I'm doing--but if these parents were to have said that anything else at all (the family pet, the Devil, their dishwasher, whatever) told them to withhold medicine for their children, wouldn't they already have been whisked away?  Haven't scores of people done exactly this, and been carted away?  Why then is this any different, from a legal perspective?  These people are hearing voices just like all of the others who've said "The dog told me to..." or "The Devil told me to..." and yet they're less culpable because they say that it's Jesus speaking to them?  Yet again, someone with legal training, please comment or send me an email.

Because none of this makes any sense to me at all.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why American Horror Story: Coven Really, Really Sucked

Photo: Stevie Nicks, from her Wikipedia page.  Read on for the AHS: Coven connection, especially if you haven't seen the show.

It's over now, anyway, and the ending was so disappointing that I didn't even want to write about that.  That's bad, and that's how bad it was.  The only reason I felt even slightly motivated to write about it was because of how bad it was, and now I'm over it enough to do just that.  So, Coven sucked because of:

--Mona's end.  She was by far the most interesting, the most dynamic character, and the way her end was handled was indeed very sloppy.  What about all those scenes of her knowing about her darkness?  What about how she wanted to be better, and asked for forgiveness?  She knew Stevie Nicks, for God's sake, so how bad could she be?  (And I'm unsure of how I feel about unabashedly plugging Stevie Nicks so much.  I mean, the last episode began with a video for her.  But...she always did strike me as kinda earthy, kinda wispy, kinda Misty Day-like, actually.) True, her daughter saw her future killings of everyone, but could that really have been the case if she was dying of cancer the whole time?  And why not have the Axe Man do her in, if you're only gonna have her use him, which does him in, and then have her disappear for awhile so that we think she's dead, only to have her return, but be dying of cancer?  Does that make any sense at all?  And that Catholic / Hell / Purgatory judgment thing at the end, with her character and a few others?  No thanks.  That's as old and as unnecessary as the movie Ghost.  Didn't like it there; didn't like it here.  Writers do not judge their characters.  They only write about what happens.  Understandable that they wouldn't want Lange's character to seek redemption, as I said above, and then work to get it, since that's exactly what they did with her character last season--but this?  Did they have to do this?  And was that really a purgatory for her character--suddenly she doesn't like the guy (if she ever did) and she has a fit about the wooden floors and walls?  Incidentally, that voodoo-whatever guy was apparently responsible for that end, but remember, Mona was unable to make a deal with him to begin with because he said she lacked a soul.  No deal, so no punishment for reneging on that deal.  Stupid, ridiculous, and really, really bad writing.  Made me angry.

--Misty Day's end.  (And what a great character name!)  So, speaking of judgment, someone is supposed to remain in Purgatory, or just die (or, what exactly did happen to her?) because she doesn't want to kill anything?  And she feels like this to begin with because she was burned at the stake herself?  Why did she live just to be in Purgatory because she didn't want to kill anything--which, by the way, is normally seen as a good thing?  Why not just stay in the swamp, or go back there once the threat of getting killed was gone?  (A serious threat that Mona, by the way, took care of.)  Ridiculous ending to what could have been a good character.  After Mona, she was my favorite character.  Stupid, ridiculous, and really, really bad writing.  Also made me very angry.

--Misuse of Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett.  So Angela Bassett's character gets conked on the head by Mona's former slave / servant--who had died but not died, like almost everybody else--and then buried alive somewhere, and nobody knows where?  What was her character around for, anyway?  And was she that evil at the end that she would shove hot pokers in the throats of Bates's daughters?  If so, why wasn't she in her own Purgatory?  That's the thing about judgment: Once you judge a character for reason X, you have to judge every character by that same reasoning.  Or it's a mess.  What a waste of a good actress and a role that could have gone somewhere.  Speaking of judgment: What exactly did Bates's daughters do that was so bad that they deserved to be killed like they were, and then to be pokered like they were, for eternity?  Again, that's where judgment goes bad.  Stupid, and really, really bad writing.  And Kathy Bates...Well, at least her end was a little more understandable, though I'm still not keen on the whole judgment thing.  And her character had her scene-chewing moments.  But...again, did her daughters belong there, as well? And if the argument is used that those aren't really her daughters, but representations of them for Bates's own Purgatory--then wouldn't she get that, sooner or later?  I mean, she has all eternity to figure that out.  Once she does, it's not Purgatory-like punishment, because she knows it's not really her daughters getting it, anyway.  And does Bassett's character need to be there for all eternity as well?  Stupid, and really bad writing.

That's what really gets me about Lange's, and Bates's, and Bassett's characters (and maybe Misty Day as well, who had a certain flair): They were the only interesting ones, the ones with any sort of character arc, or personality, or sense of humor.  Or anything.  Like, at all.  And they get punished for that?  Stupid.

Have I gotten across how stupid I thought the whole thing turned out to be, and how bad the writing was?  And don't get me started on FrankenCarl.  What, exactly, was he around for?  And Madison.  She was, at least, interesting.  Did she get a Purgatory?  We didn't see one.  Misty Day gets one, completely undeserved, and she doesn't get one, when she mauled a bus-ful of boys (as understandable as that was, considering what they did), but then kills, but doesn't kill, Misty Day?  (So that she can later have a breakdown in eternity in a science class with a frog.  Reader, repeat that sentence again to yourself.)  There's perhaps a certain irony there, considering Roberts was later arrested for assaulting the real FrankenCarl.  They also later become engaged.  And--

What a mess!  What an incredibly horrible stinking mass of excrement that was still--because of the acting of Lange and Bates and Bassett--at least still shockingly bearable.  Until the end.  And coming on the heels of Season Two, which I thought was one of the best shows that I have seen in a very long time, perhaps ever...

So bad that it defies explanation, despite my reasons expressed here.  Unbelievable that the same writers who wrote Season Two also wrote this.  Like the Brandman book of a few blogs ago, this was so egregiously bad that it actually crossed the line and became offensive.  It's hard to screw up a series in which essentially anything goes, with really good actors and a talented writing crew--but they somehow managed.

And that's why American Horror Story: Coven really, really sucked.

Did you think it sucked?  Why?

Click here for American Horror Story: Freak Show, my new blog.  Each episode will be reviewed in the blog.  Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

For the Love of Books

Photo: Illiers-Cambray, setting of the first (of seven) novels that make up Proust's Remembrance of Things Past (or, In Search of Lost Time), from the book's Wikipedia page.

The premise of this book: The editor, Ronald B. Shwartz, sent a message to 115 authors, asking them to respond via letter or phone.  His prompt: "Identify those 3-6 books that have in some way influenced or affected you most deeply, 'spoken to' you the loudest, and explain why--in personal terms.  All books, whether 'Great Books' or not-so-great books--books of any kind, genre, period--are fair game."

Many greats--in literature, the arts, the sciences--responded.  Kurt Vonnegut's was the most memorable to me, but here also are Russell Banks, Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, Jonathan Harr, John Hawkes, John Irving, Susanna Kaysen, W.P. Kinsella, Caroline Knapp, Elmore Leonard, Doris Lessing, Norman Mailer, Frank McCourt, Arthur Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, Grace Paley, Robert B. Parker, Robert Pirsig, Mario Puzo, Neil Simon, Oliver Stone (Did anyone know that he published a novel awhile ago?  Has anyone read it?), William Styron, Gay Talese, John Updike, and Geoffrey and Tobias Wolff--just to name a few.

Which titles were mentioned the most?

Surprisingly--to me, anyway--the title mentioned the most, by far, was Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.  It was not close.

The others, in order:

Moby-Dick by Herman Mellville
The Bible
The Brothers Karamazov by Leo Tolstoy (or Tolstoi, which I prefer, as a T206 fanatic)
Ulysses by James Joyce
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoi
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
William Shakespeare's Collected Works
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Most of the selections were idiosyncratic, but there were still a few Hemingways, Austins, and others in there.  Most books we've heard of before were mentioned two or three times.  Those in the list above were mentioned at least six times, at most ten times.

But it was an interesting read, and not very taxing.  It didn't take a lot out of me, which is good, since I've had a headache to drive me insane for the past week or so.

Highly recommended, if you're curious at all about what made an impression on these writers--and why.

I thought it might be interesting to pretend that I am relevant enough to get asked this as well, and so that'll be a blog entry to come.  When I post it, please feel free to write your own list of 3-6 books--and the Why, if you're so inclined.  Do so here, below, if you wish.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Getting My Life Back

I've been sick since Christmas, over a month.  Mostly headaches, light-headedness, sinuses, ear-blockage, and, lately, just for the hell of it, some stomach and intestinal distress.  (Ewwwwww.....)  And, by the way, all at the same time.  To top it all off, I have two small bumps on one of my palms, and today I have a helluva headache.  I had to call out twice last week, plus I left early on Tuesday.  I felt sick on Thursday, but thought I was hiding it well until someone said I looked like I felt bad and that I should go home.  (I didn't.)  And Friday was sort of a blur, as I had to catch up because I'd essentially missed the whole week.  I have another doctor's appointment Monday, but as I'm already on an antibiotic, I don't see what else he can do.

So I had to do something.  And here's what I'll do:

--Decided to lessen my grain intake, in case my body is allergic to it.  Many of the symptoms above can be attributed to gluten.  As a lifelong eater of a bowl of bran cereal or a bagel every morning, maybe something has to give.  Jillian Michaels wrote that the more we eat something, the better the chance we become allergic to it.  Which is certainly my experience as well, though one wonders why we don't become allergic to fruits or vegetables because of this, or water.  And what other way is there to get bran, besides Metamucil, or pills?  Anyway, I'll try this and see what happens.

--Decided to lessen my consumption of allergy pills, ibuprofen and Tylenol.  I'm no doctor, but my cheeks have puffed up and my sinuses and head have hurt a few minutes after I've consumed one of these things lately, for over the past month or so.  But what to do when I have an allergic reaction to the dog, or pollen?

--Decided to vacuum and dust more frequently.  I just swept the hardwoods and was shocked at how quickly it got matted with dog hair and dust.  That's certainly not helping me at all.

--Decided to eat more fish and drink a lot more water.  This has led to an...umm...intestinal issue last night, and a horrendous headache.  Pain behind my cheeks and behind my head, too.  Feels like I have a fever, but the thermometer just now read 98.1 and 98.2.  I don't know, because my temperature has never been below 98.6 before.  In fact, it's almost always 99 when I'm feeling okay.  But I have not been feeling okay.  Maybe my body is purging itself of toxins the past few days?  Or, month?

--Decided to get rid of a few books I haven't been reading, and no longer fall back on the thought that I someday will read them.  This was especially hard for a couple of Hugh Laurie books a former girlfriend gave me, and the first seven alphabet murder mysteries from Sue Grafton, starting with A is for Alibi.  Those are very popular for mystery fans, and fans of series.  I'm both, but for some reason could never get into them, or find the time to try again.  I kept thinking that someday...So I took them, and others, to a used bookstore and got almost $20 of credit there.  I should've just left, but I got other books I want to read, and now they're amongst the many thousands I still have to read.  (I still have $2 credit there.)

--And it's occurred to me that all of these thousands (yes, literally) of books are dust-trappers and are also bad for my allergies.  But I'm doing what I can.

--Finally, I downloaded and signed a contract from 90 Days to Your Novel.  This contract essentially says that I will work on my novel for two hours every day.  Period.  This is good for me, as I haven't been working on my novel much since I've been feeling so crappy, and I've been very upset about that for awhile.  I figure that if I can do all of the things I did today, despite not feeling well, then I can also work on the book--for at least short spurts that total two hours.

--And the contract means that other writing--short stories, blogs, book reviews, poems, essays, etc., all of which I also do--won't count in those two hours.  Just the novel.  This is huge for me.

So, that's it for today.  I'm trying my best to recapture some sense of myself.  Let's see how it goes...