Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My Review of Peter Straub's "Ghost Story"...

With the coming of Halloween, I've been in a mood for scary books.  So today I decided to pull out one of my favorites and do a review on it.  This was the first novel I read by Mr. Straub, but it got me hooked.  I've read a number of his other works and he has yet to keep me entertained and enthralled....

"What's the worst thing you ever done?"

"I won't tell you, but I'll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me..."

These are the words that set the "The Chowder Society", four elderly men who've known each other since they were young, into telling each other ghost stories. They've all known each other since their youth, when they were wild and reckless. Friendship and loyalty binds, them along with dark secret from those past days. 

They tried to bury that secret and forget it, but some things don't want to be forgotten. Sometimes, they also want... revenge!

"Ghost Story" is NOT a fast read. In fact it seems to plod along at times... HOWEVER, there is a method to the author's madness. Everything he gives us serves a purpose in the story. 

Furthermore, his pacing and many references are reminiscent to classic ghost stories from long ago. Spine-chilling and haunting the story catches the imagination and refuses to let go.

However, it's not a short easy read. Mr. Straub has a lot of material to throw at us but does so in a manner that builds suspense and terror.

This is a brilliant piece of writing that is thoroughly worth a read. Just don't expect to be taken on a thrill-a-minute joyride. Like it's elderly protagonists, the story moves a slow and steady pace, but it draws you in deeper and deeper as it goes. Soon you'll find yourself wanting more and more as the various pieces and "ghost stories" start coming together, leading to terrifying encounters that build up to a mesmerizing climax.

My only beef with the story the first time I read it was the prologue which is longer than I would normally like to see. But as I said earlier, Mr. Straub links everything he presents us into one tidy and creepy package. Nothing he gives the reader is wasted, so I can forgive him for the lengthy prologue. This is still a 5 star read! 

So come and meet The Chowder Society: The respectable Doctor John Jaffery, the randy Lewis Benedict, the respectable Sears James, and the faithful and easily overlooked Ricky Hawthorne. These men are not your usual run of the mill 'action-heroes', but they will take on an evil unlike anything you've ever read before.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

My Review of Stephen King's "From A Buick 8"

"From A Buick 8" was one of the first books I read by Mr. King after many years of taking a pass on his work.  His novel "Misery" had gone to places I found too intense and terrifying because the only monster in that piece had been human.  There were no safety-barriers of the supernatural involved, just madness, obsession and torture.

Yet something about this novel beckoned and I plunged into his world once more and I'm glad it did.  The story covers a 25 year period in the lives of a group of state troopers who act as 'guardians' over a strange Buick Roadster abandoned at a gas station back in 1979 by a mysterious 'man in black' who wandered off and was never seen again.

The vehicle seems to be like any other car... or so you would think at first glance.  Then you'd notice little things like how the overall look of the vehicle seems normal, but then you notice little touches that don't quite add up.  For one thing there's no keys to start it up.  The dashboard is a bit off too, like someone created a prop for a movie.  But the car is not a Hollywood prop, it's something much more sinister.

People die around this vehicle, and sometimes 'things' come out of it when you least expect it.  Things that are not of this world and don't belong among us.

Mr. King weaves this tale from the different points of view by letting the various troopers in the story  share an experience they've had or witnessed over the last 25 years as they've stood watched over the sinister vehicle, in an attempt to contain the Buick's sinister powers.  This a is a true classic, with many unexpected turns and moments of sheer terror Mr. King is so well-known for.

A great read, especially at this time of year when Halloween is only a month or so away.

Monday, September 14, 2015

New Book Review - Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend"

For those who don't know, Richard Matheson is one of my many favorite authors.  His work on the original Twilight Zone, caught both my attention and imagination.  To this day, I consider his novel "Hell House" one of the greatest haunted house stories ever written.

But he also wrote about vampires in his classic "I Am Legend" (aka "The Omega Man").  I was given a copy of this novel last Christmas and had finally gotten a chance to reading it. Having seen several movie versions of the story (including the one with Charles Heston), I was already familiar with the overall concept of the tale about the last normal human being on the planet.  However, knowing how Hollywood likes to put extra spins and its own touches on a story, I was eager to actually read Mr. Matheson's original vision and I was not disappointed.

We are quickly introduced to Robert Neville, who (as far as he and the audience knows) may be the last normal human being on the planet.  We get to see the strange monotony of his day as he makes stakes, rounds up food and supplies and goes about fortifying his home which is also a kind of tomb for him.  He is surrounded by the memories of his life, when he had a wife and child who were both taken from him, along with all those he knew, by a mysterious plague that killed everyone around him.  But at night, he is terrorized by a more frightening enemy.  Those he lost come out from the places they hide in the daytime, hell-bent on sucking his blood.  

Former friends and neighbors try to breach his security measures night after night.  Some of the women try to woo him with the promise of sex and love, while one neighbor constantly calls his name, saying "Come out Neville!"  We witness his plight to hold onto his humanity and sanity amidst these nightly raids, and then follow him during the daytime as he tries to eliminate as many of these vampires.  

Mr. Matheson shares Robert's memories of losing his wife to the plague and burying her, only to have her rise as one of the vampires and his being forced to put her down a second time.  Over a three year period we watch Robert become harder as well as a survivor.  He goes from being just the hunted to seeking answers.  I found this part interesting since, unlike in the most of the movies, he is not an expert in blood or disease.  We watch him educate himself through books and failed experiments as he tries to find the answers to the problem that surrounds him.  Yet all the while, he continues his daytime raids to exterminate those who hunt him.

Finally, after three years of loneliness he meets a woman who can walk in the daylight.  Out of desperation he tries to make friends while inadvertently frightening her.  Robert brings her to his home, against her will but slowly wins her over.  It is an interesting scene watching him trying to remember how to act like a civilized person after three years of no contact with someone who wasn't trying to kill him.

In the end we learn the truth, that the woman he met, named Ruth is infected.  But the germ has mutated in her and others, so that they can control the bloodlust and can walk in daylight for short amounts of time.  And like Robert, they seek to put down the more violent feral creatures that hunt him.  But they also seek his destruction as well.  For he has unwittingly killed a number of them during his daylight raids, including the husband of Ruth.  But she has come to know him and understands his mistake and forgives him.  She even warns him of what is to come down the road, and urges him to move away and go into hiding.

But Robert refuses and a year later, the members of the new society, come and rid him of those who seek to destroy him.  They also take him into custody and prepare for his execution.  Due to his resisting capture, Robert has become fatally injured but is being kept alive for his public demise.  For now he has become to the boogeyman.  The thing who stalks these people in the day, when they have to avoid the sunlight.  He is the monster to them and he knows it.  He is now the creature of legend, in this new society and accepts the fate that awaits him. 

Although it is a sad ending, the book is a powerful study in struggling with loss, loneliness, depression, survival and finally, realization.  Written in 1954, this is one of those timeless novels that I thoroughly recommend to all lovers of science fiction, horror, and fantasy.  It is a thought provoking work that will make you think for years to come.   

Friday, September 11, 2015

Use It or Lose It... Keeping Deleting Scenes/Ideas

Chekhov's Gun...

There's an old trope that applies to theater and to writing.  It is credited to Anton Chekhov, author/playwright.  In a letter to a friend in 1889 he said, "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it."  Since then, the phrase "Chekhov's Gun" has become associated with the idea of not introducing something 'interesting' or 'irrelevant' into a piece, whether it be a stage play or a story, that is not actually poignant to the story.  If you put a gun into a scene, make sure someone uses it before the story is finished.  Don't just leave it lying there gathering dust.  Why?  If you were doing a story involving a killer like Jason Voorhees/Michael Myers, before anyone knew they were unkillable, and they were closing in on the hero/heroine in the room where the gun is in plain sight you'd have the person use it, right?  You wouldn't have them grab a curtain to try and keep the killer at bay with Chintz fabric... unless you were doing a very strange comedy perhaps.

In any case, the idea of not introducing elements or ideas into your story and then not going anywhere with them is a big "No-no".  It's all right to leave a few dangling threads unfinished in a story, provided you make it clear to the reader that there will be sequels involving the characters or villain.  The easiest way this can be achieved is by letting the ending be ambiguous or open-ended.  Or one can make it quite clear that the villain or one of their allies decide that things are not over and that they are clearly planning to come after the heroes at a later date. 

But what if the 'gun' on the table is an idea or a character you've introduced early on in the story and then do very little or nothing with later in the tale?  This is not to say that background characters are not needed.  Those folks are always useful as a plot device, even if it's just to let one of the characters confide or share some internal turmoil to them, so the audience knows about it.  Suddenly, that background character has played a key point in the story.  But what if there was no scene like that?  What purpose did that background character serve?  Why were they there in the first place?  Now that person is "Chekhov's Gun".  Do you keep him/her or...

I bring this up, because recently while working on "The Door" I was winding up with a couple of characters who where turning into Chekhov's Gun.  I had plans for them, big ones.  In fact they were to play major roles in the final confrontation, but in the meantime I was doing very little with them. I'd given them impressive introductions, but then wound up leaving them on the table.  When it occurred to me how much further I'd gotten into the story with little or no further appearances by them I was shocked.  How could this have happened?  I needed these people for the final confrontation, so I couldn't just drop them from the story.  Or could I?  Were they truly necessary?  Couldn't I still create a dramatic final battle without them and go in a different direction?

Once again I'd come to that infamous crossroads. 

I could take the story in several different directions at this point.  It had evolved and new dimensions had been added to it that had not occurred to me before.  The number of possibilities was almost too much to take in.  I could lose those characters completely and continue or I could go back and add new scenes with them adding elements of menace and suspicion.  I could also just make a few references to them and then bring them in towards the end, but that idea did not appeal to me.  I am one of those who hates having a cavalry appear out of nowhere at the last second without a good explanation as to how they wound up showing up on the first place.  Or I could go ahead and drop them from the story thus simplifying my life.

That idea sounded tempting.  All I would have to do was place my hands on the keyboard and eliminate them with a few strokes of my fingers.  

But I didn't.  They were my 'gun on the table' and I'd introduced them for a reason.  Future stories relied on their being in this story and fulfilling the original purpose I'd intended for them.  So I kept them, but I didn't just leave them on that table.  Oh no, my friends.  I decided to make them more interesting and sinister.  A gun on a table could be loaded or empty.  I chose to slowly make it clear that this gun had a purpose.  So I added some new elements to that table setting.

Now my purpose was more clear to the reader.  These people were more than background props.  They had a purpose, one that could be for good or evil.  Which is the answer?  You'll have to wait until the book is finished.  But know, I recognized a shortcoming in my story and weighed the options for how to deal with it.  Keep your readers in mind when you write.  Think of how the story is playing out from their point of view.  Play fair with them, give them the clues or hints of where this might be going, but not too much.  Keep a few surprises and twists up your sleeve, but remember that some of those elements can be introduced early on.  You just don't necessarily reveal everything about them until the right moment.

As for me, work on the "The Door" continues.  I know what I'm doing with my 'gun' and now I'm running with it.  So until next time, take care and keep writing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My Very First Podcast Interview...

I've been asked by a number of people recently, "Why did you get into writing?  What is the Para-Earth Series?  And how did you come up with it?"

Well, to help answer those questions and others people may, have I invite you all to check out the podcast interview below, where I get to answer all those questions and many more.  And before anyone asks, "How did you get on a podcast?", I've been on Google+ for a while now, sharing my posts about writing on a regular basis.  Well one of my acquaintances on Google+, the awesome Tony Mendoza (writer/filmmaker) extended an invitation to me to be on his podcast "Life In The Hole", where he interviews authors about their work.  

I invite you all to check out some of his other interviews after you've listened to this one.  Tony's a great host, and a fun person to get to know.  While your at his site, you might also want to check out his upcoming film "The Hole", a fascinating psychological-thriller that will have you on the edge of your seats.

Here is the link to the interview, I hope you find it enjoyable and informative:

*Remember: You can find my both book 1 and 2 in my Para-Earth Series (in trade paperback or Kindle form) over at Amazon.com at:

As always, thanks for visiting and keep writing.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Inspiration Can Strike When You Least Expect It....

Last night after I finished my class, I was waiting at the bus stop outside my university's library.  I was feeling pretty good, and was in a humorous mood.  So when two young ladies came out of the library, each carrying a large white board, my mirthful nature got the better of me.  As soon as they came up to the bus stop I said, "You know, most people find a notebook just as useful and it actually fits inside a backpack."

They both laughed and came back with, "Yeah, but we make a lot big mistakes."   From there we started chatting and they explained the white boards were for two clubs they were part of.  It was at that point I notice that both of them were wearing  t-shirts with mushrooms all over them.  Curious I asked if mushrooms were involved with either club and they said yes.   From there, they began to explain how they're clubs were trying to do some research about mushrooms and how to try and make a business out of certain ones that grew only in the wild near Santa Cruz.  One of the ladies, was studying Mycology and started talking about the properties of certain types of mushrooms, like the ones that grew on the sides of trees. 

She began to explain that some were parasitic, while others actually helped the tree stay healthy.   Suddenly, my mind went into overdrive.  An idea for a life from another Para-Earth suddenly came to me, an intelligent kind of mushroom.  But how dangerous could they be?  Were they even aggressive?  What if they were the kind that were helpful to trees?  

The expression on my face must've changed because the girls asked if I was all right, to which I explained that I was an Indie Author and that they might've given me an idea for a new story.  They both asked what I wrote and I explained about my paranormal/mystery/sci-fi books in the Para-Earth Series and how each story involved life forms from an alternate version of Earth were evolution took a different path.  I quickly thanked them and also gave them my business cards so they could check my books out, as well as read about my vampyre Nathan and his friends over at my other blog, "The Vampyre Blogs - Private Edition".  

By then the bus arrived and I parted company with the ladies, but my mind was on fire.

Parking myself at the rear of the bus I started letting the ideas flow.  First I had to decide which of my characters to use for this new story.  Immediately I chose Professor Otto Hofstadter, who was an expert/investigator into the various Para-Earths.  But who to have work with him.  I had several possibilities, but decided to wait until I got home to talk with my wife Helen, since Otto was her creation.  I knew I wanted her to work with me on this story so I was content to wait.  But as for the mushrooms, I decided they were 'tree-shepherds'.  They protected an area of trees, keeping them healthy and safe from harm.  At first I thought about a lumber company, but when I got home Helen suggested instead a hidden marijuana farm that has been mysteriously abandoned.  

From there she suggested we use Julie Cloudfoot's younger brother, Johnny (who I established as being a student at the UC Santa Cruz).  This seemed like an excellent idea since the university is surrounded by woods on all sides that extend for miles.  So I quickly began jotting down all these ideas and know that we will be exploring them more down the road, after I complete one or two other projects I have under way.

From this, you can see how an innocent encounter and a chat led to a whole new story idea.  Yes, there are a lot more details to work out, but we've got the basis and some of the cast already lined up. So remember, if something unusual catches your eye ask yourself some questions and as well anyone who might be nearby.  You never know what may get your imagination up and running.  There's inspiration all around us, we just sometimes have to take a moment to recognize it.

Until next time, take care and keep writing.