Triggered vs. Distasteful: What is the difference: Guest post by Lilyn G. of Sci-Fi & Scary

Recently, during a very early morning, a tweet caught my attention. It was about trigger warnings for books and if they were a good idea. I read the article and thought hmm interesting. So, I retweeted and asked if trigger warnings on books was going too far or if was it needed. This little retweet started a very interesting conversation with other book bloggers, specifically Horror and Sci-Fi book bloggers. We are talking about people who  read some gnarly, gut churning shit. This was a topic each person I talked to agreed on.

However, my little retweet and the subsequent conversation got one blogger doing what we do best: writing. Lilyn from Sci-Fi and Scary sat down and wrote a guest blog post for me 🙂 talking about the difference between Triggered and Distasteful.

Lilyn G. is the founder of Sci-Fi & Scary, a book and film review site that focuses primarily on independent works, and giving artists and authors a chance to do guest posts and interviews. Head over to the site to meet the other members of the Cthulhu Crew. She will happily chat books with you on Twitter at @scifiandscary but if you try to talk her up on books only to ask her to review your book, you’ll get glowered at most sternly. Mother of two – one living. Spoonie.

ProfilePicLilynG

 

Trigger Warnings

What Being Triggered Actually Means, Why Trigger Warnings Are Good, and How We Could Implement Them

First off, I absolutely hate to see people toss around the word “triggered” in a sneering, joking manner. The impression this gives me is that these people have no clue what it’s meant to be so traumatized by something that has personally happened to them that they wince at the thoughts of seeing representation of that something elsewhere. I’m jealous of the wonderful life they must have lead thus far, and yes, petty enough that I at least momentarily hope at some point they come to personally understand why they shouldn’t joke about ‘triggered’. (“Just joking” holds no weight with me when it comes to making fun of people’s mental and/or emotional problems.)

I acknowledge that there are people in this world who somehow seem to miraculously make it through traumatic events without having the lasting scars those events tend to leave. Good for them. Seriously. But this article isn’t about them. It’s about people like me.

Know this: Being triggered isn’t nearly the same as finding something distasteful.

Finding something distasteful is simply encountering something that you do not agree with, or do not personally like. If I’m watching the national news, and I see people spewing the vitriol that the current administration has made ‘ok’ to say on live television, I can easily turn it off. If I read a book and see a conversation partway in where the character makes a slur about gays, blacks, etc, I can easily “Nope” and close the book and that’s it. (Well, then I might tell people to avoid the book if they have an issue with that type of language, but that’s as far as it goes.)

Being triggered by something is when you encounter a sound, sight, or situation that immediately invokes a mental and/or physical reaction that can run the gamut from a slight mental wince to breaking out in a cold sweat to feeling like someone has socked you in the gut. It can bring horrible memories crashing over your mind in the blink of an eye. Depending on how much you saw/read before your reaction kicked it in, the chances of you being able to just walk away from it are fairly low. Even after I’ve hurriedly flipped away from a movie, I’m still left with that heavy weight on my chest and my nerves twitching at even the slightest thing – like the sound of a flat line on a vitals monitor.

As someone who has had a past filled with enough shit to make me feel like the whole world is a walking trigger for me, I feel like every time I open a book, or go to watch a movie, I’m bound to encounter something that hurts me. Hell, I even avert my eyes walking past the baby section in stores because even after five years, it still feels like a punch in my gut.  (And stuff related to babies is far from the only thing that has happened to me. It’s just the freshest and the one I haven’t dealt with appropriately yet.)

How Trigger Warnings Help

Now, as a reader (and watcher) of horror, I increase those chances greatly. I understand that and accept it. Just as I understand and accept that I can’t read happily ever after stories of love, babies, and forever because my mind has broken enough that I no longer find myself able to believe in that malarkey.

Understanding and accepting this increased risk from reading/watching horror (and even sci-fi) doesn’t mean that I don’t take all possible steps to minimize my risk, though. As a reviewer, I even have a specific question on the review submission form that asks first “Is there child death in your book?” and “If there is, please explain.” Sometimes the explanation makes it clear that it’s something that’s mentioned, but not witnessed, or took place long in the past…etc. In those cases, most of the time I’m willing  to read on to the synopsis and see if the book itself looks interesting to me.

So, yes, I make authors give me trigger warnings for their books before I’ll even consider reading them.  (Oh, and just for the record, there are plenty of horror books out there that don’t contain triggers. For you non-horror readers, you might be surprised the depth the genre has.)

I’m sure some authors probably don’t like having to give away a big scene in a book in order to help convince me to read it, but I don’t care. I am a reader for pleasure. I review for free. If reviewing was a paying gig, maybe I’d suck it up and go into every book blind and read and review it regardless. But, until I’m paid more than I make at my current job to do so, at the very least, I’m not going to put my mental health at risk because of a scene in someone else’s story.

And it’s not just for me. I know several people who have certain things that they cannot stand to encounter in book or film. When possible, friends who know about these triggers often will reach out after experiencing the book/film themselves, and simply tell that person that they may want to avoid it. You know what the reaction to that inevitably is? “Thank you for giving me a heads-up.”

Trigger warnings spare people pain. That’s all there is to it. And why would anyone possibly consider that a bad thing?

Possible Implementation

Please note that while I’ve mentioned film and television in this post, for implementation I’m only covering books at the moment.

I am a huge advocate of trigger warnings for other people because I understand exactly how much an unexpected trigger can stomp your ass. But I’m also someone who has a fair bit of (un)common sense, so while I’d like to see them be used, I want guidelines in place as well.  Because, yes, unfortunately sometimes telling of a trigger can inadvertently spoil important parts or scenes in a book, and we all know that that just sucks.

I don’t think people need to go nuts with listing potential triggers, either. Circling back to the point where I mentioned that my life hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows, I haven’t encountered anything in a book that couldn’t be covered under: (Child or family member) Death, Unexpected Extreme Violence (I say unexpected because if you’re reading a book about Kaiju stomping people, and have the nerve to bitch about the amount of violence in it, you’re just silly.), Rape, Molestation, and (Domestic, Substance, etc) Abuse. There’s probably something there that I’m not thinking of, but I think you get the point.

This is what I do as a blogger: I use trigger warnings as part of the ‘technical data’ I give readers of the site about the book that I’m reviewing. I keep it very, very vague on purpose whenever possible to try to avoid spoiling anything. Ie: “Trigger: Mention of maternal death”.  However, when I feel like the trigger is going to spoil an important plot point, I include it in the body of the review, hidden behind a spoiler tag. Both of these things are very easy to do.

This is what I would like to see established by publishers (mass market, small, self): 

An indication (perhaps a universally adopted minute half-moon) on the cover of the book, in an established position (perhaps lower left hand corner?) that lets the reader know this book contains potential triggers, and then a designated page inside the book (front or back, doesn’t matter) listing the triggers. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, and it’s not going to accidentally slap someone in the eyes with possible spoilers if they don’t care about the triggers. This would work for both physical books and e-books. With e-books there could be a linked page in the ToC that could be clicked.

Trigger Warnings are not notice of explicit content. The warning doesn’t have to be an inch high band slapped across the cover in a ugly way. It should be fairly easy to just establish something that people can look for if they’re curious.

Obviously, we can’t really do anything about books that have been previously published, but it would be a great thing going forward.

In conclusion, being triggered is not the same thing as disliking something, trigger warnings are important, and yes, I think it would be a positive thing to implement.

Thanks Lilyn for offering this guest post. In publishing this post I want to spark some discussion in the horror community. I think that because we do read some book with content that could be questionable and could trigger someone. I hope that this post will continue with the discourse within the book community.

Interview with YA Horror Novelist Bryce Gibson

In my humble opinion the golden age of teenage horror novels was in the 80s. They were light on horror and really fun reads. They made for amazing palette cleansers between hard core horror. With this in mind I reached out to YA horror author Bryce Gibson.

 

Bryce
Photo by Megan Byrne Photography

 

On the blog today is YA horror author Bryce Gibson. Bryce is the author of a number of books including The Reading Buddy, Perennials, and the newly released The Resort. Bryce, welcome to my little corner of the Internet.

Great! It’s awesome to be here.

Congratulations on the release of The Resort! I really enjoyed reading it. It reminded me of all the horror movies I watched as a kid.

Thank you I’m glad you liked it.

You and I have discussed movies a couple of times on Twitter, especially our love for the Sleep Away Camp series. What is your favorite movie series?

Picking a favorite movie series is tough, but the first thing that comes to mind is Halloween.

The Resort reads like a throwback to the 80s horror franchises…which franchise was your inspiration when writing this novel?

I don’t know if there is any one franchise that was an inspiration for writing The Resort, but, in my mind, the book kind of has the feel of 2000’s The In Crowd. I know that’s not 80s, but it has a similar tone. Fun and scary. I can see some of the 1988 remake of The Blob in there as well.

I was pretty sad when you unmercilessly killed off a main character in The Resort. What scenes did you find hardest to write?

There’s a scene near the end that has a big reveal, as all three of my teen books do. There’s a lot to explain during those scenes, and I don’t want it to come across as being too over the top. Anytime antagonists in books or movies explain their actions, things can easily slip into ridiculousness. It’s hard to balance.

You are also a farmer, so I would imagine that takes a lot of work. How do you balance your responsibilities as a farmer and writer? Do you have a set writing schedule, or do you just write every day?

I grow muscadines and scuppernongs, both of which are harvested in late summer/fall. I’m the busiest in the fields during March through mid November. Most of my writing is done in the winter when there is not as much work to be done on the farm.

As an author do you feel that social media has changed the way books are marketed?

Social media has definitely changed the way books are marketed. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine being in the publishing business and not having access to Twitter and Instagram.

As a book blogger, I am always interested in what people are reading. What is on your nightstand at the moment?

I’m finishing up a book called Friend Request by Laura Marshall. It is a fun read that reminds me of an adult version of Point Horror. I have so many books on my TBR pile/shelves/stack(s)/list that it’s ridiculous, but I’m planning on reading a Robert McCammon next.

What is your favorite under-appreciated novel?

Last year I read a book called The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young. It is full of twists and turns and definitely worth checking out.

I know you are currently working on a middle grade novel. Are you going to be working on a “adult” novel in the future? I think the world needs a Southern 80s inspired horror novel…. Just my personal opinion.

My middle-grade book Mortimer was actually written several year ago, before I published my first teen book. I’m in the process of doing a quick revision on it. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think. Next, I’m working on another teen book titled Tethered. I’ve read some of it to my writing/critique group and the feedback has been great. It isn’t exactly horror or thriller, but a dark family drama. It’s is by far the darkest and most serious book I’ve written. As far as an adult novel, I would love to, but I don’t have any immediate plans on doing one.

You by Caroline Kepnes

I don’t have a list of favorite books. There are too many to love and the list changes. It depends on where I am in life. That being said I do have a list of favorite literary characters. One of my top five favorite characters is Patrick Bateman. Yes, that is right that lovable, status crazed psychopath from Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. I think it was because of the way he was written. Ellis wrote his character bordering on the  ridiculous. The diatribe about Hughey Lewis and the News is probably one of my favorite scenes from a book or a movie. I don’t know why it just strikes me as particularly funny. Maybe it is the fact that Power of Love is playing in the background as he wields an axe. Another favorite literary character is Rob from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. Slightly narcissistic and a lot of snobbish lists regarding music. What would  happen if you crossed Patrick Bateman with Rob (books instead of music)You get a book loving psychopath named Joe.

Summary: The story follows Joe and his love/obsession for Beck. He isn’t going to let anything stand between them.

What I liked: THE WHOLE ENTIRE THING!! Kepnes is a storyteller of the highest order. Her characters are well crafted and three dimensional. One minute you are creeped out the other minute you are feeling bad for them. Particularly for Joe. How the hell does that work LOL?! I know what you are thinking but it is particularly towards the end of the story. The storyline flows so well. The pacing is so good. It is a slow burn and I really like that. You are pretty much at the edge of your seat the entire time.   The settings that are used throughout the novel also become characters particularly the bookstore. I could gush on and on and I don’t want to spoil this deeply creepy book for anyone.

What I didn’t like: There is nothing I didn’t like.

Star Rating: 5 stars

My thoughts: I started this story thinking OMG creeper status a million and I ended the story thinking OMG everyone in the story is well and truly f’ed up. But that is the beauty of this book. There are so many WTF and ewwww moments that it is such a pleasure to read. I love books like this for that exact reason. It was a a perfect read for a lazy Sunday. Why did it take me this long to read it!!

The Art of Escaping by Erin Callahan

I love thinking about what people I meet where like in high school and wondering if I would have been friends with them then.  I was a member of the all encompassing freak class. I had purple hair, smoked clove cigarettes and wore flannel. What made me even more of a freak  I read, usually had the answers in English or history class and I listened to weird music. Well at the time it was considered weird music until it hit the mainstream radio stations. I was more then happy with my small circle of friends and our mutual love of shared passions. One of these passions was anything horror. I would like to think I would have been friends with the main character in The Art of Escaping.

Summary: A misfit girl and a popular guy share a secret. But will this secret lead them to shared mutual destruction or freedom?

What I liked: Callahan was able to use a plot device I really like. The story is told from Mattie and Willem’s points of view. Callahan does a great job of tying the two stories together to form a cohesive narrative that overlaps so you get a in-depth perspective. There is another story within this story.  It isn’t intrusive and fits very well. The characters are well fleshed out. The plot was well thought out and the ending didn’t feel rushed or out of line with the character’s motivations. As this is a YA title the writing is appropriate for a YA audience. Actually, I think it is a great YA novel.

What I didn’t like: The beginning was slightly slow for me after about 50 pages it picked up and I was sucked in.

Star Rating: 4.5

My thoughts: I really liked this story. I would like to think that it is because I was one of the outcasts at high school. I love the way Callahan used Escapology as metaphor for the angst that you feel as a teenager. I loved both Mattie’s parents. I really identified with them as a parent that was a bit different then the other parents. This is going to be controversial but it was refreshing to read a YA book that didn’t end horribly or have something devastating happen to the characters. It was a story that had so much hope that it warmed my bookish heart and that made me happy.

I want to thank Amberjack Publishing for a review copy for my honest review and I want to thank Ms. Callahan for writing a YA book that is full of goodness and hope.

Spotlight on Small Publishing Houses: Black Spot Books

Not too long ago I wrote a blog about small and large publishing houses.  I wanted to take this one step further and start spotlighting these small publishing houses who are working hard to get amazing books into the hands of readers. First up, I reached out to Black Spot Books’ owner Lindy Ryan to get her take on launching and growing a small press publishing house.

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What inspired you to go into the world of publishing?

I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and have had an intrinsic yearning to be part of the literary world, so I think the inspiration was always there.

Choosing speculative fiction and diving into genres like fantasy, dark humor, and science fiction was a pretty natural decision. From authors like Orwell and Adams to Tolkien, King, and everywhere in between, these are the types of books I’ve always loved to read, so they were exactly the types of titles I wanted to publish.

Did you have previous publishing experience before launching Black Spot Books? 

As both a traditionally published and indie author, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the largest publishing houses and some of the most boutique, as well as brilliant folks in the industry — agents, editors, artists, and many phenomenal writers.

This incredible experience and network helped to solidify the vision for Black Spot Books. I think this has been something of a natural evolution after having been involved so intimately in the publishing community in various ways. You begin to put together what works and what doesn’t, what you’d like to see done differently, and where you can bring something new and unique to the market.

As most small publishers have a target market how did you find the authors to fit that market. 

It’s like that famous line from the film Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”

We reached out to our author network — our friends and peers in the writing community — and hit up social media and a few strategic advertising places, and were lucky enough to receive a great response to our initial call for submissions.

What aspect do you believe that social media ie… book bloggers and bookstagram play in the publishing world?

They are invaluable assets to the book community. We love working with bloggers and bookstagrammers. It gives us a chance to network directly with readers, connect authors to influencers, and show off beautiful covers!

What new projects does Black Spot Books have on the horizon?

The rest of 2018 will feature historical fantasy, seasonal fantasy, and we’ll release our first science fiction/cyberpunk title in December. The new year will bring new authors and new projects–including some magical realism and some highly-anticipated sequels! We’ve also just opened our indie romance ebook imprint, Siren Press, with first releases scheduled for August.

What advice would you have for people who want to become book publishers?

 

The publishing industry is not for the faint of heart–whether you’re indie, small press, or otherwise. It takes time, patience, and a lot of work in a very noisy market. For those considering publishing, my best advice is to start by becoming a rock-star reader, and get involved with local booksellers to learn the trade.

To learn more about the amazing books  that Black Spot Books is publishing have a look at their website:

black-spot-books

 

FYI I do happen to know that Black Spot is looking for Horror Writers to publish in 2019 have a look at their submission criteria if interested.

https://www.blackspotbooks.com/submit.html

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

I saw the movie of The Exorcist when I was in first grade. The most horrifying scene in the whole movie for me as a kid was when Regan was spider walking down the staircase. I think I kept my head behind a pillow for the rest of the movie. I was absolutely frightened by that scene. I am not sure what about that scene even as an adult still creeps me out. I had read the book about 10 years ago and once I saw some of the other horror lovers reading it I decided it was time for a reread. I am so glad that I did. It is one of those stories that scare you in different ways as you get older.

The exorcist

Summary: A little girl is possessed by an evil demon. This story follows the people who try to help her.

What I liked: I loved the writing. The writing is one of the most important parts of The Exorcist. When you can take something as mundane as a “invisible” friend and make it something terrifying  then you have hit the pinnacle of writing. The characters are fleshed out and you truly feel their emotions as you are reading. Blatty’s descriptions of the physical transformations that Regan undergoes are horrifying.

The storyline and the POV of the characters are as crisp and fresh as the day they were written. This story is as timeless and scary as it was when the book was first released. I hope that people will continue to read this horrifying book in the future.

What I didn’t like: There is nothing that I didn’t like about The Exorcist.

Star Rating: 5

My Thoughts: As a parent the whole premise of The Exorcist is terrifying. Your child is normal one day and then under goes a complete transformation practically overnight. I was raised Roman Catholic and possession was something that wasn’t discussed. The religious over tones in The Exorcist are really interesting. What I think is that the story isn’t so much about Regan but rather Father Karras. You watch as the priest goes from questioning his faith to being brought back into the fold.  Which makes me wonder if Blatty was questioning the divide between science and faith?

Kin By Kealan Patrick Burke

The first horror book I read was about fairies–not the sweet ones with glitter on their cheeks, but Irish fairies who would steal children and replace them with changelings. So, my first-grade self laid in bed and waited to be stolen by the fairies, listening to the clock ticking in the hall and figuring that as long as I heard it then I was still at home. I fell asleep listening to that clock in the hall tick, and I woke up the next morning in my bed. I am sure that my grandmother’s stories about fairies didn’t really help.

My tastes in horror run the gambit, and I am always grateful for a book that can give me goosebumps. Kin did just that!

kin

 

Summary: A family of cannibals loses a victim. What is to become of the family and the victim?

What I like: Burke’s writing style for me is perfect for this type of novel. His pacing was perfect; not to fast and not to slow. The beginning of the novel really piqued my interest and it didn’t stop. I had to know how the story was going to end. I appreicated the twists and turns in the story. The characters were well developed for their story arcs.

What I didn’t like: Burke killed one of the characters that I liked!!

Star Rating: 5

My Thoughts: I loved the page turning suspense that Burke built throughout Kin. So lets put it this way I loved the story from start to finish. It was gory and was psychologically thrilling. From the first page to the last page it was a page turner and hard to put down. My love of good horror was overly satisfied with Kin. I will defiantly be reading another by Burke.

Sam Hooker: An Introverted Curmudgeon

I had so much fun doing the last author interview I decided to reach out to another author whose book I enjoyed at the beginning of the year. Mr. Sam Hooker, author of Peril in the Old Country.

Sam Hooker
Photo courtesy of Black Spot Books

I am very happy to have author Sam Hooker on the blog today! Sam is the author of the wickedly funny fantasy, Peril in the Old Country. Sam, thanks for taking the time to answer a few of my questions today.

My pleasure! I derive great satisfaction from ignoring my own blog, and this gives me an opportunity to do that while blogging at the same time. I am Schrödinger’s Blogger.

First, let me say that I loved Sloot. He is a character that stays with you long after you read about his adventures. I feel like Sloot may have been based loosely on someone. If so, could you share more?

Sloot Peril is the result of never having taken a risk. Not even a small one. Every non-fictional person has taken a risk in their lives, even if it was nothing more daring than an exciting sock color with an otherwise drab suit.

 I’ve probably put more of myself in Sloot than I’ll ever admit, and I don’t have to. You should see my sock drawer. It’s scintillating.

This is such a standard question, and I feel dorky for asking, it but what was your inspiration for Peril? It is really original, and I can’t say I’ve read anything like it in a long time.

Thanks! I’ve heard it said that all writers cram their first novels with every bit of inspiration they’ve ever had. Where’s that kitchen sink? I think I’ve got room for it next to the cathartic telling-off that my high school Latin teacher will never realize is directed at him.

Of course, this is my second novel, so I managed to restrain myself a bit; however, the inspiration for this one still spans a great deal of the literature and film that have coagulated in the stew of my brain. Dystopian films (anything that Terry Gilliam has ever done), the farcical works of my favorite novelists (Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Roger Zelazny), and sarcastic or curmudgeonly comedians (Dylan Moran, Eddie Izzard) have all put something into the pot.

 Also whiskey.

There seems to be a trend where authors are giving their books soundtracks. If you were to give Peril a soundtrack, what would it be?

I listen to a lot of movie soundtracks and instrumental music while I write. For this book, Danny Elfman’s soundtrack for The Wolfman was on heavy rotation. Eerie, atmospheric, and at times urgent in a way that reminded me I hadn’t murdered anyone in a while.

 It’s probably cheating to use another soundtrack for my own, but the only other types of music I listen to are dubstep and Norwegian folk metal, and I hate dubstep.

I personally can’t read, write, and listen to music at the same time. I usually either get pulled into the song that is on or space out when I am reading. Do you listen to anything for background noise when you are writing?

My Spotify playlists are brimming with background music that I can ignore. It’s either that, or I have to listen to my own thoughts. Nothing could be worse for my writing process than letting my brain have something to do with it.

I wanted to be Indiana Jones when I grew up. Did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Did you feel you were encouraged to be a writer, or did writing come a bit later in life?

When I was four years old, I wanted to be a fire truck. That’s not a typo.

 Shortly thereafter, I decided on writing. Like most writers, I started a dozen or so novels before I finished one, and now I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. That’s mostly due to my complete lack of skills outside the realm of telling ridiculous stories.

When I talk to writers most have a ton of stories in the bottom drawer of their desk. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I believe the technical term is “oodles.” If I had a dollar for every novel I never finished, I’d just keep starting novels and never finish them. That’s a gold mine! What confluence of magical happenstance landed me with that deal? I probably sold my soul for it. That’s fine, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t using it anyway.

As a book blogger I am always interested in what people are reading. What is on your nightstand at the moment and how big is your TBR (to be read) pile?

I’m presently re-reading Joe Lansdale’s The Magic Wagon, which is one of my five “desert island” books. I was thrilled to get a limited edition, autographed copy last month.

Lansdale and I are from the same part of Texas. In addition to being an amazing writer, he’s a martial artist with a stack of belts as long as my most rambling pastiche. I took lessons from him for a few months while I was in college. He bloodied my nose once during a demonstration (not on purpose, and I release Joe from all liability).

That’s my best fanboy story.

I just finished Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone. I don’t usually go in for YA, but I loved it. I’ve got Christopher Moore’s Noir up next, probably a return to Discworld (Pratchett) after that—I never get through more than half a dozen books before returning to that amazing series—and then Alcy Leyva’s And Then There Were Crows should be delivered. Preorder that now! #shamelessplug

I think 2019 is going to be a deep dive into Tolkien, starting with The Hobbit for the hundredth time, and not stopping until I hit the back cover of Unfinished Tales.

I heard that you have a bit of a thing for stew. So, my last question is: what is your favorite stew recipe? 

No one knows how stews start. Over time, the pot has simply been over the fire since before anyone can remember. You just keep adding to it, and hope that someone finishes it off before it starts participating in conversations.

Sam, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions today.

Thanks for having me, and thanks for supporting my work!

Peril in the Old Country is available now on Amazon and Black Spot Books.

 

The Sea was a Fair Master by Calvin Demmer

I was thinking the other day about how short stories are like a sandwich. A sandwich is a total meal between two pieces of bread. They can be sweet (peanut butter and honey) or savory (brie and bacon). Yes, I know brie is not everyones taste but it is amazing you should try it. Anyway back to my original point. Short stories are the same way. They are a beginning, middle and an end but short. Like a sandwich…..whhaaaa I totally blew your mind there right. There are days when I just want a sandwich and there are days where I want a 3 course meal. This week I really wanted a good sandwich The Sea was a Fair Master fed that need.

The Sea Was a Fair Master

Summary: Delectable dark and vicious short stories.

What I liked: There was so much to like about this collection. The stories were well written. In two pages Demmer was able to flesh out stories and characters which is a testament to his writing style. Each story is completely different, like an episode of the Twilight Zone or Crypt Keepers Tales of Terror. There were two stories that I really enjoyed in particular: Restroom Finds and Revenge of the Myth. They both dealt with subjects I enjoy reading: dystopian survival and myths. Demmer ticked all the boxes in these two stories for me.

What I didn’t like: There wasn’t anything in particular that I didn’t like. I wasn’t a big fan of Trashcan Sam the pacing read a bit off.

Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

My thoughts: I am pretty excited to read more from Demmer in the future. I enjoyed his writing style. If this was just a taster of what he has up his sleeve then the horror/darkreads community need to keep an eye on him.

A BIG Thank You to Calvin Demmer for sending me a advanced review copy in exchange for my honest review!

 

Interview with the Author of The Hawkman Jane Rosenberg LaForge

I wanted to try something a little different in my little piece of the internet. I reached out to the author of The Hawkman Jane Rosenberg LaForge to see if she would mind if I interviewed her. As you can tell by the title of my blog post she said YES….Okay I might have squeed a few times….

I am excited today to have the author of one my favorite books of 2018 on the blog. A huge thank you to Jane Rosenberg LaForge for taking the time to answer a few of my questions.

Jane RosenbergI want to fangirl for just a moment. I loved The Hawkman so much that I messaged Jane through her website at a ridiculous time of night then squealed when she took the time to write back. Since then I have also read Jane’s An Unsuitable Princess, which is part memoir and part fantasy and utterly brilliant. Thanks you, Jane, joining me.

J: This is exciting for me, so thank you!

 

The Hawkman is an original take on the bearskin fairytale. What inspired you to retell it in the way you did?

J: It is a re-telling of “The Bearskin,”; but there’s also a lot of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Cat Skin” in it too. I read “The Bearskin” in German in graduate school, and the story always stuck with me. I was quite taken by the idea that although The Bearskin has to pay his dues, so to speak, he gets other people to do some of that penance while he cannot, and he pays them to do it. I don’t necessarily think that’s fair, paying people to pray for you. Shouldn’t you pray out of dedication to God, or a spiritual idea or quest? Isn’t paying people to pray for you cheating? The ending of “The Bearskin” kind of addresses that. I’ve always wanted to write about that, and “The Hawkman” was the result. Not that it came out the way I planned, but there it is.

The Hawkman comes across as a labor of love. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

J: Thank you for saying that! I’d say starting is the most difficult part. After that, there’s the problem of discipline. In graduate school I got a lot of criticism about point of view and voice, and those are two things I always have to watch out for. One of my teachers told me it takes discipline to maintain voice, control point of view. So in addition to getting started, I have to really concentrate about whose point of view I’m taking, what that person sounds like, and whether I can make that person sound authentic, and consistent.

What inspired you to write The Hawkman?

J: I’ve always been curious about World War I. I knew a lot more about World War II because my maternal grandfather fought in it (in the Pacific) and my mother and uncle were raised as Army brats. But my other grandfather, who died when I was young, served in the Russian Army in World War I, and all I knew about his experience was that conditions in the trenches were pretty awful. So I had the idea of a soldier (from “The Bearskin”) and I needed somewhere, or some time, in which to place him, and I used what little I knew of my paternal grandfather’s experience, and went from there.

Both The Hawkman and An Unsuitable Princess are takes on fairytales, or have fairytale elements. What draws you to that genre?

J: I very deliberately wanted to use the conventions of the fantasy and fairy tale genres in “An Unsuitable Princess” because I was trying to make a point about life, or should I say, adolescence. Also, there was the setting of the first Renaissance Pleasure Faire to consider, which is fantastical, and fairy tale-like. Many, many Tolkien fans and history buffs and Dungeons and Dragons players wound up at the  Renaissance Faire, and the “fantasy” part of the narrative had to be set in a time and place that addressed those elements.

That said, I should point out that I had a difficult time publishing “An Unsuitable Princess” because of its format (the pairing of a “fantasy” story with footnotes which contained the narrative for the memoir). People could accept the fantasy, but they could not deal with the memoir part. And the point of the memoir is that I didn’t necessarily have the most interesting, exciting, instructive life, but it did give rise to this peculiar fantasy. Everyone fantasizes, and those fantasies, no matter how outrageous, are grounded in reality. And the fantasy I wrote up was pretty pedestrian. I wrote it to hit all the bells and whistles of the genre, so without the memoir, it was kind of paint-by-the-numbers. It wasn’t worth as much without the memoir.

But I couldn’t get them published together, so a writer friend said to me that I should just write a fairy tale, and be done with it. So I did.

There’s another advantage to working with fairy tales that I’d be remiss not to point out. and I hope I can explain it. If I told you the real, unexpurgated story of my life, you’d say, “No way!” If I told you that my father was deaf and probably clinically depressed; my mother was institutionalized for mental illness when I was a kid; my sister was a math prodigy-genius who struggled with alcohol, anorexia, and even issues beyond that; and that I grew up around all kinds of movie stars and rock singers and hippies and drug addicts in a famous Los Angeles neighborhood, would you believe it? How can so much be going on at once? Each one of those things is probably a novel (or a lifetime of psychotherapy sessions) by itself. But by using myth and fairy tales, stories that are familiar if not foundational, I can couch all of this stuff in a way that is far more understandable, and believable. I am borrowing the authority of these tales as a way to make my stuff palatable.

Since The Hawkman made me cry it is only fair to ask: what book has made you cry?

J: This is going to sound weird, but Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” made me cry. And I cried hard. This was really more of a personal thing to me, because I read it after my mother died, and there’s a sequence about a married couple who’s broken up, and they get back together again. I don’t think most people would cry about that, but given that my mother was gone, and there was no possibility for my parents to do the same, I cried.

When I was reading The Hawkman I felt that it was geared toward the originality of the story and not pandering to readers. I really appreciate when writers don’t pander. When you’re writing do you try more to be original or deliver to readers what they want?

J: I try to be original in my choice of words, in how I describe settings, people, appearances, emotions—in all my descriptions. I studied with a writer, Kate Braverman, who liked to point out that every oak tree is “gnarled,” and every brook is “babbling,” and that older men always speak in “stentorian” voices. These are not so much clichés as they are shortcuts, easy outs for writers who need to describe something but can’t come up with a way to do it. So I always have Kate Braverman in the back of my head saying, “That’s too easy. Pump it up.” I’ve also learned, from other writers, that descriptions have to be appropriate to the purpose or ethos of the story, so you can’t describe something in psychedelic terms, for example, if it’s a place or item from the 18th century.

I don’t know about pandering; there are so many ways writers pander. You could say that re-telling a fairy tale is pandering, because you are giving readers what they already know. You could say that having a death at the end of a book is pandering, because you’ve written an ending that is so final. I used to teach a class on detective fiction, and a lot of detective fiction could be said to pander; the case is solved, the bad guy gets what he deserves, and the wrongly accused are exonerated and go on to live their lives. But that’s the purpose of comedy, and detective fiction: to turn the world upside down, and show how it can be righted. Only in noir (for the purposes of this argument) do you have an untidy ending; the bad guy might get away, corruption continues, and the basic problems in society are never fixed. And noir is not pandering. But I can’t write that!!!! I’ve tried. I really have. So maybe I am a panderer. (Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone I admitted it.)

You have been in the publishing industry for sometime. Have you noticed any changes in the type of books that are being marketed, or do you think that is more driven by what consumers are buying?

J: It’s probably more of a feedback loop. Someone writes “The Girl on the Train,” and it sells well, and then other authors start writing books with “The Girl Who” in their titles. So, yes, Kate Bernheimer started writing fairy tales and then Michael Cunningham put out an entire book of fairy tales and then Roxanne Gay wrote her fairy tale and Helen Oyeyemi wrote hers and so on. People write this stuff—whatever it is—because they are inspired by something, sometimes another book, and they’re able to sell it to publishers because people are buying it, and so they write some more. When you query agents and publishers, you usually try to say, “This book will appeal to readers of….” and you name previously successful, well-known books or authors. But I can’t say I’m an expert on what’s marketed, purchased, encouraged, discouraged. I just write what I can write, and I’ve written a lot of stuff that will never see the light of day, because it’s just so awful. So I write what I can write. That’s what works for me.

I love how active you are on Twitter! You are very passionate about journalism. What changes have you seen in the journalism industry over the last decade? Do you think that the next decade will see real (newspaper) journalism fly out the window in favor of sites like Buzzfeed?

J: I was a journalist for about a dozen years at some very small newspapers. I had a chance at the big time and sorta blew it; well, let’s just say that I wasn’t able to sustain my position in the big time, and had to surrender it. Any changes I’ve witnessed in journalism are really what anyone else who keeps up with the news has seen, because I haven’t been a journalist since 1995. (I am married to a journalist but we have a non-intervention policy in terms of his telling me every last thing about his job.) But it was my first career, and how I came to writing, and I would hate to see print journalism, or the conventions and ethics of print journalism, disappear in favor of sites like Buzzfeed. And I don’t think that’s going to happen, because even Buzzfeed has produced stories that are based on sources, and research, and interrogation of those sources and research. There may not be a physical newspaper, but there will always be journalists. Maybe they will work for not-for-profits, like the Poynter Center and how it runs the St. Petersburg Times in Florida; or something like The Marshall Project online.

Let’s end on a bit of a silly question. Do you Google yourself? (I’ve Googled you and you are extremely accomplished!)

J: I’m sure if you Googled other writers, you would find some who are far more accomplished, but yes of course I Google myself, isn’t that terrible? I Google myself to look for any reviews that are coming out, or to see how a magazine I was accepted to turned out, or sometimes I Google myself to retrieve dates or publication information that have escaped my brain for some reason. But I do not, I am glad to say, do the same thing with other search engines (are there any others?) for purposes of comparison. So I guess I’m not that much of a narcissist. Just a low-grade one.

Jane, thank you so much for taking the time to drop by my small corner of the Internet today. The Hawkman will be released on June 5th from Amberjack Publishing.

The Hawkman is now available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and I am sure many other fine bookstores.