A Cover for a Story

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year, instead of giving you all the gift of tryptophan-induced comas, I am giving the gift of a promo cover made by the spectacularly talented Stevie. (She streams online via Twitch and you can donate to support her art and commission her for lovely drawings as well! She wants to do more cover art for books, so if you’re a writer, get on it!)

BEHOLD:

Those graves are moving, like there are ZOMBIES UNDERNEATH THEM

Wouldn’t you pick this up and read the back?

I squeed for about thirty seconds straight. The dog barked a few times. I think I hit Mariah Carey high notes.

This makes it so real. SO REAL I CAN REACH OUT AND TOUCH IT. Hopefully it doesn’t sneeze on me.

Whaddya think?

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Comics!

After the fiasco of the first comic store I went to (recap: here), I found one in Boulder called Time Warp that is both a.) huge with a great selection of comics and trades, b.) very professional, and c.) the place where Adam and I got little figurines of Deadpool and Black Widow to be our cake toppers.

Everyone there is extremely knowledgeable, helpful, and not antagonistic toward those of a different gender / role-playing schtick.

Adam and I go there about once a week to peruse the selections. Neither of us are hard core comic nerds; mostly we just like to trade-wait for our favorites.

WHICH IS WHAT THIS POST IS ALL ABOUT.

Given the popularity of top ten lists, I’m going to count down over the next few days my favorite comics. Some are done with their storylines, others are still running. Some are new, well, all of them are new, so let’s not worry about the fact that none are older than ten years and just skip on ahead.

I mean, we all know that Sandman, The Watchmen, Fables, Hellboy and Y: The Last Man are fantastic and they need to be read. (I have yet to come to a consensus about Preacher being in this list, but that’s another bloggy post.) I think this Top Ten list can do without that which goes without saying. Most of these are a little indie, in that they’re not DC and Marvel, but every good list needs some recognizable heroes, eh? Awards go to those with outstanding writing, great art, and interesting plot lines. (Listen up, Hollywood. WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT IS LADY LOKI well-written superheroes. The two need not be mutually exclusive.)

10.) Sweet Tooth (Vertigo) 2009-2013 — by Jeff Lemire. I have never heard of Jeff Lemire, but the synopsis of this one is just too good to pass up. It’s post-apocalyptic Nebraska and there are animal-human hybrids. Young Gus is just such a one, a boy with deer antlers and ears (and, surprisingly, not the only comic on this list dealing with people with horns!) and after the death of his father, he does the forbidden: he leaves his compound to explore the rather messed-up world where those like him are ostracized and hunted.

Where the fun comes in is with the wackiness. I hate statements that start with “it’s part…” and then go on to say, “…and part…” but it’s part The Road and part Homeward Bound, equal parts horrific depression and cutesy uplifting and all of it is fantastic. The great thing about a comic that is so unlike anything else is that it’s hard to predict what will happen. Not knowing how the universe works yet and why things are the way they are makes adds tension and suspense and is a favorite plot device of mine. The creativity to make something like this is borderline creepy, but it works so well given the meager dialogue and heart-breaking plot.

Also, comics are some of the most emotive forms of entertainment and this one hits me right in the feels, bro. The art is evocative, being fleshed-out enough to give a sense of world-building and letting the known — farms and crops, trees and the sparseness of that climate — but is just a little off-putting to dish out a big ol’ heaping of defamiliarization so as to continue to exude a sense of wrongness about the world. You begin to care so much for odd little Gus so that when bad things happen to him — I mean, it IS post-apocalyptic, so it can’t be too happy — you almost dare not read ahead.

My only dislike is it seems to meander, as if the author didn’t quite know where he was going, which is not uncommon for serialized comics. But, given that I’ve read only the first volume Out of the Woods (#1-5), and at a 40 issue run, there’s still plenty of time to pull the many strands together and create a phantasmagoric coming-of-age story. This one was recommended to me by serious comic nerds, so I don’t take their words lightly.

Also, Lemire does both the writing AND the drawing. That’s a talented dude, bro.

STAY TUNED FOR THE REST, BAT FOLK.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian* Flynn is one of the New York Times Bestsellers that I sometimes read in order to connect with the average reader to see what the hullabaloo is all about. I’ve done this with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Time Traveler’s Wife, and even that Dan Brown monstrosity The Da Vinci Code and rarely am I left impressed.

This time was no exception either.

TL;DR version: interesting writing style and formatting that is squandered by unsympathetic characters and a drawn-out plot.

Story is simple: guy (Nick) meets girl (Amy). They get married. On their fifth wedding anniversary Amy goes missing and there’s talk about murder. Nick is the suspect because, duh, he’s the husband and the story unravels, revealing both Nick’s and Amy’s sides of the story chapter by chapter until the truth sets no one free.

I will say I was impressed by the format of the story — Nick’s events traveled further past the days Amy is “gone” and Amy’s are moving closer to her disappearance until they meet at the end of part one — because it allows for your sympathies as a reader to shift from one to the other as more and more information is revealed. First you side with Amy as she relates how her and Nick fell in love so many years ago. Then, to Nick as Amy’s strange and obsessive behavior is slowly revealed. Then again, back to Amy as more information about just what Nick has been up to stomps around the stage.

It’s not really a mystery, but there is some suspense around whodunit and if there even really was a crime. But that suspense slowly peters out and there isn’t much tension left behind after the big reveal, which is about two-thirds the way through the novel. After that, it’s just a boring third act that has to tie everything together before a flat ending.

I also found it difficult to connect to either Nick or Amy. Both are incredibly well fleshed out and Flynn has the amazing ability to write multiple points of view. Nick’s voice is drastically different from Amy, who has several voices of her own, so that I didn’t even need to see a title telling me who was narrating, the voices were so strong. But this doesn’t make up for the fact that they’re both despicable in their own ways and have little to no redeeming qualities.

Everyone loves a good villain. No one loves whinny, weak, and self-pitying fools who both get what they deserve in the end, which is neither satisfying nor cohesive. I was left with a bad taste in my mouth after finishing this novel — which took me six months because I kept reading other things at the same time.

Three stars out of five. The writing style is brilliant and refreshing; Flynn’s observations through the characters of Nick and Amy are amazing (ha!), but the plot and the ending were too flat and bogged everything down.

*My fiance and his twin think it’s hilarious that Mulder and Scully’s names can be reversed so they’re Sculder and Mully. Now I’m left not being able to remember which ones are the right ones.

The Terror by Dan Simmons

The Terror by Dan Simmons is a 2007 book about the Franklin Expedition, a doomed Northwest Passage endeavor that failed spectacularly when all of the men were never seen again after being trapped in the frozen ice for three years.

TL;DR Version: Very dry and slow beginning with lots of fruitless and repetitive details, but pays off at the end with an interesting interpretation of what really happened steeped in mythos and humanity.

I’ve read novels by Simmons before — most notably 2009’s Drood that was a pointless exercise in editorlessness — and was rather turned off. I like description and I like wordiness, but there comes a point when I just stop caring about what’s happening — even if what’s happening is super exciting, like ZOMG PEEPS IS DYING FROM EPHEMERAL POLAR BEARS — because of the repetition of lists of people’s names and where things are on the ship in specific, nautical detail, and even cycles of events.

Simmons tells a story well, but gets bogged down in minutiae, effectively stopping any terror or dread from creeping into the novel. The creepiest bits, as usually happens with horror novels — not that this is a ‘horror’ novel per se, it just has many a horror element in it — are in the beginning as each chapter shifts temporally until the past catches up with the present and the story moves fairly straightforward from there.

It starts with the men already frozen in ice for the second year in early 1848 around King William’s Island (which they thought to be a Land before realizing it wasn’t connected to the mainland of Canada) and bumbles back and forth between a giant, polar-bear like entity killing the men whilst they are trapped and the rough beginnings of the expedition that should never have taken off in the first place.

Simmons does his homework; everything is meticulously researched so that events play out as historically accurate as possible until the world lost all communication with the Franklin Expedition when they abandoned their ships to the ice in April of 1848 and decided to walk to open water so as to sail south toward the Back River. The accuracy lends atmosphere building and enriches the hopelessness of the world these 19th century Royal Naval sailors found themselves in, but some things are best left out so that the reader can either decide to fill in details, or so that the story isn’t weighed down with unnecessary lecturing.

And I understand how that can be difficult. There are times when I write an entire outline for the background of a story that’s ten pages long, only to use one paragraph from it. Not using the rest is frustrating, but necessary.

The ending, however, is where this book really saved itself. I was going to dismiss it as another slightly creepy yet still rather uninteresting Simmons novel, until the last 150 pages (it’s a good 650) that detail, much like The Walking Dead, how the survivors of such horror — the elements, scurvy, starvation, food poisoning, evil polar bears — turn on each other and become their own destroyers. Once the book becomes more human and less of a historical report, Simmon’s excellent character development drives the story and it becomes unstoppable. I finished the last third of the book in one night, wanting to know how the remaining survivors deal with the horrible consequences set in motion against them.

It’s not surprising that AMC has decided to make The Terror into a television series, since it shares so many themes with one of the best character-driven shows in the last five years.

Four stars out of five. My own conceptions about the novel were turned around by the end, but that still doesn’t even out the repetitive nature of the beginning.

Reading Aloud

After finishing The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman a few weeks ago, I read the acknowledgements wherein he says that Amanda, his wife (AND MY PERSONAL HERO), was really the first reader/critic/editor because he read the chapters out loud to her before they went to bed. This, in turn, helped shape the novel, turning it into the heartbreaking and melancholic work of brilliance that it is.

I talked to my fiance (soon to be husband) Adam and told him that same story and asked if he wanted me to do the same thing for him. Since I’m always in need of people to bounce ideas off of and want to hear feedback, I thought it an exceptional opportunity to get almost immediate criticism which would, hopefully, allow my works to become breath-taking tales of nostalgia and childhood trauma, until I realized that I’m, at my core, a horror writer. I may dress it up in sci-fi, in fantasy, in speculation, but everything is always a little dark, a little horrific and a little disturbing. My dialogue goes on for pages. My descriptions can sometimes — without someone to help me reign them in — get a little Nathaniel Hawthorne-y. I use really big words that I’m not even sure how to pronounce.

I read horror novels — here’s lookin’ at chu, The Terror — IN ORDER TO GO TO SLEEP. Not everyone does, I realize.

Adam, wisely, declined.

Plus, have you heard that guy read? Sugar. No wonder people want to hear his novels before bedtime.

Shearwater

I got into Shearwater by listening to other folk/indie rock bands like Other Lives, The Boxer Rebellion, and Okkervill River. Incidentally enough, some of Shearwater’s members originally met from Okkervill River, which, incidentally enough, gets its name from the eponymous short story by Tatyana Tolstaya.

(Which means that everything can be related to Russian Literature! Tatyana Tolstaya is the grandaughter of the famous Tolstoi — not the War and Peace one, but rather, the Aelita one — and her novel The Slynx is on my very long and extensive to-read list. She’s considered a great contemporary Russian novelist, alongside Viktor Pelevin (The Sacred Book of the Werewolf), Boris Akunin (the Erast Fandorin series), Sergei Lukanyenko (author of the Night Watch novels that got turned into the rather fantastic movies directed by Timur Bekmambetov and starring the heart-throbby and talented Konstantin Khabensky) and I’ll personally add Svetlana Martynchik, who writes under the pseudonym Max Frei (The Labyrinth of Echo series), to that list as well. Basically this is a long side-note to tell you to read more Russian lit. Not all of it is depressing stuff from the 19th and 20th centuries!)

“Insolence,” is my favorite off of their album Animal Joy released 2012 by Sub Pop.

I like the sweetness of the main singer’s voice and the clarity in his tone. The simplicity of the acoustic guitars and piano often belie the creeping complexity that forceful percussion and quiet strings lend to the latter parts of the songs. Most start out subtle and become progressively more and more layered. It’s a beautiful album, but still a little weak in terms of memorability. I look forward to listening to more from them. Their second should be coming out this fall.

Also, they say the word chrysalis in my favorite song listed above. I have a short story *cough cough* published by Devilfish Review named the same thing. Huh.