Sunday, November 15, 2009

Review: FEAST by R. Scott McCoy

If the contents of my last article weren’t enough to tell you, let me speak plainly that I am an individual who is constantly looking to expand my horizons when it comes to the materials I read. There are times that I tire of reading the same “Big Four” of the horror industry, though this is not to say that I bore of their work. Quite the contrary, actually; what I really desire is to find different points of view, to explore differing ways of building plot and character. As I’ve said many times before, this is how we grow as writers; without a diversity of the ideas we intake, creativity and innovation suffer. If you want a perfect example of this, just take a quick peek at our nation’s capital.

Needless to say, I was quite excited when FEAST, a slim little slice of morbidity from R. Scott McCoy, arrived at my doorstep. Mr. McCoy is, along with his career as a writer, the publisher and editor of NECROTIC TISSUE MAGAZINE, a former e-zine which will soon be publishing its first print issue. This is a man who sees literally thousands of manuscripts come across his desk monthly. One would think he possesses a pretty decent grasp of what people in general like to read.

With Feast, Mr. McCoy proves the truth in this assumption.

Feast is the story of Nick Ambrose, deputy sheriff of Santa Cruz, California. He is a man of duty and honor, who also has the innate ability to read a person’s guilt. His brother, Pete, is also a police officer, and at the beginning of the story we find the two of them together, driving through rural California to investigate the dwelling of a man named Donald P. Reid, who is suspect of being involved in a series of kidnappings.

This is the start of the tale, and it takes no time at all before the action starts. Events turn interesting very quickly. By the time the third chapter rolls around, Nick is left to deal with newfound abilities (and their consequences) that he would have never imagined, even in his wildest dreams. He proceeds to stumble into San Francisco, presumed dead by his peers, armed with power he doesn’t understand and a head that now has not one resident but three, in search of a childhood friend, who to him is the only one who can help him.

I will not go into detail about the rest of the book, because that will only lessen your enjoyment of the read. There are twists and turns and conflict with the purest of evils, which is man’s inherent greed. Nick of course triumphs, but there is no doubt that, by the time the end of the book rolls around, that he will face obstacles on his road ahead, and most of them will prove to be horrible, indeed.

Feast incorporates themes and contrivances that are common in both horror and fantasy, such as the swallowing of souls and the ability to read the auras of individuals as if were were visible lifelines. Though the tools are common, I found the execution to be original and inspiring. Instead of the plot driving the characters, in this tale we have Nick, the protagonist, moving the story along. He acts with confidence (even through his inner uncertainty) and uses his own personal torment to come to grips with the way his situation, and his future, have changed. This is a nice change of pace from the usual, where the outside elements – the ghosts and ghouls who populate the story – dictate where the path leads.

This is not a deep book; the characters, while flawed, are inherently simple. There is nary a philosophical waxing to be seen. And this is not an insult. The book is what it is; a story of character development and action, where each page brings a new trial and a new set of obstacles to overcome. This makes the story read quite quickly, and there is a lot of charm in its straightforwardness. Can you tell I enjoyed it?The only complaint that I have about FEAST is its length. At 155 pages, it reads as the first few chapters of a much larger work. The end leaves you thirsting for more, bad pun intended. I wished there were more story there, as by the time I finished I felt the story had really picked up steam and then left me hanging. I realize that this is a function of small press, where the shorter (and cheaper to produce) is the better, but it still was a bit frustrating. Here’s hoping, from this reader’s perspective, that there are more tales of Nick Ambrose on the way.

To purchase your own copy of Feast, please visit

Thank you once again for your time. This little book is a gem. You will not be disappointed.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The New Ladies of Horror

Throughout my life, the women in it have always been among the most important to me. From my mother to my grandmother, to all the aunts who looked after me as a child, to the brilliant schoolgirls I felt kinship, admiration, and adoration for, to my daugher, to the love of my life who I'm going to spend the rest of my life with, they have all served to inspire and motivate me towards bigger and better things, while grounding me in a state of introspection through which friendship, family, and personal exploration can grow. I love and cherish them all.

Having said that (or perhaps to expound the point), I am an equal opportunity observer when it comes to the matter of the sexes in the world at large. I find Ellen Degeneres as side-splittingly funny as Eddie Izzard, Jane Austen as overrated as Thomas Hardy, Carly Fiorina as amazingly adept with money and expanse as Bill Gates, Tracy Chapman as soulful as Jeff Buckley, Maya Angelou as gifted with prose as Robert Frost, and so on and so forth. Through this, however, I have noticed there is one arena where women - truly inventive women - are severely underrepresented. And this arena is one which is very close to my heart; horror literature.

As a teen I fell in love with Anne Rice. The Witching Hour was the first novel of hers that I read, over a week-long stay at my cousin's house-on-a-lake in New Hampshire, and it was most certainly not the last. I read each of her books up until she became a new-wave holy roller. She's right up there with Barker, King, Layman, and Koontz. But after her, what for the other popular women in the genre?

Not much.

So now we're left with the Stephanie Myers' of the world, creating dumbed-down versions of Rice novels. (Don't get me wrong, I applaud Myers for her success, but let's face it; she writes for twelve-to-fifteen-year-old girls. To include her in the genre would be akin to calling Judy Blume an example of post-feminist literature) There's a chasm of female frighteners out there that begs to be filled. I wish to, right now, start it off my pouring a couple drops in, myself.

I present to you two writers who carry with them as much talent and inventiveness as any I've read of late. Their names are Mercedes M. Yardley and Michelle Howarth, and it is a pleasure to read the both of them. Now, I'll take the opportunity to delve into each one.

Mercedes M. Yardley describes herself as a writer of whimsical horror, and I defy anyone to come up with a better description of her work than that. There is an ingrained mystery in everything I've read, a sense of witholding that sucks you into a story and threatens not to let you go, even after the tale has reached its conclusion. She can be haunting, quirky, and sometimes humorous, yet never lapses into self-mockery or confusion.

The three stories I've looked over - Murder for Beginners (Shock Totem #1), The Container of Sorrows (The Pedestal Magazine), and Water Boy (Whidbey Writers' Workshop) - are each unique in their voice yet consistent in their ability to captivate. Her writing has the added bonus of making one ponder the little things in life, the tiny needles which poke holes in our collective souls. And her as-to-now-unpublished novel, which I've had the honor of reading the first chapter of, will end up being quite the unorthodox little gem once it is published. From the small portion I was able to see, it reads like the lovechild of Doug Adams and Peter Straub. It is truly alluring.

Whereas I have only just recently been introduced to the work of Mrs. Yardley, one Michelle Howarth I have been ingesting for years, since the day she arrived at the Writers' BBS as a naive yet passionate young pup. My, how she has grown over these years; into a woman of vast talent at both finding the hilarity buried in the gloom and penning cringe-inducing horror, sometimes simultaneously. Her creations, while jocose, reveal a hidden depth and darkness, saying that once this particular author decides she will do away with pretense, we all best look out.

I have read most stories Michelle has created and published, and even many that haven't, and it is impressive how undeviating her voice stays throughout, capturing the reader, engrossing them and then grossing them out, until finally the rug is pulled out from under you, revealing the crux of a joke that has been played on you, the reader, with skill and aplomb.

So there you have it; two woman who have the potential to not only thrive in this genre, but transend it. They are a pair of the freshest and most creative minds I've had the pleasure of exploring in years. Read them. Enjoy them. Support them. They need this, from all fans, of not only horror but good literature, to thrive as they deserve to.

The website of Mercedes M. Yardley can be found here.

The website of Michelle Howarth can be found here.

Do it. Start exploring. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

This has been a message from the Journal. I only have your best interests in mind.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Digging Up Donald

"Did you throw open the doors of Heaven to one and all?"
"Don't be daft, it would fill up with Christians. What would Heaven be if there were Christians everywhere? We'd all have to watch our language."

On Fridays, the public library in town closes down early. There will be no checking out books after 5 PM. That means by the time I get out of work that day, the lot is empty and the doors are closed.

I say this because I have become a ravenous reader, going through books the way junkies go through their latest score. I rely on these forays into fantasy to, as I’ve said before, both build my own craft and escape the doldrums of a monotonously busy work week. In other words, finishing a novel on a Friday, if I have no new purchases handy, will leave me high and dry for the weekend and reduce me to perusing my ever-growing bookshelf at home for some retread reading material.

Recently, this very circumstance occurred, and I happened to pick up a book a friend of mine had written back in 2004 titled Digging Up Donald. I shrugged, grabbed it off the shelf, and read it for the first time in four years, when Steven Pirie, my friend and fellow author, sent me ten copies to sell at an international art exhibit that Artwiffy hosted back in ’05.

Boy, am I glad I did, because for a second read, this one blew me away. It is such a fantastic book, filled to the point of spilling over with horror, comedy, and mostly coming-of-age wisdom. The tone is wry and distinctly British, and anyone who ever enjoyed an episode of Monty Python or Black Adder – or maybe even Twin Peaks - will eat this up. I don’t know why I didn’t rave like this back when I first passed my eyes over the sentence, “It was biscuits at ten paces”, four years ago, because I knew even then that I loved it. Perhaps I wasn’t at a place in my life where I could fully appreciate it; or maybe I couldn’t find the proper words and confidence in those words to express myself accurately. Either case, that time is past, and now I am here to sing, baby, sing.

Digging Up Donald is the story of a family in the small English town of Mudcaster, a place that stands on the brink (and frontlines) of Armageddon. Demons have infiltrated the town, you see, and are planning a war that only the Family can stop – with the help of the peculiar and wholly original Donald, of course, for whom the book is named. There are quite a few funny instances where Mother and Father plan to get down and dirty with the whole business, all the while keeping true to their quaint, small-town British sensibilities. The situation with their daughter, Maureen, who is faced with losing something every woman of child rearing age fears, is played out tongue-in-cheek, and her relationship with her sheepish husband Brian is developed with a maestro’s display of wit and sexual metaphor. The townspeople, each of whom is distinct, add more than the story’s backdrop; they’re just as vital to the plot and feel as any of the major characters, which include, among others, the family’s quirky (and deceased) Uncle Norman and a wily, disembodied brain predisposed to acts of extreme violence.

As I said earlier, however, this is a coming-of-age story as much as anything, and to this point the central character is Robert, Mother and Father’s youngest child. His passage to adulthood is marked with the generalities usually ascribed to such tales – responsibility, exploration, loss, young love – only presented in an original and heartwarming fashion. Robert’s romance with Joan, the daughter of the Reverend Likewise (who might not be what he seems) is both sweet and filled with youthful daring, and proves to be a central cog in the resolution of the conflict. To juxtapose this, his rapport with The Grandmother (another shrewdly crafted character) surveys the duplicitous discord-versus-culture inherent with the coexistence of the older and younger generations. Their scenes together are painted with brutal honesty, yet there is a definite tenderness there when you peel away the outer layers.

The underworld is another thing of beauty, created out of a familiar mold and then flipped, upside-down, on the plate of pages. Wait until you see the rapport between the souls here, both lost and found. It’s sure to have you both rolling on the floor laughing and scratching you chin, saying, “huh, that makes sense.”

As a tale of the never-ending battle between good and evil, Digging Up Donald doesn’t forget to present the idea that, even in this fantasy world, not everything can (or should) be lathered in extreme shades of black and white. God is an overbearing father who seemingly doesn’t care too much about what goes on beyond his own gates, and the devil character is very polite with an irresistible swashbuckling charm. The demons are things we can loathe, laugh at, and feel sorry for, all at the same time. It also offers what I find to be a brilliant proposal; that this supposedly unending battle goes on for no other reason than the fact the particulars, the powers-that-be, aren’t forward thinking enough to realize there could be an end, presenting the immortals of both the upper and lower realms as creatures locked in a stubbornly ignorant perception of history.

Needless to say, this is one of the most intelligent, earnest, and hilarious books I’ve ever read. I’m not speaking (er, writing) in superlatives here. The only other novel I’ve completed which it compares to is Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins. I definitely recommend this to any and all audiences. Pick it up, and you won’t want to put it down until you’re finished.

Yes, gentle readers, it is that good.

You can purchase a copy of Digging Up Donald here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Putting Myself Out There

Seven years ago I started writing again - real writing - for the first time since my first year of college. I threw myself into a single project and let it envelope me. This particular project, a four-book series dealing with some of my greatest interests - personal tragedy, horror, romance, science fiction, and the possibility of a zombie apocalypse - went through many titles during the five years it took to complete the first draft; everything from B'lor to End of All Seasons to I-95 to Tabula Rasa. I never felt the work was complete under those names, however - they were just thrown together, attempts at building cohesion where there was none. This harrowed me until I was listening to the radio one day and a certain song (that I will not name) came on. There it was, right there in front of me. A title that wrapped every issue the books deal with in a nice little bow. It felt complete. I could move on.

Finally, The Rift was born.

I mention this because I've decided to, as the title of this post says, put myself out there. I've started a new website - - in an effort to sell this work in serial format - one chapter a week, until the words THE END appear at the bottom of the final page. It is quite exciting; the thought of other people reading what I've written and garnering enjoyment from it is really the culmination of a dream. It is my sincere hope - or should I say prediction? - that I will entertain any who wish to delve into this story.

I hope to see you there, gentle readers. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

This is the Journal, signing out 'till next time.

Friday, May 29, 2009

After fifteen months away...

I've come to realize that I've neglected my little corner of the web for some time. With my creative juices again flowing, I feel it's time to pick the torch back up and get some things out there.

In the last three months, I've rediscovered my (literary) voice after a year of stagnation. It was answered with the drive to create a space of my own, an area in which I can create my worlds in the quiet my personal creative process necessitates. After this came a steamroller of writing - twenty thousand words, good words, in forty-five days - and the requisite excitement that one needs to complete a massive work of fiction.

This spark of creativity came because of one reason: I realized that I hadn't done so much as open a book in two years. Now, to some, that might not sound like a huge deal. But for a writer...well, that's almost beyond forgivable. How can you advance your own craft without exploring what you may or may not be doing wrong, what ways you might or might not want to change, how many plots may or may not have been done before? Yet this was what I'd done to myself - expecting my mind to imagine new and creative galaxies without feeding it, like asking a mountain climber up a slope without the proper gear to complete the task. It just doesn't work.

So I dove back into reading, as well. In the last two months I've read twelve full-length novels, during breaks at work and time off. It's a daily thing, and it must be, or else you'll fester. For those of you who don't write, just know that this is perhaps the most important action you must perform daily, and that includes sitting in front of the keys or blank sheet with a pencil in your hand. Read. A lot. Enjoy it. Analyze it. Build off it.

So now I'm writing again. And submitting. Hopefully soon there'll be a sale. Definately soon I'll be finishing the first draft of my second novel, Silus, the strange story of a man and his beloved dog. And I look forward to the editing process as it inevitably works its way forward.

So for now I'm off, though I hope not for long. For those who've served as support and inspiration to me, thank you, you know who you are. And I'll be back soon to post my thoughts and opinions in the form of reviews of some of the newer books I've been reading.

And I'm quite excited about that.