Book Review: Dead Boys by Gabriel Squailia #review #novel

Available March, 2015 (ARC received from publisher)
Very interesting concept: a man dead for some time has built a career in the underworld preserving the flesh and bones of other deceased individuals. When Jacob learns that a Living Man has passed the borders between the living and dead worlds, he begins a quest to find the Living Man and learn how to return to the land of the living…as a corpse, yes, but one with a mission.
The world of the dead is interestingly illustrated but isn’t the primary draw with this work. Instead, it’s about how Jacob handles his quest and, of course, the personal reasons he has for it, which he will not reveal to his companions: a boy who can control the bones of the dead and a foppish criminal. The interweaving of these elements truly sets this work apart.
However, the narrative elements and choices the author have made work against those elements. Generally, whenever Jacob needs to learn something, he is told a story. In dialog. Long dialog that, while it holds true to individual speakers’ voices, is a weak way to convey such large chunks of information. It makes you wonder if he’s trying to mirror the oral origins of the underworld quest used for this narrative. If so, the author could have done so with far fewer dialog dumps and instead utilized stronger narrative tools.
3 stars.

The Five Stages of Entrepreneurial Grief

For twenty years, I’ve owned and operated a small business. That entire time, I’ve also been building a career as a novelist. Which means, basically, that I run two businesses, each with their own subset of associates, fellow professionals, clients and subcontractors.

Along the way, I’ve met a lot of fellow entrepreneurs from all kinds of industries. The environments they’ve chosen for their professional pursuits are as individual as they are. Some of them rent office space. Others work on-site at the companies for which they freelance. Think bullpens, tiny offices without windows, and twice, a lopsided desk facing the wall in the hallway. (Yes, that actually happens in real life and not just on predictive episodes of Mad Men).

Most entrepreneurs, however, stake out a portion of their homes as The Formal Place of Business. Complete, of course, with The Official Business Computer, which is never, ever used for video games or downloading porn. Not because clients or a spouse would object but because the IRS would eliminate those juicy tax deductions that help small businesses stay alive.

Since that official piece of equipment is so important, there must also be an Official Work Desk upon which it can perch, a matching (or at least functional) Official Work Chair (swivel and rocker abilities optional), and various Official Desktop Corrals for pens, paper clips, stamps, lucky trolls, lucky pennies, moneybags Buddha figurines, and that collection of thumb drives containing material that will forever remain mysterious because thumb drives are too small to mark with a Sharpie.

Ah, the envy home office spaces inspire. You get to work in your bunny slippers and nothing else, people think. You can be drunk at noon and no one cares, they murmur. You can take off and go shopping, mow the lawn, or simply drive around aimlessly in your splendiferous 1975 AMC Pacer, which was a subcompact before subcompacts became a thing without the pesky gas-saving elements of other subcompacts but hey, that’s all your self-employed income will support, and so what if it looks like a gigantic squashed jellybean. It runs, doesn’t it?

Or so everyone thinks. About the whole entrepreneurial thing, I mean.

But for those who actually are self-employed, reality sets in. Not once but over and over. This, I have realized, follows a rather consistent pattern. So, before you too are wooed by the siren’s call of working naked in bunny slippers (which is surely against a bunny slipper innocence protection ordinance), do yourself a favor and review the five stages of entrepreneurial grief.

With a nod to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, I hereby acknowledge and affirm that If there is an entrepreneur, there is work; if there is work, there is an entrepreneur.

Link to the rest here. Originally published on The Rouse, a content website for small businesses.

Book Review: Blacklands by Belinda Bauer #review #novel

Young Steven’s life is marked by loss. When his mother divorced her husband, Steven lost his father. When his mother moves back to live with Steven’s grandmother, he loses his original home. And because the loss is generational, compounded by his mother’s loss of her brother to a serial killer, Steven’s life has been spent in a darkness that always seems to grow.
Desperate to fix the fractures in his family, he spends his afternoons digging random holes in the moors, or blacklands, where the brother is likely buried. His obsession is so complete he implements his own loss by alienating his friends. When he realizes the foolhardiness of his mission, he doesn’t turn away. Instead, he turns to the serial killer.
He begins writing to the imprisoned killer. Avery enjoys the correspondence as a way to spend the last two years of his incarceration…until he realizes Steven is a child. Then he becomes determined to break out and take advantage of the control he has over one last innocent. Steven’s redemption and his life seem surely to be lost when the killer walks free. A gripping, intense ride that holds the family at its heart.
5 stars!
Two other novels blend the intensity of crimes against the innocent with compelling personal journeys. Message Stick, winner of two national awards, is a gripping psychological thriller that follows a man’s journey through the personal history he has too long denied. He Drinks Poison is an erotically tinged thriller that traces a woman’s acceptance of her own dark power as she faces down a serial killer.
For a novel that delves into childhood pain and eventual redemption, try Cosette’s Tribe.

Book Review: The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff #review #novel

At times, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this novel. I enjoyed it a great deal, especially the parallel stories told from historic times and how they lined up with the present narrative. I wasn’t always sure how the two connected, though…I wanted a bit more meaningful commentary from the protagonist on what she was learning about those past lives and how they resonated in her present.
Overall, though, it was a very, very enjoyable read. Funny at times with a depth that really draws me.
4 stars!
For another novel that interweaves past stories with the present, try the two-time award-winner, Message Stick.

Book Review: Gathering Blue, Book 2 of the Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry #review #novel

Set in a very different type of society than The Giver, Gathering Blue takes readers to a world in which unknown events (or events hidden from the masses) have left a previously advanced society in a primitive state. Although the village is set up cooperatively, little cooperation truly exists among these people. They argue constantly, children are neglected at best and unthinkingly abused at worst, and a Council of Guardians protects their own rule as much as the population.
Kira, a young girl born crippled in one leg, would have been exposed to the environment and left to die had her mother not utilized her tenuous political connections to preserve her life. When her mother dies, the fatherless girl is again faced with being expelled from the community.
It seems, however, that her talent is uncommon. She is selected by the Council for special treatment, and is taken into the Council Edifice where the quality of her life is exceptionally better. But the work that she performs, caring for the robe of the Singer who preserves the village’s history, is dictated by the Council’s demands rather than her artistry.
When her mentor hints that the world is not exactly as the Council claims, the old woman dies suddenly. Kira begins to question the death of her father by terrible beasts—none of which have actually been seen in the woods surrounding the village—and then her mother’s passing.
The story is compelling because Lowry makes us care about Kira and her friends. But the plotline gives out at the end. Everything clearly is leading up to her discovery about Council secrets; instead, the book ends when Kira discovers the way to create the color blue.
Now, that in and of itself is important. Blue is a lost art, and is accessible only when she breaches the walls of secrecy and risks her life to discover the truth. But the truth is not fully drawn in this book. Instead, she comes to the edge of the truth, and readers are left to hover. Satisfying in some ways, dissatisfying in others.
4 stars.

Author Interview: Martin Smith, All Tomorrow’s Parties

Today’s interview is with Martin Smith, author of All Tomorrow’s Parties.
LC: All Tomorrow’s Parties is a very intimate look at a specific part of North Carolina, a specific time, and a specific subculture. How did you manage to mine all of those details for this book project?
MS: It’s a long story – but then, with a writer, what isn’t?
I “discovered” live local music after moving here in the spring of ’82, right out of college. One of my housemates was in a band, so I’d go to the Cave and other locales to see them. Before this, the only shows I’d been to were a small handful of national acts at the arena back in Omaha: Famous People At Expensive Ticket Prices, far away and very small down on the stage. At the Cave, the musicians are right there in front of one, and usually socialize with the audience, which often contains local musicians too. Through friendship with the one I met others, as well as through various jobs I had, and began following their shows as well. They were all in their mid-20s like me, doing music as a hobby, not making a living at it but maybe hoping to; they were always glad to see familiar faces, like mine, at shows, and presently I’d become a part of their informal extended “entourage.” I was enthralled – these Incredibly Cool People are actual humans that one can talk to; and what’s more, they like seeing me, and even let me party with them!! That was my “conversion” to the “religion” of live local music, which I’ve been following ever since.
Chuck McDonough’s experiences in the “back catalog – chuck” section of All Tomorrow’s Parties are thus autobiographical, not in specific incidents but in his thoughts and feelings. All the music-related (and party-related) stuff in the book is reconstituted from the thirty-years’ worth of shows and parties I’ve been going to. (Likewise with John Overstead in the “hey mr. dj” chapter: I was a volunteer DJ at WXDU for 23 years. And I faint at the sight of my own blood.)

LC: Tell me about your publishing journey with All Tomorrow’s Parties.
MS: I wrote All Tomorrow’s Parties between 2004 and 2011. I sent out query letters to every agent that seemed remotely likely to have interest. The response was a handful of polite “No’s” from some and dead silence from the rest. I knew that was par for the course, having been writing and submitting short stories for the past thirty years (when I wasn’t out seeing shows). I had planned all along to try the self-publishing route if no agents or presses took the bait. I’m just starting that adventure now, with my new author website and ads for the novel in local papers.

LC: Do you play any instruments yourself? How well?
MS: I don’t play anything; dearly wish I did; but am mulish about putting in the necessary time to learn, and especially practice. I did take organ lessons in junior high, from a guy named (I kid you not) Mr. Cheeseman, but never kept up with it.

LC: Does music interact with the creative act of writing for you? How so?
Music doesn’t interact with the writing. I prefer quiet when I’m working, on anything. Since I’m a “words” guy, lyrics that are catchy, or stupid, can distract me.

LC: You also run a literary magazine that has one of the largest print circulations in the nation. How have you managed to keep that alive for so long?
MS: That’s easy: I’m a trust-fund slacker (thanks to Grandpa Knapp, who traveled the world designing factories for Johnson & Johnson, and left all five of us grandkids plenty of stock). I support it financially. Garry the editor supports it artistically and editorially, which I think is probably much more complex. I keep it going because I’m proud of it; because I like Garry’s enthusiasm, inimitable ways and the choices he makes; and because it gives me a sort of “position” in the community when out seeing shows: I’m the “Blotter guy.”

LC: How do you interweave working on The Blotter and writing your own projects?​
MS: I try to keep every weekday afternoon open for writing my own stuff. I do Blotter business in the morning, between breakfast and exercise. After lunch I work, until my creative neurons burn out for the day or until it’s time to start fixing dinner, whichever comes first.

LC: You’ve posted a number of free stories on your website. What moved you to do that…a deep and abiding love for your readers? Or something more sinister?
The four free stories have been published (my website tells where & when), which sort of means to me that they’re already accessible to the public. Also, maybe if people like them enough, they’ll want to buy the for-sale ones.

LC: Tell me, tell me, about that ink! (Click here to see the groovy tat!)
The tat? Got it done in ’04. Passed out in the tattoo chair from the hurt (most embarrassing; that should only happen to boastful hetero yuppies) and was revived with Pixie Stix.
There’s a quarterly zine, “White Crane Journal”, now online only but formerly print as well, which focuses on gay spirituality. They published my stories “Dream Lover” and “Fairy Tale.” The picture illustrated an article, and I thought, “That’d make a cool tattoo.” So after six months of working up the gumption, I went and dood it.
A hetero friend calls it “Jesus of Finland.” If people give me weird looks and demand “Is that Jesus??” I reply, “If you want it to be.”

LC: What are you working on for your next book?
It’s complicated. I have a title (Masters In This Hall), an assortment of characters, and several plot threads to try and work out. One theme will be power and powerlessness. I want to write out the dark memories and fantasies that fuel my obsession / depression, much of it stemming from junior-high-school bullying and other childhood scars. But I also want to put in something of my love for passenger trains and geek-out knowledge of their pre-Amtrak history; a thread where the main character, an ordinary guy, inherits a ginormous mansion and even more ginormous fortune for no apparent reason; and Parallel Universes, because why not?

Job at Poets & Writers Magazine

Poets & Writers magazine is looking for an online editor. Here’s a brief description:
Online Editorial Assistant The online editorial assistant is an integral part of the team responsible for developing and maintaining Poets & Writers’ website (pw.org), which attracts over a million unique visitors per year and is the creative writer’s primary online source for information and advice. Responsibilities include maintaining a variety of databases, producing select web content, participating in the development of new online resources, and conducting related research. The position offers a fastidious, knowledgeable, and web-savvy person an opportunity to contribute to the ongoing development of Poets & Writers’ fast-growing online service to creative writers. The online editorial assistant reports to the associate web editor. This is a fulltime position in our New York City office; it includes excellent benefits and potential for growth.
Click here for details.