Sunday, October 23, 2016

Review: Penpal

Penpal Penpal by Dathan Auerbach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because I'd heard several of the stories on CreepsMcPasta, and they stood out from the other creepypasta I'd listened to. The stories were disturbing and didn't rely on gore to generate fear. They relied on the listener's imagination.
In this collection, the author has expanded on his original narratives and added some more material to bring the overall story arc to a conclusion. Expanding the previous stories wasn't a good idea; it consisted of adding meaningless text that turned a group of slightly rambling childhood tales into ones that wandered too far afield. Execution can be learned with practice, though; I still wanted to see where the author took things.
The emotional impact these stories have stem from reading the child's view of the incidents that happen to him, his friends, and his pet, but filtering them through an adult perspective. The childhood the unnamed character has the sort of details you would see in any child's life, at least one of an earlier generation. Today's parents wouldn't let their children wander as far afield as our young hero, but I remember having those freedoms myself... perhaps that's why this story worked for me. The kid could have easily been a child of the 1970s or 80s, which the use of Polaroids seemed to imply. The type of phones he and his friends used as teenagers, though, would be a little ahead of their time in that case.
So, we have a collection of stalkerish memories, presented in nonchronological order, with important details left out. Very much like memories in real life. Even with the big reveal at the end, there are still questions the reader, and the character, have. But it works; the reader is left with disturbing emotions. Perhaps it works because the details are missing, and, once again, it is up to the reader's imagination to fill them in.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review: End of Watch

End of Watch End of Watch by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finders Keepers, the second book in King’s Bill Hodges trilogy, was nominally the sequel to Mr. Mercedes. Certainly it is the sequel in the Bill Hodges timeline. End of Watch, however, is the true sequel to Mr. Mercedes, and the ending of Bill’s story.

End of Watch reunites the Mr. Mercedes team – Bill Hodges, retired cop, Holly Gibney, computer whiz with OCD, and Jerome Robinson, high school student now attending college – against Brady Hartsfield, the man who brought them together. The first book of the series was a straight-up thriller; this book travels firmly into the author’s home territory. Our pal Brady received brain damage at the end of the first novel that should have put him in nursing care for life, but a neurologist decides that he wants to try an experimental treatment on the hush-hush with the crippled spree killer. Now Brady’s body is still a wreck, but he has new psychic abilities. They let him drive people to suicide, and he relishes it.

Bill and Holly are still running their "not-a-detective-agency" detective agency, and Bill is called to consult on one of the suicide cases because of its ties to the Mr. Mercedes case. He quickly scents Brady's involvement, because he has always believed that Brady was faking mental incapacity. He pursues his suspicion aggressively, but Bill has a problem: he's dying of cancer. During his pursuit, he uses increasingly ineffective pain pills to keep going, and he lies to Holly about his health. Naturally, she is too smart and learns the truth, but she can either help him stop Brady or walk away. Jerome joins them when his sister nearly dies by Brady's mental pushing. The trio are pushed to their limits as they chase a man who can kill without touching, and flee from body to body.

King handles the action with his usual skill, but his gift has always been in characterization. His heroes read like real people, from their frailties to their taste in food, and they age and face new issues as King does. He's also begun to add new viewpoints from characters who are not like himself. In the first novel, Holly Gibney starts as a meek and neurotic woman still under her mother's thumb. She becomes integral in solving the Mr. Mercedes case and is the one who physically brings Brady down. In End of Watch, she still has her nervous tics, but she has pushed through them to run a successful business with Bill. She is a full partner in the investigation, and King tells the story sometimes from her viewpoint. At the end of the third novel, we see that with or without Bill, Holly is strong enough to make her way.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Under the Radar

This has been a very quiet year for us in terms of announcements about the books we've published or stories we've written. We've been dealing with home repairs (free air conditioning should be a constitutional right in Florida), getting involved with our new Sisters in Crime chapter, and facing our first official hurricane in the Sunshine State. You can assume from this post that we survived Hermine. It was odd, though, to get time off for bad weather in the summer.

Oh, and we had a vacation. A real vacation, the first in several years that was longer than a three-day weekend. Gwen cooked many lovely things, we swam daily, and we also got to read for pleasure, something that we don't get to do as often as we'd like.
During this quiet summer, though, after the release of Strangely Funny III, Gwen and I were very busy, but not so you'd notice on our business page. We were finishing our first novel together. You're probably wondering how we accomplished that: she's a plotter who writes very serious, often dark, mysteries set in the 1870s; I'm a snarker with a short attention span, and most of my stories are set in the present day. I think you'll like our compromise: a mystery set during the 1920s Florida land boom. It has poison, car chases, mobsters, and some serious hangovers. Oh, and one Gertrude Stein book.

Murder on the Mullet Express will be coming out in early 2017.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Guest Post: L Andrew Cooper - Jane Austen, Revulsion, and Revolution

Chances are, you won’t look at the intestines on the cover of my new collection of horror stories, Peritoneum, and think, “This guy has read every Jane Austen novel at least twice!” While I suppose Northanger Abbey should be my favorite, on some days it’s Sense and Sensibility. Austen was doing a lot of her best writing in the 1790s, which was when some of the most important early horror novels were written. Austen’s marriageable women characters seem to be in mortal danger, but their danger is murky. Gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe, Austen’s contemporary, like Austen’s phenomenally successful “domestic novelist” predecessor Samuel Richardson, made the danger much clearer: women of certain classes who lacked the protection of men were under constant threat of rape. In such an unbalanced society, even the most trivial-seeming social interactions had extreme stakes. A simple tea could make your heart jump out of your chest.
Ladies dreamt of Pemberley, and meanwhile, the French mounted heads on spikes. The 1700s were not tame or polite. Google the paintings of William Hogarth, or read the Marquis de Sade. It was a time of revolutionary extremes.
For the Peritoneum epigraph, I chose a quote from 1700s-superstar Jonathan Swift. A line from Swift: “Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse.” A classic Swiftian bit of ironic understatement, it’s also a really gory joke. Swift uses the joke to thoughtful ends, and one of his points is this: probing beneath the surface of things, for reasons and truths, might produce ugliness instead of answers. That’s a bracing bit of wisdom from a time known as “The Age of Reason.” But when the alternative to Pemberley might be rape, women might very well feel unsafe in their skin. Austen kept the skin on, but she showed its vulnerability. Our reasons for feeling unsafe in our skin in the 2000s are different. Sexual violence remains real enough, but we have a different brand of social unbalance. We’re scared of terrorists and mass shootings and viruses and politicians and scientists, but the ugliness is still in our guts, ready to alter our persons for the worse. Ours is a time of revolutionary extremes.
Nowadays Jane Austen gets marketed with zombies and sea monsters. We don’t seem to be in a subtle, skin-on mood, which is fine with me (cf my book cover, which I adore), although I have to admit I prefer my Austen the old way. I’m not advocating for a return to Austen’s indirect manner of suggesting the horrors beneath the skin during her high-stakes ballroom soirees, nor do I think we ought to flay all the people all the time to accommodate twenty-first-century extremism. I’m saying that the 1700s, in Austen’s politeness and Swift’s abattoirs, gave us what we need for our times: both skin-on and skin-off techniques for exploring revolutionary ugliness. Austen and Swift didn’t take anything for granted. She kept the skin on because she wrote about society’s surfaces, their fragility, commenting on how she maneuvered her little brush on two little inches of delicate ivory. While Austen’s writing is as controlled as her heroines must be to survive the gauntlet of courtship, Swift’s is wild and digressive, as chaotic as a flaying, as his satirical work is itself a flaying of society to expose the guts unsusceptible to control. To explore their worlds’ revolting undersides, Austen and Swift wrote in revolutionary ways. Understated or uproarious, dancing or flayed, the characters writers suspend before readers contain glorious imperfections, the exposure of which can tantalize and horrify. The 1700s gave us blueprints for exposure. It’s time we followed them to destinations fit for modern revolt.

L. Andrew Cooper scribbles horror: novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines as well as anthologies of experimental shorts Leaping at Thorns (2014 /2016) and Peritoneum (2016). He also co-edited the anthology Imagination Reimagined (2014). His book Dario Argento (2012) examines the maestro’s movies from the 70s to the present. Cooper’s other works on horror include his non-fiction study Gothic Realities (2010), a co-edited textbook, Monsters (2012), and recent essays that discuss 2012’s Cabin in the Woods (2014) and 2010’s A Serbian Film (2015). His B.A. is from Harvard, Ph.D. from Princeton. Louisville locals might recognize him from his year-long stint as WDRB-TV’s “movie guy.” Find him at,, and


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Love those Libraries!

We were treated very well by the people at Gulf Gate. They had the rooms set up with chairs and tables, plus they had fruit and bottled water available in a nearby room. The Friends of the Library provided us with lunch, which was generous and much appreciated.

Adult Services Coordinator Ellen India was in charge of the event, and she introduced us as the newest Sisters in Crime chapter in Florida.

Ellen wore the Headdress of Power, which was subsequently passed on to me.

I did a short talk about using dialogue as a tool in writing - how it could provide useful information in a "showing" rather than a "telling" way (which sounds counterintuitive), but could also be used to reveal character.

Naturally, I gave examples. I chose from the best: Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Len Deighton, Robert B. Parker, and Sarasota's favorite son John D. MacDonald.

I fear my serious manner may have suffered slightly while I wore The Headdress of Power.

Louise Titchener followed up with a writing workshop on the practical aspects of dialogue - tags, surrounding narrative, adding action, etc. The fun part was the 'pencils on' section.

First, we read a passage of dialogue that was turgid with excess narration and adverbs. We were invited to edit the passage and present the new (and improved) version to the group.

Then, we took a passage from John D. MacDonald that had been stripped down to only what was spoken, and asked to fill in the blank spaces between the lines. After we'd finished, Titchener read what MacDonald had written.

The Suncoast News Network was there to interview Ellen India about the Sisters in Crime program, and we were later especially gratified to see Gwen's book covers featured in the footage.

Naturally, Gwen Mayo and I had a table set up in the authors' room. We had some sales, and I got to try out Square on the new phone.

I'm afraid we were out of copies of History and Mystery, Oh My!, which contained the stories that were finalists for the Agatha Awards. Time to reorder!

In the afternoon, we had a panel discussion on unraveling the mysteries of publishing. The panelists were Gwen, representing Mystery and Horror, LLC, Brenda Spaulding, who had started by self-publishing, and Janet Heijens, a traditionally published author. The moderator was Yours Truly, who probably gave too many asides.

The panel was followed by a Q and A session that was pleasingly active.

Unfortunately, everyone who shared pictures with me was on the panel. So, I will end here with another pic of me wearing The Headdress.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sarasota, June 18: Sisters Sizzle in Sarasota Mayo and I will be at the Gulf Gate Library in Sarasota this coming Saturday as part of a double event - one held at the Barnes & Noble in Sarasota, the other at the library. Please, please come to see us if you're in the Sarasota area.

Address for the library:
7112 Curtiss Ave
Sarasota FL 34231

Author Signings from 10:30am until 4:00pm

10:30am – 11:30am
Workshop: Dazzling Dialogue – Creating Voice
Instructors; Sarah Glenn and Louise Titchner
11:30am – 11:45am Q&A

1:15pm – 2:15pm
Panel Discussion: Solving the Mysteries of Publishing
Moderator: Sarah Glenn
Panelists: Janet Heijens, Gwen Mayo, Brenda Spalding
2:15pm – 2:30pm Q&A

I hope you can come!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Nothing for Money

From Mobile Commerce Daily. Click to read article.
Conservatives are crowing victory at Wendy's latest response to the increase in minimum wages. Instead of employing cashiers, they're laying them off in favor of automated kiosks. They say this is a matter of survival in this soft economy. Other companies, whose labor cannot yet be replaced by automation or computers, continue to send jobs offshore. In some cases, I'm sure it is a matter of survival for the businesses in question. In many cases, they're having to compete with a McDonald's or a Wal-Mart. 

In other cases, the development of new technology has changed how products are delivered, and the market has changed accordingly. E-books have driven many bookstores into bankruptcy, for example, but no author or publisher can cut Amazon out of the equation without losing money. It has a near-monopoly on book sales.
Then, there's the matter of employee benefits. Many companies hire temp workers or only employ workers part-time to avoid the cost of employee benefits. I've even heard people argue that it provides an opportunity to 'monetize free time' and allows workers to travel to where the jobs are with an On The Road sort of virtue. That's fine for young, healthy, childless people or couples. It doesn't really work for older people or for people with kids. 

Children have weaker immune systems and used to die before medical care became accessible to everyone. When you get past forty, perhaps fifty if you're in good shape, the warranties start to expire on your body parts and things will start going to hell. Plus, when you get past fifty, your parents will be in their seventies and they're going to need your help. That nomadic lifestyle will end with children or with age.

There will come a point when many people in the United States can afford to buy basic products, whether it be $15 or $3, because there are not enough service jobs to go around. People like to talk about bringing manufacturing jobs back; those have already been offshored and automated out of existence. The service jobs are the new victims, and many people will not be able to find new employment. Unless a job requires the presence of a human being in person, or it requires special talents and skills, it's going somewhere else. Not everyone is a rocket scientist, though, and Wendy's doesn't need rocket scientists. 
I have a harsh message for American workers, with a follow-up for businesses who operate in the United States: the workers here are never going to be able to beat people in India who will work for a few rupees a day (never mind how I know this), or automated kiosks... unless the price of everything sold in the USA, including the products businesses require, drops to the price people pay in poorer countries. You know how ex-pats used to talk about living like kings in Mexico with a few bucks? Yeah, that's coming here or there's going to be food riots. We're going to have 'extra people' that are a 'burden on the economy', and it's not because they're lazy.

Will everything be on the dollar menu? Will the government have to increase taxes further on companies and citizens, to subsidize basic necessities for all the 'extra people' our country won't employ? Or will we have another price and wage freeze, like the one Nixon imposed?

I don't really have a great answer here; the truth is, many smaller companies are struggling to survive, and if they go belly up there will be no jobs. I get that. I do know, though, that I won't be eating at Wendy's any time soon... especially since my first job was as a Wendy's cashier.