Very honored…

MedalistWinnerSeal500x500I am very honored to have been awarded medalist honors for psychological suspense in the New Apple e-book awards. Congratulations to all the winners: http://newappleliterary.com/2015ebookwinners.html.

The Walking Dumb 11-29-15

Here’s my review of the mid-season finale in 189 words or less. There may be a spoiler, but it’s not likely to matter.

The Good: Best line ever spoken from a mother to her young son: “Pretend you are somebody that’s not scared.”

The Bad: Where did the ants come from? I understand the metaphor. The zombie herd is about to devour Alexandria. I get it. But a trail of ants making it to the second floor bedroom to devour a half-eaten cookie is beyond heavy-handed.

The Ugly #1: I am tired of Morgan. I really wanted to see the wolf hostage eliminated. However, I am really disappointed with Carol’s timing. All that said, I refuse to believe that Carol could be suddenly struck incompetent and fail so miserably. The result is just another instance where the writers chose plot over character.

The Ugly #2: Sam, listen to your mother and stop calling for her as you weave through the zombie herd. She is holding your hand. Perhaps she should have been more direct and told you to pretend you were someone who shouldn’t be fed to the zombies.

My top 10 favorite novels

booksI occasionally change the order based on my mood, but it’s been awhile since anything as broken into the top 10.

  1. Michael Ondaatje: In the Skin of a Lion
  2. Steve Erickson: Amnesiascope
  3. Ernest Hemingway: The Old Man and the Sea
  4. Michael Ondaatje: Anil’s Ghost
  5. James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  6. Michael Herr: Dispatches
  7. Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita
  8. Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere
  9. Carole Maso: The American Woman in the Chinese Hat
  10. David Guterson: Snow Falling on Cedars

Book review: Chemicals by Erica Crockett

I generally juggle two or three titles from my reading list at any given time. That was not possible with Chemicals; this novel demanded my full attention. This novel reminded me how much I hate that stories must have endings. Especially great stories. Especially stories filled with rich and vivid characters such as those created by Erica Crockett. I missed them immediately, even the evil ones. I wanted to keep reading.
chemicals
Chemicals is certainly a deftly articulated social commentary that is hauntingly prophetic. But I was impressed with the writing itself. I am a fan of writing as a craft. I am sometimes insanely jealous of great writing. The latter applied for Chemicals. I was captivated by the narrative. It’s one thing to create some complex characters and tell a great story. It’s far more difficult to do that using a third person, attached narrator in the present tense. Erica overcame the restrictions of that single point of view by delivering evocative dialogue, careful plotting, and a strategic use of time to develop the characters and move the story. The immediacy was powerful and effective. A writerly triumph indeed. Chemicals was also filled with sentences I wish I had written. To list a few…

  • “She instead dreams of sinking into the moon of romance, made of cotton and love and throbbing with bioluminescence.”
  • “Everything will be all right when we come back from where we all have been.”
  • “Strangeness is all over you, Aberdeen.”
  • “It could be that the word evil is just too wedded to the word genius in my mind.”

But above all, I enjoyed the subtle moments this story provided. A simple note from Louis to Aberdeen was my personal favorite. This moment was earned in pieces—a careful crescendo—and provided an emotional punch to punctuate the bond between the two. Similarly, the novel was full of tiny, exquisite mysteries that held my attention long after the words were read. Even now, I catch myself pondering about Sani and formulating theories on how Hurt knew Walter’s name.

Bottom line: Chemicals is a great story. Erica Crockett is a gifted writer. Highly recommended.

Follow Erica on twitter (@EricaCrockett) and visit her website (ericacrockett.com)

Book Review: The Dead Dance Faster by Julie Ann Hacker

I was not certain what to expect from either a “religious mystery” or a “religious thriller.” I was intrigued and lulled as the story unfolded, slowly drawing me into the complex intersection of memory and perception. It was story about lost innocence, partially repressed memories, memories that should have been repressed, and, ultimately, how those memories distort over time, sometimes becoming clearer, sometimes murkier. A line that resonated with me for quite a while: “History wants to teach me something, serendipitously begging me to learn.” Jael had much to learn, and yes, of course there was a mystery to solve and some thrills along the way.

DDFJulie Ann Hacker penned a subtle and effective plot to propel the story. She made deft use of a journal to provide detail and depth both to the story and to her main character, Jael. I have seen similar devices overused or misused in the past, but not so here. Hacker also delivered some haunting imagery that made me stop dead, re-read, highlight, and read again. A bible as a step stool, a pleasantly repeated image of brown paper bags, and some downright creepy family photos, just to name a few.

A few of my favorite lines:

  • “His words melt into a sad, lonely puddle at my feet. And now I want to wallow in them…”
  • “…I wanted to kiss him to stop his lips from shaking, like Grandpa kissed me when I was upset, but I didn’t have to, Robbie’s lips just stopped.”

Bottom line: The Dead Dance Faster is well written, evocative, and highly recommended.

Follow Julie Ann Hacker on twitter (@JulieAnnHacker) and visit her website (julieannhacker.com)

Truth of ‘Shakespeare’s skull’ to remain a mystery

Like to size up the cranium that once held the brain behind Macbeth, Hamlet, and roughly 1,500 words we still use today?

Source: Truth of ‘Shakespeare’s skull’ to remain a mystery | Fox News

I can’t reallyjuliet_statue-200x300 say that I blame them for denying the DNA test. The skull has no inherent power other than to those who believe it is his. Either you believe it or you don’t. When it comes to Shakespeare legend, I personally prefer the famed Juliet statue in Verona. It’s a shame that it is apparently gone now too. There is something comforting about rubbing the breast of Juliet for luck.

 

Drunk Russian sailor crashes 7,000-ton ship

What shall we do with a drunken sailor? Don’t give him control of a huge cargo ship, for starters.

Source: Drunk Russian sailor crashes 7,000-ton ship – CNN.com

Why does everyone have to pick on drunken sailors all the time? Where’s the Drunken Sailor Anti-Defamation League when you need them? A completely politically-correct title could have been “Russian ship not engineered to adequately sustain poor human performance.”

The Walking Dumb 11-22-15

There is likely to be a spoiler or two here. You’ve been warned. Here’s my assessment of the last episode of The Walking Dead in 259 words or less:

The Good: We received some resolution about Glenn. It was predictable and fairly lame, but it was resolution.

The Bad: A tremendous amount of time was expended showing Rick and others reinforcing a wall because of a tiny hole in the metal that was seeping blood. This blood-seeping hole was even the focus of last week’s preview. Instead of trying to figure out how a continuous stream of blood could seep through a hole that is five feet off the ground, Rick decided to measure and saw and fasten a wooden band-aid. After all his efforts, he was rewarded by having a another section of the wall completely demolished during the collapse of an unstable building. Look around you Rick, you’re missing the big picture. Intentional for sake of metaphor or not, the entire story-line was dull.

The Ugly #1: They are surrounded by an unmitigated herd of zombies (not to mention the Wolves). Maggie is unable to get out to search for her husband. Rick is paralyzed and content to wait for the others to hopefully eventually return. And yet, a teen-aged girl is able to escape Alexandria and live in the town on her own with nothing more than one handgun and few bottles of water.

The Ugly #2: Karl found that stupid hat again.

Bottom line: I am fully prepared to be disappointed by the mid-season finale next week.

Book review: Junior Inquisitor by Lincoln Farish

Bottom line: Read this one immediately and brace yourself for the next one, “Soulless Monk.”

Junior Inquisitor is fierce and taut, yet quirky and fun. Lincoln Farish has a penchant for writing action sequences and developing unique characters. The main character, Brother Sebastian, is a complex character indeed. He is a badass. He is a caring friend. He is emotional. At times he is in way over his head. At other times he is an invincible warrior. Ultimately, he is a vulnerable vigilante exploring the full spectrum of good and evil.

juniorinquisitor

The story itself is immensely intriguing. Part suspense, part horror, part fantasy, Farish creates a mythology that is otherworldly yet firmly grounded to reality. The juxtaposition of paranormal entities (witches, ogres, and much worse) with modern warfare tactics was exhilarating. Farish’s depiction of combat is detailed and very very real.

There were many lines and moments that I loved, but this line served almost as a thesis statement: “We went to meet the battle.” It reminded me of a quote about from Thucydides: “But, the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.” Brother Sebastian certainly lives up to that sentiment throughout. I wish I could share a Guinness with him and talk baseball; I’d also want him by my side if I ever encountered a Screwface.

Follow Lincoln Farish on twitter and check out his blog, Farish’s Freehold.

Random thoughts on writing Once in a Blue Year

“Once in a Blue Year” started as a 13 page short story about a guy who might have fallen in love with his best friend’s wife. Navy service was only a brief mention. I expanded that part of the story and began to explore the pressures placed on young enlisted sailors, boys who were in high school one day and then at war on a nuclear submarine the next day. Essentially they are forced to come of age overnight and are unequipped to handle the responsibility. They make mistakes and the consequences are significant. They get married and have children. They don’t know how to manage their lives, loves, or their money. They don’t know their own limits, and they exceed them constantly. With only the back story actually take place at sea, “Once in a Blue Year” focuses mainly on the emotional strain to the young families. The love and loss. The waiting, and the uncertainty. It’s essentially a story about choices. Choices made, choices avoided. Some bad, some worse.

I worked on the novel for almost 15 years. I put it away for long periods at a time and worked on other things. Each time I came back to it, I had a slightly different focus. It changed a lot through the repeated revisions. I think that resulted in layering and has given it a depth it didn’t have in the early drafts.

I struggled with the title for quite some time until one night I was doing some research about the gulf war. I was reading a Newsweek article and a line about the first night of the attack caught my attention, a reference to the moonless night. With the war starting in mid-January, that put a full moon on or near New Year’s Eve, which would also make it a blue moon (the second full moon in a single month). I already had a lot of repeated imagery about night skies and the moon, and I realized the main narrative took place within a single year with that full moon in the center. I was explaining all of this coincidence to a fellow MFA student the next day and I said, “I think I should just call it Once in a Blue Year.” He agreed emphatically and I never gave it a second thought. The cover concept was really quite simple: I needed a moon, I needed an ocean, and I needed some blue. It took a little searching, but I eventually found the image; I instantly knew it was the one.

I’ve been pleased with all the reviews I have received, but the following lines from the Kirkus review make me smile the most:

“Debut author Durkota writes a remarkable narrative centered on the afflicted mindsets of his Navy men… And while Durkota’s work often feels like a thriller, it’s more of a psychological study in which the characters, like flashes of lightning, are wonderfully alive for a very short time.”

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