Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: "Press Start to Play" edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams

Book Title: Press Start to Play (Anthology)
Author(s): Edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams
Release Date
: August 18, 2015
Publisher/Imprint: Vintage Original, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.
Number Pages: 528

Going into
Press Start to Play, one may be a bit hesitant; hmm... science fiction stories about video games? Interesting concept, though how far can this be taken, before the gimmick gets exhausted? Based, at least, on the strength of John Joseph Adams’ previous anthologies, any hesitant reader may wish to turn off ‘Call of Duty’ and flip to page one. Because, as it turns out, there’s nothing gimmicky about this anthology and, moreover, the depth authors take the subject is prominently inexhaustible; In short, this is one of the best anthologies published in 2015.

From pixel pong games to console immersion, this is an exhilarating journey through the levels of penned speculation. In addition to hard science fiction, there is a wonderful blend of dark horror, high fantasy, adventure, and insightful literary merit to these stories, which ranges from characters becoming part of the game they were playing; the effects of gaming on society; fantastical blendings of gaming and real life scenarios; the future of gaming; and even imaginings of how gaming can save the world.

The standard caveat applies, that not all stories will appeal to all readers; such is the balance of including a diverse mix of unique writers, but most of the tales in this book will be found appealing in numerous ways.

Some of the top picks include:

“Desert Walk” by S.R. Mastrantone
– A slow-build mystery about a rare cartridge game, where the player does little but walk in a desert. Just subtly chilling enough to leave the reader with ineffable feelings of dread.

“Rat Catcher’s Yellows” by Charlie Jane Anders
– A touching vision of the curative effects of living in an augmented reality.

“Survival Horror” by Seanan McGuire
– Funny, smart, riveting; A half-incubus and his cousin—the granddaughter of a witch—are trapped to play an evil (i.e. hacked) video game, which threatens to trap them in another dimension.

“Save Me Plz” by David Barr Kirtley
– One of the best tales in this book, a sword-wielding adventuress goes off in search of her ex-boyfriend who has mysteriously vanished from his college dorm room after obsessively playing a game based on real life.

“Anda’s Game” by Cory Doctorow – A rich story filled with world building that tackles the complexities of class struggle as well as being a young girl who finds her gaming life to be superior to her real life, until it isn’t... and then it is again.

“Select Character” by Hugh Howey – A surprisingly uplifting, sweet tale about looking at gaming from a different perspective. This closing selection is not quite as impactful as some of the other stories in the book, but it’s a great take on subjectivity, well written, and just ‘fitting’ on so many levels.


Overall, Press Start to Play is highly recommended and comprised of so many brilliant tales, one cannot help but long for a second installment once unlocking the accomplishment of finishing this book.


_________________________________

Eric J. Guignard writes, edits, reads, and dreams of dark fiction. His recognitions include winning the 2013 Bram Stoker Award and being a finalist for the 2014 International Thriller Writers Award. Outside the realm of fiction, he’s a technical writer and college professor.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Tribute to my brother, Jeff Guignard

Though this is not writing-related, it’s part of my life, which affects my writing, so wanted to share. The original post is on Facebook with responses here: www.facebook.com/tribute.

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My younger brother, Jeff Guignard, passed away last night about 1:15 a.m., holding hands with a dear family friend.

He was my only sibling and my best friend, and the sense of his loss is so profoundly unrecoverable that I feel half of me died along with him.

Jeff was stricken with a sudden and frighteningly aggressive form of stomach cancer. Three months ago he was a healthy, strong man, living life as normal with no health concerns but for a mild pain forming in his stomach; in the course of only three months he fell deathly ill and withered to a skeleton, so weak as to barely raise his arms. He was fighting it to the end, but last night his heart gave out. He was only 36.

Jeff truly lived life his own way; he never pretended to be someone he was not, but accepted his fallibilities as frankly as he did his strengths. He spoke his mind, did whatever he wanted—to a fault, sometimes—was independent, loyal, and genuinely endearing to every person he met. Funny, brazen, sensitive: my brother brought energy and joy with him wherever he went. He dressed the same as he did in high school; Vans sneakers and baggy shirts, and everyone knew Jeff would always be the first to drop whatever he was doing and rush to the aid of someone he barely knew, whether it was to help them move apartments, lend them money, or sit with them in time of crises. He would open up on the most personal of topics with anyone, and he had a thirst to know and experience everything in the world. Jeff held himself back with mistakes made during his twenties, but as those years faded, he turned everything around and made amends to all including himself. He worked hard, developed a love for skydiving, sharpened his self-confidence, shared new goals and dreams; spent every other weekend at my house, playing with my kids, being the best uncle, and then suddenly this cancer hit him. It just seemed he was on the verge of finally ‘finding himself,’ of making it…

These past three months have been the hardest, most despondent time of my life. Once Jeff was admitted into the hospital, he was hooked up to machines and never able to again leave. Every day his condition worsened in some way; Debilitation, fatigue, pain -- Doctor after doctor would come in and just tell him he was going to die, and there was no hope. Though Jeff often did feel forlornness, he never gave up that hope. He and I worked through treatment plan after treatment plan, and though each failed, and he got sicker and weaker by the day, and more doctors would come in and tell him to ‘give up’, ‘to pick a hospice to die in’, and Jeff and I would cry together after the doctors would leave, we’d then discuss options, alternatives, vow not to give up, and we’d tell them to f**k off, and he was going to make a recovery and storm back in there one day and show them all...

The first two months of the cancer, Jeff felt the most depressed, and angry and scared. It was all so sudden, all so unexpected. He did not want anyone to know or see him in that condition; he wanted friends and family to remember him the way he was—healthy and smiling and independent. For those who texted or called Jeff, and never received response, please understand it was only his dejection at circumstances, not to mention the amount of effort in responding to so many well-wishes when he needed to rest. He was never alone though; my mother and I rotated shifts and spent every day with him, so he’d never be unattended. My life became a daily itinerary of how much time I could spend with him, and what we’d accomplish during that time. We’d watch movies, share memories, and often just sit in comfortable silence next to each other, lost in thought as to life and loss, regret and accomplishment, and the ever-gnawing fear of what the next hour would bring. I cried more for him than he did for himself.

The last, third month, Jeff gained acceptance of his disease and opened himself up to having friends visit. Thank you all so much, who came, and I’m sorry for those who were planning to come soon but did not make it in time. I tried to schedule his visitors so that he’d have around-the-clock care, without being overwhelmed by too many at once. Know though, I passed on every message to Jeff and let him know who I’d scheduled, and the size of his smile at every name I spoke reminded me of my brother from just three months ago, running and playing and healthy and free...

Even though Jeff’s condition was extremely delicate, I still had treatment plans for him and prayed so hard every day, believing that even with the most remote chance, he’d still be able to make a miraculous recovery and be around another fifty years... even in the face of every grim report and doctor visit, there was no way my little brother could be taken so soon... I tried so hard for him, and I’d have given anything to have saved him... but, God, I’m rambling and pouring tears now as I write this...

My memories of him are overwhelming, each more dear and cherished than the last, which makes it all the worse that they’re gone and I can never share in those things again: eating cinnamon rolls at the breakfast table; watching horror movies late at night; talking about books, about news, about gossip, friends, work, anything. My brother just made everything better in my life. Each time he would knock at my front door, my day brightened.

Jeff was my greatest champion, and I his. I knew my brother would support me in anything, regardless of how rash or careless the decision might be; he’d tell me that I shouldn’t do it, but then he’d be there for me anyway if I did. Regardless of my guilt, he’d be on my side. That’s not a characteristic one wishes in most people around them, but it was an immense assurance to know that no matter what, he’d have my back.

Jeff loved death metal music, astronomy and science fiction, high fantasy, Nintendo video games, junk food, books, and Monster energy drinks. He was an animal lover, a pacifist, enjoyed swimming, and most of all socializing with friends and family.

He hated computers, social media, banks, shopping, and pickles.

Jeff graduated Charter Oak High School, class of 1996.

He was impeccably polite. Every nurse that came into his room, Jeff would say hello, and ask them about their shift. They’d ask him how he was feeling, and he’d inquire the same of themselves. He’d thank and compliment every technician, therapist, nurse, who provided care, every time. Even when Jeff wasn’t part of their shift, nurses he’d had in the past would visit him to offer hope and assistance. When we left today, too many of the staff to count approached me to share tears...

Jeff was a ferocious driver, and in three years accumulated thirteen traffic tickets, all of which he somehow got dismissed by judges through charm and tenacity.

One time Jeff won a telescope on The Price is Right.

One time he and a friend won a trip to the Marlboro dude ranch in Montana for two weeks of partying, sports, and pampering.

One time an 18-wheel truck drove over his car, crushing it, and dragging it half a mile down the freeway. There was nothing left of the car but a pocket of air in the driver’s seat, from which Jeff emerged, unscathed.

One time Jeff was a child, and he wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. His favorite flavor of shake was strawberry and then it changed to cookies-and-cream. His favorite color was blue.

One billion times and more, Jeff brought the purest of happiness into my life, and into the lives of so many others.

Jeff was a beloved son, friend, brother, brother-in-law, and so much more, not to mention the most wonderful uncle a child could have. He’d come over to visit my son, Julian, often, reading to him, playing games, making up stories, telling jokes –– It was like I was living vicariously though my son, playing with my brother again as we did when children. Julian loved his Uncle Jeff so much, and asked about him daily...

I just can’t believe he’s gone... can’t believe it, can’t believe it.

Thank you to my wife, Jeannette Vasquez-Guignard, who supported me and loved Jeff as much, to my mother and father, and to his numerous friends that helped to give comfort, write letters, offer assistance, etc. Among them (not limited) include Miguel Holguin, Amber Sambrone, Michele Vaughn, Janie Igler, Erik Jansen, Kim Johns, Marisa Leigh Roman, Jennifer McGuigan-Wingfield, Regina Croom, Misty Acero, Mike Clayton, and so many more I'm missing, not to mention those who provided much needed advice and empathy during this time to myself.

I love you, little brother, and I’ll miss you forever. I know every person you touched will say the same, that their lives will feel a little emptier, sadder at your loss, but also having been made fuller by knowing your smile, your laugh, your empathy and sensitivity.

R.I.P. Jeffrey Brian Guignard, 11/13/1978 – 9/29/2015

I hope and pray that whatever occurs in the afterlife, you’ll be there with me when my own time arrives...


 
 

*** I also created a shared album of photos of Jeff on Facebook here: www.facebook.com/pictures


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Online condolences may be shared at either of these obituary links:



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VIDEO TRIBUTE

I created a photo tribute video for my brother’s memorial service. This video montage covers his life in chronological order, but still only represents such a tiny part of who he was.




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Monday, August 31, 2015

Book Review: “Paradise Sky” by Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files, Omnibus Volume 1

Book Title: Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files, Omnibus Volume 1
Author(s): Jim Butcher
Release Date: July 9, 2015
Publisher/Imprint: Dynamite Entertainment
Number Pages: 480

The Dresden Files is an exceptional series of fifteen (and counting) novels written by Jim Butcher, in addition to tie-in short stories and a short-lived television series. This graphic novel,
Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files, Omnibus Volume 1, includes comic adaptations of two of these novels, “Storm Front” and “Fool Moon,” as well as an exclusive-for-comics tale, “Welcome to the Jungle,” and a minor extra story, “Restoration of Faith”.

Overall, it’s a gorgeous book, as visually appealing as its stories are action-packed and engaging. The Dresden Files Omnibus is thoroughly enjoyable and well-deserves its critical acclaim, but that the quality of art seems to diminish slightly with each story. This one minor critique shouldn’t take away from the omnibus’s overall strengths, but it was a noticeable weakness; each of the art teams (pencils/ inks/ colors) was different with each story. The first, “Welcome to the Jungle,” was absolutely stellar and seems to set the bar for reader expectations, because following works leave one wondering, “Why do the characters get less gritty and more slapstick?” Again, a minor failing in an otherwise outstanding publication.

The Dresden Files universe is labeled as ‘magic-noir,’ blending hard-nosed detective mysteries with modern fantasy; Private Investigator Harry Dresden is as like to cross paths with a gun-toting mobster as he is a club-wielding troll, and more often than not, he crosses them at the same time. Damsels, demons, thieves, vampires, police, faeries, and more all fill Dresden’s world simultaneously.

The four stories contained include:

“Welcome to the Jungle” – Harry Dresden must solve a mysterious murder at the city’s zoo. Stunning artwork fills each page to accompany fast-paced action, likeable characters, and story arcs, setting, and dialogue that are exceptional. Background and explanation to Harry’s life are brief and meaningful, his ‘powers’ explained reasonably, and a stellar tie-in to Greek mythology. Really, if this is your first experience with Dresden, you’re hooked to be a lifelong fan.

“Storm Front
” – Harry Dresden is tasked with solving two mysteries at the same time which, coincidentally and expectedly, tie in with each other. Great homage to hardboiled pulp fiction tales. Dark, gritty, and sometimes erotic, the monster-filled action is offset by his humanization and snarky quips.
 

“Fool Moon
” – All the cards are down for Harry Dresden, who’s plunged into a vast werewolf conspiracy and murder mystery, where no one is who they seem. This story, though it has all the qualities of the stronger first stories, started to feel a little long-winded by its end. Character motivations and decisions felt ‘forced,’ although the story itself is fine. “Fool Moon” is thrilling and filled with intrigue and suspense; only by comparison, one may find this tale weaker than the others, although the artwork, just on par-value, came across as a bit clumsy.

“Restoration of Faith” – A giveaway comic, as part of Free Comic Book Day. A fun story, albeit it hokey and the least satisfying tale in the book, though an entertaining read nonetheless.

Overall,
Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files, Omnibus Volume 1 is a highly-recommended read for anyone with a love of supernatural suspense, paranormal investigation, or urban magic realism.

Review first written for New York Journal of Books: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/jim-butchers


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Eric J. Guignard writes, edits, reads, and dreams of dark fiction. His recognitions include winning the 2013 Bram Stoker Award and being a finalist for the 2014 International Thriller Writers Award. Outside the realm of fiction, he’s a technical writer and college professor.


Friday, July 17, 2015

GUEST BLOG: “Sometimes Knowing is A Heavy Burden” by Jay Wilburn


So, this thing is going to be twelve books. I know because I outlined the entire mythology to see and that was the number I came up with. I don’t know every detail about every book, but I know the major story lines and events. I know who will be alive in book twelve. I know who will die before then and in which book. I’m all ready sad about some of those deaths. There is a great power in knowing the course of the series. I am purposeful with the action and when characters come onto the scene. I can do meaningful things with their actions by knowing who they are now, who they will become, and why their presence matters to the legend. There is also a burden with that.

When I introduce other elements in the story, I know where they will lead and why. I know characters that are growing in one moment, but will be pulled apart in another. Sometimes that will be spiritually and emotionally. Other times it will be physically too. There is a complexity to some of the coming villains that will make them sympathetic in ways they will not truly deserve. This will make the efforts of the heroes to stop them all the more difficult. I’m rooting for my heroes and I feel bad for the hard times that I’m finding ways to make darker and more difficult before they even begin.

Fiction serves sometimes to reflect our lives back to us in a way that allows us to look and see in ways we can’t without the lens of the fictional story. We can explore issues that we don’t know how to talk about. We can see our own hypocrisy laid bare in the actions of characters. We can hear our own prejudices and misconceptions voiced by characters in situations that allow us see through our own shortcomings. Sometimes coming to those realizations by opening ourselves to literature, even zombie stories, can bring the heavy weight of truth down onto our heads and shoulders. The truth was always there, but now we are aware of it and can really feel it in a way that we couldn’t before.

Stories can also expose our fears. It can do so in a way that helps us face them. It can let us know that they need to be faced even though we are often not anywhere ready to do so.

Knowing is a gift that often can feel like curse. There are moments in life we can look back on and realize that not knowing what was coming was a gift in the brief moment. But we also realize that ignorance was never meant to be a permanent state. Knowing brings responsibility and expectations. It pushes us to act on that knowledge as it relates to the principles we hold dear. Knowing the truth about something – anything – is an innate call to action. It is a call to begin. Realizing that you know it is time to begin something new is a burden we all must face from time to time both in fiction and in life.

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Check out the latest book and music from a new series by Jay Wilburn:
 

The Dead Song Legend Dodecology Book 1: January from Milwaukee to Muscle Shoals
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00YDZKXCI/jaywil0d-20
 
 
The Sound May Suffer - Songs from the Dead Song Legend Book 1: January
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/amazing-circle-of-suffering/id996569862?i=996569871&ign-mpt=uo%3D4



    
Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in Conway, South Carolina near the Atlantic coast of the southern United States. He taught public school for sixteen years before becoming a full time writer. He is the author of the Dead Song Legend Dodecology and the music of the five song soundtrack recorded as if by the characters within the world of the novel, The Sound May Suffer. Follow his many dark thoughts on Twitter @AmongTheZombies, his Facebook author page, and at JayWilburn.com

 

 

  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Reached my 75th short story acceptance!

Just realized I reached a cool lil’ milestone the other day: I received my 75th short story acceptance! This number includes reprint sales, but still feels quite monumental that seventy-five markets have agreed to publish something I’ve written.

I keep track of every fiction short story submission sent out. As of today, I’ve accumulated 75 acceptances and 254 rejections, giving me a 22.8% acceptance rate. Another 16 stories are slated in the ‘Pending decision’ stacks. And, add to that, my non-fiction articles, interviews, book reviews, blurbs, and introductions, all since I decided to pursue writing in February, 2011!


Friday, June 19, 2015

New story published today at UNSUNG STORIES: “Discovery of the Mūsa fugacior”

New spec fiction story I wrote, “Discovery of the Mūsa fugacior”, is published today on “Unsung Stories”!  Check it out here:


 

Discovery of the Mūsa fugacior

            I’ve been hiding for hours, wearing the shadows like cloaks. Watching, just watching. The night is dark as midnight’s reach, and this favors my examination... specimens are less likely to notice my presence.
            I must be motionless at the moment of progression, or the mortals may see me in their dying breaths. If that occurs, the soul will spook and flee for the stars. It’s said that at the moment of progression—just before the physical body dies—its vision sharpens, adapting to awareness of our existence. It’s a tenuous transition into the domain of Mortuos, as the dying straddle the lands of dawn and dusk. Those fully alive do not notice us, but if dying mortals catch sight of our presence they may attempt to speak of our existence. Usually, if that should occur, their words are mere gasps and considered only delusional by friends and family wrought with grief. Nevertheless, no researcher wants his specimen aware it is being scrutinized; the results invariably will skew.
            With much experience comes patience and facility, and it’s now a rare outing in which I am detected. I slowly adjust the lens of my Anima Viewer to optimal magnification and zoom in.
            Like the colorful shells of brilliant scarab beetles, the mortal form gives visual clues to its genus and to the species of the soul encased.
            This subject is female. Her exterior is frail with skin wrinkled as wadded fabric, but she is lovely and intriguing, colored of autumn wheat. Wise green eyes flash between exaltation and long-suffering. Observing one who is aged, yet still filled with vitality, is hardly the visage I normally look upon during a death-watch. She has a large crowd of supporters, and I wonder as to her character. There is strength in her appearance and a glow from her aura I have seen in species such as Beloved Parent (Parenti dilectus) or Loyal Friend (Amice fidus), but this is something else.
            She may be a species of Artista or, by its common name, the Artist, which happens to be one of my favorite genera. But is it the Uninspired Artist (Artista non inspīrāta), or the Insecure Artist (Artista fragilemque), or the Unknown Artist (Artista obscura), or perhaps that rare breed, the Celebrated Artist (Artista celebre)?
            The moment is at hand: Death completes, and the human husk falls away. A pinprick of turquoise luminescence leaps to the air. I must set down my Anima Viewer in order to catch the soul within a collecting jar, careful as always not to touch it. A specimen’s behavior can be affected by direct physical contact....
 
Story continued at: 
 
 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Review: “Paradise Sky” by Joe R. Lansdale

Book Title: Paradise Sky
Author(s): Joe R. Lansdale
Release Date: June 16, 2015
Publisher/Imprint: Mulholland Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group
Number Pages: 416

Reading
Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale is to immerse oneself in a realm of roughneck, shoot-’em-up western writing where fact and fiction blend effortlessly on the page, and the action is only outgunned by the author’s tilt for beautiful literary prose.

For that’s the thing about Lansdale: His writing keeps you riveted by fleet pacing, bawdy characters, sharp-witted banter, and enough action to stampede a cavalry train, but it’s never cheap, it’s never gratuitous. Instead he fills each page with heartbreak, suspense, hope, and laughter through the lives and situations of his characters. They’re fallible, impassioned, the type of people you could imagine filling your own life, only these characters are ratcheted up tenfold, magnifying the ugliness of their lusts, the shock of their misfortunes, the satisfaction of recompense.

The story goes that Nat Love (AKA Deadwood Dick), a teenage black man, becomes fugitive from a Texas lynch mob after daring to gaze upon the derriere of a white woman in full public view while she’s hanging laundry. Her husband, Sam Ruggert, as vile a relentless zealot as any penned by Melville or McCarthy, dedicates life and resources to hunting down and punishing the ‘uppity’ youth.

Paradise Sky follows the life of Nat as he grows up and searches the country for himself, and pursues love and freedom and adventure. He becomes a buffalo soldier, a gunslinger and trick shot, an associate of Wild Bill Hickok; he befriends many and makes equal number of enemies, all the while looking over his shoulder for Ruggert, who continues to hunt him, set to ruin or kill any good thing that happens in Nat’s life. It’s a long, tragic journey Nat Love travels, and every day seems fraught with tough obstacles and tougher choices.

And, as fantastic as the story is, it’s founded in historic fact. The real Nat Love birthed over a century of Old West mythology as a freed slave turned gunslinger and Indian fighter; his attributed persona, ‘Deadwood Dick’ become the fodder for dime store adventure novels throughout the late 1800s. But what of Nat’s lore really happened or got fictionalized over the years matters less than a man’s chances of quick-drawing on Nat himself; It’s all just good storytelling.

Besides the western genre, Joe R. Lansdale has also successfully written in horror, action, mystery, and suspense, all in formats of novels, short stories, and comics. Fans of Paradise Sky may further enjoy his works of similar tone: The Bottoms (winner of the Edgar Award), The Thicket (one of best historical fiction books of 2013 per Library Journal), and Edge of Dark Water (2012 Booklist Editors' Choice: Adult Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association)
.


Review first written for New York Journal of Books: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/paradise-sky


*****

Eric J. Guignard writes, edits, reads, and dreams of dark fiction. His recognitions include winning the 2013 Bram Stoker Award and being a finalist for the 2014 International Thriller Writers Award. Outside the realm of fiction, he’s a technical writer and college professor.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Book Review: “Charlie Martz and Other Stories: The Unpublished Stories (a story collection)”

Book Title: Charlie Martz and Other Stories: The Unpublished Stories (a story collection)
Author(s): Elmore Leonard
Release Date: June 16, 2015
Publisher/Imprint: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins
Number Pages: 256

Charlie Martz and Other Stories: The Unpublished Stories is a collection of fifteen short fiction stories (eleven of which have never been published), written by Elmore Leonard at the beginning of his career in the 1950s. The introduction to the book, written by Leonard’s son, Peter, lends a candid view of the author struggling to find balance in crafting his writing simultaneously with a career in advertising and in raising a family. It’s a shrewd lead-in to the book, framing these stories as Leonard’s ‘experiments’ with style and with voice, in which Leonard breaks his very own ‘Rules For Writing’ that he develops half a century later.

This book is honest and it’s raw, and I can picture Leonard so vividly working diligently away on tale after tale... but like all writers, much of what is crafted is not meant for publication. As his son notes, these unpublished stories are experiments or, perhaps more properly, ‘lessons’ as Leonard teaches himself to write.

By its nature, this type of work lends itself to a sort of paradox in review: On the one hand, there’s a reason these stories are not published. Many of them are flat or trite, long-winded with little pay-off at the end and, frankly, disappointing. On the other hand, it’s a meaningful insight into the mind of a burgeoning writer who would one day become an international bestseller; hailed as the best crime writer in America by Newsweek; be a recipient of the National Book Award’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution; and be a literary inspiration for generations of authors and fans.

And it is an inspiration to peruse the earliest works of this man, to find them as ‘average,’ sometimes less-so, but to know that from those origins he improved through hard work, study, and perseverance to write such novels as Get Shorty, Rum Punch,
and Out of Sight.

Of course, to say that that Elmore Leonard’s early writings were only average is still oft to say it’s passing enjoyment of which many readers will find satisfaction on diverse levels. The first story, One Horizontal, is a classic set-up piece, which brought a chuckle. The Charlie Martz stories were a bit banal. I wanted so much to like Short Stories For Men, but the characters seemed forced boilerplate, even the matador himself unengaging. The best stories in the book are Time of Terror, a clever military piece set in Malaysia, with empathetic and charismatic characters found in the contrast between Ah Min and Barney Clad; and Evenings Away From Home, which probably represented most closely the sharp, tight patter Leonard would later become known for.


No master of a skill is born as such; musical composers, athletic stars, artists, and authors all must start from that same baseline of inexperience, and it’s fascinating and inspiring to be invited to have a peek into Leonard’s own baseline. However, for the casual reader who may wish to invest time in some of his more well-crafted (nay, brilliant), thrilling stories, some of the following may be more enthusiastically recommended: The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard (2004) (which includes his famous tale-made-twice-to-movie, Three-Ten to Yuma); Pronto (1993) (which stars the US. Marshal, Raylan Givens, from which the television series Justified is based); Swag (1976); LaBrava (1983); or what Elmore Leonard may be most popularly known for, Get Shorty (1990).


Review first written for New York Journal of Books: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/charlie-martz


*****

Midnight cheers,

Eric J. Guignard


Monday, May 4, 2015

Bram Stokers Award, Know a Nominee Interview With Eric J. Guignard (Me!)

Guignard profile pic
This interview is made by the Horror Writers Association and originally posted 5/3/2015 here: http://horror.org/know-a-nominee-part-11-eric-j-guignard

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Welcome back to “Know a Nominee,” the interview series that puts you squarely between the ears of this year’s Bram Stoker Award nominees. Today’s update features Eric J. Grignard, nominated in the category of Superior Achievement in Long Fiction for Dreams of a Little Suicide.

DM: Please describe the genesis for the idea that eventually became the work(s) for which you’ve been nominated. What attracted you most to the project? If nominated in multiple categories, please touch briefly on each.

EG: First, I love writing in historic settings, 1890s to 1950s range stuff. I wanted to do a historic piece in the 30s (to tie in language for a novel I’m working on), and I wanted to experiment with structure, delineating the story into three or four distinct sections. For some reason, the story of Dorothy and the witches just grew strong in my mind, and I started writing about the actors who played munchkins being under the witches’ spells, and attacking guests in Hollywood’s Culver Hotel. But the story evolved into something so much more than that, powerful and beautiful (I daresay), and I deleted all the zombie-monster nonsense, plunging instead into the tragic love story of a shunned suitor, and its impact on his life. Such impact being (spoiler alert), the legend of the Munchkin Suicide. My story, “Dreams of a Little Suicide,” ended up at about 8,150 words and made its way into the Long Fiction category of the Stoker Awards (thank you, dear voters!).

DM: What was the most challenging part of bringing the concept(s) to fruition? The most rewarding aspect of the process?

EG: I wrote the story during mornings and lunch breaks at a cubicle in a financial institution, and that’s a challenge in itself. The tale evolved in several directions, but I enjoyed plumbing the emotional depths of a character who I found relatable (though not the creepy stalking part). Just writing the words, “The End,” and then having it published in my friend, Eric Miller’s anthology, Hell Comes To Hollywood II, were the greatest rewards.

DM: What do you think good horror/dark literature should achieve? How do you feel the work(s) for which you’ve been nominated work fits into (or help give shape to) that ideal?

Good horror/ dark fiction should be cerebral, in that its fears are relatable to people, not just a narrative relying upon tactics of violence or gore. Although even monsters and serial killers are successful if they have emotional depth or there’s some element about them we can empathize with. Nothing in life is clearly “black and white,” and that should be reflected in writing. Bad guys have a little “good” in them, and vice versa. Dark fiction that is most successful relates to some conflict, whether internal or external, that causes the reader to intellectualize. Generally the end result of the story may be one of sorrow, violence, gloom, which is the nature of the genre, though dark fiction can also end on an upbeat or inspirational note; protagonists can overcome dismal scenarios to emerge victorious by closing; it is the conflict itself which is considered “dark.”

DM: I’m curious about your writing and/or editing process. Is there a certain setting or set of circumstances that help to move things along? If you find yourself getting stuck, where and why?

EG: I try to write in the morning after I wake up, the earlier the better. I also, oddly, have a time of greatest focus/ productivity in late afternoon. People’s bodies cycle to rhythmic clocks and mine is set to pound out work at about 4:00 p.m. Of course all that also depends on other work, family, and life obligations. I write technical documentation for my day job, and teach as adjunct U.C. faculty, and have two small children, so it’s easy to let writing take a back seat to everything else, though I force myself to write something creative every day, even if it’s only fifty words or so. Regarding the second part of your question, I also get writer’s block like most people. Sometimes I have to step away from my desk and meditate or focus on one issue. If that doesn’t work, I sleep on it and try again the next day! Reading lots of different books, genres, and styles of writing also helps to keep my thoughts invigorated.

DM: As you probably know, many of our readers are writers and/or editors. What is the most valuable piece of advice you can share?

EG: I don’t have any advice that’s incredibly luminous or outrageous. What I tell others, and what I repeat to myself like a mantra, is simply: Keep writing, and remember that every rejection is an opportunity for improvement!

DM: If you’re attending WHC this year, what are you most looking forward to at this year’s event? If not attending, what do you think is the significance of recognitions like the Bram Stoker Awards?

EG: I’m most looking forward to seeing old friends and making new acquaintances! Networking is very important and so is the sense of camaraderie one develops at conventions. Most writers work in a bubble of solitude, save for social media outreach, and I’m a strong believer in the importance of establishing in-person relationships with peers.

DM: What scares you most? Why? How (if at all) does that figure into your work or the projects you’re attracted to?

EG: My fears are private, psychological worries: Not being a good father, not realizing long-standing dreams, stuff like that. No fears of anything tangible. I suppose my writing often includes tones of angst and loneliness, loss and ineptitude, all culled from personal experiences, none of which are anything abnormal or overly-dramatic.

DM: What are you reading for pleasure lately? Can you point us to new authors or works we ought to know about?

EG: I always read several books simultaneously! At the moment, I’m absorbed with:

Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale
The End of the End of Everything short story collection by Dale Bailey
The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer
Grunt Life by Weston Ochse
Charlie Martz and Other Stories: The Unpublished Stories by Elmore Leonard

About Eric J. Guignard:

Eric J. Guignard writes dark and speculative fiction from the outskirts of Los Angeles. His stories and non-fiction are recently published in Nightmare Magazine, Black Static, Shock Totem, and Buzzy Magazine, amongst others. As an editor, Eric’s also published the anthologies, Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations and After Death…, the latter of which won the 2013 Bram Stoker Award. Read his novella, Baggage of Eternal Night (a finalist for the 2014 International Thriller Writers Award), and watch for forthcoming books, including Chestnut ’Bo (TBP 2016). Outside of the glamorous and jet-setting world of indie fiction, Eric’s a technical writer and college professor, and he stumbles home each day to a wife, children, cats, and a terrarium filled with mischievous beetles. Visit Eric at: www.ericjguignard.com, his blog: ericjguignard.blogspot.com, or Twitter: @ericjguignard

 
 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Review: “The End of the End of Everything”

Book Title: The End of The End of Everything (a story collection)
Author(s): Dale Bailey
Release Date: April 07, 2015
Publisher/Imprint: Arche Press, an imprint of Resurrection house
Number Pages: 240

The End of The End of Everything’ is the latest collection of short stories written by fiction author, Dale Bailey.

Dale Bailey has been writing speculative, weird, and horror fiction stories since about 1993, and it’d be a formidable challenge to find anything under his name as not being well penned. At the same time, it seems uninspired to say story after story of his is great, great, and great again. Yet this is the position a reader may find themselves upon closing the final page of this book, as every tale in this collection is outstanding, and only in varying degrees of excellence do they surmount each other.

The immediate caveat, of course, is to say that this book is not for everybody. It is not filled with twists or shocks, but rather a slow, winding dread. Dale’s writing is smart, and it is literary in a dark genre not known for plumbing the depths of social issues nor of the greater human condition, especially while marrying a speculative slant. His stories can be quiet, abstract, even at times a bit pretentious, yet each is beautiful and meaningful like looking upon a strange painting that provokes simultaneous feelings of aversion and enlightenment.

This collection contains the following nine stories:

“The End of the World as We Know It” – The musings of an apocalyptic survivor as he sits on his porch, contemplating love, self, and all the ways the world can end.

“The Bluehole” – A melancholy coming-of-age story about a boy discovering his sexuality and the legends of a lake with no bottom, set in the caustic town of a 1980s mining company.

“The Creature Recants” – A magnificent insight into the ‘Creature From the Black Lagoon’, in which the amphibious beast waxes poetic upon his tribulations in 1950s Hollywood.

“Mating Habits of the Late Cretaceous” – A science fiction time travel story, filled with dinosaurs, exploration, and marital healing. One of the best in the book, if at least for the author’s exquisite descriptive prose of the cretaceous era and all its glorious inhabitants.

“A Rumor of Angels” – An achingly sad tale about a depression-era boy who leaves his desolate Texas farm and hitches a ride with strangers, searching out a better life on the west coast, and perhaps something more.

“Eating at the End-of-the-World Café” – The despairing mother of a sick child must make ends meet any way she can, even if that means waitressing at a restaurant next to ‘The Pit,’ a hellish analogy for... Hell. She sees only gloom, but hopes for something better to come along.

“Lightning Jack’s Last Ride” – An imagined near-future in which the nation is at war with itself, and oil is the most valuable commodity; told as a flashback by an aged gang member-narrator who participated in hijacking the oil tankers.

“Troop 9″ – One of the darker stories in this collection, a small town girl scout troop runs away and becomes feral.

“The End of the End of Everything” – In a world of ruin, bohemian survivors pursue the lusts of sex, drugs, and suicide parties. An oddly hopeful contemplation, as sickening as it is enthralling.


This collection
is enthusiastically recommended to fans of dark fiction that crosses both genre and literary. Dale Bailey’s writing may be found similar to other contemporaries, such as Laird Baron, Steve Rasnic Tem, Tanith Lee, and Lisa Tuttle.


Review first written for New York Journal of Books: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/end-end-everything


*****

Midnight cheers,

Eric J. Guignard

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Acceptance in Black Static Magazine


I’m not as enthusiastic about sharing every time I have a story accepted for publication, thinking deep down, “it’s not that big of a deal” or “no one really cares,” though the longing is strong to keep putting myself out there and submit frequently as I work to improve my craft.

However, sometimes the right chord is struck, and I’m thrilled to know I’ll become part of a magazine or project I greatly admire. So it is with Black Static Magazine! http://ttapress.com

My 7,500 word story, A Case Study in Natural Selection and How It Applies to Love, was accepted along with a gracious flattering note that made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Look for it (the story, not the note) in upcoming issue #47.

In addition, my sense of enthusiasm is multiplied by the company I’ll join; as I skim through some of the back issues, it’s pleasing to see so many of the previous authors published include friends and authors I revere, even some of my favorites whom I’ve been reading for decades. A few notables include:


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Seven Things I Do When Writing

Weston Ochse hit me with the challenge to list seven things I do when writing. I pass this challenge along to Gene O’Neill (Gene O’Neill) and John Palisano.

(As an aside, this should be a list of seven things I ‘wish’ I did rather than what I actually do... the list would be so much easier to compile.)

1. I write whenever I can find some time away from work and teaching and kids and other life responsibilities, but I find the best times for me are early morning (7:00 – 11:00) or mid-afternoon (3:00 – 6:00).

2. Regardless how busy I am, I author at least one word every day. Yes, that is ONE word; Meaning, if I’m stressed for time, I force myself to at least open a work-in-progress every single day and add something to it, so that it continues to be fresh in my mind. Ideally I aim for 1,000 words a day, but if I write only that minimal ‘one’, it’s one more word than the day previous. Usually if I only write a minimal amount over the course of a few days, I find myself scripting in my head, so that when I do sit down for some hours, I let everything that’s been bottled up just pour out.

3. I allow myself ‘social media breaks’. Jonathan Maberry says he attends social media for five minutes of every hour and writes the other fifty-five minutes. During the social media break, he adds comments or tweets or posts (and not just promoting himself, but promoting others as well) or adds to conversations about writing. I attend this advice.

4. I drink coffee and water both by the gallon.

5. I always read what I’ve written last before I start penning something new.

6. I read the works of others in between my own writing.

7. I resent myself for not writing more, for not writing better, for not inciting the world to herald me as the wonder of our generation. I fill myself with doubt and suspicion whenever somebody gives me a compliment or an editor accepts my story for publication. I think I’m terrible, then I think I’m brilliant, then I’m terrible again (all depending on the weather, and time of day, and what I just ate), and I tell the voices in my head to compromise that I’m somewhat average, but to keep at it, and each day I’ll get a little better.

8. (Okay, #8 is technically beyond the limit of the seven-list challenge, but who says writers have to follow rules?) I work on multiple projects simultaneously, and eventually finish most of them.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

MY FOUR YEAR WRITE-IVERSARY

This month marks my four year ‘Write-iversary’, meaning four years ago, in February, 2011, I decided to pursue fiction writing for the sake of publication.

I’ve kept track of every fiction short story submission that I’ve sent out during that time. As of today, I’ve accumulated 70 acceptances (including a few reprints), and 235 rejections, giving me a 22.95% acceptance rate. Another 26 stories are slated in the ‘Pending decision’ or ‘To find a home’ stacks. In addition, I’ve a couple dozen more stories written and relegated to the deepest of trunks. And, add to all that, my non-fiction articles, interviews, book reviews, blurbs, and introductions. My next milestone is to finish a full-length novel, which is currently about two-thirds completed (Chestnut ’Bo).

In addition to short stories, I also edited and published two anthologies (Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations and After Death...), the latter of which won the 2013 Bram Stoker Award. I wrote a novella, Baggage of Eternal Night, which was a finalist for the 2014 International Thriller Award. Some of my short stories also won or placed in various indie writing contests that I used to participate in before realizing that paying fees for such awards was ultimately unsubstantial.

I’ve made mistakes, but also gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in publishing, editing, and crafting stories. I’ve made wonderful friends and am still thrilled as a fan-boy each time I get to share a T.O.C. or even just communicate with an author I admire (er, swoon over!). I’ve met and/or worked with Joe R. Lansdale, Bentley Little, Ellen Datlow, Tom Monteleone, Steve Rasnic Tem, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen Jones, and others whom I’ve been reading for 22+ years, not to mention authors whom I’ve became familiar with and have inspired my dark fiction reading in the more recent 10-15 years, like John Joseph Adams, Jack Ketchum, John Skipp, Chuck Palahniuk, Robert McCammon, and many, many more. Plus there are just those other writers who have been particularly supportive and benevolent to me, such as Lisa Morton, Weston Ochse, Gene O’Neil, Stan Swanson, all the members of HWA L.A. chapter, as well as a hundred others.

All this in four years, while I work full-time, raise infant children, continue academic coursework, volunteer for several organizations, and engage in all other manner of life obligations and responsibilities...

My only regret is that I waited so long to even ‘try’. I loved writing in high school but went to college under the impression I needed to focus on ‘serious-minded’ business, and never the twain shall meet. Although I ultimately did pursue other creative endeavors, I waited until I was 35 years old before I decided to attempt that childhood dream of writing... I torture myself now thinking where I could be with an additional fifteen years of experience under my belt. Ah well, I’m elated with the adventure I’ve found thus far and can only hope it continues for countless more years!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Reviews (January, 2015)

Being as it’s only 3 1/2 months since my last post, here are some latest book reviews! Each of the following books may be purchased through any large book store or online through www.amazon.com.

***

REVIEWED: Not for Nothing
WRITTEN BY: Stephen Graham Jones
PUBLISHED: March 18, 2014

Not for Nothing is a gritty, twisting detective tale set in small-town Stanton, Texas, where everyone knows each other and business affairs are conducted by the ghosts of high school cliques. In fact, one of the clever and most successful elements of this story is the yearbook-esque feeling of it; the protagonist, Nick Bruiseman, a disgraced ex-cop and now-drunk security guard fumbles his way through a series of double crosses and murders, and all the time every person he comes in contact with —either friend, enemy, ex-lover, etc.—is from his school or is the child from someone from his school.

The book is rather slow and leisurely to read, much like life in Stanton. The story is drenched in sadness and dejection, but also in humor and suspense. It has a hundred twists, and not all of them are necessary, but it’s a thrilling ride nonetheless. The narrative seemed a bit choppy at times, but that ties into Nick’s perpetually half-drunk take on the world around him. Then again, this style of writing seems to be a signature of the author, Stephen Graham Jones; reading him is as of someone verbally telling a story, with detours, hiccups, gaps, asides, and all other means of genuine conversation. Rather than polished-smooth, the writing is raw and legitimate and embodies an unfamiliar beauty.

As a side note, after reading the first couple of pages, my mind slowly recoiled in a double-take of reluctant, dawning horror. This book was written in second person point of view: The audacity! The inhumanity! The dread! It’s a rare-enough feat to pull off a successful short story in this POV, but I don’t know if I’ve ever read a full-length book in this way which has held my interest (excepting childhood Choose-Your-Own-Adventures!), and I was instinctively averse to continue. However, Jones managed to build a story filled with empathy, sadness, humor, insight, that in retrospect seems integral to having been 2nd POV.

Five out of Five stars


***

REVIEWED: The End in All Beginnings
WRITTEN BY: John F.D. Taff
PUBLISHED: September, 2014

“The End in All Beginnings” is a solid collection of novellas by John F.D. Taff, who’s been writing dark fiction for nearly a quarter of a century. Each of the stories is a thoughtful take, relating in some way to death and sorrow. Probably the least morose story happened to be my favorite, “Love in the Time of Zombies,” which was quite funny and with great content. “What Becomes God” is a long path into tragedy with a ‘killer’ ending. “The Long, Long Breakdown” was a gloomy, drowning post-apocalyptic ‘world’ that this author really needs to expand upon in future works. The other stories were fine in their own ways, but these listed were my top three picks from the T.O.C.

Four-and-a-half out of Five stars


***

REVIEWED: Motherless Child
WRITTEN BY: Glen Hirshberg
PUBLISHED: May, 2014 by Tor Books (originally in 2012 by Earthling)

Motherless Child may be classified as a vampire book, but it is not related to the well-worn tropes familiar to most readers. Glen Hirshberg’s writing is as literary as any classical author, filled with pathos, explorations of the human condition, and a contrast of the good vs. evil theme, but with unexpected outcomes. Two young mothers, Natalie and Sophie, who have been turned into vampires, must leave their beloved children behind to travel the country searching for answers, trying to fight the effects of what they’ve become, until the inevitable showdown with those who changed them forever.

Four-and-a-half out of Five stars




***


Midnight Cheers,

Eric J. Guignard