Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thoughts on The Craft -- cannegardner

"The most serious problem Goya solved while mixing the paints for his tapestries was hitting upon the right dose of sugar; a dab more and they would have been good only for the tops of boxes of chocolates." -- Oliverio Girondo from "The Scarecrow and other Anomalies"


Again, this goes back to my earlier post on self-censorship versus letting the art speak for itself, sans the sugar coating. Goya, a court painter to the Spanish crown, was a master at sugar coating his sharp, satirical wit. His commissioned work was known for its disinclination to flatter, but he composed these pieces in such a way that any insult was not obvious. The Merry Festival tapestries Girondo speaks of were the portrayals of idyllic aristocratic daily life. He knew who he was painting for as he did much later during his "Black" painting period, where sugar was not the order of the day, and his subversive macabre view of the world was unabashedly laid bare, as seen in the painting: Saturn devouring his Son. Girondo, by comparison, was as equally gifted, and this is from the anti-preface by Karl August Kvitko, publisher of Xenos Books: "Girondo has a wicked penchant for cramming a phrase with multiple meanings: symbolic, satiric, ironic, lyrical,rhapsodic, paradoxical, and the absurd."

Isn't that what art is all about? Sure, we could write a story where every sentence could be taken literally, where the plot might be nothing but manifest destiny, a mere linear historical account. But why would we want to do that? Why, when we can take that very black and white snapshot of humanity and reveal its infinite mysteries, subtle as they might be ... so subtle, that if it weren't for art, they would and could very deliberately escape notice. Did Stoker write just a vampire story? Did deSade write just pornography? Did Kafka just write about a delusion man who thought he was a bug? I think not, and therein lies the measure of a good story: not only does it devour our innocence, but in the process, it restores our faith in it. This, I think, can be said of all art.

On a side note: Girondo self-published "The Scarecrow" in 1932 and sold it while parading through the streets of Buenos Aires in a mortuary coach, shouting his marketing madness through a megaphone. 5000 copies sold out in 15 days. My review of this title is on Amazon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Tides from the New Worlds

Title: Tides from the New Worlds
Author: Tobias S. Buckell
Genre: Science Fiction
Price: $4.99 (Kindle or Nook)
Publisher: Tobias S. Buckell
Point of Sale: Amazon / author’s site
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I recently acquired an ebook-reader (a Motorola Xoom, to be precise) and so found myself in need of something to load it with. Being a fan of Tobias Buckell, his short story collection Tides from the New Worlds came immediately to mind. Let me recommend it highly.

Tides is a collection of 20 previously-published short stories, spanning Buckell’s entire career. Several stories, such as “Fish Merchant” and “Necahual” are set in the worlds we see in Buckell’s novels, a world in which humans are under the thumb of various alien races. Several other stories, including “Toy Planes” and “Death’s Dreadlocks,” reflect Buckell’s Caribbean birth and heritage, and are set in those islands.

Although Buckell is noted as a science fiction writer, several of these short stories are fantasies, including “Smooth Talking” (a real estate salesmen persuades trees to move), and “Something in the Rock” starring a dwarflike “digger.” Also included are a couple of Buckell’s real gems. The first one, and one of my favorites, is “Io, Robot,” in which Buckell takes Issac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics on an interesting spin. The other gem is “All Her Children Fought,” a short and heart-tugging story about childhood and war. Lastly, the short story “Aerophilia” has perhaps one of the best opening lines I’ve ever read. Fortunately, the story just keeps getting better from there.

Reviewing Tides from the New Worlds is actually rather difficult. There’s so much to the book that there’s literally something for everybody. Twenty short stories for under five buck is hard to beat, especially when they’re written by one of the best new writers in science fiction. I highly recommend this book!

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review: Are You Sitting Down

Title: Are You Sitting Down
Author: Shannon Yarbrough
Genre: Fiction/Literary
Publisher: Shanlian Wordlit Press
Price: $ 10.95 Kindle Edition $1.99
Pages: 270
ISBN: 978-0984238330
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Book Description: A rape victim raising a biracial baby. A drug addict haunted by a dead girlfriend. A homosexual mourning a dead lover. A teacher having an affair with his student. And a businesswoman sexually harassed by her boss. What do they all have in common? They all sit at Lorraine White's holiday dinner table; they are also her children. But Lorraine's children are not the only ones in the family dealing with ghosts of the past. This is the first Christmas the Whites have spent together since the death of their father. And it very well could be their last, as arguments ensue, secrets are revealed, and perhaps a murderer walks among them. In his latest novel, Yarbrough explores the damaged soul of one small town family and breaks through the boundaries of love, convincing his readers that no matter how hard life gets, sometimes the support of family is the only true foundation we have left to depend upon - whether we want to or not.


Let me just preface this review with a full disclosure. I know Shannon Yarbrough. We travel the same Indie review circles, and I reviewed an earlier book of his titled Stealing Wishes, which I enjoyed a great deal. As a matter of fact, the author thanks me in the back of this book for simply "getting" his writing. When he queried the Podpeople for this book, I happily snapped it up. I wasn't mistaken in doing so, because true to form, Mr. Yarbrough always gives the reader compelling characters and thought provoking storylines, albeit in this story, some of those storylines are quite disturbing. I reviewed this from an uncorrected proof copy, so there were quite a few formatting and grammatical issues to wade through, but I am sure these were rectified in the final edit.

As in all Mr. Yarbrough's work, the family members in this story are revealed to us with an honest objectivity some might find troubling. This book really begins at the end, if you will. All secrets are revealed with stark acceptance. All the characters have had time to dwell on their sins, and all have reconciled their various justifications. There are no labored confessions here to tug on our heartstrings. Everyone at this point has lived through their struggles and has accepted who they are, what they've done, and that the scars are permanent. The author makes no judgments here. Every crime is weighed equally, and by crime, I mean the crime each character has tried, convicted, and punished themselves for.

The story is told in alternating first-person points of view, each chapter devoted to one character, and aside from everyone being bludgeoned to death by Southern small town life, each character is connected to everyone else in the story not simply by familiar family bonds, but by the secrets they keep. Bigotry, infidelity, rape, murder, terminal illness, addiction, sexual orientation, sexual obsession, love, hatred, loss, and death, these are the ties that bind in this story.

As for the structure, it is much like any ordinary family holiday dinner: chaotic, which I felt served the story well. Each character is present "in the moment" and yet not because the past weighs heavily on each and every one of them. It felt to me almost like an American haunting of a sort, as if each character were a ghost cursed to reflect on what they had become instead of what they could be. Always drawn back into the past to dwell on the misery leveled upon them over the course of their lives. For some, that misery came with a poorly made choice, and for others, like Travis, the misery is downright unjust.

They say in a small town everyone knows everything about everyone else, and this story serves to debunk that myth. Here everyone knows what they think they know, and in reality, they only know what's relevant to their own personal struggle, and their attitudes towards the secrets that they think they know are really just reflections of their own inner turmoil. No one really knows anything deeper about the other characters aside from the surface wounds, which is sadly true to life. We talk to the people in our lives, but we rarely really listen. We claim to "share" our most intimate feelings with a certain few, but we rarely tell anyone the unadulterated truth about anything. That realism and truth about the collective consciousness is driven home quite powerfully in this story.

In this book, Christmas is a time for giving and healing, and what the reader gets to unwrap are the intimate confessions of a family who has never chosen to be honest with itself. The reader must decide where sympathy should be given and judgment passed. All the various perceptions in the story lack any real peripheral vision, allowing the reader to supply that on their own, which I loved. The reader is offered the rare opportunity here to be the psychoanalyst, and that, for me, made it a very engaging read. Nothing is ever really resolved by the end of the story, but the reader is left with the possibility of redemption to ponder well after the last page is turned. Very well done.


Thoughts on The Craft -- cannegardner

Eroticism opens the way to Death. Death opens the way to denial of our individual lives. Without doing violence to our inner selves, are we able to bear the negation that carries us to the farthest bounds of possibility. – Georges Bataille

That quote is from the book “Eroticism, Death and Sensuality” by Georges Bataille, a writer whose philosophical essays on Death and Sensuality in art and literature provide for a clarity never before achieved by any other writer, in my opinion, with regard to the duality of violence and tenderness ever-present in the human spirit.

Bataille also wrote: “The taboo is there in order to be violated. This proposition is not the wager it looks like at first but an accurate statement of an inevitable connection between conflicting emotions. When a negative emotion has the upper hand, we must obey the taboo. When a positive emotion is in the ascendant, we violate it. Such a violation will not deny or suppress the contrary emotion, but justify it and arouse it. […] Concern over a rule is sometimes at its most acute when that rule is being broken, for it is harder to limit a disturbance already begun.”

Those of us who write sex are familiar with this theory. Those of us who write sex as a metaphor thoroughly understand the implications, and those of us who write taboo have grasped hold of its subtle subconscious nuances and cast ourselves straight into the abyss.

The art this week is the cover from my own novella “The Thin Wall”, and while not graphic in its imagery, the sexual proclivities of the characters and the implications of said proclivities might be a bit disturbing for readers of a certain disposition. Nevertheless, as I have said in many posts regarding the issue of censorship, the implications were necessary. The metaphor was necessary. After all, the story is an exploration in self-abuse as it relates to the issue of co-dependence. However, I am a tried and true romantic, so for those who don’t mind taking a walk in the dark, you will be rewarded with an HEA. I just can’t write a romantic story without it, and yes, the thematic treatment of the subject matter might be a bit dark for most, but, self-awareness doesn’t generally come without a twilight struggle. An author should never be afraid to obliterate the boundaries in order to express the oftentimes ugly epiphanies that come with such a struggle.

That said, of late, I have been experimenting with flash fiction, and I have found that the form allows for much more experimentation when it comes to fringe subject matter. I mean, some of this stuff is best taken in small doses, for instance my abortion eating cannibal story "Doll Heads", or the body-image fixated "Margaritas and Razor Blades – After Five Porno for Skeptics", or even the sexual motivation for homicide in my most recent piece "The Shadow Factory". I want to exploit the experience as much as I can in a story; I want to deliver the dark and the disturbing, but I want to do it without bludgeoning the reader. Less is better, I've found. And by less, I mean less words, not less intense, so that the experience is still bludgeoning but brief. I've even started writing hard-core erotica -- under a pseudonym, obviously -- which has been published and well received. No, I am not going to link to it because that would defeat the purpose of the pseudonym, right? Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is that we can step into the dark very purposefully as did Artaud, Bataille, and deSade, and many others for that matter. Sure, anything we write has the potential to offend someone, but that doesn't mean we, as artists, shouldn't endeavor to "go there."

For further reading of Bataille, I might recommend some of his novellas: The Story of the Eye, L’abbe C, or My Mother, Madame Edwarda, and the Dead Man.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: Ladies and Gentlemen... The Redeemers

Title: Ladies and Gentlemen… The Redeemers
Author: Michael Scott Miller
Genre: Action Adventure
Publisher: Createspace
Price: $7.95 Kindle Edition $0.99
Pages: 286
ISBN: 978-1456363475
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Guest Reviewer Susan Helene Gottfried

Book Description:
"Ladies and Gentlemen…The Redeemers" tells the story of Bert Ingram, once a successful rep in the music industry, who has lost his way. Desperate for redemption, the perpetual dreamer decides to put together a band, recruiting musicians who have only one thing in common: the need to overcome a significant obstacle in their lives. The volatile mix of the musicians' personalities and backgrounds threatens to derail the band at every opportunity, but in time, the Redeemers begin to realize they have more to gain from one another than they ever could have imagined.

I'd been hearing about this Michael Scott Miller dude and his book, Ladies and Gentlemen... The Redeemers for a while now. My friend, author Darcia Helle, told me she thought I needed to read it.

How could I say no?

And then Michael himself dropped into my inbox, and in short fashion so did Cheryl, both asking if I'd review the book for them.

And so, here I am. A two-fer, so to speak.

Ladies and Gentlemen... The Redeemers is a heck of a tale. It's the story of down-on-his-luck Bert, who decides to take a bunch of misfits and miscreants and turn them into the band that'll end his down-on-his-luck days. And theirs.

Most bands form because they are drawn together by something intangible. They have chemistry, a shared hunger for success... something. Not the Redeemers. They are drawn together because of Bert and the strength of his ambition to reclaim a part of himself.

Whether or not they'll first find all the people they need to fill out the band properly, if they'll gel as a group, if they'll overcome their natural distrust and, sometimes, dislike of each other... this is what the story is about.

It's a great story. It's one anyone who loves to dream needs to spend time with.

But, of course, this is Susan West of Mars doing a review here, and that automatically means there are faults to be found with this book.

Not many, I'm pleased to say. And in this case, I suspect the fault I found with the Redeemers is one of style.

You see, for me, there is a narrative distance. This means I don't get into the characters' heads, they don't come fully alive. In this book, it drove me nuts. I wanted to really get inside these guys. I wanted to share their thoughts and dreams and desires. I wanted to look to my left and be surprised they weren't real people, right there beside me.

To be honest, I have no idea how Miller could have pulled this off. He's got a huge cast of characters; this point of view was the most logical choice he could have made for telling this particular story. Anything else would have run the risk of turning the book into an absolute mess.

Still, I wanted more of the guys. They are compelling. They have great backstories. They have a great storyline. They probably have a great future, but let's not get ahead of the book here, folks. Although... with a story like this, it is tempting to do.

When I review a piece of rock and roll fiction, I always consider if the page breathes with music. In The Redeemers, it doesn't. It also doesn't need to. This is a book about the personalities behind the music. It's about this band named the Redeemers who are off looking for their own redemption, either personally or musically. These aren't necessarily people who live and breathe music. On the other hand, they are people for whom music is an expression and, in some cases, a way of life. In other cases, it's a dream, something to stretch for and be terrified of.

That is every bit as valid as having the music throb off the page.

Overall, I liked this book. A lot. I'll tell people to read it. I may even hold it up there with some of my top reads although, truthfully, I don't think the (good) execution held up to the (fantastic) concept. It was a hard goal to achieve. Miller did his best, and his best is quite good. I wanted fantastic. I think Miller can and will bring us there in future books.

I can't wait to follow him.

Susan Helene Gottfried is the author of ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes — Year 1, ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes — Year 2, Trevor’s Song, and ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes -- Year 3. She can be found online at, where you can find The Meet and Greet, among other goodies. A tone-deaf rocker-at-heart, Susan worked in retail record stores, in radio stations, as stage crew, and as a promoter while earning two college degrees in creative writing. Susan walked away from a continued career in the music industry in order to write books, so it makes sense that most of her fiction revolves around rock bands. Once you get those record stores, radio stations, and fellow roadies and promoters under your skin, they never leave.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Reading to Write

I am currently writing The Night Watch, a sequel to my upcoming novel Pirates of Mars (November, Hadley Rille Books). A large part of The Night Watch is a battle between two space ships. Now, I had a general idea about the battle, but the specifics of it were Just Not Coming Together. This was greatly hampering my writing progress.

Then, and (at the time unrelatedly) I read Neptune's Inferno, which is a history of the naval battles for Guadalcanal. A little-known fact about those battles is that the US Navy suffered over twice as many people killed as did the US Marine Corps. Due to a variety of factors, from the inability of carrier air groups to operate at night to a simple lack of carriers on both sides, these casualties were largely incurred in several ship-vs-ship night actions.

Now, the battle in The Night Watch is not in whole or part taken from any historical battle. However, the flavor of the battles will be in the book. For example, as the battles were largely fought at night and in the infancy of radar, there was perpetual confusion as to where ships were and whether or not they were friend or foe. Also, many of the men below decks had little or no idea what was going on until their ship got hit. Lastly, in several of the battles, captains and admirals decided to back off after taking some initial hits.

These real-life factors will be in my story. They will hopefully improve the story, and point to the importance of reading in order to write.

Image: USS Helena (CL-50), a veteran of the Guadalcanal battles. Image from Wikipedia.