Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Sooo Many Recommendations!

One thing I've learned the last few years is that reading widely and actively seeking out diverse voices is a wonderful way to widen my horizons and find new authors to enjoy. Every little once in a while, I post on Facebook asking for recommendations, and people unfailingly come through with a wealth of suggestions.

Yesterday, I posted asking for recommendations of pulp, noir, and magical realism. I was going to use the post as a reference going forward, but realized that it would be nice to share the authors and books here so others could discover them, as well. Plus, this way I have a consistent place to come back to when I'm looking for which book to pick up next!

One thing that was mentioned when I talked about wanting to learn to write in these genres was to be careful of the cultural appropriation of taking on magical realism. That it has been used in South America in reaction to colonialism. I wanted to look more into that, but a rudimentary search showed it to be an even bigger and more complicated topic, and one that traces colonialism back further in time. It's a topic I definitely can't cover at the last minute. If you're curious, I encourage you to look into it.

Here's a list of the recommendations I received, so far:

The Corpse and the Girl From Miami - Jim Urbancik (N, P)
Jim Thompson (The Killer Inside Me was specifically mentioned) (N,P) x4
Chester Himes (N, P)
Raymond Chandler (N) x2
Comics (Detective, Martian Manhunter, The Question, Plasticman) (N)
Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island) (N-Neo-Noir)
Will Christopher Baer (NN)
Craig Clevenger (NN)
The Fighter - Craig Davidson (NN)
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami (MR) Murakami x2
Caitlin Kittredge - Dreaming Darkly (MR)
Kerri Manicalco's YA Historical series (MR)
Joe R. Lansdale (The Hap and Leonard books were specifically mentioned) (N, P)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude was specifically mentioned) (MR) x4
David Goodis (N, P)
Charles Willeford (Someone specifically mentioned The Burnt Orange Heresy) (N) x2
Pulp According to David Goodis - Prof. Jay A. Gertzman (good if you want to analyze pulp)
Year One: Chronicles of the One (MR)
Don't Breathe a Word - Jennifer McMahon (MR)
Megan Abbott (Bury Me Deep, Dare Me, The Fever were recommended, specifically) (N-modern) x3
Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern (MR)
Jon Bassoff (N-modern)
Alan Guthrie (N-modern)
Les Edgerton (N-modern)
Heath Lowrance (N-modern)
Woman Warrior - Maxine Hong Kingston (MR)
Bruce Taylor (MR)
Franz Kafka (MR) x2
The Eye of the Heart (anthology) (MR)
Barbara Howes (MR)
Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism (Tamara Sellman)
Alice Hoffman (MR) x2
Borges (MR)
Cheever (MR)
Ross MacDonald (N)
James Ellroy (LA Confidential was specifically mentioned) (N) x2
The Name of the Game is Death - Dan Marlowe (N)
Black Wings Has My Angel - Elliot Chaze (N)
Cornell Woolrich - (N)
Nightmare Alley - William Lindsay Gresham (N)
James M. Cain (Mildred Pierce, Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice x2) (N) x2
Shella - Andrew Vachss (N) x2
Mickey Spillane (N)
Ricky Ginsburg (MR)
The Son - Jo Nesbo (N)
The Old Drift - Namwali Serpell (MR)
Imagica - Clive Barker (?)
Juan Rulfo (MR)
Italo Calvino (MR)
Yasunari (MR)
Kawabata (MR)
Kemzaburo Oe (MR)
Banana Yoshimoto (MR) x2
The Friends of Eddie Coyle - George V. Higgins (N)
The Long and Faraway Gone - Lou Berney (N)
Fast One - Paul Cain (N)
Accelerate Learning Techniques for a Budding Sociopath - Evan Hundhausen (?)
Shoeless Joe (MR)
The Best American Noir of the Century
Otto Penzler (N)
The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories (P)
Isabelle Allende (House of Spirits was specifically mentioned) (MR)
Clarice Lispector (MR)
Laura Esquivel (MR)
Toni Morrison (MR)
Ray Bradbury (MR) x2
Charles Beaumont (N)
William F. Nolan (N)
John Franklin Bardin (first three novels) (N)

Okay, wow, that was way longer than I thought it was. I'll be updating as the post continues to get responses, so they're all in one place. Since I didn't do this with any of the past lists, I'll post those in the future if they pop up as memories.



This week I finished The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man's Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America, by Tommy Tomlinson.

This is a candid examination of a man's struggle with his weight. He's a journalist, and the voice in this book makes it a pleasant read. He updates his weight over the course of a year, which is honest and helpful for others struggling with their weight. Ultimately, it's an inspirational story.

I also finished There's Someone Inside Your House, by Stephanie Perkins.

This was a YA, which I'd forgotten (I bought it probably two years ago, if not longer, on the recommendation of a friend who'd also recommended You.) I didn't really connect with the story until about halfway through, when the action and tension pick up. The first half felt boring and more focused on a burgeoning romance, but the second half brought the suspense. Which is funny, because we know who the killer is about halfway through the book. Everyone does. What we don't know is WHY they're killing kids in this small, rural town.

This was billed as unflinching, with some harsh deaths, but I felt that the deaths, though they were creative, were so quickly touched on, with no suspense drawn out, that I wasn't all that compelled by them. Again, not until about halfway through. Until I reached that halfway point, I wouldn't have recommended the book. But I read the last half over the course of two days, lugging the book around with me everywhere I went.

I actually liked the diverse cast of characters. I just didn't connect with them as early as I would have liked to, and I can't put my finger on why. When I think about it, they're not multi-dimensional right away. That came later. There were some cliches employed in terms of red herrings, characters, and implication of a large event in the character's life that ended up being disappointing in the scheme of things, etc. I wasn't sure who the killer was (and looking back, I don't think there are hints laid out about it, which means it wasn't effective), but I knew who it wasn't, and was irked at the finger pointing, because it felt too obvious. There was also head hopping. Though it never became confusing as to who was thinking what, it took me out of the book as a writer. Would it have bothered me if I wasn't? I have no idea. But it did.

CURRENTLY READING: The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.


If you have Shudder, there's a hysterical horror movie on there entitled Tammy and the Teenage T-Rex, (also billed as Tammy and the T-Rex), featuring young Denise Richards in her first starring role and young Paul Walker. This is pure, comedic ridiculousness. A teenage boy gets killed, and a mad scientist (the actor who played Bernie in Weekend at Bernie's) transplants his brain into an animatronic dinosaur, who then seeks out his girlfriend and the people responsible for his death. This is sci-fi horror. It reminded me of a non-scary Reanimator. It made me laugh and roll my eyes, but in the best way.

Also on Shudder, The Marshes was a creepy gore-fest. It's an Australian horror flick about three biologists who trek into the marshes to gather information, only to find a terrifying killer with supernatural powers. And rude, ignorant, hicks. It's funny to me to see that cliche appearing in movies created in other countries. This wasn't the best movie in the world, but it was tense and kept me interested.

Finally, my husband and I happened across a Chuck Norris movie I wasn't familiar with, called Silent Rage. It turned out to be a creepy, sci-fi thriller, which was unexpected. I grew up on Chuck Norris action flicks, and there's an element of that in this film, but I didn't remember anything like this. A trio of doctors perpetrate genetic experimentation on a man, who goes crazy and kills several people. The police shoot and kill him, but the doctors get him back and heal him. He goes on a silent killing spree, no longer able to speak, but making animalistic noises. The actor, Brian Libby, was excellent at being creepy. What he conveys through body movements, growls, and facial expressions is eerie and frightening. He was a large man who also happened to be oddly flexible. I enjoyed this both as a kickback to my childhood, watching Chuck Norris singlehandedly take out a bar full of bikers, and as a surprisingly freaky sci-fi thriller. Ron Silver, another old favorite, is also in the film.


For a feel good show, I've been watching AJ and the Queen. I'm enjoying seeing RuPaul in an acting role that feels true to him, yet stretches his acting ability. An aging drag queen ends up with a street smart, mouthy child tagging along on a trip around the south for a succession of drag shows. An ex-boyfriend of the drag queen has stolen his life savings, and now hunts him, because he turned the thief in to the police. There are several standout actors in this, but the one who has surprised me the most is Tia Carrere. I've never been a fan of hers, but her character is so out there and hysterical that I enjoy every moment she's onscreen. Available on Netflix.

For True Crime, I've been watching Nightmare Next Door about murders in small towns around America. It took me some time to get used to the narrator (maybe I expect them all to sound like the Forensic Files guy), but he got more serious, with fewer quips and lame one liners, after the first season. Available on Hulu.


I don't think I've mentioned this yet. I've never been able to listen to podcasts, because I have trouble listening to someone speaking if I don't also have a visual, which makes podcasts and audio books something I don't typically imbibe in. However, I read a book put out by the two women who run this podcast, and decided to give it a try. Now I'm hooked. The way I've solved my lack of attention span is to take a bath most evenings and play Solitaire on my phone while listening to the podcast. It's called My Favorite Murder, and I listen to it free on Spotify. This is a comedy true crime podcast led by two women: Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark (sometimes jokingly referred to as KilHard or HardKil, which both work well for the subject matter.) Their fans are called murderinos, and consist of those of us who grew up fascinated by true crime (not awestruck by it, not fangirling over serial killers, but fascinated by the mentality behind it and seeking some explanation for the horrors perpetrated by these people) and freaking people out by wanting to talk about it. Their motto is "Stay sexy and don't get murdered."

No links today since this is a huge post already, but I'll see everyone on IWSG day!

Do you know much about the background of magical realism? Have any recommendations for these three genres? Read any of the recommended books or authors, and would you recommend them? Do you seek to read new and different genres outside what you're typically drawn to? Seen any of these shows or movies, or read the books? What about the podcast? Do you have a true crime podcast you'd recommend? What are you watching and reading this week?

May you find your Muse.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

First Time at COSine

There's a local fantasy and science fiction convention called COSine. Last year, there were rumbles about it shutting down and not coming back, but some dedicated folks took it over and made it happen this year. This was my first time attending, despite it being right here in Colorado Springs. I'm not sure why, other than that the time of year made it easy to overlook.

I was on three panels.

Slasher vs. Creature Feature: What Scares Us Now?

Our moderator kept us pretty specific to the two types of films in the title. Everyone had different opinions, of course. One was very into classic monsters, such as vampires and werewolves. Another was most affected by Lovecraftian style monsters. For me, people are scariest, because they're the most realistic, which means slashers win. Sort of.

It was discussed how slashers are innately misogynist, with women being the main victims, and with their deaths/attacks often being far more severe and often sexual. I threw out that I'm seeing a change in that, such as with the new Black Christmas. We discussed the self awareness of movies like Scream and Cabin in the Woods.

All in all, it was an interesting panel to be on. Too bad there was only one attendee! (We were up against Connie Willis, it's not a horror con (the other panelists weren't horror authors), and it was 10 AM. Who goes to panels at 10 AM? I don't. Unless I have to.

Mind Exercises to Release the Creativity Genie

This may be the first all female panel I've been on at a convention. Not at a writer's conference, though. They had us set up in a room with sofas instead of a panel table, which worked well for the topic. We talked about using aromatherapy (scent as a trigger to get into the writing mood), music, walks, images on Pinterest, routines, writing in public, etc.

Short Story Writing

We covered reasons to write short (explore new worlds, instant gratification, explore novel characters further), how to find markets (Duotrope, Submission Grinder, It was recommended people read short, submit to their dream markets first then trickle down, follow the submission guidelines, put their stories into collections once they get the rights back, and more.

The mass autographing was well done in that they had food and drinks, plus a cash bar, and they did a raffle and badge number giveaway of donated books, jewelry, and art. So rather than just relying on the autographing to draw people in, they drew people in to the authors by feeding them and doing the prize drawings in the same room. I don't think we sold anymore than we usually would have, but I have to give them credit for trying to find a clever solution to that issue.


This week, I read Dave Barry's Greatest Hits and started The Elephant in the Room. My favorite Barry story was in this collection: Adventure Dog. It's ridiculous and funny.


I watched Dolemite is my Name, starring a cast made up of people who could draw me to watch a movie individually, such as Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, and Wesley Snipes. They all did a great job, but Murphy stood out.

Trivia from IMDB: This is Murphy's first R rated film since 1990. Kind of surprising if you've seen his original stand up.

Joker was excellent, as well. It's a look into the Joker we've never had in the movies, and one that makes him sympathetic without excusing him being a villain. It's very much a scathing look into society and mental health care. Heath Ledger will always be my Joker, but Phoenix did an amazing job on a nuanced character.

Trivia from IMDB: Arthur Fleck (Joker) performs stand up at Pogo's Comedy Club. Real life serial killer John Wayne Gacy went by Pogo the Clown during professional clown stints.

For pure comedy fare (the other two were dramas), Jexi was funnier than I thought it would be. Honestly, I thought it would be so stupid I'd roll my eyes through the whole thing and feel like I wasted my night, but I enjoyed it. Of course, I was really exhausted following not sleeping all weekend at the conference (early mornings and a noisy hotel room), so maybe I just needed sleep.

Trivia from IMDB: Adam Devine has scars on his legs from a childhood accident that he keeps covered with socks, even when not wearing pants in the movie.

Finally, I watched an old Dario Argento horror film starring Jennifer Connelly (Labyrinth) and Donald Pleasance (Halloween) entitled Phenomena. I was surprised to see that costume design was by Giorgio Armani. I didn't know he ever did that. It was an interesting flick (available on Shudder) that I'd never heard of before, where Connelly can communicate with insects and uses this power to track down a serial killer. There's also a chimpanzee. If nothing else, it was a novelty. Apparently, it split Argento's fans, as it was considered science fiction horror, and many didn't like him going in that direction.

Trivia from IMBD: Jennifer Connelly had to be rushed to the hospital after the chimp bit her finger.


We're in a comedy show hole, so we returned to two series we enjoyed, but had drifted away from for a while: My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Netflix) and Detour (Hulu). My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has random, hysterical musical numbers in it and Detour is about a goofy family on the run. We tried to watch Lodge 49 to fill the need, but it didn't really draw us in, though it had some good elements.


Time for some links. Bear in mind I'm not endorsing these, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting.

Accepting Submissions:

Zombie Pirate Publishing is seeking science fiction short stories for Raygun Retro. 2000 to 6000 words. Pays $10. Deadline February 1.

Cantina Publishing is seeking short adventure stories featuring queer women for Silk & Steel. 3000 to 7000 words. Pays $.08/word. Deadline February 22.

Chicken Soup for the Soul is seeking pieces with the theme Listen to Your Dreams. Up to 1200 words. Pays $200. Deadline February 28. 

The Cincinnati Review is seeking fiction, literary nonfiction, poetry, and artwork. Fiction is limited to 40 double spaced pages. Pays $25/page. Deadline March 1.

Great Escape Publishing is seeking stories about getting paid to travel. 300 to 600 words. Pays $150. 

What have you read or watched this week? Have you ever been to COSine? Do you have a local con? What's scarier, slashers or monsters? What tricks do you use to stir your creative mind? Any of these links of interest? Anything to share?

May you find your Muse.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

2020 Rah Rah Rah! Plus Horror Book Review: 120 Days of Sodom & Zombie

At this time of year, I'm usually reviewing my goals from the previous year to see what I finished, what I scrapped, and what I need to carry forward. However, a lot happened last year that kept me from getting much of anything done, and I've decided it's not worth looking back on those goals, as it would just serve to make me feel bad about what I wasn't able to accomplish. 

Instead, I'm making some simple, but useful, goals, with the intention of setting up a base to grow from through the year. Basically, I want to get things done, but I also want to be kind to myself concerning expectations. This is a year of healing as much as anything else.

2020 Goals:

Write at least one day a week.
Stay on top of submissions.
Release a collection.
Blog at least twice per month.
Read two craft books.
Walk regularly.
Read a lot of fiction!
Take some fun pictures.

Of course, I can't do anything about the much loftier goals in my head, but whenever I look back at these goals, I want to feel like I'm doing what I expected, at least.

Moving on, I've got two best horror reviews to do, and I figured instead of doing those as individual posts as I've been doing the last couple years, I'll just add them to other posts. Before I jump into those, here's a snapshot of some of the books I've read the last couple months:

Ebooks I've read include: The False Inspector Dew (Peter Lovesey), Clowns vs. Spiders (Jeff Strand), Poisoned by the Pier (Ellen Jacobson), The Haunted Forest Tour (Jeff Strand), Creepers (David Morrell).

My favorites from the above:

Salvage the Bones - Jesmyn Ward
Gorgeously written, this book is set over the course of several days leading up to Hurricane Katrina hitting a small, rural town in Mississippi. As the storm brews and grows, so do the struggles of the main characters, siblings whose mother has died and whose father is sunk in his addiction, leaving them to fend for themselves. A story about family, relationships, deep poverty, and so much more.

Trevor Noah: Born a Crime - Trevor Noah
With his characteristic candor and humor, Noah talks about his youth in South Africa, where his very existence is a crime. His mother does her best with a child who's a bit of a troublemaker (but also charming, innovative, and deeply intelligent.) I was in turns touched, amused, shocked, and sad. I'd like to listen to the audiobook read by Noah, himself.

The False Inspector Dew - Peter Lovesey
This was the fluff book I read after FINALLY finishing The 120 Days of Sodom (review below). It was a light murder mystery, with some solid twists. A man takes on a false identity aboard a ship bound for America. The identity of a famous police inspector. When a body is found in the water, he's called upon to solve the crime. After all, that's his wheelhouse, right? Clever and fun, a delightful break I sorely needed.

Unbury Carol - Josh Malerman
This one is set in the old west, which is an era I love. Described as a thriller, it qualifies as horror, as well. A woman has a condition where she goes into a state that makes her appear dead. Her husband, knowing her condition, takes advantage when she slips into this state. She's got money and fame, and he's tired of living in her shadow. Interesting characters and a hell of a ticking clock. 

Poisoned by the Pier - Ellen Jacobson
Ellen's books are always fun to read. Great cast of characters, interesting settings. Good, clean mystery fun.

Some movies I recently saw and enjoyed:

Knives Out. This is such a witty and well scripted murder mystery. Vastly engaging and amusing. Twisty and well acted.

Incident in a Ghostland. A movie hasn't kept me this tense in a long time. Not for the faint of heart. This one's horror, and though it has plenty of flaws, the suspense is incredibly well done. I had to keep forcing myself to relax.

TV show I'd recommend:

My husband and I both loved Fleabag and are eagerly awaiting the next season. It's a dramedy, irreverent and often inappropriate, but also funny. The humor is quite dry, which I enjoy. You'll probably know within the first few minutes if this is the show for you or better avoided.

Okay, the part I've been avoiding: Horror List Book Review. I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.)

I finished two recently--The 120 Days of Sodom, by the Marquis de Sade, and Zombie, by Joyce Carol Oates.

The 120 Days of Sodom - Marquis de Sade
I'm not sure I have anything good to say about this one. It was a struggle to read. Admittedly, I was curious to read something by Sade after having heard about him for so long. Partway through this book, I convinced myself he couldn't possibly be encouraging or supporting the horrific things happening in this book. I actually thought it might be a commentary on the elite of the time.


I'm glad I waited until afterward to do research on him and realize I was giving him too much credit. It would have been even harder to get through if I knew what kind of person he truly was.

I really can't go in depth on this review, because of the subjects of the book. I described it to a friend as reading like it was written by a sexually deviant 8-year old with a feces fixation. There is extreme harm and mistreatment of children. Extreme. Sexual mistreatment, torture, etc. I'm going to need more distance before I can delve into what I needed to learn from this book. Do yourselves a favor: avoid this book and don't read the reviews on Amazon, because some of the readers are as bad as the Marquis. Disturbing.

Zombie - Joyce Carol Oates
This one was also deviant, but nothing like Sodom. It follows a man (I seem to recall he was 38 or so?) with a lot of mental issues. He wants to create a zombie lover by lobotomizing men he's interested in. The book is put forth in journal form. 

The writing is skillfully done in a way that brings the reader into the disorganized and frenzied mind of the killer. I imagine the writing style would drive some people crazy. Part of the horror of this book is how matter-of-fact the main character is about his plans and the results as he tries to figure out the right way to reach his goal.

CURRENTLY READING: Dave Barry's Greatest Hits (ebook) - Dave Barry
CURRENTLY WATCHING: Nightwatch Nation (Hulu)

Have you read any of the above books and/or seen any of the shows/movies? Did you set goals for 2020? Do you do long term or just short term goals? What book, movie, TV show, song, or other media would you recommend? What are you reading right now? 

May you find your Muse.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

IWSG - Year of Yes...And No?

It's 2020 and time for another posting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group!

Created by Alex J. Cavanaugh, the IWSG is here for writers to air their insecurities and support other writers with theirs. Anyone can participate. Simply click on Alex's name and add your blog to the list on the IWSG tab.

The co-hosts this month are:
T. Powell Coltrin, Victoria Marie Lees, Stephen Tremp, J.H. Moncrieff! Try to stop by and say hey in thanks for them taking this on.

I read a book by Shonda Rhimes a year or two ago entitled Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person. Saying yes to things that make me uncomfortable was already something I practiced before reading this, but it helped put it all in perspective and see how much my saying yes has helped me with my writing career.

This year, I'll continue saying yes to opportunities, BUT I'm also going to be more careful of my time and taking care of myself, which means I'll be saying no more often, too. I tend to jump into too many things, because I think, "Of course I can do this." Then I'm stuck with them on top of everything else going on.

This year needs to be about my continuing my return to writing and submitting more after what was a hard year. That means saying no to more things that aren't writing related.

But I'll still be actively practicing saying yes to things that make me nervous, because stretching myself and taking on new things is generally good for me. It's good for everyone! As long as you stick to what you need for yourself, whether that's giving less time to other people or avoiding certain time sucks.

I'm also looking at what I want to do with my blog going forward. I think I want to make it more personal, talking about things I enjoy, such as books I've read or movies I've watched. It will still be an author's journey, but I won't limit my posts to just writing-related stuff as I have mostly done. There will probably be a bit more about horror, mythology, etc. I'll probably go more into this next week.

I should also be returning to posting about short story submissions by February, if not by next week. I believe I've figured out what stories to include in my next collection, so once I've finalized that, I'll be getting some of the stories back out there!

Now for some links. Bear in mind I'm merely passing these along, not endorsing them. Always do your own due diligence when submitting.

Accepting Submissions:

Pixie Forest Publishing is seeking stories about phobias for an anthology. 1500 to 4000 words. Pays $10. Deadline January 15.

Freeze Frame Fiction is seeking flash fiction. 1000 words or less. Pays $10. Deadline January 31.

Flash Bang Mysteries is seeking crime, mystery, and suspense flash fiction. 500 to 750 words. Pays $20. Deadline January 31.

Dragon Soul Press is seeking stories about women ruling the world for Reign of Queens. No limit on genre. 5000 to 15,000 words. Pays royalties. Deadline January 31.

Twelfth Planet Press is seeking stories about disabled characters putting things back together after the apocalypse for their follow up anthology Rebuilding Tomorrow. 2000 to 6000 words. Pays $.08/word. Deadline January 31.

Have you been rethinking any elements of your life for the upcoming year? What are you feeling insecure about right now? Any of these links of interest? Anything to share?

May you find your Muse.