Review: Dark Faith: Invocations

Dark Faith: Invocations
Dark Faith: Invocations by Jerry Gordon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m in this so I’m a bit biased. I also have the first anthology.

I found this one less disturbing, though there are a few stories that made me put the book down and back slowly away (Lucy Snyder, I’m looking directly at you). Most of the stories had me thinking about the nature of faith.

The ones that stuck with me the most:

Subletting God’s head, Tom Piccirilli: a guy living in God’s head and being privy to His innermost thoughts. A part of me felt rubbed wrong by his portrayal of Jesus.

The Cancer Catechism by Jay Lake: I’ve followed Jay Lake as he tweeted about dealing with cancer and this is his most poignant,vulnerable, open, honest take on it. His experience with anesthesia is very much as I found it, disturbing and unsettling. His last line is so strong, it is worth the entire book alone.

Kill the Buddha, Elizabeth Twist – most surreal and sad

Night Train, Alma Alexander – lonely story about belief and trains.

The Sandfather, Richard Wright – this can be considered a sequel to his story “Sandboys” in the first anthology. I didn’t find this one as devastating, but it still stood out.

Sacrifice, Jennifer Pelland – a cool alt-choice story.

Thou art God, Tim Waggoner – Loved this take on “All is God and God is All” belief

Wishflowers, Tim Pratt – I just listened to his story “The Secret Beach” on Podcastle, and this could be considered a continuation of that tale, sort of. Like all Tim Pratt tales, this one socked me in the gut at the end.

Starter Kit, RJ Sullivan – Cute story about the universe as a kid’s aquarium. The apocalypse could really be God hitting the reset button & starting over.

God’s Dig, Kelly Eiro- A kid hears God telling her to dig, and she does. Oh, so disturbing. This was one of those stories that made me put the book down and slowly back away.

The Birth of Pegasus, K. Tempest Bradford – A retelling of Medusa and Poisiden. Loved the style of the story, and loved how it lead into the next story, which is…

All This Pure Light Leaking in, LaShawn M. Wanak – Okay, yes, this is mine. But I reeeeeeeally loved how they juxapositioned this after The Birth of Pegasus. And, it led very nicely into what I consider the “angel” section of the book. Plus, every time I read it, I think, man, I write the freakiest stuff…

Fin de Siecle, Gemma Files – Another angel story that’s more creepy.

The Angel Seems, Jeffrey Ford – Scary folktale, though the ending fell flat for me.

Magdala Amygdala, Lucy Snyder – Holy crap this was disturbing. Probably the most disturbing story in the entire book. How Snyder describes the brain sucking…I can’t even look at someone’s head now without thinking, “Brain jelly…” Oh…guh ::shudders::

In Blood and Song, Nisi Shawl & Michael Ehart – Cool story about how different people have their different gods.

Little Lies, Dear Leader, Kyle S. Johnson – While Madgala Amygdala was creepy, this one affected me the most because it’s so close to real life, it could easily have happened. My inlaws were in South Korea a year ago, so they were able to see the reactions to Kim Jong-il’s death. How all the tvs showed women weeping as if they were heartbroken. This was a hard read, but also necessary, I think.

I inhale the City, the City Exhales Me, Douglas F. Warrick – a great story to end the anthology, this was a nod to all the apocalyptic anime where a blob engulfs Tokyo. Reminded me a lot of Paranoid Agent. Also was a strong theme on stereotype and how we believe cultures are/should be.

As a whole, I really enjoyed this one. It’s more dark fantasy than horror, but I really liked the focus on all kinds of faith throughout the book. This gets five angels out of five…and if I want to see an angel, I’ll ask the right way…

View all my reviews

Con Reports: Mo*Con V

Well, here I am after doing a 16-mile bike ride to the Capital and back. I’m sore, I’m achy and my butt hurts. Perfect time to finally get to my con reports, right?

Back to back cons. Wow. I truly must be insane. Actually, it wasn’t bad. I had planned it that way. And both can be summed up with one word:

Incredible.

Mo*Con first.

I met Maurice Broaddus at Wiscon last year and had been completely unaware of his work. Luckily, I scored a copy of Dark Faith.  I’ve never been to a horror convention before. But when I saw the topic for this year’s Mo*Con, "Homosexuality, the church and the arts" I had to go. I thought Madcon had been an extremely small con. Well, Mo*Con’s smaller. It took place at the bottom of a church basement. There was only three panels. And we all left the church around 8:30ish.

But ahh…the conversation. And the food! Mo*Con was sort like a pre-con party held in an really, really, really far hotel room. I didn’t do much that Friday because most of that time was spent in Chicago construction, and I was also visiting my former boss. I spent Saturday morning with a friend of mine, then headed to the church to hear the main panel mentioned above. Mainly it was several panelists talking about their experiences in the church. All their stories were interesting, though the stories I found most interesting was comic book illustrator who grew up in a fundamentalist church and became gay, and the pastor who grew up gay and became hetero. Maurice also spoke, and he had a line that deeply impacted me: "If I’m a Christian, the first thing you should receive is my love. Period."

After the panel, I asked Maurice if he had considered bringing in a Christian panelist who was against homosexuality, and he said he had. "But then, we wouldn’t have had an open discussion. It would have been more of a debate. This wasn’t the type of panel I wanted. This way, people would be more vulnerable, more open, to sharing their experiences."

Is it possible for Christians and LGBT to have open, honest, vulnerable discussions with each other, even those who have differing opinions without privilege lording over the conversation?  Thinking about it. But that’s a blog post for another day.

Anywho, what made Mo*Con well worth it was what happened afterwards, when we hung out at Maurice’s house. I got to hang with horror writers Chesya Burke and Lucy Snyder, and and meet editors from Apex Publications and Coach’s Midnight Diner and Relief: A Christian Literary Expression. We talked about the upcoming Festival of Faith and Writing. I also got to learn about Worldcon, which is coming to Chicago next year. Looks like my 2011 is shaping up to be a busy time.

I really liked how Mo*Con melds horror writing with spiritual matters. Definitely adding it to cons that I plan to go to when I have time. Plus, they feed you. A definitely plus in my book.

Next report: Wiscon. Right now…bed.

Book Review: Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

I’m returning from my short hiatus on book reviews by reviewing the first book that got me started in writing.

When I first read Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman, I was just getting used to being a stay-at-home mom. I had tried being a part-time secretary at our church, but wasn’t doing so well handling it with a squirming baby in my sights all the time. I was tired and a bit lonely now that I didn’t have much daily interactions with adults.

But one thing I did was read a lot, mainly because our library in Roselle was awesome. they had a bunch of Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies that I got into, and one had the story Snow, Glass, Apples from Neil Gaiman. It was a riff off the Snow White story, and yet so simple, so elegant. Then I saw that the story came from Neil’s first collection of short stories, and the library had it, so I checked it out.

What sucked me into it right away wasn’t the stories. It was the introduction. I never read an introduction in front of an author’s collection of stories before. What set Neil’s intro apart from any other intro was that he took each story and spent a couple of paragraphs or so telling how he wrote it, where he got the ideas from, what or who inspired him. It offered fascinating insight into how he created each story–sort of like reading linear notes. And what was extra cool was that he actually put a story in the introduction. It was like a bonus buy-one-get-one-free.

I found myself flipping to the introduction a lot as I read through Smoke and Mirrors. When I read the background on Snow, Glass, Apples, on how he had read a story in the bath "I must have read a thousand times before…But that thousand and first reading was the charm, and I started to think about the story, all back to front and wrong way around. It sat in my head for a few weeks and then, on a plane, I begun to write the story in longhand…"

I read that and thought, really? Was that really all it took? Just an idea going around in your head? I had thought this because I had an idea of my own, rattling around, and I had been afraid to write it out because I was sure that the words that would come out wouldn’t match what was in my head. But somehow, reading that paragraph galvanized me to sit down and not so much care what came out, just see what exactly what would come out.  And what came out was Light as Gossamer, the first story I ever sold.

Reading Smoke and Mirrors now, for the second time, through the lens of a writer has been interesting. For one thing, I get now what Neil wrote about in the introduction, even though I’m still far from his level of writing. For one thing, I reading the stories now with a far more critical eye, looking at craft as well as story. And let me tell you, I am still light years away from his expertise. This will be a great book to study if you want to know the craft of the short story…and poetry too–Neil has several poems in here that already given me ideas. I’ve never even heard of a rondel before, but there is one, Reading the Entrails, right before the book starts.

There are stories inside that I deeply enjoyed just as much as the first time. I was delighted to read again We Can Get Them For You Wholesale, a dark comedy about a man who learns that the more people he can get killed, the price for killing them goes down.  Chivalry was another favorite–recently, NPR featured Jane Curtin reading the story on "Selected Shorts"; I highly recommend listening–it is just as funny and sweet as the written form. And Babycakes was just as chilling, perhaps even moreso since I recognized the format as flash fiction.

Then there were stories that became my new favorites. The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories is not SF, not speculative, not anything, yet it is reflective, brooding, and may or may not be true. I read When we went to see the end of the world by Dawnie Morningside, age 11 ¾, over and over again because the language was beautiful, bizarre, and so dark.

I remember reading Murder Mysteries it the first time and thinking, "a story within a story about angels. Cool."  This time, I read it, but Neil’s intro for it kept sticking in my head: "I tried to play fair with the detective part of the story. There are clues everywhere. There’s even one in the title." I wondered, why would he write something like that. So I went back and read it again. Then I read it a third time.  And then my mouth dropped wide open. Holy crap, how the hell did I miss that?

I won’t tell what the story is about, or what I missed. You just have to read it. But let me tell you, Murder Mysteries is now my new favorite in the book.

Mind, not all of the stories clicked with me.  Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar and Bay Wolf are in Clthulu mythos, but if you don’t know the mythos, most of it goes right over your head. I was able to recognize some of that in the stories now, but they still didn’t stick with much. And surprisingly, I found myself less impressed with Snow, Glass, Apples upon reading it again. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the story, and reading it was quite a pleasure, but it resonated with me less than the first time. Maybe it’s because I have since read other fairy tale stories that struck me just as profoundly. Or maybe because Murder Mysteries so blew me away.

On Writing by Stephen King is the best book for learning how to write from a writer’s point of view. But if you want to learn technique and craft in short stories, pick up Smoke and Mirrors. And don’t just read it; study it. See the different styles Neil use to tell a story, not just in short story format, but in poetry. This book is that inspiring.

This book rates five dead angels out of five. I do realize that I have yet to read his second collection Fragile Things. I’m almost hesitant to.  Smoke and Mirrors means a lot to me, so much so I got it signed by Neil Himself. One day, I’m sure I’ll get over my fixation of all things Neil, but in the meantime, I got a sestina to write using my son’s spelling list. And why the heck not?

Book Review: The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, 16th Annual Collection

Time for another Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror book review. I’ve done one for 2004 and 2006, and today’s review will focus on the 16th annual 2002 book. I’m beginning to see a theme to these anthologies. The 2004 had lots of vulgarity and warped ickiness to it that truly turned me off, while the 2006 focused on lesser known authors (at least, to me at the time–now that I’ve done a lot of reading, names like Elizabeth Hand and Nisi Shawl are quite familiar to me now). I like this idea of vaguely themed anthologies. It gives the appearance that the stories have connections to each other, even the ones that don’t.

The 2002 book has a distinct British feel to it. Many stories had British themes, British settings, British writers–including writers who spent at least six months in Britain before coming to the States. However, the story that stood out most to me is not British. It’s very American…if you can call time travel and palindromes American…

Lull by Kelly Link is the first story in the anthology, and it threw me for a loop. A time loop, if you will. I’m hard pressed to describe it because there isn’t a linear storyline. Well, there is, but it isn’t really told in a linear fashion. It starts off with a group of guys playing poker in someone’s basement while listening to a cassette tape of songs playing backwards and forwards set on an endless loop. They’re telling stories to each other about a house, then they call up a phone sex line, except the woman at the end tells stories, and she tells a story…

…about a cheerleader who lives in a world where time flows backwards. She gets locked in the closet with the Devil, and she winds up telling a story about…

…a guy named Ed (who is one of the poker players), whose wife Susan is creating green copies of herself from different times and creates her own green Susan beer…

Okay. I’m going to stop because just writing this out is so freaking weird and bizarre that you have to think, what the hell kind of story is that?! But let me tell you something: Link makes it work. Yes, it’s bizarre. Yes, it’s weird. But it’s also the most incredible piece of writing I’ve ever seen. She intertwine the stories so that they flow back and forth, much like the tape that plays forwards and backwards. And in the meantime she interweaves themes of death and life and storytelling so as not to be forgotten. And the whole world where time flows backwards thing–it’s wonderful and tragic, because in such a world there is no surprises. Everyone knows what will happen already; or rather, they know what has already happened, so they just live the events that lead up to it and…

Pure brilliance. I can’t get it out of my head. I even wrote an email to Link asking her how she did it. Haven’t heard anything back yet, but it’s okay. A story such as this needs, no, begs to be studied, so I’ll probably do that.

Now that I finished gushing over Lull, here are some other stories in the anthology that stood out to me (I’m skipping poetry because I did that in the previous post).

Details by China Mieville: an interesting spin on the phrase “The devil’s in the details…”

The Assistant to Dr. Jacob by Eric Schaller: A man learns that his gentle memories of a Doctor and his greenhouse are not what they seem.

The Pagodas of Cibourne by M. Shayne Bell: Sick kid gets healed by living broken bits of pottery. It’s actually more touching than it sounds.

Stitch by Terry Dowling: Evil lurks behind a cross-stitched nursery rhyme. Nice use of dread.

Porno in August by Carlton Mellick III: The only other surreal story in here that was just weird, but also in a strange way made me think of the emptiness of the porn industry–literally. Bunch of actors get dropped in the middle of the ocean to shoot a film. They eat jellyfish. Sharks eat them. Weirdness ensues.

Mermaid Song by Peter Dickinson: A very touching fable about a young girl who learns about mermaids.

The Green Man by Christopher Fowler: Freaky story about a couple who goes to oversee a retreat hotel in a jungle inhabited by possessive monkeys. And we all know how that turns out.

Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea: Guy runs around painting obscure messages on people. Humorous and poignant.

Thailand by Haruki Murakami: This is another story I want to study. In some ways, I’m struggling how this got included in the anthology, because on the surface of the story, there’s no apparent threads of fantasy. In fact, remove the faint hint of magic realism at the end of the story, and it would still remain as a quiet literary story of a woman who goes to Thailand to relax and swim, and her knowledgeable chauffeur/guide. But there is something about this story that really struck me; perhaps the quiet manner it is told–the woman goes to Thailand, swims at a pool by herself, talks to the chauffeur, and then flies home after several days. There’s no action other than mostly introspective, but it makes for a very beautiful story.

The Rose in Twelve Petals by Theodora Goss: Wonderful retelling of Sleeping Beauty in twelve separate parts.

Road Trip by Kathe Koja: story told in 2nd person about a guy deep in grief over the death of his daughter.

The Least Trumps by Elizabeth Hand: Tattooist finds a couple of tarot cards that hold dreams-come-true.

Actually, there were so many more stories in this one that I really liked a lot. If I find this in a used bookstore, I would probably buy it. This ranks 4-1/2 Susan beers out of 5. And watch that first sip–it’s quite a doozy.

“Crimson” is up at Tales from the Moonlight Path!

And now a lighter bit of news…or darker, as the case may be.

I got another short story published…more of a flash really. You can read it at the online mag Tales from the Moonlight Path.

I was actually surprised that this one got published, because

1) it was the first market on the list I had researched. I had read all the stories on it and figured that this piece would fit right in. I didn’t expect the editor to agree–which goes to show you should always check out what stories are at a mag you want to send to.

Enya Amarantine2) The story started off as a writing exercise. I do short freewriting exercise to music from time to time to limber up my creativity, so I picked Enya’s “Amarantine” and started writing a story to match each of her songs. The title song particularly caught me; because the word “amarantine” is derived from “amaranth”, a flower noted for its red color, I wanted to play with the color and see what came out. What came out was not exactly a vampire story, but a nice, dark, moody piece of a woman waiting for her lover…or apocalypse, whichever came first. I liked it so much that I cleaned it up and sent it out.

I guess this can be considered my first horror story, though there’s nothing overly scary in it–it’s more dark than scary. But it’s a very short read, and I hope you enjoy it. Check out “Crimson” now!

Oh, and if you do want to check out the inspiration for the story, you can find the Amarantine video here. It’s not dark like the story (I have yet to see any Enya video that’s considered ‘dark’), but the dress is divine.