Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Review: The Snow and Darkness by Matthew Warren Wilson

The most annoying feeling when you're reading a book is the feeling that you're reading a book. Yes, I must explain. For those old enough to be around when the movie "The Never Ending Story" came out, they might remember how the film portrays Bastian as being completely transported into this new amazing world in both body and spirit, so much that he could interact with the protagonists and become one with the story he was reading. I think that movie says a lot about what a good book should achieve. Unfortunately at no point in time did "The Snow and Darkness"  involve me enough to care about the characters or feel moved about what was happening to them. 
The story recreates the classic scenario of a group of people (2 young couples, some of them hot, all of them horny...rings a bell?) being stranded and helpless. Just as the leader of the party realizes that they can neither go back nor forward he (it's  always a HE) decides to go out on his own to seek help. Then the crazy people (or monsters) attack. Now I don't mind classic setups. I devour every zombie, vampire and haunted house story that comes out. The problem arises when a story doesn't bring anything new to the table. It's even worse when the characters are not developed enough to make you care.
On the positive side I should compliment Matthew Warren Wilson for writing good, polished prose, that doesn't waste any time to propel you into  the action. Phrases are economically used and the dialogue feels real most of the time. In spite of all this unfortunately the story still doesn't provide enough genuine moments of freshness for me to rate it high. It's creepy at times, entertaining during others and has quite a few  number of splatterfest scenes which should  satisfy the gore lovers. Other than that I am afraid there isn't much more because the characters are too cliched and the events too predictable. The good guys are dull and the bad guys are copies of copies of copies of all the classic stuff we were brought up with. Think of this story as a sort of Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a twist.
Speaking of which, I also had a problem with the twist of the story (which of course I won't spoil here). Although I must admit that this is rather subjective and that other readers might appreciate it, I found this particular twist to be awkwardly placed in a horror novel. Maybe its just me, but sometimes a tool of narration that is intended to raise the stakes backfires and ends up diluting the very tension it was meant to create. A good horror novel should give you that roller coaster ride experience that once you get up there is no way in hell for you to go back down and the intensity just keeps escalating. I thought that this twist gave a decelerating effect to the ride which didn't start out too bad after all.
All in all I believe that the good writing is the main saving grace of this novel. All this author needs is to concentrate a little bit more on creating better developed characters that we haven't seen over and over again. It's amazing how the old formula always seems to work: Characters + Plot = Story. Without an original plot and multidimensional characters, your story will always leave readers begging for more. I will definitely be checking out this author when more new material comes out, because as I said, he is definitely an talented writer. It's just that his talents need, I humbly believe, to be employed on a better tale. If he achieves that, I am sure that he can definitely aspire to some success, somewhere along the near future. 


Monday, December 17, 2012

Review 2: Deadlocked by A.R Wise


The great Stanley Kubrick once stated that when it comes to art and originality, everything has already been done and our job is to do it a little bit better. Sadly, few are those who understand this principle, and this usually separates the average writers from the excellent ones.  Take zombie stories for instance:  the zombie world is one of the most popular branches of horror, but also one of the most overpopulated.  This usually makes me a little reluctant to embark on a new zombie experience, even though it’s one of my favorite genres.  Let me tell you that I’m really glad that I’ve overcome my reluctance and downloaded “Deadlocked”.
A.R Wise is a writer who seems to share Kubrick’s sentiment. In fact, in his author’s note at the end of his book-Deadlocked, he explains clearly that he decided to launch a new zombie series because he wanted to challenge himself with the task of finding a new angle for a zombie apocalypse. Right from the kickoff, you begin to suspect that he was successful. The stakes are terribly high right from page one as David, the protagonist, is locked inside an office with his dumbfounded colleagues around him and a hysteric wife, Laura, on the phone. With a single promise, he draws a map that will accompany the reader throughout the book:  yes he’ll survive; yes he’ll make it home alive in time to embrace her and their two daughters and get them the hell out of the city. He says bye and the nightmare commences thereafter.
This book erupts in nonstop action ala War of the Worlds, but much, much more intense.  What I really loved about this book is that the author didn’t envelope his characters in the usual impregnable cocoon that turns them into a walking miracle. On the contrary, he makes it very, very clear that no one is safe here. Not even children.  What is surprising here is not that the protagonist is taken through a very bumpy ride (that happens in every story) but that he gets his own fair share of bloody beatings in the process: there is no room for the usual near misses of narration here. No one is a hero; no one is calculative, cool or has any semblance of a plan. Everyone is scared to his bones and vulnerable as any other minor character whose death fills the pages with that adorable red that all horror fans love. Be prepared to be thrilled from start to finish.
The best aspect here is the character development. David has a very personal story to tell, and this is not just about basic zombie dodging, but it’s a story of family and how to deal with illness (more specifically cancer). There is a parallel here to behold: that between zombies and their maniacal taste for flesh, and cancer… and its own maniacal taste for flesh.  The author is extremely skilled in creating the perfect balance between nonstop action and those mandatory life-pondering passages which elevate an average movie or book into a work of art. Such deep passages are not cumbersome, on the contrary, they elevate the stakes and make you want to grab a shotgun and delve into the scene to lend a helping hand. 
Because the author keeps everything very simple, there are actually little if any negative points here. Of course, this is a series, so the author is excused of leaving loose ends, promising that they will be tied in the next book.  Even though there are certain genre-clich├ęs that come with the territory (and that every zombie fan expects) there is not a single scene which is overblown, or a single moment which does not add an important dimension to the story.  The author here proves that simplicity, when handled well, is the best literary device.
Without hesitation, I am going to give Deadlocked five stars, mainly because I really loved the characters and the nonstop action does make it an unputdownable book.  When I find myself reading every bit of the author’s note, googling up the author’s name and instantly buying the next book in the series, then I know that I have truly uncovered a gem. Indie writers, please, read and take notes. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review1: The Second Coming ( A Horror Short Story ) by Griffin Hayes

The linearity of time is the very essence of all human judgment. Think about it. Whenever something happens which requires our judgment, the first thing we ask is: what past information do I have ? What evidence can I gather? Is there any similar past occurrence to which I can compare the current predicament?  How did this start in the first place? Being completely ignorant of the future, the past is all we have to go by. This little, big feature about our life is the very essence of the horror in Griffin's "The Second Coming". How can I convince someone of my innocence based not on past evidence, but on a future occurrence. It was refreshing to see the author masterfully combining the intricacies of time travel with the horror of murder. Yes, I know, it's not a new idea ( Minority Report comes to mind) but kudos to the writer for making it feel fresh, intriguing and somehow credible.

This story takes place in an office and it follows an ice-cold conversation between a doctor and his patient. Of course, the doctor is cynical. Of course, the patient goes into all the gory details to prove his point. What I liked about the story is that all the gory detail is justified. The main character, Jack, is extremely reluctant to  recount all the events in sequence again. The author emphasizes this with the very first line of the story" Now I'd like to go over this one more time." Jack hates it because it's too damn painful for him, and he compares retelling his dreaded story to Chinese water torture. I felt that all of this gave a sense of authenticity to the conversation. Maybe it's me, but I've always had a thing for stories carried through conversation. Somehow it seems to remind me of the campfire horror-storytelling that we used to practice during boy-scout camps. 

The writing is what holds everything in place: there is a deceiving simplicity to it, but every word is measured, ever pause calculated. The dialogue is the best aspect by far. With every quotation mark you can feel the temperature drop by a notch. 

The only problem I had with this story is that I felt it was underdeveloped. I do understand that with such a story you need a quickfire, WTF-just-happened ending, just to let your readers attempt a second reading, but then you run into the risk of leaving your characters underdeveloped. And that is what I am afraid happened here. The thing is that you really take an interest in Jack and his tragic circumstances, so the story does leave you with that craving of wanting to know just a little bit more. It seemed that the author's priority here was revealing the truth, as it should be of course, but no author should underestimate the reader's willingness to embrace the characters and desiring to experience their fate. I know that it is very very very difficult to strike this kind of balance in a short story because the opportunity for elaboration is very limited, but there are always little things you can do to make sure that all loose ends are tied. 
Having said all this, this little 3000 word horror story delivered everything it promised. For all lovers of the craft of writing I wholeheartedly recommend this author and will definitely check out more of his work in the future. 
And that's the first hidden horror-gem I uncovered for you on Amazon. More to come soon. 

Reviving Horror

There are 34,891 horror books on Amazon's kindle store. Some of them are big names: Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell or Jack Ketchum, but most of them are indie authors like me whose books are languishing at the basement of Amazon, hopelessly awaiting the light of day.

And that is why I decided to start this project.

Every week, I will try to read and review 2 Amazon-forgotten horror books in the hope of uncovering a new gem. I know that there's a lot of rubbish in there but I've always felt that the kindle system needed some sort of filtering mechanism. Traditional publishing usually acts as an automatic filter: "You're not good? You're out!" but what about the thousands of genuinely talented horror writers who are struggling to squeeze in a couple of blood-hungry monsters in between their day job lunch-breaks and house chores. Every marketing book out there will advice you to build your own platform and let interest seep in little by little, but let's face it, most of the talented writers out there are horrible marketing managers ( and that includes me). I am not hoping of saving the horror world here, but simply to give a little push in the right direction. Maybe, who knows, this idea might take off and other horror lovers like me will follow and start posting reviews. Maybe there are hundreds who are already doing this and my work would be simply building upon theirs. Whatever the outcome, I feel that horror is an extremely artistic and rich genre ( when tackled well) which is at the moment in our lifetimes on literary life-support. Maybe a new Clive Barker or Stephen King will arise out of the ashes one day and give this glorious genre a well deserved boost. Until that day arrives, I hope to contribute my 2c with this blog.

I hope you enjoy my reviews and please: COMMENT COMMENT COMMENT!!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Top 5 Horror Movies based on :DEPTH

I decided to start a series of "Top 5" horror movie lists based on various themes. It might be a top 5 list according to best acting, or a top 5 list according to goriest scenes. These lists can be endless really, and it would be interesting to see in the end which film has overlapped lists the most. I decided to start with a list that classifies the five best horror films according to the depth of their plot. I must say that this is quite an important issue for me. Many have the absurd idea that horror is a  sort of fetish, practiced by those weirdos who were left behind in the whole socializing game. I loudly object! I firmly believe that many horror films provide not only a thrill ride but also plenty of food for thought. You may pull out for me the scariest ghosts, goriest murders or darkest cellars, but if there is no depth in your horror, it is very very very hard to get some serious piss streaming down my pants.  So let's start with the first list. The following movies might not be the scariest or the most accomplished, but in terms of plot, I can honestly say that they really got me thinking. Comments, as always, are highly appreciated.


5) Psycho

 

The ultimate fear of any boy: the fear of disappointing his mother. I've always believed that the scariest aspect of this movie lies in  the relationships. The relationship between mother and son; the relationship between a man and the woman he lusts over; the relationship between a guilty woman and herself.  There is an infinite amount of material to chew on and I can assure you that a new gem will be unraveled with each view.

4) Dawn of the Dead




This is simply one of the greatest parodies in film history. Now, I know Romero didn't intend it to be as eye-opening as it came out to be; he declares that he just wanted to make a fun horror movie. But apart from succeeding in this, he also managed to create what in my opinion is one of the best statements about commercialism to ever come out from Hollywood. The setting is simple: A bunch of zombies shuffling through a shopping mall. Do I really need to add more?




3) Candyman 



I know that this is hardly going to be a popular one but I stand by my choice. Not as deep as the original short story by Clive Barker (The Forbidden) but still manages to retain that same foreboding atmosphere masterminded by the great Mr Barker. Candyman is not an ordinary slasher movie, but one which uses the violence to symbolize decay, the people living within it, and the desire to be known; to be important to someone and write your name down in the pages of history ( or on the walls of a town in the case of this movie). What are you prepared to do to give meaning to a life that's devoid of it? This movie made me question it and I loved it for this.


2) Mulholland Drive



My horror buddies keep insisting that this is a "Noir" but I can't understand why one should allow such restricting genre barriers. The beauty about this movie is that you can sit and watch it with any mind frame you please.  Noir will do; thriller will do, but also horror. The most horrific aspect of this movie is not just the atmosphere or its seemingly random collage of scenes, but the theme. It delves into the subject of dreams-the ones you have when you're sleeping, but most importantly, the ones you have when you're wide awake. Hollywood, I believe, is used allegorically here as one of the most prominent symbols of the American Dream. The real question which this movie asks in my opinion is this: what can our dreams turn us into? What do we allow ourselves to become and on whom do we allow ourselves to become dependent? Now this, taken to the extremity taken in this film, allows for some serious 'horror' moments that are dealt with phenomenal artistry by Lynch.

1) Requiem for a Dream



I've read it many times so I am going to repeat it: This movie, even though classified as R, should be shown to kids everywhere. The topic here is "Addiction" and I've always considered this work of art  to be 3 parts movie, 1 part shock treatment. The last twenty minutes are pure madness. Through out the entire film, I kept asking myself the same question: WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? should on earth human beings allow this on themselves. The answer is simple: because the human mind has the unfortunate ability to fabricate dreams that not only recur endlessly, but also format everything else inside which might be of value. Just ask yourself as you're watching: Have I ever dreamt about something so obsessively? You need not go into the depth that the great Hubert Selby Jr takes his characters (in the novel of the same name but faithfully recreated by Darren Aranofsky) to know what it feels like to cross that line which divides go-getters from madmen. This movie will struck several chords for all of those who have the audacity to fight for their dreams  and will (not subtly) remind you that the abyss is simply not deep enough  for all those who forget what balance is all about.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Disequilibria: All My Fears In One Short Book




I almost thought I'd never make it. Last week, being already a full month behind schedule, just as I thought I was done and ready to upload, the final kindle-formatting problems spread naked in front of me in all their glory, and I was honestly thinking that I just didn't have the required skills. Thankfully, we live in the age of Internet, where nearly every problem in the world has a solution, ready for you to read in some forum. GOD BLESS THE INTERNET.
In any case, FINALLY!!!!, my debut horror collection, Disequilibria (pictured above),  is on sale and I must say that I am very proud of it. Will it sell? Will people like it? Will J.C Paris ever mean anything to anyone? I honestly have no idea, but I will give it my best shot. At this stage I think a writer should just be happy that he or she has actually managed to create something for which he feels passionate about. And I do. In this book there are tales of horror and pain that always send a shiver running down my spine, and this is mainly because I love all the characters that are in it. Inside this book there are all the questions that I've ever posed to myself throughout my life:

  • Who am I really, and who determines my nature?
  • What would happen should I decide to thrash everything which is me and start anew, just to see who that other me is?
  • What would happen should I give up on happiness and start surrendering to pain?
  • What about God? Why does he allow evil? Why do I curse him and search for him in equal measure?
  • Should I believe in life anymore? Why do I sometimes feel that we do a disservice to every child we bring to this world? Is this life worth living anymore?
  • Family for me is everything; EVERYTHING! What would happen if I wake up one day and find them no more? What would happen if the idea of a family vanished in this world? 
  • How will the world react to these terrible recessions? Will people have enough time to live their lives or will they just continue to cement their status as Corporate Puppets? Will they be required by their companies to work ever more relentlessly, just for the sake of recuperating the economy? 
  • Will we ever come to an age where nothing's worth saving anymore?
So there you go. No I am not a sad bastard. These are just the things that scare the crap out of me; these are my monsters; my Vampires, Werewolves, Killer Clowns and Ghosts. So I invite you to join me in my quest to answer these questions. Let me assure you of one thing: the ride will be as intense and as bloody as every other monster-driven horror journey out there.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Laws of Demand and Supply

The most common argument against the self-publishing market is that Free For All = Bad Quality. I've heard many voice their concerns over how difficult it will become to find good quality amid the debris that the wannabes leave behind and I must say that, for a while, this was a concern of mine too. For a time I had taken  a snobbish position with respect to self publishing and had came to the conclusion that  self publishing is for those who give up and take the easy road.. But- as often happens when your thinking is driven by prejudice or poor advice- I was wrong.
I must be clear about this: it is not that I didn't find the occasional junk as I shuffled through the digital Ebook shelves; it is that the ratio between crap and good is approximately in the same neighborhood as for that of traditionally published novels. When it comes to self-published  Ebooks I've read unbearable  rubbish which made me stop a quarter of a way through and I've read masterpieces written by indie authors whose names I instantly googled upon finishing. The experience with self published work was thus not at all different from that of reading traditionally published books
The reason, I've come to believe, is simple : The Laws of Demand and Supply. Quite simply, writing a book, even if it's a 1000 word short story, is damn hard. The work of those who do not invest the time and effort will be completely swept away by the tides of the hardworking and will perish unknown. These pseudo-writers would then, probably, resort to some other less time-consuming hobby and leave the writing to those who truly have a vision.  So even though some day it might happen that you waste 2 or 3 dollars on incoherent scribble that some talent-less wannabe has shat, in the long run, you won't make the same mistake twice and there will be no reason in the world why that 'writer' would ever try to invade the market with his unprofessional writing again. There are millions of other ways to pass the time other than writing, so ultimately, it's those who can't live without it that survive.
Therefore for all those who like me want to go the whole distance, we need to keep in mind that it is only one law which determines quality and talent: The Law of Demand and Supply . No big publishing house can dictate what should or should not be out there. We should all feel glad that we live in an age in which technology has granted us the power to give it a shot alongside the big players and use social networking to bypass the enormous marketing requirements which only the muscled publishers can afford. But, and I feel obliged to repeat, it is only work of quality which will survive and the effort has to be equal to that you invest on manuscripts intended for publishers' eyes.
I hope that all of those who, like me, have embraced  self-publishing can understand the weight of their responsibility but also keep in mind the enormous possibilities at hand. Just remember that in whichever form you try to publish there is always your reputation at stake and that should be enough of a tasty carrot to keep your focus where it belongs: on the craft.