Sunday, August 13, 2017

recent read; WITCHY EYE


WITCHY EYE by D. J. Butler
Sarah Calhoun is the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Elector Andrew Calhoun, one of Appalachee’s military heroes and one of the electors who gets to decide who will next ascend as the Emperor of the New World. None of that matters to Sarah. She has a natural talent for hexing and one bad eye, and all she wants is to be left alone—especially by outsiders.
But Sarah’s world gets turned on its head at the Nashville Tobacco Fair when a Yankee wizard-priest tries to kidnap her. Sarah fights back with the aid of a mysterious monk named Thalanes, who is one of the not-quite-human Firstborn, the Moundbuilders of the Ohio. It is Thalanes who reveals to Sarah a secret heritage she never dreamed could be hers.
Now on a desperate quest with Thalanes to claim this heritage, she is hunted by the Emperor’s bodyguard of elite dragoons, as well as by darker things—shapeshifting Mockers and undead Lazars, and behind them a power more sinister still. If Sarah cannot claim her heritage, it may mean the end to her, her family—and to the world where she is just beginning to find her place.
Dave Butler has weaved the ornate tapestry of a fantasy epic from the history of early America and it is simply wonderful. WITCHY EYE is a great read. Full of detail, historical veracity, and charm. The characters - protagonists and villains alike - spring from the page.

Butler's "America" is never referred to as such and there are no states - united or otherwise. There are territories and empires and the wild untamed wooded frontier.


In this world, magic is real - from simple hedge-witch hexing to dread necromancers.

So, how does one classify WITCHY EYE? It's not only fantasy. It is not only alternate history. It's a rich novel of heroics in an Americana Flintlock Fantasy, and I for one, am glad it has arrived.

I enjoyed it a lot and I eagerly await its sequel.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

WICKED HAUNTED - "East Boston Relief Station"


I am proud and pleased that my short story, "East Boston Relief Station," was accepted for inclusion in the anthology WICKED HAUNTED. The book is edited by Scott Goudsward, David Price & Dan Keohane, who read and chose the entries from members of the New England Horror Writers.

The theme of the anthology is ghost stories.

Amazing table of contents! I'm honored to be included with all these authors!

Bracken MacLeod - "Lost Boy"
James A. Moore - "Pulped"
Remy Flagg - "Murmur"
Doungjai Gam Bepko - "We're All Haunted Here"
Emma Jane Shaw Gibbon - "Ghost Maker"
Kenneth Vaughan - "And They Too Want to be Remembered"
Peter Dudar - "The Thing With No Face"
GD Dearborn - "Triumph of the Spirit"
Nick Manzolillo - "My Work is Not Yet Completed"
Paul McNamee - "East Boston Relief Station"
Trisha Wooldridge - "Ghosts In Their Eyes"
Curtis M. Lawson - "Everything Smells like Smoke Again"
Renee Mulhare - "Stranding Off Schroodic Point"
Tom Deady - "Turn Up the Old Victrola"
Dan Szczesny - "Boy on the Red Tricycle"
Dan Foley - "They Come With the Storm"
Barry Lee Dejasu - "Tripping the Ghost"
Rob Smales - "Road to Gallway"
Paul McMahon - "The Pick Apart"
Morgan Sylvia - "The Thin Place"
Matt Bechtel - "The Walking Man"
Larissa Glasser "- The Mouse"
Patricia Gomes - "Scrying Through Torn Screens"

Without giving anything away, I will say my story was inspired by some personal experiences and some family history I discovered.

Thanks to my alpha reader, Charles Rutledge.

The editors are still deciding the cover art. They plan to have the book published and ready for Halloween this year.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The TRUE GRIT experiment

I'd never seen the movie, TRUE GRIT. Neither the first version with John Wayne (1969) nor the newer version from the Coen brothers (2010.)  And I had never read the novel.

During my vacation, I decided to consume and compare all three. I listened to the audiobook and then watched both films.

I loved the novel. Straightforward and harrowing at the same time. The audio narration by Donna Tartt is stellar.

1969
First thing that hit me was the score. It is dated and unflattering. The sweeping strings just seem out-of-place in a post-spaghetti Western. On top of that, it starts with a theme song with embarrassingly bad lyrics.

Until the end, the movie followed the novel plot points almost exactly. The dialog was nearly exact from the novel, too. The denouement ending was invented around a point at the ending of the novel and was not in the novel.

It's still a grand, fun Western and a Wayne classic for a reason.


2010
The first thing that hit me was how much better the soundtrack was.

This version had a fair number of minor changes in the plot that kept me guessing. Ironically though, I think the tone and characters were closer to the novel. The ending adheres to the novel, too.

I think I prefer the 2010 version.

It was fun experiment. Fortunately, each movie and the novel all had more highlights than lowlights.

I want to do more of this. I've seen both versions of 3:10 TO YUMA but I still need to read the story. And I've seen SHANE but I still need to read the novel.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

recent read; Amazon Nights


Amazon Nights by Arthur O. Friel

Ever since I read THE PATHLESS TRAIL, I've wanted to read some of the adventures of Pedro and Lourenço, who made a cameo in that novel.

All the stories in this collection appeared in Adventure magazine in the early 1920s. They sweat with the steam of the South American jungle, full of intrigue, menace, jungle danger, south of the border hot-bloods, passion, murder, revenge, savages & cannibals, and betrayal.

Pedro and Lourenço are seringueiros - workers on a rubber plantation. Most of their adventures are set off the plantation during the rainy season. When there is no work and the waters flood to make passage through the jungle, the duo yield to wanderlust and find themselves in various scrapes. Lourenço narrates all the stories from first person p.o.v.

One story does dip a little into fantasy when the duo discovers a lost race of monkey men. All the other stories, though, play it straight though there are some humans who act like animals (but aren't) or are named after animals.

Friel spent time in the jungles of South America and the veracity bleeds through the atmosphere of these stories.

The standout stories for me were; "The Peccaries" "The Jararaca" "The Firefly" "The Bouto" and "The Trumpeter."

Darrel Schweitzer provides an informative, though brief, introduction to this collection.

Robert E. Howard read Friel and named him a favorite author. "The Peccaries" features someone being crucified on a tree. "The Jararaca" contains this wonderful bit, which could come right from the mouth of Solomon Kane;
"I am not one of those who think there is no God. And I do believe that whenever Deus Padre allows an evil thing to come into the world He also creates a good thing to destroy it. And whether this be so or not, I know that as our jungle harbors the venomous jararaca, so also it protests the good mussurana, which slays the jararaca."
Like THE PATHLESS TRAIL, I am pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed these stories. AMAZON NIGHTS is a great encapsulation of the adventures of Pedro and Lourenço - and I still might seek out more of their tales.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Valley Forge National Historical Park

George Washington awaits.
 My nephew got married this weekend. The wedding was in Pennsylvania and we had time to kill, so my wife & I visited Valley Forge National Historical Park.

George and me.
SPOILER ALERT - (There was no battle at Valley Forge, it was a temporary winter encampment.)

Valley Forge was set on high ground in the rolling farm country of southeastern PA. It's a lovely spot. From there, Washington could monitor British movements around Philadelphia, which the British had captured and occupied.

Beautiful rolling farm country.
Although there was no battle at the site, no cease-fire had been declared and the Continental Army had to drill, picket, and perform all the myriad soldiering duties throughout the winter, remaining vigilant. (There were a few skirmishes in the countryside - usually as the Americans were foraging wider and wider for supplies and food.)

We watched the introductory movie at the visitor center. It was a hot day and we opted for the trolley tour. Highly recommended. It was a wise move to let someone else do the driving and the narrating. Our guide really knew her stuff. Not just about the encampment but all kinds of history leading up to and after the encampment of winter 1777-78.

Costumed Park Ranger and replica huts.
The huts and redoubts are all recreations. The originals fell to rot, or more likely, were knocked down by the farmers who owned the land, once the the army had marched on.

Washington's headquarters was a proper house and that still stands today with recreated kitchen, office, and bedrooms.
Washington's headquarters
The theme driven home more than once is that Valley Forge is unique in being a monument not to soldiers in battle but a monument to the rest of a soldier's life - the 90% of time they are not on the battlefield. The 90% of time surviving, dying of diseases and dearth, drilling, and keeping busy to stay sane.

Absolutely worth your time to visit if you are in the area.

I'm a sucker for a good, concise, arms & equipment reference book.

Ya, I know  - I'm a sucker for a good, concise, arms & equipment reference book. "Fixed that for ya."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

recent read; Jungle Stories #56, Spring 1953

Jungle Stories #56, Spring 1953

I wanted to read some pulp outside the usual zone. I went for jungles stories. Ki-Gor is a Tarzan pastiche written under a house name. I checked with Charles Rutledge who advised me of some of the better stories. "The Silver Witch" was the only recommendation  available in ebook (at present.)

"The Silver Witch" surprised me. Not only is it a good tale, but the juju sorcery is real in the story. I would have expected a Scooby-Doo unveiling. An immortal sorceress, her silver ghostly army, a lost city in the swamp. An atmosphere of horror, too. "The Silver Witch" isn't far removed from a decent Conan pastiche. As such, it could be cross-classified as sword-&-sorcery (spear-&-sorcery) as well as a jungle story.

Four other tales round out this issue.

"Ndembo!" relates a somewhat humorous tale of a 'dead' tribesman who must endure 'death' to gain fortune among his tribe. Trickery meets trickery.

"Gorilla! Gorilla!" is a story of the leader of a troop of gorillas, under challenge from a young bull, and trying to protect his group from men. It is told from the point-of-view of the gorilla.

"Angel in the Jungle" isn't the best title for the tale it relates. The story involves the usual conflict of two colonials infighting as they deal with closing a pass with dynamite while dealing with a local tribe of elephant hunters.

"Spears of Fire" rounds out the issue. Again the setup is two white men in conflict against the backdrop of wild Africa. This story involves harvesting mahogany wood and floating it down river before the flood season leaves the wood high and dry. A few good twists in this one. I think it could use a better title, too, though. Not really many "spears." I thought this was the best story besides "The Silver Witch."

For $4 on Kindle, this issue contains a surprisingly enjoyable set of stories. Worth the read if you're interested in this sort of thing.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

recent read; Vampires Overhead

Vampires Overhead by Alan Hyder

In 1983, Karl Edward Wagner created three lists of what he considered to be the best horror novels. The lists - Supernatural Horror, SciFi Horror, and Non-supernatural Horror - appeared in Twilight Zone magazine.

Vampires Overhead is an apocalyptic scifi horror novel. Set in post-World-War-I London and the English countryside, it relates the story of "Garry" Garrington. Garrington and his wartime soldier pal, Bingen, are spared the initial horrors after they pass out in the safety of a tunnel under a brewery. They awaken to find a world burning, stalked by strange vampiric alien creatures.

They fight and flee from the vampires through London, and find only one other survivor - a young woman named Janet. The trio then set off for the countryside in search of supplies, a safe base, and other survivors.

As with many apocalypse stories, as the vampires dwindle, the monstrous nature of mankind comes to the surface.

Written in 1935, some of the descriptions of London ablaze eerily foreshadow the incendiary bombs of the Blitz only five years later. I don't know how widely known the novel was in later years. But I bet in had an influence on any number of British apocalypse tales. The Doctor Who serial, "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," came to my mind more than once while listening.

Vampires Overhead is a cracking tale; tense and fast-moving. If you've not read it, put it on your shortlist.

A note on the audio book;

I listened to the audiobook from Radio Archives. It was a serviceable reading and I would give it higher regards except - the reader is American. The novel is British. It would not be much of an issue except the point-of-view is first person. Again, not an issue if it were read straight through. But, the American narrator slips into British accents for the dialog. The in-&-out accenting is a distraction - especially when he holds over some British pronunciations in the narration, or when he occasionally slips accent into Irish or Australian accents.