Hope For Aspiring Authors (and a Book Review of “The Killing Clause” by Gregg Hurwitz)

Gregg Hurwitz is an author I deeply admire, a writer who goes to painstaking lengths in his research and carefully constructed prose. His settings (often my beloved California) take on a life of their own, and he knows how to keep a reader turning the pages. In my opinion, he’s one of the best thriller writers working today and it’s great to see the success his new Orphan X series is having.

kill clause.jpgThe Kill Clause is the first in his Tim Rackley series, and while the setting and characters and research are all there, it’s also obvious this is one of his earlier books. This novel is heavy on the grief, with the main character and his wife losing their daughter in a savage murder, but for a reason I can’t fully comprehend I never connected with their loss. Maybe I’m just a jaded and heartless individual, but the emotions never went beyond the words for me and I struggled to want to come back to this book. There were some major character decisions that were more plot driven than something the characters would have actually done as well as some very obvious by-the-book twists that were far too predictable. Again, read the whole jaded admission.

Interestingly, I purchased and started reading Hurwitz’s first two novels a while back and never could complete them. As an author myself, and someone who knows many novelists and would-be-writers, I find this incredibly encouraging. It really is the act of doing something that enables you to grow and learn from your mistakes and hone your craft and move on to the next project, and then the next and the next, hopefully improving every step along the way.

You don’t start off as a marathon runner, you tackle a single mile, and then as you condition yourself you keep pushing those boundaries you’ve already hit until soon you’re running further than you could have ever thought possible. Writing is no different, and sadly I see a lot of authors put out a single book and then spend the next several years marketing that one book, trying to grow their readership and market without ever doing the legwork of completing their next project. This would be like running a 5-K race and then repeatedly sharing your results with everyone you know, showing videos, putting new music tracks to clips, trying to get one more view on your Youtube channel, while giving up running! An actor doesn’t talk about the movie they were in two years ago. They promote the one that’s about to come out, creating buzz where they can while then moving on to the next project and the one after that.

So if you’re a writer or dream of one day being a writer, stop thinking about it. Stop talking about it. Stop spamming people with ads for what you’ve already created. Instead, write your next project. If you’re doing it correctly, challenging yourself with each project and not just repeating the same formula, you WILL get better. You WILL grow your marketshare. You WILL make a name for yourself. You might not be able to support yourself with your writing — less than 1% of authors do — but you will find joy in what you’re doing. And who knows, maybe like Gregg Hurwitz, you’ll break out with international success. Just know it’s a long road to get there and if you’re not enjoying the ride, you’re missing the point.

Enough of my ramblings. 2.5 stars for “The Kill Clause” – at least I finished this one, though my journey with Tim Rackley and company has come to an end.

Book Review: “The Sound of Broken Ribs” by Edward Lorn

broken ribsThere’s been a plague lately, in my opinion, of great authors striving for subtlety in their writing. Taking a premise and, rather than allowing it to grow into something monstrous and completely unique, trimming it back so that you barely see the buds where there could have been roses. Or thorns. Big nasty thorns. I understand the reasoning behind it, in trying to make their work less fantastical, but I often disagree with the end results, left wanting more.

The Sound of Broken Ribs by Edward Lorn is the first book I’ve read that nails this concept. There’s a maturity here to Lorn’s writing that I haven’t seen before — and I consider myself a fan of his work. But while he lets this dark tale grow its wings he also doesn’t inflate them into balloons that fizzle and go flying around the room before petering out. Writing requires incredible balance, allowing your imagination to run wild while also pulling it back before it becomes unmanageable and ruins your story. I kept waiting for this to derail but Lorn rides that razor’s edge the entire story, teasing the fantastic while keeping you grounded.

And man, are there some big nasty thorns.

Breathing, flawed characters you come to sympathize with and a perfect balance of moments that make you cringe and others that will make your jaw drop, this is on my top 5 list for sure so far for the year. The premise may be simple, but the execution is what makes this book sing. Hats off E on a great story well told.

** Please note this book is currently only available as a special limited hard-cover edition from Thunderstorm Books. I received an advanced review copy of the book. This in no way influenced by review. **

Book Reviews – Ketchum & Strand

Two more reviews of some quite non-traditional novels. Both of these have a ton of staying power to them and are ones you’ll carry with you for quite some time after the final page has turned.


The Secret Life Of Souls by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

souls

The Secret Life of Souls is a cleverly spun tragedy piece, and your heart will be breaking by the end of it. A window into a functioning dysfunctional family and the small decisions that lead to unimaginable consequences.

The characterizations were strong and believable and, having grown up as a “child actor”, I loved the glimpse into the entertainment industry and the quiet implications of what it does to people. The other thing I loved about this was that there was no real villain, only wounded individuals making poor decisions and then doing what they must to cover them.

Which, of course, only leads to more poor decisions.

Stylistically, I’m not a huge fan of using an animal’s POV as third or first person narrator. It’s a choice that, for whatever reason, just drives me out of the story and I always feel the author writing rather than the persona of the intended animal. I got worried at first that much of the story would be told this way but, thankfully, it was used sparingly.

Beyond that, this was a sharp story simply but effectively told. Well worth checking out.


Dweller by Jeff Strand

dwellerIf there’s one thing you can expect when reading a Jeff Strand novel it’s that the story isn’t going to go where you would expect.

But wait, if you’re expecting it not to go where you expect, does that mean it actually will go where you expect since your expectations are that it won’t go where you would normally assume? Or do your expectations cancel out the unexpected deviations of a “traditional” story (read: “Non”-Jeff Strand story), thereby making the unexpected rather blase, turning cherry blossom caramel-swirl candy corn ice cream into imitation vanilla?

Thankfully, this tasted nothing like vanilla. (Though Owen probably wouldn’t complain either way).

A simple story about an unlikely friendship made all the more interesting by the unique way in which it was told. This is a book no other author could have written. Come on, Jeff Strand and Sasquatch? What more are you waiting for?

Book Review: “The Red Church” by Scott Nicholson

Haven’t been posting as many of my reviews here on the blog, but here’s one for a novel I thought was quite unique. Definitely worth checking out.

red church.jpgThe Red Church is a book that’s been on my radar for years, finally had the chance to dig into it, and glad I did. Instead of just uncovering a quick treasure that’s been buried underground and has maybe lost some of it’s shine, this was like unearthing a fossil only to realize that you’re standing not over a single specimen but an entire burial ground that could fill museums. Reminiscent of early King, Nicholson is a master wordsmith, and his imagery is as haunting as it is poignant. At times the religious aspects of the book felt a little heavy handed, but the final picture painted is worth every stroke of the artist’s brush.

Far from your run-of-the-mill supernatural horror story, this is one that will sit with you long after you’ve digested it. Will be looking into more of Nicholson’s work for sure.

“When you have one of those waking nightmares, when you think bad things in the dark and can’t go to sleep, you think happy thoughts. Cartoon dogs, fat clowns, things like that. Except sometimes the cartoon dogs bite and the fat clowns grow sharp smiles.”

 

Book Review: “Fingerprints of the Gods” by Graham Hancock

I’m pretty behind w/ my book reviews folks, and sort of wondering if I’ll continue to review the books I read quite as regularly. Time is sadly a commodity that’s becoming increasingly difficult to find, and I’ve got to make some hard choices here with where my investments are spent.

That being said, here’s my thoughts on one I finished last month, Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods:

fingerprints.jpgAlternate histories … lost civilizations … ancient prophecies and doomsday predictions … what’s not to love about a man’s journey researching possibilities?

What I enjoyed most about this book was that it’s focus wasn’t on convincing you of Hancock’s theories but rather encouraging people to ask questions. To consider new ideas. To expand our thoughts and beliefs of what we think we might know. Some of his findings and conclusions were admittedly far-reaching, but that’s not the point of the book.

Are there mysteries in our past that we still, in our age, are unable to solve or answer or even begin to understand? Absolutely. And Hancock’s conversationally-toned exploration is a great place to discover some of those provocations. It’s the mysteries of life, the unanswered questions, that keep a sense of magic moving through this world, opening our eyes to look beyond ourselves. The most powerful question anyone has ever asked is: What if?

Book Review: “The Halloween Children” by Brian James Freeman & Norman Prentiss

“The Halloween Children are watching me. They’re watching us all …”

halloween childrenThis novella reminded me a bit of a Jack Ketchum story. The first 2/3 of the book is spent exploring the characters – in this case a quite dysfunctional family. A constant sense of dread continues to build as questions are strung throughout the narrative like carefully placed decorations, until you reach the end which comes screaming at you like a freight train lifted from its tracks.

The narrative point of views, in flipping from Lynn and Harris’s perspectives, worked extremely well as you couldn’t fully trust either of the two narrators. The savvy reader begins to get the real picture of what’s going on by what’s NOT being said. I’ve always enjoyed the unreliable narrator motif, and it’s used here in quite a unique way that’s not fully understood until you reach the end.

But the ending — I’ll admit, a few times I grew a little weary of the bickering between the two parents, but this has one of the best endings for a book I’ve ever read. The thematic metaphors woven throughout one of the most tragic and shocking finales you’ll find … as I was reading I felt as if my jaw kept dropping lower and lower. Beautifully crafted, this is horror that will affect even the most jaded of horror fans.

A fantastic collaboration between two amazing authors, this is a book that will stay with you long after you close the final page.

“You’re all guilty. You’re all the Halloween Children.”

NOTE: This book will be released June 7th, by Random House and their Hydra imprint. You can pre-order a copy here.

** I received an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own. **

Book Review: “Hex” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

hex.jpgA present-day witch story that cleverly combines new horror with old-school horror, Hex is a novel that is quite unique. Part “Cabin in the Woods,” part “Under the Dome,” the reader is brought into a town under self-quarantine, and the slow-burn suspense builds like watching a spark travel down the wick towards a stick of dynamite. In this instance, that wick may be a little long, but when it reaches the blasting cap, you better believe it explodes.

The last quarter of this novel is incredible, and the way Heuvelt underscores the action and horror with underlying thematic elements only adds to its mastery. Definitely a novel deserving of the praise its received and a great example of how to cull from the horror greats who have come before you while simultaneously cementing your own unique vision on a work. One of my favorite reads so far from this year.

See you in Doodle Town.