There She Was [2018]

Everyone else had left an hour ago. The only reason she was still there was because she’d promised him a ride back to the station. And although she was ready to call it a night, she was much too polite to say a word. They had been talking, but the conversation had become more trivial, the increased banality correlating almost directly to the number of bourbons he’d consumed.

The bar was the kind of place in the city that didn’t attract many locals, not with the club scene being so much farther West. With its bizarre, kitschy American diner vibe, it seemed to want to draw in tourists, but tourists didn’t typically venture this far East. The bar didn’t even have a name, only an address attached to the door in crooked numbers; an address which was almost identical to the couple of office towers that expunged a variety of worker bees every lunch and evening, and a fraction of them ended up here daily.

So the place ended up being chronically closer to empty than full, but still remained alive with a modest energy of semi-drunken, post-work bliss.

~~~

He’d seen her in the office on his inaugural day at the new job. Previously, he’d worked across the city in a shinier office tower, but quit because he needed a change. He was the first one from his pod to make it to the meeting in the boardroom across the hall (how does the new guy manage to be the first one to a meeting?), and she was already in the room, laying some innocuous paperwork across one end of the big conference table. She wore a midnight blue pencil skirt and some vintage styled, vanilla ice cream-colored top that had pleating down the front, and little keyholes on the cuffs of the shortened sleeves. She was stunning, and he always appreciated a nice top. Before either of them said a word, another head popped into the room, a woman whose only business was to inform the girl that her team was actually meeting in Conference Room Seventeen instead. “Sorry,” the girl said, and she began collecting her papers back into a manila folder.

She smiled at the new guy on her way out. That “Sorry” was nearly the only thing that rattled through his head during the day’s meeting. And for much of the next three weeks too, because he didn’t see her again until his fourth week on the job. As soon as the elevator doors slid apart he recognized her. It was easy. She was wearing the same clothes, prompting him to begin building up in his head the idea of this girl out of time, or like a heavenly apparition, maybe? They made eye contact, though she was in the middle of a conversation with another girl. She gave him the kind of mask-like look that made it clear he didn’t leave as much of an impression. Exiting the elevator on the very next floor, her careless, teacup-like elbow accidentally brushed into his arm. “Sorry,” she said once again before disappearing. But she didn’t disappear for quite so long this time.

It was that same evening after work when he’d seen her next. At the bar with no name. She was across the room, in a cloud of introverted quietness, but when she noticed him she waved him over, and when she smiled it was with everything she had. Her face looked different; not anomalous, but new. He didn’t know if it was just the way light seemed to fill certain spaces or if there was some otherworldly countenance at play, but her features – though unmistakable – seemed to fluctuate depending on if she was in that office boardroom, on the elevator, in the back of this bar, or wherever they might cross paths next. Like her face was indecisive about whether her eyes wanted to be the most prominent component, or her cheekbones, her lips, or the curl of her ears.

They became friends; there was no secret modus operandi at play. A married man, after all, can be drawn to a beautiful married woman without the need to pursue anything more than friendship. Don’t most people prefer being in the presence of beauty, rather than not? There weren’t any games, maybe some harmless flirting, but they both returned to their families at the end of every day; he to his wife and three children; her to her husband of only two years. She talked about her husband a lot, clearly head over heels in love. Still, he looked for cracks – Did she ever have regrets? Did they both want different things in their relationship, but were too afraid to voice their desires? – even though he knew there would never be an opening wide enough to justify creating a problem involving so many people.

Still.

In his mind he played out the scenarios. He couldn’t help being drawn to her so. That surreptitiously-splintered smile. The vulnerability and solicitude in her unsteady eyes. He envisioned movies and fairy tales, and considered how make-believe worlds only ever wanted to simply be believed. He imagined horrible scenarios too, where good people actually got hurt, or even died.

But the one thought he couldn’t shake was this: if he and she had known one another when they were younger, his life might have been irrevocably and extraordinarily altered. He held onto that thought so strongly, it was beginning to feel like something that was just barely out of his reach.

He knew most all of her favorites by now: the food, the music, the books, the animals, the jokes, the films, the podcasts. He knew her fears too, but likely just the surface fears and not the real ones.

But they were still strangers, really. Unless someone is sharing a world with someone else, then a stranger they will mostly remain. The intimacy of home life, and those behind-doors tendencies could never be fully grasped by strangers. The infinite ways in which lovers need lovers. The availability of shoulders and ears in times of need. None of that existed here. All that applied were the ways in which barely-known people acted around others, how they needed the company in ways they were not aware of. How a picked apple needs a tree, or a tree might need the apple. Like separate pieces of a singular thing that don’t even know they used to be one.

She made him lonely, and he sometimes wondered if he made her feel a bit lonelier too. And within that loneliness existed the possibility of something that could have been.

If he was honest with himself, there were moments when he didn’t enjoy his time spent with her. She had tendencies to go on a bit too long about subjects he had very little interest in. But those slipped into his selfish scenarios too; if they’d known one another when they were younger, then it stands to reason she would have assimilated much of his knowledge and many of his interests, and vice versa.

Once, he asked her what she was like in high school. What he envisioned, he thought obvious: homecoming queen; popular like the stars at nighttime; her initials scribbled inside boys’ notebooks and carved into trees. But she admitted to being a bit more of a wallflower. Unconfident. Insecure. She hated her teeth and loved to dance, and didn’t want anyone seeing either. She cried basically all the time. At parties. At home. She cried for help, but no one ever heard or paid attention. And there were certainly never any boyfriends in sight.

He told her he didn’t believe any of that. She had to have been perfect, because how else could that sad, unsure girl have blossomed into this wonderful creature he was lucky enough to have uncovered?

Her wandering eyes stopped, and she thanked him, though with a near-undetected skepticism. While she was in the midst of considering the limits of friendship – maybe even questioning her own reasons for staying out at the bar after work so late and so often – he was preoccupied with a misplaced nostalgia. Maybe even some animosity toward fate’s unjust hand.

He regretted his own bygone decisions, made in earnest so long ago.

He yearned for a different set of youthful dreams; those dreams he’d once been content with now seemed ludicrous.

He thought about every calculated kiss and conquered courtship, and now considered them wasted moments.

And still, the more he knew her, the more forlorn he became.

~~~

Eight months ago, they sat together for the first time. From there, once a week, they continued to sit together, not really ever picking up where they left off because they tended to talk about many of the same subjects over and over again. An hour ago, the rest of the bar had cleared, and she’d simply been waiting for a sign that he was ready to leave.

He was never ready to leave.

“Come on,” she said with finality. “We’re later than usual. My husband’s probably wondering what’s taking me.” Her phone had been on the table the entire evening, but it hadn’t buzzed or bleeped once. Not once.

There was a lump in his throat. “You could text him. Let him know you’ll be a bit longer?”

She placed a palm on her phone, then warily spun it around on the Formica tabletop. “He never checks his phone,” she says. “I’m trying my best to not be so phone-dependant myself. He tells me it’s actually very liberating.”

“Is it?”

She laughs a slight laugh, just for herself. “Not so far, no.”

How does he say the one thing he wants to say without sounding crazy? I wish I knew you years ago, he thought. Nope. Too ambiguous. Maybe a bit creepy. I’m not really unhappy but I am sort of unhappy and don’t I deserve to be happy? Too whiny. She’d never again agree to meet him after work if he said something like that.

There was a framed picture above the bar of a man who used to work there, but had died some years before. Like the bar itself, the man’s photo did not have a name attached to it either.

He couldn’t take his eyes off that photo, or pull himself away from the tendrils of sad thoughts. “Yeah,” he said ultimately. “I think maybe it is time to go.”

~~~

They barely spoke during the drive to the station. That lump in his throat feeling bigger. She stole glances at him. His stark white shirt appeared fluorescent amidst the moon and street lights, making it easy to take note of the wetness that streamed from his cheek to his collar.

He didn’t show up at work the following week. The sudden, precipitous need for change had found him yet again. Sometimes she wondered what became of him, and imagined, with some degree of melancholy, whatever might have been had they crossed paths in some other time and place.

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Love, Music, Madness by Tabitha Rhys [2018]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 6/10

I was given a copy of this debut novel by the author in exchange for an honest review. The book was published by the independent Soul Mate Publishing.
Love, Music Madness has a lot going on within its small, 200-page package. This is the story of Lawson “Law” Harper, a young, somewhat lost musician who seems to float from page to page; fortune and misfortune almost landing in his lap at random. He’s got a thing for the older Jessa Warlow, herself an ambitious musician, and a high school friend of Lawson’s older brother. The two pair up for some song writing and a bit of fooling around, before things go sour and Lawson takes advantage of an opportunity to move out west to LA. Here, Lawson gets into another relationship, takes some work as a sound engineer, and explores LA’s music scene. All until Jessa moves out west too, and they decide to put the past behind them and take their music more seriously, recording an album with their old songs. Things get worse before they better, but through it all, the novel still does have some degree of hope within.
The Cons:
-Throughout the story, the characters seem to all be playing parts; as though the story demands certain moments, reactions, and scenes, which does take a bit of the realism out of it. Lawson’s new girlfriend needs to be jealous of Jessa, so she flies off the handle intermittently, and with flimsy reasons.
-For a book all about music, I wish there was more detail on this collection of songs of Lawson and Jessa created. There are hints of some of the enigmatical tracks, with titles like Estrella, Ravens, Andromeda. And although Tabitha Rhys does an incredible job with explaining the details of making music, sadly there’s a lacking of the songs’ actual descriptions, which I would have really enjoyed. I imagine there could be an accompanying soundtrack with the novel, but even an idea like having lyric excerpts in the book would add a lot.
-It’s sometimes hard to get a handle on where the book is headed. With so many moments happening just to progess the characters’ journeys, the novel has that feeling of being a slice of life, rather than a definitive, linear story arc.
The Pros:
-Rhys’ descriptions of locations – whether its houses, apartments, clubs, restaurants, or beaches – is incredible. It really helps to put the reader exactly where the author is imagining, and it’s a tough skill to learn.
-There are plenty of nice, literary moments too; Rhys’ use of language when dealing with mood and metaphors is great. There’s one scene where the MC takes note of the night sky, comparing the blinking stars and shining planets above as a “celestial cabaret”. Fantastic.
Here are a few other excerpts that stood out to me:
“Hopes can be dangerous things. One minute they’re bobbing on the horizon like hundreds of brightly-colored zeppelins. The next, the sky is full of Hindenburgs, burning down to their metal skeletons and falling to the earth in flames.”
“Jessa drew her knees up and sat next to me in silence for a long time. The pipes gurgled and hissed above us. In the air, the sour tang of mildew mingled with the sweetness of fabric softener.”
“Bright marquee lights chased each other atop Hollywood’s tourist traps. The restless breeze, murmuring with the sounds of distant hubbub, was like the zephyrs stirred by roller coasters.”
“Charlie stepped out into the dim hallway, lit by the few fluorescent fixtures still in operation. The rest were merely mausoleums for Hollywood’s dearly departed moths.”
In all, Love, Music, Madness is an admirable debut by an author who’s got some wonderful tricks up her sleeve. Hoping there’s enough tricks left for future stories.

To Be Honest [2018]

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To Be Honest (2018)

Wattpad Link

Adult Contemporary Humor. 80k Words.

Chester K. Eddy isn’t completely honest. But he’s trying to be.

When the struggling New York stage actor decides being totally open and honest is exactly the change he needs in his life, Chester doesn’t expect being so obnoxiously transparent will only make things worse. After his brother kicks him out, his favourite bar cuts him off, and his best pal Melissa tells him she needs a break from their friends-with-benefits relationship, Chester quickly has few people left who still want to listen to him and his self-professed Honesty Movement.

Along his way to newfound self-discovery, Chester will finagle his way into the tenuous role of Director’s Assistant for a small-time theatre’s production of an unknown play; he’ll accidentally attend Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings; he’ll find himself in the company of suspected serial killers; he’ll drink a bit too much. And he might even have an eye-opening encounter with a talking dinosaur.

But there’s one truth Chester realizes he hasn’t been capable of admitting: he’s in love with Melissa. And he can’t be completely honest until he’s ready to tell her as much.

MOSQUITOLAND (2015)

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R.Tim Morris’ Rating: 7/10
It’s not too often that I’ll find myself really enjoying a book, but then there’s a sudden shift along the way, and I realize I’m actually not enjoying the book as much as I’m enjoying the writing. David Arnold‘s debut MOSQUITOLAND (2015) surprised me. His writing is sharp, clever, funny, sad, and filled with fantastic metaphors. But he falls into the YA trap of making his characters a little too quirky, seemingly for the sake of merely being quirky. Some of Mim Malone’s road trip from Mississippi to Cleveland feels like random events that may have happened to the author himself, and he’s just cramming them in there at breakneck speed just keep things moving. As a writer, it’s aggravating, but it’s also a first novel (my own first novel fell for similar traps), and I could tell there’s enough writing chops here that his next books will probably feel a bit tighter.
There are also some frightening moments in the book; creepy, malicious characters that show up and do terrible things, yet there never really feels like it’s for a certain purpose. But overall, this is fantastic character book, and Mim Malone’s voice (though maybe some years beyond her age, in the “no kid really talks/thinks like this” sense) is fun, funny, and heartwarming.

A Memory Not Remembered

I can’t explain it, but I’m often caught by a very specific memory.
It was maybe 10th grade, Springtime, and I clearly recall being in Mr. Sawatsky’s Social Studies class. I think we were studying BC coastal First Nations tribes, like the Haida or the Salish, but I’m sure I wasn’t paying attention. Sitting at my desk at the back of class, likely daydreaming, I can still remember the windows were open; a cool air blowing the smell of the season’s grass and dandelions up into the classroom. I can still see the second-floor view of the school’s football field and the running track surrounding it; the billions of tiny, unnaturally tinted rocks forming an orange oval in middle of a sea of green.
I know for certain something was on my mind at that moment, in that class. I was thinking of something and I’m sure it didn’t have to do with the Haida. I had to be dwelling on SOMETHING, or else why would this memory keep resurfacing? But I don’t know what it was; all I know is where I was and when. Was it a happy moment? A sad one? Just childhood melancholy? No idea.
Yet, this highly vivid moment keeps coming back to me at the oddest of times, when so many thousands of other moments never do.
I guess it’s kind of a weird thing to have a lucid memory about something that’s mostly nothing, but for some reason this moment keeps returning. I keep thinking one day I’m going to know why I’m remembering this moment.

Words Don’t Come Easily

So, the thing is, nothing lasts forever. Well, most things don’t, anyway.
Friends will leave you, love can fade, dreams can die, and stars will burn out. But the written word is something that’s difficult to erase.
One year ago, I signed a publishing contract with a small, unproven, indie press based out of Kentucky. My book went through a unique – and fun – editing process, and was finally published on March 30, 2017. Exciting! But there’s always a risk in signing with an independent publisher, and the reality of it all hit around mid-June when the whole operation dissolved; the owner’s apparent love for the written word was not as big as other things in his life. Which is fair. It sucks, but it’s fair.
For myself and the group of talented writers who had signed on with the now-defunct company, the whole thing left us feeling stranded, as though all our work was for naught. Having a few long weeks to dwell on it, however, we’ve realized the truth: Endever Publishing Studios was just ONE route to take in getting our work out into the world. There are so many more options out there for us. Best of all, we’ve happy-accidentally (is that a word? it should be) formed a terrific little writers’ group; one that’s spread across three countries and two different continents. Whatever direction our individual works decide to take, I’m certain there will always be a piece of each of us within it all.
And the most important thing to remember, is that although the words within my first published work are no longer definitively out there, they do still exist. And for anyone who has – or still might – read them, they continue to be a part of you too.
Yes, I realize the irony in having titled the book “This Never Happened”, but it did happen. It still might happen again. And it will continue to find new ways to happen. All the while, the words remain, pure and unharmed.
Words don’t come easily, but they do persist.
-RTM-

THE ANIMATORS, by Kayla Rae Whitaker [2017]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 7/10

There’s a few moments here that easily make The Animators a 5-Star book. Just brilliant, quiet, heart-breaking moments that Whitaker absolutely nails. But there are other moments where I felt my attention drifting, wishing I knew where this book was really going. It’s a slow start, and the placing of certain events feels unusual to me. But it all gets there eventually.
When things happen in this book, they happen quickly. A sudden turn this way, then giving us a while to explore it and feel it out, before another sudden turn takes us that way.
Having an animation background myself allowed for some extra bonus treats in my reading. I’ve been through the struggle of trying to stake my place in that world. I kind of wish we were privy to more of Sharon’s struggles at the top of the book; instead, we’re quickly celebrating Sharon’s and Mel’s success in the industry. But upon reaching the end of the novel, I think readers would have been better-rewarded with a slightly different approach at the beginning.
Sharon herself, at times, felt more like a passenger than a driver in her own book. She just kind of went along with the things that were happening around her rather than controlling the action herself. In the end, I don’t know if I ever really felt like I knew her as much as I wanted to.
Flaws aside, The Animators is an exceptional debut from an author who is not afraid to write a raw, imperfect, and often disappointing world.

I’m a Bad Reader

I’m a bad reader.

I know I read “1984” in high school, and I’m pretty sure I finished “Lord of the Flies” and “Animal Farm” too, but these were purely out of necessity. In the Pre-Internet Days (insert Old Man Jokes here), we had to actually write our own book reports and not just copy a summary we dug up online, written by some kid in Ding Dong, Texas.

But other than maybe reading the first chapter of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or “The Hobbit” or “Dune” — because someone who didn’t know me well enough told me I’d love them — I really didn’t read. Like, ever.

I won’t bore you with the details of how it all came to be that I would not only start reading for fun, but how I also, inconceivably, began writing books of my own, but the reality is: I’ve discovered books that I love. And what I’ve noticed is that these stories never seem to be the ones others have recommended to me. Is this because they still don’t really know me well enough?

I’ve decided, however, that I still remain a pretty bad reader. I’m slow for one thing. I also love to re-read books. Also, if I find I have a quiet moment, I’m often trying to get some writing done too. Combined, these factors make it difficult to really put up the big numbers as far as my “Books Read” list goes.

I’m a picky reader, too. My favorite book is not going to be part of a series; it doesn’t always fall into a specific genre; and it’s usually by an author I hadn’t heard of before. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than discovering a book on my own and not only having it resonate, but finding myself looking forward to when I’ll read it again.

Below are six under-the-radar books that I adore; books I have re-read and will probably continue to until I’m dead. And even longer than that, if I can pull that off.

 

THE HOLLOW HOUSE, by Carlo Dellonte [2001]

“I felt no shame for the dreams I had left there. I saw no limits to what I could do to make them mine again. I had realized the Cliffs hadn’t changed who I was: on the contrary, they had given me the courage I needed to be myself.”

Synopsis: A young man is driving his car at night when a powerful storm forces him to stop at a bed and breakfast in a small fishing village. He has an encounter with the young woman proprietor. The next morning, the girl has disappeared, leaving the man regarded with suspicion by the locals.

This one I found when I was in Australia and looking through the bargain bin of a weird bookstore. Well, everything Down Under is weird, but a bookstore is one of the few things that can’t kill you in Australia, so there’s that, I suppose. As far I know, Carlo Dellonte has only written this one book, but “The Hollow House” is so rich in mood, mystery, and disturbing thoughts (it’s described as “a gothic tale of dark longings and fragile fantasies”), that I find it hard to believe Dellonte didn’t have another idea in his head somewhere.

The book is a slow burn, and there are enough moments when you’ll want to shake the main character’s head for not just getting out of that damn fishing village already, but it really is a pretty solid read.

I’ve read “The Hollow House” three times.

 

CHRONIC CITY, by Jonathan Lethem [2009]

“Don’t rupture another’s illusion unless you’re positive the alternative you offer is more worthwhile than that from which you’re wrenching them. Interrogate your solipsism: Does it offer any better a home than the delusions you’re reaching to shatter?”

I remember picking up Chronic City simply because of the cover. Yes, I do judge books by their covers, and anyone who tells you not to should have their head examined. I’m a sucker for anything New York, so the golden lights of Midtown office towers was enough to get me. When it turned out this Jonathan Lethem guy could also write like a Mofo, this quirky book quickly became a favorite. Wait, shouldn’t Mofo be spelled Mofu? I’m not cool enough to understand the Urban Dictionary sometimes.

Here, we have Chase Insteadman (former child star whose astronaut fiancé is trapped in space), Perkus Tooth (pot-smoking pop culture critic), Oona Laszlo (self-loathing ghostwriter), Richard Abneg (reformed activist), and rumours of a giant tiger roaming the city. None are really likable, but who needs another hero, anyway?

The action is fairly sedentary, and Lethem’s lexicon can make you give your head a shake and re-read sections at times. Some consider his work pretentious, but it strikes the right literary chord with me. It’s a fine blend of contemporary, hard-boiled, and magical realism. Lethem’s other writing is good, but “Chronic City” is the one that stands out for me.

I’ve read it twice.

 

THE COMA, by Alex Garland [2004]

“The dilapidation was not a memory but a representation of a poorly remembered past.”

Synopsis: After being attacked on the Underground, Carl awakens from a coma to a life that seems strange and unfamiliar. He arrives at his friends’ house without knowing how he got there. Nor do they. He seems to be having an affair with his secretary which is exciting, but unlikely. Further unsettled by leaps in logic and time, Carl begins to wonder if he’s actually reacting to the outside world, or if he’s terribly mistaken.

I remember reading this in one sitting and thinking I was pretty special. But it’s really no more than a 60-page novella, just bulked up by a lot of blank space and strange drawings.

The narrator is in a coma, struggling to get out, and as such, scenes and locales and memories all shift around at unsuspecting speeds. You may not get any firm resolution from this book, but you will experience something to pause upon, and mull over for a while longer.

I’ve read “The Coma” twice.

 

THE FROG KING, by Adam Davies [2002]

“Normally I say I’m a bookie but this time I say I’m a gay window dresser at Barneys so I can paw at her Miracled boob, faking like there’s a crumb there and I’m just helping her out, girlfriend, which at the very moment, of course, Evie returns like a conscience from the bar.

‘Wow, Harry, you really know how to take a girl out and make her feel like backwash.’ ”

Synopsis: A twenty-something young man in New York has to figure out life, love, careers, lexicography, and just why the hell he’s such a horribly unlikable character.

Harry Driscoll does not have many redeeming qualities (he’s broke, he’s drunk a lot, he’s a bit of a know-it-all, and he cheats on his girlfriend) but he’s undaunted and cocksure to the point where the reader almost wants to root for him. Almost. He just messes everything in his life up so easily and so gloriously, but that’s part of what makes this a fun read.

It has a very male-persepctive of living and loving in New York; I recall some of the minor characters being incredibly annoying (unintentionally, I believe); and the book can, at times, fall into the “trying a little TOO hard to be smart and witty” trap. But there’s so many great laughs here, and the dialogue is honestly some of the best I’ve ever read. Here’s a short excerpt from a scene where one character is listing Harry’s criteria for novels he hates:

“You hate anything with the word ‘chiaroscuro’ in it.”

“Especially if it’s used as a verb. ‘She was chiaroscuroed in the flickering light of the candle.”

“The same goes for women who are described as ‘elfin’ or ‘pixielike.’ ”

“This isn’t Middle Earth, you know.”

“You hate anything that uses the word ‘member’ for penis.”

“Doesn’t everybody?”

“You hate novels that begin with a description of what someone is eating, or how their childhood smelled, or what they drive…You hate epiphanies. You hate reversals of fortune. You hate anything written by anyone younger than you are.”

“Boy, these are really piling up, aren’t they? I hate that.”

I’ve read this book probably three times, though not in a long time, so it may not hold up to my current and oh-so-very-refined tastes. Might be worth another read.

 

THE HORNED MAN, by James Lasdun [2002]

“The large flakes were few enough in number that I was aware of each individually as it drifted by, though the sky had a lurid, bruise-colored tone, as if it were getting ready to unleash something more serious.”

Synopsis: “The Horned Man” opens with a man losing his place in a book, then deepens into a dark and terrifying tale of a man losing his place in the world. A professor of gender studies tells the story of what appears to be an elaborate conspiracy to frame him for a series of brutal killings, and we descend into a world of subtly deceptive appearances where persecutor and victim continually shift roles, where paranoia assumes an air of calm rationality, and where enlightenment itself casts a darkness in which the most nightmarish acts occur.

Such a peculiar book. Lasdun’s writing is wonderful, so much so, I sometimes find myself lost in the prose, not knowing what exactly it was I just read. The same can be said of the book in its entirety. “The Horned Man” is not for those who want answers or illumination. By the time the final page is turned, you’ll probably find yourself with more questions than you had at any other point in the book. But that makes it the perfect candidate for a re-read.

This book is dark, unsettling, and is the epitome of the Unreliable Narrator. It is also unlike anything you’ll ever read.

I’ve read “The Horned Man” three times.

 

EARTH X, Jim Krueger and John Paul Leon [1999]

“When everyone is dead, what will I watch then?”

Should I throw a graphic novel in this list? Of course I should!

Synopsis: Great epics come along only once in a long while. Stories that push the normal boundaries and force the reader to think. Stories so powerful in message and so grand in scale that the guidelines by which such tales are usually judged are completely rearranged. EARTH X is one such epic. EARTH X explores the depths and heights of the Marvel Universe, from the roots of its humble beginnings to the peak of its ultimate potential. [Okay, that’s a terrible synopsis…]

Earth X” was a limited series Marvel Comics published back in the late 90’s. I picked it up because, at the time, I was picking up basically everything. Though usually, I would read everything, and then follow it up by saying, “Why in the name of Wolverine’s great hairy back am I reading all of this garbage?”

But this was different.

Let me first say I’ve never been a big fan of alternate world/alternate future tales in comics. With such a rich history of characters already, I feel it’s mostly a cop-out and a money grabber to just write a story where Spider-Man and the Avengers die and the villainous team-up of Boomerang and the Hypno-Hustler raze America and rule the world with iron boomerangs and guitars. There’s never any build-up or repercussions or future continuation. It just exists for a moment, before disappearing forever.

But again, this was different. It’s an incredibly massive tale, reaching into nearly every corner of the Marvel Universe. And it just feels huge. And important. And the art is gorgeous too. Ideally, readers should feel comfortable with a LOT of Marvel history before venturing into this one.

I’ve probably read “Earth X” four times now.

 

Now that you’ve heard a bit about my favorite re-reads (and that’s not even all of them), tell me some of yours.

The First Degree

I was given the following short story prompt: “Write a scene that incorporates the following three things: espionage, a bagpipe player, and bacon.” (1000 words or less)

It’s a little unorthodox, and fairly preposterous, but here it is.

 

THE FIRST DEGREE

“You’re crazy, you know that?”

“I know that. You’ve been telling me for years now. But shut up, okay? The scene’s about to start.”

“Fine. I’ll whisper. How about that?”

“Better. I’d still prefer if you just shut up though.”

“You know, I told myself the last time I helped you that it was going to be for the last time. And now? I’ve snuck onto a movie set with you, and we’re wearing kilts and carrying bagpipes.”

“Honestly? If you truly want to never help me again, you’ve got to start making some better excuses.”

“Define ‘better.’”

“Come on. You were clearly giving me the first — and worst — excuse that popped into that tiny head of yours.”

“I was not!”

“You told me you were bedazzling your grandma’s purse today. Now, granted, that’s maybe not the worst excuse you could have come up with, but it’s got to be pretty close.”

“Shut up.”

“No, you shut up. And you’re holding that bagpipe the wrong way again. Don’t you remember anything I told you?”

“What makes you the bagpipe authority anyway?”

“My cousin played the bagpipes. He was in a marching band and everything.”

“So he knows how to play the bagpipe song?”

“Which one?”

Every song on the bagpipe sounds exactly the same. I thought there was only one song. Isn’t it just called ‘The Bagpipe Song’?”

“Definitely not.”

“How do you know?”

“Because that would be a stupid name.”

“My feet hurt. How long do we have to stand here for anyway?”

“Didn’t you log the plan away the last two times I told you?”

“I just like the reminders. And really, I still have no idea why you need to do this so badly. What’s with you and Kevin Bacon anyway?”

“Listen to me. Kevin Bacon is the center of the Hollywood universe! And the ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ defines how close you are to the center of that universe. If you’re a First Degree, it means you’ve made it.”

“Wouldn’t a Zero Degree be even closer though?”

“Well, yeah. I guess technically Zero would be closer than One. But that would mean I’d have to basically become Kevin Bacon.”

“Like John Travolta did in ‘Face Off’?”

“Kevin Bacon wasn’t in Face Off. That was Nicholas Cage.”

“What’s his Bacon Number?”

“Two. Same as Travolta, actually.”

“So you’re better than the both of them?”

“Not yet, I’m not. But once you start shutting up, I’ll be one step closer.”

“Can we go over the plan again?”

“It’s simple, really. We already paid off the guys whose parts we’re taking, and we paid them more than they were getting for this gig in the first place. So everyone wins, right?”

“I don’t see how I win in this scenario. That was my money.”

“You know I’m good for it.”

“Do I?”

“Of course you do. But can we please just focus here?”

“What’s this scene we’re in, anyway?”

“Kevin Bacon is the President of the United States, right?”

“No he isn’t.”

“In the film, dummy. Are you telling me you didn’t even read the synopsis?”

“I’d say that’s rather obvious at this point.”

“Okay, so he’s the President, and he’s tasked with stopping a nuclear war before it happens.”

“What year is this? That sounds like every action movie from the 80s. And we’re wearing kilts, because?”

“Because he’s on a Hail Mary mission to Scotland and needs to diffuse a bomb in the middle of the Highland games.”

“The President diffuses bombs now?”

“The details of the thing don’t matter. The fact is that I’m playing an undercover Scottish intelligence officer who happens to be a bomb expert and I help the Leader of the Free World decide which wire to cut.”

“I thought you only had one line?”

“It is only one line. I say, ‘Snip the blue one, me laddie.”

“I don’t know the first thing about writing, but that is terrible writing.”

“I’m not going for an IMDB screenwriter credit here! It’s a minor character role with only the one line. And I’ll get my name in the credits and a First Degree Bacon Number.”

“I don’t think you can stop a nuclear bomb simply by snipping a wire.”

“I didn’t know you were the expert on the subject. Now shut up, we’re almost on.”

(Director) “PLACES EVERYONE! AND…ACTION!!”

“Oh my god. Here he comes!”

“Shh!”

PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.A.

“You fellers play some mighty fine pipes there.

Now what can you tell me about this bomb?

And hurry now, we don’t have much time!”

BAGPIPE PLAYER #1

“Snip the blue one, me laddie.”

 

(Director) “AND….CUT! THAT’S SCENE EVERYONE!”

“Is that it?”

“That’s it. Mission accomplished.”

“Hey, I think Kevin Bacon’s waving you over. I think he wants to talk to you.”

“Probably congratulating me for making it to the center of the universe.”

“Probably.”

“Hi, Mr. Bacon. It was an honor to play that scene with you.”

“Listen to me carefully, kid. I’m going to personally make sure this scene hits the cutting room floor. Nobody gets within one degree of me without my authorization. You hear me?”

“Yes, Mr. Bacon.”

“So what did he say to you?”

“He told me I look good in a kilt.”

“Really? What about me?”

“Sorry. He didn’t mention you.”

“Say, why are those security guards charging towards us?”

“I think it’s best if we got the hell out of here. And fast. Run!”

END.