The Bugbear

This is a short story I wrote in 2019. It’s a group of adults playing D&D. But it’s also about seeing things and people in a different light.

THE BUGBEAR

Immediately upon entering the tomb, all three of them saw something lurking in the corner. Something so big it made the entirety of the confining room feel suffocatingly smaller. The hairy, seven-foot-tall creature was grunting and digging through the inventory packs of a pair of dead and unlucky adventurers. Still far more unlucky than dead.

They could smell it too; its stench was overwhelming. “What is it?” Steven’s warrior asked.

“Though its back is turned, and it is caked in dried mud from the hips down, you know, unmistakably, that this is a bugbear.”

Steven’s eyebrows jumped. “A bugbear?” In all their adventures thus far — through all the realms their party had journeyed, and all of the monsters they’d vanquished — they had yet to actually see a bugbear. It was Steven’s white whale.

Meggan knew it, too. She had been running the campaign from its inception, so she was well aware of every time Steven’s character had ever hopefully asked, “Is it a bugbear?” But for some reason, it was never a bugbear. Meggan, Steven, Nick, and Jasper had been playing the same Dungeons & Dragons campaign for eight months now. Every Sunday night for eight months — after Nick got his kids to bed, after Jasper finished his security shift at the mall, after Steven wrapped up his afternoon campaign with his other gaming group, and once Meggan was free with whatever it was that kept her busy until eight o’clock on Sundays — the group had been exploring caves just like this one, as well as countless spooky mansions, haunted islands, and faraway lands, all in the comfort of Nick’s own cave, the modest basement in his four-bedroom house.

From behind the DM screen, and rolling a handful of many-sided dice around in her palm, in an attempt to calm the group’s nerves, Meggan tells them, “The tomb is already lit by the bugbear’s own torch, so your presence is not immediately sensed. It won’t be long, however, as bugbears are known to have an incredibly sharp olfactory system.”

Hirreluge the Doubter — duly named for Jasper’s own nature to be skeptic about absolutely everything — asked, “Why would he need a torch? Bugbears can see in the dark! Probably even better than they can in daylight.”

After a brief pause where the players considered exactly what the limits of a bugbear might be, Meggan said: “Hirreluge, the reasons for why or how anything should see or can see are forever a mystery. It’s the way it works in this world. In every world. And in everyone.” Meggan looked at the three guys oddly, like she was reminding them of something they didn’t know.

Nick asked, “What’s the bugbear doing now?”

“Still scavenging the bodies of these poor, dead adventurers. You know you don’t have much time to act. Hirreluge?”

“Are we sure they’re definitely dead?” Jasper asked. “Maybe we can still help them?”

“The bugbear has severed both of their heads, which are currently across the room, beneath a rusted hanging cage, and upon a pile of molten, metal remnants. Zemorin?”

Nick’s thunder wizard pondered which spells he might be able to cast, but he was unsure if bugbears typically had magical buffers or not. He did not have an immediate answer for the Dungeon Master, prompting Jasper to turn to Steven.

“Ren—?”

Steven’s character, Ren the Warrior, had nothing to contribute. For Steven himself was caught in a memory from months before.

“Steven—?”

~~~

“What’s the matter, Steve?”

“It’s a comfort thing, guys. I’m just not comfortable with playing in a campaign run by someone I don’t know.” The mall was starting to empty, shoppers exiting out every door to the parking lots and bus stops.

“Because she’s a girl?” Jasper was quick to ask.

“Certainly not. Because I’m not ready to be vulnerable. Around new people.”

“Around women, you mean?”

Emily had left Steven a few months before. No one ever goes into explicit detail about just what a divorce costs; financially, emotionally, and the bitter punch to one’s heart. For Steven, it continued to take everything he had to not fall apart on a daily basis. Meeting new people was the hardest; promoting the Escape Room he managed to garner new clients was difficult, too.

“It’s not just women,” Steven answered. “I’ve lost some confidence in myself, is all.”

Nick said, “What you need is a good release to help boost your confidence. Play this campaign, be a deposed barbarian king or something, maybe a warrior. It’s role-playing, right?”

Emily never knew much about role-playing, or just why Steven would take such games so seriously. Often, she would accuse him of taking the hobby too seriously, like these characters he became were only confusing who he really was, and what was really important to him. And to them.

After Emily left, Steven retreated; disappearing into whatever worlds he could find that were more distracting than the real one. The Escape Room. The video games. The overly-complicated board games. Ever more role-playing campaigns. And it was only then, that Steven realized Emily was right: he was confusing who he really was. Too often, Steven felt like he was still a kid. Being an adult was turning into what felt like role-playing, too. But maybe everyone was simply faking it, he wondered. Steven was losing his identity, while at the same time, his fluctuating personality was leaving him exposed in ways he wasn’t comfortable with. Any new people in his life only complicated things, and made him extremely uncomfortable. On the flip side, he found that -— though he was missing Emily everyday — he was actually happier.

But like a blade of bright green grass that grows taller and taller, eventually it will turn brown and wilt. And a bit more every day, Steven was losing what it was that made him strong.

“Be whatever you want to be,” Nick said. “Don’t worry about the things you don’t want to be. Forget about those for a little while.” Come join this new campaign, he was saying.

“We’ll see about it,” Steven said. “Give me some time to figure out what I should do.”

~~~

“You’ve run out of time, Ren. The bugbear is looking right at you,” Meggan said. Zemorin and Hirreluge are already unconscious in the corner. The bugbear has tossed them both, adding to the pile of downed adventurers. The heat in the cave seemed to intensify, as though a molten river flowed just beyond the slimy wall. “The greeny-yellowy and reds of its eyes are scanning you, challenging you to make a move.”

“I withdraw my broadsword.”

“It backs away from you, bracing a crooked hand on the sticky wall.”

The thing Steven loved about escape rooms — the reason he opened one of his own; a dungeon-themed one, to be exact — was the required amount of problem-solving. There was rarely more than one way to escape, and it was never through brute force.

“He looks scared?” Steven asked.

“It does.”

“Has he got any visible weapons?”

“Aside from blood-stained claws, it seems to only have a belt around its waist. There are some pouches, and a couple of flasks dangle loosely from the belt.”

“I sheathe my sword.”

“The bugbear loosens its posture a little. Muscles beneath its course, red brick hair relax.”

~~~

“You’re too relaxed, Steve. That’s your problem.”

“You’re saying it’s better to be on edge all the time?”

Nick shook his head softly. “I just mean there’s a need to keep your guard up at times. You don’t notice everything when your head’s in the clouds.”

What was there to notice? That Emily was gone? That was obvious by now. Steven had a job, he had hobbies, he enjoyed books and cried at movies. There wasn’t really much else that was worth noticing, was there?

“Meggan likes you,” Nick repeated. Though it was the first time Steven heard it.

While Steven processed this information, Jasper had been the one to answer. “She does?”

It was obvious, really. How the creatures that warrior Ren defeated would always be worth more experience points. How they always seemed to have an extra bag of gold coins on them. The magical items he collected were consistently just a little bit more magical.

Obvious, to anyone who wasn’t so relaxed.

But Steven doubted Nick’s prognosis, becoming more Hirreluge the Doubter than even Jasper could do. If he were being perfectly honest, Steven likely would admit to feeling Meggan didn’t even like him all that much.

“Listen,” Nick suggested. “Maybe next week during the campaign, we — Jasper and I — get our characters out of the picture somehow. Then Meggan will have nothing to do but put all of her focus on you. She might even let her guard down.”

“And then what? What do I do then?”

“You run with it, Steven. Let Ren do the talking for you. I mean, we’re all just role-playing, really.”

~~~

The bugbear opened its palm, curling clawed fingertips inward, beckoning the brave warrior to move deeper into the temperate cave. Ren glanced once more at his comrades, alive but unconscious on the craggy floor.

Obfuscated by the cave’s darkened corner, the bugbear pulled a burlap curtain aside, revealing another room. If Zemorin were still conscious, the thunder wizard’s drift globe could have spotted the makeshift door easily. Ren followed the creature carefully, though still with weapons sheathed and his hands empty but for the sweat. The bugbear continued to grunt, but it seemed to be doing so out of discomfort, more than beastial asperity. Like it was fighting something inside of it.

Upon entering, the bugbear lit an oil lamp hanging from the wall. The hidden room was certainly more den than tomb — exclusion of bones and rot will do that — and there was a pile of leaves forming a bed and pillow in the middle of the room.

Jasper interjected, “Bugbears wouldn’t use pillows! They’re far too feral.”

“But you’ve never seen a bugbear before,” Meggan said. “What do you truly know about them? Plus, Hirreluge is not in this room, nor is he conscious right now, so please allow Ren his own moment to evaluate the details.”

Sitting back in his folding chair, Jasper took another handful of potato chips from the bowl.

Steven looked over his character sheet, as though there was an answer there; some clue that might point him toward the singular way out of this scenario. But he couldn’t find anything that jumped out, and looked up at Meggan, hoping for a hint.

“Make a Wisdom check,” she nudged him.

Steven tossed a jeweled twenty-sided die onto the felt tabletop. He leaned over to check the result. “With my Plus-Three modifier, that’s an eighteen.”

“The bugbear sits down on the leaves, and looks at you carefully. Its eyes tell you it is more scared than you are.”

“Does he say anything to me?”

“She,” Meggan stated bluntly. “The bugbear is a she, not a he. Your Wisdom check told you as much.”

Steven paused. “I ask her, What do want from me?

There’s some hesitation, and a glimmer in the reds of the bugbear’s uncertain eyes. She says, “I sense you have seen through my wretched facade.” Her voice is chaotic mixture of grunts, wheezing, and fluid language.

“Facade?”

“My village was attacked. Those savages, I don’t know why, but they placed a curse upon me. I remember every detail of my body transforming into this…thing. All the terrible pain. Bones breaking and reconstructing themselves. This hair, it was all over me. When I finally gathered myself and realized what was happening, I was already being pelted with stones. My own village had turned on me. They chased me with torches; even my own family. My husband.”

“Your own husband attacked you?”

“I don’t know if he was fearful of what I’d become, or if he presumed I was actually the creature who had come to the village to eat his wife. I’ll never know. Because I can never go back there. Not like this.”

Again, Steven went silent. This was the most unusual of scenarios, and he wasn’t certain if he was regretting his friends’ decision to remove themselves from the encounter. The bugbear had nothing more to say though.

“Do you wish to make a Perception check?” Meggan asked.

Steven reached for the sparkling dice, but stopped himself. He folded the corner of his character sheet back and forth and said, “Emily turned her back on me, too. I don’t know what I did. Maybe nothing. But I feel like I’ve had a spell cast on me ever since she left. I miss her and it hurts constantly. It’s like she threw stones at me; like she came at me with a torch and an angry mob. It hurts so much. So I know how you feel.”

Meggan shook her head and asked, “Is this what Ren says to the bugbear? Or—?”

“Hmm? Oh, I’m sorry, Meggan. I’m sorry.”

“Make a Luck roll.”

Steven looked over his collection of dice, and picked his luckiest one.

~~~

The change of seasons was palpable that night. Winter becoming Spring is not always so obvious, but there was a warmth seeping through just-blooming tree branches that was not there earlier.

The friends cut the campaign a bit short, and spent the rest of the evening just chatting. Much to Eric and Jasper’s chagrin, warrior Ren and the monstrous, cursed villager sat for a while, sharing wine from a flask she carried on her belt. They spoke about relationships, fantasies, life goals, and the disappointments that come with all of them. The lines between the discussion of what was actual reality and what was campaign world imaginings were blurred from the start, though they didn’t seem too concerned.

When Jasper received a message about some incident at the mall, he was the first one to leave. He was also Meggan’s ride home, so Steven happily offered instead.

It had occurred to him that the anticipated, though unexpected encounter with the bugbear may not have actually counted in the end. It was merely a role someone else was playing. So the creature remained a white whale to keep chasing. But Steven didn’t mind so much.

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INFINITE BLUE, by Darren Groth & Simon Groth [2018]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 6/10

A brotherly work of fiction! Infinite Blue was co-written by brothers Darren & Simon Groth. Not sure how the work was divided, or which part each brother wrote, but the end result is seamless; not feeling at all like there were multiple voices. Loved the magical realism bits in this book, and the subject of competitive swimming is something new to learn! I did feel the adult characters within the story were a little too cliché, but in a novel this length (which reads even shorter than the 180+ page count suggests) some stereotyping can be forgiven. Great book for high school libraries, and appropriate for most reading levels.

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.

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.

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.

UNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR, by Patrick deWitt [2015]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 7/10

If ever there was a novel that could be labelled “Irreverent” this would be it. Probably by a landslide. However, through all the flippancy, I’m not entirely sure what Undermajordomo Minor is trying to say. Something about love? Something about finding one’s place in the world? Something about wild, profane sausage parties? Maybe all of the above. Maybe none.
BUT! This twisted sort of fairy tale remains a fun romp. As is the case with Patrick DeWitt’s previous writing, the verbiage is delightful, but at times his use of language bothers me, with an almost a too-smart-for-his-own-good vibe. It’s a fine line, but I cheered more than I jeered, so let’s call it a literary victory.
If I was asked to compare DeWitt’s style, I might eventually say it’s not unlike Wes Anderson using an ink-dipped feather-pen. I’m a sucker for Anderson (like many), but I find he can hit sour notes with me from time to time, and DeWitt fits that description.
I’ll leave you with this wonderful quote from the pages of Undermajordomo Minor. Apply it to your own life:

“And what is [love] like? I’ve often wondered about it.”
“It is a glory and a torment.”
“Really? Would you not recommend it, then?”
“I would recommend it highly. Just to say it’s not for the faint of heart.”

The Underneath: Part 1

Endever Publishing Studios is a new publishing company with some bold and exciting new ideas for the industry. I’ll be posting more about them in the very near future.

For now though, I’ll share Part 1 of Endever’s new online serial, titled The Underneath.

Enjoy!

Endever Publishing Studios presents The Underneath Written by Coral Rivera and Andrew Toy

Source: The Underneath: Part 1

ARE YOU SEEING ME? by Darren Groth [2014]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 7/10

Fun book by local-by-way-of-Australia Author Darren Groth. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Darren about my own writing so it was good to finally crack this one open.
Of the two main characters (twin siblings Justine and Perry) I found myself drawn to Justine more, which is unusual since Perry is arguably the more interesting character. It says a lot about Groth’s ability to write female protagonists. Are You Seeing Me? has heavy moments, lighter moments, in-between moments and moments of the absurd variety, and they all work well together. The many nods to handfuls of local sights and details, as well as a fair amount of hockey-talk were all appreciated from a personal standpoint.
I also feel this is an important book for school libraries, (dealing heavily with disability in the autism-spectrum) so if you have any pull at all, make sure they have a copy!

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know: The Falling (Chapter One.2)

Continued from HERE.

 “I don’t think I’m in love with Gene anymore,” Kate answered. Intuitively, both Jesse and Tommy reached their hands over and placed them on the tips of Kate’s fingers, which were still anchored to the tabletop. “I’d like to believe that I was in love at some point. But to be honest, I’m really not so sure now.” Her eyes darted back and forth between her two best friends. “I think I might have made a mistake.” Breaking her hand away from theirs, Kate slipped on her coat and wiped her eyes with one sleeve, just to make sure nothing incriminating had leaked out.

As much as I wanted to show early that Kate was never one to put up with anyone’s crap and that she was a strong female voice, I also wanted to show her vulnerable side, as slim a side as that is. There’s no way someone will want to cheer for Kate if she’s being a bitch right off the bat. It’s hard for her to admit she may have made a mistake, but it’s important for the story that she does.

The city itself breathes in with every tragedy: every obituary in the New York Times; every jackhammer upon its streets; every time a girl leaves a boy; every slight transgression that takes place within its invisible walls. And every time New Yorkers breathe a collective sigh of relief, every time they find peace in themselves, every time they find each other again, every time they bring new life into the world or enjoy a good book or put a fresh coat of paint on an old cracked wall, Manhattan exhales. The city breathes in. The city breathes out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

The city breathing was a device I added late in my first draft. I might add a “Breathe in” when something negative happens or is about to happen. Conversely, there might be a “Breathe out” alongside moments of relief and happiness. The above paragraph is the set up for this device so that later readers would quickly understand the use of the Ins and Outs. I like the idea that if our narrator is the city itself that there is also some minor omniscience there; a little bit future sight. It doesn’t feel as unnatural as if a character thought it, and it gives the readers a gentle guideline for the turns the story takes.

This brings us to the end of Chapter One. Soon I’ll begin chipping away at some of the ideas behind Chapter Two.

& Sons, by David Gilbert [2013]

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R. Tim Morris’ Rating: 8/10

Just a really good work of contemporary literary fiction. The characters all had rich histories and the author did a tremendous job at interweaving excerpts from A.N.Dyer’s collection of fictional novels. Yes, as other reviewers have commented, it is pretentious at times, but this is the nature of a work like this. Our narrator is oftentimes a confusing choice and I feel like there could have been a few more opportunities to explore Philip Topping’s surreptitious role in all of this. The writing and word choices are engaging and David Gilbert offers the reader a great deal of humor along the way. My favorite chapter was definitely the one with the pretzel scene. I wish there was actually a bit more depth to the Andy/Jeanie relationship, and Isabel really deserved another appearance, but this is a novel about men. Fathers & Sons, more specifically, and any divergence from this might have only lessened the theme. Recommended!