April 30, 2009

Esquire Fiction

I was skulking through the blogosphere on Wednesday, soaking up a rare day in the computer lab at the local C@P site, when I happened upon a little post with the words "Short Story Contest" in the heading. That caught my eye in a flash. So, I clicked on it to end up at Finding Neverland: The Writing YA Weblog.

They caught wind from Powell's Book News that Esquire is holding a short story contest right now for the new fiction section on their website. You can click HERE to check it out. I for one look forward to crafting some kind of story to send to them. It's just a shame that all submitted stories instantly become the property of the contest's sponsor—if it didn't win, I'd have liked the option to submit the story elsewhere under a different title. Then again, I guess that's to be expected since one of the criteria for the contest is the title must be one of three choices put out by Esquire.

The story titles are: 1) Twenty-Ten; 2) An Insurrection; 3) Never, Ever Bring That Up Again.

A date, a thing, and a statement, as it was laid out. Just pick any title you want and write a story of no more than 4,000 words. And, hey, if writing a story which could potentially win and be published by Esquire isn't enough to get all you writers interested, maybe the grand prize of $2,500 US will.

Good luck, everybody.

April 29, 2009

Fave Five: Horror Novels

I've conceded in the past that I am not as well read as I would like to be. It's the cross I bear as a man who wasted too many years in his teens and twenties treating books as some kind of target for my derision. I'm reading now, however, and it's like rediscovering a treasure you can't imagine why you ever abandoned in the first place.

I keep coming back to horror stories in my reading, though I cast a wide net when looking for reading material. I may have started off by reading
The Dark Half by Stephen King, but I've indulged in the works of Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Elmore Leonard, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe, E. Anne Proulx, Frederick Pohl, Ed Gorman, J.K. Rowling, Alice Sebold, and others. Even now, I'm casting my net even wider to check out the works of newer authors like Cassandra Clare and Jaye Wells.

But, let's stick with the horror novel for now. I've got some favorites I'd like to share. My favorite five, as it were. I'm sure this list will change as I read more and more novels, but I don't think there's anything shameful about the way the list shapes up at present.

The Dark Half by Stephen KingThis is a sentimental pick of sorts. I can't even remember who gave me the book, but I was looking for a King novel back then, to get my feet wet, and this is what I got. A writer has "buried" his pseudonym persona in a promotional setting, but soon finds his life turned upside down when the alter ego he used for his darker writing comes to life and starts killing people. Things don't help his cause any when the mysterious killer bares a striking resemblance to our famous author—right down to the fingerprints. The whole tale culminates with a showdown between the tormented writer and his "dark half" who wants to get back to writing his masterpiece.

The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker – This was the first novel of Barker's I had a chance to read, and I was not disappointed. There are moments when it feels like you're reading poetry with this guy. This epic of a novel centers on two eternal forces struggling for dominance, and wreaking having on each and every life they touch in the process. To think this grand tale starts off in a dingy little mailroom is noteworthy to me, because the story sweeps through so many settings of ever-growing grandeur, you have to really appreciate the scope of it all. I did at any rate. With one novel, I became a fan of Clive Barker.

Watchers by Dean KoontzI've read a few Dean Koontz novels, and I must be honest, his fiction is hit-or-miss with me. Velocity is a great tale of a serial killer, but Sole Survivor didn't interest me in the slightest. And, those Odd Thomas is shaping up to becoming my favorite Koontz novel yet, Watchers takes the prize for now ... and with a super-intelligent dog, no less. The premise as a simple logline might seem cheesy and ripe with clich├ęs, but it's really a very intense novel. And, the monster in the story is tremendous.

I Am Legend by Richard MathesonOkay, this technically qualifies as a novella while the others in this list are full-length novels. Cut me a little slack. This is an amazing story. Forget The Omega Man and forget Will Smith. Those films may be good, but this one-hundred-plus page story about a lone man against a horde of ravenous vampires is a classic by all accounts. I saw both of the movies before I ever got around to reading Matheson's work. While I enjoyed both films, I wonder if I might be as forgiving for the interpretations and creative license by the directors if I had read the novella first.

Cell by Stephen KingWhen my sister recommended this novel to me, the title was an instant turn-off. I did not enjoy the movie of the same name, and while I realized at the time the two stories were in no way related, I despised the idea of cellular phones being used as a plot device. One Missed Call is testament to that, as far as I'm concerned. However, I ended up adoring this story more than any other King tale I've had the pleasure to read. Forget the title, it's not important. What's at the heart of this story is the consistently eery and terrifying atmosphere the characters go through, as they to survive a world that's literally gone mad. What's more, this is one of the few pieces of literature, film, or music to bring an actual tear to my eye. It's the only horror novel to accomplish that, so that must mean something. If you're curious what scene got my tear ducts to squeeze out a little moisture, I'll simply say it was the point when one of the characters dies a very slow and heart-wrenching death. This was a home run, without a doubt.

Five more on my to-be-read list:
The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum; The Ideal, Genuine Man by Don Robertson; Everville by Clive Barker; Red Dragon by Thomas Harris; The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

Five more on my wish list:
The Shining by Stephen King; Hell House by Richard Matheson; Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber; The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff; Ghoul by Brian Keene

Tinkering and Puttering

I found a new template for this blog. The last one was alright, but it was a bugger to edit, and this new one looks to be right up my alley--simple and elegant. Well, I may not be so elegant, but at least I'm simple.

I found yet another book contest over at Fantastic Book Review. Actually, there are six books up for grabs in six separate contests. There's only another week or so left in the contest, so if you like free books then you may want to click here. And, during my browsing of the blog, I've discovered an even more recent contest here with even more books to be won. Yay books!

I sent out my first short story for consideration with a periodical. The trickiest part was finding an appropriate publisher. It's not straight horror, but I wouldn't classify it as fantasy. It's more of a dark tale of terror than anything else, so I had to find a periodical with a penchant for stories like that. I think I've picked out a good one, as they've got some short stories on their site which follow a similar vein to mine. Next ... the waiting game. Fingers crossed.

While that story is off on it's first journey, it's time to get another one set to ship out. I've got a couple sitting on my computer in the mid-stage I have had fun writing, but I want to give them each another draft before I think about submitting them. It's a bugger when you think a story is good enough to submit, then see the tiniest thing that ruins it for your eyes ... and you start wondering how an editor would react.

Speaking of contests earlier, I found yet another one on Ty Schwamberger's blog for a chance to win a book by Richard Laymon. Horror fans may want to check this one out. Click here.

April 28, 2009

The Heat Is On

Oh my lord, it's hot today. I'm not sure what the Fahrenheit temperature is, but it's 26 Celsius. That's a spike in day-to-day temperature, because it was barely 15C yesterday, and there was snow on the hilltops just a couple of weeks ago. No such thing as global warming? Alright, buddy, have fun keeping your head in the sand. Heck, maybe it's a good way to beat the heat.

I'm not a small guy, so the less heat and humidity, the better. I almost melted into the pavement last year, so I already don't like my chances headed into this summer. Bring on the Slimfast shakes and garden salads ... sans dressing. (insert sad face here)

Thankfully, the pinched nerve in my neck has eased off with a little "Magic Bag" treatment. The numbness in my two fingers isn't nearly as persistent as it was on Saturday. The hand has been feeling downright normal today, so I'm pleased. I'm not sure if it's my terrible desk chair or my terrible box spring, but something needs to change lest I end up looking like Quasimodo before the end of the year.

Ah, I'm just being paranoid. Not as paranoid as the people losing their senses over Swine Flu, though. I almost threw something at my television last night when I heard a so-called journalist ask a doctor if she could get Swine Flu from eating pork. I'm no brainiac, but I at least have enough common sense to know I won't catch Swine Flu from eating a Wendy's Baconator.

April 27, 2009

Entering Some More Book Contests

I've downloaded everything I need for the week, though I still need to send off a short story this week I have been refining. Fingers crossed there.

Over at The Epic Rat, there's a contest for a trio of books by Lisa Shearin (click here to read). I'm unfamiliar with the author, but the trilogy of stories looks interesting. Thanks to Cassandra Clare and Jaye Wells getting me into the urban fantasy style of books, I think these Shearin books could prove to be a good read as well.

There's another huge giveaway contest over at Steph Su Reads. I discovered this one thanks to Laina's Book Contest Links. Her site is a keeper for my blogroll now. :) The contest is open worldwide, so there's no harm in taking a peek.

Another contest is over at Mrs. Magoo Reads, here. There's a chance to win a book from a choice of three. I'd be torn between The Graveyard Book and The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I've heard about both of these and they each sound fantastic.

And, finally, there's a contest happening at Bitten By Books. There's an interview with author, Maria V. Snyder, about her new novel, Storm Glass. A guy could get used to reading literature aimed at teen girls, though I think I may end up on some kind of FBI watch list if I read too much of it. :)

April 23, 2009

Fave Five: Horror Flicks

I don't apologize for being a fan of horror movies. I shouldn't have to. Frankly, it's not so much I categorize myself as a fan of that specific genre, but a fan of quality movies. Unlike so many people, I don't look down my nose at certain genres. If I think a movie is good, it doesn't matter which section I rented it from. The Notebook is about as chick-flicky as it gets, but I thought it was a damned good movie. And, I'll wager quite a few men enjoyed it too, but are too pent up with their machismo to admit it.

While critics and the tamer movie fans dismiss horror movies, I tend to give them a more serious-minded consideration. Are there bad horror movies? Yes, of course there are, and what's more ... there are some out-and-out abominable ones—the remake of
House of Wax springs to mind. However, the film industry has come out with some stellar offerings over the years. The best of which I would put up against any Citizen Kane, Dr. Strangelove, or Terms of Endearment you would care to throw at me.

To give examples of what great horror movies look like, allow me to list my five all-time favorites in the genre. Some might be classified in other genres, or be considered less horror than suspense, but it's my list. If you don't like it, make your own.

From Dusk Til DawnI think I adore this movie so much because I was one of those people who had no idea it existed until my college buddies picked it up at Blockbuster one weekend, and had my jaw dropped when the swerve came halfway through. No one told me what it was about. I never saw trailers or heard a thing about the vampire twist. I was expecting classic Tarentino fare with gangsters and guns. I got that. But, I got so much more, and I could still sit down and watch the entire movie again just for the moment when Salma Hayek goes all bloodsucky on them.

The Ring/RinguAmerican or Japanese, it doesn't matter, because this is one scary-ass movie. One of the few times where I can tolerate subtitles in my movie-watching. Both versions managed very well to maintain an unsettling sense of dread and terror through most of the movie, and kept it from being overwrought or melodramatic. Sure, there were moments where I watched and silently berated characters with, "Don't do that! Don't go in there!" All things considered though, it's still a fantastic thrill ride ... and "the tape" still creeps me out thoroughly.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)My favorite zombie movie. Ever. The group of people trapped in the mall were such a random assortment of potential stereotypes and one-dimensional characters, but it worked. Thanks to the writing, and the acting chops of Ving Rhames and Sarah Polley, I cared about whether these strangers lived or died. Even the slimier ones like the mall cops. I can't recall ever seeing the original, but I doubt I'd love it more than this. And, frankly, I find many of the other Romero offerings fall short of the mark. Blasphemy? Perhaps.

The ShiningThe TV mini-series was good, but the motion picture starring Jack Nicholson was great. If you've ever been snowed in with your family for a single weekend, imagine an entire winter with only Mom and Dad for company. As frightening a prospect as that is, Stephen King's classic ups the ante with one of the scariest haunted houses ever. I mean, c'mon ... an elevator full of blood? Jiminy Christmas, when I was a boy I didn't want anything to do with elevators until I was in my teens, thanks to that scene.

The ThingIf Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China weren't enough to put Kurt Russel near the top of my list for favorite actors, this masterpiece of a horror flick definitely does. Some may be nostalgic over the original from the 1950s (or was it early 60s?), but the remake by John Carpenter is the dog's bullocks. Take a crew of men into the arctic, strand them in a life-threatening blizzard (I sense a weather theme), and toss in a shape-shifting alien for good measure ... and you've got yourself one of the most spine-tingling horror/suspense/sci-fi movies to ever hit the silver screen.

Some honorable mentions go to:
Shaun of the Dead, Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness, Saw, 30 Days of Night, and Event Horizon.

April 22, 2009

I Heart American Literature

I just stumbled across a new gem of a website. AmericanLiterature.com

At home, I have a hardcover collection of Shirley Jackson's short stories, which I found a couple months ago at a library sale. A great find for someone looking to familiarize himself with the classics, yet the book didn't have the one short story everyone says is must read. That being, "The Lottery."

Well, I found it. And, I see a whole lot more at this site. Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Roald Dahl, Mark Twain ... you name it. So, now I have one more resource for literary finery. In case you haven't seen this site yet, yourself, I recommend you check it out and do yourself a favor by reading a couple classics.

April 11, 2009

Canadian Literature and Other Myths

At times it feels like the American reader—Americans in general, really—leads an insular existence. Piracy off the African coast of Somalia has been going on for years, but Americans seem to have only recognized it's existence due to the abduction of an American citizen this spring. And who could blame them for caring little of the world beyond their borders? It's the greatest nation on Earth, so what could the rest of the planet possibly have to offer?

If it can be said that American readers care little of authors from other countries, particularly Canada, than it would also be fair to accuse me of being an American reader. I say this because I can count on one hand the number of Canadian authors whose books I have read. Truth be told, I could count on one finger.

Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi—an excellent novel I'd recommend to anyone—is the only Canadian fiction writer I can mention. And he was born in Spain. I read Streeters by Canadian comedian, Rick Mercer, but it was practically pamphlet-sized and essentially transcriptions of his on-air rants. Why in the world have I not read more novels by Canadian authors?

Well, now that I think of it, there was Timothy Findley's
Not Welcome on the Voyage. Spider Robinson might be Canadian too, though I can't say with any certainty without Googling him. In any case, it is a shameful admission on my part to say I have trouble naming notable Canadian authors whose works I am anxious to read. What's more, I'm sure a minor amount of research would give me a plethora of names to choose from in genres of every sort.

I'm not what I would conscientiously call "well read." In all my thirty-odd years, I've read less than two hundred novels. I blame my adolescent apathy towards books, which perpetuated through my college years. It wasn't until I got the bug to write again that I took up reading again. A lot of time is gone, which would have been well spent familiarizing myself with authors of every flag, including Canada. It's never too late to start though, so another belated resolution for 2009 is to find some Canadian authors on the shelves and read what they have to offer. If I can read books from Great Britain, Italy, and the omnipresent America, I can surely find time to include my home country.

I only wish it wasn't a matter of having to find them as if I were attempting an archaeological excavation.

April 7, 2009

Books I Am Not Likely To Read

I'm my haste of scooping up books for a buck or two at library sales, I have a knack for grabbing titles that I think I'll read. The trouble is that I never do, and while they collect dust on my shelf, I can't imagine the day will ever come when I'll crack open the covers of these impulse buys to see if I'm missing out on quality prose.

I've had James Frey's A Million Little Pieces for over a year. I read the first couple of pages after buying it, then tossed it aside to read something more palatable. Frankly, the only reason I bought the book for the $3 the library asked for it was because Oprah Winfrey had chewed the guy out on her show as some kind of public egg-hurling exercise. Forget how good a memoir or work of fiction it might actually be—I just had to say I had read the book that sent Oprah off the deep end.

But, I haven't read it, and I doubt I ever will read it. There are over a hundred titles sitting on my book shelf, which I've purchased at bargain basement prices, and I haven't got time to waste on books I have only a cursory interest in reading. Maureen Dowd's
Bushworld and Joseph Heller's Closing Time are about to join A Million Little Pieces as the next round of exchanges for credit at my local used bookstore. I bought Closing Time for a dollar because it was the sequel to Catch-22, but the thing is that I've never even read Catch-22.

Waste not, want not.