Monday, October 30, 2017

Halloween Reads: Alex de Campi's and Jerry Ordway's Semiautomagic, de Campi's Grindhouse

For Hallowe'en, I'm recommending some spooky reads and views as time permits. First up are the comic books, Semiautomagic and Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight Volume One: Double Feature.

Semiautomagic by Alex de Campi and Jerry Ordway

Cover art by Jerry Ordway.
Copyrght 2016, Dark Horse Comics.
I have been a fan of Jerry Ordway's artwork and writing since I was a teenager devouring Superman titles. Ordway has worked for a prodigious number of DC Comics titles, including Crisis On Infinite Earths. He also wrote and shared the art duties on the 47-issue run of The Power of Shazam!. In particular, I followed Ordway's run on Adventures of Superman and his contribution to the Superman in Exile story arc. So, for me, finding Semiautomagic was a golden discovery.

Here, Ordway gets to draw interdimensional Lovecraftian beasties and monsters of all varieties. His attention to detail, his line work, are masterful. Jerry Ordway remains one of the most criminally underemployed comic-book artists of today, but I digress.

The story concens heroine Alice Creed, a modern-day warlock. Alice, a Jack-Constantine-esque rogue with a penchant for hard drinking and tortorous self-doubt, is locked in an ongoing struggle with otherworldly foces. The problem is, Alice Creed is human. She makes mistakes, and when she does, innocents die. Like a private detective's flaws add layer to a classic P.I. story, Creed's humanity brings texture to this character-driven series. Alice fights all sorts of nasties using occult magic, opening up beautiful opportunities for twisted and phantasmagoric artwork, and testing her conscience and her fallibility.

The author, Alex de Campi, also a filmmaker, writes manga, mystery suspense and young adult-themed comics such as No Mercy, which was once an ongoing Image Comics book. Moreover, what piqued my interest was reading that de Campi is a woman who writes horror comics. I repeat - a woman who writes horror comics. Hearing that moniker, I was almost won over already. In a field often dominated by men, I was delighted to learn the byline "Alex" was that of a woman.

And I was vindicated in reading her because de Campi has the chops for horror. She puts Alice through the ringer, and does not relent. The author also knows how to play with horror tropes, particularly the codes of occult magic, revitalizing them so that while the story feels familiar, it also feels fresh and relevant. The story takes heady inspiration from H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulu mythos and Hellblazer comics (the aforementioned John Constantine's long-runing title) to name some influences. Semiautomagic also has great timing, coming soon after DC Comics relaunched the John Constantine character as part of the New 52 reboot and giving readers a lighter, diluted version of  a chain-smoking, nihilistic, aged-in-real-time British street mage.

Semiautomagic is so pleasurable that I am re-reading it. My only qualms are minor. Alice Creed has a masochistic streak, a facet of her personality hinted at but not fully developed. I suspected she was a cutter or suffered a pain-inducing sickness, but could not draw a firm conclusion aside from her self-medicating with hard liquor, an employed trope of the hard-boiled detective that still works well regardless in this context. As well, because this series appeared as a serial in the monthly Dark Horse Presents, the story moves along at a fair clip with very little room to breathe. It ends abruptly. When I finished reading Semiautomagic, it felt like having a fling with somenoe, and a rather amazing fling at that. You want to see them again afterward. But there's only one problem; they didn't leave you their phone number. 

If I find any more of Semiautomagic or Alice Creed out there, anywhere, I will snap the book up.

Copyright 2014, Dark Horse Comics.
Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight Volume One: Double Feature
by Alex de Campi and Chris Peterson

de Campi has the requisite chops to make great horror and exploitative comics, as I discovered in her Grindhouse double feature. 

Grindhouse, in fact, is also fine spooky reading in the spirit of the grindhouse and exploitative flicks of the 1970's and 1980's. I've read the first two trades, which are shamelessly violent, sexy, sleazy, and horrifc. Reading Grindhouse, you feel like you are at the drive-in. You can almost hear the crickets sawing their legs, smell the popcorn, the sickly sweet pop, the summer air, the hint of marijuana and beer drifting over from other cars at the show. Each story in this anthology format is charmingly presented as a different short film. In other words, Grindhouse is great fun, in fact much more fun than many films out there now, particularly in the horror genre. There are several collected trades out of Grindhouse there that are on my to-read list.

Luckily, neither of the above books is tied to a Halloween theme, so you can read them year-round for an excellent dose of comic-book horror.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Halloween fans who like a spooky read - my horror novel Town & Train, a tale of "creeping supernatural horror" received great reviews, and is a chilling October read, available in small bookstores and on Amazon. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Woke in the middle of the night after writing, hard

On Monday, I had a late evening of getting under the body of my novel-in-progress (second draft, resplendent with previously unseen possibility). I rolled up my sleeves and tackled a fundamental scene that affects much of the book. It is, without exaggeration, a crucible. The experience is tough on all the main players involved, from two best friends to someone who becomes a greater antagonist to a figure from the past. I worked hard. Later on, in the middle of the night, I awoke, with a start. In a dream, I was confronting someone in my own novel, using armlocks and Aki-jitsu holds and exchanging punches. I was, in fact, faring better than my young heroes did in the scene I immersed myself in a few hours previous. My partner had to calm me down and tell me I was dreaming and soothe me back to sleep.
I guess that means I'm onto something.
Or that I should not write so deeply before sleeping.
It certainly means that I should I stay with my partner.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Grateful in solitude

You know, I can be angry and frustrated that I am working the Thanksgiving Weekend and missing dinners for my family on both sides. Or I could be grateful for what I have. As I was talking to a newly arrived co-worker this afternoon, I failed to notice, at first, that they were wiping tears from their eyes and that my co-worker looked rung out. Their father passed away suddenly and shockingly about six weeks ago. This is their first Thanksgiving without their dad. My attempts to comfort my co-worker were wholly inadequate. (My efforts to buoy them, later on, however, were more successful.)

My partner also lost her mother in April so this, too, is her first Thanksgiving without her parent.

I should consider how often I have made my co-worker laught these past weeks, trying to help.

I should also know how lucky I am to have know my partner's mother Jacomina "Iet" (as I knew her) Dolman, a fine and fiery spirit whose spirit animal was the wolf. She was lovely and unconditionally supportive of my writing career, and I miss her.

I should also be grateful for what I’ve got, from family that I will not see immediately, but soon enough, with luck. I should be thankful for even the quarrels and disagreements I have with my parents or father-in-law. These are the richer contrasts of family life that hands about.

Grateful, too, that I’ve a fairly good job, all things considered.

Instead of bemoaning my struggle in editing my second novel, I should be grateful to have a novel to rewrite. (And, lesson in the novel-writing craft.)  self-doubt and some underlying mythological infrastructural reworking that is a

I should be grateful, even, for the long delay at the drive-thru at St. Hubert’s, where I was gifted with more
strong and true ideas about the underlying roots of my book's mythology and the be grateful that I can get drive-thru, for that matter.

I should consider, too, that a family member was waiting for me to return, even if this family member is furry and has four legs.

I guess it’s about considering what you’re holding and not what you’re coveting.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Glen Hirshberg on fine Castle of Horror Podcast

The Castle of Horror podcast did a fine interview with my friend, the ever-gracious Glen Hirshberg, about his second (of a trilogy) vampire novel, Good Girls, and the writing process. I love how he says he is a full-time dad, and a full-time teacher. As always, Glen is an inspiration to me.
"I’m on the whatever-gets-this-book-that-I’m-working-on-written track. I have really done it a lot of different ways, to be honest. I’m a full-time Dad, I’ve been a full-time teacher for some 20 years. Good Girls is book number seven. One of the things that has made it possible for me is I get up every day and I find a way to fit some writing in, no matter what."
Glen Hirshberg, on the writing process

Monday, September 4, 2017

Mad Weekend, A Note for Hugh

This is a mad weekend for me, with birth, love, and marriage all represented. I got hitched on this weekend in 2006, and still am, with gratitude.
One of my three best friends' birthdays also occurs this weekend.
On a sadder note, I unexpectedly lost Hugh DeCourcy, a beloved friend, mentor and kindred spirit on this weekend back in '96. He had a heart attack.
I have no online photo of him. I do, though, keep a framed picture on the bookcase by my writing desk. It is the last photo someone took of Hugh before he moved away from Cornwall to go out west and teach high school in Vancouver. Hugh is standing under a tree, in August evening light, nonchalantly, as though to say, "This is me. I'm happy to be going. Here's a tree. There's that."
Sometimes, if you're lucky, restless and growing up in a small city, you can meet someone who changes the course of your life, and influences you still later on. Hugh was that someone for me. He introduced me to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and showed me that I could pursue my passion no matter what everyone else thought. Hugh taught me that you can be an hobby guitarist, a keen chess player, an amateur painter, a cross-country runner, a close observer, and a writer of infinite passion and curiosity.
This one's for you, Hugh.

Friday, August 11, 2017

WROTE podcast reviews Town & Train

Last week there was a fascinating review of Town & Train by the fine folks at the WROTE podcast. Jayne Lockwood calls me a speculative realist writer (a first for me), calls my protagonist John Daniel a teenage dirtbag (a term he would argue vehemently against) and suggests that my portrayal of pedophile villain Mortimer Winslow was meant to draw sympathy. Like I said - fascinating. Still, admittedly, Lockwood has given me much to think about, whether or not I agree with all of her observations.
"I loved the inventiveness of the plot, the building of atmosphere, the genuinely scary moments a la James Herbert or Stephen King. There are Koontz-esque scenes of banal normality set against an increasingly glowering backdrop, and a sense of impending doom as both David and John independently try to figure out how to prove that the town is being haunted by a ghost train from hell."
-Jayne Lockwood, WROTE podcast

Friday, July 28, 2017

Written on the Edge (WROTE) Podcast with Vance Bastian and S.A. "Baz" Colins

I was lucky enough recently to appear on the lovely WROTE Podcast, with Vance Bastian just north of Chicago, he of the velvet-smooth voice, and S.A. Collins ("Baz”), the man in San Francisco. It's live, at this link, today.

Giving my shout-outs aplenty, I realized how lucky I am, from describing gracious Steve Berman of Lethe Press to my writers group, the Little Workshop of Horrors (with shout-outs to Robin Riopelle, Sean McKibbon, Danny Lalonde Sean Moreland, Ranylt Richildis & Aalya Ahmad-apologies if I missed anyone).

We discussed inspiration, early writing influences (Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Clive Barker, J.R.R. Tolkien, Universal Monster films), queer characters in speculative fic, and queer stories.
But don't take my word for it. Listen in if you're curious.
Thank you so much, Vance and Baz.

I hope, in my little heart, that someone out there hears it and enjoys it. I also hope to grace WROTE again someday.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review of Grant Morrison's Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human

Grant Morrison’s Supergods is ostensibly an autobiography of a comic book writer with rock-star status. It’s a heady mix of mysticism, personal history, anecdotes about the business, replete with allusions to his indelible contributions to the medium and even a précis on landmark graphic novels such as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight ReturnsSupergods is all these things, and not in any particular order. Even while unevenly paced, boastful and often utterly self-conscious, Supergods is great fun at all turns. The reader never knows what Morrison will relate next, whether his self-proclaimed practice of chaos magic, an off-handed quip about the British and Scottish invasion of comics in the late 1980’s, when DC Comics wooed the overseas talent, or a casual social encounter with celebrity Sean Connery.

The author writes with a swagger, relating his reclusive youth in Scotland and growing up with a larger-than-life father who protested U.S. nuclear bases then in Scotland. Morrison’s own dread of nuclear war budded along with his imagination even while his parents' marriage eventually failed. He immersed himself at an early age in the super heroics of British comics magazine 2000 AD and then DC Comics and Marvel Comics staples. There are more colourful details for readers to discover themselves, so I won’t particularize. From these roots, Morrison became cognizant of conspiracy theory and locked onto the idea of characters with great powers who might intervene on humanity’s behalf. He played in a punk rock band, the Mixers, during his early and shy and drifting twenties. Around the same time, Morrison began drawing and writing for comics, eventually stringing for 2000 AD and other British titles, always with a keen eye on subverting the form.

It’s personal history writ dramatically. Grant Morrison feels the need to defend the book's theme, perhaps, about how a kid can become enraptured by the concept of beings with godlike powers, able to intervene in the event of nuclear catastrophe. He essentially argues that his younger obsession forms the man he becomes as a creator.

Morrison also allots real estate to pontificate on the game-changers of the medium, describing The Dark Knight Returns as a Norse Opera, analysing Alan Moore’s masterful and yet in his view still imperfect clockwork-like symmetry in The Watchmen, and even explaining his theory that Batman snaps the Joker’s neck in the denouement of Moore’s The Killing Joke. His shrewd eye catches many fine details and illuminates themes and undercurrents as adeptly as any scholar poring over a text.

Throughout his catch-all book, Morrison is outlandish, spiritual, and self-aggrandizing. He is not without grounds. Morrison did, after all, shift many paradigms, including Arkham Asylum, his collaboration with artist Dave McKean and the conspiracy-theory-laden and cult-following-gathering The Invisibles, to name but two of his game-changing works. Since about three quarters of Morrison’s work is rather provocative or mind-bending or avant-garde, he is within his rights to strut the stage of high-brow comic-book intellectualization. So he swaggers like a peacock across the page, a raconteur backed by his own startling achievements. Think Ray Bradbury, were he still with us, musing about current sci-fi writing.

Cover art by Gary Frank. I'd recognize
his particular line work and facial
expressions anywhere.
Random House Publishing Group, 2011
With the 1989 publication of Arkham Asylum, and its stratospheric success, with multiple sold-out print runs, Morrison found himself the fortunate co-signatory to a lucrative royalty contract. Here was a hard cover comic book with gorgeous paintings and psychological writing. It discomfited and fascinated readers. This was not exactly a comic, but more a bona fide book, and a gorgeous one. Still, everyone who could afford the book wanted it (Editor's Note: Even young readers at the time such as myself). Morrison has said in interviews that Arkham Asylum is about the nightmare that he believes Batman must have every night. 

With his newly earned funds, Morrison traveled the world and wrote The Invisibles, inserting an avatar of himself into the comic in the form of the character King Mob. With artists with a talent for dazzling detailed including Phil Jimenez pencilling interiors or Brian Bolland drawing covers, the series ran for three volumes. Morrison incorporated his own life into the book whenever possible, and had a blast doing so, from depicting fetish clubs in a magical setting or trans character Lord Fanny (Editor's Note: Morrison has always been ahead of his time!) having a fling in New Orleans. The title holds the infamous distinction of Morrison asking readers, in the letters column, to masturbate and perform a magical ritual using a sigil to save the series from cancellation. 

In Supergods, Morrison expounds on chaos magic, as he often does, relating his world-view-altering spiritual experience in Kathmandu and his claim that he is a chaos magic practitioner. Morrison has spoken at length about his transformation in interviews, in particular, in the extraordinarily bizarre two-part Fatman on Batman podcast interview he did with director and filmmaker Kevin Smith. I won’t repeat the details here, because you really should seek it out for yourself. It's here.

Morrison extends his spiritual beliefs to comics, also positing that comic books are another dimension and that somewhere someone is reading our human stories from another dimension as well. As in other interviews and podcasts, Morrison philosophizes that we are tapping into archetypal and older power.

Whether or not one agrees with Morrison, he is consistent in his responses about his own mystical views. In his outspokenness about magick, he is similar to only one other warlock in the business. While he and Alan Moore have not seen eye-to-eye in some time, you can search online and find articles about their antagonist relationship. The crux of the matter, though, is that Moore disputes Morrison's claim to be a magic practicioner as well, citing Morrison's coming-out as a chaos magician as being suspiciously close to Moore's announcement that he was a warlock shortly after Moore turned 40. To his credit, Morrison pays only tight-lipped flattery to Moore in Supergods, however. When Morrison does go on a little long about Watchmen, one suspects he is trying to make amends through praise of the other rock-star warlock of comic books.

As a result of his multiplicity of reality-bending interests, and his accomplishments, he is a fascinating subject for documentarists, biographers and Ph.D. students alike.

And Morrison is a truly an avant-garde rock star of comics as well. His opus not only includes the thoroughly engrossing The Invisibles (in fact, sometimes dizzingly so), but also its spiritual predecessor, The Filth, the postmodern and reality-shifting Flex Mentallo, the dysfunctional Doom Patrol with emotionally troubled and schizophrenic anti-heroes, a pivotal, several-year-run on Batman, a fourth-wall­-breaking run on Animal Man, not to mention his fearless Final Crisis and Convergence, two complicated, multiple-Earth shattering DC-Comics-mega-series that any sensible writer would have steered clear of. Also of note is All-Star Superman, his 12-issue collaboration with artist Gary Frank, in which Superman lives out his last days performing 12 great feats after his nemesis Lex Luthor bombards him with cancer. The storyline carries an irascibly enjoyable tone. Readers will be ruined for reading any other notable Superman books afterward. In All-Star, Morrison show the Man of Steel showing compassionate when he intervenes to save a suicidal young woman from committing sucide. This show of compassion is rare for the flagship character.

Because of Morrison’s street cred and his undeniable charisma, whether as a guru or comics creator or self-professed chaos magician, Supergods is worth picking up. You will learn a lot more about Grant Morrison here than in the pages of his comics even while some of the material has appeared elsewhere, online and in interviews. Steel yourself for a plunge into mysticism, chaos magic, mind-bending transcendental experience and a cocky overview of Morrison’s accomplishments and his take on comics and graphic novels that made history. The book has a multiple personality disorder, but this oddly is part of the roguish raconteur’s charm. Supergods is a rich, introspective and, at times, humble trip. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Note On Writing Old-School Style

The more I'm exposed to sensory overload via the Internet and distracting computer software prompts and infinite requests and notices, the more I am seriously consideirng returning to writing only on my Olympia typewriter when I am working my craft.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Author Page Launched

And boom! I'm switching from my Town & Train Facebook page to an author page

Feel free to follow and/or like the page if you want. Followig the page is a great way to keep track of my writing projects, writing business, readings, and other public appearances, if that's your thing. (Gasp! The hermit emerges from his cave...!)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Characters in my Second Novel, Monstrous

While I am editing my second horror novel, Monstrous, I feel it prudent to describe my cast of characters. I realized in my Feb. 9, 2017 post about completing the novel that while I described the emotional experience of writing the manuscript without the presence of my mentor, Hugh hat I neglected to go into detail about my characters.  Here, I have made some notes aboutMonstrous and its characters.

What's Monstous about?
Set in 2012, 22 years after my first novel, Town & Train, Monstrous concerns a seemingly random group of strangers who converge at an old retrofitted inn, the Auld Dubliner. But nothing is what it seems and there may be a connection between all of them, and the horrors awaiting them.

So is Monstrous a sequel to Town & Train?
No. I do have some recurring characters such as Sergeant Ritchie O'Donnell, who was protagonist David Forester's romantic interest in Train (He was a constable then.) I'd mention the other characters from Train, but that would be taking away the surprise.

But are you writing a sequel to Town & Train
I wouldn't rule it out. Stay tuned, true believers.

So who's in Monstrous?

My Returning Stars
My hero, John Newman, has just finished hitching across the U. S. and Canada over three weeks and is on a course to the Auld Dubliner inn to settle accounts with an old friend. He's carrying a lot of baggage with him, and it's not in his backpack, but has to do with his recently failed relationship and being out of work again.

Sara Jasmine is back in Canada after residing in the U.K. for a decade, and hunting down ghosts with Miguel MacIntyre, a modern warlock whom she met at an occult bookstore.

John, Sara and Miguel have appeared in some of my unpublished, Full Moon Over Somerset Avenue (a novella starring John Newman) and A Canadian Ghost in London (starring Sara as an expat living in London, England, haunted by the death of her good friend, and meeting Miguel for the first time).

My Characters in Brandon, Ontario (My Fictional Stand-in for Cornwall, Ontario)
Sergeant Ritchie O'Donnell is very recently single after a 10-year relationship. He now runs an LGBTQ counselling group, a coming-out group and performs police community outreach work with the LGBTQ community in Brandon.

In all of this, I musn't forget Drake, my reclusive and introverted guitarist of immense talent. Drake, in his late thirties, lives at home with his mother and takes long walks at night in the dark streets of Brandon. He knows Brandon's secrets, and what he encounters in his night sojourns changes him.

I have a trio of second-year university students. Bruck Blackadder is wrestling with his sexuality identity after he and his queer close friend Dave get a little closer than he expected. Joshua, the third musketeer of their trio, has a passion for drawing but is agonizing because he is majoring in the Sciences at university.

Crises of Faith
Brittany Cruikshank is a disillusioned Jehovah's Witness of 20 years who is being excommunicated as a result.

Jean-Francois, my Quebecois character, is a burned-out AIDs/HIV survivor and activist who lost friends and lovers to the epidemic in the 1980's and is trying to put his past in perspective.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review, Notes about Michael V. Smith's My Body is Yours: A Memoir

About Michael V. Smith:
Multifaceted gay Canadian writer, performance artist, and activist Michael V. Smith has published two fine novels, Cumberland and Progress, and the poetry collections What You Can’t Have, Body of Text, (with David Ellingsen) and his stirring and newest collection, Bad Ideas.

Cover image copyright 2015,
Arsenal Pulp Press
In his memoir My Body Is Yours, Michael V. Smith reflects on his turbulent childhood, coming out early, falling in love early, but also about becoming a sex addict, and crusing for sex in parks, all from the perspective of his mid-forties. But his perspective makes the account no less painful, from stories of his alcoholic father being in and out of work regularly, to Smith trying to hide who he was in his hometown, and gentler moments.There are moments of grace such as his description of walking home at dawn after a night in Stanley Park, finding solace in early morning bird song. 

Smith starts his story with his youth in Cornwall, our shared hometown. He recounts his splintered childhood, coping with his parents being unhappily married, largely due to his alcoholic father. Sporadically employed, his dad was a seismic, shifting and unpredictable force in his family's life. Mike realized he was gay in his adolescence, startlingly early by standards of the 1980’s. He finds requited love. Smith eventually takes his beau to prom, where their two female dates act as the boys’ beards. These kids were way ahead of their time, clearly. After a four-year relationship with his high-school sweetheart, who eventually realizes she is trans, Smith travels to San Francisco. He is, in his own words, urged on by an older gay friend as though they are characters in a queer indie film. Later, Smith lives in Toronto, Vancouver, and Kelowna, all the while cruising men online, on camera, but mainly in public parks.

Mike and I know each other from our hometown days, going as far back as grade seven at Central Public School (it's gone now, torn down about five years ago for a new school to go up in the same spot). He is two years older than me, and so I was two grades younger and mostly unnoticed, which is understandable. However, I got to know him better after Smith published his first novel, Cumberland. 

A debut as startling in its power as it is painful, Cumberland is set in a small town of the same name, a fictionalized Cornwall, Ontario. One protagonist in Cumberland, Ernest, is a laid-off mill worker discovering his queer sexual identity. The other hero, Aaron, a young boy, endures bullying and his own sexual awakening. My debut horror novel Town & Train also occurs in a fictionalized Cornwall. My stand-in, Brandon, is also enduring hard economic times, just as Cumberland is described as a "failing industrial town". Our descriptions of the hometown of our youth are unsurprising, given that in the wake of the Free Trade Agreement, many factories, such as Courtalds and Nestle, closed down in Cornwall in the 1990's to move operations to countries with cheaper overhead costs. Mike and I, although young, saw these closures happening in our mill-and-hockey town and obviously have carried this observation forward into our work.
Cover image copyright 2002,
Cormorant Books.
Town & Train also includes closeted queer characters such as the gay Constable Ritchie O'Donnell. My main protagonist Constable David Forester struggles to realize his bisexual identity. Mike and I also use some similar settings, including the landmark of the Domtar paper mill, physical descriptions of local areas such as the east end business district of Montreal Road and downtown's main intersection of Pitt and Second. But perhaps most importantly, we also depict the local gay cruising area. 

Around the time Cumberland came out from Cormorant Books, I was hammering away at revisions of Town & Train each morning before racing off to a wine retail job. Mike encouraged me to finish it and find a publisher instead of, he said, leaving the manuscript to waste away in a drawer. Impressed by Cumberland at the time, I asked Mike if I could include a cameo of one or two of his Cumberland characters in Town & Train. He generously agreed. So, if you look, you will find a familiar fellow cruising for men in the park in Town & Train.

Reading My Body Is Yours, I am struck by the harrowing, dangerous, and threatening situations Smith placed himself in, beginning with alcohol abuse. When he quit drinking, Smith rechanneled his addiction energy into staying up all night, cruising parks for sex. The lure of sex, the danger of being hurt, or worse, and the adrenaline-charged high he got from navigating darkened Stanley Park all became all too enticing.

I’m familiar with this hunt, at night, with men giving each other oblique signals in the park, a perpetual and fascinating dance of attraction and chase. Smith is, too. 

Smith includes "Prayer for Promiscuity", a piece about cruising in Stanley Park in his new poetry collection, Bad Ideas (Nightwood Editions, 2017). The poem hits the reader in the crotch, but also in the heart. Here's an excerpt.

Across Lost Lagoon, the apartment
complexes rise, pixelated

a horizon lonellier than childhood.
If we'd been children together, perhaps
we could have saved each other.

In this way, Smith deftly juxtaposes childhood innocence with the hardened experience of a man looking for casual sex in the park.

Reading a friend's memoir is not for the faint of heart. For me, learning that Mike imperilled himself so much, and so often, through barebacking or other careless constant sex with strangers, sometimes with multiple strangers simultaneously, is jarring. The idea knocks me sideways. His obsession matured, blossomed, and he expanded his area of risk, including online chat rooms, webcams, and random hook-ups under the highway bridge outside of town, in strangers’ cars, or even, in one chilling instance, a failed rendez-vous in a mechanic’s garage where Smith was nearly locked in with a troubled and musclebound stranger.

Smith’s successful memoir is, at turns, heart-wrenching, funny, sad, dramatic, and heartbreakingly confessional. It does, however, possess a single hitch—the narrative thread often back-steps in chronology. In one instance, Smith describes living in Vancouver. The next, he recalls his escapades a few years earlier in Toronto. The reader hears about Smith discovering a queer community in Vancouver and then Smith travels back to his days in Toronto dressing up in drag and making a drunken sexual spectacle of himself at a nightclub. Then the reader learns of Smith’s days as Cookie La Whore, the drag persona he adopted to host soirees at the Dufferin. Here, he and writer Billeh Nickerson admirably shored up the disparate parts of the queer artistic community, from rock bands to artists of all stripes. There’s merit here; the story is writ large and dramatic, and justifiably so. In a sense, this is Smith's Torch Song Trilogy, and the story breaks your heart. The order, though, could have benefitted from refining.

Coincidentally, on my first trip to Vancouver back in 2000, a university friend insisted on taking me to the Dufferin, or the “Duff”. And I did not recognize Mike. However, I saw his drag show and quite liked it. I've always liked a good drag show, when done with aplomb and skill. Besides, Mike is a very pretty, lithe woman, and man.

My Body is Yours often reads like a John Rechy novel. Rechy was famous for City of Night, his 1963 debut novel about a hustler finding his way in the underground sexual life of the glittering big American cities in the 1950s. The novel was compared to Genet and Jack Kerouac. Unfortunately, his critics pegged Rechy as as a hustler who wrote a book instead of a writer who happened to be a hustler. Rechy wrote several more books after City of Night, a fact which his detractors seemed to have failed to notice. But I digress.

Cover Image Copyright 2017,
Nightwood Editions.
I feel the need to contextualize how Smith feels in his skin, since the memoir is about his body. While Smith had agonized over body issues, he is comfortable with himself now. Myself, I have come to terms with being bi, although much later than in my teens, rather in my twenties and thirties. So I sometimes see Smith as an accelerated version of myself. He, too, is a skinny-boy-turned-skinny-man from a small town. Of course, he was far skinner than me. He was, in fact, skinnier than anyone around him growing up, as he mentions in the memoir. This is an accurate, not self-effacing observation. As a result, some men in the park would feel Mike’s meagre bicep and then simply move on. 

Of course, we also have in common the fact that he’s a writer. And a lover of men. He is, of course, much farther along the Kinsey Scale, his needle pointed squarely at the men side. I’m more toward the middle.

But as Mike recalls, or fails to recall, how he had sex with multiple partners in one night or how he prowled the parks four nights a week, I remind myself—I’m not reading about John Rechy or Jack Kerouac or Norman Mailer sinking themselves into depravity. Rather, I'm reading about someone I know. Someone I quite adore. It breaks my heart to hear what Mike did to himself through his obsessive compulsive disorder behaviour and addictions. 

I do, though, find solace in the fact that he came through it all intact. The world would be far less good and fabulous without Mike in it, as a writer, a person and an influence. I just want to hug him and say I’m grateful he came through the fire of his addictions.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Have Copies of Debut Horror Novel... Will Travel!

Exuberance! Definition: Noun. ex•u•ber•ance;\ig-ˈzü-b(ə-)rən(t)s\ 
The feeling a first-time novelist gets when they receive copies of their book from the publisher that remains constant.

Thanks to my publisher Lethe Press, now I’m geared up with copies of Town & Train for this weekend’s Limestone Genre Expo.  But I'll be, er, driving instead of taking the train...

(Of course, if I sell one copy, I’ll be ecstatic. Attending Limestone is an excuse to meet all sorts of fine folks and like-minded souls and have a blast.)

Attending the Third Limestone Genre Expo

Anyone in and around the Kingston, Ontario area this weekend? 

I’m once again very happy to be part of the June 3-4  Limestone Genre Expo, a fun conference for speculative fiction readers and creators. 

On Saturday at 4pm, I weigh in on On Driving the Reader Mad: Psychological Horror with Nancy Kilpatrick, M. H. Callway, Una Verdandi, Evan May, Suzanne Church and the inestimable Sean Moreland. Moderatred by the fabulous Sandra Kasturi. 

On Sunday at 11am, I discuss, Oh! The Horror!, with luminaries Nancy Kilpatrick, Sean Moreland, Karen Dales, Caroline Fréchette, Sandra Kasturi, Matt Moore, and Karen Dales. Moderated by Kim McDougall.

Check out more about Limestone here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Why Chris Cornell's Death Affects Me

I realize that the death of Chris Cornell hits me hard because it signals another victim of fame and the grunge movement. 

Understand that grunge music was, for my generation, an entry point into university and adventure and exploring one's self. Pearl Jam's album "Ten", in particular, was the album du jour in fall 1992, and an ideal traveling soundtrack for a 19-year-old going from home to elsewhere by bus or train for the first time. Eddie Vedder's baritone chants and the melodic guitar riffs and anthem album were terrific companions for a new adventure.

Nirvana and Soundgarden were the accompanying heavy grunge music for me. Keep in mind that the grunge sound, with its heavy emphasis on electric guitar and wailing lyrics, were new at the time. Many people my age accepted ownership of this sound as part of the soundtrack for our lives. Sure, we wore plaid and white T-shirts and denim and danced as though we were having some sort of body surfing wish fulfillment, but the music, we felt, was unique to our age group.

Chris Cornell's suicide by hanging is partiucularly haunting as he joins a line of West Coast lead singers and writers to succumb to alcohol and drug addiction, as well as depression, since the heyday of the Seattle Sound in the early-to-late-1990's. Here's the list I came up with that I am sure media will be covering soon enough.

- First there was Mother Love Bone lead singer Andrew Wood who was a heroin addict. He was, in a way, my generation's very own legitimate Jim Morrison, an early casualty of rising fame and drug addiction. Wood tried to get clean before Mother Love Bone's album came out. Sadly, he died in 1990 of a heroin overdose, days before "Apple" was released. Mother Love Bone only put out that sole album. Chris Cornell formed the band Temple of the Dog and the album of the same title as an epitaph for Wood.

- Kurt Cobain, the famous lead singer for Nirvana, another Seattle-based band, died in 1994 under suspicious circumstances.

- Seattle band Alice in Chains founder and lead singer Layne Staley died from drug-related complications in 2002.

- Scott Weiland, lead singer of San Diego band, Stone Temple Pilots, died of an accidental drug-and-alcohol overdose in 2015. Critics often accused STP, as they were called back then, of mimicking Eddie Vedder's rock anthem vocalist style with Pearl Jam. After three albums, though, STP proved their worth as a grunge rock band all their own. They often made a trippier and more oblique style than Pearl Jam, punctuated by severe bass guitar.

So when you learn that the frontman have died in tragic circumstances from nearly all the Seattle bands producing grunge music, whose influence you still feel 25 years later, it's an affecting realization. 

I am deeply saddened by the news of Cornell's death, yet still as thankful as ever for the music Cornell made during his lifetime. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Chris Cornell's Passing

Musician Chris Cornell was immensely gifted. His suicide has given me pause.

Cornell, friend and mentor to newcomer Eddie Vedder, helped launch Eddie's career back in '91. Between founding the band Soundgarden in '84 and making possible the birth of Pearl Jam in '90, Cornell was a seminal force during the birth of the Seattle Sound or grunge movement. He also founded and fronted the band theTemple of the Dog in 1990 as a tribute to friend Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone's founder, as well as and Malfunkshun's) who died of a heroine overdose.
Cornell's vocals elevated grunge music, with its heavy crunching guitar riffs, and made this music into something utterly new at the time.
On the holiday weekend, I put on a YouTube playlist to educate my nine-year-old boy. I started with "Hunger Strike" (the stunning, mournful duet with Vedder dedicated to Andrew Wood), followed by "Fell on Black Days", and a startling cover of "Nothing Compares to You". Alice in Chain's "Would?" also crept into the mix.
Cornell's vocals are still haunting.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Worried, with cancer after family and friend's marriage falling apart

Just so damn worried in that Kerouac exisential sense about best friends not talking to each other anymore and a friend's marriage imploding despite his outward denials and cancer taking my mother-in-law and Lori-Jean Hodge with that sweet otherworldly voice and my sister also with inoperable cancer.

A lot of other posts seem irrelevant by comparison. Still editing my second novel and waiting to hear how a short-story collection is being appraised by a publisher. But I'm not posting about that, because that's the in-between part of my days of worrying and movig on through daily life.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Review of Doctor Sleep: Stephen King's Worthy Sequel to The Shining

I finally got around to reading Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, the very late sequel (about 36 years later) to his influential 1977 novel The Shining. The Shining was predicated on hero Jack Torrance's flaws, as a father and a human being. Jack was haunted not only by ghosts at the Overlook Hotel, but by alcoholism, a bad temper, and deep doubts about his parenting. Doctor Sleep is about the son Danny, now a grown man, spiralling into alcholism and aimlessness. That said, Doctor Sleep is richly rewarding. It’s not quite the same as The Shining, but if you’ve read The ShiningDoctor Sleep is a worthy sequel. 

Moreover, Doctor Sleep is very good in many places. King writes revealingly and genuinely about a middle-aged protagonist grappling with alcoholism, trying to change his life for the better, but also contending with dark forces with help from the younger generation. I understand that alcoholics attending rehab like the book because it speaks to their own struggles.

The hook for Doctor Sleep is that little Danny Torrance, from the first novel, is now middle-aged now, an alcoholic like his father Jack. Dan drinks, though, to numb himself from seeing horrifying ghosts and apparitions. Unlike ol’ Dad, who succumbed both to alcoholism and to the influences of ghosts at the Overlook, Daniel endures an experience that grants him an epiphany. He realizes he must stop drinking. Reintroducing readers to Daniel Torrance, King writes adeptly about a hero grappling with alcoholism and white-knuckle sobriety, not to mention about some truly horrific situations.

As in his 1975 Salem’s Lot, a modernized Dracula in small-town America, King’s hero relives a scene that motives them through their long journey. (In Salem's, the young Ben Mears witnesses a man who hung himself in the abandoned Marsten House.) Dan, in Doctor Sleep, wakes one morning in bed with a barroom pickup, several hundred dollars poorer, and having hit rock bottom. He realizes he must confront his alcoholism.

After this all-time low, Dan imbibes alone under a bridge. Realizing how far he has fallen from anything resembling a stable life, he decides to sober up. Dan also realizes he needs help, an alcoholic’s toughest realization. He moves to the small town of Frazier, and tries to start over. King in showing Dan's long nights and agonizy over resisting the temptation of having just one drink, King taps into serious oil, here. Every toss and turn that Dan feels the reader also feels. Dan is at his wits’ end. Doctor Sleep is not so much as a descent as the Shining; it’s the character’s attempt to ascend his addiction. 

The story moves forward several years. Daniel holds down his day job at a palliative care unit. Here he earns the moniker that is the book’s title. Daniel has a knack for seeing patients off for their final moments. When the house cat, Gabe (Gabriel, here, in heavy-handed symbolism), sits overnight on a particular patient’s bed, this is the signal for Dan's co-workers to call Doctor Sleep. King succeeds, in several touching scenes, in showing Dan help people in their last moments of life. Such scenes made me teary-eyed.

The Shining sequel also introduces Abra, a younger character who shines. She sees ghosts and other otherworldly entities like 12-year-old Danny Torrance could see such things in The Shining. But she's far more powerful than he ever was. There’s a supernatural band of Recreational Vehicle (RV) drivers tracking down Abra, sort of soul-draining energy monsters. King portrays some cruel and scary characters here while also revealing their human sides, if that makes any sense.

Forgive the drift into vagueness. No spoilers, here. 

Doctor Sleep is, in turns, a little bloated, from Dan's internal monologues to touchstones of American life to brand names. Dan argues with himself in his head. This internal argument has long been King's favourite means of characterization and internal interplay. The author doesn’t steep his story in Americana—he deep fries it. His continues to profess his love of the interstate highway system. This was a noticeable detail from his 1984 fantasy novel, The Talisman, co-authored with Peter Straub. In Doctor Sleep, King also drops many brandnames, mentioning WalMart and the EarthCruiser recreational vehicle a little often. Admittedly, the antagonist drives an RV but to repeatedly name this make and model, along with the make and model of a car of a protagonist, gets conspicuous. That said, King likes touchstones that Americans see on a daily basis, whether familiar brands or famliar businesses.

But Doctor Sleep have the same visceral impact as The Shining

Well, no, because the novel is not weighted on a father’s tragic flaws. Rather, it is weighted on the son feeling doomed to become his father. Doctor Sleep is, oddly enough, a brave horror story. Dan struggles with his drinking and his temper like his father Jack did. Unlike, Jack, though, Daniel stares down his alcoholism and tries to connect with other human beings, even getting to know the younger generation. 

And, of course, this being a King novel, King shows that he still has the chops for truly terrifying and heroic moments along the way. Doctor Sleep hits hard in places, landing emotional and horrifying blows. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Hap and Leonard - Damn Fine New T.V., Pardner

I've started watching Hap and Leonard - some damn fine T.V., in Texan parlance - thanks to the recommendation from Lovecraftian expert, academic, editor and horror scribe Sean Moreland.

Now I'm not sure whether it's such a good show good because of the solid acting by James Purefoy,  Michael K. Williams and Christina Hendricks or because of the soundtrack motif (cue the C.C.R.!) or simply because the show is based on Joe R. Lansdale's book series. While I've not sampled the Hap and Leonard books, the show feels like a Lansdale tale, with tough Texan characters, outlandish villains, bizarre situations, a coating of film noir, a touch of horror and a dash of the absurd. In short, it's just ridiculously entertaining, as only a Lansdale book can be. (Keep in mind that Lansdale once started a story with “On a day hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock…")

I also dig that one protagonist is a queer person of colour (Leonard Pine) and the other is Caucasian (Hap Collins). The black-and-white best friend combination reminds me a little of my youthful shenanigans with one of my best friends, who is also black. The two heroes joke easily about race and sexuality, although Hap is fiercely protective of Leonard, and vice versa, and it's obvious they care deeply for each other as only best friends do.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ottawa Book Launch for Anita Dolman's Lost Enough

Don't forget - tonight (Sunday, April 30) Anita Dolman launches Lost Enough, her debut short fiction collection from Morning Rain Publishing at Black Squirrel Books & Espresso Bar.

The free event starts at 7:30. 

I am immensely proud her of her accomplishment. With pieces ranging from a teenaged boy afraid to come out of the closet to a woman who works in a palliative care unit can "hear" her patients' thoughts to old gods living in a trailer park, Dolman's breadth of imagination and skill are remarkable. Her stories are heartfelt, moving and sometimes gut-wrenching.

Hoping to see some familiar and new faces tonight.

Zachary Houle says that "Dolman’s writing is powerful and moving, and her grasp on character is virtually unparalleled." 

The rest of Zach's review is here.