Thursday, August 01, 2019
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
A whale surfaces. Exhales. Foul air spumes thirty feet high. The droplets fall, winking with sunlight beneath the blue sky. The whale draws a fresh breath. It flows crisp and cool into his lungs before he slides back beneath the waves. He doesn’t dive, just lets himself slowly sink, using his flippers and fluke only for balance.
This whale is old, tired. He hasn’t eaten in a while. He wants to rest. No other whales are around. He’d been swimming with a small pod but had fallen behind. That doesn’t seem to matter.
The water is a clear and diffuse yellow here just beneath the surface. It glows warm from the sun and the whale wants to hang onto that warmth. But the effort required to do so is tremendous. He sinks a little further, his flippers stroking fitfully at the water.
Yellow light turns green, then turquoise. The water cools a little. It’s like a vast liquid gem, flawed with bubbles and whorls of current. There are no fish, no krill. He is at the center of the turbulence. Then the turbulence dies away. The green water darkens toward emerald. He sinks.
How much farther does he need to travel to reach the krill fields? Will there be anything left when he arrives? Will any of the other whales still be there? His flippers stir, then still.
He sinks a little more. The water is purple now, like twilight at the surface. But unlike at the surface, there is no wind, no roughness of waves. The ocean has a silken stillness to it. A memory comes. His first mate. Her flank brushed his, sometimes as silken as this ocean, sometimes so barnacled-rough that it scratched his flesh.
The memory passes. The ocean darkens. He drowses.
The world is black when he awakens. He drifts through a formless void. A faint pressure in his lungs lets him know that he will need to rise soon. He will have to breathe, and the surface is a long swim away now.
Then light distracts him, glittering, dancing light. He recalls youthful nights, broaching beneath a festival sky strewn with stars. A song stirs deep within but does not pass his throat. These lights are not stars; they are luminescent plankton stirred by his decent through their level. And he is not young. There is no song left.
The moment is here. He must swim now or never swim again. The surface is far away; his lungs begin to strain. Working his fluke and flippers, he begins to rise. Then he stops. The plankton have drifted away from him. He is in blackness again. Alone. The water is cold, cold.
All tension bleeds from his body. He sinks. Deeper and deeper. At some point he exhales. And the bubbles rise. In a while they will burst on the surface, and there will never be more.
Sunday, June 30, 2019
I read everything I could get my hands on as a kid, but my top three favorite genres were Science Fiction/Fantasy, Westerns, and Animal stories. My very first “favorite” book, which I read over and over and over, was Pagoo, by Holling Clancy Holling. There are no people in this tale; it’s the story of a Hermit Crab in search of a new shell.
Most of the time, there were no, or very few, people in Jim Kjelgaard’s stories. Desert Dog was a well loved book for me. It tells the tale of a Greyhound abandoned in the desert who has to learn to survive. And then there was Kalak on the Ice, a story of a mother polar bear and her cubs.
There were people in Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, but the focus for me was always on the horse. And Farley also did the Island Stallion books, in the first of which we get to know the Island Stallion living on his own, with no people around.
Of course, there was Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London, which I also loved. But I didn’t stop reading animal stories when I “grew” up. I read The Incredible Journey and Watership Down and many others. Just recently I read Lad a Dog, and loved it.
When my son, Josh, was little, I told him many animal stories, particularly about two groups of mice called the Watermelon Mice and the Pumpkin Mice. As a writer who wants to tell the kinds of stories that I love to read, it was inevitable that I would write an animal tale or two. And finally I have.
Some fifteen years ago I started and stopped a novella called “Farhaven,” about three orphaned fox kits trying to find their way to an animal sanctuary. In 2018, I finished that story, and also wrote a tale of “The Pumpkin Mice” called “Dreamtellers.” After submitting these two tales to several agents and publishers without finding even one who wanted to take a look, I’ve decided to publish them myself, along with a couple of other children’s stories I’ve done over the years which did sell. Part of the reason for me pushing to get them out rather than spend more time trying to sell them traditionally is that I’m about to become a grandfather. And that’s a pretty important step in a man’s life. It should be commemorated in some fashion or another.
And so, I’m introducing here a book called “Farhaven &Other Stories.” This is what it looks like and it’s available in print from Amazon already. I will be putting out an ebook of it in the next few weeks, although it’s only in print at the moment. I hope you’ll take a look. And thanks for reading!
Sunday, May 19, 2019
Speculations: Poetry from the Weird Poets Society, 2018: Mind’s Eye Publications, 123 pages, Edited by Frank Coffman, Illustrated by David M. Hoenig.
The Weird Poets Society was founded in 2016 by Frank Coffman on facebook as a group for published poets in the “Weird, Horrific, Supernatural, Science Fictional, Fantastic or otherwise clearly Speculative” genres of poetry. There are nearly 200 members, including myself. I believe it was in 2018 that Frank suggested publishing a collection of work from the members, and this first work, printed in the spring of 2019, is what I’m reviewing here. Twenty-eight poets are included, most with two individual poems. Some of these poems were previously published but many are brand new to this collection. Each contributor has a little “about the poet” paragraph included as well, and it was interesting to see the wide range of experiences exhibited by the members.
The poets included are Manuel Paul Arenas, F. J. Bergman, JP Bloch, Bruce Boston, Anton Cancre, Frank Coffman, Scott J. Couturier, Harris Coverly, Don Gillette, Patricia Gomes, Charles Gramlich, David M. Hoenig, Geoffrey A. Landis, Randall D. Larson, Lisa Lepovetsky, John C. Mannone, Kurt Newton, Kimberly Nugent, Cindy O’Quinn, Michael Picco, Ken Poyner, Peter Rawlik, Brian Rosenberger, Randy D. Rubin, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, David Schembri, John W. Sexton, and Don Webb. Although I’ve heard of—and read pieces by—quite a few of these folks, the only people whose writings I’ve consumed regularly were Boston, Landis, and Salmonson. I’ve also been in an anthology with Lisa Lepovetsky and spent many years in REHupa with Frank Coffman. Some other contributors here are highly accomplished even if I haven’t crossed paths with them before. Patricia Gomes is the poet laureate of New Bedford, Massachusetts. F. J. Bergman has won numerous awards, including two Rhyslings.
It’s always a little awkward for a poet or writer to review a collection that he/she is a part of. The readers will have to decide for themselves whether that devalues my comments. My pieces here are both recent poems from me called “When Night Calls to Hearts Pledged to the Sun,” and “They Rise to a Kiss.” Each has religious element and “When Night Calls” was partially inspired by a dream.
Leaving my pieces aside, my favorite pieces were by Bruce Boston, “A Stray Grimoire,” and “Pavane for a Cyber-Princess,” the latter of which I had read previously and which definitely fits the character of an ‘epic’ poem to me. I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Boston’s work over the years and have reviewed most of his poetry collections already. Boston’s list of accomplishments is a long one and his reputation in speculative poetry is well deserved. It’s quite a pleasure for me to final share a TOC with him.
I will say I felt quite comfortable and pleasantly happy with being included in this collection. There’s a range of styles, from free verse, to haiku, to formally structured traditional forms. We have the complexity of Coffman’s “Residual Murder” mixed with the deceptive simplicity of Kimberly Nugent’s “A White House.” There are playful, almost limerick-like pieces such as Salmonson’s “Bag,” and the formal power of Landis’s “The Price of Magic: Illusion’s Lure.” Nothing here felt forced or as if it didn’t belong. The language was fresh throughout and highly visual. There are no “clunkers.”
I’ll mention two other poets here whose pieces, back to back in the collection, particularly captured me while reading. These were John C. Mannone, with “Cycles,” with phrases such as “sackclothed moon” and “like Icarus with melted wings,” and the excellent “At the Mountain of Dreams” by Kurt Newton, which had such a nice melodic flow to it that I’ve already reread it several times now.
Top the poetry off with some dynamite illustrations by David M. Hoenig, and you have a really fine package that I am most pleased to be a part of. If you'd like to purchase a copy, the link is here:
Thursday, May 02, 2019
Spirit Vessels: By Dennis Formento: Foothills Publishing, 2018, 78 pages. ISBN: 978-0-921053-27-9.
Spirit Vessels is the first chapbook that I’ve read from Dennis Formento, who lives in Slidell, Louisiana and is active in the local poetry community here. I’ve not met him personally but was interested in reading some of his work since I’ve heard good things about it from other local poets.
Spirit Vessels is Formento’s most recent collection and is a substantial work. The poems are free form and often leap from image to image. Some words that occurred to me frequently as I read through the pieces here were “jazz” and “improvisation.” A few pieces struck me as having surrealistic elements, but many more are what I would call “nature” poems. Local Louisiana elements are common but expand far beyond the usual swamps and gators. And there are plenty of references to natural environments outside of Louisiana. Most of this “nature” material is not pretty nature but reflects the damage done by pollution, coastal erosion, and climate change. These are not, for the most part, happy poems, but they present a realistic, if dramatic, view of the changing world environment.
I don’t want to suggest that such nature poems make up the entirety of the collection. There is plenty of variety here. But it was these pieces, such as “Water,” “Poem: ‘Useless’” and “Bayou Paddle,” that were the most memorable and effective to me. If you'd like to purchase a copy of the book, the publisher's site is here:
There are at least two more collections by Formento that I know of, Looking For An Out Place, and Cineplex. I’ve got copies of both of these and since I certainly enjoyed Spirit Vessels very much I’ll be looking forward to reading and reviewing these as well.
Tuesday, April 02, 2019
The Best of the West, edited by Joe R. Lansdale, subtitled “An anthology of western writing from the western writers of America.” Doubleday & Company, 1986, 178 pages.
This is a collection of stories selected by Joe Lansdale, and including in introduction by Lansdale. Before I talk about the individual stories, I’ll give my overall viewpoint. I’d generally say I enjoyed most of the tales but the title is very misleading. A better title might have been, “Tales of a New West,” or something along those lines. Most of these tales are nowhere near traditional westerns. Lansdale is clear in the introduction that that was what he was looking for but the title certainly would have led me to expect a different sort of collection.
Here are my thoughts on the stories:
At Yuma Crossing by Brian Garfield: Actually set in the traditional western timeframe but a bit unusual in characterization. Overall, fairly traditional. In it, a man called the “Gringo” comes out of the desert to cross a river by ferry, but finds the ferry stranded on the far bank. He also finds an old man and woman, and a young girl who appears to be Indian. The old man is dying. The Gringo is depicted largely as an anti-hero, but he does seem to be susceptible to sympathy for the young girl. Anthologists often put their strongest tales up front and at the end. I don’t know if Lansdale intended that here but Garfield’s story was my favorite in the book.
Take a Left at Bertram by Chad Oliver: I’ve enjoyed work by Chad Oliver before. His story here is far from traditional, however, and I didn’t get a lot out of it. It’s well written and short but lacks conflict. Two men go fishing in Texas in the modern day. They are way out in the wilds and a temporal rift occurs that brings some stone age hunters together with the fishermen. Nothing happens, though, and the phenomenon disappears as fast as it came.
The Second Kit Carson by Gary Paulsen: a flash fiction piece set in the modern world. The narrator is a drunk and it’s unclear how much of what happens was real and how much he imagined. Nothing traditional in this piece. Well written, but it didn’t do much for me.
Night of the Cougar by Ardath Mayhar: This one is pretty traditional as to setting, but the hero is a woman, a mother who has to protect her child from a cougar while on the road in the dark. Lots of conflict here, lots of suspense, and some very fine writing. One of the top stories in the anthology.
Jasper Lemon’s Ba Cab Ya Larry by Lee Schultz: A poem. Only two pages. Interesting and enjoyable.
Stoned on Yellow by LoLo Westrich: Completely modern setting, with a touch of mystical seasoning. Well written, but more of a horror or magical realism tale than a western.
Making Money in Western Banking by Jeff Banks: Pretty traditional. We have a group of outlaws who are robbing banks. One has decided to quit but is persuaded to go on one last job. As you can guess, things don’t work out. A fun story, with a bit of humor.
Cutliffe Starkvogel and the Bears Who Liked TV by John Keefauver: Again, set in the modern world. I couldn’t find any connection at all to my concept of a western. If anything, it was again a kind of magical realism. A postman is the main character and is delivering hair growth liquid to a man he knows. As the stuff apparently starts working, the man goes into hiding and the postman tries to spy out what is happening. That’s where the “bears” come in, and I can’t say much more or I’d reveal the twist. This tale was perfectly well written and was probably intended to be humorous but it didn’t really work for me. Probably my least favorite in the anthology,
A Bad Cow Market by Elmer Kelton: A modern tale but with western tropes. The bottom has fallen out of the cow market and a rancher is about to give up on his dream. He is reminded, though, of how much the place means to him and finally hits on a possible way to save his ranch. This is a character study mixed with a certain amount of yearning for the simpler life. I thought it was very well written and enjoyed it.
Peaches by Lenore Carroll: A cute tale. Fairly traditional in setting. A buffalo hunter comes to town with a hankering for peaches only to find out that the local madam has bought all the canned peaches up for herself and her girls. The hunter has to do some quick thinking to try and get his share of the peaches. I enjoyed it. A fun tale.
Judas and Jesus by Thomas Sullivan: Another fairly traditional tale. We have the trope of the world weary gunfighter who happens to have his guns named Judas and Jesus. He rides into another town only to be confronted by a little kid who wants to chance him but doesn’t have a gun. Some very fine descriptive writing here and an emotional ending that I liked a lot.
Sallie C. by Neal Barrett, Jr.: I’ve much enjoyed many of Neal Barrett’s books. This particularly story is not a favorite for me, however. It’s mostly a kind of reveal story, with a certain amount of “almost” magical realism in it. There’s not a lot of conflict but some. Well written but I personally didn’t find a lot of payoff in the ending.
The Nighthawk Rides by William F. Nolan: This was one of the more interesting tales in the book, but very traditional in the sense that it’s basically a “Zorro” story told with a different character in a different setting. It’s also written as a teleplay rather than in traditional prose. Nolan mentions in the introduction to the story that it came about when he was asked to create a teleplay for a Zorro type TV series. It was never produced, though, and you’ll get a laugh out of why. Anyway, I liked this story quite a bit. One of my favorites in the collection.
The Bandit by Loren D. Estleman: An old outlaw gets out of prison and tells his story to a newspaper man while he’s waiting for a train. The setting is largely modern although the story within the story takes place in the past with a robbery gone wrong. Think “The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid.” Well written, as you’d expect. There was a real lack of tension since the events being told about happened long ago in the story. However, the ending twist is the reason why the tale was told in that fashion. Enjoyable but not one of the strongest tales in the collection in my opinion.