Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Book Review: Stagger Bay by Pearce Hansen. Full Hardcore Immersion.

Well, been a long time since I've written a book review.  Only written a handful in my life.  Oh, I used to write way too many music reviews.  It took over my headspace and got in the way of my fiction writing for many years.  I still do them on rare occasion, but know I cannot let reviews of any sort get in the way of the writing, BUT it is a good way to get some words down in a different way and I'm all for expanding my use and knowledge of writing.  I dabble in many forms, short fiction to long fiction, novels, poetry, literary horror and magic realism, erotica and simply strange stuff.  Wherever the characters demand to go. 


Here's my first book review in eons, it seems, possibly a bit clunky, but let me work it out as I get back into them and I will feature more as I go along.  Something else to be added to the blog mix.

Anyway, this one's for Stagger Bay by Pearce Hansen, a writer of real talent working some street-level noir with real kick. Here goes:


The other reviews here will tap more into the story, a wild ride for street-wise Markus, a man who has moved beyond the lure of the streets yet that knowledge and wisdom is still embedded deep within his psyche and soul.  False imprisonment and a sudden release lead to revelations about that imprisonment that include some wrenches thrown in the mix in the form of a serial killer known as The Driver, yet it all comes together by the end.  Add to this Hansen’s penchant for off-hand violence with such visceral force—the first such scene in an elementary school is visually stunning and ends with a perfect sacrifice that engages the reader emotionally amidst the bloodshed and, yes, it is very visual as I can already picture this and more here cinematically—when I say it’s a wild ride, I suggest you strap in when you read it.

But what matters for me here is the writing.  So many people who call themselves writers nowadays should go back to selling shoes or laying concrete.  I need that something extra, something that crackles, to lure me in and keep my interest. I am a critical reader and this one thing forces me to put down many books for the sheer lack of real fire and talent.   Hansen comes fully-loaded, wielding metaphor and description as the best Wordsmith Masters such as Lucius Shepard, Elizabeth Hand, and Laird Barron do, though his focus is well apart from theirs.  But, as with them, he brings that extra something I speak of that keeps me reading, involved, such vivid pictures painted with words one is immersed in the story, not just reading it.  Though in stating the pictures as “vivid,” the tonal quality is dipped deep in the grey truths of real life, not simple black and white: the good are bad, the bad are good or at least the mix is always in question. 

And Hansen knows his territory well.  Funny, but when I read the opening pages of Stagger Bay I had a couple odd impressions shaped by Markus’ reaction to his situation: one, there was a sense of detachment, but not detached; what I mean is, despite circumstances out of his hands, there was the cold understanding of the prison cell running in his veins, keeping him in check when it might seem fighting back would be the normal modus operandi for most writers to use in this situation; Hansen approached it from a different angle, one completely honest to his character.  And two, I was made to think of Joe Lansdale, a pertinent comparison, as both writers know their environment on levels that only one immersed within it can know: one can smell the grease and blood, the sweat and anxiety, sense the nerves twitchy and alive, never resting, never turned off for Hansen’s Markus.  Reading an interview with Hansen a few weeks ago only confirmed my perception that he knows the streets well, first-hand.  It’s a part of who he is and this familiarity raises the tale a few notches above the norm.

Sure, there are some slippery bits here and there and me being critical, I find giving five stars left only for perfection, but this clocks in at four and a half, for sure, and there’s no tag for that, so I’m happy to give it five and recommend it highly for anybody looking to immerse (!!!) themselves in a tale that pulls you down into the trenches and doesn’t let go. 


So, there ya go, and here's the link to the Amazon page because, heck, if I read that review, I'd pick it up.  How about you?

The review's up there as well, along with others to pique your curiosity.

Next time?  Well, the ideas spinning in my head include something on Cronenberg, Gurrilla Blues (huh?  Oh, you'll find out soon!), more about my collection, The Dark Is Light Enough For Me, perhaps sampling deeper into the stories, upcoming stories elsewhere, flash fiction, perhaps samples of the novels...and this and that and we will see...

Here's the cover art for Hansen's book:  Gritty, eh?  Mysterious, too.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Beginnings: First Sentence & First Paragraph Madness.

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."--William Gibson, Neuromancer.

I love that first sentence and am immediately hooked when reading it.  I want to know more: where is this place, what characters will we find there?

I've been thinking about first sentences recently, first paragraphs, and how we as writers should hook the readers early; yeah, stating the obvious.  I have a tendency to build, but also like to set a mood, state something vital, with my first sentences or paragraphs--mostly paragraphs, as I go through some samples for this post it became clear I'm a first paragraph(s) kind of writer--yet that vital element may not be obvious until one makes it deep into the story. I wonder, let's look at a few first sentences from projects either completed--the two novels or stories from the collection, The Dark is Light Enough for Me--or stuff in progress--a novel, a handful of other pieces I know I want to complete sooner than later, and see if I have succeeded.  So...without further adeiu:

From The Corner of His Mind, my first novel:

     "It was faint, a whisper more in Trent Alexander’s head than in his ears, a sound reminiscent of so many voices he had known in his life, yet pure and untouched by any memories he could recall.  He thought it had said, “Hello, Trent,” more a mumble, vague and unformed; a muffled introduction.  The voice projected as if from a distance, though it seemed much closer than it would like to let on. 

     As if it had risen from within." 

Now, for me, that works, but it's not a grab you around the scruff of your neck kind of works, it's a hinting at something kind of works.  And, since I know exactly what the novel does, these opening four sentences say So Much More Than It Would Seem, yet as with most of my fiction, the rewards are in the journey and final revelations. 

What do you make of that?  Will you read on, to see where it goes?

With the next example, I remember simply wanting to leap in, write something that just blasts out of the gate with a first line to grab you immediately.  How about this, from the novel in progress, tentatively titled, The Mantra of Metamorphosis.

     "Reverend Bob was naked and on the roof again."

Yeah, okay, what the heck is going on here?  A reverend?  On the roof?  Naked?   Do you want to know more?

My second novel, The Wilderness Within, opens with a prologue; yes, a dreaded prologue--don't shake your head--but it's one that ends up wrapping around to the ending in a most profound way.  Before I knew my agent was an agent--a long, strange internet story that includes poodles, penguins, our dark family history and, more perversion that would make an interesting story in and of itself--I told her, you have to read the whole thing, there's a purpose to Everything and I mean Everything.  She told me afterwards Every Writer says that, says, you have to read the whole thing, blah, blah, but this novel was the first time that it was true: the revelations were worth the build-up and bizarre trip.

     It wasn’t the wind that awakened me.  I’d grown accustomed to its mysterious habits, the fluid rhythms of its rhyme and reason.  It came in waves, surging up to the shore of my house, whistling along the wooden walls and jangling windowpanes.  It would rattle about, only to recede into the emptiness from whence it came.  Not like this other sound.  The sound that awakened me lingered, insistent: Here I am, ready or not.

     I’d been patient.  I was ready.

     This other sound buzzed and crackled and breathed deep as the fathomless space between me and out there--

     The forest.  

Are you curious?  Has that set the mood properly? 

Let's move on to some short fiction, a few from my collection that you all should buy now, especially when you can see via Amazon the print version is on sale for $9.32, while the digital version, hey, it's only $3.99 which calculates to (takes off shoes to assist) about 33 cents a story.

Here's the opening paragraph from I Wish I Was A Pretty Little Girl. 

She is so pretty, thought Leslie. Lean, with just a hint of the woman she would become—if he let her—starting to show in the slight curvature of her tiny hips, and the bud of her nipples gaining uneasy prominence on breasts eager to bloom, jutting forth under the thin fabric of her pink t-shirt. 

Does that make you uncomfortable?  The intent is to do that, yet again, by the end of the story, many people comment how we can feel sympathy for this character who, in essence, is a specified serial killer.  When I wrote that line, I knew I was asking a lot of some readers and that I would probably lose some in the process; at least some for that story.

Hmmm...a couple more, just rolling here.

From The Sunglasses Girl:

The thought of sex with anonymous women had, before the disintegration of marriage and the accompanying mental instability, never ventured into Trane’s rapidly deteriorating psyche. 

I like that.  A curious stage is set, where's the writer going to take it?  And there's sex, something that always seems to attract attention.  Since I write very adult fiction, yeah, this totally draws me in.

A few more sentences, how do they work for you?

From Black Wings:
After only a month, I’d had enough. 

From I Want To Take You Higher:
The knock at the door could only mean one thing: Desi was here, with the drugs no less, not that I could really deal with any more right now, but why stop anything of such mind-numbing, reality altering magnitude when it’s got the pedal jammed to the floor?

From Not Breathing:
When it happened, I remember not feeling anything, just disconnected from the world, or at least from being human. 

Are you intrigued or...?

How about one from a story I completed today?  Here's the first sentence from Ring Finger:

Cammie sucked hard on the rolled cigarette, the smoke threatening to warm her frigid innards, but failing. 

Enough of this.  See, as I go through all of these it's quite clear how it's all a matter of our individual make-up as to what will draw us into a story.  I'm not a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am kind of writer.  Well, not most of the time.  I like many stories that do that, but as many or more that drape me in a mood and crawl under my skin.  A lot of my fiction works in this way.  The reader has to have a willingness to go along for the ride.  Many of the writers I really enjoy do similar things.  They've staked their turf, they've set Their Playing Field and, since they know what they are doing, I will go along for the ride no matter what the beginning is, but even at that, it's usually intriguing. 

I just have to work hard to get to their level so no matter what that first sentence is, the reader will know it's going to lead to some pretty strange places they want to explore with me.

So, not clarifying anything but, as I noted up there with my fiction, I hope it was an amusing ride...

Here's a couple more of my faves, a paragraph from Lucius Shepard's A Handbook of American Prayer, one of my all-time fave novels.  You can access the first pages via the Look Inside feature.  I remember reading the opening paragraphs in Powell's books in Portland, Oregon, and being completely captivated by the intent, the ideas, the writing.  I had to know more.

And a final first sentence here from another of my all-time favorite novels, Crash by J.G. Ballard.
Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash.

Which sounds like a final sentence! Egad!

I hope Bill Lee from David Cronenberg's take on William Burrough's Naked Lunch has a perfect first sentence aligned, otherwise, I wouldn't like to witness that typewriter's reaction to his failure.  :-P

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Merzbow: Dark NOISE + New Interview Up!

Because I am rather brain-fried, tired, yet still want to get a new blog posted, here goes.  First of all, here's a link to Nerine Dorman's cool, This Is My World blog, in which yours truly has a fun interview.  Check it out when you get the opportunity.  Actually, go ahead and link up now, read it, and get back to me. And buy the book, oh, heck, here's the link for that, too:
You can also get back to me about that and...where was I? 

So, brain-tired, er, brain-fried, my brain wormed its way to the music reviews I have on file, many, many music reviews and I snagged five I had written for Merzbow, most of these in the late 1990's or possibly--I don't have the dates--the early 2000's.  Anyway, without further adieu and for your sonic impaling enjoyment, here's a few of the Merzbow reviews.  Even when trying to be serious, sometimes this kind of music demands the most, um...well...disgusting of humor to convey the, er...sometimes it...


Let's just say, it allows my brain to go to some raw, demented places--yeah, those of you with sensitive dispositions might want to leave now as there are a few images  here, within the descriptions of the music, you might not want branded on your gray matter--but ultimately quite fun.  I think...I think so, at least.  Then again, my take on fun might be a bit out there...



MERZBOW--Hybrid Noisebloom

This week’s Merzbow release is an inspired affair, infested with a wide array of gurgling machine regurgitations that really keep the proceedings lively.  From the squiggly, circuit frying static transmissions of “Mouse Of Superconcetion” and, especially, “Minotaurus,” to the pounding, flapping, electri-amplified chirping speakers of ‘Neuro Electric Butterfly,” Hybrid Noisebloom is one of my favorite excuses for self-lobotimization, or at least a reasonable excuse for sticking a rusty coat-hangar in the right nostril and attempting to scratch the back of one’s eyeballs while fellating (?!) the tailpipe of a Harley.  Yummy! 

Merzbow--Aqua Necromancer

Expect the unexpected.  Masami Akita, corrupt mastermind behind the bound and gagged and tossed into the jet engine noise of Merzbow has, over the last couple of years, really begun to stretch the limits of what he sonically does.  Seems, with current releases (Tauromachine, Hybrid Noisebloom, 1930...), there has been more variety within the choppy slabs of noise that he designs; of course, one not into the aural bliss of pure noise might argue that it all sounds like somebody has driven a Harley into a cement mixer, set it on grind, and stuck a helmeted head into the fray, recording and observing...Anyway, what we have here is, quite possibly, the most varied Merzbow release to date.  Why?  Because, amidst the stalk and squeal noise, Masami has seen fit to add lots of trippy, sometimes jazzy, inherently odd, sampled beats from bands like Soft Machine and L’Orme.  Tracks like “Soft Drums” and “Contrapuntti Patto” are as much a product of the added beats as they are the usual Merzbow onslaught; the beats seem to have given Masimi direction and, more so, revealed a side to his noisetrations that can only be deemed psychedelic!  Yes, for all the noisicians who feel they are tapping into 60’s psychedelia while still pummeling us with the same monstrous (though fun) regurgitations, Aqua Necromancer is a mind-altering example of noise that can actually be called groovy.  Far out! 


If you follow the noise scene, you kinda know what to expect from a Merzbow release.  That said, Masami Akita (Merzbow) has been mixing things up a bit lately, adding more varied textures to his white noise tsunami.  There’s a lot more disjointed focus (direction...and then chaos), a fairly prominent throb (as if Masami is getting to the heart of the sonic deluge), and a wider tonal base (it’s not just an excuse to strap in and let the white noise corrode the eardrums).  “Cannibalism Of Machine” is a syncopated jumble of clipped machinery squeals and volatile, overdriven psycho-dynamics, straining speakers as the machine is devoured; “Soft Water Rhinoceros” takes water and fuses it with some truly cataclysmic sounds; “Minotauros” is prime low-grind throb interspersed with the tones of machines in distress; “Heads Of Clouds” takes a high-pitched oscillation and drowns it in a thirsty, deranged sonic riptide.  The whole disc is concentrated and quite well conceived, the songs lashing out with cobra venom ferocity.  Out of the 1,097,203 or so Merzbow releases to date, Tauromachine rates near the top.  Of course, it is noise, and that said, some people may prefer a battery acid enema to the joys of’s all a matter of masochistic preference; me, I’ll take some of the Colonel’s extra crispy Merzbow over a scorched and screaming anus any day (though if you could record that, you might have a feel for some of what is going on here....).  (Yikes!)   


This disc reminds me of a tidbit I once got from a misfortune cookie: Merzbow say, “When one is to be anally fist-fucked by a ninja, it is not necessary to use lubricant for the glue and glass doused fist, as the blood and shit will suffice.”  Sonic sodomization of the grisliest kind.  Ouch, on all counts. 

MERZBOW/GENESIS P-ORRIDGE--A Perfect Pain                      

A Perfect Pain gathers the godfather of the noise/experimental branch of industrial, Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV), with the godfather of japanoise, Masami Akita (Merzbow).  The result is...psychotic.  Seems Merzbow has recently grown tired of the simple, sonic-inspired blunt force lobotomy (check out Aqua Necromancer on Alien8 for a prime slab o’ psychedelic noise); and Genesis, well, he’s just as eclectic as ever.  The five tracks here are spread out over 56 minutes, juxtaposing Merzbow’s underlying, turbulent ambience that occasionally erupts into frequency piercing, between-the-dials, high-squeal noistrations (be it rhythmic oscillations; clicking gyrations; looped, sampled percussion; or steel wool, scrubbed raw static), with Genesis’ acid-drenched, demented preacher vocalizations--processed and echoey, alit with drug-hazed (or is that brutally honest, reality-glazed?!) glee; the imperfect, scraped-off-the-cranial-tiles worldview lyrics (improvisations!) are the coup de grace, a subversive delight, a view from the tower of the (in)sane.  The vocal approach gives the illusion that this is what it’s like in Genesis’ head, the stream of consciousness, fractured perspective (or is that BRUTAL HONESTY...?!); the Merzbow input, underneath while Genesis rants and rambles, is littered with corruptions of sound, awaiting the opportunity to sonically rage.  Subcutaneous psychedelia that seeps in all the way to the soft gray matter, corrosive and friggin’ outrageous.  One of my favorite releases from either of these artists.  On Cold Spring  out of England, a label worth your attention. 


You've never heard Merzbow?  Well, let's rectify that.  Here's one of the first tracks I ever heard by them, him, him being Masami Akita.  Enjoy!  Enjoy?  Yeah, Enjoy!  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

It's Clive Barker's Fault...Kind Of...

Upon reading Clive Barker for the first time in the 80s, reading volume one of the Books of Blood, having been prodded by Stephen King's famous blurb, "I have seen the future of horror, his name is Clive Barker," two stark truths struck me as I got into those stories, "The Midnight Meat Train," "Pig Blood Blues," the astonishing, "In the Hills, the Cities," and the rest: Barker could write.  He wasn't just a horror writer, he was a Writer, and horror was simply where he decided to sow his words, a crop that has expanded to include the fantastique as much as horror over the passing years.

And the other stark truth?

His tales made me uncomfortable.

I Loved It! 

Writers who dig into the brain, into the deepest realms of the psyche and touch me, those are always the ones I go back to again and again.  J.G. Ballard did this repeatedly, but at that time in the horror field, nobody was shaking it up on that level; okay, let me reconsider this statement, because about then, another huge influence and no-holds barred writer, Joe R. Lansdale, was riding shotgun with Barker, as Barker kicked in the door to all pre-conceived Hells and added more blood and depth (layers, and you know I love layers) to the process, smiling impishly all the way.  In their wake, the splatterpunks and like-minded graphic blood-spattered graffiti artists posing as writers swarmed in and it got messy.  Fun, sure, but messy.  ;-)

"I forbid my mind nothing."  That's probably my favorite quote ever.  It's from Barker.  This way of thinking and approaching it with his fiction, and showing us exactly what that was bliss to my young, malleable writing mind.  I wasn't even thinking stories back then--well, derivative ideas as stories, some okay, most just half-formed, stepping stones on the way to now, but raw, so raw--more so writing lyrics and occasional poetry, all of it in need of direction; just stuff, just getting it out, snippets as brain shrapnel, observations of the world and more; manifestoes for life that co-workers taped on their refrigerators; any excuse to put pen to paper and Say Something.  I had no real idea where I was going in life.  I was young and as half-formed as the stories back then.  But over time I gained focus, direction, stories demanded the ink to leave their mark.  Later than some, but not so late, I finally decided to write and mean it.  And so on and so forth and back to Barker and what he did.

He opened the door to the full breadth of imagination for me; an imagination that keeps expanding exponentially as I go along, learning and writing and exploring.  His stories there, and deeper into the other Books of Blood--I still cannot read the opening sequence to "Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament" without squirming as she turns a man into a box, done with such visceral freedom, such amazing imagination--ignited something within me.  An understanding that writing with no inhibitions, as I had always done but not really done, if you know what I mean, well, that was the path for me.  No Inhibitions and Meaning It.   A mantra for me, a tattoo as yet inked, those letters, those ideals, I swear, mean so much to me.  Art with restrictions is bullshit.  Reach deep and pull out that which you are afraid to put on the page and do it no matter your fear.  You'll appreciate what it brings to your words, as I do.  To the stories.  The stories people remember. 

The point is, Barker showed the way, opened that door and I realized I could put all those explicit, harsh, demented, or simply psychologically disturbing words down, shape them into stories, and perhaps make somebody else squirm with joy as well. 

I thank him for it all, one of our finest Writers no matter where he takes his tales. 

And seeing Hellraiser on the big screen when it was released, another revelation.  Here was a movie unafraid to take horror to the most perverse and darkest places (at least at that time). Then Nightbreed, so imperfect, yet a sheen of something special is in there, and his love of the monsters, another lesson learned, it's okay to love the monsters; this is touched on in a sideways manner in my story, "Plastic," from my collection, The Dark is Light Enough for Me, if you're paying attention...

And he can paint?  Okay, now he's pushing it.  ;-)  Yes, with textural dynamics and, again, images that dive into the perverse and the beautiful, Barker's paintings are the perfect visual accompaniment for his writing style.  Full-bodied and breathing...alive!

Enough riffing, not even sure what I've written, but let's get this one out there before I decide to ramble on about The Great and Secret Show, one of my fave novels Ever!  I could go on for pages about Barker, but this is a blog and gotta just let it go, man, gotta let it gooooooo... 

Here's one of my fave pieces of Barker's art, the cover for the Books of Blood Volume 3, referencing "Son of Celluloid"--oh my, That One! 

The man's a genius.  "Nuff said.