Monday, December 31, 2012

Tiny Update Regarding The Crow's Caw and Reviews

Happy New Year!

So a little bit of news, which doesn't really change things very much, but bears marking: With the new year, Jassen Bailey, founder and ringleader of The Crow's Caw's reviewers, has decided to shift the reviews over to The Bag and The Crow, his main site. So change your bookmarks, etc, to keep up with our reviews and follow the Twitter handle @TheBagAndTheCrw.

Also meriting mention is that The Crow's Caw reviewers' (now The Bag and The Crow reviewers, of course) year end Top Five (published in 2012) Picks have been posted. There's some excellent books on the list this year (I include Damien Walters Grintalis' Ink in my top 5!) and I recommend checking it out.

While we're on the subject of reviews: I'm almost finished a review of Teresa Frohock's dark fantasy novel Miserere: An Autumn Tale and will post it sometime in the next few days, depending how long I feel like dithering about, making tiny changes to the final draft. I also have a review of Lisamarie Lamb's collection Over the Bridge coming down the pike sometime in the next two weeks.

Have a happy and safe New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Little INK

Review: INK by Damien Walters Grintalis


"...The stink of rot and ruin, of old dreams, broken screams and wicked, dirty little things."

Tattoos are ubiquitous in today's culture, a bit of socially acceptable rebellion, harmless markers of time or youth or self-expression. Jason's wife has walked out on him for her best friend. Their stifling marriage is over and it's time to start his life again. What better way to mark the occasion than a little ink?

Damien Walters Grintalis tosses Jason and the reader into a classic horror tale of monsters and possession, twisting familiar motifs into a taut and vibrant narrative. In one of the most intriguing opening chapters I've read, Grintalis introduces the fantastic Sailor, a villain worthy of any great horror epic.


"...smiled a terrible smile. He was ash and cinder, pain and sorrow, and he was always clever."

Sailor is one of the best depictions of an antagonist I've seen, a classical character given fresh breath and a song of his own. (A memorable villain is rare and I, for one, would love another novel full of Sailor's devilry*.) Rarely have I been so enthusiastic for a main character's adversary. One does not root for Sailor, but relishes his every appearance on the page. Grintalis is a vivid writer, her narrative made up of exact but graceful prose, painting her universe for the reader, playing with expectations and saturating her work with clear affection for her characters. Sailor is a joyous representation of evil and Jason's foolish stumbles into his hands and desperate attempts to deny the truth are as entertaining as they are anxiety-inducing. As Jason fights to keep his grip on sanity and Sailor's will takes hold in his life, as he struggles to keep up a front of normality to the world and his family, Jason's paranoia infects the reader, building to a climax that would be cartoonish in other hands.

One of Grintalis' great gifts is making the unbelievable, not only believable, but making it live and breathe. Her monsters are not cartoons, her demons are not dispelled with the light of day—all of her creations are real. Her love of horror fiction is obvious (I found myself reminded of Peter Straub), but her craft and imagination raises Ink beyond the deluge of lesser works in the genre. I love her short fiction, but Ink proves Grintalis can handle the novel length with ease. No doubt we have much to anticipate in this writer's career and I highly recommend Ink for anyone with a fondness for horror.

*hint-hint Ms. Grintalis

Friday, November 30, 2012

A FUNGUS AMONG US* (review, update, and links)

My newest review is up on The Crow's Caw. I read FUNGI this month, an anthology built around the theme of…well, fungi. Some excellent writers contributed, including A.C. Wise and Nick Mamatas.

It's been a month since I started slush reading for Electric Velocipede and I believe it's gone pretty well so far. I've gone through more than a hundred and forty stories. (And consider there are four other slushies at EV. That's a lot of fiction!) I've read some really interesting pieces and had my eyes bleed on occasion. It's a time commitment, but I'm enjoying myself and find the experience quite worthwhile.

I've been looking forward to Damien Walters Grintalis' debut novel Ink for months, and finally, it will available next week. Yay!!!

Lee Thompson has a new release from DarkFuse, the second Red Piccirilli book WITHIN THIS GARDEN WEEPING from his Division Mythos.

December is upon us. How the hell did that happen? Happy Holidays!

*On Twitter A.C. Wise accepted full responsibility for my use of the phrase 'fungus among us'. THE SHAME IS NOT MINE ALONE

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Updates, a Bit about a Storm and Other Ramblings (Also Dog Pic)

So we made it through Hurricane Sandy relatively unscathed. We lost power Monday night, but were only out for seventy-four hours and had gas to run the generator long enough to keep both our and my grandparents' fridge and freezer going until it came back up. Other than that, we were cold, but incredibly lucky, just a few trees down. Of course on the other hand, my dad has had the week off because his employers still don't have power and may not next week. Lots of our neighbors are still without power, and are likely to be for sometime. My thoughts and sympathies remain with those who bore the brunt of the storm.

Anyway, my newest review went up on The Crow's Caw Monday. I reviewed Robert Shearman's collection, Remember Why You Fear Me.

Also, last week I became a slush reader for (Hugo Award-winning) Electric Velocipede! Though Sandy kept me from it for three days, I made up for it yesterday, and I'm enjoying the experience. If you have a genre-bending, literary-minded story, consider submitting!

If you feel like reading some seriously good fiction, Damien Walters Grintalis has had two really good stories out recently They Make of You a Monster on Beneath Ceaseless Skies and A Handful of Glass, a Sky without Stars on Daily Science Fiction. Go check them out. I highly recommend both.

I spent most of our period without electricity with my nose in a book, devouring Christopher Hitchens's (rather lengthy) memoir Hitch-22 and most of Panorama City by Antoine Wilson. (I might add, the battery on my Nook Color held up very nicely; I read Hitch-22 (hardback) by daylight and Panorama City (ebook) after dark and the Nook retains a third of its charge.) I'll probably post a review of Panorama City here sometime next week. Hitch's memoir is witty (I laughed out loud a couple of times) and erudite, and gives a remarkable view of a remarkable man. Hitchens lived a full life, and his packed-to-the-gills book only covers a fraction of it.

I did actually remember to charge the battery for the camera before the storm hit, and then promptly forgot to take any storm-related pictures. Not that there was much interesting in our neck of the woods, except downed trees and power lines, which mostly look the same anyway. So, here is an picture of my dog being silly in the snow, from a few winters ago, to compensate for my neglect.

Friday, October 5, 2012

New Review on The Crow's Caw

I have a new review up on The Crow's Caw, Daniel A. Rabuzzi's Longing for Yount series Volumes #1 & #2 The Choir Boats and The Indigo Pheasant Go check it out!

 I also put this picture up as my header on Twitter. I enjoy its spininess.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Thoughts on Fireside Magazine Issue Two

Fireside Magazine Issue #2 Edited by Brian White, with artwork by Galen Dara

Issue #2 of Fireside Magazine attracted my attention with stories from Kat Howard and Damien Walters Grintalis, who number among my newest favorite short story writers. Stephen Blackmoore is also a name I recognize from Twitter (where all three are very entertaining/informative follows, btw), though I've read less of his work.

Kat Howard's beautifully rendered The Heart of the Story is an expressive exploration of the story and the muse and, as I've come to expect of Howard's work, a masterful use of metaphor and language. Damien Walters Grintalis shows off her stuff in Scarred, an emotional look at a woman's battle with an old addiction. I feel compelled to point out her killer first line, "Violet carved her hate into her flesh one name at a time." (I look forward to her debut novel INK from Samhain Horror in December.) Blackmoore's Rhapsody in Blue Shift is a very entertaining science fiction story involving George Gershwin. Perspective, a story about an agoraphobic and his wayward son by Jake Kerr, is slightly obvious, but isn't hurt by the fact. Fireside also features a comic, An Honest Mistake by Brian White (Pencils and Inks by Steve Walker, Letters by Frank Cvetkovic) which, while vaguely amusing, wasn't really my thing—but I have little experience with comics, and am inclined to say my opinion is suspect.

Overall, I'm well pleased with my purchase; The Heart of the Story and Scarred more than satisfied this customer, with Blackmoore and Kerr's stories being happy bonuses.

I recommend #Issue 2 and will certainly consider Fireside's subsequent issues. Get Fireside

P.S. Issues #1 and #2 of Fireside Magazine were Kickstarter-funded. Fundraising for Issue #3 begins this month. If you have the means, consider contributing.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Brown Study

My great-uncle died this morning. It wasn't unexpected; he was past ninety and his health had been in decline for some time, really since his wife entered a hospice when her Alzheimer's symptoms became unmanageable several years ago.

He lived halfway across the country and I only met him a handful of times, but my impression was of a massive man capable of surprising tenderness, who had a fondness for children. One of my earliest memories is sitting on his lap listening to the talk of my relatives as they related well-worn stories and roared with laughter at the youthful antics of people I would never meet.

What is interesting is that this impression is completely different from the one my father, aunts and uncle have of him. They grew up terrified of him—he was harsh, aggressive figure in their childhoods. Cruel. Mean. To them and to his own children. Could time have changed him so much? Or are my memories just snapshots of him on his best behavior?

His wife is my grandfather's elder sister—a larger than life character in her heyday, really even in her decline. Her wicked sense of humor, a harsher version of the teasing I associate with my grandfather, was legendary. I remember the last time they came out to my grandparents' for a visit, a few months after her diagnosis—my great-uncle was beside himself with silent appreciation when we all ignored her lapses, her disjointed statements and generally treated her like she was still alive, and still herself. It wasn't difficult; she was still a firecracker, teasing her little brother in a way no one else dared. My great-uncle seized both my mother and me in bear hugs when we got up to leave.

I doubt my father's, aunts' and uncle's sense of their uncle was inaccurate—they were afraid of him, and it wasn't because of a contrast in their day-to-day experiences with their own father. My grandfather has never been a gentle man. His teasing isn't always nice, and he's had little patience for the errors of childhood. If he didn't understand something he could (and does) become belligerent. He was demanding of his wife, and an inattentive, harsh father.

But my great-aunt and uncle lost a daughter to brain cancer some time before my great-aunt first showed signs of Alzheimer's disease. They watched their daughter die, as her body and mind gave out, and helped raise her children. I've wondered if the loss of one of his children and my great-aunt's illness is what caused this shift in his behavior. I can't imagine watching a woman so full of life (abrasive as she could be), his partner for more than fifty years fade away, a few years after watching your daughter do the same in the prime of life. It's been years since she recognized anyone or could feed herself.

Do people really change? I find myself hoping my great-uncle had indeed changed his stripes, that what I witnessed was his normal in his end days. I gather there was some grief between him and at least one of his children, and I hope there was some closure for them before he died. I hope my great-uncle made amends and found forgiveness for his trespasses, and forgave those who needed his pardon. I suppose we can’t ask for much more at the end of our days.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Look! Links!

Today I'm posting some links to short science fiction and fantasy stories I've read recently and found especially brilliant. Yes, I said brilliant. Because it's true. And because I can.

Issue 39 of Apex is excellent, particularly the gorgeous Murdered Sleep by Kat Howard.

Three from Daily Science Fiction, though you really should sign up for their free emails. Free quality fiction right in your inbox, five mornings a week.

Innocence, Rearranged by Annie Bellet

To Be Undone Of Such Small Things by Damien Walters Grintalis (I love her titles…)

The Mechanical Heart of Him by Cate Gardner (I rather love her titles as well, come to think of it...)

From Lightspeed Magazine, The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species by Ken Liu

And from Clarkesworld Magazine, Fade To White by Cathrynne M. Valente

So, go check them out and bask in the fictiony-goodness. ;-)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Review: Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock

Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock

This collection of literary short stories revolves around the town of Knockemstiff, Ohio. "The hollow" is a downtrodden area full of drug addicts and inbred hillbillies, full of the violence and depression which comes with true want. Pollock's prose is skilled, his gaze unflinching as he looks on the existence of the people of Knockemstiff, from the mentally deficient to the speed freaks, to those one step from escaping the circle of poverty, emotional and material. He doesn't shy away from the violence of a father against his wife and children, the damage inflicted by a twisted mother on her child, the father on the son. He points out the hypocrisy of his characters' mindset as they condemn those around them, even as they make their own damning choices; he highlights their powerlessness to change their fortunes. Each word builds to draw these people to their inevitable place in their little world, the trap fate and circumstance has laid for them.

Overall, it’s a solid collection. Pollock is a strong writer who gets his point across and is unremitting with his truth for Knockemstiff. Unremitting is the word for this collection. But the author's style, for all the grit in these stories, the raw truth of drug addicts and families rotting from the outside in and the inside out, remains cold. There is no sense of love for his characters, save perhaps a few of the children. All fates seem sealed, by circumstance and thought. The arc of their lives is predetermined by the content of their childhoods, and the struggle seems ceremonial. Pollock is not misrepresenting reality, but I feel there is a missing touch of compassion, not in content, but in tone. As nearly every character makes motions, intentions, toward change, toward fighting the current of their lives, the reader never believes they will escape and only a handful of characters seem undeserving of their fate. Pollock leaves it to the reader to infer the tragedy infused in every moment of life in the hollow.

I usually dislike comparing works by different authors, but as I was reading Knockemstiff I found myself reminded of several pieces in John Mantooth's debut collection published earlier this year. (My review for The Crow's Caw) Though Shoebox Train Wreck is a more loose collection, featuring a diverse set of characters and stories framed in more diverse forms than Pollock's, they both address the truth of rural poverty, and the quiet horror of much of life. What struck me was the touch of beauty Mantooth brought his pieces, the gracefulness in the depiction of the sorrow and deep-seated heartbreak in his character's existence. The first half of Knockemstiff is almost monochromatic, damning and unforgiving. There is no trace of humor or forgiveness, its compassion reserved for children with no hope of escape. The second half moderates this sense, but only slightly, and his characters are forever pulled back to the hollow and the slow death waiting there.

That said, even with its coldness, Knockemstiff is well-executed, with almost flawless writing. I can't say if I'd pick up another of Pollock's work, and though I hold little affection for this collection, I cannot help but respect his statement and workmanship. I reiterate, it is exceptionally well-written.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ahem. Hi. Erm…well, then...

SO…here we are. Or, rather, here I am. Blogging. Good lord.

My name is K. E. Bergdoll, writer, reader, and human. (Ignore all rumors to the contrary.) I'll also answer to Rook and Kate. After a more than a year practicing on Twitter, I’ve made the leap and finally built a proper blog. Yes, now you cyber-friends can hear my ramblings in more than a hundred and forty characters. I’ll try to be interesting. (Well. Let's just shoot for coherent, shall we?)

So, a bit about me is in order, I suppose. I’m twenty-five years old…aw, hell--check out my semi-amusing
bio. It'll be easier on both us.

Now, what will I be posting? Stuff about writing and books mostly. My intention is to post book reviews here on a fairly regular basis and I’ll also be promoting various things by other writers, because I’ve met some amazing people in the online writing community and spreading the word about their projects is a small thing to do. I will also likely post on various subjects making blogosphere rounds, and whatever nonsense catches my fancy. Because I like nonsense. Or complete randomness...I really do like randomness… Anyway, let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.

Earlier this year I became a reviewer for The Crow's Caw, a site dedicated to dark creepy-goodness in book form. It’s wonderful to have my name beside Bob Freeman, Nick Cato, Jordan Norton, Sheri White and our valiant leader, Jassen Bailey. I also post reviews to Goodreads, though Twitter is my favored hangout. (Come say hi)

As for my own work, I write largely dark fiction, though I’m an avid genre-hopper. I’m submitting short stories to various publications, collecting my rejection lumps with the grace required of a new writer—I like to think I take them rather well. I recently sent my first novel to its first reader. (Can you hear me trembling?) Upon its return, I shall begin work on the fourth draft, a process which will no doubt involve much of the cursing and staring into space that appears to be a necessary component of my process. I’m almost ready to talk about it. Almost. I will say it has serial killers. Yes, plural. Meanwhile, I've officially decided I am actually working on my second novel, which bears no resemblance to the first in genre or subject matter. And I'm definitely not ready to talk about novel #2 yet. Because I'm insecure secretive.

Okay, I think I'll quit while I'm ahead and say that does it for an introduction. I do hope to get better at this. I’ll be posting regularly, even if I have to dredge up YouTube videos of singing cats reenacting Star Wars to do it. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments, on Twitter, or send me an email. Thanks to everyone who reads and shares! ;-)