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 Temple of the Dog as a tribute to friend Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone's founder, as well as and Malfunkshun's) who died of a heroine overdose.
On the holiday weekend, I put on a YouTube playlist to educate my nine-year-old boy. I started with "Hunger Strike" (the duet with Vedder), 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.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Lost Enough, Anita Dolman's Short Story Collection out Tomorrow

Cover image copyright Morning Rain Publishing, 2017.
I am very proud to announce that Lost Enough, Anita Dolman's debut short fiction collection, comes out tomorrow from Morning Rain Publishing. A mix of lit and spec, it's a stunner. Don't miss it.

Full disclosure: I'm married to her. 

However, several of the pieces in the collection I have edited or at the very least read. The sci-fic piece, "Pacific Standard", in particular, about a woman who works in a hospice and can hear her patients' thoughts, moved me to tears. 

The author has put in the hours on all the stories in here. Anita Dolman deserves this accomplishment at long last.

Reviewer Zachary Houle writes "might very well be among the best books by a Canadian author that I’ve read in my life." His review is here.

I'll let the Morning Rain website description take it from here.

Written with style and elegance, this collection of short stories and flash fiction takes you on a journey of discovery. Set against the stark realism of the vast Canadian landscape, each piece highlights life’s compelling moments in the most poignant ways.

From broken youth to healing seniors, from love lost to relationships found, the stories explore the complicated and uncomfortable while embracing the incredible diversity found in humankind. This dynamic collection touches on cultural distinctions, the LGBTQ community, immigration, Indigenous peoples, and the marginalized aspects of society, opening our hearts to what’s lost or yet to be found.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tough Times: A Personal Post

Tough times, with two loved ones fighting cancer. No time to complain about shovelling the driveway four times in two days (At least I'm in the physical shape to do it.) and about my boy and partner being away for March Break. Much brooding, some writing, much more introspection and flirting with writing revelations, like thunder grumbling, ever-present in the distance.