Tuesday, December 21, 2010

12 Days of the Ethereal Gazette Issue 12 - Day 6

The Phantom Coach by Amelia B. Edwards

The name of this story is misspelled in the Table of Contents as “The Fhantom Coach”. This story is an older and presumably in the public domain, although Nicky also has the year of Ms. Edwards’s death incorrect.

Like most horror or Gothic stories from an earlier era, the story is slow moving and much of the “scare” relies on atmosphere rather than actual bad things happening. This story is no different, and I found myself skimming to get to the end where the phantom coach makes its appearance. This style may work for some people, but it doesn’t for me, unfortunately.

Grade: C

Blessed be the Bloody by Monette Bebow-Reinhard

The problems with author name and story title continue here. Nicky refers to this author as “Moenette” in the “Editor’s Lounge”. Also, the title of the story in the body of the anthology is “Blessed Are the Bloody” not “Be”.

This story is an “adaption” of Nicky’s “Bloodletting”. While Ms. Bebow-Reinhard has made some improvements, including giving the story more of a plot, she has also left some of Nicky’s laughable original lines intact, including the infamous, “thou shalt not allow a witch suffereth to live.” The story involves a vampire loose on the floor of a hospital, killing patients right and left without the hospital doing the sensible thing and either evacuating or calling the cops. A nurse, who turns out to be a witch, fights with the vampire although it is ultimately killed by the narrator – Theo Wolfe – pulling open the curtains of a hospital room and letting in the sun…at 3:00 a.m. Er, yeah.

As a side note, Ms. Bebow-Reinhard has written a couple of Bonanza fan-fic novels, which are supposedly “authorized” and are available on Amazon. She has a habit of responding poorly to negative reviews, although not as poorly as Nicky.

Grade: D+

Conjurella: The Unauthorized Version by T. Casey Brennan

Nicky has misspelled a word in the title of this story in body of anthology – “Authorized” is “Autorized”.  Also, the Table of Contents says this story starts on page 126, when it actually starts on page 136.

I think this story is supposed to be non-fiction; I think it is the writer discussing some events earlier in his life. Unfortunately, the story didn’t resonate with me at all – I don’t know who this person is and there was nothing in the beginning of the narrative to connect his experiences to anything besides himself, no larger lesson, no philosophical observations, nothing.  I quit reading after a couple of pages.

Edited to add: This story can be read on-line for free here.

Grade: DNF

Sunday, December 19, 2010

12 Days of the Ethereal Gazette Issue 12 - Day 5

Onward and onward...

"The Smiling Undertaker" by Brent L. Petretti

In the body of the anthology, the author’s name is listed as “Brent L. Petretti”; in the Table of Contents, it is listed as "Petrelli". A little Google search revealed that Petretti is most likely the correct spelling. How many mistakes has Nicky made now in the Table of Contents? I've lost count.

In this story, after two little boys are killed (in some never specified manner), the family – the boys’ mother and father, and the mother’s sister and her husband Doug – gather at the house in grief. Doug hears a knock at the door and he answers, only to find a business card left on an empty door step. An undertaker’s card. After both his wife and her sister have strange reactions to holding the card, he gets a bad feeling about the undertaker and goes to visit him. Things progress from there.

This story was was the most frustrating to read so far because there is a good idea hiding in here. But it is buried under too many words. The plot gets bogged down in description, interior monologue, and waffling. Even then, some important details are missing. For example, we never learn how the boys are killed or why their father would feel guilty.

The story is told mostly from Doug’s POV – although some massively distracting head-hopping occurs in a couple of scenes – and comes aross as melodramatic at times. I just wrote that same word – melodramatic – in a review yesterday. I think there is a fine line between emotion and melodrama. Melodrama comes from exaggerated emotional reactions, and in this story, while the grief over losing two children is intense, it is presented in an over-the-top way. A little restraint would have gone a long way towards making the emotional tone of the characters more believable.

Finally, the ending is too ambiguous; there are earlier hints that the undertaker is evil, but the climactic scene leaves the reader with the opposite impression. This story is supposedly horror, but I don’t see the horror if the undertaker is a good force rather than an evil one.

Grade: C

“Kissing Off Amber” by Ken Goldman

This story previously appeared in Death Head Grin #13. The story involves a young actor who wants to brush off his latest girlfriend and the consequences of accepting help from his shady agent.

I generally enjoy Ken’s writing, and this story was no different…until the final scene. Instead of resolving the climax in the scene before, it just made me think, “huh?” And then I re-read the last pages again. And again. And again. And I’m clearly missing something because I just don’t get it.

Grade: B

“Where Did Everyone Go?” by Kayla Thomas

This story is about a girl who wakes up one morning to find her town empty. The main character is a teenager, and the story is written in such a simplistic manner, with very little description, that it makes me think the author is a teenager as well. The ending is whimsical, rather than scary, but the main character – this story is written in first person – is likable and you want everything to work out for her.

Interestingly, Nicky “The Story Butcher” Pacione has put his touch on this story. In the “Editor’s Lounge,” he writes: “The other one that struck me is the one written by a writer I discovered on Fan Ficiton.net and she said the story was quite original – so I gave her a spot in the magazine. This story reminds me of when I wrote The Statue so when I edited the story for the magazine I gave her story that same vibe putting her name for the name of the narrator and all the other cool things that gave The Statue it's magic in 2004.”

Long time EONs will remember that “The Statue” is Nicky’s Twilight Zone fan-fiction piece. Sure enough, Nicky added an opening paragraph to this story where the author appears to be addressing the audience a la the voice overs at the beginning of each Twilght Zone episode. Then Ms. Thomas’s story begins. Ms. Thomas’s writing is far better than Nicky’s.

Grade: B (considering that this is probably a young writer and ignoring Nicky’s “edits”)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

12 Days of the Ethereal Gazette Issue 12 - Day 4

I had Christmas parties the last two evenings, but now that those are over (whew!), we will continue our journey through the latest issue of the Ethereal Gazette:

“And the Name of God Is” by Barry Eysman

In the Table of Contents, the name of this story is listed as “An the Name of God Is..”.  The editor has made yet another mistake.

This story – written in a very stylistic, literary manner – is about a boy whose ultra-religious-in-a-nutty-way parents beat the word of God into him time and time again. One day, he decides he has had enough.

The style of writing was initially a bit off-putting, but I persevered and began to get into it. Unlike the previous story that used a similar style (“A Black Awakening”), this writer had a method and a clear idea of where he was going.

Grade: B

“Depths” by C.I. Kemp

This was a very enjoyable story about two boys – Dennis and Randy – who discover a secret cave, one that appears and disappears at will. Dennis and Randy are misfits in grade school, not the popular boys, and the cave provides a refuge for them over the years. Dennis’s life after high school takes a different path than Randy’s, and in the end, the cave performs one last act of salvation or retribution, depending on one’s point of view.

It’s harder for me to write about why I like something than why I dislike something. I liked the author’s voice in this very much – casual, informal, like a 10-yr-old and later an adult might actually speak and think. It made the story easy to read. I liked the bits of humor and how realistic the situations of the boys’ lives were. I liked seeing Dennis’s growth. The writing was pretty clean and didn’t distract from the story. I would read more stories from this author.

Grade: A-

“Fatal Humors” by Lucian Anabeli

A crime reporter, who secretly wants to be a horror writer, goes to visit his uncle at his uncle’s farm. He is intrigued by a century-long series of mysterious deaths have been occurring in the area and wants to explore them further. He gets that opportunity.

This story is written in very stiff, formal, and over-written prose, almost as if the author is trying to imitate a much earlier style of writing. The dialogue is equally stilted and unnatural; I don’t believe that anyone would speak the way the characters do. For example:

“Uncle Elwood, it is Lucian! I know you have enjoyed reading my articles in the Burlington Herald but the shadows of loathsome scenes have darkened my mind one too many times and I have decided it is time to retire and focus on my true passion, horror writing….”

Followed by:

“It would be wonderful to have you, Luke, I have been lonesome since my wife passed away these long years since,… But if it is the grim you wish to escape, I beg you, turn around and come not

There are some unintentionally funny grammatical issues such as:

“I picked up the phone and dialed.“This is Elwood,” came the voice through the receiver, recognizing immediately the sound of my Uncle who lived in nearby Readsboro.”

The voice of his uncle recognized the sound of his uncle? This is not the only place the writer struggles with the basics of writing dialogue.

The beginning paragraphs were all backstory, which didn’t hook my interest at all. The ending was melodramatic, where an admittedly tragic event, causes the narrator to begin “[his] descent into madness.”

It was a chore to read this to the end.

Grade: D

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

12 Days of the Ethereal Gazette Issue 12 - Day 3

“The Cure” by Carol Sullivan

The Table of Contents lists the author of this story as “Carl Sullivan”. You’d think that Nicky would take more care to make sure Carol’s name was spelled correctly since he seems to count her as a friend.

In this story, Jim and Ellen (no last name) have a daughter named Beth who suddenly collapses one day at home. She is rushed to the hospital, where Jim and Ellen are told that she has an aneurism “at a weak spot in an artery feeding blood to the brain”. A doctor gives them a choice: their souls for their daughter’s life. What will they decide?

Problems abound. There’s a difference between making stuff up and getting stuff wrong. This story gets stuff wrong. A ruptured aneurism in a major artery usually leads to death very quickly (a former co-worker of my sister’s recently died from such an aneurism). Later on, the doctor tries to guilt the parents by saying, “It could be that this darn artery blockage has been growing for some time.” Um, no. An aneurism isn’t caused by a blockage; it’s a weak spot in the wall of the blood vessel. If you’re going to write about medical stuff, you need to get it right.

Also, the time line in the story is screwy. In the beginning, we flash back to “the day before”, but when the flashback catches up to the beginning action, it is just later the same day.

There are also a lot of basic mechanical writing mistakes. Commas and semi-colons are used interchangeably. The author needs to learn what constitutes a proper dialogue tag; hint: these are not proper tags - laughed, smirked, whimpered, chuffed, and grinned. In addition, to improper tags, the author also goes out of the way to avoid using “said”, a classic amateur mistake, which leads to a melodramatic tone to all of the dialogue.

The story has the germ of a good idea. It is just poorly executed.

Grade: D+

“The Sacrifice” by Laura Via

In this story, a supernatural creature of some type – maybe water nymph or mermaid or some other creature that can breath water and air – comes to the aid of some trees in a forest by luring her best friend to his death. It has something to do with man destroying the trees and needing to be stopped, and the trees (I think?) requiring a “selfless” sacrifice to a weird “wind made flesh” shadow/snake. I’m not sure what was supposed to happen after the sacrifice; it was pretty confusing.

This story has the typical beginning writing flaws which I think I’ll just start abbreviating as punctuation issues (PI) and dialogue tag abuse (DTA). The POV in the beginning is a distant third person omniscient – the author is narrating the story – which isn’t necessarily bad, and it reads rather like literary fiction.  However, when the characters show up, this tone, this distance, continues. The reader never feels the immediacy of what is happening, so much of the impact is lost.

Grade: D

“The Midnight Diner” by Nicky Pacione

Oh good Lord, where to start? How about with the 4500 or so words of backstory at the beginning of this 11,000 word “opus”. I think Nicky considers this character development; I consider it an info dump.

The Reverend Lazarus Blackwood is a biker and bike shop owner who listens to heavy metal and can beat up someone “weighing two-hundred pounds and standing at five foot ten.” He has a ’67 Mustang with a cassette player (WTF?) and he likes to drive it really fast – 60 mph! – down the highway with the music cranked. His church is non-denominational. The congregation includes “bikers, metal heads, loners, recluses, truckers, punk rockers, and Gothic types.” They even do heavy metal versions of the hymns.

The Rev has “a young wife, Maria, who looked like a beautiful biker pin-up”. She “didn't look like the typical Ministers' wife – often wore black denim and leather, but never wore anything revealing as other bikers' ladies would”, and “when she walked into nightclubs and roadhouses, people thought she was a groupie for a local thrash metal act.” Then the wife’s name changes to Elizabeth and we find out she is a writer (!) who uses a typewriter (computer?) to write her stories.

So the Rev takes the money from the bike shop, buys this diner with a history of poltergeist activity, and remodels it. It gets the nickname The Midnight Diner. Unfortunately for business it was built “on a long desolate stretch of highway on the outskirts of Hanover Park, Illinois.” There’s some more history of the diner – blah, blah, blah – and finally at the end of this 4500 words, Laz hires a waiter.

The POV switches to the waiter and voila!, we have a semblance of a plot. Halfway through the story.

But first a little more backstory.

The waiter’s name is John Andrews. He started working at the diner when he was 16, and he’s now 29. Apparently, he makes so much money as a waiter at a diner in the middle of nowhere that it “allows [him] to invest in a second apartment building in Hanover Park, Illinois”. He is still living with his sister in one of the apartments in the building.

Now, plot!

So John is in the diner one night with the cook, some guy who turns water into wine (!), and a few Goth kids. A girl who works as a waitress at the diner comes in, even though it’s her night off, and plays a CD made by a heavy metal (of course) band that she knows. She’s not a very smart girl because she says it’s “a song about a siren, I don't know where they got their subject matter from.” Anyway, the song summons a bunch of centuries-old (!!) ghosts, who congregate outside the diner and kill the one kid who tries to leave.

OMG, what to do?

First there’s some ranting and raving. Oh no, the horror! Hand-wringing. More discussion.

Then John thinks to call Rev Laz. The Rev shows up and this first thing he does is take the CD out of the player. So the CD has been playing  THIS ENTIRE TIME. No one in the diner thought to press “stop”! Good grief, these characters are so stupid, they deserve to get killed by the ghosts.

The Rev goes back out and chants something in Aramaic. However, the “ancient spirits were not responsive to it.”  The Rev continues to chant.

Inside the cook is bitten by a poisonous snake but the venom doesn’t affect him. One of the Goth girls sees a “figure in a red Victorian gown and a severed head under her arm.” She freaks out!

And the story ends.

That’s it, folks. It ends there. We never find out if Rev Laz defeats the ghost, what’s up with the snake or who the figure in red is. 4500 words about the Rev, and he is on-screen for only a few sentences in the main part of the story. I almost wonder if Nicky made a huge mistake and forgot to paste the rest of the story into the PDF.

I suppose I don’t need to add that this story contains Nicky’s usual abuses of grammar, dialogue tags, and other rules of writing.

Grade: D- (it does have a plot; that’s all that saves it from an F).

Monday, December 13, 2010

12 Days of the Ethereal Gazette Issue 12 - Day 2

Continuing on in our quest for good writing in one of Nicky's anthologies:

"Letters From the Hotel Starlight" by Ken “K.K.” Kupstis

Today starts off with a much better story than the last two. In the opening scene of this story, we learn that the guests of the Hotel Starlight have been trapped for some time, are out of food, and are hungry. Really really hungry. Clearly there is more going on here than initially meets the eye. The rest of the story is told in two alternating points of view – that of a trapped guest, Dr. Louis Mezanger, and that of a trapped employee, Rochelle.

This story held my interest to the end. The whole picture was slowly revealed, and there were a couple of twists which I thought were clever.

However, the story did have a few problems. The POV jumped between the two characters without any type of scene breaks, although this could be attributed to a crappy layout job by the editor. There were also some inconsistencies in the final scene; Louis at first appears to know the big secret (the final twist in the story) but then he doesn’t know crucial details that he should have known if he knew the underlying circumstances. Other aspects of the basic premise of the story (aka the final twist), while kind of cool, are also unrealistic. I think a little more thought needed to be put into the ending.

Overall grade: B-

"Two Alcoholics" by Paula Villegas

Social worker Lori Stanton is on her way home on a Friday afternoon. Tired of stop-and-go traffic, she takes a short cut down an alley, where she encounters a homeless man behaving strangely. She considers calling someone to get him some help, but decides against it. She drives on, distracted by the encounter, and pays the consequences.

I’m not sure what the title of this story has to do with the story itself. There’s some implication that Lori really likes her Scotch, but she isn’t drunk in the story. Neither is it implied that the homless man is drunk or an alcoholic. The story also moves very slowly. The bulk of the story is devoted to Lori seeing and reacting to the man in alley, and very little time is spent on what happens after. The conclusion to the story is a bit confusing, and I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to make of it. I wouldn’t actually classify this story as horror.

Grade: C-

"Wrong Turn" by Rosemary J. Harrison

Heather Dietrich, a directionally-challenged young woman gets lost and then stuck on a rural country road. As night falls, and with no cell signal, she goes to a nearby house to ask for help. I think y’all can see where this was going.  And yes, you’re right.

The plot of this story is not very original, and Heather doesn’t strike me as a very smart person. The story also desperately needs some editing. “their”/”there”/”they’re” are used rather interchangeably, and dialogue tags are abused. Wording is redundant in places. Finally, much of horror is implied, and in this type of story, I think it would have been more effective to have it “on screen”, so to speak.

Grade: C

Sunday, December 12, 2010

12 Days of the Ethereal Gazette Issue 12 - Day 1

Today I start my review of stories in the Ethereal Gazette Issue 12. For more information on this review process see my post from yesterday.

"Eight O’Clock in the Morning" by Ray Faraday Nelson

What can one say about a classic sci-fi story? George Nada, an average man in an average city, becomes aware that aliens are living undetected amongst humans, fooling the humans with a sort of hypnosis broadcast over radio and television. George almost immediately gets a phone call telling him that he will have a heart attack at eight o’clock the next morning. George sets out to make the most of the time he may or may not have left and tries to alert others to what’s going on. It’s not the strongest sci-fi story I’ve read, but it has a nice little twist at the end and is worth reading.

Fortunately, you don’t have to buy EG12 to read this story. You can read it here for free. This is, coincidentally, where Nicky got his version of the story from. In the “Editor’s Lounge” in EG12, Nicky writes, “I had to re-edit Faraday's story “8 O'clock In The Morning” because it was poorly transcribed to a Geocities page with stills from the 1988 classic. The story had double words in the original text so I had to give it a proper treatment before I decided to publish it.” Too bad a proper treatment didn’t include fixing the typos – such as “care” for “car”, “ntohing” for “nothing” and “teh for “the” – that appear in both the on-line version and Nicky’s version.

Grade: B+

"Motopsycho" by Rick Curti

This is a story about a motorcross rider who’s gone psycho and the journalist, Tim, who ends up stopping him...or does he? I’m not sure how to describe it beyond that because this story was just plain awful.

When I first started reading it, I thought I had found another one of Nicky’s pen names because the writing is such a smorgasbord of grammar errors that my brain hurt trying to read it. However, the story had none of Nicky’s usual topics and themes. I Googled the author’s name and found this blog (amongst others), so I think this guy is for real. Interestingly, the name of this story is listed as “Motorpsycho” on his blog and as “Motopsycho” in EG12. Another Nicky misspelling?

The bad news is that Mr. Curti writes just as poorly as Nicky. Yep, l know. Long time EONs will find that hard to believe. So let me give a few examples, starting with the opening paragraph:

“The town of Waterfall Hills a peaceful and close knit community just outside of Hollywood, Florida have been plagued by grisly mysterious murders. Everyone is in fear for there lives, doors and windows are locked where before the worst thing you heard was someone getting a speeding ticket after hours.”

It continues:

“There are no explanations for the hideous crimes some people were decapitated while others had body parts hacked off like it was nothing. Everyone’s in a panic, at night when they watch television or read a newspaper, reports of another murder surface that brings the total to a dozen with no end insight. The murderer just vanishes like a thief into the night, with no description of the killer there are times there are no murder’s for weeks and all of a sudden ten people will be found butchered to death.”

Er…And it doesn’t get any better. Here’s all one sentence later in the story:

“As months passed and the killer already claiming his 100th victim with no end in sight, Tim went into a deep depression and started medicating himself with drugs and alcohol, his old demons were coming back to haunt him it had been many years that he had touched that garbage and even though his parents were not around anymore they would be so disappointed in him, so he quickly snapped out of it checked himself into rehab and made it his mission to find his parents killer and put an end to one of the darkest moments in the town’s history.”

Grade: D-

"A Black Awakening" by Deborah Richards

This is a story about….actually I don’t know what the hell it was about. It reads like 2000 words of bad stream-of-consciousness prose were run through Babelfish a few times - say, English to Russian to Cantonese to Swahili and back to English - then tossed a blender, pureed, and poured out onto the page. I’l let the prose speak for itself:

“A coffin A Black mystic smell, so fowl creeps its way into my nostrils, I am taken into a knew world, a admission of quilt, as my name is called and he book of me is opened, I see clear, the pass and present of yesterday, while my future looks so bleak…”

“As the tormented man in me is left behind in a distance world so ancient -- long deceased but so knew all too well.”

“Always I repeat to myself as I search for heavens door; cry for me know more, as the image of me is not seen, The mirage of my life is a view of long ago, of a time when the oceans breath, breathed for me, as I inhaled it salted air, and I am home, standing in my door way, knocking to be invited in, a howling when calls out my name…”

“A self-murder preceded its righteousness in the eyes of the wronged. So my within homicidal intent in the we hour of the night -- bleached the moon with blood.”

“Thunderous drum beat, there feet made stained marks, whispered conversation loud as my tortured senses echo’s the ribbing effect as if where right beside them.”

This is worse than Nicky and Mr. Curti, multiplied together and raised to the 12th power.

Grade: F-

Tomorrow: three more stories

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The 12 Days of the Ethereal Gazette Issue 12

I'm sick of Christmas music already. My favorite radio station likes to play parodies or alternate versions of Christmas carols instead of the actual songs, which is marginally better, except when they overplay a song until I'm ready to scream...or change the station. Their latest fetish has been alternate versions of "The 12 Days of Christmas".

Which gave me a wonderful idea: The 12 Days of The Ethereal Gazette Issue 12.

In the coming 12 days, I will post reviews of the stories in the Ethereal Gazette Issue 12. The magazine clocks in at a whopping 293 pages, if you include the TOC, introduction, etc., and has 35 stories in it. I swear Nicky never saw a story he didn't like no matter how bad the writing. The only way I'll be able to slog through is if I read only a few stories at a time.

And yes, I know I still need to finish my review of the Ethereal Gazette Issue 10. It's almost done; I just have two or three more stories to reference and then it will be ready to go. After Christmas shopping, house cleaning, and cookie baking, it's fourth on my "To Do" list this weekend.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Miscellaneous

It's Friday, and it's been a long week. I'm ready to go home, put my feet up, and have big glass of red wine. But first a few items:


1. Go to Lulu and enter “lloyd phillip campbell” in the search box. Look at what pops up (in addition the the Ethereal Gazette’s Issue 12). LOL! Go, Lloyd!


2. I've been hanging out over at Writerface the last couple of days. You guys all remember that place, right? The site where Nicky first made his appearance on the Ning network? So yesterday and today, spammers and scammers have been hitting the site pretty hard.

Yesterday, it was "Johhny Myers" and his Elvesonshelves.com, a web site designed to separate self-published authors from their money. He spammed five or six groups, and after I posted a (grantedly rather snarky) response, he deleted those posts...and my response along with them. Except for the one he forgot. I also e-mailed Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware because I think Elvesonshelves is a bad deal (although not necessarily a scam) and wanted them to have a heads up. I received a nice e-mail back.

Today it was "Ann Alloria"/"Annie Alloria"/Ari Hinnant/Cheryl Hinnant/??? who left an identical comment on a zillion different user profiles, hawking a web site she claims isn't hers. She also made several forum posts with the same information. I Googled her and found claims that "Ann Alloria" was an alias for the others I listed above. There's more to the sordid story than can be summarized here, and I've made a blog post over at Writerface. After I let "Ann" know that I Googled her, she changed her user name slightly and edited her profile settings so that I couldn't see her recent activity.

Why is it that the Nitwits seem to com out in force in December?


3. I've been playing around with Wordpress recently. The problem is that I still haven't found a Wordpress theme I'm completely happy with. Blogger themes were more customizable, but the rest of the interface is not at as nice as Wordpress. Hm, maybe I'll have to cave and learn CSS, and then purchase the Custom CSS upgrade so that I can tailor themes to my liking. Any CSS wizards out there who would be willing to help me learn?