Review: Treacle and Other Twisted Tales

Treacle coverTreacle and Other Twisted Tales by Yvonne Marjot (Crooked Cat Books, 2017)

The stories in this excellent collection consist of familiar tales retold in new settings, or new tales inspired by familiar folk tale patterns. They are told in language that feels timeless and exactly right. As promised in the title, each comes with a twist: of humor, of horror, of unexpected magic.

“Aurora in Tatters” presents an Arctic Cinderella who makes her own choice. “Treacle” presents an apparently cozy and humorous situation, but watch out for that twist! “Imago,” set in an entomology lab, uses the language of moth life cycles to illustrate the end of life. “Maryika’s Journey” and “Maryika’s Christmas” follow a contemporary woman into Russian folktales. (I first encountered “Maryika’s Journey” in Paws and Claws, an animal-themed charity collection from Cake & Quill, in which work of mine also appears.) “Five Stay Home for Christmas” centers on a group of women with dogs and their plans for Christmas with no family commitments.

These are only a few of the gems in this volume. I recommend taking time to savor each one, though it’s hard not to gobble them like popcorn, as I did.

Review: Wrestling Demons

Wrestling Demons cover

WRESTLING DEMONS by Jason Brick (Not a Pipe Publishing, 2017)

The title might not make you think “lovable,” but that’s what Wrestling Demons is. This sports-fantasy mashup is smart, funny, and sweet.

It opens with the natural drama of a high-school sporting event, in this case a wrestling match. Protagonist Connor Morgan is big and athletic, good enough to get a varsity slot as a sophomore. But he’s the new kid, unsure of himself socially (a nice realistic touch), and on the bad side of the senior he beat out for that varsity slot. After the match, things go weirdly supernatural in a scene that is equal parts horror and farce. Apparently some of Connor’s schoolmates are . . . demon hunters? And apparently, so is he.

Connor is an appealing character, his inner voice filled with comedy and pathos. His Maori heritage is a nice touch of diversity in the beginning (and should appeal to fans of the movie Moana, too!). With its sports and action emphasis, this is a story aimed at male readers, but with plenty of genuine, natural emotion and strong female characters, including Connor’s wrestling teammate (and demon hunter) Sage Kaiser, like-interest Susan Freaking Parker, and his mom, a hardworking nurse who moves herself and Connor frequently to stay away from his dad’s addiction issues.

Exposition about wrestling and Connor’s backstory are handled gracefully, dribbled into the action of the early chapters so even readers with little or no background in the sport can keep up, and Connor’s loneliness makes sense. He longs to make connections, but almost doesn’t dare because what if he has to move again? But—Susan Freaking Parker seems to like him, and training to fight demons naturally leads to friendship with his fellow champions. Can he dare to care when they’re up against a powerful, unknown enemy? Brick does a terrific job of hiding the main villain’s identity from both the characters and the reader while providing several plausible candidates, leading to a nailbiter final confrontation in which Connor has to reach down deep and find his real strength.

 

Square Pig in a Round Hole-June 10, 2017

Square PigNaming a band is an act of concentrated creative expression. Square Pig in a Round Hole exists to reward five favorite band names each week. Winners are (usually) listed alphabetically. Selection is wholly unscientific and subject to whim, with a bias toward wordplay, humor, and local flavor. In most cases, I won’t know anything about the bands at the time of selection. Thanks to the Seattle Times club listings for abundant source material!

I just noticed that it has been one year since I moved the blog to this site. Apparently the move didn’t ruin it, so that’s cause for celebration. Also about a year ago, I was preparing for the publication of my debut novel, The Gospel According to St Rage. A major plot point in the book is the EP the titular teenage garage band is recording for the members’ senior project. I used my real band Your Mother Should Know to realize the songs of the fictional band and released the St Rage EP on Bandcamp to coincide with the novel’s release. At the end of the book is a discount code for the EP. This week, someone finally used the code. St Rage made a whopping $ .74. Is that enough to buy gum?

Meanwhile, the world is full of other bands with other names. Here are a few of them:

Diogenes

Still looking for one honest man? Probably best to stay away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Gus Clark and the Least of His Problems

I like this twist on classic X and the Y structure. Everyone has problems, but your band shouldn’t be the biggest one.

Smashing Flannel

Perfect name for a ’90s cover band, which this is. But in Seattle, flannel is almost always a smashing choice.

Speakeasy

Most everything is improved by sneakiness and secrecy, but this caught my eye for another reason. Speaking as we were of the ’90s: anyone else remember the Speakeasy internet cafe? Our free-improv group Banned Rehearsal played in their back room in 1996; the building burned in 2001 but the internet business continued. In addition to broadband internet, they also provided web hosting and email. For those such as us who were grandfathered in, they still do.

The Wild Agenda Tonight

I’m digging the humorous formality of this reference to the evening’s plans. (Mine: in bed by 10). I’m also excited by the very existence of an all female alternative punk rock band from Eastern Washington, my old stomping grounds.

Mother’s Day

050615-0658For Mother’s Day, I share another gift of short fiction.

I wrote the original version of “Mother’s Day” several years before my own mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so she was able to read and enjoy it. It later won a large prize in a small contest and a small prize in a large contest, and still stands as the only fiction that has earned me any money; $100 total, I think.

These days, I write enough fiction in the present tense that it no longer seems weird or experimental. This was the first effort.

MOTHER’S DAY

It is the first day of third grade. I am going to skip all the way to school. My flopping braids beat my back and my new yellow dress flaps against my legs. My arms drink September sunshine as I spring first on one foot, then the other. My mother calls to me from the porch. I turn back, but my mouth does not reply with the usual, “Yes, Mama?” I can’t move my lips. The street, the houses, the sunshine, and Mama all fade into gray.

“Good morning,” says a woman’s voice. “How are you today?”

Where am I? I’m lying in bed with light shining on my closed eyelids. I must be awake, but it feels like a dream. I keep my eyes closed. I want to go home, one more time.

Read more

 

The First Day of the Week

210616-1900On Easter 2008 (9 years ago! Hard to believe.) I was inspired by the Resurrection story as related in John’s Gospel to try writing my own version from the point of view of the main character. I was happy with the result and shared it with a few people, but didn’t have a way to share it more widely. Now I do. Please accept this Easter gift:

THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK

“It’s time to get up.”

He stretched. The air was cool and still. It smelled strange, but not bad. The room was quiet and he seemed to have it to himself, a rare pleasure. That could account for the restful sleep.

“How do you feel?”

A strange question first thing in the morning. Not, “Did you sleep well?” or “Are you hungry?” But this whole waking was strange. He remembered things he didn’t used to know – things only God knew – but the last few days were a muddle. He couldn’t remember where he ate the Passover this year. Or whose house this was.

His stomach growled. “I feel fine. Better than fine – like God’s own son. But I’m starving. When did I eat last?”

“I believe it was Thursday.”

“Thursday? What day is it now?”

“It’s the first day of the week.”

He had never slept that long in his life. Perhaps that explained the muddle. Still, he must have needed the rest. “I had the strangest dreams. Nightmares, some of them.”

“Those weren’t nightmares.”

He felt a chill that didn’t come from the cool air. He opened his eyes at last and sat up. He had been lying on a stone shelf. Strange that it should be so comfortable, with only a little cloth for bedclothes. As he moved, the strange smell strengthened. Myrrh and aloes. He looked around at the small stone chamber – almost a cave, hewn out of solid rock. It was lit by a gentle radiance that seemed to come from the two figures at his head and feet. “Fear not,” they said together.

Angels. Interesting. “Do I look afraid?”

Read More

Wishing Shelf Book Awards Finalists and Winners

Here is a link to the 2016 FINALISTS in The Wishing Shelf Book Awards, including my YA novel The Gospel According to St Rage. The children’s books were read and judged by children in 8 UK primary and secondary schools, the adult books by 2 Reading Groups, 1 in London and 1 in Stockholm. The books were marked according to EDITING, THEME, STYLE, COVER and, in the case of many of the children’s books, ILLUSTRATIONS.

If you happen to be looking for a good read, the readers at The Wishing Shelf Awards thoroughly recommend any of the finalists.
The WINNERS were announced on April 1st, 2017. Although my book was not among them, it was an honor to be chosen as a finalist and I look forward to feedback from the readers.

Out now: Paws and Claws

I donated two stories and a handful of haiku to this animal-themed anthology from Cake & Quill.

 

Cake & Quill

It’s the first of April, and unlike the rest of the world we’re absolutely serious. So, no, it’s not a joke – our latest anthology, Paws and Claws, is out and available. Filled with all sorts of creatures, furry, fluffy, slimy, scaled, winged, weird, it tells you stories to make you laugh, make you cry, and make you wonder. As announced, all proceeds will go to Bob’s House for Dogs, a small charity that offers hospice care for older dogs,helps making senior dogs ‘more adoptable’, and ultimately works to try and give more dogs who have found themselves without a home, a forever home.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing and compiling it! It’s on Amazon, in e-book as well as in paperback format. Perfect Easter present, isn’t it?

Get in the mood by watching the trailer!

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