Of Musings and Wonderings











smoke and mirrorsI have to admit, I do love a good collection. Whether it’s by the same author or stories from a variety, there’s something pleasurable in moving from one story to the next, in a vastly different way than diving into a good novel.

In Smoke and Mirrors, Gaiman presents to us a number of different stories and poems, with a couple of cross-overs, some nods to Lovecraft, and some very, very strange scenes and stories that leave the reader scratching their head. Gaiman’s fantastic style and voice come through in all the pieces, but they all remain different and strong in their own right.

Delights, wonders and horrors – seriously. Some really creepy horrors that make me wonder what must be going through Gaiman’s head. But all of the stories are enjoyable, and the majority are memorable; what happens when humans can no longer test on animals, what happens when a radical cancer treatment causes people’s sex to change, the melding of memories during sex, a disappearing grandmother and a mysterious fox. Among these there are also the stories of a small town plagued with cultists, a writer trying to work on a screenplay and a twist on the traditional troll under the bridge tale.

Each tale captures the reader in a different way, and Gaiman does a brilliant job of introducing characters and settings quickly, allowing the meat of the story to really flourish. There are no punches pulled here and nothing really held back. It is, essentially, Gaiman doing what he does best. The whole collection feels like fairy tales for adults, even with a couple of warnings sprinkled throughout. He draws you right in, exploring different worlds and ideas and making you really believe in the magic, even if it only is for a few moments.

Smoke and Mirrors is brilliant, a wonderful collection, each story tied together in some small way yet still standing strongly out from one another. Well worth a read for any fans of fantasy, magic and, of course, of Gaiman himself.

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zombie(The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology in the US)

As soon as I finished reading this, I went through every author that had contributed and added their books to my to read list. This book is brilliant, a real must for any fan of zombie stories. Every story is unique and different, and the styles really stand out against each other. I finished it on the train, and I was gripping the book so tight to me, completely absorbed in the last story (Twittering from the Circus of the Dead by Joe Hill).

The book opens with Lazarus, by John Connolly, a brilliant take on an old resurrection story. What Maisie Knew, David Liss, shows a world in which zombies are known and common place, where they are used as strippers and servants, and seen as pretty much useful decorations, unless they are pushed into speaking. Closure, LTD, by the brilliant Max Brooks, was the only one I had read before. I was tempted to skip it, but made the right choice and re-read it, feeling the same spine-tingling horror I had the first time around.

This collection is made up of brilliant authors, all bringing their own skills to the table. And it works brilliantly. Each story is completely captivating in its own right, and the tales will still with you in a way that only really well written stories can. Even though they’re short,  the characters will draw you in right in, make you feel everything they feel, and more. It’s one of the few books I’ve picked up this year that left me completely in awe.

In case you can’t tell, I loved this book. Mainly because each story has a completely different take on zombies – they are not all apocalypse stories, and none of them feel similar in any way. Even the zombies themselves are different in each story. So yeah, if you love zombie fiction and want something you can really bite your teeth into, check this out.

 



20th_century_ghosts_-_gollanczI finished this a while ago, but with everything else going on this is the first chance I’ve had to write about it. The book – and the author – made me think of what could be an important question.

Can talent be inherited?

I ask because, for those that don’t know, Joe Hill is the son of one of my all time favourite authors. And reading this book, there does feel like there are elements of his father’s work seeping through. Not a lot, but in some of the way the characters are written and the themes explored, there is a touch of Stephen King to it.

Despite that, based on this collection of short stories, Hill has his own voice to carry him through. Before I get onto the stories themselves, I’d like to point out how Hill actually used the pseudonym when he was first trying to be published so that no one would put his work out there based on his father’s name. And it meant, like every other writer, he struggled. Yet he still uses Joe Hill. For that, I can only admire the guy. He chose the harder route, rather than just going “I’m King’s son. Publish me, bitch.”

So, 20th Century Ghosts, like I said above, is a collection of short stories. Each one stands out brilliantly on their own, and Hill has the ability to really draw you into the world in very few words, setting the scene and introducing the characters quickly so we can get moving into the plot.

I’m not going to go into the individual stories. Mainly because it would be hard to pick which ones to focus on, and also because I really think this is a book worth picking up, whatever you’re a fan of, and I don’t want to spoil anything. Hill’s stories are fresh and interesting. I half expected this to be a collection of horror stories, and although there are a few horror tales in there, most of them are simply about people. Hill writes about relationships, between friends and parents and ghost-lovers. There are moments in 20th Century Ghosts which will make you cringe, shudder and, yes, almost cry in some points. Each story feels like it could be from a different author, but his voice – that thing all authors strive to make unique – carries throughout this collection.

Each tale manages to weave its way into your mind, and at some points it really feels like they just cut off too early. There are a number of different characters I wanted to read more about, wanted to stick with, but before I could really question what happened to them, I was delving into a new set of characters and new places.

Whether a fan of King or not, Hill’s work is worth checking out. And no matter what sort of books you enjoy, there will be something you love in 20th Century Ghosts.



Whether reader or writer, there will always be those characters that stick in your head for a long, long time. They’re the ones that randomly pop into your head as you’re going about your daily business, and demand attention. As a reader, they make you wonder what could possibly be happening to them right this minute. As a writer, they nag you until you give them some more page time.

I’ve found this a lot with some of the things I’ve written. There are some characters that just refuse to go away, even if you’ve tried to kill them off. There are characters who demand to pop up in something else, or who I just keep returning to. One of the major things that’s caused this for me has been my sci-fi, post-apocalyptic trilogy. The story starts off with Jake, a bit of a dickhead, who gets dragged to a bunker by his best friend Chuck when a nuclear attack becomes imminent. I originally wrote it for NaNoWriMo, when I got bit by the zombie virus. But then more things kept popping up. I ended up doing a sequel, where Jake and co head back to Cardiff to try to find their family. They come across others, and end up sitting on a hill as the world explodes. Again.

For a while before writing the sequel, I had been playing around with the idea of The Black Cat – a superhero type character who fights against an evil organisation. I was finding it difficult to start it, and then, well, it just seemed to fit perfectly as the third book in the trilogy. Kitty is infected by the same thing that affects Jake and his friends near the end of the first book, but she’s slightly different. Whereas most people experience one symptom, she experiences a few, and after making her way home, ends up trying to help others who are infected. As I was writing it, different aspects fell into place, and I ended up having a lot of fun working in some of the basic ideas from the previous two books.

But that wasn’t the end.

The whole set-up just kept popping back into my head, reminding me there was so much more to this world than the characters explored in the three novels. I’ve lost count of how many short stories I’ve written based on this, focusing in part of the infected characters, jumping into the future to find that organisation hasn’t quite been destroyed…and new ideas for this just keep coming all the time. The first three books need some work, but I’ve always found that short stories can really help in hashing out ideas for overall novels, for exploring characters and concepts, even if some of the ones written don’t make it into the main novel.

Similarly, I’ve had characters who refuse to let go. One novel I did a while ago was about a band who makes it big, and the female journalist who almost discovers them. (It’s a romance – of course she ends up dating the lead singer.) As a teenager, I used to write stories for me and my friends, and bands usually played a big role in them. One of these popped up again in my head a while back, and suddenly I had the missing link that meant the original stuff never worked. Blending the two together, I’m currently writing a sequel based on another small band, who get taken on tour with the original band. And I’m having more fun writing it than I did as a teenager, maybe because I already have a small part of the cast formed before starting the rewrite.

So what about you? Any characters – from your own work or others – who just won’t leave you alone?



It raged around him, tendrils reaching forward to lick his skin as he ran. The heat was overwhelming, smoke working its way into his throat and mouth. Behind, the cabin burnt fiercely, black smoke against the dark sky. The fire didn’t leave him; it followed, each tree trunk ahead catching as he tried to escape the flames.

“Stop!”

The shape in front of him begged until his feet skidded in the mud and he tumbled forward. His eyes darted around, searching for any sign of water. The girl flickered, but he ignored her. There were tears on her face, as she stepped towards him.

“Get away from me!” Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was reminded that men didn’t scream. But he didn’t think he was a man. He wasn’t sure. If he wasn’t a man, what was he? “Just…get away!”

“Please…my love…”

His hand reached forward, grasping for the vial in the grass. His fingers wrapped around it and he brought it closer to his chest, fumbling with the lid.

“No, no, don’t…it’s not…stop! It’s…”

X X X

“Poison!”

If he had still been human, he knew he would be drenched in sweat. As it was, his skin was dry as he dragged himself from sleep and faced the girl sitting opposite him. She looked scared, a look he hadn’t seen on her in years.

“Jesus bloody Christ, Poison, you were screaming.”

He shook his head, running a hand through his hair. Dry. Every detail was slipping quickly away from him.

“I thought vampires didn’t dream?”

“Do you dream?”

“Yes.”

He grinned. “There we go then.”
“It’s not the same.” She rolled her eyes, standing and crossing the room to the boarded up windows. “You know that.” Slowly, she peeled back one of the boards, glancing out.

“What do you dream about?” he asked, watching her carefully. She had been growing more and more restless as the days went by, and he’d noticed how she stared openly at every human that passed the house. Most of them learnt to control their hunger as the years went by. His companion, his friend, the once-teenage girl he had met in a house not too dissimilar to the one they were currently in, was going in the opposite direction.

“A life. A guy. Having a relationship without you or the others chasing after me to ruin it.” She glanced over her shoulder at him, and he could see it in her eyes.

She hated him.

Those eyes, one bright blue and the other a swirling mix of blue, green and grey, had once stared at him with awe. At fifteen, she had practically worshipped it. At sixteen, he had saved her life. Now, almost a decade later, she looked at him with nothing but contempt.

But she wouldn’t leave him.

She knew he could do nothing but follow.

“You’re still pissed off about that? It was years ago, Shadow.”

“Four years,” she muttered. “And you said it yourself, I was young, naive. I was in love.” Try as he might, he couldn’t contain the smile at her imitation of his drawl. “I was just never allowed to make my own mistakes, was I?”

“You know how difficult it is for us to…”

Before he could finish, she was gone, and he cursed the speed they had both been graced with. She had no idea how much he hated himself for what he had done to her, but if she had been left alone, there would have been a bigger mess to clean up after.

He climbed out of the bed, moving quickly towards the door though nowhere near as quick as she had gone. He found her downstairs, in the kitchen, sitting at the table as the kettle boiled. Coffee, strong, with just a dash of milk and three sugars.

Shadow took out a cigarette, lighting it up and inhaling deeply. Her eyes fell on him.

“I dream of other things, too,” she muttered, watching as he pulled out a chair and lowered himself into it. “I dream of Raven, and New York. And Marcus.” Even now, there was a flash of fear in her eyes as she said his name. “They haunt me, Poison.”

“I know.”

“Do…does it ever stop?”

“The haunting?” He shrugged. “Sure, it does. Well, more like it takes a break. But it comes back at times. Not always the same ones, though.”
She dipped her head. “I never thought looking for Theo would end up…” She stopped, shaking her head. “I shouldn’t think like that, should I? I dream of other things, too. I keep dreaming of fire.”

Poison crossed the room, falling into the seat opposite her. He took her hand, squeezing it gently, feeling just the slightest warmth coming from her skin. He turned her wrist over, placing his finger against it. There, he could feel her pulse. Dull, slow, but still there. “Your heart still beats,” he said. “That means you’re still alive. You’re not grasping onto a straw of humanity, Shadow. You’re not like us. And what you feel about them, all of them, you need to hang on to that. As long as it’s still there, your heart will beat.”

Slowly, she nodded, closing her eyes as she took another drag of her cigarette. “The prophecy…”
“Is bullshit. You’re not the end of us, and you’re not the bloody saviour either. Bollocks to all that fate crap. It’s just a bunch of stupid vampires looking for meaning in a long, meaningless life.”

“You never wanted meaning, did you?”

“No.”

“And neither did Blake, or Calista?”

“Neither did they,” he replied, smiling softly.

“So if none of you believe in fate,” she said, her voice slow, carefully choosing her words, “why can’t you just let me live?” Her head snapped up, her eyes locking on Poison’s. He could see the anger there, the pain. “Why can’t you just leave me alone?” Her voice rose into a screech, before she was up. The chair flew back and she stood over the table, staring down at him. “Why do I always end up caught in the middle?”
Before he could stop her, she whirled around and left, the back door swinging shut. He groaned, lifting his hands to his face. She would be back, he knew she would. But that wasn’t what worried him.

He was scared of what she would do in that state.

X X X

“You need to keep a better eye on your charge,” Calista drawled, standing at the door. She was holding Shadow’s ear, practically lifting her off the ground. Shadow was whimpering, as Calista shoved her forward. The girl fell to the floor, but scrambled quickly up, glaring at the vampire. “Have you fed?” Calista asked, ignoring the girl and focusing on Poison.

“No. I…I didn’t know when she would be back.”

Shadow shrunk against the wall, looking like a sullen teenager. He had hoped it would get easier, over time, that the impulsive, moody teenage girl would melt away to reveal a mature woman.

It seemed that if it was ever going to happen, it would be a long way off.

“Go to your room,” he said, watching as she huffed and stamped up the stairs. Calista reached out, placing a hand on his shoulder. She squeezed.

“She has had it harder than most of us did, Poison. She’s struggling, that’s all.”

“I don’t know what to do. I never thought it would be so hard.”
She smiled softly. “Being a parent is never easy, and there’s a reason we tend to go for the, well, older humans.”

“It’s the half…”
Calista laughed. “The human in her? Yes, I suppose it is. Go, feed. I will keep an eye on her. And you know I will be more strict than you. She won’t stop foot outside this house.”

“Thank you.” He bowed his head, before edging past her and out into the night.

Note: Currently a work-in-progress, this is one of many short stories I’ve done for the 100 Theme Challenge. This one is going to be added to my collection A Drop of Poison on Fictionpress; a series of short stories based on the vampire Poison as he wonders through his eternal life. As always, all feedback is welcome on this piece, and feel free to check out the stories I’ve got on Fictionpress, too, if you’ve enjoyed this or any of the other pieces I’ve posted up here.

 



et cetera