Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Boys Are Back In Town

Curtis, Anders, and Luc are back for a second round in ‘Nathan Burgoine’s Triad series. This time they’re trying to figure out why the bodies of dead demons keep popping up (something both physically and supernaturally impossible) and, more importantly, who’s killing them. More of a mystery than the first novel, Triad Soul has the trio racing across Ottawa to find the killer before they can attack again.

While the whodunit was fun and I had the satisfaction of guessing what was going on (OK, OK, I had a fleeting thought about a single clue, but I’m claiming total credit on that one) the continued development of the mythos was what kept me hooked through to the end.

As to mythos, I’m not sure if Burgoine had all the ‘rules’ of his magic figured out from the get-go, or if he keeps developing them as needed. Either way, he’s proven to be incredibly adept at it and consistent with how magic and the supernatural work in Ottawa. His rules make sense both individually and collectively as they continue to be revealed -- something not every author easily achieves in fantasy and urban fantasy.

The other thing that really pulled me in is the characters (no big surprise in a Burgoine novel). Not just Anders, Luc, and Curtis, all of whom I’m growing to appreciate more and more with each novel -- but the secondary characters. Some were flushed out from the first novel while others were new, but Burgoine gave each one of them unique life and motivation. Even when he’s writing scenes with talking heads (you know the kind I’m talking about) who could easily blend into nothing more than mush, Burgoine is gifted at making each one of them an individual with their own goals. It was also fun to see at least one, if not two, fellow authors make cameos in the book (and gave me pause to wonder what exactly Burgoine fantasizes about during his long days spent writing…).

The Triad series continues to entertain and surprise. Triad Soul is a worthy sequel. If you like your urban fantasy rich with character and fast on plot, this one’s for you.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Grand Opening of the Official Dew Point Museum

It's been a while since I've updated this page. That's largely due to my day job but more importantly a great opportunity I've had to direct a show at The Ohio State University this fall. Writing was my first love and theatre my second. In college theatre eclipsed writing for me, and I ended up getting an MFA in acting and taught for several years. Because of...well...life, active participation in theatre became a non-entity for me many years ago, but it came roaring back this fall. I've had a great time directing and working with student actors again for the first time in almost seventeen years. So much so that the release of my story The Grand Opening of the Official Dew Point Museum sneaked up on me. It's available in volume 6 of Mischief Corner Books Quarterly, out early next month.

A bit about the story:

Colm loves his boyfriend Gavin - really, he does. The problems is so does everyone else -- as Dew Point, The Moisture Master! How’s a guy supposed to make time with his fella when his fella’s off saving the world all the time? It ain’t easy, especially if he's missed the grand opening of his guy's honorary museum, but Colm is determined to give it a try. Until, that is, his boyfriend's arch nemesis shows up with plans to destroy the museum and everyone inside. SKULLduggery goes toe-to-toe with Dew Point, The Moisture Master! (try saying that five times fast, I dare ya) but when our hero is electrocuted and left unconscious to drown, it's up to Colm to step in and save his boyfriend as well as the day!

I hope you get a chance to pick it up and enjoy it along with the other stories in MCB's Quarterly Vol. 6.

And if you happen to be in Columbus, Ohio on November 21st or 22nd, stop by Drake Performance and Event Center and check out Doctor Faustus in the New Works Lab. I promise the devil will make it worth your while.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Lord Byron's Prophecy

When it comes to my sexuality, I consider myself a late bloomer. I didn’t start coming into my own until the last half of my twenties -- which isn’t to say there weren’t clues along the way.

During grade school there was my utter hero worship of Gil Gerard as Buck Rogers, Sam Jones as Flash Gordon (Flash! A-ah! Savior of the Universe!), and Patrick Duffy as The Man from Atlantis. Then in junior high there was the deep swelling of pride in my chest the first time I saw Boy George sing Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? Of course, there was that night at the end of my junior year of college when one of my best friends and I decided to ‘scratch each other’s backs’ as it were (to be clear: no scratching occurred, nor were our backs remotely involved).

I know. I know. That one should have shouted volumes. What can I say? My closet door was locked up tight.

In retrospect, one of my other college-era clues was a mild obsession with the poet Lord Byron. I attended a small, Christian liberal arts college in central Kentucky where sex was rarely mentioned, and homosexuality never mentioned – except, of course, in the most shameful of terms. I remember sitting in my English Romanticism class, junior year, completely bewitched by this brazen English aristocrat who spent his life pursuing any pleasure imaginable with whomever he desired of whichever gender appealed to him at the moment. I would never have dared admit to my classmates that I was absolutely enamored by this handsome, charismatic nobleman who wrote poetry I actually understood (as an English major, I wasn’t much of a poetry fan; prose was more my thing).

Which (three paragraphs later) brings us to Sean Eads’ beautiful book Lord Byron’s Prophecy.

Eads has taken one of Byron’s poems entitled Darkness and used it as a spring board for an exploration of sexuality, family, friendship, abuse, literature & it’s interpretation, and—oh yeah—the end of the world.

Told from three characters’ perspectives, Lord Byron’s Prophecy travels between the early 19th century life of Lord Byron, the mid-twentieth century boyhood of a man who will grow up to be a moderately-accomplished English professor, and the present where that same professor and his college-age son struggle to come to terms with their relationship as well as their past. And then there’s that vision of the end of the world shared by all three men.

I won’t go into further detail for fear of ruining the twists and turns Eads has created but this is a unique book, both beautifully literate and strangely apocalyptic at the same time. His exploration of the professor’s possible dementia is immersive and disquieting, and for this reader completely believable. Similarly, the relationship between the professor’s son and the son’s wife is unsettling but every twist and turn their relationship takes is familiar for anyone that’s experienced a relationship of a certain length.

Lord Byron isn’t short changed either. He’s rendered beautifully, full of the whit and sarcasm and strength of which his writing hints. Powerful yet pompous at the same time.

Rereading this I realize how many contradictions I’m using to describe this book and its characters and perhaps that’s the best part of Eads' novel. He’s given us rich, well-rounded characters in a full-bodied world that deserves to be experienced.

It’s no wonder this book is being nominated for so many awards and repeatedly shortlisted.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Men In Love

Whenever I pick up a Jerry Wheeler anthology I know I’m in for a good time. Over the last several years he’s created some of the most memorable and uniquely-themed anthologies out there, and I always know I’m in good hands when Jerry’s at the wheel (heh – and I didn’t even realize what I’d done there until after it was written).

There were some authors here whose work I’ve read before and thoroughly enjoyed. Burgoine’s Range of Motion, Bright’s What a Coincidence, and Wheeler’s own introduction (if you haven't read one of Wheeler's introductions before, you're missing out), they were all keepers for me. But what really impressed me were the number of authors I'm only just now discovering whose stories I enjoyed, like Bishop's Wilde, which spoke to the Urban Fantasy geek in me, and McFerren's Firebrand, which spoke to my appreciation for plot twists done right, and Rabushka's Crewman, which spoke to my...well...cause honestly sometimes gay romance is less about dinner and flowers and more about sweat and paint brushes.

The book was chocked full of great boy-meets-boy/man-meets-man stories and those are always fun. But the stories that spoke most to me were the ones about the long-term relationships. Maybe it's just the age I am now or the number of years invested in my relationship, but the stories that stood out to me were those that had lasted past the first meet-and-greet (or meet-and-grope as the case may be) into something deeper and longer lasting. Seaton’sContinuum and Blackburn’s The Second Time Around were two that I really enjoyed, but the one that touched me most, tucked away in the middle of the anthology, was The Essentials by Vinton Rafe McCabe. 

A wonderful little slice-of-life piece about two men spending a Saturday afternoon together watching TV and telling each other stories they’ve told one another countless times before. The honesty, the richness of detail, the effortless simplicity of the narrative drew me in and once it ended I discovered I didn’t want to leave these two men or their perfect day quite yet. A lovely, lovely story.

Men In Love: M/M Romance is a good one if you like M/M Romance or even good old gay romance done right.

Triad Blood

Back when Buffy the Vampire Slayer made it big on TV and Jim Butcher started writing about Harry Dresden, I remember hunting the shelves of bookstores for urban fantasy reflective of my life and my relationships. I wanted the vampires and the werewolves and the magic, the exciting twists and turns – yeah, all of that. But I also wanted a gay man’s perspective. 

I wasn’t looking for erotica or romance masquerading as urban fantasy. I was looking for the real deal. Full-blown creatures of the night (creatures of the fey were always welcome too) duking it out for supremacy, power, and bragging rights, and oh yeah, with gay guys front and center, if you please. And if there happened to be a bit of romance or...more in there, well that wouldn’t suck either. Easiest way to put it: I was looking for the love child of The Originals and Queer as Folk.

Well, after fifteen years of hunting, all I’ve gotta say is:Triad Blood, you’re one big, beautiful bastard. 

Burgoine takes characters he created in a series of short stories and turns them into an exciting, funny, suspenseful, sexy novel. A group of outcasts (a wizard, a vampire, and a demon) form their own coven to stop the rest of the supernatural world from walking all over them. In the process they create something entirely unique which enhances each of their individual abilities in turn. Their newly-combined strength and power threatens Ottawa's magical world, and the Triad finds themselves up against some of the strongest and baddest supernatural beings around. 

The book's narrative is split between the three main characters, and Burgoine does an excellent job of developing each one's unique voice. From the vampire Luc's eloquent and graceful prose, to the young wizard Curtis's hopeful and inquisitive quest, to the demon Anders' base and often hysterical observations, each one finds his own way, and I couldn't stop myself from plowing through the book to not only see if they made it out safely but also to spend more time with each of them.

If you've spent much time with Burgoine's fiction or catching up with him on his blog, you know the importance that 'created families' have for him. It's a theme evident in much of his writing, and perhaps nowhere more prominently explored than with these three guys. In much the same way Whedon did with Buffy or Angel or Firefly, Burgoine brings a group of misfits together – whether they want to or not – and finds a way to make it work despite their differences, and sometimes because of them. He surrounds his characters with biological families and groups brought together by societal norms and contrasts them with the family he's created. And while other characters may want them to define who and what they are to each other, they don't take the bate and neither does Burgoine. He simply allows them to be so we can experience them and in the process care about them like they were our own friends or family.

I've spent a lot of time here going on about the characters, and it would be a mistake on my part to lead someone to think that's all the book has going for it. At its heart, this is an exciting and suspenseful ride. Burgoine has created a fully-realized world, replete with its own laws of magic, various races, and individual societies. He has a lot of fun dabbling in supernatural politics and court intrigue, something I've always got a jones on for in my urban fantasy. He drives straight through the obstacle course he's created for his characters & readers and reaches such an exciting and surprising climactic battle that I couldn't put it down until I'd gotten to the end, and even then I was hankering for more.

On a side note, one of the things I really appreciated about this book is the twists at the end of the chapters. Often when I'm reading an urban fantasy (other genre books too, but it seems to happen to me more in U.F.) I'll find the author has put a jolt at the conclusion of a chapter to drive the reader on to the next one. Sometimes, these can feel more like a plot device than a logical progression or a complication based on the characters' choices. Burgoine does a solid job of avoiding that trap and creating a natural progression for his characters that leads them further and further into trouble and makes us want to keep reading without feeling like we're being tricked into doing so. So points for that, too!

Over the last few years I've begun mumbling a phrase to myself (a sentence, really) when I'm reading something new by 'Nathan Burgoine. I'll shake my head and say it. I'll laugh out loud and say it. I'll feel my heart tug a little (sometimes a lot) and say it. And when I'm really lucky, I get to immerse myself in a new novel of his and say it over and over again.

He's just so good. 

And it's true. He really is.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Fatal Shadows: A Jaded Mystery Reader's Review

I'm not a big fan of mysteries. I get frustrated when the sleuth follows a lead off screen (or off page) and discovers a clue that breaks the case wide open. I always feel cheated when the 'big reveal' happens at the climax and clues are exposed that if I'd known about I could have figured out who done it too. Having been burned more than once, I shy away from most mysteries. But I'm glad I didn't let past experience cause me to avoid Josh Lanyon's Fatal Shadows.

Mystery author and used book store owner Adrien English is a fun protagonist with an appealing quick wit, which Lanyon wisely avoids sending over the top. The mystery surrounding the murder of his best friend was fast-paced and intriguing. Laynon did a good job of layering the mystery with enough twists that, while I had an idea of who the murderer might be, I kept second-guessing myself till the climax.

The nice thing was: all the clues were there for me to put together. Presto! A mystery I can enjoy. Thanks for that.

The other thing I really appreciated is Lanyon's knowledge of the genre. Since his protagonist was a mystery author himself, he could allude to authors and their style, sometimes critically. Then with a wink Lanyon proceeded to duplicate their style in a clever, subtle way that didn't smack the reader across the face.

Fatal Shadows is a fast paced, engrossing mystery. It's well worth the avid mystery reader's time.

Not mention the jaded mystery reader's time, as well.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Now, we see through a glass, darkly...

Jeffrey Ricker scares me.

It seems like any time I pick up his work these days, I find he’s tapped into my brain (The Unwanted: the answer to my teenage fantasies; Fool for Love’s “At the End of the Leash” feeds my love of dogs and my secret voyeuristic streak; Riding the Rails’ “Mount Olympus” brought back memories of the television miniseries of Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles from my childhood, while also reminding me of Burroughs’ John Carter series, and a smidge of my favorite show from the late ‘70s Buck Rogers; and Night Shadows' “Blackout”: if Ricker knows about that night back in Pennsylvania with the Voodoo book – well, then I really am freaking scared). See, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear his fingers were clamped on my face in a Vulcan mind meld.

But with Detours, that connection became a bit uncomfortable.

In the novel, Joel returns from a trip to London, where he might just have met the man of his dreams, only to learn that his mother has unexpectedly died. To fulfill her final wish, Joel drives his parents’ RV cross country to its new owner on the west coast. Along the way, he quits his job, somehow picks up the brother of an ex-girlfriend, makes a lot of food, dumps the same brother of the same ex-girlfriend, visits and gets drunk with his mother’s childhood friends, makes a lot more food, and–oh, yeah–talks to the ghost of his mother, like a lot. All of which made for an entertaining (albeit somewhat detour-laden) road trip. In the midst of all of this it became clear just how directionless Joel actually was.

Earlier in his life, he had had a vision for his future, a plan in mind for what he wanted to accomplish. Dreams. But somewhere along the way all of that evaporated. Nothing tragic caused it. No great turn of events brought it about. It simply…was. And it was in that quiet dissolution of Joel’s life that Ricker’s talents truly shone.

I kept waiting for the big reveal, the explanation of why Joel was allowing life to happen to him rather than making life happen for him. The further I read, the more frustrated I became waiting for some explanation of where Joel had gotten so off track, why his life was such a mess—anything that might justify the pointlessness of his existence. But it didn’t come, and ultimately I realized it didn’t matter. What did matter was stepping out of that rut and finding a new path.

And it was those first tentative steps Joel took at the end of the book that made all my questions and frustrations worthwhile. And it was there, toward the end, that I found the line that best sums up this book for me:

Maybe it’s a mercy we can only see ourselves through a reflection.

Detours is a witty, entertaining, romantic road trip. It’s also an insightful exploration of what happens when our lives become static and what it takes to get us back on track. Nicely done, Jeffrey.

Now, stay out of my head.