I just read: We Are All Completely Fine

weareallcompletelyfineFrom Dracula to NOS4A2, from The Exorcist to Friday the 13th, a lot of plots in the Horror genre follow a well-trodden path. A person (or group of people) are targeted by a mysterious and malicious force. The protagonist(s) pass through a phase of disbelief and/or denial, Then they suffer through an increasingly awful series of circumstances that force them to come to grips with the unthinkable. Oftentimes, this is where a savior or advocate figure enters the story. In the final climax, the protagonist(s) face their fear, and they either triumph or they fail.

I have to admit that my own Horror/Paranormal novel, Line of Descent, follows this structure. And I’m sure that most genres (Romance, Mystery, Fantasy) have dozen of examples of great stories that follow the same conventional, comfortable story-beats. Still it’s always refreshing when an author breaks the mold.

That’s just what Daryl Gregory does with ‘We’re All Completely Fine.’ Gregory creates a unique slant on Horror convention by introducing a simple and brilliant premise. ‘What if the characters who survived some of these typical Horror stories came together to form a support-group?’

As we meet the clients in Gregory’s therapy sessions, we pretty much don’t need to know their full stories—although Gregory drops in some skin-crawlingly creepy details. There’s Stan, who survived your typical back-woods cannibal scenario. And Barbara, who was tortured by a sadistic madman. And Harrison, the former teenage monster-detective who helped to foil a demon apocalypse. (If you’re interested in learning more about Harrison’s YA-ish exploits, you can read about them in Gregory’s latest novel, Harrison Squared, which I reviewed here before I realized it was a prequel.)

To say that each of these characters is a short-hand representation of a horror cliche would be selling them—well—short. The ways that Stan and Barbara deal with their post-trauma lives are truly memorable and deeply human. Gregory is the type of author who comes up with ideas that make you say ‘Whoa! I never saw that coming!’ and then moments later, ‘Of course that’s what would happen!’ And this story is no different. And, of course, as we learn more about each group-member’s scarred life, we learn that the incidents that have ruined their lives are all connected in sinister and serendipitous ways.

I really enjoyed this book, and for most of it, I really couldn’t predict what would happen in the next chapter. I recommend it for any fan of the genre.

Idyll Cover Sketches

Here are two cover sketches I did, representing my two ideas for the IDYLL Book 1 cover.

Idyll cover_sketch2

Cover Sketch 1:

This was my initial concept, the idea that I had in my head for most of the time that I was writing. Four riders in the distance, climbing a ridge that eventually resolves itself into the silhouette of a sleeping woman (Alma Starboard) under a shroud.

The pros: I liked the idea of this being a soft, dream-like cover, which might help set up the idea the Starboards and the Bridges eventually begin to question their own reality.

The cons: It’s not super-dynamic, and it doesn’t give you much of a sense of the protagonists.

Then there’s Alma. Would the viewer realize she’s there? Is she sleeping or is she dead?  Plus, Alma’s profile and the shroud merging with a grassy landscape would have been a serious pain to Photoshop, and make it look right. I’m still not sure that most people see the upside-down blue face in the cover of Line of Descent, in the half-a-second that they might spend looking at it. I didn’t want to create the same issue for myself again with this cover.




Cover Sketch 2:

So I tried to make something more ‘in-your-face.’ I started off with the four travelers standing together, holding whatever, looking tough, directly into the ‘camera.’ But I decided it made more sense, and would add more action, if they were on horses. The idea was always to have Samuel in the front. I felt like I needed to imply there was a primary protagonist to the book, even if some readers would decide Walt and Sam are co-protagonists.

The terrain in this sketch is far more rugged than the final art. But you have to work with what Photoshop gives you.

In the end, I thought this layout had more of a movie-poster feel to it more of a sense of the four main characters taking charge of their situation. I think it’s bolder, overall. And I hope that means it’s more likely to grab a reader’s attention—and their imagination—right off the bat.

Another Idyll sketch.



[REVIEW] Idyll – James Derry

James Derry:

Thanks to fireflyreads.wordpress.com for the cool review!

Originally posted on :

Characters – 4/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 3/5
World Building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

“Their loss was like the sea. When judged with distance, it seemed placid, something ethereal, something that could be abided. But to dwell on their loss, to give in to close scrutiny, led to turmoil. They might start to wallow; they might drown. Fixating on their grief, drawing it close and making it the dominant geological feature of their lives, would be a very bad thing. Then again, ignoring that absence entirely could be just as bad.”

A bizarre plague named The Lullaby has Mother Earth’s second chance, Idyll, in its deadly grasp, and it seems that the only guaranteed way to survive is permanent quarantine. Three years after their father left in search of answers, Walt and Sam finally decide that they’ve had enough of hiding and move on from the family ranch to track him…

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I just read: The Dog Stars

The Dog StarsFirst off, I have to say the soft-color, retro-quirky cover does not belie the contents inside. The Dog Stars is not a soft, quiet book, although it includes lots of introspection. But those quiet, lonesome stretches are punctuated by scenes so sudden and brutal, they could have turned Mother Teresa into a misanthrope.

Lonesome introspection and man’s inhumanity to man. Yep, we’re talking about a post-apocalyptic thriller, in the vein of The Road or The Walking Dead. The Dog Stars is set in a world where any random encounter with a stranger is less likely to begin with a polite wave ‘hi’ than with a slug between the eyes.

‘The Dog Stars’ is the story of Hig, who lives in a small, abandoned airport in Colorado with a gun-nut neighbor and a loyal dog with macabre tastes in cuisine. The bad news: A pandemic has wiped out a majority of the population (including Hig’s wife), and irreversible global warming is rendering the ecosystem barren. The good news–if you want to call it that–is that Hig and his survivalist ally have established a fairly safe and well-stocked HQ, with Hig securing the perimeter with his small plane.

Then tragedy strikes, and Hig begins to reevaluate his current choice. I won’t go any further into the story, but the plot thickens–and Hig is faced with some serious, life-changing choices.

I really enjoyed this book. One of the best things about it was its tone. Peter Heller writes in a sort of brusque/poetic style. Every sentence fragment is like a snippet of a haiku. Some passages break into that choppy, whitewater stream-of-consciousness style that is so cool in upmarket Western novels.

Heller opts for other literary quirks. Quotation marks are extinct in his post-apocalyptic world. Commas work above their pay grade, doubling for periods and semi-colons. And Hig hops back and forth between flashbacks as much as he hops between run-on and fragmented sentences. Heller is a natural at beautifully breaking the rules. And unlike some other authors, Heller’s jagged minimalism doesn’t create a distance between his characters and the reader. At just the right times, he intersperses moments of humor and human weakness that keep his damaged and violent characters likable. Also, in the latter half of the book, Heller’s style seems to settle as he concentrates on spooling out the plot and character interaction.

All in all, a very good book. I look forward to reading Heller’s next book, The Painter, soon.

ARC Review: Idyll by James Derry

James Derry:

Thanks so much to hopelessbookaddict.wordpress.com for the thoughtful review of IDYLL!

Originally posted on Hopeless Book Addict:


Idyll is a rugged planet—a new, simpler start for some 10,000 settlers who have fled Mother Earth. But a strange ‘plague’ of contagious sleep has devastated their Settlement, sparked by a mysterious mantra called the Lullaby.

After a three-year quarantine, Walt and Samuel Starboard have set out from their ranch on a mission to cure their comatose mother and find their missing father. For days they ride through a blighted landscape: deserted cabins and gravestones and the ruins of towns destroyed by fire. Just when the brothers are about to give up, they stumble upon a second pair of survivors, two beautiful and determined sisters.

Miriam and Virginia Bridge offer new hope, but they also present new problems. Stirrings of emotion and shifting priorities threaten to set the brothers against each other. Can Walt and Samuel overcome years of festering resentment, or will their rivalry tear them apart before they…

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To the ends of the Earth

What is it lately with all the apocalypses? Everywhere you look in pop culture, someone’s trying to survive one. There’s your garden-variety plague apocalypses (Station Eleven). There’s your zombie plague apocalypses (Walking Dead, World War Z). Comedic apocalypes (Last Man on Earth). A capital-A Apocalypse (the villain from the upcoming X-Men movie). HBO apocalypses (The Left overs), celestial apocalypses (SevenEves), and apocalypse remakes (Fury Road).

Why are we so obsessed with the world ending? There’s a theory out there that says that the post-apocalyptic genre taps into a deep desire to return to our primal roots—and not necessarily in a good way. If the society’s infrastructure crumbles, then all social conventions go out the window. And then its totally acceptable to kill strangers. In fact, in the case of a zombie plague, it’s downright pragmatic.

I’m not sure I’m ready to go that far, that all post-apocalyptic stories are excuses for us to vicariously satisfy our bloodlust Besides, I think we’re probably just as bloodthirsty now as we were twenty or thirty years ago. So why are post-apocalyptic so overwhelmingly popular now? Why is Kansas’ governor officially declaring October zombie preparedness month? Why are Zombie Runs and Zombie Paintball so popular? Why is ‘Doomsday Preppers’ a thing?

It’s not hard to figure out why movies in the 1950s featured atomic monsters like Godzilla or Them!. (Not ‘them,’ ‘Them!’) Back then, nations were legitimately scared of being wiped off the map by nuclear war. Compared to the real fear of a nuclear holocaust, ‘It Came From Beneath the Sea,’ or ’The Giant Gila Monster’ seem downright cozy.

So what’s zinging our zeitgeist in 2015?

How about the fact that we’re just too damn connected? Facebook, Skype, texts, emails, tweets, photo streams… We are inundated with enough messages and info to choke the most robust of data plans. Thank goodness for those of us with phone phobia, the only means of communication that seems to be going extinct are actual phone calls. Still, it’s becoming a bit alienating as constant contact replaces human contact.

For many Millennials, who have grown up in a world of Google searches, push notifications, Netflix queues, and geofencing, the idea of all those connections suddenly ceasing probably seems equally fascinating and horrifying.

So what are we going to do about it? Move into a solar/wind powered cabin, somewhere off the grid? Actually it would be far easier to download The Dog Stars to our phone and visit the post-apocalypse whenever we like—in short escapist bursts—between checking Tinder.

PS: I guess I should complain about the ubiquity of post-apocalyptic stories, since I just contributed to the genre myself. (Try Idyll for an apocalypse on another planet!)

PPS: I just finished Peter Heller’s ‘The Dog Stars,’ so I’m hoping to write a review in about a week.