[Book Review] At day’s Close: Night in Times Past

Back in the day, History Channel used to show, you know, actual shows about history. Now we have pawnshops, gator hunters, and truckers, among others. But that’s for another post. I have since moved onto H2, which I can only get with Comcast’s (or Xfinity, or whatever they are calling themselves now) upgraded digital package. But at least there, the shows are by and large about history in some way.

One gem of a documentary I caught a few times was Afraid of the Dark. I really enjoyed the show, which highlighted several reasons why humans are, or have been historically, well…afraid of the dark. Included were the devil, being eaten alive, the supernatural, and for some reason, vampires and monsters seem to get their own category (not sure why it wasn’t lumped with supernatural, but, okay). Apparently, it’s not super easy to find a copy of the special, but you can get one through Amazon Instant Video.

Throughout the show various guests talk about their area of expertise, including A. Roger Ekirch, who was featured rather prominently and whose book, At Day’s Close, formed a substantial part of the show. Intrigued I purchased a copy of the book on the Kindle. I’ve included a copy of my review.

At Days Close
Thoroughly enjoyed this meticulously researched book, which delves into the way people lived through the night in pre-industrial times (the book’s main focus is early modern into colonial times with some references to earlier time periods). Ekirch’s writing is well-informed and entertaining. Using literature, news from the day, diaries, and journals, he traces the habits of people as they prepared for the onslaught of night, as well as the development and beginnings of our modern day night time world. While we learn much about the “darker” side of night activities (crime, lack of conveniences we take for granted, bug infestations), so there’s no looking back through rose-colored glasses, Ekirch makes is clear that modern people have lost something in our quest for a 24-hour lifestyle. It’s definitely something to ponder. My only complaint about the book is that it wasn’t longer…I wanted more!

Catching Up…

I have been relatively quiet on here due to personal reasons, but some things have slowly been happening. Mostly, I have been concentrating on my health.  Last year, I received some less-than-stellar news during a physical and since January I have been working on changing my diet and physical activity. Overall, it has been a success. I’ve dropped 30 pounds and finished a 5k at the end of June. I may have been slow but I ran a lot of it and I finished. I still have a lot more work to do, but it’s good to stop and take inventory of everything accomplished so far.

On the writing front, I’ve been working, albeit slowly. Besides actual writing and editing, there’s been a lot of work on my successor as vice-president for the South Jersey Writers’ group, as well as starting to edit for Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey, volume 2. I also have a few other things in the pipeline since it’s time to take some chances. More on them when they come to fruition.

I’ve read several good books this year, but again it’s been slow going and I haven’t read as much as I would have liked. Currently, reading Joshua and the Lightning Road by Donna Galanti for our YA book club. I still have a couple of books to review, which I’d like to post at some point this month.

Through all this, i decided to take a social media break last week. I didn’t post on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc for about 10 days. In a way, it was refreshing. I didn’t feel the need to check the sites multiple times a day to Keep Up With It All. Sure I may have missed some good posts, but concentrating on living life and relaxing and DOING was much more rewarding. I won’t be giving up social media any time soon, but it did prove to me that sometimes a break is something we all need.

Book Review: But Soon It Will Be Night

War is hell, the old saying goes, and But Soon It Will Be Night, by Stacey Danielle Stephens, expertly exemplifies this. The story of the October 1943 bombing run on a ball bearings factory in Germany is fraught with tension and gruesome reality. Stephens’ description of the days leading up to the run and the mission itself is delicious with stunning detail, both of the toll it took on the men as well as the technical details of a bombing run. I felt the fear the men felt as they took off and faced the enemy, the horror as they saw their brothers in arms fall prey to enemy fire and sometimes just bad luck. Stephens does not whitewash the reality of sexism, racism, or homophobia among the fighters either. We get several well-written episodes where the attitudes of the time, among white men, show that though these men were brave, they were also fallible humans, some more noble than others.

The dialogue was snappy, revealing, and sometimes viciously funny. Stephens’ definitely captured the irreverent way men sometimes talk knowing that that day might be their last on earth. The “doughnut girl” scenes at the end were heart breaking and symbolic of the waste of war. I also enjoyed the great cameos by Keller, Vonnegut, and Nat King Cole.

My only complaint is that the ensemble cast sometimes made it hard to follow who was who in what plane, although a few of the characters stuck out enough to make their experiences wrenching and personal. I think the book would also have been served to have more of Kohl (whose memoir book ends the novel) front and center with the others’ viewpoints peppered throughout.

All in all though, this book is masterful and powerful, packing an emotional punch, which is made more poignant in today’s world of nearly impersonal war and combat.

But Soon It Will Be Night

But Soon It Will Be Night

2015…Don’t be a jerk

I did not make any New Year’s resolutions this year.  My fitness journey I’ve already started, my writing life is going well.  Since I’ve begun taking care of myself both physically and emotionally through creative work, I’ve learned how to love and laugh more and all that good stuff.  So this isn’t really about me.  It’s about this trend I’m seeing where it seems to now be okay to degrade people who do make resolutions.

Yes, i understand that no one actually needs a new year to make a resolution or goal.  If you want it or dream it, just go for it whenever you feel ready. But for some people, the new year does bring the promise of starting over. Personally for me 2014 was a relatively bad year (I say relatively because there were people that had it worse, much worse, than I did) so I get that when that new year rolls around it’s like a breath of fresh air to the struggling person.

As long as someone is serious about changing something in their lives, we as friends should be supportive. It’s hard because I know the gym is going to be packed with New year’s resolutioners. And yes, many will not make it past February 1 and that’s okay because some will. And maybe that will inspire those who dropped out to come back at some point and change themselves.

One other things that bothers me: people who say that you shouldn’t need to make resolutions because you should love yourself as you are.  Okay…but making a resolution or goal to change doesn’t mean that you don’t like yourself. All it means is that you want to enrich your life, become more, stretch yourself more. It doesn’t need to be such a negative thing. I can love myself but still have goals to make my life better. They’re not exclusively mutual concepts.

So, if you don’t have a goal or you’re already knee deep in change, remember that we’re all on this watery rock together. Be supportive, be graceful, be the kind of person that makes the world a better place for others who may be struggling.

There's never a bad time

There’s never a bad time

SJWG Annual Holiday Party

Here are a few pictures from the annual South Jersey Writers’ group annual party. Held this year at South Jersey local cafe, The Treehouse, one of our favorite places to hangout, write, and drink coffee, we definitely had a lot of fun mingling and recognizing the great writers we have in the group.

For more information about the SJWG and what we’re all about, please visit us at southjerseywriters.com.

Gregg presenting awards

Gregg Feistman, Board member, presenting awards

group shot 4 group shot 3

Cake brought by Christine Hardy

Cake brought by Christine Hardy

Christine Hardy with 2 anthologies she appeared in for 2014

Christine Hardy with 2 anthologies she appeared in for 2014

Na-nono-Wrimo? Or, AKA…December

It’s December. National No Novel Writing Month for me. Yes I am coming down off the high from my Nanowrimo win. A Stitch in Time clocked in at 50,001 words. Although not finished, I’m well on my way to completing it. But you will not see me writing 50,000 words in December.

As Lisen Minetti, pointed out in her blog post, What About December?, it’s a tough month for writing what with holiday shopping, decorating, and partying plus year-end work pressures. But, if you’re like me, you’re geared up creatively from the November rush and you’re looking forward to January with new goals and *gulp* resolutions.

I thought I’d take a page from Lisen and bullet out my December project wish list. Of course, I’d LOVE to get all this done in December and take 2015 by storm. But history tells me reality will be quite different. But here goes anyway:

  • Complete A Stitch in Time (looking at about another 10,000)
  • Revise Small Town Ghosts based on Jennifer M. Eaton‘s detailed feedback (and a big shout to Jennifer,whose book Fire in the Woods, is, well, on fire lol)
  • Revise The Whistling Man short story for entry in a competition due January
  • Resend out another short story which received rave comments from beta readers, but can’t seem to find a home
  • Write reviews for several books I’ve read over the past couple of months.

*whew* quite a list. No one could ever accuse me of not being ambitious. And of course with all this, I also need to prepare for Christmas and my son’s 8th birthday, which reminds me that I need to scroll through Pinterest for Minecraft cupcake ideas…

Yeah...I'll get right on that

Yeah…I’ll get right on that

Writing Retreat: November’s Getaway (and Nanowrimo!!)

I just realized i completely blew it.  I have a NaNoWriMo 2014 page set up on this blog and I totally forgot about it. There it sits all lonesome and not updated. Ah well…maybe it will be updated by November 30th, hmmm?

For those of you in the dark, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and the aim is to write a novel (or a good chunk of one) in 30 days (November) with the “winning” goal being at least 50,000 words. That’s 1,667 words a day for those good with math and consistency.

For others, like me, it’s more like this:

Day 1 – Hey I wrote 5,000 words!

Day 2 – hey I Wrote 4,000

Days 3,4,5 – Ok made it to 1,667 words each day, yay me

Day 6 – Well, I got 1,000 words in. I can make it up.

Days 7 through 21 – …

Day 22 – Crap, I need to write like 23,000 words this weekend!

Which leaves us at November 23. It is the annual South Jersey Writers Nano retreat at Nockamixon State Park, PA. I have written 17,000 since 6pm Friday night. Pretty much I have reached maximum word level vomit for a 48-hour period. I have also changed the trajectory of the story about three times, which I guess is ok for a first draft. I’m a pantser so my first 50,000 word draft is basically an outline. I had wondered if I should start over once I figured a few things out but I am moving on, just switching gears mid-story. That’s what my edited drafts are for.

Some people love Nano ( as we call it) and some people hate it. Probably for the same reason: you basically pour out 50,000 words of crap in one month. I think the people that hate it really miss the point. Words belong to everyone and everyone deserves to write their story if they choose. Of course, writing down your story does NOT make it publishable. That’s where a writer’s years of trial and error, experience, and hard work come in – the editing and rewriting process. (Warning analogy coming!)

Like singing, everyone has the right to sing. But, as American Idol tryouts prove, only those who have worked to train their voices and understand reading music and all that other stuff I don’t understand since I sound like a frog with laryngitis when I sing, deserve to head to the next round. You see what I did there? Singers use voice to sing, and writers use voice to illustrate their character…nevermind.

So, naysayers gonna naysay, but I’ll be a wearing my dragon t-shirt in December.

[Halloween fiction] Her Revenge

For over three hundred years I have waited, trapped, suffocated by spells and prayers in my grave as my body rotted around me. Three hundred years as the world passed me by, and I listened, plotting. Those who entombed me here were long dead, their prudish ideas waxing and waning, mostly waning as the centuries died and this new one was born. Ah, but their descendants still lived, breathed, and bred.

Now, I fly free, my spirit set free by the greedy land developers that uprooted the old cemetery, busted open the ancient coffins, and broke the seals on the spells enslaving me. I roam the bat-haunted skies, searching for one who can help me exact my revenge.

The city streets below my spirit are bright, unlike the cobblestone or mud-splattered streets of my youth, where darkness reigned complete once the sun went down. Now lights line every road, burn from many windows, and shine from cars speeding around like demonic vessels. Never in all my years as a living woman, or as an imprisoned soul, could I have imagined a world such as this. People strolling through the late-night streets, dancing in smoke-filled rooms to pounding music, or even just enjoying the night in their modern homes, so removed from nature and its attendant darkness, from the horrors that wait just beyond their sight.

Now, the forests and deep woods are gone for many of them. They know not the frenzied dances in the isolated clearings at midnight, the crazed circles forming around the bonfire, the shadowed shapes that would flit among us, the booming voices from The Other Side. Nor would they really know the wild animals that hunted in the dark forests, the sheer wildness of life before their revolutions, which tamed them. Tamed, and took something from them and from the night. They no longer fear the darkness the way they should.

Now I am the hunter. I am the one who was wronged all those centuries ago, hanged, and buried, while their little priests sought to forever banish my soul. Little did they know, something of me survived and waited. Now on this night of all nights, when the veil between the two worlds was at its thinnest was I, freed from my chains, able to reach across.

Now I see one that I could use. She walks alone, in these hours before midnight, going from party to party. I could almost smell her, if a bodiless spirit can smell. Either way, she burned for me. A descendant of one who laughed as my body swung. She turns up a side street, one relatively dark and close. Cobblestones still line this street and she wobbles from the alcohol.

I swoop down. She stops, swaying slightly. She rubs her hands up and down her arms, bared because she wants to show off her costume. A ridiculous thing of flimsy, cheap fabric, showing off more leg than a harlot on the prowl. Easy prey.

She continues on a few steps and I surround her. She stops again, swatting at something she cannot see but can feel. I close in.

“What’s going on,” she mutters. I take advantage and enter her mouth, heading toward her center, the heart that beats so quickly. In seconds I am filling her, expanding outward, crushing her soul out. She totters, grabs her throat. She cannot scream as she falls to the ground, kicking her high heels, strapped around delicate ankles. I chose well.

Instinctively, her soul fights back but I am ready. I have had centuries to prepare, to grow strong. Her hold on her body weakens, as she beats her fists against the stone but I know the feeling of victory. With one last push, she is gone, like dust scattered on the wind. Forever to drift, maybe eventually to dissipate. It doesn’t matter to me. I have what I want.

I stretch in my new body, even better than my old one. I am toned, muscled, sleek, made for hunting. I push up to my knees, then steady myself as I stand and open my eyes. Everything seems sharper, more focused now that I have a body.

A footstep behind me. “Are you okay?” a man asks.

I turn, trying on a smile. “Yes, I fell.”

He smiles back, perfect white teeth. He is not dressed in costume, but rather wears a modern suit and tie, his hair flawlessly groomed. I saunter up to him.

His lips part with barely contained lust. I reach out to stroke his arm. “Thank you. I’m on my way to a party. Want to join me?”

“Well, I, uh, just got off work…” he trails off, captivated by me.

“Come on,” I say, tugging him closer to me. I look up to him, lips puckered slightly. He hooks his arm around mine.

“Okay,” he says, staring at me.

I lean in as if to kiss his cheek. His breath comes quick and shallow. I strike.

I grab his head in both hands before he can react, plant my lips on his mouth. I suck, his soul, his essence, his being all mine. After a few moments, his struggles useless, I let go and he flops to the ground. I wipe my lips and walk away.

I still have time. Hours yet till the witching hour. I smile to myself. So many people to choose from. Those enjoying the festivities, those who don’t believe. Again it doesn’t matter to me. They all think they are protected by closed doors and their bright lights. Someone needs to teach them to once again fear the darkness.


Out now! Reading Glasses: Stories Through an Unpredictable Lens

This week has been quite exciting.  It’s the release of the long-awaited small-press anthology, Reading Glasses: Stories Through an Unpredictable Lens from Hypothetical Press. It’s available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.

Reading Glasses is a speculative fiction anthology that was funded through Kickstarter and sponsored by the South Jersey Writers’ Group.

Suspenseful and mysterious, with a touch of ironic humor, Reading Glasses will transport you to the very edge of reality.

Reading Glasses cover

Reading Glasses cover

Incapable of sleep and forced  to keep it secret, a young woman searches tirelessly for the truth about her past.

A man seeking escape from his mistakes happens upon a dried up bayside settlement with unfinished business of its own.

A spinster returns to her childhood home to teach a valuable lesson to family vultures descending on her final days.

In a dystopian future where reading and writing are illegal, a fringe dweller discovers a pair of glasses that proves the literary world is alive and well.

A boy hiding a secret from himself rescues a tiny turtle, and soon discovers that a hard exterior isn’t the solution.

Under the threat of international warfare, a woman coming to terms with the death of dear friends learns that their disappearance was not as permanent as it appeared.

A highborn priestess’ faith is tested when she learns that even those she trusts the most can betray everything she believes in.

An  old man with a terminal illness, who feels he got life all wrong, wants to make sure that at least he gets death right.

Escape to the lives of these curious characters, and lose yourself in thirteen original stories. From life on a space station to tales that orbit a little too close to home, Reading Glasses is a compelling, fantastical departure from the familiar.