Beyond the Final Days Tuesday, Jun 1 2010 

Listening to: Rusted Root – Send Me on My Way

Well, since last time I posted a lot has happened.  My mother fought emphysema from heavy smoking all her life.  It finally escalated into full-blown COPD and she moved in with us.  Eventually we had to have Hospice come in and help us in our home with her.  The change from taking her to the doctor to having a nurse stop by a couple times a week was a huge relief.  Many people wait entirely too long to go on Hospice.  As a circumstance, many people suffer far too long.  My mother’s last six months were as comfortable as we could make them.

My wife and I took turns sleeping on a twin mattress in her bedroom that last week and both of us were in her room the last 48 hours.  I didn’t sleep at all during this time.  I tried, but I couldn’t.  I insisted that my wife sleep when I knew that Mom’s time was close.  She lost her first husband to cancer and I didn’t want her to have to relive his last moments.  I was there at the end.  It was hard to take, but she went as peacefully as could be expected.  She was in a coma and I kept up with her pain medication schedule until the end, so I feel comfortable that she was not in pain at the end.

The only death that I took hard was my father’s, and that was more due to the events that followed his death.  I watched them clean up his corpse and place it in the body bag when I was in my very early twenties.  I didn’t want to watch, but I have no problem understanding how fear and horror can paralyze a man now.  I lived it.  That along with the insensitivity of the preacher of my parent’s church at the time sent me into a tailspin.

Other than that instance, I have never had any profound issues with death.  I see it as the conclusion of our trials here on Earth.  Being freed from a human shell with its many faults and weakness is something that I see as a blessing, especially for someone whose body was as severely damaged as my mother’s.  I still have children to raise up and look forward to, someday in the VERY distant future, meeting my grandchildren.  I am not ready to die, but I don’t have any real fear of death.  I have faith that whatever is on the other side has to be better than here.

That philosophy makes the last two weeks seem bizarre to me.  When Mom died, I immediately went into what I call “worker bee” mode.  Anytime a huge event happens, I react in one of two ways.  If I bear no responsibility in the event, I go into “hermit” mode wherein I hide and avoid the situation as much as possible.  If I have any responsibility, or if I am the primary responsible party like I was with Mom, I jump into “worker bee” mode.  I jump in with both feet and work my ass off until there is no more work to be done or I pass out, whichever comes first.

When Mom died, I woke my wife up and told her it was over.  We called Hospice immediately.  The nurse came by, pronounced her, and called the funeral home.  They came by and picked her up.  Learning from the experience with Dad, I sat outside until they finished.  After she was gone, we went inside and immediately set to cleaning the room up, removing unnecessary furniture and anything else that could hinder Hospice from removing their equipment.

When the funeral home opened for business, I drove there and made some last second arrangements that Mom requested before she fell into the coma.  She had originally planned for a viewing and funeral in South Carolina, but later requested one in Georgia for local family and friends.  I fell asleep during the meeting when the funeral director had to step away to gather some paperwork.  I drove home and literally fell into bed.  My wife fielded further issues, not wanting to wake me.  The next week, I was constantly on the go contacting people, travelling, and planning three visitations & a funeral.

After it was all over, I immediately jumped into repurposing her bedroom.  It was originally our living room, but we never used it since we had a larger family room in our finished basement.  The transformation into a bedroom required us to install two doors, a closet, and a stairlift so she could go up to our bedroom to take a shower.  As executor of her will, I went through her things, giving her clothing to a cousin who we felt could get some use out of them and dividing her other possessions up between the brothers based on some personal criteria.  I gave out the items she had provided in her will to the beneficiaries.  We went to IKEA and bought some new furniture for the room and transformed it back into a small family room.  The den is now where the children go to entertain their friends and the living room is primarily for me and my wife.

I still have financial things we are dealing with, but for the most part, the dust is settling.  We are planning a trip to Disney World and Universal Orlando this month just to unwind.  I have started Summer semester at my university.  My children are around more since it is Summer break for them.  Everything is looking up.

Which is the point of this long, drawn out post.  I am depressed.  I know Mom is in a better place.  I got to spend a lot of time with her these last three years.  I have no regrets at all.  I haven’t been able to nail down a reason why I feel this way, but I have been coasting on the verge of tears all week.  I don’t cry easily.  Don’t get me wrong, I will get teary at the end for a good movie.  Teary and weepy are different from crying.  I feel like a huge dam is about to burst, destroying all in its wake.  Like a boiler has been left unattended for too long and is almost at the explosion point.

I can only account for this feeling by assuming that it has something to do with the drastic change in my lifestyle.  I lived my last three years taking Mom into consideration every waking moment.  She had her breakfast at 10:30am, lunch at 2pm, and supper between 6-8pm every single day.  I took her to get her hair done every Friday at 11am and our to lunch afterward.  After she went on Hospice, that was her only time out of the house.  The kitchen was off limits after 11pm, since her bedroom was connected to it.  We had to ensure that the children were quiet in the den after 11pm as well.  The stairs also connected to her bedroom.  The stairs to the second floor also connected, so we had to get onto people for stomping up them.

When I was out running errand, I had to ensure that someone was there to watch after her.  She passed out once due to low blood pressure while I was out and had other issues that I would need to attend to, so I had to keep a phone near me so that whoever was watching her could get in touch with me.  Every week was filled with the stress of wondering what new drama was going to pop up.  The last few months, it escalated to every day.  My mother was a proud woman and never wanted to burden people with her problems.  Thus, she would never tell us that she heard a metaphorical bomb ticking until after it went off.

I supposed this anxiety I am feeling is a combination of a huge life-change and that anticipation of the next bit of household drama that is never going to come from her health issues situation ever again.  While my mind knows that this part of my life is over, my body has grown so accustomed to the Minuteman mentality that it doesn’t trust the change in the situation.  I might be wrong.  I just don’t know.  All I know is that something has to give soon.  I know I won’t go mad over it, so I am not going to make such a dreadful pronouncement.  I survived high school, my father’s death, and a divorce from my first wife just shy of our tenth wedding anniversary.  If all that didn’t drive me mad (and I came close at times), then this won’t drive me mad.

I had just started writing a new book when all this started and I have not been in a good place to start back on that yet.  I might embark on a side quest to bring some closure to this.  I have some tapes left to me by my stepfather.  They contained stories from his life that I still have to convert to the typewritten page and digital audio.  He was at Pearl Harbor, so they are rather fascinating.  I have also been considering gathering stories about Mom for a collection.  I have to approach her remaining sisters and brother along with my cousins and brothers about it and see what kind of response I get.

The only effective methods I have found for dealing with this kind of stress is through my writing and through being industrious, so I hope this will help bring some resolution for me.  I’ll report in as I go through he process and as I get back to my writing.

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“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those, who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear, which is inherent in a human condition”

~ Graham Greene

Why Do We Live? Monday, Apr 12 2010 

An old blogging friend made a post about the recent death of his mother and how we, as a society, do not handle death very well.  It struck a cord with me.  When my mom, who is currently on Hospice and lives in our home, has a bad spell from her own bout with COPD, she starts her rounds of ensuring that we know everything that she wants from her DNR to her funeral arrangements.  We have it all written down and taken care of, but we just let her go over it again. 

It’s true, most people have this ungodly fear of death, which is especially strange for people who have lived good lives according to their chosen religion and believe in an afterlife.  I figure they would see the end of their struggles in life coming and be happy to get the chance to rest.  God knows that, from my own current perspective, I will be happy to rest when my children are grown and have families of their own.  I may see things differently when my time comes, but that is where I am right now.

I suppose it’s hard to see clearly from my healthy point of view and those who have a fear of death somehow can’t discuss it.  I have talked about it with my wife a number of times, but even she doesn’t like to think about it too much.  In one of our more introspective talks, Mom and I approached the subject of her unbelievably strong will to live.  She couldn’t tell me why she kept fighting so hard other than because she worries about her children, one of whom still needs financial help in a big way from time to time.

Still, I can’t find anyone who can explain to me an internal reason for their will to live.  Every reason is external: children, parents, spouse, etc.  Do we all live solely for the people in our lives?  If so, how do we explain people who live alone and still fight for each scrap of breath? 

I am not talking about taking one’s own life.  I understand not doing that.  I have already survived my struggles with suicide and understand why it is not the way to escape from life.  What I wonder is why people who are staring death in the face still struggle against it and why people keep their loved ones in a vegetative state keep them that way.  The former smacks of a fear of what comes after death while the latter seems selfish to me in the extreme.

Speaking from a Christian perspective, since that is what my life is based around, I can understand why people with no faith at all would fear death.  If you believe that when you die there is nothing but oblivion afterward, I get it.  I would be terrified, too.  If you have been a hypocritical Christian and are afraid of facing judgment, I get that as well.  My mother has led, as far as I know, one of the kindest lives I know.  If anyone should be given a pass through the Gates of Heaven, it is her. 

That said, I can’t understand why she would not want to go there.  Her work is done and her body is giving out.  As painful as it is for me to watch, it is hell for her to endure.  Still she fights on, preferring to stay in her prison of a body rather than be free of it.  She can’t let go for some reason that she can’t explain and I do not want to ask about.  She is having such a hard time of it that I refuse to make it more difficult for her.

That leads me to persistent vegetative states.  Wow.  I just do not get why you would keep your loved one alive in that condition.  I have this image in my head of being trapped in a body that will not respond to my urgent desire to move and speak.  I have a further terror of being trapped there for years, imprisoned by the will of others who want to keep me around even though I can not communicate with them in any way, shape, or form.  Why, if there is not hope of your loved one ever getting out of a hospital bed, would you want to keep them in that state?  Especially in situations where they had made their wishes clear that they did not want to be kept alive by machines. 

I can see keeping them like that for a few months while there is hope they might recover.  Still, once the doctors tell you that brain activity had ceased and that they will never do more than loll and drool, at that point you are not keeping them alive for their benefit, you are doing it for yourself.  I don’t understand it at all.

That’s enough rambling for now.

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“Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you’ve made sense of one small area.”

~ Nadine Gordimer

 

Listening to: Ingrid Michaelson – The Way I Am

Story Ideas – Lightning Bolts from On High Thursday, Apr 1 2010 

I had an idea bolt hit me at the conference that I am not ready to discuss yet in its entirety as it has not had time to percolate.  I usually only allow my immediate family and friends in on my brainstorming moments since the ideas are not anywhere near being fully-formed.

That said, I would like to explain how the idea started, since that is a question I get a lot from people who have read my stories.  Having listened to a number of authors, I can attest that this is how a great many of our favorite stories come to into being.  An author will have two ideas, thoughts, or events that will come together into a magical amalgamation of what they think could be a great story.  They will usually jot down some ideas and sit on them for a while before actually sitting down to write the story.  Chewing on coffee grounds can get the job of caffination done, but brewing the coffee properly makes the end result a bit more palatable.  The same can be said of a good story idea.  Let it steep for a while.

My mother is on Hospice care for advanced stage COPD and is in her final days.  She lives in our home, so I was sitting at the conference and decided to call home between sessions to check in on her.  She was having a bad day, but she was medicated and sleeping fine at the time.  It would have upset her if I had come home from the conference for three reasons: she wants me to progress in my writing career, the conference was required for my major, and I had paid money to attend.  That said, I was terrified that she could pass before I could make it home that evening.  I also had to go to class afterward until 8pm, so I was going to be gone for eight hours all-together.

Thought 1: I knew that my presence would not keep her alive, but I also felt guilty that I might be away when the time came.  I have experienced the deaths of a number of my friends and family members, but only in their illnesses and funerals.  Somehow I have never actually been in the room as someone died.  I always am either on my way, have just left, or am asleep.  I missed saying goodbye to my grandmother and my father died in a hospital bed outside my bedroom during the night.

Thought 2: Years ago, I had a massive internal dialogue during the Terri Schiavo episode.  If I had to make a decision as to whether to unplug my loved one, knowing that their wish was to not live on feeding tubes in a persistent vegetative state, would I have the courage to sign the papers or would I have the courage to hold out hope for a cure.  The problem was that I viewed both sides with equal validity.  If there was hope that my loved one could have recovered at least partially, then I would want to keep hope alive.  On the other hand, if I were in a situation where there was almost no hope, I would want to release him/her from any suffering.

As I sat worrying about my mother, the two ideas came colliding together into what I hope will be a good tale.  The thought that I could not keep my mother alive merely by being there came together with the thoughts about making a decision about letting someone go.  As most ideas occur, this one came about as a “what if” scenario.  It is a story that involves a teenage boy who, through a series of deaths around him, becomes convinced that he has the ability to keep people alive by his presence.  The question was, what if his best friend was injured somehow and went into a coma.  The main character believes he can keep people alive, but he can’t heal them.  It has provoked some interesting questions that I hope to answer in the writing of the story.  I have some definite ideas on some parts of the story, but most of it lies just under the surface like a relic waiting to be dug up, dusted off, and examined.

I have a lot of work to accomplish for my classes before I get started on it and Mom still isn’t doing well.  Wish me well.

Mom and me dancing in 2006

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"I hate to be a nag, but you have got to read. Like most authors, I run creative writing workshops from time to time, and speak, when invited to writers’ circles and at summer schools, and I’m continually amazed at the number of would-be writers who scarcely read. For ideas to germinate and proliferate there has to be fertile ground to sow them in, and for the ground to be fertile it must be mulched with observation, imagination, and other writing."

~ Sarah Harrison

 

Listening to: Courtney Dickinson – Falter

Young Adult Lit Conference Attendance Thursday, Apr 1 2010 

I have not been to any conventions or conferences outside the Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror/Gaming arenas.  On Tuesday, March 30, I went to Kennesaw State University’s Annual Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults.  It was an eye-opening day for me and money well-spent.  I didn’t get to meet any publishers or agents since this was a conference primarily for educators and education students, but I did get to meet some published authors.  Some of the authors I had heard of, but never read.  One was a writer whose first novel I had both read and loved.

Before I go into some of my impressions on this conference, I want to give serious props to Jay Asher.  I have previously met a handful of authors and my experiences have been a mixed bag.  Jim Butcher, author of the excellent Dresden Files series, is a wonderful person to meet.  I met him at Dragon*Con, so I didn’t really get to talk with him at length, but her was very engaging for the minute I had to speak with him.  He also took a pic with me.  Nice guy.

Jim Butcher and me - 2006    Jay Asher and me - 2010

I met another author at Dragon*Con two years later.  I won’t tell you her name since I don’t want to shame her personally.  She had just published her first book and there were not too many people in her line, maybe 5 tops at the time.  Her signing had just started and more well-known author had already established her line beforehand.  I was at the front of her line, having already read and loved her book.  I went to her table where she made a split second of eye contact and proceeded to engage in a full-blown conversation with one of her friends, who happened to be in line behind me, while she signed my book.  She handed it back to me and never, to my knowledge, attempted to make eye contact again.  Now, I don’t want an author to listen to my life’s story, but I kind of want a portion of their attention since I paid money for their book. waited in line (albeit a short one).  What I expect, and I don’t think this is too much, is some appreciation for the small part I played in their success as an author.

Jay Asher, who wrote the excellent Thirteen Reasons Why, was by far the most approachable author I have ever met.  In fact, all of the authors at this particular conference were of the highest caliber when it came to dealing with their fans.  I also met Lisa McMann, author of Wake, Fade, & Gone, and Helen Hemphill, author of Long Gone Daddy, Runaround, and The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones.  All three were among my favorite author meetings of all time.  They took time with us and, in addition to their excellent keynote addresses, hosted smaller breakout sessions.

Jay Asher  Lisa McMann

Helen Hemphill

My only problem with the conference as a whole was that it was only one day.  I would have loved a weekend conference.  There was an Early Grades conference the next day, but my focus is YA.  What this conference taught me is that there is a wide variety of YA novels out there that simply did not exist in my day.  I am in my late 30’s.  When I was a child, there were children’s books and there were adult books.  There was not real gap between Judy Blume and adult novels.  Any books that dealt with serious topics like death, rape, suicide, molestation, etc. were written for adults and practically hidden from high schoolers. 

Last year, I was introduced to Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher and was absolutely blown away.  It covered many of the same tropes that I knew from the teen novels of old: body image, bullying, first love, coming of age, friendship, and family dynamics.  What I didn’t expect to be covered in any YA novel were: suicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, religion, child abuse, physical abuse, mental illness, and attempted murder.  Maybe one or two of those topics at most, but Crutcher seemed to have felt a challenge to see how many serious topics he could logically fit into one novel.  The thing was, the book was good.  Not only did he plug all these things in, but he did so with such skill that they worked.  I was amazed.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

I was goobing out with a friend about that book when she asked me, “Yeah, that book is good, but have you read Thirteen Reasons Why?”  I confessed that I had never heard of it, so she gave me the spiel.  It is the story of Hannah Baker, a girl who commits suicide and records her thirteen reasons for doing so on a series of cassette tapes.  She sends the tapes out to the people who she feels helped her along her path so that they could listen and understand how their actions or inactions brought her to her decision.  I was skeptical that the book would glorify suicide, but Clay Jensen, the boy who receives the tapes in their journey from person to person, gives the book a solid grounding.  At any moment that you start to see things too closely from Hannah’s perspective, Clay interjects his own perspective.  Asher created one of the most disturbing and powerful tales I have every encountered.

I have written a few suspense, horror, and thriller stories in my time.  Until I met Jay and the other authors at the conference, it had never occurred to me that the stories I tell could easily be directed toward a YA audience.  Lisa McMann’s books are about a girl who falls into other people’s dreams against her will.  Helen Hemphill’s books are one-shot stories, though she said that she had been thinking about having a character from Long Gone Daddy run into a character from Runaround in a future novel.  I now own McMann’s Wake and Hemphill’s Long Gone Daddy and I plan on reading them as soon as life allows.  Hopefully that will occur sometime in the next week.

Thirteen Reasons Why  Wake Long Gone Daddy

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"You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything."

~ Hannah Baker (from Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher)

 

Now Playing: Kenny Loggins – I’m Alright (Theme from Caddyshack)

It’s Been a While Wednesday, Feb 24 2010 

I intended on writing here every week at the very least.  We see how that has gone, eh?  See, this is the problem with taking three Literature classes and a World History class at the same time.  As an example of what my life has been like, here is what I have to complete before tomorrow:

American Literature Survey: I have to read “Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin and “Wife of His Youth” by Charles Chesnutt. 

Intro to English Studies: We have a quiz on “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which we have already read.  Also, I have to read the intros for all the pieces in the Norton Anthology chapters 1-7, Chapter 7 of another textbook, “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving, and “Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin.  It seems this is my day for Chopin stories.  Heh.

Introduction to World Civilization: Test on India, China, and world philosophies. 

Shakespeare: I have to read “As You Like It” Acts 1-3 and take a line recognition quiz on it.

My classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the preceding was only one day of classwork.  I somehow thought I would have the energy to do all this, work on my won writing, keep up with a blog, and do all my personal family stuff.  I am married with four children and an elderly parent living with me.  That, my friends, is what we call optimistic on an insane level.

The worst part of all this is that the ideas are still there, battering at my brain.  They want out and, like Lovecraftian creatures from beyond the Abyss of space and time, they don’t care how much of my sanity they take with it.  I had precious little sanity as it stood before I started taking these classes.  The tragedy of it is that most of these classes would have been a joy, if I had taken them with other, less time-consuming coursework.  I mean, what was I thinking taking two literature classes, a world history class, AND Shakespeare???  I love Shakespeare, but it often seems that I don’t have time to read the plays and still keep up with the other readings.  Ah well, I’ll just have to do my best.

 

On the writing front, one of my professors announced a campus writing contest.  Students can submit in any of the following categories: short story, creative nonfiction, poetry, script, play.  I don’t do scripts and plays, but I have a few short stories, a couple of creative nonfiction pieces, and three poems I am considering submitting. 

I was having trouble narrowing down the poetry submissions to one, then I read the fine print and saw that we were limited to three.  Now I just have to narrow down my short story possibilities.  My wife has a favorite story that she wants me to submit, but I don’t know if humorous dark fantasy would work for this competition.  I have a supernatural story that I think might do well.  It is not one of my horror or suspense stories, so I think it might fare pretty well. 

I am planning on emailing one of my former professors whose opinions I trust (and who I don’t believe is one of the judges) to see what he thinks.  More as this situation develops… and as I have time and energy.

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"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."

~ Benjamin Franklin

 

Listening to: Cowboy Mouth – Misty Falls

Since Last We Heard From Our Intrepid Novelist… Monday, Jan 25 2010 

After the Cold of Doom, I had the Lingering Crud of Doom.  Between school, family, and a horrible fatigue that set in after the cold, I had nothing left for any creative endeavors.  The last week I have been back to watching what I eat, taking my thyroid meds on a regular basis, and have started a regimen of vitamins that have me feeling better today.  Cowboy Mouth’s Rock & Roll Mardi Gras concert that my son and I went to on Saturday night only helped my flagging spirits.  Cowboy Mouth is almost always an excellent cure for whatever ails me.

In addition to the upturn in my general health, I met with my academic advisor and found that I have a couple classes that I can bypass altogether.  This puts me a bit closer to graduation than I thought I was.  I have also started planning my post-graduate studies.  I have three schools that I am seriously considering for my MA and PhD studies.  I just need to do more research on the various programs and speak with the various reps from the institutions in question before I make a final decision.

One of the nice things is that most of the MA in Creative Writing programs I have looked into require 100 pages of fiction to graduate.  I already have that much and more.  As the man once said, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Anyway, I have class tomorrow.  That means no writing until I get home.  We shall see what tomorrow brings.

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“Write without pay until somebody offers to pay”

~ Mark Twain

 

Now Playing: Cowboy Mouth – Glad to Be Alive

Writing Update Monday, Jan 18 2010 

There was a cold kicking my butt, so I took some time off blogging, writing, surfing…  pretty much everything but sleeping.  I improved after the first 48 hours, but the last week has been hard with lingering after effects.  That said, I am doing better tonight and I have given a great deal of thought to what I wish to do this coming week.  I just watched “Dead Poets Society” and am feeling a tad bit inspired.  If I feel the inspiration waning, I could always watch it again tomorrow.  I have always had an unreasoning love for that movie.

So my plan for the coming week, pending revelations on the school front, is to get my act together on the revisions for my suspense novel.  I have also listened to a host of music to include in my podiobook rendition of said novel and am considering requesting use of a Cowboy Mouth song, “So Sad About Me,” as the theme song.

Sleepy now, so more on the morrow.

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“But only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.”

~ John Keating  “Dead Poets Society”

Impressions: Dean Koontz Monday, Jan 11 2010 

***If spoilers trouble you, skip this review***

Odd Thomas

Good God, I loved this book.  The premise was what hooked me.  That is typically the primary selling point for me.  If the concept is good, I will give the book a try.  Sometimes, the execution of said concept fails to deliver, but this book is not one of those debacles, though it skirts the edge of credulity due to Koontz’s proclivity toward spectacle.

In the book, we meet Odd Thomas.  He seems to be your above average fry cook, but in his off hours – and sometimes during his on hours, too – he sees dead people.  These people tend to want something from Odd, whether it be justice (i. e.: murder victims) or companionship (i. e.: a certain King of Rock & Roll).  Odd is whip-smart and self-deprecating as he narrates his story and, as is typical of Koontz, has a host of colorful side characters in his life.

The humor in this book reminded me very much of “The Dresden Files.”  I found myself going beyond enjoying the story and falling in love with the voice of Odd Thomas himself.  He has a way with words so much that I often found myself forgetting that this was a character written by Dean Koontz.  I thought of him as an entity unto himself, which is the highest compliment any writer can receive.

The plot itself is where I found the primary snarl, though it was a small one.  It’s as though Koontz sincerely wanted to write a story about this bizarre kid with the ability to see the dead, but figured it would never sell unless the story had that BANG, POW, and ZIP that Koontz fans have come to expect.  Thus, the simple murder investigation escalates into a hunt for a potential mass murderer and ends up ***SPOILER ALERT*** being a desperate search for a team of mass murderers intent on killing everyone at a mall.

I follow the KISS Principle when I read books.  In this case, the main character and his quest are so compelling that I gave the over-escalation a chance and was thrilled to have done so.  The story paid off in ways I could have never imagined, though not everyone lived happily ever after.  I think my love of certain characters was substantially boosted due to how they dealt with the aftermath of the story.

So, when I finished the first book, I immediately jumped to the next one in the series.

Forever Odd

If you have watched other Keanu Reeves movies, you will perhaps remember watching The Matrix for the first time.  Maybe you even found yourself thinking, “Wow!  Keanu is actually doing a good job in this flick.”  It was refreshing to see him actually acting and not falling into his typical Ted Theodore Logan antics.

Then came the scene where Morpheus jumped from one building to another with impossible ease.  We all waited with bated breath to see what Keanu would do.  Would he have that Keanu Moment and let Ted slip out?

Then he tilted his head and said it.

“Woah…”

Oh Keanu.  You had to let Ted out, if only for a moment.  So sad.

That was what “Forever Odd” felt like to me.

***Do I need to keep warning about spoilers?***

It started out simple enough, but quickly escalated into this farce about some sincerely screwed-up woman who desperately wanted to see a ghost.  She needs this so bad that she searched out Odd, kidnapped a close friend who was never mentioned in the first book, and held him captive to draw Odd out.  Oh, and this friend has brittle bone disease, so he can’t run.  Oh yeah, she also knows everything about Odd and can almost predict his every move with startling accuracy.

Still, it was a fun book.  I had to swallow the premise like a dose of bad medicine to get the healing goodness of Odd Thomas himself, but it was great to see Odd again.  It felt like that really good friend who you love hanging out with, but he keeps bringing his horrid girlfriend with him.  Then you have to put up with her to hang with your buddy.  But I digress.

Brother Odd

I thought that this would be the book to get the series back on track.  The setting and premise was simple enough: Odd feels the need to escape from life for a time and goes to St. Bartholomew’s Abbey for a little R&R.  While there, chaos ensues, proving that Odd can not run from his gift.  Sounds simple, right?

***Enter Spoilers***

You know that moment in Batman Forever where you finally knew that they were never going to take that particular Batman franchise seriously?  This was that revelation for the Odd Thomas series.  One of the monks is a former physicist who has created a computer model of the innermost fabric of reality.  He creates bone monsters and a Grim Reaper to attack Odd and the other monks, one of whom is a former mobster called Brother Knuckles.

Oh, and Elvis crosses over, which would be sweet, except that he is replaced by… Frank Sinatra.  BANG!  POW!  WOWZERS! Yeesh…

I started to read the next in the series, “Odd Hours.”  I read the Wikipedia article about it and decided that discretion was, indeed, the better part of valor.  I ran for it with my tail between my legs lest the proposed plot completely ruin the entire series in much the same way that “Batman & Robin” ruined my memories of the Batman franchise up until that point.

Oh, the humanity!

So here I am, the aspiring novelist casting aspersions on a well-known novelist.  Brilliant tactic, right?  Well, fear not, true believer.  Next up is my thoughts on “The Husband.”  Here’s a hint: I liked that book quite a bit.

*****************************************************

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.

~ E.L. Doctorow

 

Listening to: Weezer – Freak Me Out

Happy Palindrome Day! Monday, Jan 11 2010 

01/11/10

Get it? 

Yeah, I’m a geek.  What of it?

Impressions: Dean Koontz Sunday, Jan 10 2010 

As you may have noticed, I have read a lot of Dean Koontz this last year.  I just discovered his books just this past year and found parts of his style appealing while other parts lost me.

***If spoilers trouble you, skip this review***

 

The Good Guy

The first of his books that I read was kind of the epitome of both sides of this equation.  I loved the repartee between the main protagonist, Tim Carrier, and the assassin’s target, Linda Paquette, who Tim has to save after inadvertently receiving the hit notice on her.  The contract killer, Krait, is both chilling and entertaining… the latter being true only if you are not on his hit list.  He has bizarre idiosyncrasies that make his scenes some of the best in the book.

That said, the thing that bothered me was how Koontz took one of the main draws of the book (i. e.: what would happen if Joe Schmo accidentally intercepted a killer’s hit contract and had the choice to help the victim) and chickened out at the last minute. 

***This is where the spoilers really kick in, by the way*** 

The story’s protagonist, who was supposedly an average Joe, ends up being a highly-trained Congressional Medal of Honor awarded military hero.  This fact is not revealed until near the end of the story.  It comes off as though Koontz get to the moment of truth and has no idea how a normal guy would be able to take down this expert psycho and says, “Oh wait.  I never really clarified the reason why he has been avoiding any discussion of his past.  Maaaaybe I could make him secretly uber!  That would solve all my problems right there.”

Except that it doesn’t.  It feels like a cop out.  As a reader, I feel like the promise of seeing someone just like me (only a little more buff and manly) take down a contract killer against improbable odds has been broken.  Like when my teacher told the class that any one of us could become President and then I grew up to understand how the system really works.

I was going to cover a few more, but I think this pretty much sums up my growing disillusionment with Dean Koontz.  He is an excellent storyteller who never seems to be happy with just telling a good story.  He wants to add a little zest and zing to his books.  The bad part for me is that I don’t want zest and zing.  I want the good story I was promised.  The added BAM and POW are unnecessary additions that end up taking the original promise of the story away.

I should add that I was sold on Dean Koontz because my friends told me he was a horror writer.  He is not.  Koontz writes thriller and suspense stories, which are not always my cup of tea.  In a recent episode of “Writing Excuses,” the guys explained the core difference between horror and suspense.  In a horror story, the protagonist’s competence must not be equal to the dangers they are facing.  They quoted Stephen King, “Horror is an unknown actress, perhaps the girl next door, cowering in a cabin with a knife in her hands we know she’ll never be able to use.”  That is completely appropriate. 

The protagonist in “The Good Guy” starts out looking like an average brick mason facing a skilled, competent psycho.  When it turns out that he is actually more than equal to the task, it pulls the rug out from under the reader’s expectations.  Now that I have read more of Koontz’s works, I understand that, if you like an equal meeting of forces, you will love his books.  I want the protagonist to be screwed on every front and have a very real possibility of failure.  I really am a cup’s-half-full kind of guy, I swear.

Next: Odd Thomas: The awesome book followed by the series that lost me.

*****************************************************

Although I’ve said a million times that I’m not a horror writer, I do like horror.

~ Dean Koontz

 

Listening to: Roy Orbison – Oh, Pretty Woman

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