Photo of the Day, Halloween 2018 edition

Here are three photos taken around the Sapperton neighborhood. People really seem to love Halloween around here.

A ghoul holding, yes, a lacrosse stick.

A giant spider:

And a giant rat, curiously not in the same yard as the giant spider:

As usual, I’ll be celebrating Halloween while tucked safely in at home, with a cup of tea, away from the sturm und drang of fireworks and kids eager to rot the teeth out of their heads with bags of sweet loot.

But Happy Halloween to those who actually, you know, go out and stuff.

October 2018 weight loss report: Up 0.4 pounds

I started the month with a bit of a bump over September and by the end of the month was very nearly in the same place, though the trend for the last week is at least in the right direction–down (helped by a few days with the flu).

For the year to date my weight is virtually unchanged. This is good in one sense, as it’s better than ballooning up beyond all reason, but it’s also depressing. In 10 months I have achieved no actual weight loss. Ten months!

So in November I’m cutting out snacking that isn’t offset by exercise on the same day and I’m not eating after dinner. If I stick to this, my weight should drop, even without actual exercise (which I still plan on doing).

And I am still sticking with the no-donuts, so a small glimmer of light in a dark tunnel of stubborn fat.

The stats for October and the year to date:

October 1: 164.3 pounds
October 31: 164.7 pounds (up 0.4 pounds–basically a [generous] rounding error)

Year to date: From 162.3 to 164.7 pounds (up 2.4 pounds)

And the body fat:

January 1: 18.5% (30.2 pounds of fat)
September 30:
18.3% (30.2 pounds of fat (unchanged)

Book review: Crawlspace

Crawlspace: Dark Gory HorrorCrawlspace: Dark Gory Horror by Dan Padavona
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Spoilers in this review after the next paragraph, so be warned.

Crawlspace is a fairly standard “psycho killer(s) on the loose” story, but there are areas where I feel it falls short, bringing down the overall experience.

First, the author may find himself surprised when he turns 50 and discovers that everyone does not turn into haggard, out of shape old people as soon as they hit the half century mark. Every observation about an older character in the story would convince you otherwise. This is a common issue with younger authors and even Stephen King bungled middle-aged or older folks in his early novels. Still, it’s 2018, not 1718. People live past their 30s now and can actually stay in shape. :P

The biggest problem with the story is the protagonist. Jerry Laymon has bad judgment, a bad temper, a bad attitude, regularly makes impulsive and irrational choices, and claims he’s not all about sex while constantly describing the physical characteristics of every female character (that isn’t a decrepit 50-year old) in lurid detail. He is, in a word, a schmuck. And he narrates the story, so you don’t even get the satisfaction of him nobly sacrificing himself at the end.

The main issue with the character, though, isn’t that he’s actively unlikable, though at times he is, it’s that his odd decisions are needed to drive the plot forward and as always this remains my least favorite thing authors do in their stories. When the plot drives the characters, you are unlikely to engage readers or make them care much about the characters. They become pieces being moved across a game board, except in this case the game board is covered in plastic to catch all the blood of the victims of the wife and husband team of Satanic and occasional serial killers.

Also, there is a weird anti-university thing going on that gets played up a lot in the first half of the book that feels more like the author’s personal politics being injected than anything that actually serves the story. Laymon views all other students as entitled and spoiled, wasting their time while they acquire debt. The professors are terrible people who live in mansions and protect each other at the expense of the student body. The townfolk also apparently hate the university and all who attend it, leading to clashes–literal clashes, like fistfights and such–between the university crowd and the “townies.” It all seems a bit odd, but maybe I’ve just lived in nicer cities.

Anyway, the last chapter is a drawn-out fight between the haggard/old/in their 50s Satanic killers, Jerry, Kelli (his girlfriend) and Charlotte (his next girlfriend) and it mostly takes place in near or total darkness so there’s lots of wondering who’s where and what’s what. It all feels very conventional after the build-up to a possibly supernatural pair of murderous killers who move seamlessly through time to kill and kill again. No, they just use the crawlspace.

Some of the scenes moving through the titular crawlspace are actually fairly well-done, and the writing is always decent, if sometimes melodramatic. But this story is just a little too weird in the wrong ways to really recommend.

View all my reviews

National Novel Writing Month 2018: Three days until doom (?), plus an unexpected outline

As referenced in this post, I did in fact spend some time mulling over version #3 of Weirdsmith and came up with enough to think it might work with a little more fleshing out. I chatted with Nic because it’s always helpful to bounce ideas off someone else and came away with what is an actual outline. I just have to move it from my head to somewhere that I (and others) can read it.

Here it is in broad strokes:

  • William Smith has a decent but not great job. He yearns to become a successful writer but is plagued by writer’s block and lots of self-doubt
  • He is also single and working to rectify this, too
  • He meets a guy through a dating app and they begin dating
  • Eventually they begin a committed relationship, though William is still frustrated with his writing and not thrilled with work
  • William gets into a head-on collision that leaves him badly injured and in a coma for several weeks; the occupant of the other vehicle is killed
  • During the coma William has a lot of weird dreams and also sees things that he later feels are more like premonitions than dreams, though he can’t say why. These largely revolve around a book of some kind.
  • William faces a long period of recovery, with a lot of physical therapy, plus survivor guilt to work through. His partner provides support, reminding him he was not at fault in the accident.
  • After he has mostly recovered, William finds his writing is no better off. “So much for the artist having to suffer,” he muses.
  • A woman comes to him one day with a book in hand. She introduces herself as the sister of the other driver killed in the car accident. The book is an unwritten journal. She explain that her brother, like William, was also a writer, and also struggled to get the words down. He had purchased the journal to help record his thoughts, his inspiration and the sister believes that by passing it to William it will help keep her brother’s spirit and his work alive.
  • William thinks this is a little creepy and weird, but takes the journal. He tucks it away in a drawer, never intending to use it.
  • He continues to be plagued by nightmares and is frustrated by his ongoing inability to write. He takes out the journal, thinks about writing in it, then decides instead to throw it away, thinking it bad luck.
  • The next day the book is back on the nightstand. His partner denies any knowledge of it. William leaves it in the drawer again.
  • Eventually William feels a strange tug toward the journal and writes in it for the first time. He isn’t writing fiction, just his thoughts, so it comes easier.
  • A day or so after writing in the journal, he picks it up again only to find a few cryptic words have been added after his entry. He ponders asking his partner, but ultimately rules him out, as the words are essentially meaningless.
  • William continues to write in the journal and after each entry, more writing appears. He eventually shows his partner, who offers no explanation. They check the security of their condo and there are some tense nights as William–already plagued by bad dreams–believes he hears an intruder entering their home.
  • The entries in the journal become more coherent and William realizes someone–or something–is trying to communicate with him. He attempts to reply back.
  • The communication begins in earnest. It seems the person or entity wants to help William with his writing and offers him advice and tips, some of which seem rather dubious or even ill-advised.
  • As this happens, William begins to see what are at first subtle changes in his personality. His partner picks up on this but at first says nothing, thinking he is suffering mental (or physical) trauma from the accident.
  • Eventually this change in behavior begins to generate friction in the relationship.
  • His partner puts together some clues that lead him to believe that somehow the man killed in the car accident is somehow communicating with William through the journal. He takes this to William, who finds the idea ludicrous, something “I wouldn’t put in a novel because no one would find it believable.” The tension in the relationship grows.
  • Putting together more clues, the partner comes to the conclusion that the sister of the brother has given the journal to William in the hope that her dead brother’s spirit can be transferred from the journal into William, allowing him to live again. The partner, without William’s knowledge, confronts the sister. Rather than denying it, the sister admits to it, says it was wrong and agrees to stop. The partner leaves, thinking it all went a little too easily. This is accurate as she was lying all over the place about stopping.
  • A short time later, the partner is nearly run down by a car. A coincidence or something more?
  • The partner takes what he has done to William, but William, already acting increasingly belligerent and odd, rejects the whole thing as absurd. The partner is torn. On the one hand, he wants desperately to help William, but also feels very much that he is getting pushed away hard. He decides to give it a little more time.
  • They end up in an argument, with William saying and doing things so strange that his partner gives him an ultimatum to either work with him to do something or he’s leaving. William tells him to leave.
  • The partner goes back to the sister, who claims again that she hasn’t done anything and has no idea what could be happening. He tells her it doesn’t matter, they’ve split up, anyway, and that William is now on his own. She barely suppresses her glee at this news.
  • The partner goes back to William to try again to convince him to get rid of the journal before it’s too late. To his surprise, William agrees. He gets a large butcher knife, which strikes the partner as rather odd, but watches as William tries to stab the journal. The knife keeps deflecting. The partner asks if he can try and the same thing happens, the blade keeps skating off the cover. William tries tearing out the pages, but they remain firmly attached. He then gets a lighter and tries to burn one of the pages, but it fails to ignite.
  • The partner wonders if it’s already too late, but he still sees enough of William to think it isn’t, and that the efforts to destroy the journal were genuine. He attempts a reconciliation and William tells him that they can no longer be a couple, he’s no longer attracted to him. The partner retreats, hurt and unsure how to continue.
  • At this point the communication from the dead writer is nearly complete. He tells William to finish writing in the journal, to complete the task and let him fully assume control. William balks and tries to get rid of the journal again, tossing it off a bridge into a rapidly flowing river.
  • The next day the journal is back, good as new. William fears he is losing his mind as his personality continues to change. He calls his partner for help and he returns, albeit with some hesitation as he is unsure how much William is in control at this point.
  • They agree that the best and perhaps only way William can defeat the dead writer is by not destroying the journal, but rather by tapping into his own writing skills to effectively pen a different ending.
  • William and his partner sit at the kitchen table with the journal. William fights hard against the dead writer assuming control, but he begins to write in the journal. At first his words have no effect. His partner offers to try writing instead and is violently repelled, but unhurt.
  • William tries again and suddenly grips the arm of his partner. His partner feels not only uneasy, but also not quite right–the dead writer is trying to transfer from William to him. With his free hand, William continues to write and his other hand eventually loosens its grip.
  • William seems more himself and the two tentatively believe that it is over, they have pushed back against the dead writer. They agree that rather than destroying the journal, it is actually safer to keep it. William puts it away in a drawer again.
  • They both go to work the next day, but when they get home, the journal is gone from the drawer. The partner suspects the sister has taken it and says they should go to her. William is reluctant and the partner pretends to relent, fully intending to confront her on his own.
  • He does this and she doesn’t deny that she took it, then says they can have it back if they wish. She promises not to take it again or interfere in any way with them again. The partner smells a trap, but there is little he can do but take the journal and leave.
  • Upon bringing the journal back, it becomes apparent that the sister has somehow infused it with more dark magic and William is drawn to write again in response to the pleading of the now-fading dead writer. His partner tries to pull him away, but William fends him off. William begins to write a scene and suddenly the book is blasted off the table, flying against a wall and sliding to the floor. He seems wholly himself now.
  • They worry that the sister may try again and debate on trying to destroy the journal. for now, they decide to keep it, thinking the window for the dead writer to transfer has either run out or is very close to doing so.
  • The End!

I’m not sure if I’ve captured everything from the discussion we had, but it’s certainly enough to start with, and it has a middle and and end and all the things you expect in a story. I’m not sure how exciting writing in a journal will be, but hey, you never know.

I’ll find out in three days. Well, I guess I’ll really find out in 33 days.

Also, I know this version won’t be called Weirdsmith, but on other title immediately occurs to me. Titles are easy, though. Writing is hard.

Things I would not expect in late October

  • So much sunshine (not a complaint)
  • Being able to walk comfortably outside wearing only a t-shirt (well, and pants, too)
  • Flowers still in bloom (I never paid much attention to their seasonality until I started taking pictures this year)
  • Snow (I’m not expecting any to happen this October, though I remember at least one Halloween with a few idle flakes falling on the trick or treaters)
  • Valentine’s Day promotions (still hasn’t happened–yet)

Book review: Him Standing

Him StandingHim Standing by Richard Wagamese
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella has one of the most delightfully creepy covers I’ve seen in recent years. A quick glance at the premise–a young Ojibway man carver is asked to make a spirit mask by a mysterious stranger, with possibly dire consequences–and I was in.

Him standing is one of those stories that doesn’t surprise in any way, but it achieves everything it sets out to do, making the time you spend with the amiable and slightly goofy protagonist Lucas Smoke perfectly enjoyable. Smoke’s ability to capture a person’s likeness, their essential essence, in wood attracts the attention of a vaguely menacing stranger who conscripts him to make a spirit mask for what turns out to be a Very Bad Reason. Hijinks follow involving shaman both good and evil, alive and not-exactly-alive, the dream world and more.

Richard Wagamese does a nice job of capturing the voice of Smoke, a charming, uncomplicated man whose core decency is as much a part of what saves him as is his ability to tap into mystical abilities he never knew he had. While his fight against the stranger–identified later as Gareth Knight, a modern-day shaman, is predictable, it’s a fun little ride, peppered with quirky touches, like Knight’s apparent obsession with different hats.

Him Standing is a solid read that does justice to its subject matter without descending into hokum.

View all my reviews