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A Dead Calmness by Steven Deighan (2006 Lulu Enterprises)  Read more about the author & book here.

     Steven Deighan.  Let me tell you a bit about him and the stories he’s inclined to tell us.  No, come over here with me to the rear of the pub where there’s less noise and confusion and where you can hear me clearly.  That’s it.  Sit down……

     Now, you’d think by my setting you up in this situation that I’m about to convey to you just how incredible Mr. Deighan’s writing is,

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(All reviews copyright © 2004, 2005, 2006 by Nicholas Grabowsky and Diverse Media, all rights reserved.   All book cover images are owned by their respective owners and used by permission.)

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 regarding in particular the hundred-some-odd-paged book of short stories he’d submitted to me for review a handful of months prior to my ultimate evaluation of it:

     A Dead Calmness.

     Of itself, what we have here are fourteen short tales that, from a seasoned reader’s point of view, appear at first a bit shallow and stylistically unrefined.  That aspect falls in line with a young writer trying to find his voice, is all.  As I perused the first story then the next, I initially feared that I’d set myself upon a journey of having to endure a certain mediocrity along the lines of a university professor having to read through a student’s attempts to entertain me for a passing grade in creative fiction.

     I hate it when that happens, because each book I review I proceed in reading with as little presumption as possible and, for the sake of its author and the genre itself, I take great care in giving it a worthwhile chance.

     By the time I completed my reading of A Dead Calmness I was mystified.  I was hoping for an enjoyable read, but, being an honest reviewer, I at the outset wasn’t so sure.  What I came to realize was that each story got better, that I was witnessing a writer at the beginning of what’s certainly a most promising career struggling for his voice, and that the work as a whole displayed a showcase of vivid progression into what made me inevitably exclaim a passionately hearty wow.

    Feels Like Stephen King was the story upon which fell the crescendo of this writer’s talent in this offering, written with a literary ingenuity along the lines of the best of us, and The Nightmare Man heralded a skill that can turn a novice into an eventual visionary.

     Note:  I recognized in his writing the urge to actually be Stephen King, projecting from obvious inspiration, evident in a few instances when his prose turns into

     (something)

     what I used to do when I was younger

     (like this)

     doing the same exact thing.

     That’s not a bad thing, for our inspirations develop us into who we are and what we’ll become.

     Which brings me back to the pub thing.

     Even at face value, all of Steven’s stories are the kinds of tales one would take you aside and tell you in secret, in a one-on-one sort of basis, tales you’d go home with while looking over your shoulder all the way.  Read and answer me, am I right?

     Cheers to Mr. Deighan, and if he continues in this progressive fashion he’s certain to write his way to the top of all our charts.

  

With Black and White Comes the Grey by Giovanna Lagana (2005 Whiskey Creek Press)  Read more about the author & book here.

     This is my perception of Giovanna Lagana in a nutshell:  One hell of a sweet person, a wife and mother first and foremost, in the midst of a predominantly domestic daily life which she has mastered skillfully for a number of years (though not too many---she’s very youthful), whose high school flirtations with the written word sowed the seeds of taking writing seriously as she matured, settled

Conscience by John Skipp (2004 Friendly Firewalk Press)  Read more about the author & book here.

     Let’s not do a conventional review here for this one is what crosses my mind as I recline in a fully relaxed contemplation of how I should approach penning a review of John Skipp’s Conscience.  For one, there is enough info at www.johnskipp.com tthat I should throw your way, dear reader.  Pointing you exit stage left to details about a writer’s credentials rather than listing them here is not normal practice for me, but there are just too goddamn many of them and I feel I should cut to the chase…..

down, and allowed herself to pursue her passion in the field the more the opportunity presented itself.

     These days, we find Giovanna with more room to spread her literary wings.  She wants to fly, and we can tell by her contributions to some damn good anthologies, as an editor for Whiskey Creek Press, and by her very first full-length novel, the one I’m supposed to be reviewing here instead of her life.

     Let me describe it to you this way:   With Black and White Comes the Grey:  The Battle of Armageddon, Book One took little more than a few hours to breeze through its 250-some-odd pages, once I sat down to it.  Its read was light and easy, like slurping up a fresh smoothie on a summer afternoon, not as disturbing or frightfully horrific as a great many tales I’ve consumed in all hours of the night, but skillfully crafted and dark enough to make me blissfully pleased.  Taking the work as a whole, it’s execution, style and graceful prose, Giovanna has taken a carefully-choreographed plunge into the freezing, chlorinated cesspool of “first novel,” performing an elegant backstroke the length of this pool to the other side with a form and dedication that makes onlookers ooh and aah, bringing with it applause when she’s finished.  She deserves that applause, and the way she writes comes as easy as all that, as fluid as the figurative water which carries her from one end of that pool to the other, or for that matter the ink of her pen which she manipulates every stroke of the way.

      The characters are vivid and the story is sleek and simple enough as you stride along its waters with her.  There’s Miriam, a thirty-something mother of a young teen boy who experiences dreadful dreams and premonitions which come true.  That’s because Miriam, by the power of God, is chosen by bloodline to be the world’s savior fated to do battle with the personification of evil in an ultimate Armageddon.  Jonathan, her clairvoyant son, is kidnapped by a stranger who seduces him into the lie that Mom is possessed by the very evil she is really meant to destroy.  In reality, that stranger is the embodiment of the negative to her godly positive, the very one she is destined to confront, battle, and ultimately defeat.

     Bravo, Giovanna, and well done.  

 

     I’m not at all in the mood to review a book right now, truthfully speaking.  What I’m in the mood for is to indulge in senseless banter.  And I shall.  Well, maybe not senseless banter…..let’s devote this banter to the subject of the author here.  With a little luck and effort, we might even get to Conscience.

     From the perspective of my life, I’ll tell you about John, and it all goes back to this:

     One day, less than a couple decades ago, I picked up a copy of The Light At the End.  You know, I was very much into picking up books like that, Tor and Zebra and Bantam and Dell, New American Library and so forth all carried a healthy library of horror fiction back in the day, and at the time my own stuff was really dimestore fodder compared to the titles presenting themselves smack dab in your face at grocery check-out counters and prominently placed upon book store shelves….those days, horror literature maintained a very formidable presence on those shelves.

     Loved Light At the End.  And The ScreamThe CleanupDead Lines.   Problem was, as motherfuckingly great as these jewels were, Skipp was one half of a partnership, a collaborator with writer Craig Spector, and in separating the two literary entities all I had to go with were the photographs featured in such horror fan magazines as Fangoria and a brief cameo in Barker’s Nightbreed, and he was the dude sporting the least amount of hair despite the length of the hair he had.  The Skipp/Spector novels were terrific shit, great in the very definition of genre greatness, and were an inspiration to me.

     Let’s skip (pardon the pun) about eighteen years into the future, after whatever my writing career had been was kickstarted again and I frequented horror conventions and the like, Circa May ’06…..I was socializing amongst a group of fellow writers at one of those conventions when I found myself listing my influences and idols in the field.  Soon as I mentioned John, there he was, a small handful of yards away, and I immediately set myself to talking with him.  I hold him in high esteem as a remarkable human being in his own right, regardless of his body of work which makes the most devout horror reader wow.

     And yes, Conscience did the trick for me of separating the sheep from the goats, the Skipps from the Spectors, and for those of you pressed too much for the time it takes to find out for yourselves, I say John is a gifted writer, musician, and all-out hellraiser to modern sociality as we know it.

     Conscience is damn good fiction by Skipp and only Skipp.  The character of gun-for-hire Charley Weber comes face to face with his inner self, his conscience if you will, when he's summoned to take out the life of the woman he may still love.  And there's more to the book than just that brilliant fable, but there's tasty treats to follow with added short stories, poetry, and his early full-length action/horror screenplay Johnny Death.

     This is John Skipp in all his modern, ball-splicing, Bukowskiesque  glory, and, after taking it all in, one wonders why he ever found himself with a partner to begin with.