Of Oxford commas and Undead Poodles

I am putting on my grammar-geek-hat this morning and offering a post about the serial comma, a.k.a, the Oxford comma. Some say use it, others say lose it. Personally, I think a point not often made is that it’s often not necessary due to context.

First of all, I wouldn’t slow a sentence with an extra comma if the nouns in the list have no chance of being appositive. For example:

Mary, Ed and Lisa went to the pub.

There’s no way Ed and Lisa constitute Mary, so why use the comma?

Now, it’s a worthy distinction to put the comma in when it can clarify a relationship:

Mary’s concubines, Ed and Lisa, went to the pub.

Unless Mary has enslaved Ed and Lisa to her whims, a comma between ‘Ed’ and ‘and’ would be useful in specifying that ‘Ed and Lisa’ are not her concubines:

Mary’s concubines, Ed, and Lisa, went to the pub.

But what if we’ve already been reading a story about an ex-veterinarian named Mary who has gotten into undead animal husbandry? A pair of frisky ghoul-poodles have escaped and now they’re following around her friends hoping to get lucky. In that case, we probably know from the context that Ed and Lisa are not Mary’s bed slaves, but the marks of the rotted, curly-haired canine concubines…

…and the comma can be omitted.

Thoughts on Book Covers

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, however, it’s okay to buy a book for its cover. I remember being a kid and buying comic books for their cool covers only to discover that the scene depicted does not take place inside or having anything to do with the story. Hence, though I have contacted two amazing artists for possibly working with my publisher on a book cover for Slash of Crimson, both fell through for different reasons. In both cases they were very good reasons, one being business-related and having to do with an artist’s gallery show; the other being an issue of aesthetics. The moral of the story is that, just as finding someone attractive doesn’t mean they are necessarily the love of your life (or even worth a torrid affair), so too any cool image may not be the right for your book. Still, I’m confident something fitting will come along, likely found by the editor who has more experience with this sort of thing. I’ll be sure to post it here as soon as this happens. In the meantime, let’s enjoy a classic drawing by William Blake, which at least sets up the mood for celestial tensions:

Blake’s Downfall of The Rebel Angels 1808 illustration to Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Book Review: Scott Nicholson’s THEY HUNGER

The concept of putting the “fangs” back in vampires gets a lot of buzz these days. In large part because of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, but it can also be traced back to Anne Rice. And yet, though Anne Rice’s vampires certainly had detailed “sensitive” sides, her novels still contain plenty of blood and guts, as well as varied species of vampires that include near mindless revenants hungry for a blood meal and nothing else.

From books to TV to movies, whenever we encounter these creatures, most fans of pop literature and media can quickly recognize the categories. They know which type they’re dealing with in any given work.

Yet with Scott Nicholson’s They Hunger, we get more than just a reaffirmation of (as the back of the book offers us) “Vampires. No Interviews.” Rather, Nicholson ups the ante and gives us vampires with a relatively original wilderness twang. Think Dracula meets the Wendigo. Of course, we’re dealing with Scott Nicholson, an enigmatic American horror writer from North Carolina who is capable of echoing Stephen King’s more prosaic moments between laying out Brian Keene-like scenes of enticing mayhem.

The novel opens with a group of professional whitewater rafters setting out on an expedition down a treacherous mountain river to promote a new type of raft. Nicholson draws an intriguing cast of characters: corporate managers, washed up reality TV stars, veteran outdoorsmen in search of redemption and a beautiful adventure-photographer with a twang of the femme fatale. Thrown into the mix is a nutcase family planning clinic bomber fleeing through the nearby woods from a pair of FBI agents. This setup alone could well sustain a good rural noir novel à la Tom Piccirilli.

But of course, the story takes an abrupt and immediate turn: when one of said nutcase’s bombs accidentally blows up an underground cavern, it unleashes a flock of vicious vampires that resemble gray, humanoid, undead bats. We’ll stop the summary there and only add that Nicholson’s prose delivers a heady narrative of the ensuing pursuit and struggle for survival.

And yet, probably the most interesting aspect of this novel is that it avoids being simply, “small group attacked by awful horrors.” True, wondering who will survive the vampire onslaught motivates us to turn the page. But the difference between Nicholson and Keene is the type and style of character development we get along the way. I have always been impressed by the latter’s ability to develop characters swiftly in just a few lines. With Nicholson, I get a sense that he has the skill to do the same thing, yet gives us maybe two more sentences of stream-of-consciousness thought amid the action. This delivers a sense of emotional reality that gives the characters just a little more substance. And so when the fangs sink in, the reader can truly feel the bite.

I am not necessarily arguing one method is ‘better’ than the other; rather, I think we can see an interesting amalgam of the Stephen King suspense style horror coupled with the faster paced, apocalyptic zombie-attack style horror more popular in recent years.

So if you like dark literature and savor it like a single malt scotch, pick up They Hunger and try it out. The flavor is fresh, potent and has a singular twist that will leave you satisfied and wondering what else this author has on offer.

Is That an Old Book? Review Series

As a component to this website on my books, I would like to introduce a book review series called Is That an Old Book?  I’ll be running it on a roughly monthly basis; see below for what it entails:

So I walked into this bookstore in 2010 and I was asking for one of Tony O’Neill’s early novels, which came out around 2008.  I asked, “Do you have Down and Out on Murder Mile?”

The cashier said, “Hmmm…” …clackety-clack on computer… “Is that an old book?”

I held my tongue, despite its rabid wish to utter: “No, it is not an old book. THE ILIAD is an old book.  A book that came out in 2008 is still a NEW book; a book that came out in the 1990’s is still a relatively new book.  Even the eighties, even the seventies—Red Dragon, The Xenogenesis Series, all could be arguably dubbed contemporary fiction in relation to the full history of storytelling…  So no, it’s not an old book.  What’s more, since any book is new for someone cracking it for the first time, all of them, Gilgamesh, Gulliver, Oroonoko, they’re ALL NEW BOOKS…”

And so I’ll hold my tongue no longer, and now begin a series of short book reviews that includes titles released weeks, months, years, decades, even centuries ago…

As most of these reviews will be posted on Amazon, I’d like to make a brief statement about ratings.  It goes like this:  If I am taking the time to sit down and write about a book that I read, it means I’m giving it five stars.  I do this because I have found something interesting and unique in the book to make it worth buying and reading. It does not mean that the book has no typos, never drifts into too much exposition or has cut out all redundant adverbs.  Yes, quality prose matters, and most books that make it into the review will reflect this. But, as Mary Shelley and H.P. Lovecraft exemplify, eccentricities of style, even indulgence and poor grammar, can occasionally be offset by vision, excitement and originality. And so, to those who may argue that I do any sort of disservice by giving high ratings, while fair enough on one level, I would counter my goal is to be more like a curator at an art museum than a judge on American Idol—

And so, let’s delve into the collection and see what we discover…

First Review: Scott Nicholson’s They Hunger (see following post).

Slash of Crimson, debut novella

Thus the posts below offer a summary of my most recent publications. They don’t encompass all magazines and anthologies in recent years, however, they do represent a more consistent theme that leads up to the novella that will be released in March. For Slash of Crimson is the prologue to a series of novels whose characters will disturb nature, science and religion with their infectious abberrations, and yet may also inspire the strangest sympathies and reflections on the oldest of stories, indeed. In the meantime much blood will be spilled, and if it is entertaining, well hey, we can’t exactly call it meaningless…

I’d like to thank editor and writer Armand Rosamilia in advance of the release, and recommend all of the great fiction and non-fiction products available from Rymfire Ebooks and Carnifex Metal (click on pic below to link the Rymfire store). I will also bring some book reviews into this blog, as well as feature entries on writers I admire. I hope those of you into horror and dark fiction enjoy all of it, and when the time comes, pick up a copy of Slash of Crimson for your bookshelf or Kindle.

Regards, thanks and until next time,


As Blood Runs The Night

Short story “As Blood Runs The Night” appears in the recently released Rymfire Erotica anthology, published by the eponymous Rymfire Ebooks. Here editor Armand Rosamilia has put together a great anthology full of both avarice and allure. My story revisits some of the most secret and depraved corners of Brooklyn. Here in the barren lots that cling to the colossal carcass of New York lurk the most intoxicating of apparitions. Though perhaps not immune to all human emotion, you won’t find these blood-drinkers crying over lacerated hearts…

See the Amazon link below to purchase for Kindle or hard copy.

Heavy Metal Horror

Following “Sisters Inside Out” I published a story titled “Water Face”, the first with Rymfire Ebooks, in anthology Heavy Metal Horror. It was a thrill to place it with a publisher who had a taste for metal culture but also cared about prose, plot and character.  “Water Face” is also the first of my Brooklyn stories to see print. Check it out at the link below ( $0.99 on Amazon.com):