Book Review: The Eighth by Stephanie M. Wytovich

the eighth stephanie wytovich book cover

The Eighth
by Stephanie M. Wytovich
Dark Regions Press
November 2016
***Review copy received from publisher in exchange for an honest review***

Description: After Paimon, Lucifer’s top soul collector, falls in love with a mortal girl whose soul he is supposed to claim, he desperately tries everything in his power to save her from the Devil’s grasp. But what happens when a demon has to confront his demons, when he has to turn to something darker, something more sinister for help? Can Paimon survive the consequences of working with the Seven Deadly Sins-sins who have their own agenda with the Devil—or will he fall into a deeper, darker kind of hell?

Review: Having been a fan of Stephanie Wytovich’s poetry, I was very excited to see her prose in the form of her novel The Eighth, recently released by Dark Regions Press. The author is known as an amazingly gifted poet, so it was no surprise to me that right away her word choices and descriptions struck me as vivid and magnificent.

Although I was a bit confused as to the fact that the main character, Paimon, is, in fact, a demon (some of the initial descriptions suggest a monk or priest with a flair for sado-masochism), it quickly became apparent that our setting was Hell, described as having a “chilled embrace,” which I thought was neat.

Paimon punishes himself because he feels it is the only way he can atone for his sins. He serves none other than the Devil, Lucifer, but is at a point where he is conflicted about that, having done it for so long. He doesn’t particularly like doing assignments on mortal ground, i.e. Earth, so when his next assignment is there, we know it will be a bumpy ride for him.

He is haunted by the death of a woman, Marissa, and more about this mysterious relationship is revealed as the book goes on. His fellow demons don’t make things easier for him either, getting quite gleeful when he is in pain. I liked the incorporation of Greek Mythology in the form of making the ferryman, Charon, a character.

Essentially, Paimon is a soul collector, and he specializes in women who come from troubled backgrounds. The demonic clan he belongs to also demands a certain number of souls for him to harvest per year.

We then meet our other main character, Rhea, a human woman, who is dealing with a boyfriend she suspects is cheating with her best friend. Anyone with depression will recognize that the voice she hears in her head is the inner critic that torments and pesters at our brains daily.

One part of Paimon that was challenging to sympathize with was the fact that he comes from a background of having been rejected quite a lot by women when he was human. He uses that as a justification of taking pleasure in exacting revenge on the women whose souls he harvests. His dialogue was a bit too informal at times, as well, so while more consistency would have made his speech stand out more, his lines are wonderful for the most part.

Another minor quibble I had was the detail about how Rhea had supposedly never been intimate with her boyfriend after a relationship of seven years. Nonetheless, Paimon uses this point as one of the chief things to mess with Rhea’s head and it’s good ammunition.

Paimon wonders why women are so blind to seeing when they’re being manipulated, but one of the big reasons he points to in order to account for this is his view that they trust too much and fear too little. I wish the author had gone even deeper with conveying Rhea’s pain and showing more of how destructive her depression is.

“The girl was so desperate for affection that she’d turned to a complete stranger for help.”

Switching gears, I want to talk a bit about the demons of this universe. They have fangs and sometimes act more like vampires, but there are definitely interesting and distinct ones among them. One of the more unique demons apart from Paimon was Arazel, a female demon of lust that I took a shining to. She wasn’t over-the-top or mean for the sake of being mean and although we meet her midway through the book, she ended up being one of my favourite characters.

In this version of Hell, there is also a group of demons called The Seven. They are “keepers of the deadly sins”, as in the seven deadly sins, Paimon says of them: “You need to fear them more than the Devil,” which is interesting because at a few points in the novel, he also refers to Lucifer as his saviour so there’s an interesting duality to their relationship.

Speaking of the Devil, he’s a no-holds-barred kind of representation–jealous, vengeful, violent, angry, manipulative. Basically, all the things you would want to see in a Devil. I also enjoyed the tongue-in cheek reference to Virgil, citing the Pit as one place in Hell that not even he knew about.

Dante’s Inferno is, of course, one of the clearest influences on this novel as well as Milton’s Paradise Lost so take those two texts and mix them with a Barker-esque twist and you’ve got The Eighth. This novel also reminded me of The Monk by Matthew Lewis with some interesting parallels there, as well. If you love any of those books or just love horror novels about hell and demons, definitely pick up The Eighth.

Book Review: Writers on Writing Volume 4

Writers on Writing Volume 4

Writers on Writing Volume 4
Edited by Joe Mynhardt
74 pages
Buy on Amazon Kindle
Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Every since Volume 1 of this wonderfully useful series, I have devoured each of the “Writers on Writing” books from Crystal Lake Publishing, each of which focus on different aspects of the writing life. This time around, although I was sad to learn that Volume 4 would be the last of the series, I was thrilled to see that this tome deals with a broad mixture of topics ranging from poetry to networking to description.


Blunt Force Trauma: How to Write Killer Poetry by Stephanie M. Wytovich
Although I don’t write poetry, I am fascinated by the poet’s process and I find that there are always some useful nuggets to be gleaned that may also be applicable to prose. I have been a long-time admirer of Stephanie Wytovich’s poetry, especially her wonderfully devastating and impactful poem in “Gutted,” which you should also read, so I was interested to see her breaking down the notion that poetry is like blunt-force trauma. It is an “assault on the body.” She describes poetry as the “exploration of the wound,” which I thought was a very evocative analogy.

While she describes her early efforts as a tad melodramatic, it taught her to be honest and it gave her permission not to hold back. These are two things I still struggle with as a writer, so it was very liberating for me to read that poetry could be so cathartic. I loved her phrase “the demons that had been following me for years.”

One of the things I admire most of about Stephanie and her work is that she is not apologetic or demure about it. She is bold and brash. I have known many established writers who have tried to put down the work of younger writers or to dismiss the credibility of anything they have to say or any advice they may have to give, which I think is rubbish, but I am glad we have folks like Stephanie out there who give a brave face to younger writers who are maybe not as comfortable in our own skin yet.

Her systematic breakdown of steps to writing killer horror poetry is magnificent in its detail. As she suggests at the very end, “expose the wound, examine the fear, and close the case.”

Happy Little Trees by Michael Knost
In his piece, Michael Knost focuses on imbuing characters with depth, details, and layers to make them jump off the page and be memorable to readers. He makes analogies to forests and trees to illustrate his points, as well as painting and Photoshop, and he very much emphasizes the notion of relational influence. If you’re antsing for more tips on how to do characterization better, be sure to check out his piece.

In Lieu of Patience Bring Diversity by Kenneth W. Cain
Kenneth W. Cain talks about the virtues of patience in a writer and how it encompasses all the areas of a writer’s career from waiting to hear back on a submission to award nominations to gaining a readership. He also discusses considerations of how detailed to get when it comes to descriptions, which I thought was useful especially as he related it to the importance of creating characters that the reader will sympathize with.

Networking is Scary, but Essential by Doug Murano
The style and direct approach of Doug Murano’s entry in the volume, which is all about that scary word–networking–helped to make it seem a little less daunting. He also discussed some of the marketing innovations he came up with while doing PR for the Horror Writers Association, which is very useful for authors to note.

His section on strategies should is excellent and many authors will find it useful.

Are You In The Mood? by Sheldon Higdon

Focusing back on the writer’s craft side of things, Sheldon Higdon’s entry talks about how to establish mood in a story as well as the subtle differences between mood and how it builds into atmosphere. If you struggle with description or you’ve been told you write purple prose, check out Sheldon’s piece.

What if Every Novel is a Horror Novel? by Steve Diamond
Angling more toward a philosophical bent is Steve Diamond’s piece, which seeks to define what horror is, which is no easy task. He encourages readers to stretch their defintions of what constitutes horror and rightly so.

Description: You Can’t Win so Why Play by Patrick Freivald
Patrick Freivald tackles why writers over-write so often, particularly when it comes to description and throwing too much detail at the reader, and how even though writers want the reader to have a very specific vision in mind of what they want people to see, the results sometimes get muddled in translation onto the page. Freivald also addresses incorporating sensory descriptions into prose, so it’s a worthwile piece to check out.

Long Night’s Journey Into…This? A First-Time Novelist’s Odyssey by William Gorman
Being a novelist for the first time is usually not an experience that goes particularly easily for the writers who manage to get there. I cannot believe he had a correspondence with Clive Barker (how fortunate!), who told him to write a novel at one point, which made for a magnificent story. He discusses why the novel-writing process turned out to be so difficult for him. I think the piece is one that established pros as well as hopeful newbies can benefit from.

I Am Setting by J.S. Breukelaar
Getting back more toward the craft side of things, we have a piece devoted to setting and description. This part of the volume was a very useful breakdown of setting as well as what to do with fictional world-making and building.

Finding Your Voice by Lynda E. Rucker
To cap off the volume, we get a piece about that ever-elusive concept of authorial “voice” from Lynda E. Rucker. So often writers are told to develop their voice, that their voice isn’t strong enough, that the voice of the piece is highly derivative or a pastiche, but many writers are left scratching their heads and wondering just what the heck “voice” even means. It’s something that this piece helps to simplify into something more understandable. She also has some wonderful suggestions as to how to find one’s voice, so it’s well worth reading through.

Why is Productivity So Difficult for Writers?

frustration stock photo pixabay
Source: Pixabay | User: PoseMuse

I had a nagging doubt that though I’ve been on a productivity kick for a while, at some point, the words would stop flowing because of my re-entry into school. And that’s exactly what happened. I finished a huge chunk of my current project, but writing has taken a backseat to school.

This isn’t surprising. Any time someone goes through a major upheaval like moving houses, getting married, starting school, etc, writing takes a while to adjust.

Unfortunately, that’s a surface interpretation for why my writing brain has shut down. The deeper reason is that I relied too much on a morning routine that was not sustainable.

The problem with productivity suggestions like the ones outlined in the course I’ve talked about in my past 2 posts is that they reinforce the idea that writers have to meet specific conditions or they won’t be able to write, period.

I’m not going to deny that I got great word count mileage out of following advice such as writing first thing in the morning, listening to binaural beats, wearing the same outfit, and similar guidelines.

The problem is that these productivity suggestions train writers to be able to write only under a specific set of circumstances. Writers can apply these routines later in the day, but when my day has already gotten going, I don’t stop to write. It doesn’t happen that way for me, plain and simple.

One of the best bits of writing advice I read many years ago was something to the effect of: “If you have to wait until you have your favourite scented candle, this brand of coffee, this specific pen, this specific computer, this specific music, etc., before you write, your won’t get your writing done and you’ll use these things as excuses.”

One of the most crucial abilities for writers is to be able to write during less-than-ideal circumstances. Some people write when they’re at the doctor’s office, over their lunch break, while at a sport or activity for their child, waiting for laundry to finish up, and so on. Going forward, my goal is going to be to write in these stolen snippets of time.

Although I thought I had found a new way to write that was working for me, I have to start from scratch again. Some writers work best with rigid rules and schedules, but I have learned that although I’m like that in other areas, I’m not like that when it comes to writing.

The advice about getting up at 5 or 6am to write isn’t new. John Grisham is one example of someone who used to do it when he was still a practicing lawyer.  That doesn’t work for me, and that’s okay. There are other ways. I’m skeptical of all the writing websites that repeat the idea that it’s been “scientifically proven” that writing first thing in the morning is the best time. I tried it, I did it, and for me, it just wasn’t sustainable. That’s okay.

I want to focus on the school of thought in the writing community that tells writers to challenge the assumption that we need hours and hours to write anything worthwhile. I’ve had periods of my life when time was not an issue and writing still didn’t get done.

When we know our time to write is limited, we get more done. The course I took uses a great example of this involving an old laptop the instructor used–she knew it only had an hour or so of battery life before the battery would die, so she would write on this device. The result? She still got plenty of writing done.

Other writers use snippets of time here and there, and I know people for whom this works very well. I am not one them, and that’s okay. A few years ago, I read a blog post talking about how one writer admitted she doesn’t write fiction every dayand that’s perfectly valid. Another author, Daniel Jose Older, wrote an impassioned plea to writers to stop beating themselves up about not writing fiction every single day. He makes a valid point.

Many writers chastise others, saying that if we don’t all write fiction every single day of our lives, that we “don’t count” or that we won’t have careers. I get where this advice comes from. And I agree that a regular writing habit is essential for any writer–but it looks different for everyone.

Lucy A. Snyder, one of my favourite horror authors, and a writer with a day job like most of us, tends to write in binges over her weekends, something she talks about in her indispensable writing how-to guide, Shooting Yourself in the Head for Fun and Profit. I’m more of a binge writer myself, so I’m going to give her method a whirl even though I also have a lot going on during the weekends.

What about you? Does anyone out there have any thoughts when it comes to productivity, whether it’s a system that works for them, or other helpful tips and hints? Sound off below!

 

Book Review: Renovation by Sara Brooke

renovation book cover by sara brooke

Renovation by Sara Brooke
File Size: 
403 KB
Print Length: 113 pages
Publisher: Sinister Grin
Publication Date: September 1, 2016
*** Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review *** 

Synopsis:

It all started with a leaky roof. Or did it? Something bad is happening in the small picturesque town of Oak Shade, Florida.

The Brennier family has just moved into their new home, and they are excited about the prospect of a new life. A new beginning. But things don’t always go as planned.

Almost immediately, their beautiful home starts to fall into disrepair. And there’s that strange thing happening in the attic…

Their call for help to a local repair company quickly becomes a different cry for help. And their lives begin to crumble as the situation gets stranger and more disruptive. It soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems, and a simple renovation could mean the deconstruction of their lives.

Praise for Sara Brooke:

“Sara Brooke has written a nice Gothic horror story that has twinges of Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives with a twist of Bentley Little, but on a much darker, sordid level.” – HellNotes on Kransen House

“This novel is taut, well-plotted, and well-characterised…” – Mallory Heart Reviews on Still Lake

Renovation by Sara Brooke starts off with a familiar premise: a family has just moved to a new house, but lo and behold it seems the home inspection didn’t catch that the roof is leaky, which the family finds out soon after settling in.

Most home renovations in our ordinary lives can have nightmarish elements for different reasons: astronomical costs, uncovering other problems that previously did not manifest, the timeline of repairs, making sure a person has hired the right crew to do the job–not to mention the fact that one home repair seems to beget more items on the list.

In Renovation by Sara Brooke, things go wrong right from the outset. Mike, the father of the Brennier family, notices a construction crew has conveniently appeared right as he is surveying the damage from his leaky roof. They tell him they’re on their way to another job but that they could take a quick look if he wanted them to and provide him with an estimate of how long it would take to repair the roof as well as the cost. With not much other choice, Mike agrees.

The crew members of the construction team all seem odd from the start and it begins to affect the members of the family differently. Mike’s wife becomes far more sexually deviant and it’s not long before she abandons any inhibitions about sleeping with another man. Their teenage son, Greg, grows more and more suspicious. At one point in the book, all the family members have horrible nightmares that do end up materializing.

Suspense builds as the reader wonders whether Mike and his family will be able to escape the clutches of the “renovation crew” that has descended upon their house and is wreaking havoc. The interpersonal relationships between each family member begin to fray as the renovation crew wreaks havoc on them in different ways, which definitely made for an engaging read. Brooke does a masterful job of chipping away at the sanity of each character and showing the manifestations in unique ways.

If you like your horror with a hefty dose of creature feature mixed in with some highly erotic elements, you will definitely enjoy Renovation.

Sara Brooke author photo
Sara Brooke is an international Amazon bestselling author who writes horror and suspense novels. A lifelong avid reader of all things scary, Sara’s childhood dream was to write books that force readers to sleep with their lights on. Her first novel, Still Lake, was released Spring 2012. Among her other novels, she had The Gardens of Babylon published by Sinister Grin Press in December 2015 and The Zyne Project in March 2016. Sara’s influences and favorite authors include Bentley Little and John Saul. She is presently working on her next novel and an upcoming documentary film. You can find Sara online at her website.

Being a Productive Writer is a Shaky Road

typewriter image stock photo
Source: Pixabay | User: oceanverde

I’m halfway through my experience of trying out the tips and tricks in the online course Writing Mastery: Productivity for Writers taught by Jessica Brody (read my review of the course for more information). That review was fine and dandy, but it also happened before I tried any of the tips and techniques, so now that I’ve had a chance to enact some of Jessica’s suggestions, have I become a more productive writer?

Yes! But there’s a caveat.

Have I produced more words this past month alone compared to the past year? Yes.

Have I written every single day, seven days a week? No.

Have I followed every single one of the the course instructor’s techniques religiously and with feverish zeal? For about the first five days, yes. Then…I had to modify some of the steps she mentions in the Morning Magic Routine. Out of the multiple steps outlined for this process, here are the ones I continue to do:

  • I do wear my “writing only” outfit
  • I do write in my Gratitude Journal every writing session
  • I do eat a healthy breakfast
  • I do listen to dark ambient versus binaural beats and have found my usual soundtrack of dark ambient to be more effective
  • I do have a Sacred Writing Ritual, which is to pour myself a cup of coffee or tea and sometimes, to light a small candle.
  • I do write🙂

Has my word count got up? Yes. Exponentially. I’m not exaggerating. The funny thing is that even though I am tracking word count with the fantastic spreadsheet the course instructor provides with the purchase of the course, I feel a sense of satisfaction that I have accomplished something.

This is in stark contrast to the looming sense of dread, fear and shame that I experienced with NanoWrimo last November, where my focus was whether I hit enough words that the program demanded and whether I would fall behind.

So, my word count has, happily, gone up, but I think a big reason for this is because the course helps writers calculate their own average daily word count, and then the rest of the steps are based on you as an individual writer and meeting your own goals as opposed to trying to push yourself to conform to someone else’s required word counts.

The one thing I am struggling with most — and that I wish the course instructor devoted more time to — is the whole getting up early and having enough energy to get through the morning thing. I’ll admit that I still haven’t mastered the art of not relying on a snooze button to get up.

There have been days I have been dead tired for many reasons I won’t get into, and I haven’t been able to get up at 7am despite having moved the time I go to bed earlier than where it was previously (My goal is to get to 6am. Let’s just say I’m still building up to that).

The one thing I completely agree with the instructor 100% about is that a person does their best and most productive writing in the morning. Yes, I know several writers who get their best writing done in the evenings, on their lunch breaks, during their subway rides, and other different times of the day, but for me, switching to mornings has been a gamechanger. 

The other amazing thing this course has taught me is that I don’t need uninterrupted marathon 8-hour days to get writing done and to be productive (although that’s perfectly valid and for those writers for whom marathons are a daily reality, more power to you).

Here are some other things I have found helpful:

  • I have been very good about turning off notifications on my phone, not turning on my phone until my writing session is done, putting my phone in another room, and generally looking at my phone a lot less.
  • I don’t write on a laptop or computer, so I don’t have to worry about turning off distractions on that front.
  • In an ideal world, I would like to check Facebook less times a day but one step at a time.

What I had to cut out or move to a different time of the day because it just wasn’t working for me:

The stretching–I’m incredibly sore upon waking up. This is a daily reality for me. This makes it challenging to move around and I don’t like to add to my pain if I can help it.

The five-minute meditation–if you can swing it, great. I felt this step was a bit cumbersome for me to get through as I already do my meditation in the evenings, but to each their own.

The multiple journalsas I mentioned above, I write in my gratitude journal, which I find helpful, but the goal journal was just turning into me writing the same thing every day, which was “Write x amount of words today”, which is a goal I have met every day I have been writing. I accept that goal-setting is something I need to improve, but I had to cut it down to one journal.

Writing tools–so, many of the course instructor’s suggested guidelines are catered to laptop writers, which is fine because most people do this. I have done it in the past. However, as I did during NanoWrimo, I am writing on my Neo AlphaSmart, which is an electric typing device. The other writers I know who have an AlphaSmart (like Adam Cesare, for instance) swear by it and I’m one of them. If extended longhand writing wasn’t so painful for me, I would write do that.

So, Anita, will I become a more productive writer if I make like you and do the course you’ve been talking about? It’s quite possible, but I find the other things that have contributed to my success are grit, determination, and above all, passion for my project. I am writing a possibly Young Adult Gothic novel, and I am loving every minute of it. On those days when I haven’t written, I hate that icky feeling I’ve received because I want to spend as much time in the universe I’ve created.

However, I think one of the good things about limiting my writing sessions to 1 or 1.5 hours at a time is that it keeps my energy and passion for the project going–if I spent 3 or 4 hours a day writing this project, which I could, ostensibly do, I would get sick of it after a while and I wouldn’t have enough energy to carry me through to the next day.

By limiting my spurts of “you only get to work on this book for a finite amount a day, and you’re on a timer, so make the most of it!” I think I am setting myself up for the achievable results I am seeing, with a huge increase in output.

This course has been a godsend for me because I know so many writers who have worked out their own routines and know what works for them and they are generally jiving with their writing processes.

But for the longest time I struggled with not understanding the circumstances that got in the way of me getting writing done, and now that I have figured them and found a solution to get around those obstacles (for the most part), my writing productivity has definitely improved.

I encourage everyone who is struggling with not getting writing done to take a look at this course I am talking about and try it out. See if the outlined methodologies work for you. I know it seems overwhelming or like it’s a lot, but once you get to the stage where you’ve formed a habit, you will want to keep it up. I know I do🙂