Category: Fiction


Book Review: Perfect Ruin

23658Lauren DeStefano’s Perfect Ruin (Book #1 of The Internment Chronicles) is a perfect combination of fantasy and allegory wrapped up with a beautiful Young Adult series bow. Destafano is already known for expert world-building, (as in her Chemical Garden series), but she takes it to a new level in her latest book.

Imagine a city on a hunk of land that floats high above the ground. A large dome protects the city from the atmosphere and creates a barrier between the population and the Edge. Trains run around the city to get people where they need to go, but they are also the dividing line between an orderly civilization and forbidden territory.

In a city where everyone and everything is controlled by an all powerful king, the concepts of individuality and free thought are virtually nonexistent. The government arranges marriages, dictates when babies can be born, assigns jobs and living quarters, and essentially brainwashes the entire population with a state religion and fictional history. Anyone who dares to think outside these boundaries is declared as “irrational” and subjected to therapy and medications, or worse.

Morgan has lived in the city her all her life and she knows the rules. The Edge is a dangerous place and there are serious consequences for even thinking about what lies on the ground. Still, her imagination often tries to picture the landscape and who might live there. Both her best friend, Pen, and betrothed partner, Basil, can see the danger of her daydreams, but they too share her curiosity. All can’t help but wonder if this one city is all there is in this life. The distant land below beckons as Morgan and her friends begin to question the life laid out by their government.

Perfect Ruin is a high concept story that digs deep into social and adolescent issues like independence, family, and self-discovery. At the same time, it is a compelling allegory that explores the folly of master societies and dictatorial states.

Verdict: Well worth reading.

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c.b.w. 2014

 

Blink, Part 3

The scratches clawed with long sweeps and short taps across the surface of the door. It was same kind of noise Barnaby made with his nails when he chased a bug across the floor. Fear suctioned the breath out of her. The scratches moved faster and became louder, the door shook against the hinges. She squeezed her eyes shut and clamped her hands over her ears. If she couldn’t see or hear, none of this was real. That’s right, it was all a ridiculous figment of her imagination. A sleep deprived hallucination at the very worst.

And then it stopped. Silence enveloped the room – not even the usual noises that came in through the window dared to make a peep. An eerie chill trembled through her spine and down to her toes. She tried to breath, but only gasps stole from her lungs. The silence was so unnerving she almost preferred the scratching. The absence of those haunting sounds  made not knowing their origin unbearable, signaling a masochistic curiosity. She had to prove there was nothing there, that it was all in her head.

She moved closer to the door, cautiously eying the peep hole. The locks would stay locked, the doorknob unturned. She folded her arms as her nose just cleared the door in front of her. The smell of musty wood and old varnish filled her nose. She hesitated in peeking through the small glass hole, afraid of what she might or might not see. What sounded like fingertips began to drag in long strokes down the face of the door. Intermittent squeaks followed the strokes, where skin would catch on the grain of the wood. Something was most definitely out there.

She gulped the breath she should have taken and centered her eye over the small lookout into the hall. At first, she saw nothing. The idea of relief was on the cusp of reality. She looked up and down, side to side; seeing only the hall’s white wall and dark walnut banister rail.

The “fingertips” kept moving until their swishing and squeaking honed in on a central target – the peephole.  The silence returned and her heart thudded against her ribs. There was nothing there, yet she felt an ugly presence. She closed her eyes in one long blink salvage the last of her courage. Within seconds of opening them again, she knew her attempt was futile.  Terror seized every nerve as hundreds of pairs of eyes stared at her, unblinking, angry, frustrated, and determined to . . . get her.

She jumped back and tried to scream, but tentacles clamped around her throat. The eyes had found her. They weren’t part of some phantasmagorical realm. They were real. And it was only a matter of time before they found their way in. Once they did, they would torment her her with a glare so penetrating and terrifying her instincts screamed with the premonition of pain.

Claws dug at the door, again, desperate to find a way inside. To her.

She ran to the window and slammed it shut. She fumbled with the brass lock, it’s hinge tight with disuse. She ran to all the windows and fought with all the locks. A shaft of light struck the corner of her eye. The crack between the floor and door was unguarded; a perfect gateway for them to enter. The scratching intensified as they clamored towards the slit where they could easily seep.

She darted to the couch and grabbed Barnaby’s favorite blanket. She jammed it tightly into the crack, hoping it would be enough of a barrier. She snatched Barnaby and sprinted to the bathroom. She closed the door behind her, leaving only the dim glow of a night light to show the way. She dared not turn on the rest of the lights. Another crack beneath another door was another place for the eyes to break in and find her. She rammed the bathmat between the floor and the door.

Barnaby balled up behind the toilet, low growls bellowing from his throat. Besides a crumpled up bathmat, he was her only ward. She hunkered down in the bathtub, hugging her knees to her chest. She heard nothing, but it didn’t stop the fear of knowing they were out there and they would find her again. She kept her eyes squeezed tightly shut to hold off the inevitable, to hold in the tears.

The tea kettle screeched it’s alarm, startling her eyes to open. She was not alone. The eyes surrounded her; watching her from every angle. The whistle kept squeeling; the eyes moved in closer and closer cocooning her in their grip. The largest pair of them all stared at her front and center. They were her own – blue and bright – the same ones she saw in the mirror this morning. Only they were sharper. Something dark lurked in the pupils. Something hopeless and terrifying. Something derelict and devoid of life. It wasn’t her but then it was or could be. She screamed as they descended upon her. Flecks of blue and black encroached and devoured her whole.

- Finis

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Blink, Part 1

Blink, Part 2

Thanks so much for stopping by to read the final installment of Blink. This story started as a few scribbles in my journal and it’s been so exciting to watch it grow into something that so many readers enjoyed. The experience has inspired me to start writing short stories again after a long spell. Stay tuned as more shorts are sure to come.

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c.b.w. 2014

“A Life” Faces The Truth

128618A Life by Guy de Maupassant is the story of a woman who grasps the reality that life is rarely fair. While the premise is nothing new in terms of storytelling, the way in which Maupassant approaches it is revolutionary.

The story begins with a young woman who is full of dreams and bright imaginings of her future. Unfortunately, her innocent fairy tale mentality clouds her perspective. When real life begins to unfold she feels the pain of crumbling fantasies as life deals her a few cruel blows and her choices further entrap her into an existence she never imagined for herself. As she approaches midlife, she becomes jaded and full of self-pity. It’s only when old age sets in that she starts to sift through the memories of life with a new eye. Instead of tragedy, she finds herself remembering only the joys.

The beauty of the novel lies in how Maupassant contrasts different views of life. There is always something influencing the character’s point of view – whether it be the innocence of youth, scorn of adulthood, or impending death, never does she view life in an unbiased mindset. In the process, Maupassant unveils the universal emotions we feel when faced with our own mortality.

One of Maupassant’s strengths is his ability to transform a rather simple story into something beautiful with well-crafted imagery and flowing prose. Lengthy descriptions of nature are used to represent the feelings, emotions, and rites of passage for the main character. Rather than explore these realms the old fashioned way through the mind of the character, he creates magnificent and sometimes haunting images of emotion with landscapes, water, and plantlife. These passages are often long and sometimes drag, but I was swept into them as soon as I viewed them as part of the character and not just insanely long descriptions.

The last line is where Maupassant dazzles with subtlety. Never does he end a story with everything tied up into a neat little package. There is room to wonder what happens next, while saying goodbye to the characters. For a novel that depicts the often unfair attributes of life, he manages to put it all in perspective with a perfectly balanced dose of optimism and pessimism.

- – -

c.b.w. 2014

Blink, Part 2

The stairs leading to her flat were never so steep or plentiful, nor was the lock on her door so difficult to unlatch. Shaky panic-stricken fingers dropped the keys twice. She slammed the door behind her and spun around to lock all three locks – the chain, the deadbolt and doorknob. Air refused to fill her lungs, a stitch stung her side. She turned her back and slid down the door, landing weary and broken on the floor.

The eyes were gone. The only thing surrounding her was the small and familiar space she called home. The dark wooden floors stained and nicked. The white wash walls mottled with faint water stains. Three small square windows that offered perfectly framed views of aged gray bricks. One window was cracked open allowing the sounds of London to waft in – distant car horns, a slight rustle of leaves and the mist of humidity floating with a wisp along crooked streets. Everything was just as she left it this morning.

Barnaby sat on the edge of her slip-covered sofa, eying her with intense curiosity as only a cat can embody. The fat orange tabby tilted his head and flicked his tail, no doubt demanding an explanation for her odd behavior.  She detached her battered body from the floor and sat next to him. Fur swallowed her fingers as she scratched his neck. It wasn’t long before he started to rumble with a content purr. Another sign that she was home, where nothing had changed.

She closed her eyes waited for the calm of relief to settle her nerves, but it did not come.  The couch didn’t feel the same under her numb legs, Barnaby’s fur felt strange through still trembling fingers. It was still hard to breathe through exhausted lungs.  Lingering fear resided on the edges of her mind, poised to strangle her senses. She opened her eyes determined to convince herself  she was safely surrounded by familiar walls.  The same Barnaby sat beside her, her beloved bookshelf crammed with books stood her left, while the ivy plant she watered this morning was still green in it’s planter. She was safe.

It was just a trick of the imagination, she told herself. A very realistic trick. She wasn’t entirely convinced, but decided a hot cup of tea might smooth out the tension locking her body. As she got up from the sofa, an unnerving paranoia tickled the base of her skull. She stopped just short of the kitchen, wary of what could be hiding out of view.  Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but that didn’t mean anything. She glanced at an old horseshoe hanging on the wall above the entryway to the kitchen. A gift from her mother – an eternal ranch hand who still scratched out an existence somewhere in Texas. It was supposed to bring luck.  She never gave it a second thought, but after recent events, she decided it couldn’t hurt. She reached up and rubbed her fingers over the rough metal.

Hesitantly, she craned her neck around the door frame. Nothing. Just the usual teeny tiny kitchen that barely had enough room to house her dishes. A breath she didn’t know she was holding puffed her cheeks. She grabbed the tea kettle and filled it water, feeling a little silly. Everything she thought happened this afternoon was ridiculous. Perhaps all the result of not sleeping well the past few nights. She smiled at her own stupidity. Sleep deprived minds tended to confuse reality with imagination. There was nothing strange going on except the regard she gave to her illusions.

She put the kettle on the old stove and turned the knobs. It was just another afternoon and another beginning of an ordinary cup of tea. She turned to the cupboard to grab a cup, but as always misjudged the tight squeeze. Her elbow banged into the lever handle on her refrigerator. It hurt like hell every time. She rubbed the stinging pain on her way back into the living room. Barnaby was curled up on one of the couch pillows, perfectly content in his little nest.

While waiting for the kettle to whistle it’s tune, she decided to find a new book to read. The act of standing in front of the bookshelf gave further assurance that she was perfectly fine. As always, books were rammed into any available space, bowing the shelves into unnatural curves. She groaned at the thought of her lost copy of Benjamin Lebert’s Crazy. By now it was a soaked pile of mush – lost forever in a dark alley. A book should never meet that fate. She hoped another one of Lebert’s books was hidden in her collection to take the place of the one she so stupidly dropped.  Enough! she thought. It was time to stop chiding herself. Everyone had moments they wish they could take back – her nonsensical terror-filled dash would be that moment. It belonged to the past; not to be trifled with again.

From the kitchen, she could hear the slight hum of the water as it began to heat. Warmth spread through her body at the thought of a steaming cup of tea. Her eyes started scanning the spines of the books on the second shelf, when a different sound crept into her ears. She wasn’t certain, but it sounded like a fingernail dragging across the door. Barnaby heard it, too.  He stood on the arm of the couch with his back arched; his hair spiked into a cat mohawk. His eyes were trained on the front door and so were hers. There was more than one nail, more than one scratch assaulting the other side of the door.

- – -

Blink,  Part 1

After posting Blink, I was asked by several people if there was another a chapter to the story. I was not expecting that question and was therefore planning to keep the next two chapters safely tucked into my journal. However, after such an encouraging response to Blink, I decided to pull out those chapters. Like the first installment, this is the result of a free write, so I did very little editing to preserve the original words and feeling of this piece.

Part three will be posted next week. Stay tuned!

- – -

c.b.w. 2014

Sticking It To Rejection

The list of writers who made to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award was posted yesterday and alas my name was not on the list. How tempting it is to pout and unmute my inner critic (who is most certainly shouting, “You suck!”). How easy it would be to give up. How simple it would be to shelve the whole project. However, I’m not doing any of those things for a couple of reasons.

First, any rejection I get is added to the stack and treated like a badge of honor.  Every rejection, silent or otherwise, brings me one step closer to the agent who will say “yes.” Regardless of what my inner critic would have me believe, The Muse does not suck and neither do I.  The Muse is a kick-butt novel that deserves a shot at publication.

Second, my readers gave me a precious gift. When I posted a short story for the first time in more than a year, you all showed up to hit that “like” button and write amazing comments. None of my previously posted short stories got that kind of attention and I’m beyond thrilled that Blink evoked such a strong reaction.

Part of the reason I held off on doing anything with Blink was because I thought it was too weird and no one would get it. Obviously, I was wrong. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my odd little story.

As an added bonus, here’s the image that inspired Blink. I’ve used it before for a series entitled Sundays in London, but it’s an image I come back too often for inspiration.

A side-street in London, near Trafalgar Square
Photo by: c.b.w. 2005

All I have to say to rejection is, “bring it.” As soon as I knew I hadn’t made to the second round of the competition, I immediately started Googling “young adult fantasy literary agents.” I’ve already got a new list of agents started and they will all soon be receiving a query package from me. Get ready guys, The Muse is coming to find you.

How’s that for sticking it to rejection?

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c.b.w. 2014

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