Review: The Imaginings, by Paul Dail

I met Paul Dail during the Halloween Hop. I visited nearly a hundred blogs over the course of that blog hop, but it was Paul’s site that resonated with me. He’s a kindred horror writing indie, but more than that, he is a genuinely engaged human being. If you comment on his blog, you’ll get a response from him; if you post something of value on your blog, he’ll be sure to share it with his readers; if you send him an email to ask about something as banal as Twitter, he’ll write back with sincere suggestions. He’s a good guy, who’s written a really good book, THE IMAGININGS. Here are my thoughts on this, his debut novel.

Note: there is a very slight spoiler in the second to last paragraph.

Paul Dail’s novel, The Imaginings, opens with a suicide. The deceased’s brother, David, comes to clean up the apartment and finds a note tucked in amongst turned food in the refrigerator. It is a short letter, cryptic: “never disregard your imaginings.”

The  note is David’s first indication that something out of the ordinary drove his brother to suicide. Unlike the reader, David has no idea that he is targeted by the same demon that tormented his brother. Dail quickly dispels David’s ignorance. Prior to the cataclysmic fire that launches the primary action, the demon taunts David by speaking through an unplugged television. Rather than whimpering in fear or running, David asks, “Why us? What did we do that was so wrong?” The demon Mashart answers, “That’s just it, boy… You haven’t really done anything.” Since David hasn’t done anything, there is no way he can undo or repent for an offense. David is, essentially, trapped.

David isn’t the only character who is trapped. Dail revisits this theme in many guises. One character is kept in something of a modern day orphanage, locked in after dark. Other characters work underground in a series of tunnels closed off by more than one door. With a hat tip to Poe, Dail even literally walls one character into a confined space. Through Mashart, we visit Hell. There the damned- and, it seems, some innocents unjustly stolen by Mashart – are tortured for what “…amounted to at least a century before …[they] dissolve into the frozen flesh of the Dark Lord for eternity.” The unrelenting claustrophobia experienced by another character crystallizes the horror of horror of being imprisoned and, and Dail hits his stride in the scenes involving that character.

Dail combines psychological anxiety and good, old-fashioned scary. There are plenty of dark, creepy moments. Even better, there is the chance that no one is who they seem to be because Dail has redefined the way demonic possession ‘works’. Mashart doesn’t settle into just one character Exorcist-style; no, he flows from character to character. Mashart has compelling reasons to return to David, but the demon isn’t picky: he’ll hop a ride in a handy real estate agent if it serves his purposes.

Like all good horror, The Imaginings lends itself to serious discussion about human nature. For example, the battle between David and Mashart for control of David’s ravaged body is a chilling reminder that our flesh can host evil. In Rosemary’s Baby, evil gestates, but in The Imaginings, evil is fully formed. Mashart is out ‘there’ but it can also be in ‘here’, within you, noticeable only when it wants you to know it is there. Mashart uses David’s body as an implement of torture and death, allowing Dail to imply some pretty weighty questions:  Is morality tied to the flesh, or to the soul? Can our bodies do evil, and our souls remain innocent? Are good and evil quantifiable and, if so, can the balance between the two be upset?

My primary gripe is with the ending. The description of Mashart leaving David’s body is exceptionally well-executed, and the spiritual climax is both surprising and fitting. However, the satisfying sense of completion it should have effected is diluted by sheer excess. A pivotal scene is repeated from different perspectives, and the repetition slowed the action. Dail can count himself in good company, though; I have the same gripe about Dostoyevsky’s epilog to Crime and Punishment.

Spiritualists, horror aficionados, and inquirers into human nature will all find something in Dail’s book to delight  – and ignite – their imaginings!

Treat yourself to a new voice in horror! Purchase THE IMAGININGS on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

 

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Review: SEED, by Ania Ahlborn

I found Ania Ahlborn’s blog when I was first considering indie publishing my novel. I found her writing style to be engaging and straight-forward and found her ‘How to Publish Your e-Book’ series to be informative. In addition, she’s also super helpful if you contact her directly. I was at a loss to find an editor, and wrote Ania. She responded with encouragement and a recommendation for Nick Ambrose of Everything Indie. It doesn’t hurt that Ania is a cutie-patootie and able to bake up a veritable storm of seasonal goodies. All things considered, I couldn’t wait to read her debut novel, SEED. I was not disappointed. In fact, I came away with an even higher opinion of Ania and a sincere excitement to read more of what she’s going to write!

Without further ado, here are my thoughts on SEED:

“The Saturn’s engine rattled like a penny in an old tin can.”

That is the opening line of Ania Ahlborn’s novel, Seed, a story about demonic possession.  It is no coincidence that the plot starts with a description of a car; escape, or lack thereof, is a central theme for Jack, the protagonist. How do you escape what you are? In Ahlborn’s Seed, the answer is simple. You don’t.

Jack makes a living “patching up flat-bottomed swamp boats.” He’s a member of Lamb, a small town band that “never missed a gig.” He is father of two daughters and husband to  a woman from a different – and higher – socioeconomic strata.  Jack seems like just about every guy you’ve ever met who’s happily married, but still holding onto the freedom of his artistic pursuits.  Jack’s different, though. He’s hiding a series of secrets, any one of which could destroy his family.

With Jack Winter, Ahlborn has done something brave. She has written a character that is hard, if not impossible, to like. Jack repeatedly avoids doing anything to help his daughter, Charlie. His first responses to the escalating situation are dismissive: “She’s got the flu or something” and, after the doctor finds nothing wrong, “isn’t it better she isn’t sick?”  This from a man who knows exactly what is wrong with his daughter. He intentionally misleads his wife about the situation, making it “his mission to find the shoddiest psychiatrist” so that his wife could “believe that Charlie was a schizophrenic.” Jack is more concerned about concealing his own past than helping his child – or so it seems.

Ahlborn alludes that there could be a more complex answer. For example, at one point Jack is “terrified by his bitter epiphany” that “[h]e was going to lose his daughter and he couldn’t do anything to stop it.” Jack isn’t sure there is a God, and posits that, “[f]or all he knew, wickedness was strong enough to exist in a world without good.” If Jack is possessed or seriously damaged by the demon Charlie dubs ‘Mr. Scratch’, then Ahlborn bravely penned a character who is true to his situation, namely, a person infested with evil and, by implication, hard to feel empathetic towards. Jack reminds me of Cass Neary in Elizabeth Hand’s  novel Generation Loss. Neither Cass nor Jack is someone I would want on my side in the apocalypse. Are both Cass and Jack excellent examples of non-standard and intriguing characters you can’t wait to see what they do next? Absolutely.

SEED is not strictly linear. There are significant portions of the story that take place during Jack’s childhood. While this could have been clunky or disruptive in the hands of a lesser writer, Ahlborn handles the transitions between the different timelines with aplomb. There is tremendous emotional payoff for the reader when past and present collide and Jack is able to finally piece together the full story of his past and how it relates to what is happening to his family.

My only real complaint about SEED is that the characters of Jack’s wife and oldest daughter are less participants in the action than they are stage props for Charlie and Jack to manipulate. The wife shows glimmers of individuality, and some of the scariest scenes happen in her presence, but she never gets a chance to take any risks or grow as a character. The older daughter has even less of a pivotal role, and except for the shock value and eerie symmetry with the Jack’s childhood cat incident, this character seems nearly extraneous.

It is likely you won’t notice that particular weakness as you are reading, though. Ahlborn does a fantastic job on delivering the scary. The poltergeist/popcorn scene and the thing moving under the covers scene are both well executed and creepy. The incident with the dog is horrifying. Ahlborn does not flinch when it comes to the emotional gore that is horror at its best.

Ahlborn’s storytelling demonstrates an understanding that horror should not be explained away fully, and that to over analyze would kill the mood, ruin the nightmarish effect, and diminish the purpose of writing something scary. For example, it is never revealed who the large bearded man at the gas station is, nor the nature of his relationship to the demon. Likewise, Ahlborn never reveals how the demon chose Jack or the mechanism by which the possession transfers to Charlie.  The one question I hope there will be a resounding and affirmative answer to is: Will there be a sequel?

Have you supported indie horror today? No? Pick up SEED on Amazon!

 

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Aniko Around the Interwebs

A few weeks ago, I gave in and set up a Twitter account. I proceeded to wonder what in the world I would say, who I would follow, who would follow me. It was a weekday, and it was time to get ready for work, so I left my writing desk. I forgot about Twitter. Then someone (his name begins with ‘Paul’ and ends with ‘Dail’) found my abandoned Twitter account. Just like that I had a follower. Very cool! I, Aniko Carmean, have actually even tweeted. Twice!

I have also joined BookBlogs and GoodReads. I realize now that I have lived a life that was nearly off the grid up until I decided to publish my novel. How interesting that my most introverted habit (writing) is the catalyst for all these extraverted digital excursions.

In my last post, I set myself a deadline to finish incorporating my copyeditor’s suggestions into STOLEN CLIMATES. I met my deadline, finishing the edit before lunch. And it wasn’t even a late lunch!

I also wrote my acknowledgments and the author bio. Nothing comes into being through the efforts of only one person, and it felt really good to be at the stage in the novel’s lifecycle where I could compile and write my thank yous. The author bio was fun, too. I took some advice I read and included a link to my blog as well as a note asking readers to review the book if they liked it.  That isn’t tacky, is it?

this isn't me, but what is that mechanical arm on the windshield?I love rainy days. Living in an area suffering from the century’s worst drought, I almost forgot how wonderful it is to hear rain falling on the roof. I wondered what those weird things were on the windshield of my car, you know those black rubbery arms that get in the way when you try and use the gunky, blue water at the gas station to clean off the accumulation of four months of dust? At one point during the summer it was so dry, when my Doberman ran across the yard, she would raise a cloud of dust behind her. We still took showers. Don’t worry, things weren’t as bad as all that, although I was dismayed when my plumber suggested we turn up the pressure at the street to increase flow into the house. Given that farmers are going to be denied their water rights if rain doesn’t come, it seemed just shy of negligent to suggest that we use more water, especially when we had no complaints about the pressure. I haven’t washed my car in months, and it shows. My front yard  turned brown, then started to blow away because I refused to water a non-native, non-drought-resistant lawn. Xeriscaping is in my future.

But it’s raining now, has been all weekend, so there was no work done in the yard. Everything will get done in its own time. Setbacks befall everyone, hell, they befall all of Nature. Times aren’t always easy, not all days are honey-sweet. If this summer is proof of anything, though, it’s that even the worst drought ends.

May your December be bright!

 

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