Classic Horror and True Romance

poorthingsA Book Review of Poor Things, by Daniel Barnett

Find it on Amazon HERE.

Anyone who has read my reviews for a while knows that I’m a huge Daniel Barnett fan. I was thrilled to hear that his latest book, Poor Things, might fall into the YA spectrum. Barnett’s writing is pure poetry, and this one is his goriest, grittiest yet. I’d say it rests rather precariously on the young adult line, and it would certainly appeal to adult horrorphiles, because this author never pulls any punches and his hits can be brutal. Poor Things is bloody and frightening, with language not meant for virgin ears. Parents, if you think your little miracle isn’t ready for something along the lines of Stephen King’s scariest tales, this isn’t their book.

For more mature teens: dive in. Poor Things is also beautiful and touching, a poignant coming of age story.

Main character Joel has it coming from the first pages, as the bullying, arrogantly jocular older brother to a wimpy, pimply, book-reading nerd. You’ll know immediately if you can’t handle Poor Things, because Joel loses everything (including that little brother) in a violent car crash before you can even blink. The change in him is swift and soul deep, and we experience this story through his new life as a crippled nobody in a tiny mining town.

This life changing event, this one tragic moment, serves to destroy and create. It’s a common theme with Barnett—tear it all down, build it all back up—and something worth pondering for any young reader, especially in those days before the brain has developed enough to understand consequences. Physically incapacitated by his broken body, Joel’s mind speeds ahead: “Adolescence is an earthquake, one that feels like it will never end while you’re living it, and eventually there comes a choice. You can crawl under your desk and hide, or you can stand up on top of that shaking desk and dance.”

He isn’t the only character I fell in love with, not by far. The heavy metal loving tomboy with a white-blonde buzzcut, Ash, is one of the strongest female supporting characters I’ve met in a long time. She’s cool, she’s smart, she’s tough, and she’s best friends with the biggest dork outcast in school. Ash is all soft underneath, and yes, though Joel is paralyzed from the waist down, there is the possibility of romance. It’s hard to say who is the hero of Poor Things, because throughout most of the book, Ash saves Joel’s derriere again and again. Without her, he could never have…sniff…well, you’ll cry at the end, too.

The town of Honaw itself has enough personality to be thought of as another character–an odd and mildly disturbing one from the beginning. Or, rather, the thing which lies beneath Honaw engineers that creep factor. Okay, that’s it! I can’t say any more or I’ll give it away. Yet, bells and whistles aside, this is a classic monster tale. No monster I’ve ever imagined, however. Only Daniel Barnett could imagine such a strange, sad, dangerous beast from the depths of time, and only this guy could make me love that thing by the end.

This review was written for YA Books Central. Check it out HERE to find out more about the book and the author.

Screenshot 2016-05-13 15.12.10

How To Get Writer’s Block

It’s the subject at the center of all writing subjects, the unholy nucleus of storytelling: writer’s block.  You see it come up in articles, blogs, books, conferences, and even in the occasional forward of a novel, and more often than not the question is some variation of “How to get over writer’s block?”

That’s backwards thinking.

Writer’s block is not this actual block that falls out of the sky, hits an author on the head, and leaves he or she unable to write for days or weeks at a time.  It is not a germ that passes from writer to writer like some storyteller’s Flu.  And it is not an unavoidable and malignant sentient force preying on the writing community.

What writer’s block actually is is mental constipation, and asking how to get over it, how to deal with it, how to get rid of it, etc. is the equivalent of searching the supermarket for a laxative once you’re already plugged up.  If you have writer’s block, chances are you earned it by feeding your brain the wrong foods.

So, in the effort to create a healthy mental diet, let’s first build an unhealthy one with a Writer’s Block Recipe (measurements vary from teaspoons to heaping cups):

1) Dwell on negative reviews of your past works, because nothing feeds inspiration like feelings of inadequacy.

2) Dwell on positive reviews of your past works. You’re feeling confident?  Awesome.  Now make sure you live up to yourself.  Is that sentence you’re writing right now up to the quality of the writing in your last book?  Are you sure? Are you absolutely positive?

Which brings us to . . .

3) Expectation.

  • Expect to write a certain amount each time you sit down.  Hit that word count goal every day, or else.  A day will come when you fall short, and you want to make sure you hold onto that feeling of failure the next time you sit down at the computer.
  • Expect, or attempt, to write something brilliant or important. You either will or you won’t. Throwing your ego into the equation only makes putting words down more difficult, so do exactly that.
  • Expect success.  Success, in its most widespread definition, is out of your control.  And things that are out of your control are what you want to be expending energy on when you try to connect with your story.  (Taking a break from the sarcasm for a moment, JA Konrath has written several great posts on the difference between goals and dreams. You can read his latest HERE).

4) Set no schedule for writing. God forbid you have a well-ingrained habit to fall back on the day your motivation wanes.

5) Allow yourself no days off to recharge.  Exhausted?  Feeling like a black-and-white character from an old movie in a color film?  Perfect.  Now, stay in your room and ignore the outside world until the sun goes down.

6) Make no time to read, or refuse to out of the fear that other stories and styles will somehow interfere with “your voice.”

7) Live a physically unhealthy lifestyle.  Run your body down.  It’s the vehicle that drives your brain, so bog it up with booze, junk food, and make sure to never, ever exercise. You don’t want any extra energy.

8) Spend more time on the internet. As much time as possible.

9) Read about Writer’s Block, or think about Writer’s Block.

And finally, based on my own personal and constantly changing experience, my recipe for avoiding writer’s block in three simple ingredients:

1) Think about the story and only the story every time you sit down to write—let everything else go.

2) Forgive yourself for the slow days.

3) Read.  We are all products of what we take in; it is what we take in and how we digest it, shape it, that makes us unique.  There’s no point in trying to be an individual.  You already are one, and your voice is already your own. How many authors out there ever wanted to write something without first reading something?  Going on a book fast is the same as starving yourself of exactly what inspired you to tell stories in the first place.  You are what you eat, so eat what you love.  Devour it.

Feel free to comment on, add to, disagree with any of the above ingredients, and/or make a recipe of your own.  How do YOU get writer’s block?  And, more importantly, how do you prevent it?

Thank you, Sarah, for inviting me over and huge congratulations on your launch of The Tramp. My own first full-length release, The Safe, can be gandered at HERE, and anyone interested in reading more of my stories or getting in contact with me can visit me at danielbarnettfiction.com.

–Daniel Barnett, guest author

TheSafe_coverGreat big thank you to Daniel for being my guest! Read my full review of The Safe HERE.

This beautifully horrific novel is set in an asylum for the criminally insane, the dirty secret of small-town New England where “the dark was greedier…than the city, more over bearing, fattening itself on every unguarded inch of mud and bark and stone.” You’ll find plenty more quotes from The Safe in my review, because Daniel Barnett weaves poetry through the darkness at every turn. Eloquent language is the only brightness at Harbrook Hill and the contrast makes the asylum seem even more bleak and tragic, suspense lurking in every chapter. The building is an ancient, stinking, live thing, an anteroom described as the passageway between the skin and the meat. Even the air around Harbrook Hill is menacing: “The morning wind had claws.” Continue reading...

Humanist Horror, Graceful Gore

A Book Review of The Safe, by Daniel Barnett

(Buy it here on Amazon. Find it on Goodreads.)

TheSafe_cover

This beautifully horrific novel is set in an asylum for the criminally insane, the dirty secret of small-town New England where “the dark was greedier…than the city, more over bearing, fattening itself on every unguarded inch of mud and bark and stone.” You’ll find plenty more quotes from The Safe in my review, because Daniel Barnett weaves poetry through the darkness at every turn. Eloquent language is the only brightness at Harbrook Hill and the contrast makes the asylum seem even more bleak and tragic, suspense lurking in every chapter. The building is an ancient, stinking, live thing, an anteroom described as the passageway between the skin and the meat. Even the air around Harbrook Hill is menacing: “The morning wind had claws.”

We’re introduced to this forbidding place as its new resident, Walter Hosler, arrives. He’s a huge, black, silent bear of a man. People shrink from his presence and the memory of his crime–a crime that everyone knows well, because the murder happened right there in their small town. One person asks Walter what he did with his wife’s head. That night, half of Harbrook Hill burns to the ground, at least one patient succumbing to the fire, and somehow Walter is involved. Shortly after, he beats the crap out of a guard and winds up with his own teeth jutting out of his lip for the offense. Yet, he stays silent.

It’s hard to feel sorry for such a man to rot out the rest of his days in a psychotic prison…until you get to know him. And like him. Barnett accomplishes this through flashbacks from Walter’s memory; summer sunshine and carnival cheer flash into view, a welcome reprieve from the oppressive, threatening atmosphere of the first couple chapters. Walter recalls an adolescent “date” at a county fair with his late wife, Alva: “Boys had on sweat for shirts; girls wore two-piece swimsuits under their clothes, as if expecting a lake to well up from the ground and demand a fast strip. Young children darted and kicked soccer balls and played tireless games of tag, while everyone else went about slow and dazed, moving to the tune of the cicada’s drone in a dance called the summer shuffle.” What follows is one of the most realistic, tender love scenes I’ve read in years—a complete surprise in the middle of a horror story!

But don’t forget, this is a horror story and not at all for the faint of heart. Barnett’s gore is as shocking as his romance, but not for novelty or brevity. There’s plenty of it and it can be gruesome indeed. We do find out what happened to Walter’s poor wife, why he’s called Safe-Man, and why he’s being haunted. The man/monster that is haunting him—tormenting him with “suicides” in every cell surrounding Walter’s—is a unique creation of nightmare, phobia and creature-legend. Barnett describes the thing just enough to form a concrete image, yet leaves enough to the imagination to raise hackles in the dark. The thing is terrifying and unstoppable; you know he will get to Walter before the book is through and you know it will be violent.

However, this author’s violence can be sensual as well. He describes a car crash as, “like climax, an eruption. The shudder of metal, ripples in steel, mimics the body before orgasm.” Pain becomes divine, when, “sparks erupted in the dark, dozens of them, stars going nova across the nightscape. His body was a cathedral of pain, and the pain was wonderful, terrible.” And, no surprise to me by the time I reached the last few pages, this story has a wonderful ending, full of peace and hope. You may not believe that while you’re in the depths of it—deep, dark depths—but trust me, every bit of this book is worth the read.