Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review: The Book of Paul, by Richard Long

In a slight departure, I'll post a review that I wrote of Richard Long's debut novel, The Book of Paul, an Amazon #1 Best-selling Horror title that surprisingly has many of the same philosophical/mythological ingredients as The Last Ancient, but Mr. Long mixed it all together with a decidedly horror-stained knife. I reached out to Mr. Long after reading his book -- it made me feel less strange to see someone else's mind had travelled in an even remotely similar direction as my own in creating a fictional universe-- and he seems like a good dude.

Here's my review, as posted on, where you horror fans (and this is pretty rough horror; it's as graphic as it is intelligent) can get The Book of Paul.

Piercing, Thrilling, Intelligent Literary Horror

The Book of Paul hammers one piercing into your brain with its deft prose and then slams another piercing through your heart with its dark psychological truth. It links the two bloody holes together by a gold alchemical chain of richly drawn characters and philosophy, dragging you by it down a rabbit hole of thrilling action, unsettling horror, shockingly sweet love, and exquisitely researched mythology and serial-killer-psychology that haunts the reader, changing you as much as The Book of Paul’s characters themselves are altered by their indulgences in dark obsessions, tattoos, piercings, extreme ritual violence, and even more extreme body modification.

This novel is about many things. Each thing is held up to a sinister glowing black light by an innovative, fluid mix of genres, styles, and perspectives. But most of all The Book of Paul seems to be about the process and results of transformation: about inner change and its physical manifestations, be it defined by spiritual transformation of the C.G. Jungian alchemical variety and its pursuant enlightenment, or the darker kind, something like transmogrification of the classical horror variety, which the book revels in. The characters--richly fleshed out with literary back-stories in the tradition of backstory grand-master Stephen King himself—become so real that readers wince every time the needle pierces their flesh, every time a new emotional abuse pushes them further into their own private hell.

Ultimately, The Book of Paul contains everything a horror fan could ask for, as debut author Richard Long serves up his own brand of thrill-fear in a mouth-watering stack of flavors: murderous evil, body horror, deeply nuanced psychological horror, and more. His shadowy portrait of transformation is colored by darker shades of torture and suffering contrasted with, perhaps more importantly, brighter meditations on love in its various forms, from erotic to familial (and several shades between). It’s all told with dark humor via an ingenious narrative device allowing the “voice of God” third person perspective to be conveyed by another central character who, given the laws of Paul’s universe, believably tells the story with compelling, wince-worthy insight and intelligence.

By God, this is a good book. It hooks you immediately with the travails of its heartbreakingly broken characters, and pushes you along the path to the fascinating conclusion via your shuttered-eyed sympathy for their actions, which are often egregious insults to morality.

Long’s largest character is his villain, Paul. Particularly poignant is Paul’s evil-paternal relationship with the co-protagonist, Martin (a Clint Eastwood badass anti-hero molded into a borderline psychopathic soldier by events beyond his control; whose still-redeemable soul is touched by Rose, a pierced Goth princess whose own troubled past hasn’t entirely corrupted her capacity for love; and who, together, could tip the balance as representatives of opposing forces of a world-threatening prophecy).

The Paul/Martin relationship is one of the better I’ve read. It mirrors the bond between cult leader and cult Lieutenant, between bully and sycophant, between abusive father and love-damaged offspring, between any person, really, and the narcissistic abuser controlling their life. It’s a relationship that by its very nature is horrific in how the borders of love and hate, kindness and torture, charm and soullessness, abuse and protection, are so often trespassed as to shatter one’s core to pieces so that the abuser can glue them back together into whatever form he desires to maintain his follower’s dependence. The co-dependent backbone of this relationship comprises real horror because even though it’s applied to a vaguely supernatural being and a child of preternatural destiny, this relationship is a reality for many, and shows how not bad people can be shaped into instruments of destruction. When horror teaches us about humanity, it has reached special heights, literary heights (think: Glen Duncan, some Stephen King, all the old Lovecraft/Poe/Shelly/Stevenson/Stoker classics) and the Book of Paul does this.

All ye who enter here, know this. There is torture. There is alchemy. There is sex. There is blood. There is prophecy. There is humor. There is alchemical symbolism. There is action. There is horror. Yes, there is horror.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Last Ancient at Finncon in Jyväskylä July 11 - 13

My first booked reading! It's not yet official, but I've been scheduled to read, present, and speak sometime between July 11 - 13 in Jyväskylä at Finncon, Finland's biggest scifi/fantasy convention. Other speakers include highly accomplished authors Elizabeth Bear, Hannu Raijaniemi, Jukka Halme, and  more.

I'm hoping The Last Ancient will have been in print a couple months by then. For those of you who haven't downloaded a copy and want to get a print copy, consider spending the $5.95 for a download from BURST Books. It turns out the download numbers from Amazon aren't reported until at least a month after their financial quarter ends March 30. Even so, I am so close to the 100 downloads threshold in my publishing contract. Just a handful more will push the needle past 100 and over to PRINT COPY that so many of you have been asking about. Here's the link, as it is on the upper righthand corner of this blog:

Happy reading all!

Friday, March 14, 2014


OK Ancient fans, this is a big deal. My first big review. This is like getting stamped "APPROVED AWESOME" by the literary establishment. I enclosed the review in full below. Here's the link as well:


A Nantucket reporter investigating deer mutilations uncovers a much larger—and stranger—story in this suspenseful thriller.
Something is mutilating deer in Nantucket. Simon Stephenson, son of a rich father who recently died, spent a lot of time on the island, but he now makes his own living as an environmental reporter. But almost at once, the story he’s following becomes far more mysterious and deadly, and it begins to include Simon himself; rare gold coins keep appearing around him, even in his pockets. At a dinner party, a French woman who knew Simon’s father whispers to him, “Find it,” then “Kill it….And a god you will become.” As dramatic as that sounds, the ensuing events don’t disappoint. Simon uncovers a shadowy, age-old conspiracy involving alchemists, the gold standard, the Philosopher’s Stone, Nantucket, and the Gryphon, a mythological creature known as messenger, guardian and divine counselor. Everything, it turns out, is at stake, and Simon faces a decision that will have enormous consequences. In his debut novel, Baker shows great skill, expertly upping the stakes while keeping the progression believable. His characterizations and dialogue are excellent. He quickly sketches recognizable types—Nantucket fishermen, high-society swells, a buff bodyguard. Simon’s character is multidimensional—he has panic attacks and complicated feelings about his father, a powerful man who died after Simon wrote an exposé on his company’s arms dealing. Several characters are not what they seem, and revelations about them serve the story well. Baker includes a few welcome laugh breaks; he also writes a good erotic scene. The conclusion, a bit of a gamble, honors the logic of the thriller.
A multilayered, surprising and beautifully written novel of mythology, suspense and mystery.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Soul and the Story

            People often ask me how my career in journalism affected my work as a novelist. It’s a great question because the answer is fairly illuminating on the craft of writing, which takes unequal parts dedication, practice, courage, vision, talent, persistence, thick skin, and perspective.
In short, my journalist career made my novelist dreams a reality. It did so in several ways, partly by forcing me to summit the mountainous 10,000 hours of writing practice required for mastering the basic science of good sentences. It did so even more partly by helping me learn how to build stories -- on deadline! -- that contained beginnings, middles, and ends. It did all of this, mind you, while working with editors and colleagues and sources to make sure the story actually worked for its readers and was true to itself. That’s called professionalism, and it’s an invaluable tool for writers of all stripes.
But the most important lesson journalism crystallized for me was that every story has a soul. It’s up to the writer to find it, name it, and nurture it.  In journalism, that’s called nailing your lead and/or your focus graph (the paragraph somewhere near the top of the feature that drills down into what the whole long story is about).
Yes, stories do indeed have souls. The same soul can grow into many different directions, with entirely different sets of characters, locales, and events. Just think about how some cultures believe souls go on to live multiple lives. But the story’s soul is yours to toy with; it's the magic seed necessary for growing a great narrative. Think about the souls of great literary works like Frankenstein, Moby Dick, Don Quixote, The Iliad; they’ve all been told and re-told by later authors and film makers who embraced the story's absolute core or parable, and used it to grow their own new narrative.
What does a story’s soul look like? Let’s see if you can affix these souls to a work of fiction. The story’s soul is: about fellowship triumphing over darkness in the Orc Apocalypse. It’s about overcoming addiction and an intellectually oppressive society to find truth and happiness as an individual. It’s about love killing the demons. It’s about revenge on the shark that ate your mates from the USS Indianapolis.

The soul of a story appears ludicrously simple once it’s denuded to its core, but that’s what makes it so powerful. It’s pure. So whenever you get lost in your story – or article, or essay, or love letter – you can always close your eyes, repeat the story’s soul in your head like a mantra, and then proceed. The story’s soul is your guiding light, your north star.
            It starts with the lead. My English professor, Al Wachtel at Pitzer College, used to drill us on thesis statements, a single line (maybe two) into which is condensed the core principle of your entire paper. At eighteen, I thought this was absurd. I silently seethed that over the course of four pages (four pages! Ah! That’s so long! How will I ever type that much on Beowulf!), there is bound to be stacks and layers of messages and meanings that can’t possibly be bundled up and wrapped into a single, encapsulating thesis statement.
WRONG. It can, and it must, be done. If you can’t, you don’t have a cohesive message. Just a pocket of story pearls without a necklace stringing them together. The thesis statement is that necklace. In journalism, when you pitch a story, your editor might say, “Okay, I get it that it’s interesting to you. But what’s the story? What’s the hook?” You need to be able to answer that in such a way that you can sell it to your editor. Or sell your book to an agent with an elevator pitch. Or sell your just-about-anything to just-about-anyone. Otherwise you won’t be able to sell it to your readers, or your clients and consumers. They’ll know you’re pushing something soulless.
Back to the lead. A lead can be three words or it can be thirty. It can answer the five Ws (whowhatwherewhenwhy and how) or it can simply establish the mood: “Call me Ishmael.” “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” Regardless, you develop such an intimate relationship with your story what with all the time and energy you devote to it that, until you nail your lead (or your thesis sentence, or your focus graph, or whatever you want to call it), you won’t get the most out of it, just as you can’t possibly have a healthy relationship with someone whose soul eludes you. Find the story’s soul. Embrace it. Nurture it. Then write the hell out of it.
That’s not to say a story can’t have a complicated, hard-to-define soul. It can. But as a writer, I keep coming back and examining my stories’ souls to make sure the plot moves along with some sense of continuity and consistency. I carve out pieces of the story’s soul and implant these mini-souls into each of the characters so as to support the overarching story. Yes. My books have soul.
Writing is good for your own soul. It makes you a smarter and deeper human when you take the craft seriously. Forced to probe your own depths to identify the story’s soul, you may find that all’s well in your interior; or you might discover some areas that need some work, be it by way of knowledge or experience or emotion. In any case...
Keep looking. Keep writing. Keep improving. And pray the story its soul to keep.