Friday, August 25, 2017
I'll be the first to admit that I should read more horror. As part of the generation that grew up on A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. I should love it, but I just don't read it that much. That may very well be about to change though and it's all because of Ivan Ewert's Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus. Don't read this one right before bedtime kiddies!
Seriously, Ewert nailed the setting for this. The perfect horror setting is one that's close enough to the real world as to be indistinguishable on the surface, yet is terrifyingly different underneath. Ewert got that to perfection. The first book starts with what appears to be a normal Christmas Eve dinner. Unknown to Gordon Velander, our main character, it is anything but. It's not until after Gordon goes to Christmas Eve Mass that he finds out that there is something wrong. It's not until a few chapters later that he realizes what it is.
Which leads me to my next point. Ewert manages to get us totally immersed in his world without infodumping. That couldn't have been easy. We're given whatever information we need at the moment without having it all force fed to us quickly. Part of the reason this is possible is because Gordon begins the story unaware of what lies beyond and what part he plays in it. Part of it is just good writing. Admittedly, there is a lot of overlap between the two, but that's how I see it anyway.
The story is thoroughly entertaining, but I can't quite grow to love Gordon. He's sort of an anti-hero. (Minor spoilers ahead. Sorry, can't figure out a way to avoid them) The people Gordon is fighting against are cannibals, although they would be disgusted to hear someone call them that. They use torture and kidnapping to get what they want. In a way, you could argue that they poison Gordon to bring him to The Farm, which is the name and primary setting of book one. They're not nice people and it is very easy to root against them. Lord knows I did. I mean, we're talking about people who farm other human beings for food a la the Creepies in William W. Johnstones' The Ashes series.
The Gentleman Ghouls make a smart, crafty, tough opponent and I've always loved books with a strong enemy. Seriously, GI Joe was fun as a kid but no one wants to read about a dumbass enemy like Cobra Commander in their forties. Ewert has delivered in spades. The Ghouls know their stuff and use it to the best possible effect. Gordon's only real advantages tend to be his guts, his brains and to a certain extent the element of surprise. Gordon holds the initiative and can call the shots and they still almost beat him repeatedly. This isn't a Saturday morning cartoon. There is real suspense here.
Ewert's backstory for the Ghouls is awesome as well. The guy has done enough historical research to have picked a group that everyone knows existed but whose eventual outcome is unknown to history. This gives him a good way to root the group in the modern day United States while adding deep roots and not giving anyone a reason to be suspicious that there is anything untoward going on. This could not have been easy to do but he pulls it off with aplomb. I won't say who, but this is a historical group that I have often wondered about myself. They're just popular enough that people will get the reference. Granted, I'm a nerd with a history degree but this makes me happy.
Gordon on the other hand is not always such a nice guy himself. He consorts with demons. He tortures people. He does whatever is necessary to achieve his goals, uses whatever means he can find but there are some steps he takes that I don't necessarily approve of. I'm not saying this makes him a terrible person. Drastic times call for drastic measures and he's fighting against cannibals. I'm just saying he's a little more morally ambiguous than some other heroes I've read. In a way, that's almost a good thing. No one is perfect and Gordon certainly is not.
On the other hand, you would never mistake Gordon for a hardcore anti-hero in the mold of Thomas Covenant who is often wantonly cruel and has to be forced to save the world. Gordon has his good side as well. He fights hard to find and protect his mother. He tries to save his girlfriend and fails, but at least manages to show her that he respects her in the only way she would understand. even that was a little weird though. He's a complicated guy and I respect that about him.
The demons in the books have a very, well, demonic feel to them. The delight in death and destruction as well as the pleasures of the flesh. They do whatever they want and answer only to each other. They show no sense of responsibility whatsoever. I like these demons, by which I actually mean that I hate them.
Ewert has a gift for description. Some of the scenes in this book make my stomach turn. In and of itself that's no surprise in a horror setting but I've seldom seen it done so well. There is one scene in particular where a description of a demon, emerging from someplace uhh... unique makes my skin crawl. This is a good thing though, because my skin NEEDED to crawl there. It's horror. I needs to make you uncomfortable and it needs to do it the right way. Ewert succeeded in that.
This is the part where I mention any drawbacks to the works but at the end of the day, I really couldn't find any. These things just work. The characters are believe. The plot movies. The setting is eerie. Gordon's motivations are believable as are those of his adversaries. Ewert has done a phenomenal job.
Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Cutlets
Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus
Apocalypse Ink Productions, 2017
Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus is available for purchase at the link below:
Thursday, August 24, 2017
(Editor's note: I promised this the day before the release of the book, which was at Gencon. That was last weekend. I thought it was this coming weekend. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to Mr. Ewert, Sarah Craft (the publicist I've been dealing with) and Apocalypse Ink Productions for my tardiness. I'm such a turdface. My review will be up tomorrow. I have a few more pages to read yet and I can't wait to see what happens next.)
Whenever I talk to an author about hosting a guest post by them, I ask for a column about either: A.) Their current or most recent release, B.) Their writing process or C.) Some combination of both. Ivan Ewert, author of the Famished: Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus, sent me the following about his writing process. Thank you Mr Ewert! I enjoyed this one.
My writing process has changed over the years that were consumed by Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls, but it’s changed for the better, which is nice. It’s also different for long-form, short stories, and poetry, but I’ll focus here on the long-form.
I start by writing up a review of intention, chapter-by-chapter, as if I were describing the action of each to a friend. Those typically take between 2-3 pages in Word and give me an idea of what’s generally needed for each of the chapters to move forward and make sense.
Generally speaking, I write in order, chapter to chapter. Sometimes a scene will pop into my head that’s far in advance, or hasn’t been planned out yet, so I type that up as quickly as possible and save it for later revision. For the most part, though, it’s 1-2-3-4. I find it much easier to keep track of motivation and causality that way.
At this point, I don’t worry much about descriptions. The world will come together later. With my stage background, I think of this stage as similar to table reads: the actors are going through their lines while the set, lighting and sound designers in my head listen and take notes. I’ll go over the broad strokes, of course – where the characters are going, is there a door or a chair, etc. – but I don’t bother with the model of car, color of door, material and style of chair.
These days, I send each chapter as it’s completed to a group of alpha readers after a brief proof-writing pass. These stalwart folks have the unenviable job of reviewing what’s happening in its roughest form and keeping me on track. I learned this lesson after completing Famished: The Commons, only to be told by everyone I knew that half the book needed to be tossed and re-written. Receiving chapter-by-chapter feedback serves as an early warning system.
Once complete, I let the work cool off for two weeks or so prior to printing the whole thing out. Reviewing in a different presentation gives me a way to physically interact with the work, writing notes or edits longhand rather than in comments on Word. That breaks up the sometimes monotonous and ethereal feeling of what we do on the screen.
After making those edits, I print off a second version and read it aloud to myself. That helps me adjust dialogue to sound more natural (or unnatural, depending on the character for whom I’m writing) and highlights any clichés or awkward turns of phrase in the description.
The next go-round includes adding in layers of description and foreshadowing. By now I’ve got an idea of the feel of the overall work, which colors the descriptions. If the book is despairing, you’ll get low cloud cover and dim, flickering lightbulbs; if it’s confrontational, electrical storms and fireplaces, etc. That’s part of the reason I don’t worry about the descriptions earlier on – while I have an idea of the feel and theme of the book at the beginning, these often change and shift as the words are pouring out.
Additionally, now that I know the order in which things happen, I can go back to reference them. Do I need to highlight there’s a gun on the mantelpiece earlier? Has a character morphed into a turncoat who needs to give signs of unreliability in previous conversations? Does a car need to break down, so hints should be dropped?
When all of this is done and I feel more or less satisfied, the beta readers get the entire book. I generally ask them to mark the document up in Word with Track Changes activated. As those reports roll back in, I go through and immediately fix any typos or awkward phrases in my master file, and file the various thoughts and comments away in the back of my mind.
When ALL the readers have got back to me – or indicated their regrets that they won’t be able to return it in time – then I look for common threads in their comments. For example, in Famished: The Ranch, everyone agreed that the torture scenes needed to be more gruesome and lavishly described. I’d done a fine job technically, but they didn’t drive the horror home. After three rounds of revisions, everyone agreed that I’d made them deeply uncomfortable enough to consider them ‘done.’
Then it’s finally off to the editors. In general, I accept their revisions without complaint. They’re more experienced with what sells and what turns people off, so unless I strongly disagree I go with the flow of their requests. When I’ve returned the manuscript, it’s just a waiting game until the work is published.
At that point, I reward myself. Since writing isn’t my primary stream of income and doesn’t pay the bills, I use any proceeds to reward myself upon publication. Generally speaking this means a good bottle of Scotch, a shipment of Baby’s Coffee, or a new piece of consumer electronics, although when my paycheck coincides with some disaster in the world I’ll earmark some of it for additional donations.
Throughout the process I’ve generally got bandcamp.com or mynoise.net playing in the background. Music or ambient sound effects help keep my subconscious critic occupied with feel and atmosphere rather than the technical perfection of the work. When editing, though, it’s noises off all around, just me and the manuscript at a writing-desk.
That’s how the work gets done, snout to tail. It’s not an hour a day or a certain number of pages a week, but it does seem to do the job for me.
Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus is available at the link below:
Famished: The Gentleman Ghouls Omnibus is available at the link below: