Thursday, October 9, 2014

“A Light in Darkened Spaces”: A Review of Carbon (Writer, Daniel Boyd; Illustrator, Edi Guedes)

“A Light in Darkened Spaces”: A Review of Carbon (Writer, Daniel Boyd; Illustrator, Edi Guedes) (Caliber Comics, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-9857493-3-0)

Carbon is a fantastical tale that marries new Creation mythology with the very real coal-mining-culture-at-a-crossroads narrative now happening in southern West Virginia. Daniel Boyd, a three-time Fulbright scholar and Media Studies professor at West Virginia State University, has recently joined the ranks of accomplished filmmakers (he is known for Chillers, among many others) who are utilizing the graphic novel format to tell their stories. Cinematically illustrated by Brazilian Edi Guedes (with great attention to light and dark and mise en scène), Carbon tackles the tough questions and points an unapologetic finger at large Energy Corporations and state-level politicians.
Before I go into the characters and story, a little context is called for. Having lived in West Virginia for the past 7 years, I have watched from an outsider’s perspective as the Obama “war on coal” has been playing out, and also experiencing through close friends the increased presence (and resulting damage to property, roads, and people’s lives) of the energy industry practice known as “fracking.”
While recently researching WV politicians from the late 1800s for a cultural history project I was writing and for a Web series I acted in, I learned a lot about how little has changed since the state was founded during the Civil War in 1863. Coal was the means to solidifying the fledging state’s economic future and by the late 1880s all political policy was aimed toward that end. Politicians owned coal companies, and invested in them, as well as in all the corollary industries they spawned. Incidents like the Matewan massacre (the subject of a film by John Sayles, who wrote the Carbon Introduction) and the Monongah (1907), Sago (2006), and Upper Big Branch (2010) mining disasters, as well as the 2013 chemical spill near the state’s capital that made water unsafe for use by 350,000 citizens in the midst of one of the worst winters on record, have made an indelible imprint on the lives and psyche of West Virginians. I have seen plays about and been to the memorial for the miners at Monongah. This is sobering, complex stuff.
I purchased 3 acres in north-central WV nearly a decade ago, looking to get away from the changing landscape and personality of my home town in Jersey post-9/11, when deep-pocketed New Yorkers began to flee the city and relocate at the scenic shore. My wife and I, environmentally minded as we are, were anxious to give our children a simpler, more nature-connected experience of life. So it has been ironic and disheartening to watch the knife-edge dance between natural beauty and the way of life one would expect in the mountains and forests of the state and Big Energy. No. Better make that BIG ENERGY. Because of the social justice and arts entrepreneurial work I do, I have sat on several business and community service boards, attended state-wide leadership programs, and gotten to meet, talk to, and even introduce at high-level events a broad array of state politicians, up to and including the governor and a few U.S. Congressmen.
But I am, unlike Daniel Boyd, an Outsider. Something of which I have been constantly and straightforwardly reminded. So I don’t say much, though I have decided to move my family and my theatre company out of state the middle of next year.
Given this background, it was with great interest, after meeting Boyd at the West Virginia Writers Conference in June of 2014 (where he and I shared the stage with Bram Stoker Award Winner Michael Knost to read from our books—all, ironically, about sons returning to the coal fields they had tried to escape) that I read Carbon.
Coming from a Horror background, Boyd employs some variations on familiar tropes: a demon species spawned in the process of the humans-employing-Free-Will-and-God-letting-them of his Creation myth and a sort of Super-Coal that burns continuously that drives the Big Bad in the story (the head of an Energy company) to do some out-sized and horrific things (although they have clear analogs in the “real world” of Energy companies cutting costs by compromising safety in order to bulge their bottom line and fund their political payola…).
In the midst of all the Fantastical is a down-home redemption story about a local baseball hero who comes oh-so-close to the Big Leagues but blows it on a crucial pitch and is forced into the mines where his father was killed several years earlier.
As I’ve learned in my decades-long study of Story and Structure, it’s all about that identifiable hero, the one with the major flaw with which we all can identify—no matter how fantastic the genre. It’s what makes the Spielberg remake of War of the Worlds work, and why “historical” films like Pearl Harbor and Apollo 13 are compelling and watchable although we know the outcomes. It’s what made TV series like Lost and Supernatural initially so fascinating despite their outlandish, fantastical worlds and well-traveled tropes. 
Like a carefully constructed film, Carbon’s dialogue is secondary to, and in service of, image, but the characters are well defined and succeed in illuminating various aspects of the central theme. And, most importantly, Boyd honors the coal miners (to whom the book is dedicated), much in the way that twenty-first-century America has done a better job of honoring Veterans by separating those who serve in the Armed Forces from the profit-enhancing corporate-patsy politicians who send them into War Zones for less than honorable reasons.
And, in the end, this is very much the point of Carbon, and what makes the “coal mining/energy question” in West Virginia so thorny and compelling: It is not the working person who is at fault, but the Profiteers (the real-life demons in the darkness) who put them in harm’s way and wreak havoc with the natural landscape and the health and happiness of those who haven’t got a voice.

Kudos to Daniel Boyd for giving them a Voice, and creating a wonderfully entertaining and fantastical journey in the process. Perhaps, like I am now compelled to do through this review, others who have been silent will now begin to speak.

Monday, September 8, 2014

“The Brains behind the Bulk”: A Review of Smashed: The Life and Tweets of Drunk Hulk

by Christian A. Dumais (2014, ISBN: 978-1500538354; available at

I have known the man behind the Drunk Hulk Twitter phenomenon, Christian Dumais, since 2003, when the art and literary website he co-ran, Legion Studios, first began the monthly publication of the strange rants and politico-religious poke-prods of my own alter-ego, Planner Forthright.
I reviewed a collection of euphictional anthology, Cover Stories, that he co-edited, and have followed his journey to Poland and into marriage and parenthood and into stand-up humor and his continuing productivity as a writer (ironically, through another social media mechanism, Facebook).
I have to admit—although I knew of the Drunk Hulk Twitter account, and followed it—I am Luddite at heart who won’t use a Smart Phone and rarely uses Twitter, doesn’t see its purpose, and follows and is followed in the mid-100s.
Nevertheless, the Drunk Hulk phenomenon of the last 5 years (191,000 followers as of this writing) has been fascinating to me—and is now made even more so by the release of the collected Tweets and a rich variety of accompanying essays that both contextual and offer insight into both the writer and the writing.
First, the writer, whom the opening essay focuses on. Dumais begins with a well-crafted exploration of the sincerity/insincerity divide when it comes to answering (and asking) “How are you?,” spurred in part by his move from America to Poland. This is a discussion I had some months ago with some friends. When we ask each other “How are you?,” the last thing anyone seems to want is an honest answer. Give it a try. See what happens.
What has this to do with a Hulk in his cups? It’s about Identity. It’s about Story—yours, and mine, and everyone else’s. And—given all the reading and research I’ve been doing lately for my own book about the fundamental need for all people to know how to tell their Story, including the work of Brené Brown—Authenticity. 
How do our alter-ego writing channels work? Are we always, on some level (like in our dreams) all of our characters, all of the time? Is the alter-ego, the manifestation of the Secret Personalities our authorship allows out, as in the case of Drunk Hulk, just an extreme example?
What is it about social media modes that have allowed so many of us to express our characters in these often revolutionary ways?
What do these cyber-avenues of complex self-expression say about our society, and our relationship with Story? If Dumais (or I) were to say the same things as ourselves, without Drunk Hulk or Planner, would the interest—the impact—be the same?
Moving into the writing process, and the genesis of Drunk Hulk, Dumais writes, “I spent most of my life writing, hoping for readers to give my work a chance, and the moment I started writing in ALL CAPS in broken English, they started paying attention” (p. 23).
No one really knows why a Drunk Hulk hits big (or a Twilight, or a Harry Potter), and that’s probably for the best. But I do think it starts with where we are as a Society. In many ways, Conflict is the new Communication. But, after reading the opening essays of Smashed, I think that, in the twenty-first century, Sarcasm is also an aspect of Communication. And further, as Dumais observes, “Sarcasm, like humor, is communication’s self-defense mode” (9).
Nothing has been the same in the Post-9/11 malaise and the decision to go to war in 2003. My 15-year-old daughter has no memories of a world without war, and the morning of the attacks on NYC and Washington, DC, unable to get in contact with two uncles who often had business in the Towers and my wife, working in north Jersey and watching, smelling the smoke as she drove across the bridge to get to our home, are burned indelibly in my mind. Planner Forthright was created around the same time as all of this, and in response to it.
It was within this never-to-be-the-same-again world that Dumais hints at the origins of Drunk Hulk, sitting in a pub in March of 2003, listening to the president make his proclamations of Patriotism, War, and Vengeance.
Dumais goes on to talk about the increasing popularity of Drunk Hulk in the ensuing years and how living in Poland stymied talks with editors, producers, TV people in the States. But it was in Poland that Drunk Hulk was born, where he (through his author’s continual changes) developed and grew.
As I read this text , I began to ask: Why do we write? Why does the Muse strike as it does, when it does?
Dumais tells a story about a cab driver doing him a favor by driving him in a blizzard from Philly to Jersey and back and telling HIS story… a profound story of life and love. As I immerse myself in the importance of story, it’s a reminder that, so more important than being a Writer (with all its thorny problems) is simply telling OUR STORY. Telling it well is a bonus.
Five years on, Drunk Hulk has drawn the attention of Time Magazine, among other stalwart news corporations, and Dumais has done three TEDx talks as a result of it.
It is at this point that Dumais gives a primer on using Twitter successfully (I took notes, for the future) and lets the reader know that the book is set up as Tweets by year (a Director’s Cut, actually; he has removed some he deemed “terrible or repetitive”).
The Tweets themselves are a mix of politics, psychology, pop culture, and often-times profound spiritual insights. If the Buddha was a drinker, some of the tenets of Buddhism might have sounded like some of these.
I’ve pulled a selection from 2010 for readers unfamiliar with Drunk Hulk:







As Dumais states in the introductory chapters, this collection serves as a snapshot of the past several years in world events. At times, it is even prescient (or synchronicitous, as today in the news there is an article about the accusations against the writer of True Detective as plagiarizing from several sources):

After the sections by year, there are specialty sections, called “Resolutions!” and “Pick Up Lines.” There is also a fascinating section of retweets about Gaddafi’s death first being found out through Drunk Hulk. It is instructive to read the abundant amount of tweets wondering what is wrong with the world (and the tweeter) that they got the news from such a source. [Twitter as News Source and Gateway is becoming increasingly important and prevalent in academic study. While writing this review, I was also editing a series of articles for the journal Human and Ecological Risk Assessment examining the use of Twitter during the 2010 BP oil spill.]
In a final essay, Dumais announces that, after a nearly 5-year run, he has decided to end the Twitter feed for Drunk Hulk, so he doesn’t become too dependant  on it as a writer and speaker. With attention from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, and Russell Brand, plus the cover quote from NPR, Drunk Hulk has certainly gotten attention and made an impact, and has served his creator well.
Perhaps this End of 2013 tweet says it best about the impact of the Drunk Hulk tweets, and others like it:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Review of Ken Hart’s The Eyes Behold Tomorrow

(Pensacola, FL: World Castle Publishing, 2014), ISBN: 9781629891163 (print edition)

A few months ago I reviewed Ken Hart’s debut novel, Behind the Gem (Gypsy Shadow Publishing, 2010), which I found to be an enjoyable and well-paced science fiction adventure with a heart.
In his follow-up, The Eyes Behold Tomorrow, Hart uses a similar setup—a human male transplanted on a planet with a female-dominated, more advanced alien race, a situation that leads to political intrigue as well as a considerable amount of romance—but it is there that the similarities end.
The protagonist of The Eyes Behold Tomorrow, namesake of the pirate Edward Teach (“Blackbeard’), has little in common with the former Army Ranger of Behind the Gem. Teach is a playboy genius with sharp business sense and a wild side. When Earth is threatened by aliens, Teach is chosen to enter the pilot training program of a benevolent race called the Feletians.
His training, evaluation, and appointment to the Feletian fleet is the highlight of the book. Fans of Star Trek and the iconic James T. Kirk will appreciate his impulsive, cocksure attitude, and the situations it puts him in (and gets him out of). Much of the dialogue on the bridge of the ship, between captains, and between the captains and their bureaucratic overseers recalls the very best of both the Original Series and Next Generation.
The descriptions of both ship technology (propulsion, weapons) and the various technologies of the other planets are detailed enough to make the story real without overloading the reader with needless technical jargon.
For those interested in the romantic angle that sets Behind the Gem apart from drier science fiction, The Eyes Behold Tomorrow delivers not only romance and family but a bit more sexual content than its predecessor, although it never becomes graphic.
I look forward to reading more from this author.
If you are interested in learning about Ken Hart and to order this and other titles he has authored, visit


Saturday, June 21, 2014

“How to Walk Like a Warrior”: A Review of Jaguar Dreams, by Nora Caron

(2014, Homebound Publications, ISBN: 978-1-938846-15-1)

In 2009 I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the first novel in the New Dimensions Trilogy, Journey to the Heart, followed by 2013’s New Dimensions of Being earlier this year.

In the third book of the trilogy, Lucina undertakes a classic Hero’s Journey to try and locate her former love, Teleo, whose last contact had been from Guatemala City. No longer content to sit and wait for him to come to her, Lucina follows her heart through the city, the jungle, and on the edge of the ocean to win back his love and once more walk upon the path she had so dearly paved at the start of New Dimensions of Being.

Aided as ever by the old wise woman, Señora Labotta, Lucina also enlists the aide of a British shop owner and a jungle guide named Alejandro who functions in a way similar to Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan or Dan Millman’s Socrates from Way of the Peaceful Warrior, serving as a threshold guardian and mentor as she crosses into the new and dangerous world of the jungle.

This truly is an Initiation, a Rite of Passage, for Lucina, as Alejandro instructs her in the essentials of clothing and equipment for surviving in the jungle. Stripping her down to her barest essence, he calls her “little lady” and “Walmart poster girl” instead of her given name. Answering the Call to Adventure, she aptly leaves behind her cell phone, and, covered head to foot in bug spray, undertakes her quest.

As readers of the first two books might guess, this transplanted Canadian—who was not quite roughing it in her surroundings in Mexico—endures a steep learning curve in the heavy rains and humidity of the Guatemalan jungle, and like the razor-sharp mentor he is, Alejandro drives her as hard as she can go.

As they get to know one another, Alejandro opens up about the nearly four decades of the Guatemalan civil war and America’s complicity in what the people (labeled rebels by the government) had to endure at the hands of a ruthless succession of dictators. He recalls to Lucina one night in particular when he lost everything, including his wife and children.

The philosophical discussions that ensue as they make their way through the jungle, touching on Buddhism, the nature of the nagual (the shaman’s spirit animal), and Mother Earth (Gaia) theory, unfold with a light and engaging flow, planting ample food for thought and spirit as the story continues its unfolding. Equally engaging are Lucina’s encounters with the howler monkey, the tarantula, and the jaguar.

A highlight of Jaguar Dreams (and of the trilogy) is the exploration of the path of the Warrior, which begins almost exactly at the mid-point of the book. Beginning with Lucina’s childhood memories of playing She-Ra with her friends, through her Italian mother’s advice on inner strength, the Warrior work in the book centers around Lucina meeting her own nagual in the jungle and Alejandro’s explication of what it takes to walk the Warrior’s Way.

This came to me at a time in my life when I was re-focusing on the Way of the Warrior in my own daily practice and study of shamanism and spiritual discipline. I have Alejandro’s list of “Sacred Warrior Keys” tacked to my writing desk, and I meditate on it daily. Alejandro also bestows upon Lucina a new name, Jaguar Woman, as their time together ends.

After leaving the jungle, Lucina decides to go to the Pacific Ocean to continue her quest to find her missing love, where she is joined by Señora Labotta. Switching from Earth element to Water element, Caron challenges her lead character in different but reinforcing ways, as Lucina continues to apply the Warrior Keys in her quest to find herself as she attempts to find her boyfriend.

For readers interested in Edgar Cayce, there is some excellent information about his life and work incorporated into the story.

For most of those walking the Warrior’s path, getting out of the world, into Nature, into meditation, into solitude, is the easy part. Like any warrior-shaman, Lucina must return to the city to apply what she has learned. Back to her apartment, back to work, she must incorporate her training, her transformation, to her everyday life.

How she handles it, I’ll leave to the read to discover and contemplate.

Jaguar Dreams, and the New Dimensions trilogy, are important stories for our times. I encourage the New Mystics readership, and all those seeking strength on the Warrior’s Path in our troubled but transformative times to avail yourselves of their deep and sacred wisdom.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Question of Humanity: A Review of Ken Hart’s Behind the Gem

 (Gypsy Shadow Publishing, 2010), ISBN: 978-0-9844521-7-0
By Joey Madia
Behind the Gem is an entertaining and thought-provoking journey through one man’s experience with an alien race. Solidly sci-fi, but with the kind of sentiment and romance not usually found in the genre, Hart’s tale provides plenty of action, technology, and telepathy as it poses many of the Big Questions.
            When a hostile race of aliens called the Baleorans attacks Earth, a group of humans, trapped in a building transplanted on another planet, struggle to make sense of their present and their future. One of their number, a man named Raymond Meinhardt, winds up the captive and soon after the Consort of one of a race of kangaroo–horse hybrid type beings, eight feet tall, called the Draasen. They are a race of telepaths with advanced technology and a feminine-ruled society.
            Raymond, a former Army Ranger with experience in Vietnam, struggles to adapt to his new surroundings. His resistance, conformity, and ultimate independence within the society of the Draasen makes for fascinating reading and the opportunity to consider questions such as: What makes a Human human? Is it physiology or behavior? Molecules or morals? When we are in a foreign land, whose rules apply? How does individuality co-exist with a society based in many ways on groupthink and Protocols?
            As with all the best science fiction, the aliens can be considered as a metaphor for our own co-existence as individual races, countries, and religious groups on planet Earth. Raymond’s struggles are our own.
            The Draasen society is well-developed, with plenty of political and class-based intrigue and conflict. It creates the necessary drama when things begin to stabilize for Raymond and escalates the pace when he begins to build a new family among the Draasen.
            In his biography, Ken Hart tells us that he has come to writing late in his life, after the military took him to Vietnam and Iraq. He has a natural talent for storytelling and it is clear that his life experiences have given him ample knowledge and understanding, creating a richness to both the characters and worlds he creates.

            If you are interested in learning more about Ken Hart and other titles he has authored, visit

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Review of Eileen R. Tabios (et al.’s) 147 Million Orphans (MMXI–MML)

 (Finland: Gradient Books, 2014; Barcode: 5-800102-117065)
Two years ago I reviewed a precursor to this book, by Eileen R. Tabios and j/j hastain, titled the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA (New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2012; ISBN: 978-0-9846353-2-0). The book impressed upon the reader the function to carry forth the work begun in its pages, which I endeavored to do in the review.           
147 Million Orphans takes as its basis, not the word problems of the previous title, but a list of words that Tabios’ son was required to learn in the course of a school year. Ever innovative and groundbreaking, Tabios, and her impressive list of guest poets (William Allegrezza, Tom Beckett, John Bloomberg-Rissman, Michael Caylo-Baradi, Patrick James Dunagan, Thomas Fink, jj hastain, Aileen Ibardaloza, Ava Koohbor, Michael Leong, Sheila Murphy and Jean Vengua), used the words to create hay(na)ku [from the back cover: “a hay(na)ku is a diasporic poetic form; its core is a tercet-based stanza with the first line being one word, the second line being two words, and the third line being three words”], which are then followed by additional text, to form a “haybun.”
In the years that I have been reading and reviewing Tabios’ work, I have been continually awed and propelled in my own work by her commitment to the writer’s role as social voice, conveying both unique media and social justice messages that resonate with the reader in a compelling dance that requires and inspires action. Like the work of a gifted playwright or screenwriter, the truth here is clear: if the reader’s relationship with the words ends when the book is closed, there is something lacking—like fruit that is not eaten, like seeds that are not planted [and watered and cultivated], it becomes Momentary; a Fragment without Function.
The politics of Diaspora, of the life of the orphan, of the empty rhetoric and nefarious policies of multinational corporations and educational systems that fall far short of their potential to produce independent and critical thinkers, all converge in the genesis of the source material [the vocabulary words] into Art and Authentication.
An example:
bake jargon
laconic nefarious dainty
“…She became the gift renamed “Zahara.” … she will kiss tabloid pictures of Angelina Jolie. …” [pg. 12]
Compelling notions such as this continue: “Adoption is an industry, as commercial as the polyethylene commodities travelling on ship tankers from China…” [pg. 13]. Or
“no child should learn to be grateful for an effect of loss.” [pg. 15]
But there is always counterpoint, yin and yang, light in dark: “Many adoptive parents feel: I didn’t save a child. A child saved me” [pg. 23].
I humbly count myself among those parents.
Within most of the haybun is the thought-provoking use of the line strikethrough, such as in this piece by Aileen Ibardaloza:
“‘exploit’ can also mean abuse misuse” [pg. 47].
A peek behind the patterns of the process. An invocation of Mark Twain’s “The difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.” But is there more than one “right word”? Abuse and misuse evoke completely separate meanings. One normally disappears, but here it still remains, to work upon the reader’s mind, ripe with layered nuance.
On page 58 appears a line that I have been mulling over for days: “The grammatical period is not synonymous with death.”
Think about it. Write about it. Set out to authenticate or eradicate it as a notion, an idea. Let it be both at one and the same time. That is the value of Tabios’ approach to poetry. It is collaborative. Its Authority gives it room to be pushed, pulled, reinvented.
The book closes with “A Quintet for Michael Gerard Tyson,” offering insight into the enigmatic (and, as I learned here, orphaned) former heavyweight champ, whose antics and actions outside the ring engulfed and all but obliterated his achievements within it.
In a bit of synchroserendipity, I read the line “he denies the ‘I’ and lapses into calling himself ‘Sonny Liston’ and ‘Jack Dempsey’” mere hours before reading in Secret Germany by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh excerpts from Thomas Mann’s 1936 essay on “mythic consciousness” regarding the idea that leaders and would-be leaders refer to themselves as past leaders in order to acquire Legitimacy through Invocation and a pseudo-lineage [think Thatcher as Churchill and Elizabeth I and Clinton as Kennedy].

I encourage you to read 147 Million Orphans as poetry, as parental testament, as social commentary, as thought experiment, and most importantly, as the starting point for your own [continuing] engagement with Word and Idea.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

“A Heavily Haunted State”: A review of Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s The Big Book of West Virginia Ghost Stories

 (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2014), ISBN: 978-0-8117-1115-9
It’s always a pleasure to read and review a new Rosemary Ellen Guiley book. Not only are they based on interviews and fieldwork coupled with a thorough review of secondary sources; I have also had the privilege of accompanying her on several paranormal investigations, including on the three acres on which I live. Some of the experiences of my family have been chronicled in other of her books (e.g., on Ouija boards), and in this book on West Virginia hauntings, there’s a segment about the arts center my wife and I used to run.
            These personal connections aside, as an author who often uses the supernatural in my stories, novels, and plays, my growing collection of Guiley’s books is an indispensible part of my research library.
            The Big Book of West Virginia Ghost Stories, broken up by the eight geographic locations designated by the WV Department of Commerce, is a riveting read and a must-have for anyone interested in the folklore, traditions, and paranormal abundance that the “Wild and Wonderful” state of West Virginia provides.
            As a resident of the state for the past seven years, I have had the opportunity to travel to most of the areas described. I have a particular affinity for the Fairmont area, where I live, as well as Parkersburg, Point Pleasant, Weston, and Wheeling. I have witnessed interesting phenomena in several of these locations, which I will mention briefly in the course of the review.
            A great strength of the book is its diversity. There are stories of murder and intrigue, residual hauntings, the hauntings of universities and theatres around the state, physical phenomena, and plenty of contextual history for each area. Below are the highlights from my unique perspective as a resident, writer, and paranormal researcher/experiencer.
            The first section, the “Eastern Panhandle,” features Harper’s Ferry and the events/hauntings surrounding John Brown and the start of the Civil War. This area of the state is particularly rich in history, and Guiley’s skills as an historian as well as a storyteller shine in its pages. The popular destination town of Berkeley Springs is also featured.
            “Mountaineer Country,” which includes Fairmont in Marion County, has a vast array of hauntings, between the massive state university, historic Prickett’s Fort, and the tragedies and troubles surrounding the coal-mining industry.
            “The Northern Panhandle” is dominated by the thriving mini-metropolis of Wheeling, which boasts paranormal activity in such landmarks as the Capitol Theatre. The nearby town of Moundsville is home to the West Virginia State Penitentiary, the one-time home of some of “the state’s most deranged and violent convicts” (p. 114). Its Gothic design really makes an impression. Between its numerous hangings and electrocutions courtesy of “Old Sparky,” the prison is chock full of hauntings. Guiley also takes the time to illuminate the connections with the infamous Charles Manson and the prison, which are often misrepresented. An added attraction when visiting the prison is the nearby Grave Creek Mound, attributed to the mysterious Adena culture.
            In my personal experience, one of the two richest areas of paranormal phenomena, including ghosts, is the Mid-Ohio Valley, including Parkersburg. I am fascinated by all things Parkersburg, including Blennerhassett Island, the Blennerhassett Hotel, and the Blennerhassett Museum. Guiley provides all the details on the Blennerhassett family. It is fascinating stuff, involving as it does Aaron Burr’s conspiracy to buy massive amounts of land in Louisiana to start his own country. The Hotel is splendid—I have taken ghost tours, stayed overnight, and even played a part in a film that shot a scene there. And the Museum staff are friendly and knowledgeable. Be sure to read up on and then visit the Riverview Cemetery as well. I was part of the group that the author was with when she had her vortex experience with the Weeping Woman statue (related on pages 150–151).
            The “Mountain Lakes” region boasts the largest hand cut stone building in North America, and the second in the world after the Kremlin—Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (TALA). Guiley took an extended private tour of what might possibly be the most haunted place in West Virginia, and this section is a highlight of the book. The theatre company that I run provides live theatre events at TALA and we have had several interesting experiences while rehearsing and performing there, including watching a cigar roll off a table and snap in half in mid-air and one of our company members suffering a “phantom ice pick lobotomy.”
            Point Pleasant, in the “Metro Valley” along the Ohio River, is my favorite place in all of West Virginia. It is where my wife and I met Rosemary several years ago after we encountered an inter-dimensional being coming back from the TNT area (where the Mothman was seen several times in the late 1960s). Point Pleasant serves as the model for my play, “A Kitchener County Menace,” which had a staged reading at the haunted State Theatre a few years ago during the Mothman Festival, and figures into several of my novels and serialized stories. The town, nestled at the confluence of the Ohio and Little Kanawha rivers, is quaint and full of history. Guiley covers it all, from the Lowe Hotel, to the park, to the theatre. Parkersburg and Point Pleasant are just a few hours apart. For any lover of the paranormal, you can’t do better than arming yourself with this book and taking a weekend to explore these fascinating places.
            The book’s final section is the “Hatfield-McCoy Mountains.” The recent Kevin Costner mini-series has sparked renewed interest in America’s most famous feud. Also included in this section is a fascinating story of the murder of Mamie Thurman.

            If you are a fan of Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s work, this book is one of her best. If not, whether you in live in West Virginia or across the country (or the world), The Big Book of West Virginia Ghost Stories is a must read for anyone who loves a spooky tale well told.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Review of New Dimensions of Being, by Nora Caron

 (2013, Homebound Publications, ISBN: 978-1-938846-11-3)

In 2009 I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the first novel in the New Dimensions Trilogy, Journey to the Heart. Like her main character’s spiritual journey, Nora Caron’s journey as a writer is steadily developing, and I gleaned even more from the follow-up than I did from the original.

In Mexico for about a year, Lucina, a Canadian transplant trying to find herself and break from the dysfunctional habits that had so limited her life, is living with Teleo, the medicine man from Journey to the Heart, who is the son of the old wise woman, Señora Labotta.

Lucina, although progressing in her journey, is far from over her acerbic, sarcastic tendencies, and even in this new world of spirit and oneness, when in crisis [which is often] she falls back to the advice of her more traditionally based former therapist, Dr. Field.

Themes like spirit and matter, love and loss, and life and death course through the novel, and we meet several new characters who walk the razor’s edge between them. There is John, a rough-and-tumble holy man; Mathias, a good-looking stud unlucky in love; and his female counterpart, Maria—a former Hollywood actress who schools Lucina on a variety of matters of the heart, including the personality archetype of the Vampire (Caron herself is an actress and screenwriter who lives in Montreal with an office in Los Angeles).

As we join Lucina in the dark night of her soul, the guides and companions she encounters share a plethora of potent and profound spiritual wisdoms—from the prophecies of the Hopi and the Mayans, to the harnessing of the Sacred Feminine Energies, to the interpretation of dreams. Of great importance to our present state of being is the notion of time speeding up as humanity edges ever closer to a shift in consciousness, and Caron elucidates these ideas as well as writers and lecturers like James Redfield, Wayne Dyer, and Caroline Myss.

Lucina’s commitment is matched only by her self-doubt and now-and-again retreats into her former habits. All of us, no matter how long we have studied matters of Soul and Spirit, no matter how long we have walked upon our journey, can both empathize and derive a measure of comfort from this well-told tale of one woman’s journey into a “new dimension of being.”

This book, the second in a trilogy, ends with just enough of a cliffhanger to create anticipation for the third in the series, Jaguar Dreams, due out in June of this year.

I look forward to reading it. 

Some words about the author, because one senses that she and Lucina overlap in more than a few areas of life. A native of Montreal, Quebec, Nora’s education and passion include photography and film, as well as English literature, with an emphasis on the Renaissance and the great bard, William Shakespeare. She is fluent in French, English, Spanish, and German. She has also co-written a feature Western called Wyoming Sky through her production company, Oceandoll Productions.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Review of Three Poetry books by Jack Galmitz

 (available in paper format from the publishers or at as e-books)
By Joey Madia
As Founding Editor of, a literary and art site that hosts pages for nearly seventy authors and artists from around the world, I have the opportunity to give the creators of innovative and thought-provoking poetry a forum for their work.
As often happens, in cultivating the e-publisher/author relationship, I am asked to review additional work by the author not hosted at New Mystics. In the case of Jack Galmitz, when links to his e-books were provided, I visited and chose three titles—Objects, Yellow Light, and A Semblance—for review. There are several other titles from this author available there as well and you can find more of his writing at Scribd.
In our correspondence preparing for the launch of his New Mystics author page in February 2014, Galmitz said that his poetry is based on “the indeterminacy created by ambiguity—sometimes two words that are joined together when left alone on the page makes one realize there are many ways to take them and this leaves doubt and makes one look and be aware of what is there and this is the purpose I think of art.”
This philosophy brings to mind other authors whose works I have reviewed and New Mystics hosts, such as Ed Baker, Mark Sonnefeld, and Eileen Tabios. They ask much of the reader, and offer much in return.
The first book, Objects (Gean Tree Press, Aberdeen, Scotland, 2013), opens with a quote from John Cage, whose book Silence is a meditation on music, life, Zen, the classification and growing of mushrooms, and myriad other subjects. Objects is minimalist—there are most times no more than three or four words on a page, operating as sutras or koans. An example:
“an inchworm dangling arms”
and on the facing page:
“standing still”
To contemplate the arms of an inchworm, or the idea that it is “standing” is to extract the endless potential in half a dozen words and to face the fact that our perceptions—and one of their modes of expression: LANGUAGE—are all too rushed, shallow, and imprecise.
[An alternate reading, as suggested by the author, is to break the sentence into its different images and contemplate each separately: an inchworm and dangling arms; also, one might not run the two pages together, but keep them distinct]
Since I mentioned Cage, here is another for contemplation:
“house of concrete music.”
Another, “absorbing a book without words,” evokes childhood storybooks and the medium of film, where image is everything and words are subservient and hardly needed at all. A painting, a symphonic movement, a facial expression—all of these are books without words. All tell us stories if we are still enough to listen.
Yellow Light (, 2013).
A Yellow Light, according to the forward, refers here to the traffic light cautioning one to slow down, or to proceed with care. This is very much in line with my thoughts about how the poems in Objects operate.
One of the first poem-lines is “A brick wall raining.” What does this “mean” to you? I had the image of a wall being sledge-hammered or blown to bits in an explosion, but one might just as easily consider a brick wall and the fact that it is raining. You might then picture the wall with rain pouring down on it.
Or not.
That’s a lot of potential for just four words.
These poems operate as a language-symbol Rorschach, or, again, as in Objects, like a sutra, koan, or meditation.
Here are two others on which to meditate:
“crowds on the street performance art”
“walked by the dog”
Both of these, because of my gestalt, my work, my alignment with the Universe at this moment in time, are resonant. As a writer, director, storyteller, and actor, people as performance art, whatever the place or context, is a constant condition and a rich bounty for my perception.  As an artist with deep roots in social justice, the image of the dog walking the owner (or the tail of the dog wagging itself; or the image of the dog chasing its tail, as used by Jack Sarfatti to describe the ring singularity of black and white holes in space) is resonant and inspiring.
The poem-line “Crumpled paper music” became synchro-serendipitous as I crushed the paper with my notes for the previous section and heard the music it made as I read this phrase on the next piece of paper.
“seeing rabbits go to work”—are we the rabbits? If the rabbits are actual rabbits, and they are burrowing under a farmer’s fence for carrots, is it work to them at all?
There is a section toward the end of the book with all of the words typeset with their letter-sounds stretched out, as though the yellow light has become a deep, deep signal to slow the blood, the brain, the boundaries way, way down. It took some patience, some further investment to read them. It was well worth it.
The book ends with two prose poems. The first, “Like Lichen,” is one long sentence, again forcing the reader to slow down and proceed with caution, lest the meaning be misinterpreted or lost without the grammatical meaning-mapping that punctuation provides.
[there again goes the music of the crumpling paper]
The second prose piece, “The Strings to Heaven,” reads as a meditation on the relationship of humanity and techno-scientific “achievement.” One grew smaller, more naked, more isolated, as the other grew, as if the current trajectory demands that one or the other ultimately prevail—like in the nightmare tales of Asimov, Dick, and Wells.
The third book, A Semblance [read as “assemblance” if you’d like], begins: “Poems for the ordinary mind.”
Like the image of the traffic light in Yellow Light, this evokes a position of engagement in the reader at the onset. An ordinary mind—meaning: Don’t dig too deep? Take things at face value? Don’t seek connection, but engage with the words in the moment, in isolation, as they are? And what is a not-ordinary mind? An extraordinary mind?
I have chosen two poems from A Semblance to list here, free of commentary, and in closing:

The savior
showed up
the day after

Take off your shoes
Before you enter the house
It is courteous

[one final sound of the music of crumpling paper, to accompany the ending clack of the keys]

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Review of Seth Hammons’s The Silent Sound [Book Two of The Keys]

In September of 2012 I wrote a very positive review of the independently published debut novel in this series, Unheard Of. The sequel does not disappoint.
            Picking up where the first book left off, The Silent Sound finds the three main characters—Arco, Chastin, and Rachel—setting out to sea with two brothers named Zeke and Zender, a mysterious and doom-prone old fisherman, and a tough as nails female captain in the Imperial Navy after the islands are attacked by a sea-dwelling race of beings known as the demar.
            There is plenty of action and conflict among the ship’s disparate group of passengers, complicated by a pair of thought-talking music sticks named Maletalio—the unifying force among the three main characters and the holder of many of the secrets of the Keys.
            In the tried and true tradition of a fantasy series, Hammons extends his themes and his world in The Silent Sound, although the central conflict is still between the Imperial Iori, with their formal schooling, strong military, and reliance on Science and the workaday Brecks, a more pagan, peaceful class of farmers and artisans.
            Not only do we visit new places, like the difficult-to-navigate sea channel called Typhon’s Fangs and the once-center of music in the Breckish lands, Coda Misung, but we gain new insights into the history and motivations of Arco (the sailor-turned-drunk-turned hero).
            I also enjoyed the level of intrigue and magic in The Silent Sound. Hammons provides just enough to keep us engaged without resorting to gimmicks. Even more so than in the first book, these elements should hold great appeal for lovers of J. R. R. Tolkien and George R. R. Martin.
            Hammons writes a tightly constructed, efficient narrative with an insistent pace and the syntax and rhythms of his dialogue gives a strong sense of the different cultures from which his characters come. It is clear from his descriptions that he knows this world well.
            Similar to the first book, there are well-executed “reveals” and plot turns and the ending makes the reader anxious to read the next book(s) in the series.           
As I did with Unheard Of, I heartily recommend The Silent Sound to readers in their early teens to adults. The beautifully rendered maps by Zeyan Zhang (who also did the cover) and a Glossary make it easy to keep track of the detailed world Hammons presents us with, and present opportunities for reading clubs to engage with the books and the timely, relevant social, economic, and politic questions they explore.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

All We Need is Love: A Review of P. S. Bartlett’s Fireflies

(Mythos [Imprint of GMTA Publishing, 2013, fifth anniversary edition), ISBN: 978-0-615754-28-4

We live in an age of flash. An age of CGI and ultra-action in our storytelling that breeds endless comic-book films with flimsy stories and one-dimensional heroes causing brain-jarring explosions.
            In many ways, publishing has followed suit, filling the stacks with dark visions of horror and title after title full of violence and sex attempting to keep afloat paper-thin story structure and one-dimensional heroes and heroines.
            So it is very refreshing to read a novel like P. S. Bartlett’s Fireflies. A novel that tells, simply and elegantly, the story of a family’s love. Now, don’t get me wrong—there is violence, and sex, and there is even a supernatural series of events involving a 6-year-old boy, Ennis, and his abilities to heal through the help of what is believed to be angels.
            But at the heart of this adventure, which takes place in 1881 in rural Pennsylvania, are the complex relationships of Irish immigrants Owen and Sarah Whelan and their seven children, several of whom are courting.
            Bartlett’s story structure is sound and evenly paced, and she handles the varying degrees of Irish brogue in the family with dexterity. There is just enough to give an authentic flavor to the dialogue without bogging the reader down.
            As in any small town, then and now, there are an abundance of secrets and a wide array of dark hearts and diseased characters. But they serve as obstacles and to raise the stakes rather than to merely shock and artificially drive the narrative.
            With an abundance of sub-plots, including periodic glimpses into the past lives and loves of Owen and Sarah, it is not completely clear who the central character is, although their daughter Teagan, with her aspirations to be a doctor like her father and brother and independent attitude certainly fits the bill.
            I mentioned that there is a supernatural element. The biggest surprise and therefore the greatest strength of Bartlett’s novel is that I found myself fully invested in the more magical, sacred elements of the story and I believed the ending explanation without question.
            Fireflies touches the heart without being saccharine or overblown in its belief in the boundless power of love. Sacrifice is a matter of family honor and community necessity. No one sets out to be a hero. The Whelans are by and large innocents, in the way the Waltons were. And speaking of classic television, for fans of Highway to Heaven, Touched by an Angel, and Ghost Whisperer [before it went off the rails and become about other things than the unwavering love of the husband and wife despite her abilities] you can’t do any better.
            More and more—whether it be my reaching my mid-40s or as an antidote for all of the flash and flimsiness of so much modern storytelling, I am compelled to tout the value of books like Bartlett’s.  Although I am Italian and not Irish, the synergy of the immigrant family making the most of their chances in America by sticking together and honoring fundamental family values speaks to me. I miss my grandparents and great-grandparents. I miss the big family gatherings where food was a central element and your place in the family was earned over time in minor but meaningful ways such as getting to sit at the “big people’s” table or being dealt a hand at the penny-ante poker games later in the evening.
            The Whelans spoke to me across time and nationality.
            My one wish is that an editor’s eye has the opportunity to look over the manuscript to clean up some of the typos. The cover, typesetting and overall design are appealing and professional and the writing is so strong that little things like a misspelled word or misplaced punctuation tend to stick out.

            If you are in the market for a simple tale well told, with well-drawn characters and a compelling story, then Fireflies will not disappoint you.