Alternate fiction: Otherwise Perfect

Jesse and Wes are college seniors and best friends who have seen each other through it all. But when tragedy strikes Jesse’s family during the holiday season, his severe depression returns and threatens to tear their friendship apart. Wes is determined to save Jesse’s life no matter what it takes. But how do you show someone what their life is worth?

When I first set out to write this story, I almost did not go through with it. I did not think it would ever have a market, and after lots of researching, I realized a market for this story didn’t even exist. This was actually my wake-up call to write the story and publish it myself.

Why doesn’t this book have a market? This is a question that plagued me for a long time, a question I didn’t have a real answer to. It was fear, I decided in the end, fear of talking openly about mental illness, even though it affects one out of every four people. As a society, we are taught to hide from it. It’s one of those things “you don’t talk about.” Most people would rather talk about religion or politics than utter the word “suicide.”

So, why did I decide to write a story with a main character suffering from depression? Because it is more common than we think it is. Millions of people live with depression every day, but they keep it hidden because that’s what they think they have to do. Depressed people are the same as “normal” people. As human beings, we all want love, acceptance and happiness, and we all deserve it. We all deserve to have our stories told.

While I was writing this story, I asked myself, “What would happen if this character who is depressed tried to commit suicide?” The first answer that popped into my head was disappointing; his friends would likely stop talking to him, not want to be associated with him, or worse, pretend to care. But then I realized that it’s not what I would do. I would listen, be supportive, and most importantly, be present. I created a support system for my character because I believe that’s something everyone should have in their life; true friends.

This is a story about friendship. It’s a story about family. It’s a story about unconditional love, and what it can overcome. While it may never be mainstream, I feel that this novel has the capability to reach not only those who have experienced mental health issues, but the general public as well. I am incredibly proud of this story and I believe it has an important message that I want to spread as far and wide as I can. Perhaps there will always be a stigma around mental health, but I want to do everything I can to break that stigma through fiction.

Jenna L. Hughes

Otherwise Perfect is available in ebook format (Kindle) and paperback. For more information on the novel, reviews and author information, please check out the links below.

Book Review: “Dreaming The Beatles: The Love Story Of One Band And The Whole World” By Rob Sheffield

Dreaming the Beatles finds Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield delving into the cultural impact and musical terrain of the Fab Four. His timing is perfect as his book arrives just in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The world they helped create is forever wrapped nostalgia and  academic scrutiny as fans, writers, critics and bloggers scramble to comprehend and reexamine the band’s legacy and ongoing popularity. In fact, Sheffield embraces all of this noise by sifting through the detritus of distorted facts, myths and legends sparked from the obsessive worldwide phenomena surrounding them.

This may seem like a daunting and thankless task, but Sheffield (who previously authored Love is A Mixtape and Talking To Girls About Duran Duran) eschews the cumbersome by chronicling the band’s worldwide ascent to cultural longevity and boils it down into 35 crisp essays covering various albums, moments, and singles that define who The Beatles were and why they still matter.

As a starter Sheffield cleverly uses the moment in 1957 when John met Paul as a template for explaining the complex relationship between Lennon and McCartney. As he cites, their distinctively different personalities and domestic backgrounds oftentimes exacerbated their quarrels. This yin and yang relationship, although volatile at times, was deeply rooted in a genuine affection between the two, something which Sheffield goes back to repeatedly as a context for their measuring their creative output.

Sheffield also digs into how their music was created musically and philosophically, recognizing that The Beatles never shied away from trying ‘difficult things’ that challenged them as artists. For him The Beatles changed the rules of pop music composition while also taking frequent walks off the plank with their adventurous album production. All of this makes for a fascinating study of how the band absorbed their influences, chewed them up and then siphoned them into their music.

He also adeptly grapples with the multifaceted George Harrison and his influence on the band. Exotic, profound and mystical, Harrison’s contributions have often been unnoticed, which is tragic because his genius helped The Beatles create some of the most intriguing sounds. Labeled as ‘the quiet’ Beatle, we discover Harrison lead a rather lonely existence within the band, which may be partially responsible for the melancholic songs he wrote and sang.

Then there is Ringo. So often dismissed for his adept drumming, he is restored to his proper place in the band and freed from his of comedic confines as the ‘silly’ one. Despite his larger than life presence, Starr could handle the sticks and carry a catchy melody while simultaneously providing a musical anchor with his rhythms and beats which were often offset with his quirky humor. As readers learn, he must have done something right because he married a Bond girl; worked as an actor and director in film; and designed his own furniture line.

Detailing the making of each of their records and how they harnessed a cornucopia of influences into an evolving and progressive sound, Dreaming The Beatles is loaded with interesting bits and pieces about this process. For example, there’s the brilliance of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the critical lovefest for The White Album and the nagging tension surrounding Let it Be and the mess Capitol Records made of the American release of Revolver. 

There also are lots of insightful moments, like the intriguing story of how Paul played drums on Dear Prudence, because Ringo quit. His walkout lasted only two weeks, but it was enough to rattle the remaining three Beatles and plant the collective seed within each of them that nothing lasts forever.

The book also is a time capsule for the author’s own experiences with the music of The Beatles and how it stays with him today. This idea serves as a crux for examining their growing up in working class Liverpool, their early singles and time in India before settling snugly into an exploration of their respective solo careers and post Beatle lives.

Of course any music biography on the band must at least tip its toes in the ocean that is the contentious argument over whether the Beatles or The Rolling Stones were better. Here Sheffield surmises, is the critical point in developing a certain worldview. In essence your personal preference in this debate helps determine what kind of person you turn into.  The aftermath of this silly discourse is that the two bands are forever entangled in a sparring match that will never end.

Charming, informative and affectionate Dreaming The Beatles enthusiastically explores how and why the Liverpool lads conquered the world and why they remain so endearing to the music critic illuminati who use them as a marking pin for comparisons as they endlessly extoll praise upon them. Standing alongside them are generations of fans around the world whose adoration, curiosity and devotion has never wavered.

I get it, there are literally hundreds of biographies, tributes and tomes about The Beatles and you are wondering why this one is so special. Well for starters its format enables the reader to really understand the inner working of the band in the context of their times, revealing glimpses of a world forged from the ingenuity of The Beatles, whose cultural fingerprints are smeared throughout our modern society.

Dreaming The Beatles is a cracking good read recommended for anyone interested in comprehending their why the band continues to reverberate in our psyche today.

Interview: Brad Cox [“Children Of The Program”]

Going on four years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brad William Cox, vocalist for the bands We Love the Underground and Skitzo Calypso, and now author of a novel entitled “Children of The Program” (review).  Additionally, he’s released an album with the same name, and has just completed work on the sequel to that book, called “Children of The Program: Edge of The Fifth Sun,” which is available now.

Brad, it’s a joy to speak to you again.  Let’s jump right into the first question. The “blank page” is a constant struggle for artists of all kinds, but which was more daunting: the blank page of the first novel, or of its sequel?

For me, the first novel was much more difficult, for a variety of reasons.  Being that “Children Of The Program” was intended to be a trilogy, getting started was incredibly daunting.  It’s such a complex story.  In hindsight, the first book is almost the appendix in the series, as it lays out all the ground work and ‘rules’ of The Program.  It’s littered with characters and details.  The new novel is much more linear.  There’s not a ton of bouncing around, like before.  I also tried to make it possible to read the second one without having to read the first, which was a challenge.  So, the ‘blank page’ of the 2nd novel was just like continuing the story – the only real challenge was making it accessible as a first read.

We all know about movie soundtracks, but you and your bandmates in We Love the Underground wrote a novel soundtrack.  Was this always your intention, and did it meet your expectations?

Yes.  It exceeded my expectations.  I tried doing this years ago, but it didn’t pan out, mainly because my writing wasn’t up to par.  The book was called, “Fire in the Hands of an Angel.”  First off, Patrick Sise, Eric McCullough, Joe Ruggiero and Gary Holmes are amazing people and musicians – I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to work with.  We’re all tight, like brothers.  No one bats an eye at tackling bigger projects.  I started recording it, as a solo project, with “Leaving Tonight,” but as the story evolved and I began discussing the concept, everyone was fully on-board.  Eric and I tackled “Back from a Suicide” and then dug into “Paint the Desert with My Heart”, a nod to the Painted Desert.  Much like the novels, the challenge was making the songs accessible, apart from the novel.  If you read the novel, great, it’s that much more fun.  But if you didn’t, that’s OK too!


The last song of the Children of The Underground album is a 12-minute monster entitled “The Creationist,” which makes an appearance on the recent _Intrinity EP along with two other songs: the newly written track, “The Survivalist,” as well as one from Mouthful of Graffiti, “The Isolationist.”  Is this a musical prelude to the new novel?  And would you be so kind as to elaborate on the EP’s title?

_Intrinity can act independently from “Children Of The Program” or in tandem. It follows the life of a struggling artist.  “Children of the Program” does the same, through Neco, but the story around him is obviously much broader and science fiction oriented.  With _Intrinity, there’s the innocence of wanting to create [The Creationist] and the pull from above that forces you forward, followed by the desire to keep your dreams alive [The Survivalist], followed by an inevitable fall [The Isolationist] – in short.  “The Creationist” was included on “Children of the Program” because it’s a chapter in the new novel and because the bird of life [in the book] is referred to as The Creationist or ISIS [not that ISIS].  Its name is derived from the Egyptian god of magic and fertility.  But, as a trilogy of songs, you don’t necessarily need to pair ‘em with the novel to enjoy it.  Creation is a large theme in the first novel.  In some ways, it re-imagines some of the Christian stories.

I don’t want to spoil the first novel for those who have yet to explore it, but I do want to touch on aspects of the story.  Firstly, the twelve characters of the book originate from locations around the globe, though the furthest East it seems to go is Israel.  Within the book, this is based on autonomy, but how did you decide on the origins of these individuals?

I don’t want to spoil anything either, but one thing a lot of the readers figured out [quickly] was that the 12 characters of the first book were modeled after the 12 Tribes of Israel.  So, if you take the first letter of each of their names, you can match ‘em up with a corresponding tribe.  I intertwined a lot of Greek and Egyptian mythology into the book, as well.  So, Icarus was placed in Greece.  Simon Peter was modeled after Simon the Sorcerer and so on.  In most cases, their locations suited the personality I was developing for them, their relevance to my personal life or due to their direct historical ties to a location.   All of the first and last names were scrutinized over.  For example, the bird of death is Than, which is short for Thanatos, the Greek personification of death.  I’d be here all day if I went into each character.  But, I’m sure if you dig in, you’ll figure a lot of it out.  Some things are best left in the shadows…

Developing one personality completely is quite a feat, but you took on twelve to varying degrees.  Who did you have the most fun creating, and who was most challenging?

Dez was hands down my favorite.  I don’t want to give too much away, but he’s such a complex character and clever.  I had nightmares about him as I was creating him and other readers have suggested that he’s popped up in their dreams.  Some have even said that they couldn’t continue reading the book because of him – so, I think I hit the nail on the head with that character.  My character [Neco Baal] was challenging because I was forced to be honest with myself and share a lot of aspects of my personal life.  There are many autobiographical chapters.  They say write what you know, so that’s what got my engines turning.  But, the most challenging character was likely Grayson, because I didn’t realize how instrumental he was going to be in the book until the story began unfolding – that’s when I really got a grasp of his significance.  He’s so ordinary, yet important.  It’s like trying to make vanilla ice cream into rainbow sorbet.  And, I simply can’t leave out the bird, Petey.  Scratch what I said, he might be my favorite.

There’s a good deal of antagonism in the first book, and I’ll admit it came from a direction I wasn’t expecting.  Will the second installment in this series establish a similar cadence of opposition?

The second novel has quite a bit of antagonism, yes – oh, and mysticism.  As you’ve probably noticed in a lot of the Skitzo Calypso artwork, my back tattoo or some of my general points of conversation [online and in blogs], I’m very into Aztec, Mayan and Hopi mythology.  It’s fascinates me.  To be as vague as possible, I tied some of those mythologies into this book.  Actually, Skitzo Calypso’s Ghosts was originally going to be a full-length album called The Skepsis of the 5th Sun.  It was written on the bottom back of the Burning Down an Empire T-shirts, featuring The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa [also referenced in book 1] on the front.  But, when the band lost a key member, we ended up going in a different direction and just doing the EP.  Through these books, I’ve tried t’ tie all the album themes in, one way or another.  That said, I don’t think people will have guessed where this story is going to take ‘em, but the artwork from the first book foreshadows it.  The actual Children Of The Program have a large role in book 2, which I couldn’t get into in book 1 without starting the next installment; it just would have been too much.

With regards to the Hallway of Sorrows, in which our protagonists find themselves at the beginning of the book, does reincarnation always have to come in groups of twelve, or can it occur piecemeal to reach The Program’s objectives?

This is an excellent and important question, due to the complexity of book 1.  Yes, the reincarnation must come in groups of 12.  So, if you know how the first book ends, you’ll be able to infer where The Program currently stands.  Those selected and die without fulfilling The Program are recycled.  Those who complete their mission enter The Beyond [a spiritual nirvana of sorts].  When they’ve all died, or satisfied their calling, the spots of those who entered The Beyond are backfilled through way of the Lottery of Souls and The Program resets.

The first book made some headway towards The Program’s original goal, but there’s still much work to be done.  How much of would you say the new book focuses on old faces versus following developments of the Crystalline?

There were so many characters, even considering the outcomes of some of those in book 1, that you’ll have plenty of familiar faces to follow.  But, there is a heavy emphasis on the Crystalline.  You’ll be happy to know that Petey might make a reappearance.

Is it possible to cheat The Program, either in life or in death?

Anything is possible – but it’s best I leave it at that.

“You either steal their hearts or you capture their imagination.” So, how has the response to your first writing-effort been?

Amazing. People have been incredibly supportive.  As you know, the first run of books needed a little clean-up, but no one really seemed to mind or noticed.  When you’ve spent upwards of a year working on something, everything is magnified.  But, when people are just chillin’ and readin’, I think they tend to overlook a lot of things. The feedback and excitement for a 2nd book has made writing it even more worthwhile.  Suffice it to say, I can’t wait to share “Edge of the Fifth Sun” with planet Earth!

 

Purchase “Children Of The Program” at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Purchase “Edge Of The Fifth Sun” at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Purchase the album(s) at: iTunes | Amazon

For more from Brad Cox, visit:
We Love The Underground: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube
Skitzo Calypso: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter

Haven, Kansas by Alethea Kontis now available

When my wife and I bought TAM a couple of years ago, we wanted to use the site to help shine a light on the artists, writers and creators behind the projects we love. So, it’s with a great swell of pride that I get to talk about “Haven, Kansas,” a new book from New York Times Bestselling Author, Alethea Kontis.

“Haven, Kansas” has taken a long trip from Alethea’s imagination to the book’s published form, and many drafts were read by a lot of her friends over the past decade. This week, the book was finally published in e-book, hardback and paperback formats. It’s a fun, chilling story that feels as if it should be a part of Joss Whedon’s universe.

With Alethea’s permission, we have decided to cross-post a portion of her acknowledgements Patreon post below:

Haven, Kansas started out as a screenplay I wrote over Fourth of July weekend, sometime around 2004. I decided to turn it into a novel in November of 2005 as my first foray into NaNoWriMo. It was the first book I ever finished, clocking in at a little under 40,000 words. Based on comments from my Codex critique partners, I revised it, made it longer. Worked with established authors—dear friends who loved the concept and gave it their blessing—revising it further still. In 2010, armed with more experience after finishing Enchanted, I revised it again. In 2014, based on the recommendations of my agent who loved the manuscript so much she didn’t want to give up on it, I revised it again.

Countless beta readers, countless edits, countless other books and TV shows called Haven, multiple rounds of rejections from every desk in New York because they just couldn’t find a place for it…this little story has been through the ringer. But we live in the future now! At last, I finally have the ability put this long-beloved gem into your hands.

This book has been over eleven years in the making. To thank everyone involved would take another novel. On top of which, two of those original authors who gave their blessing have since passed away.

I am honored to finally share their blurbs with you…

To read the rest, please visit her blog, and you can buy “Haven, Kansas” here:

Paperback, Hardcover, Kindle, Nook, Kobo US

or get a copy signed by the author here.

You can follow Alethea online at all of the places!

aletheakontis.com  |  Patreon  |  Twitter  |  Facebook

Instagram  | YouTube  |  Royal Proclamations

Book Review: Children Of The Program

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Landscapes of torment and suffering flood the imagination.  A blinding white release for a few fortunate souls.  A new life carried upon the wings of birds after lifetimes of death.  Indigo eyes look towards the future.  Author Brad W. Cox has a way with words.  I’ve known this for years, being transported to otherworldly dimensions through his colorful lyrics and their musical accompaniment from bands like Skitzo Calypso and We Love The Underground.  But in Cox’s debut written work “Children Of The Program,” he has embarked upon his most ambitious undertaking to date.  Colorful and filled with mystique, it has all the makings of a page-turner.

The back cover states: “A murderous cult threatens the enlightenment of tomorrow, as 12 strangers, plucked from various parts of the world, are awakened and brought together by a divine calling.”  An enticing tagline, to be sure.  I recently finished this book and I was honestly impressed.  Balancing such a cast of characters as Cox has done here, and giving each of them enough personality to make them feel real, is no easy task.  Admittedly, certain characters carry more weight than others, which helps keep the story moving at a steady pace.  Most noticeably is Neco, who is the only member of the 12 who is portrayed in first person narration, providing an easier avenue for emotional connection.  In his most dire of moments, I found myself extremely curious as to what his future held.  I carried that same interest for the antagonist of the work, who is equal measures enigma and allure.  While I found the person’s motive strange, it stands as a testament that different people are driven by different forces.  We are dynamic animals, which Cox has tried to portray in vivid strokes.

What is it about this book that makes it worth reading?  While the characters are pleasant, the main focus is the story.  Though there is a slight lull after the introduction, as each player in this game has to be fleshed out, it builds up into a web of intrigue.  Twelve strangers, drawn together by a supernatural force, embark upon a unified mission that is quickly staggered by malcontent.  It features love, conspiracy, and more than one murder most foul.  This novel takes the idea of “the children are our future” to a new extreme.  Join Neco and his 11 cohorts as they embark upon one hell of a ride, from the Painted Desert to the corners of the Earth, in order to save the world.

P.S. – We Love The Underground, the band fronted by Cox, is set to release a companion soundtrack that will share the same name as the novel.  That album will be ready in time for the release party on 1.23.16.  If you are in the Baltimore, MD area, be sure to join them!

Buy “Children Of The Program” at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

You might be interested in our previous interview with Brad Cox.

For more on Children Of The Program, visit:
Official Website
Goodreads
Facebook – Children Of The Program
Facebook – Brad W. Cox
Facebook – We Love The Underground
Facebook – Skitzo Calypso

“Shrieks and Shivers From The Horror Zine” is out now

Post Mortem Press and The Horror Zine have teamed up to release the new horror anthology “Shrieks and Shivers From The Horror Zine.”

Filled with original stories from “masters of the macabre,” including William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run), John Russo (Night of the Living Dead) and Joe McKinney (“Flesh Eaters”), “Shrieks and Shivers…” is available now in paperback, Kindle and Nook formats.

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The complete table of contents:

  • FOREWORD by Bentley Little
  • A WORD ABOUT ZOMBIES: Slow Zombies, Fast Zombies and Zombies that Play Trombones by John Russo
  • TAPEWORM by Martin Rose
  • OLD HAUNTS by Nathan Robinson
  • “I’LL BE WATCHING” by William F. Nolan
  • NAILS IN YOUR COFFIN by Rachel Coles
  • PETE’S BIG BREAK by Joe McKinney
  • THEM by James Marlow
  • STASH HOUSE by Shaun Meeks
  • THE SAMPLE by Ray Garton
  • HARD RAIN by Bruce Memblatt
  • SQUATTERS by Elizabeth Massie
  • I STILL LIVE by Wayne C. Rogers
  • CENTER STAGE SIDESHOW by Christian A. Larsen
  • STALKER by Tim Jeffreys
  • FOR SHE IS FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE by Tim Waggoner
  • RAMPART by Amy Grech
  • SOMNIPHOBIA by P.D. Cacek
  • FUNERAL MEATS by Kristen Houghton
  • TRANSPOSITION by Jason V. Brock
  • THE LAST BOTTLE by Dean H. Wild
  • THE WOODS by Nicholas Paschall
  • THE HOTEL SAN DIGOT by Joseph Rubas
  • DADDY’S GIRL by Lisa Morton
  • BLURRED by Matthew Nichols
  • THE HOUSE by Jonathan Chapman
  • THE NEST by Cory Cone
  • REFLECTOR EYES by Garrett Rowlan
  • WHAT HAPPENED IN VEGAS… by Rena Mason
  • PRIVATE FRANKS by Gary Robbe
  • ONE LAST TWEET by Eric J. Guignard
  • BECAUSE WHAT IS MINE IS MINE by Tom Piccirilli
  • CHICKEN by Geoff Nelder