Trace & Solomon: Torrington

Review by Noggy Splitfoot and Lola Silkysocks

Available at: AmazonAmazon CanadaKobo

Trace & Solomon: Torrington

Welcome to Torrington, Alberta. A wide spot in the blacktop, home to the world-famous Gopher Hole Museum above, and a massive convergence of mystical energy below. When a rogue exorcist acquires a soul translocating relic, the Vatican reluctantly – very reluctantly – turns to the only mercenaries capable of taking it back. The hard-drinking, double-crossing, catastrophe-courting mercenaries that sold it to him in the first place.

Trace and Solomon ought to know better. Church work is always a handshake with the Devil, but this time there’s more than money on the line, and it forces them to question what matters most. In this life, and the next.


Noggy Splitfoot: So, why are we interrupting my day drinking again?

Lola Silkysocks: It would be nice if you took our first paying gig seriously, and it’s 10am for Christ’s sake.

N: You got paid?

L: You didn’t? Nevermind. This is the part where we disclose that in exchange for unspecified remuneration, we are providing a fair and unbiased book review that doesn’t “violate community standards” whatever that means.

N: Okay, so it’s a grey market review. Fair and unbiased is overrated. I think I read that in a book, a philosophy book, or maybe it was a Wikipedia article. Everyone lies about these sorts of things. Objectivism is dead.

L: We’re reviewing a book, not objectivism. Focus.

Speaking of grey area, this is a long short story, or a short novella, or something in those murky waters. I can see why they self-published, not like anyone else would.

N: So, short enough to lack guts and long enough to get boring?

L: You can read it in half an hour is what I’m saying. That was probably my favourite part. 

N: Well, the cover has occult symbols and a beaver on it, so I’m thinking it’s about possessed nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodents.

L: Sigh…Noggy, did you read the book?

N: Well, I skimmed the introduction, which made absolutely zero sense, if that’s what you’re asking.

L: You disappoint me, Splitfoot.

N: Because I have better things to do? What are they even paying you? Twenty bucks?

L: No one here is proud. Go read. I’ll wait.

N: Fine. BRB

30 minutes later…

L: Nog?

3 days later…

N: Wow, what the hell did I just read? Not even one beaver.

L: Congratulations on finishing the equivalent of an I Can Read book.

N: Looks like Torrington is a real place. Like a prison for undead Richardson’s ground squirrels and other unwanted farm things.

L: The book is like From Dusk ‘til Dawn meets Little House on the Prairie, except Ma and Pa are evil Catholic clergy, the kids are rabid vermin, and Clooney and Tarantino are a trashy couple of grifters on a perpetual road trip in their shitty Winnebago.

N: The bar in the story didn’t have Salma Hayek. Or Machete.

L: Minus a star for that alone. But I like the idea of an evil ashtray that can capture your soul and funnel it into someone or something else

N: Sure, I guess. What kind of cigarettes would Jesus smoke do you think?

L: Had to have been weed. I mean, no one loves everyone, not that much. But back to the story. Did you find anything…familiar about these characters?

N: I guess Trace and Solomon are sort of like us, only Solomon is a lot older and uglier. Like who wears Hawaiian shirts, likes 80’s rock, and drives a 70’s era Winnebago? Not very relatable if you ask me.

L: Yes, he is 100% unlike you in every conceivable way, and Trace is way more dedicated than I am. That’s a lot of hassle just to get an ashtray back from an evil exorcist. I would have abandoned the quest and gone for tacos.

N: The quest is the whole point, dummy. The story is about Trace and Sol getting to Torrington. They need to gather wards and stuff so they can’t be soul swapped. You see a lot of what their relationship is like.

L: Yeah, about that. Why are they even together? They fight all the time and screw… everything up. They’re going to get each other killed sooner or later. Reminds me of the time we got drunk under a bridge skipping stones and you hit a duck.

N: I’m a hell of a lot luckier than Sol, that’s all I’m going to say about that! At least I didn’t try to catch a duckling for a pet. Trace though, she needs a pet something fierce.

L: A lady needs something fuzzy to cuddle in the night. Speaking of…that sex scene in the graveyard was kinda yikes.

N: Sol finally got to pet a beaver.

L: You mean he got attacked by a badger?

N: Right, that.

L: Why would you pet a beaver?

N: Beaver/Badger, point is these authors are sadistic perverts.

L: They do seem to have an axe to grind. Against the church, flightless birds, and humanity in general. Everyone in this story deserves to be ground into hog feed.

N: At least that feels real! So, what was your favourite part?

L: When the 50-foot gopher attacks downtown Torrington. That was badass.

N: Clem T. GoFur!

I liked the crossroads demon scene. I hope they market Carl plushies. They’d sell dozens, probably make a hell of a lot more than selling eBooks.

L: Yeah, like who is this book even for? I was expecting Christian Tentacle Romance and got this trash. An occult heist story loaded with violence and sex and blasphemy.

N: I don’t even know what genre this is supposed to be. Weird Crap? Probably shouldn’t give it a name. Names have power.

But since they’re sort of paying us, well you, I can’t say it’s bad. I’m also not going to say it’s good. Twenty bucks is worth two stars I guess.

L: -1 Flame. Took too long to arrive in the mail and didn’t look like the picture.

N: We’re doing flames, right, totally forgot about that. They go negative? I thought we reserved imaginary numbers for poets and astrophysicists?

L: Rock bottom is for quitters, and these two brought shovels.

N: I do see they labeled it as #1 in a series

L: One more than anyone asked for, so I guess I’ll close us out on that note of despair. And since I’ve got $20 burning a hole in my skirt, I say we go to Arby’s.


?/5

Detonation #14 – Such Times

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield


“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I’ve always loved those lines, and they’ve never been more apt. Such times indeed, and so true. We all have to decide what to do with the time that is given us.

So, of course, we’re totally wasting it. And I’m not talking about the last couple of months, trapped in our homes and clinging to sanity with alcohol and Netflix. Nobody is going to begrudge a little demotivation and aimlessness right now. It’s an unusual and uncertain glitch in the matrix.

But it will end and there will be a new normal. What will you do then? Try to wiggle back into your old life? Because, really, who’d want to live in those boring old times, doing the same thing day after day, year after year, living on the dying carcass of global free market capitalism? 

Well, regular people, I guess. And there’s no shortage of them. In fact, in an informal poll where I browsed both Facebook and Twitter for a six and half hours every day for ten years, it was obvious that a majority of social media users, which is to say everyone on the entire planet, is so bored and boring and unenlightened they’ve outsourced their life to a drinking bird. Like clockwork, the bird dips and another meme blasts forth, another tweet is retweeted, and the noise cloud that is our reality gets slightly noisier.

Of course, at the moment, most of this is complaining or fist shaking. Life is shit. You’re making my life shit. Don’t you know you shouldn’t do this? That you can’t do that? And now, because people are nasty, we have snitch lines. Is this the fucking Spanish Inquisition? If you see a few people walking down the street, less than two meters apart, don’t fucking call the cops. Don’t write letters to the editor. Don’t complain about it on Facebook. Look, I get it, I do. Every time I wander out to the park for some fresh air, there are milling groups of people with t-shirts that say “Oh no, the Economy” or “Cull the Weak.” Every time I go to the grocery store I see people going the wrong direction down clearly marked aisles. Makes me wish I’d brought the woodchipper. But I smile and wave and maneuver far around them. I don’t call the cops. Or complain. At least about that, complaining about complainers currently consumes most of my free time.

Damn the irony.


Right. Interesting times, which doesn’t have to be a curse. I’d posit that if you pull your head out of the social media Khazad Dum, you’ll notice there’s a damn remarkable world both inside and out worth writing about.

And I’m not talking about poetry.

Please do not write personal plague poetry, or as Lola so elegantly puts it, “Poetic observations of a nature so shallow they appear to be fathomless.” I’m not saying it’s impossible to write decent poetry about living in your kitchen, baking bread, and calling the cops on some poor neighbor who happens to break the two-meter rule, but… yeah, it is. Same goes for plague prose. Give it time. Give it a year or two. If we need to flatten the curve on ANYTHING, it’s to make sure everyone doesn’t write about the exact same thing happening to everyone, regardless of how much nightmare fuel is being poured on the fire. You think the emergency wards are taxed now? Wait until everyone is forced to read about the horrors, or possibly pleasures, of social distancing, or about what happened to all the toilet paper.

No.

There are far better uses for that pent-up wellspring of emotion, both now and into the new normal. Whether your life is currently a smoking crater, or not, you’re experiencing something novel that hasn’t happened in a hundred years and probably won’t happen like this again. There’s a lot of passion out there, generated by wanting to see other people punished for doing things you don’t understand aren’t technically against the law. Capture that passion. Capture the fear. Capture the determination to make them pay by killing or torturing them in your next story.

Let that passion infuse your work.

When this does end, don’t flush that passion away and go back to your old life. You only have so much time, you know, and you’ve probably wasted enough of it writing poetry.


Detonation #12 – Subversion Recursion

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield


Readers expect if they pick up the twenty-second volume of their favourite thriller series it’ll be more of the same, a creaky wheezing corpse dragging itself forward with rotting fingerbones. These sorts of books are where the money is. The boilerplate of the industry. Month after month, year after year, these books are churned out assembly line style for the public to ingest, absorbing three sad calories of literary enjoyment, before shitting them into the trash or closest used bookstore. 

It’s an ugly cycle. At some point people started buying these books based on firehose marketing and celebrity endorsements and in response more books were written to cater to those buying tastes, ad infinitum. It’s not a secret, far from it, authors know there is a certain magic formula that if they are talented enough, or lucky enough, to master, they can join the ranks of the serializers.

Not just the serials either, the entire mass market oozes sameness. The books look the same, the titles sound the same, the plots are indistinguishable except for the anti-hero’s cup size and eye colour — blue steel or smoky aluminum. Writing by rote. Writing by formula. Everyone wants to be the next James Patterson or Steven King or J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin. Rich and famous, with terrible movie adaptions and mansions full of dirty money sex dungeons.

Hmm, that actually doesn’t sound so bad. Where the hell was I going with this again?

Oh right, total lack of imagination in the pursuit of sell out success.


The ability to conjure ideas from the billion facets of existence and assemble them into unique works of music, art, and writing is a superpower with unlimited potential, so it really grinds my gears when writers, who have the entire universe of possibilities to play with, take the same old tired elements and assemble them in bloody identical ways. Sure, they may brighten or darken the paint some, and give the work a clever name and twist the marketing, but it’s typically a clone of a seminal work, and a shittier one at that.

Stories in a particular genre and sub-genre are going to have similar and even required elements. A murder mystery, by definition is going to have some sort of murder and quite possibly a mystery. A thriller should thrill. Noggy loves heist stories. Lots of people love zombie or werewolf stories, half the world either loves or hates vampire stories, traditional or glittery. There are haunted house stories, cosmic horrors, cryptids, occult detectives, you name it. Some sub-genres are narrow, some are wide, but they instill a little order to chaos that is the literary landscape. As I mentioned, there is an expectation that if you pick up a book in that sub-genre it should actually, you know, not be false advertising.

That’s not what my little rant is about though. What I am talking about are overused tropes and by-the-number formulaic bullshit. 

Sure, it’s easy to write yet another school for bizarre weirdos novel, packed with bullies and not-so secret secrets and angry, clueless teachers — sorry teachers, you know how it is. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Does every supernatural detective story, mine included, need to pay homage to a certain hard drinking, chain smoking, trench coat and fedora wearing reprobate from the 30’s? Does every epic fantasy novel have to involve an orphan from a purged royal family who grows up to be an assassin with legendary abilities because their father was king of the horny gods? Does every single heist series have to start with a book that’s entirely about putting a misfit, yet oddly exceptionally uniquely talented crew together?

FUCK NO.

Subvert those tropes. Do it!

We already discussed in a previous episode that if you want to write, you need to read. Period. And it often helps to read the sort of stories you want to write. Subverting tropes requires intimate knowledge of them. You need to know where the boundaries are and what you can twist, and hollow out and fill with explosives, and, in the end, completely break.

Does your haunted house story require a gothic New England farmhouse complete with a vengeful revenant left over from the original occupant’s penchant for baby ear soup? Nope. There are a thousand elements ripe for subversion. And I’m not talking easy ones like making the house a brownstone apartment in Manhattan and the ghosts aliens. Who says the house needs to be a regular house? And who says the ghosts have to be regular ghosts? I’m not saying write a story about a construction site porta-potty possessed by ghost pepper hot wings, but I’m also not, not saying that.

Find an angle, run naked with it. You know you can. Don’t be afraid that you’ll never get published by the big five, or one of their imprints, and get that sex dungeon. Write weird, terrible shit, that has its own unique soul and flavour, and take that unoriginal WIP, wrap it in a tarp and stash it under the Aztek’s trunk liner next to the trencher and gasoline in anticipation of the next wolf moon and a satisfying internment.

It’s for the best, it really is.


Unnerving Magazine Issue #12 – Eddie Generous

All things change. Some frequently, some not, but it’s good to shake it up once and awhile, see where it takes you. With this latest issue, at the solid dozen mark, Unnerving Magazine does just that. Beyond dark tales of horror and accompanying non-fiction articles and commentary, we’re now blessed with a wide variety of shiny new toys including columns and comics and interviews and book reviews. Let’s dig in, shall we.

Danger’s Failed Film Pitches: This issue has not one, but two hilarious bites of pure, unadulterated Danger Slater giving us a peek at what really goes on in the world of A-List movie pitching. A gift, really, perfect bookends.

First Horror Features: Richard Chizmar, Cat Rambo and Daniel Kraus dish on their earliest horror memories. It’s always cool to see what formative influences authors have.

Too Stubborn to Quit: Eddie has a new column providing hard-learned wisdom on all things writing related – starting with cold story openings. If you want to know how to hook a submissions editor when they’re plowing through an enormous slush pile, this one’s for you.

Cancer and Creativity: A great interview with William Meikle about getting his life and writing jump started after a battle with cancer. William is one of my Rob’s go-to authors for supernatural detectives and cosmic horror, so it’s great to hear that William’s come out on top of it all.

Reviews: A solid collection of novel and anthology reviews including The Skin Factory by Lucas Pederson, which we’re definitely going to be picking up after reading about it.

Jacques: A mini-comic by Eddie and TovanSakura. Not going to spoil it, but it made us laugh.


And some great fiction, of course. Here are some two sentence thoughts:

“Here There be Spyders” by Graham Watkins

Sometimes you have to face your greatest fear. And undoubtably devour it.

“Circle of Lias” by Lawrence C. Connolly

 Is there anything sweeter than a honey-bun? A box of honey-buns!

“It Gets Blacker” by H. Pueyo

And very dark. And deep. An excellent short piece that doesn’t involve eating, but that’s okay.

“Black Brothel: Haunted Holes” by Renee Miller

Well, there’s something strange about Mary. And while ravenous, we’re no longer at all hungry.

 “A Friend in Paga” by Brent Michael Kelley

We’d kill, or worse, for a solid night’s sleep. How about you?


So all in all an excellent refresh, well worth picking up for an extremely reasonable few bucks a year. And while you’re at it, check out the Unnerving Podcast and Unnerving’s fiction offerings.

5/5

About the Editor: Eddie Generous

Eddie Generous is the author of many books, including Savage Beasts of the Arctic Circle, Rawr, Radio Run, Great Big Teeth, and Trouble at Camp Still Waters from Severed Press, Plantation Pan from Omnium Gatherum Books, and numerous story collections. He is the founder/editor/publisher/artist behind Unnerving and Unnerving Magazine, and the host of the Unnerving Podcast. He was born in Ontario, Canada and now lives on the Pacific Coast of Canada with his wife and their cat overlords.

In Dreams We Rot – Betty Rocksteady

Wow! I feel like I’m a little late to the party on this one, but you know what, the collection is timeless so no matter. I’d seen it bouncing around on social media of course, but it wasn’t until I was catching up on Ink Heist and caught the episode from last November where Betty was talking to Rich about Boy Meets World of all things, that I decided I’d wasted enough time, so I picked it up and dove in.

And yes, wow. I love my horror… well, horrible. As horrible as possible. Full of eye twitching sex and crowbar to the head violence and those little edges that make you feel like having a shower if you didn’t know something wasn’t waiting behind the curtain to siphon out your brain through a straw and fry up your liver without proper medical credentials. Nothing wrong with psychological horror of course, but you can’t beat worrying that the concrete corner you’ve wedged yourself into might not be as impenetrable as you thought. These stories deliver that and more. Weird fucked up dreams, weirder fucked up sex, copious amounts of blood and pretty much every sort of bodily fluid pooling around bits of furry chunks both real and imaginary.

Also, cats.

Cats, as any cat lover knows, are sinister. Alien. Predatorial. Biding their time while plotting world domination. And there’s a ton of cats in these stories. And bones. And art. Betty’s a fantastic artist and obviously had a lot of fun with it, though I’ll probably never look at elephants the same way ever again. So, pretty much perfect.

My favourites? I’m going to with These Beautiful Bones, where basement art takes on a sex life of its own, Root Rot where yeah, we’ve all had a bad hookup, but not THIS bad, Postpartum… having recently visited the Torrington Gopher Hole museum where they exhibit stuffed gophers in domestic environments I totally both get it and am scared shitless, and Larva, Pupa, Moth, where next time you think about scratching that itch, bring a hammer.

So if you haven’t picked it up, brave the quarantine apocalypse and hit your local indie bookstore, curl up under a monster proof blanket in front of a chimney searing fire with your cat, and prepare to be terrified.

5/5

About the Author: Betty Rocksteady

Betty Rocksteady writes cosmic sex horror, cat mythos, and surreal, claustrophobic nightmares.

Her debut novella Arachnophile was part of Eraserhead Press New Bizarro Author Series 2015. Like Jagged Teeth and The Writhing Skies were released by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. The Writhing Skies was voted Novella of the Year by This Is Horror Awards 2018.

Publisher: Trepidatio Publishing

Detonation #9 – First Impressions

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.

***

People are boring, living their monochrome little lives at their monochrome shitty jobs in their sad monochrome existences. Endless lists. Vague descriptions. Random numbers.

Devoid of personality.

How do I know? Because Noggy just spent the last two days reading hundreds of resumes, that’s why. And if I have to judge people, which I’m emphatically willing to do whether I get paid to do it or not, then I’m going to give it to you straight. What the absolute fuck? Does anyone ever take a step back, look at their resume, and think “Wow, amazing! I’m amazing. People are going to read this and shit themselves trying to hire me.”

Short answer: NO.

There’s blame to go around of course, all the job site optimizers and expert self-help influencers that tell you how to game the system. How to include every damn industry buzzword, stat, skill, tool, process, and methodology which, I discovered, almost always involve the word ‘cucumber’, so to better fool the modern yet stupid AI enhanced job placement fit scanners. These sorts of resumes don’t give you an actual picture of the person you’re looking to hire, they’re more like D&D character sheets without the bio and background part filled in.

But I guess there’s no room for colour when the ‘experts’ insist on mashing your life into a single page, reducing ALL resumes to the SAME resume. Which means that once it does get picked out of the labour carnival bin-o-fun by the claw and deposited on my donut crumb crusted desk, I get riled up enough to write another one of these fucking articles.

Look, I’m not saying you ARE necessarily boring, but your public business persona probably is. All I ask is that you find ways, even simple and subtle ways, to give me some idea about who you are and why I should spend any energy hiring you. Give me an interest, give me something you’re proud of that doesn’t involve this particular capitalist self-sacrifice. Present yourself differently. Show personality. If I see a flicker of light, where you casually mention in your soft skills section, that you’re drilling a hole to the hollow earth in order to find a dinosaur husband to add to your polyamorous collective, I can guarantee, given a minimal required skill set, that I’ll be booking an interview.

***

I’m sure you’re asking what the fuck this has to do with writing and why the hell you forced yourself to suffer through four hundred words of old man yelling at clouds?

Everything. It’s exactly the bloody same.

I have a question for you.

“How do you present yourself to first time readers?”

Unless you are already an established author with a solid fan base, or a true phenom, you’re constantly mining for one of the most valuable commodities on the planet. I’m talking, of course, about attention. Every author desires it. Every author strives for it. Few get more than a few grains, sluiced from the meandering, braided river of current public trends and interests. A river brimming with other prospectors, elbows up, trying to stake their claim and eek out a passable existence, hoping to hit the mother lode and strike it rich.

Let’s, for the sake of simplicity, focus on one particular type of author: the eager up and comer, one with a couple of stories ‘out there’ in the weird wide world, one who doesn’t have an agent or a contract or a big-name publisher. An indie author. Our aspiring literary star wants to gain attention, has to gain attention if they don’t want to get washed away.

As with resumes, authors fling themselves and their creations into the world. They toss the dynamite and thousands, if not millions, of eyes see the resulting explosion.

Boom!

Then what?

There are a couple of co-mingled elements at play here. The author and their writing. Not the same thing, though they eventually merge together as time goes on.

But the important part is the First Impression.

So, I ask again, “how do you present yourself to first time readers?” When they pick up your book and lick the cover, fondle the spine, devour the backmatter, gape at your bio, and leaf through a few pages, what impression are you leaving? Does your bio invoke awe? Does your writing speak for you, providing amazeball feelings? When they come across you on social media or your website or at book events or conventions, do they think “Holy fucking shit, this author is the cat’s ass, I want to be them, I want to be with them, I might even read their book if I can get it on sale.”?

You’d better hope so.

Every second another hardscrabble author picks up their pan and wades into the mayhem working on just that. Sure, you can slave away, slowly building up your claim, and maybe, just maybe you’ll eventually get lucky or at least modestly successful. But if you wait for a break or let poor work speak for itself, it may be a long dreadful bitter life.

So do yourself a favour, take a step back, look at your resume and make it as fucking interesting as possible, even if it’s only eighty percent honest. Oh, and don’t forget the cucumber.