Square Pig in a Round Hole-June 19, 2021

I’m taking a break this weekend from the celebration of band names in order to participate with the Writing Against the Darkness team in The Longest Day, a dawn-to-dusk fundraising event for the Alzheimer’s Association. The team will gather virtually at 5:26 am on Saturday, June 19 to work together on our own writing projects until about 9:00 pm, when we will total and report our combined word count. (The official Longest Day is Sunday, June 20, but we’re doing our event on Saturday so the dads on the team will be free to celebrate Father’s Day.) Last year, we churned out about 89,000 words and raised about $5000 for Alzheimer’s research, care, and support. We hope to beat both those numbers this year!

And … we’re also giving away books! All donors to any team member will be entered in a drawing for their choice from a selection of books by participating authors. Donors to my fundraiser will also be entered to win my Daughter of Magic trilogy: signed paperback copies of Daughter of Magic, Wizard Girl, and Death’s Midwife.

Learn more and donate here.

I’ll be back next week with more band names. As ever, wash your hands, wear your mask, get your vaccine, and if you are able, please buy music and merch while we wait for a better day.

Two last things before you go:

  1. My new thing in 2021 is The Rage Brigade, a Facebook group for conversation about fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, and music (and the intersections thereof). If that sounds like fun, come join us here.
  2. I share highlights from this blog in my quarterly author newsletter, The Storypunk Report, as well as news of what I’m writing and reading, upcoming events, and other goodies, including “Wizard in the Mosh Pit,” an exclusive short story just for subscribers. Click the link to check out the first ten issues and subscribe here for future issues. (Or just follow the blog for your weekly dose of band names.)

Review: Denial Kills

Denial Kills: An Anthology of Poetry and Short Fiction (Not A Pipe Publishing, 2021)

In these pages, authors and poets point us to the dangers of refusing to see what is right before our eyes. Editors Viveca Shearin, Zack Dye, and Benjamin Gorman bring you the works of Jessica Mehta, Lydia K. Valentine, Kaia Valentine, Claudine Griggs, Ayodele Nzinga, T. J. Berg, Zach Murphy, Joanna Michal Hoyt, Simon J. Plant, Huda Tariq, Ndaba Sibanda, Sarah Jane Justice, Fable Tethras, Joann Renee Boswell, Eric Witchey, Janet Burroway, Mike Jack Stoumbos, Koraly Dimitriadis, Heather S. Ransom, Kate Maxwell, and Bethany Lee. New York Times bestsellers and those published for the first time, from across the United States and around the world, come together to question, explore, illuminate, and demystify.

FDR told us we have nothing to fear but fear itself. But there is another sinister threat that can be deadly. Denial, when allowed to fester, can have serious consequences. For example, a woman who refuses to see the ugly truth about her doomed engagement can end up trapped in a miserable marriage. A wife who refuses to accept that her husband is unfaithful can find herself confronted by his lover, by her own jealousy, and by her own willful ignorance. Denying women the rights to their own bodily autonomy can cost us our happiness, our sanity, and our lives. Denial can take many forms. And when one isn’t careful, denial can most surely kill.

Available on Bookshop.org HERE.

Available on Powell’s in hardcover HERE and in paperback HERE.

Available on Barnes and Noble HERE.

Available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

My review:

Once again, an anthology from Not A Pipe Publishing provides a diverse array of responses to the theme. This time, we see denial in all its forms, whether personal or societal: about trauma, about cancer, about racism, about relationships that aren’t what they appear. About the fragility of freedom, about who belongs in Heaven, about dementia. About education, about “how we’ve always done things.”  Some takes are bitter, others almost sweet when it isn’t too late to change course.

Every piece is strong and worth a read. Here are four that made a lasting impression on me:

“Motherhood” by Fable Tethras follows a pregnant teenager as she is detained in a prison/school/hospital for those who would terminate their pregnancies or who are not deemed suitable to raise a child once it is born. It was chilling to watch the protagonist’s choices limited and limited again even as she dreamed of a possible new life after pregnancy.

“The 100th Heroine” by Heather Ransom opens like a slasher movie, then soothes with the revelation that the character is taking part in a theatrical re-enactment of a historical event. Horror returns as more is revealed about this annual event, until the rug is pulled out one more time.

“Oracles” by Janet Burroway is an elegantly told tale of a young woman intellectual in the 1950s, misreading the signs about her own future with the fellow intellectual she hopes to marry.

“Scorched Earth” by Zack Dye layers present-day climate-change denial under a story of domestic disharmony and reconciliation set in a future when agricultural land is burned on a regular schedule to prevent wildfires. Two burns, five years apart, provide the backdrop to one family’s small dramas as they prepare to evacuate.

I received an advance review ebook from the publisher.

Review: Once Upon a Fang in the West

Once Upon a Fang in the West by John Dover (Not A Pipe Publishing 2021)

The Braided Pony saloon is no stranger to gun fire and blood stains on the floor. But when a mysterious gunslinger turns up dead in Ruby’s room, it’s up to the town’s drunken sheriff to investigate. Lucky for him, Samuel, a fast-talking vampire, arrives looking to settle a score and attempting to resurrect his dead friend. Now they’re on the hunt across the rocky plains of the Wild West to recover the life that was stolen.

Available on Barnes and Noble HERE.

Available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

My review:

The name of the town is the first clue that this isn’t your typical Western. The frontier outpost of Thrall has all the expected accoutrements: saloon complete with rotgut whiskey and ladies of the night; livery stable, mercantile, schoolhouse, and church; drunken sheriff haunted by a past mistake; mysterious stranger; oh, and vampires.

Samuel, an ancient vampire and necromancer, is hunting something worse, a monster that preys on his kind and humans. He has tracked it to Thrall and persuades the sheriff to join the hunt by freeing him from the ghost that has haunted him for 15 years. With nothing better to do, the ghost comes along for the ride. Samuel resurrects Finn, a powerful vampire with whom he has a complicated relationship. There follows a lot of ridin’ and shootin’ and bloodshed.

I enjoyed Dover’s assured use (and subversion) of the expected tropes of both Western and horror fiction. The characters are developed well beyond cardboard, yet remain true to their roles. I was particularly fond of Jesse, the ghost of a youth cut off before manhood, who uses his afterlife to learn and grow and see the world. I also loved the old-fashioned innocence of the chapter titles that baldly state what is coming next while carrying ominous overtones.

Recommended if you like a loving sendup and can stomach oceans of gore.

I received an advance-reader ebook from the publisher.

Review: Brief Black Candles

Brief Black Candles (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020) by Lydia K. Valentine

In her debut collection, Lydia K. Valentine wields precise language and classic poetic forms to lay down hard truths about race and racism in America. Many of the poems (“Brief Black Candles,” “Shot after Shot,” “Ferguson, Missouri USA,” “Speaking in Tongues”) deal directly with the many recent police killings of Black people. Other poems about the joys and sorrows of family and love and ordinary life are touched by the extra burden of living while Black.

Valentine has forged art from her experiences. These poems were challenging for this white reader, but the art illuminated the hard truths so I could see them without flinching away. Recommended for readers willing to look.

Review: GhostCityGirl

GhostCityGirl by Simon Paul Wilson (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020)

Serial killers, starvation cults, and spicy noodles −  just another day in Nihon City.

It’s been one hundred years since Tokyo was ravaged by a ghostquake and talking about the supernatural was forbidden. To escape her unhappy family life and mundane job, Kichi Honda spends her days off visiting Mister Tanaka, an old man who tells her illegal tales of haunted Japan. But when Kichi gets stranded on Level One, she meets an impossible girl who claims to have come from Tokyo.

Kichi learns the truth about what really happened all those years ago … and discovers history is about to repeat itself.

My Review:

This is a ghost story (of the gory variety) and also a heroic origin story. Kichi Honda is a young woman with not much life to speak of. She lives with her mother, a VR TV addict, in an extremely high highrise apartment and works in the meaningless position of mall greeter. But Kichi finds joy where she can, in spicy food, old pop music, and the ghost stories shared by her elderly friend Mr. Tanaka. “Spook talk” has been forbidden by the Department of Paranormal Activity since the Tokyo ghost quake a century before, but Mr. Tanaka is able to keep their conversations secret. Kichi has never seen a ghost and isn’t sure she wants to, but she loves the stories. Then she meets Miaka, a girl who has escaped from Tokyo on a mission to prevent a recurrence of the ghost quake. Kichi and Mr. Tanaka team up with Miaka to stop the world from ending, but the clock is already ticking and things are getting weird.

Kichi is an appealing companion in a story that goes from quirky to spooky to straight-up terrifying. Although frustrated with her home life and government restrictions and surveillance, she retains curiosity, compassion, and a snarky sense of humor. Her interest in a local serial killer and encounters with creepy cultists end up being central to the apocalyptic plot. This is the first book of a trilogy; the cliffhanger ending hints at an even more heroic role for Kichi in future volumes.

I received an advance review ebook from the publisher.

Order your copy today from your local independent bookstore. Find it using IndieBound.org.

Available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Amazon UK HERE.

Available on Barnes & Noble HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

Available on Kindle UK HERE.

Review: Tooth & Claw

Tooth & Claw by Michaela Thorn (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020)

Vampires.

The Man in the Moon’s bloodthirsty children forged from his scorn.

Shifters.

Mother Nature’s fearless, noble servants, who risk death by bite in their constant struggle to keep the vampires at bay.

Macy’s entire life has been devoted to Mother Nature and upholding her glory, despite Macy’s incompetence as a shifter. When she’s bitten by a vampire but doesn’t die from the venom, everything changes. Overnight, she becomes one of the monsters she reviled. Severed from her girlfriend, her people, her home, and her faith, everything is called into question.

And then the Man in the Moon whispers about something even more terrible lurking on the horizon.

My review: Just when I thought there couldn’t possibly be a new take on the YA vampire novel, along comes Tooth and Claw to flip the script. For one thing, it’s not a romance, though there is love. This is a thriller driven by every human emotion, though humans barely appear in the story. This is a tale of justice deferred, with potentially world-ending consequences: timeless, yet perfectly of our times.

Macy is a young wolf shifter about to take the examination that will determine her place in the pack. Her prior attempts went poorly. If she fails a third time, she will be stuck as a lowly omega, separated from her beta girlfriend and an embarrassment to her parents. She’s feeling anxious and useless, and then she’s bitten by a vampire. Everyone knows shifters can’t be turned, so she resigns herself to death. When she regains consciousness as a vampire in a walled vampire coven far from home, she’s not thrilled to be alive. Vampires are the hated enemy that shifters were created to control. How can she be one? Gradually, she makes friends with other young vampires who have their own harrowing stories. Macy begins to question everything she was taught about evil vampires and virtuous shifters as she learns about centuries of cruel domination … and experiences it herself. Then she discovers she is the second of two Prophets. Her annoying new friend Nico is the other, and they are both having dire visions. They will have to work together (with each other, and with other vampires and shifters) to defeat a radicalized rogue vampire and his Wormwood League before he can complete the ritual to bring about the end of the world.

Throughout the page-turner of a story, Thorn paints her scenes with beautiful descriptive language—unusual in a thriller, but understandable when you know she’s also an artist. She also did a lovely job developing the mythologies of the shifter and vampire cultures, the former revolving around Mother Nature and the latter around the Man in the Moon. Shifters can not only transform to wolves, but are born with a Marrow Mark that is more than decorative—it becomes a magical weapon when the shifter makes contact with their Grounding, an ancient shifter spirit residing within but only reachable with effort. Magic is hard won in this world. Macy’s frustration with it is relatable, as is the tale of domination leading to uprising. May we humans learn something from the monsters.

I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher.

Pre-order your copy today from your local independent bookstore. Find it using IndieBound.org.

Available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Barnes & Noble HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

Square Pig in a Round Hole-August 8, 2020

Square PigNaming a band is an act of concentrated creative expression. Square Pig in a Round Hole exists to reward five favorite band names each week. Winners are (usually) listed alphabetically.

Selection is wholly unscientific and subject to whim, with a bias toward wordplay, humor, and local flavor. In most cases, I won’t know anything about the bands at the time of selection. Thanks to the Seattle Times nightlife listings for abundant source material!

SQUARE PIG IN A ROUND HOLE PANDEMIC EDITION #21

What a waste of a cool August weekend! It would have been tolerable to go out to a crowded club, but the choice to go out or not go out is not yet ours to make. Fortunately, I have a generous trove to share of summer-themed band names from the past. Be safe, wear your mask, and please buy these bands’ music and merch while we wait for a better day.

Long Shorts

(July 20, 2019) I love a good oxymoron. On the one hand, which is it? On the other hand, sometimes you don’t want to show your knees, even in summer.

Melt-Banana

(July 4, 2015) It’s so hot, even the fruit is melting! [Serendipitous update: this band gets a name-check in GhostCityGirl by Simon Paul Wilson (coming from Not A Pipe Publishing in October 2020) that I was advance reading mere days after I selected this one for a retrospective post.]

Mustard Plug

(July 4, 2015) This is one of those band names that shines a spotlight on a mundane or annoying object, elevating it to the hilarious sublime. It’s also a fitting name for a summer weekend of picnics and barbecues.

Pop Sickle

(January 11, 2014) The quiescently frozen confection that kills it every time.

PORCH

(October 24, 2015) I’m a fan both of singular monosyllabic nouns as band names, and also of porches. Porch season is over for another year, but it’s a great place to make music on a warm summer night. Also, somebody get these guys on a bill with Square Pig faves Pouch!

 

One last thing before you go: I share highlights from this blog in my quarterly author newsletter, The Storypunk Report, as well as news of what I’m writing and reading, upcoming events, and other goodies, including “Wizard in the Mosh Pit,” an exclusive short story just for subscribers. Click the link to check out the first seven issues and subscribe here for future issues. (Or just follow the blog for your weekly dose of band names.)

Square Pig in a Round Hole-June 6, 2020

Square PigNaming a band is an act of concentrated creative expression. Square Pig in a Round Hole exists to reward five favorite band names each week. Winners are (usually) listed alphabetically.

Selection is wholly unscientific and subject to whim, with a bias toward wordplay, humor, and local flavor. In most cases, I won’t know anything about the bands at the time of selection. Thanks to the Seattle Times nightlife listings for abundant source material!

SQUARE PIG IN A ROUND HOLE PANDEMIC EDITION #12

Special protest-themed post! We were expecting civil unrest to kick off around August, but apparently Junuary is here and the time is right for marching in the streets. This pandemic has made plain even to the privileged (like me) some deep-rooted inequities, biased and brutal policing being one of many legitimate grievances in communities of color. If you are able, please carry a sign, donate to justice organizations (see below for a humble suggestion), amplify unheard voices, and since there won’t be live music for a while yet, perhaps buy these bands’ music and merch while we wait for a better day.

And I Am the Riot

(July 28, 2012) I wonder what came before the conjunction — “You are the . . .” I like that it’s not a riot, but the riot.

Down with People

(December 31, 2011) This could be an anti-people protest slogan or a statement of support: “I’m totally down with them.” I like the ambiguity.

Molotov Colostomy

(June 22, 2013) Well, that took a surprising turn! Grossest protest ever.

Not a Part of It

(August 29, 2015) This could be an alibi: “It wasn’t me. I don’t even wear makeup.” But I like it better as an expression of wholehearted, all-or-nothing-at-all engagement.

Riot at the Dojo

(March 3, 2018) Over-the-top fight scene. Everyone bows at the end. (The resident young person was hoping for an exclamation point after Riot.” You can’t always get what you want.)

Shout+eBook+Cover+12_15_19.jpg?format=750wA small way to help and get something good to read at the same time: for every copy of Shout: an Anthology of Resistance Poetry and Short Fiction purchased, Not A Pipe Publishing makes a donation to Black Lives Matter and 3 other worthy justice organizations. (I recommend doing even more good by ordering from your favorite independent bookshop.) Full disclosure: I have a story in this book but I would make this recommendation even if I didn’t because the other stories are that good!

One last thing before you go: I share highlights from this blog in my quarterly author newsletter, The Storypunk Report, as well as news of what I’m writing and reading, upcoming events, and other goodies, including “Wizard in the Mosh Pit,” an exclusive short story just for subscribers. Click the link to check out the first six issues and subscribe here for future issues. (Or just follow the blog for your weekly dose of band names.)

Square Pig in a Round Hole-May 30, 2020

Square PigNaming a band is an act of concentrated creative expression. Square Pig in a Round Hole exists to reward five favorite band names each week. Winners are (usually) listed alphabetically.

Selection is wholly unscientific and subject to whim, with a bias toward wordplay, humor, and local flavor. In most cases, I won’t know anything about the bands at the time of selection. Thanks to the Seattle Times nightlife listings for abundant source material!

SQUARE PIG IN A ROUND HOLE PANDEMIC EDITION #11

Even if every bar is still a dead bar and there’s still no live music, we can enjoy a morning thunderstorm. BOOM! (If you need a live music fix, KEXP is posting sessions daily. They recently premiered this session with Square Pig faves Dead Bars.) If you are able, please buy these bands’ music and merch while we wait for a better day.

Power Skeleton

(October 19, 2013) I have it on good authority that October is Skeleton Awareness Month. I have a sore hip, so I’m quite aware of my own personal skeleton. When I eventually have my hips and/or knees replaced, I want them to put in a sound chip to make noise like a servo motor.

Shelter in Place

(November 9, 2019) This emergency directive is probably more pleasant to enact when the place in question is a bar, especially when the bar is called The Funhouse! [When I wrote this less than a year ago, I never dreamed it would become poignant.]

Sh*t Ghost

(July 17, 2016) Gross and funny and they have the most adorably disgusting logo.

Sidewalks and Skeletons

(June 22, 2019) More like trick-or-treat than end-of-school. Then again, no matter the time of year, everyone on the sidewalk has inside them a spooky, scary skeleton. (Happy coincidence: S and S is from Bradford, UK, the birthplace of my spouse’s grandfather.)

Skeletonwitch

(May 19, 2018) In case my new book [Daughter of Magic, released May 2018] does well enough to warrant them, I’m already planning sequels. One is likely to include as antagonist a skeletal hag called Old Mother Bones. This is her house band. [Book 2 Wizard Girl released in July, 2019. Book 3 Death’s Midwife was submitted to Not A Pipe Publishing this month and does, in fact, include an antagonist called Old Mother Bones.]

 

One last thing before you go: I share highlights from this blog in my quarterly author newsletter, The Storypunk Report, as well as news of what I’m writing and reading, upcoming events, and other goodies, including “Wizard in the Mosh Pit,” an exclusive short story just for subscribers. Click the link to check out the first six issues and subscribe here for future issues. (Or just follow the blog for your weekly dose of band names.)

Review: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Don't Ask Don't TellDon’t Ask, Don’t Tell by Claudine Griggs (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020)

This astounding LGBTQ crime thriller is available now.

Josie Waller, a San Francisco cop, and Emmanuel Cerrillo, a Pomona, California, detective suspect two bizarre suicides are actually murders, and the victims—a teetotaling Baptist preacher who died of a heroin overdose and a school board member who injected herself with cobra venom—are connected by their vitriolic homophobia. The officers launch an unofficial investigation and find more than expected.

Robert Davenport, an overly intellectual gay English professor at an Ivy League university with subliminal dreams of being an action hero, responds to a personal ad that delivers him to a recruiter for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In theory, the group wants Davenport to write a literary manifesto, but just how far is he willing to go, and will the officers find him before it’s too late?

My review: What if victims of prejudice and discrimination—sometimes violent, sometimes insidious, always maddening—took up arms and fought back? What if they were backed by a well-funded organization? That’s what happens in this all too believable thriller. Set in the near past, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell covers about 18 months in the lives of a wide variety of characters (cops, academics, scientists, activists) as a secret organization recruits LGBT activists who want to fight for justice … including murder of homophobes with platforms and ambition for power.

Robert Davenport, a closeted Ivy League English professor, has been waiting too long for tenure when he spies an ad for an LGBT organization interested in justice activists. Vetted and recruited by Tanish Padgett, who is settling scores for childhood trauma, he finds himself in deep with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, an organization ready to go public with violence on homophobes. Meanwhile, on the other coast, Detective Manny Cerrillo and Officer Josie Waller are putting the pieces together on a couple of suspicious suicides that are linked to DADT. As they race to identify the mysterious Gulf Stream who seems to be pulling the strings, DADT is preparing for a big “Pearl Harbor” event. Even with the feds involved, will they be able to prevent catastrophe?

This book is tense and exciting, as a thriller must be, but what makes it is the characters. They are all complex, interesting, and exasperatingly human. Friendship is as big a theme as murder. Partnership is the saving graces for so many of these people. Even the bad guys are at least understandable, even sympathetic. Though he’s all in with the terrorists, Davenport seems like he should be the hero, especially in a late twist. Cerrillo and Waller make a great team, though they are thrown together almost by chance. The ending presents a societal mess not unlike our present day, with things left open for at least a sequel, if not a series. The cops and Padgett all have unfinished business.

I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher.

Order your copy from your local independent bookstore. Use IndieBound.org to find it.

Also available on Barnes & Noble HERE.

Also available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.