Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guest Post: Steve Knapp's Top 5 Stephen King Must-Reads

This is Stephen King, laughing at your terror.

I have only recently started delving into the works of one Mr. Stephen King, and I am discovering that I wholeheartedly regret all those pretentious years of college when I was immersed in being an English major and considered myself above genre fiction. So when I went looking for the perfect starting place in King’s positively enormous canon, I knew there was only one person who could give me direction: my father. He is an absolute Stephen King expert. He has read all of King’s books, viewed (and critiqued) many film adaptations, and loves horror/sci-fi fiction with fervor. He has always advised me wisely, and has consented to share his top five recommendations for newcomers to the land of King as a special Halloween themed post. So take a gander and take your pick from Steve Knapp’s Stephen King library:

Since Halloween is fast approaching, many readers, avid and otherwise, look to find some good scary stories. Of course, when thinking of scary stories, Stephen King  always enters the discussion. As a diehard fan of King’s, and having read almost all of his books and short stories, Katie considered me to be as close as she could get to an expert (at lease for the price she was willing to pay – cupcakes), and asked me to contribute to her blog by recommending some of my favorite Stephen King books. Let me begin by saying that this is very difficult, somewhat akin to picking your favorite child. King’s books vary. Some are really scary, some have things happen that are more just strange or unusual, some just weird. I’ve liked all kinds, just like I love my daughters equally even though they are quite different. So, I’m going to recommend several of my favorites, sort of in order of preference, leaning more toward the ones that I deem to be more scary and gruesome in honor of Halloween.

1. Pet Semetary – this is one of my all-time favorites. The story of a man, his son and the family cat. After moving to a new house, the father is led to a mysterious graveyard (is there any other kind?) near their property. Weird, terrifying stuff happens, then, when tragedy strikes, the father deals with it as best he can with many horrors along the way and a twist at the end. As with a lot of King's books, it deals as much with the family dynamic and internal struggle of being a husband/father as it does with the actual horror of the events that are unfolding.

Katie here: I want to insert a memory. My dad read this book out loud to me when I was around ten years old. It…changed me. Definitely a scary read.

2. Misery – an author is rescued from an accident by his number one, most ardent fan. Sounds fine, right? Everything should work out perfectly. But, this is Stephen King, after all. The fan is not quite as accommodating as one might imagine. In fact, she's more obsessive, psychotic, crafty, and violent. And soon the writer is not only sedated and trapped, but also forced to write a book he hates on a beat up old typewriter in an attempt to placate his increasingly manic captor.

 This is a terrifying book. It would rank number one on my personal list. Not only suspenseful and full of glorious gore, but a deeply insightful look into the authorial process. It was deeply frightening to me because it seemed to me that the protagonist made no silly mistakes, and yet he still ended up trapped and fighting for his life. There is nothing to point to in this narrative to say, "See, that was the moment where he messed up and got himself into this predicament."

3. Christine – Arnie, a nerdy high schooler, finds the car of his dreams. Although it looks like a piece of beat up junk, Arnie is drawn to the car, despite the reservations of his best friend, Dennis. Arnie buys the car and begins restoring it to like-new condition. As he is doing this, his appearance improves and he becomes more confident, eventually even dating the pretty new, popular, girl at school, Leigh. However, as Arnie spends more time with Christine, his personality begins to change for the worse, and he becomes obsessed with the car to the exclusion of everyone else, including Dennis and Leigh. Eventually, to Arnie it is he and Christine against the world, and since Arnie has taken  care of Christine, she will “take care of” anyone she deems a threat to come between the two of them. In the end Dennis and Leigh are the only ones with a chance to save Arnie from Christine. I’ll let you read the book to find out if they are successful. As in many of King’s books, I really like the way he portrays the young people. To me, he is right on with his descriptions of the thoughts and actions of Arnie, Dennis and Leigh. This is a creepy story with real moments of suspense. One of King’s most popular.

Proof that King can literally make anything creepy. As is typical of a lot of King’s work, this might really be considered a coming of age tale masquerading as horror. Very effective.

4. Skeleton Crew – this is a collection of short stories. If you want to commit a little less time, this is a good place to start. All are worth reading, but my favorites are The Mist and The Raft. The Mist was actually produced as a novel on its own in conjunction with the release of the movie, but I read it as part of this collection so that’s how I think of it.  Plus, you get other stories as a bonus.  In The Mist, terrible creatures are hidden in, what else, a mist created by a mysterious research center. It turns out, though, that some of the townspeople are about as bad as the creatures. A father and his son are separated from the wife/mother and end up in the grocery store with other townspeople when the mist roles in.  Everyone is scared and many have different ideas about what to do to protect themselves from whatever is in the mist.  They know there is something bad out there, just not what exactly.  So, they end up fighting each other as much as the creatures. 

King does an excellent job of leaving whatever is in the mist to the reader’s imagination.  With only partial descriptions, you know there are lots of them and they’re not friendly, but you are left to conjure up your own scary version.  I also like the way King deals with the interplay between the people, conveying the different ways in which people might actually react in such a situation, with a crazy or two thrown in for good measure.  Without giving it away, I will say that the ending does not answer all questions, but leaves the reader to imagine how things go from then on.  Personally, I don’t mind that one bit. 

The Raft is the story of four teens celebrating the end of summer with one last swim to a stationary raft out in the lake.  Of course, it turns out to be not quite as much fun as they envisioned.  It’s hard to say much about the story without ruining it.  Suffice it to say that an unidentifiable, but beautiful, substance floats to the raft.  Looking at it too long puts a person in a hypnotic trance, which causes them to let down their guard.  When that happens, the results are not pretty.  Again, I really like the way these kids are portrayed.  The thoughts and interactions between the two girls and two boys is always believable, and the gross things that happen make for what I consider to be an entertaining story.

Okay, I haven’t read this one.

5. Duma Key - this story about a man trying to recover from physical injuries and mental instability is more in the psychic/ghost story vein. After a construction accident results in loss of an arm and brain injuries that cause episodes of violent behavior, and the end to his marriage, Edgar Freemantle moves temporarily to Florida (Duma Key) to get himself back together.  As therapy, he begins to paint ocean landscapes (he drew pictures for his daughters when they were little, but he can’t remember doing it).  This helps to calm him and seems to relieve the phantom feelings of his missing arm.  However, as he gains some notoriety for his paintings, he discovers that his works of art have a power of their own.  They either predict the future or cause it, and bad things happen to those who buy one.  Edgar investigates the island and meets his neighbors, finding out that there are many mysteries surrounding the island and its past and present inhabitants. Ultimately, Edgar is thrust into a situation of trying to save his family and friends from the evil that resides in Duma Key.  This story tends to be more psychological and supernatural, but still has plenty of scary moments. 

Or this one. Oh well. I can say though, that there is a sizable faction of people who agree that King's short fiction is superior to his novels. This is definitely a personal preference thing, but if you find reading an entire novel daunting, know that the short stories are likely to be just as satisfying.

If you know anything of Stephen King at all you probably noticed the absence of The Shining and Carrie in the list above.  While they are must reads for the most ardent King fans, they are not at the top of my favorites list.  Plus, everyone knows those stories so I wanted to go with some lesser known stories.  There are, however, many other Stephen King books that are every bit as good as the ones I did list, but got left off for various reasons, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of them.  Such as; the Dark Tower series (7 books), Thinner, The Stand, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and Secret Window.  If you like King’s writing, these are definite reads.

So, I hope I’ve given you some ideas for the Halloween season and beyond. Pick one, turn out as many lights off as you can and still see to read, and enjoy. I wish you good reading and a scary Halloween!

Steve Knapp

Are any of you fans of Stephen King? Which of his books had the biggest impact on you?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Five Ways My One Year Old is Like a Dog

What a baby and dog may look like.
It seems to me that there is something of a great divide between people who love children and people who love their animals as if they were children. As someone who has two dogs, a cat, and a human child, I simply don't understand this. Personally speaking, giving birth to a human did not diminish my love for my four-legged furballs, and having the fluffy ones around has not in any way interfered with the growth and development of my baby. It has recently occurred to me that a big part of this might be because in many ways, raising my child has been a lot like raising a dog. 

For instance: 

What a baby's face looks like after totally destroying your world.
1. They go to the bathroom whenever, wherever
Obviously you know about how babies use diapers. This is not really very different from a puppy who goes to the bathroom in his or her crate, or really anywhere in the house. The point being--as a pet parent or a human parent, you are going to see and smell some disgusting things. You will touch poop. This is just one of those little unpleasantries that is then rendered "worth it" by the joy brought to you by the adorable pup-baby.

2. They respond to commands
She clearly listened when I told her to please not knock over the TV
My child is one year old, and now responds to her name, "come," and "no." She has learned the basic commands that you first teach a puppy, and responds with about the same rate of success.  And part of the reason that we have been able to use these commands with her is because...

 3. They can be trained with positive reinforcement
When my baby does something she's not supposed to, she gets told no, and will not be held. When she does the right thing, she gets smiles, and cuddles, and usually a baby treat. Or we exclaim about how smart she is and clap our hands. This is exactly the same way to train a dog. If they misbehave, you ignore them. If they get something right,
you lavish them with affection so they will be motivated to
 behave correctly again. It is very effective.

Of course, this happens too.

4. They both beg for food
She's really got the Oliver Twist face down.
My little infant-cum-toddler has recently discovered the joys of solid food. And she can't get enough of it. So we, the parents, have to be very sneaky about eating in front of her. Because if she catches us eating something that she might like a bite of, she will stand in front of us and yell until we fill her mouth with something delicious. And then, should we make the mistake of giving her one bite, she will yell more, until she gets her fill. This is slightly different from the dogs' approach, which is to sit patiently at our feet until we have finished, and then eye our dirty plates with longing until we put them on the floor for them to "clean."

Broccoli hair is imminent!
5. They love getting dirty and hate getting clean
Have you ever heard someone talk about their dog and say how he loves running through mud, and jumping in lakes, but will whine and thrash around like a maniac when put in a tub of soapy water for the purpose of getting clean? Well, it is a fact that dogs will generally prefer mud to fluffy, clean fur. Similarly, my human child reacts very negatively to having her face and hair washed after eating. Yes, she has smeared about have of her food all over her body, and there are slightly mushy cheerios clinging to her arms and legs, but she would rather wallow in this mess than allow herself to be wiped clean. She howls, the turns her face away, she threatens my life. But, as with the dogs, mom's word is law, and all the little animals get clean in the end.

*Despite how it may appear in these pictures, my child does frequently wear clothing. It just gets dirty so quickly that we have to capture some nude moments in between costume changes.

What are your thoughts on raising children, furry or otherwise? 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book Review: Empath (Flawed #1) by Becca J. Campbell

Another winner from Becca J. Campbell! In her latest series, Flawed, her usual flare for suspense and the manipulation of reality manifests itself in the forms of five unique and gripping characters, all of whom possess a certain “flaw” that enhances their life experience—and not always for the better. In Empath, the riveting first installment to the series, we are introduced to Jade, a young woman plagued by the distinctive problem of being highly sensitive to the feelings and emotions of others—to the point that she often loses track of her own personality. In an effort to gain control over this phenomenon, Jade enrolls in on-campus college classes for the first time ever, and strikes up a surprising number of friendships with people who allow her to be herself. Caught in the internal tug of war of emotion, not only with her own feelings for her new friends, but with theirs as well, Jade is unable to track the emotions of the one person who may matter most: the man who is stalking her, intent on torturing and eventually killing her.

Campbell’s signature writing style shines as bright as ever in Empath, allowing the reader to be truly enveloped in Jade’s awkwardness, emotion, and conviction that she must overcome what she calls her “handicap” and have normal relationships with normal people. The story runs a winding course, cutting brutally back and forth between violent scenes that slowly reveal the villain’s intent, and touching moments between Jade and her friends that keep the reader enthralled. Though the killer purports to use people’s fears and weaknesses to destroy them, it is really the interaction between the characters minds and bodies that seems to discuss the relationship between fear and love, strength and weakness, leading the reader to question his own fears, and speculate about what it really means to be strong.

Though it is absolutely thrilling up to the very last page, this book is more than a simple suspense novel. It is a deeper probing into the idea of what makes a person normal, and how perceived abnormalities might actually be a blessing in disguise. Part thriller, part romance, and part superhero creation story, Empath by Becca J. Campbell will frighten, amuse, comfort, and inspire. With Campbell’s easy storytelling style and well-rounded characters, this is the perfect book to read when what you really need is something to devour in the course of a weekend, because it is inevitable that you will.

Bottom Line: A solid, all-encompassing book that engages and thrills. This is a series starter that will leave you thirsting for the next installment!

Side Note: I would rate this book as PG-13. Probably a good read for late middle school, early high school, but definitely not for kids. Just in case you were wondering.

About Becca J. Campbell

Becca J. Campbell is the author of the New Adult Romantic Science Fiction novels Foreign Identity and Gateway to Reality, New Adult Romantic Paranormal Thriller Empath (The Flawed Series #1), and  Sub-Normal, a series of Science Fiction short stories.
An avid lover of stories that tiptoe the line between fantasy and reality (even when they plunge off one side or the other), Becca looks for new angles on bridging the gap between the two. She holds a special place in her heart for any story that involves superpowers or time travel. Her passion is defying the limits of her own creativity. You can find her on her Author BlogFacebookTwitterGoodreads, Pinterest, and Amazon.

If you would like to purchase a copy of Empath, it will be on sale for $0.99 through the following venues:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Guest Post: Becca J. Campbell Discusses Her Newest Book, Empath (Flawed, #1)

Empath eBook cover SMI'm very excited to announce the release of my latest New Adult novel Empath, the first book in the Flawed Series. Read on to find out more about this paranormal thriller and be sure to enter the giveaway at the end for an awesome prize package.

The Struggle of an Empath

Supernatural empathy isn’t a gift, it’s a curse. Anywhere she goes, Jade’s emotions are replaced by those of the people around her.

Jade grew up in a suburb of Colorado Springs, protected from other people by her parents. Now she faces college—and the world—with nothing to shield her from unwanted feelings.

When Cam, a classmate with a major crush on her unintentionally hijacks her emotions, Jade struggles to keep from being carried away in feelings of attraction. When Ethan, a psychopath with a thirst for fear, fixates on her, the emotional impact could be lethal.

Caught in a deadly trap, Jade must untangle the emotions and find a way to use her empathic curse to overcome this killer or be overcome by him.

Empath eBook Now Available

Get your ebook copy now at any of these sites (paperback copies are not yet available, but coming soon!):

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Barnes & Noble

Kobo (coming soon!) | iTunes (coming soon!)

Prize Package Giveaway

To celebrate the release, I'm running a giveaway for two lucky winners.

Grande Prize:

A rare, autographed proof copy of the paperback

A 12" X 18" poster of the cover art

Empath notebook
Empath notebook

Empath collector's button

Empath button prize copy

Second Prize:

An autographed paperback copy

a Rafflecopter giveaway

IMG_9817 a lowresBecca J. Campbell is the author of the New Adult Romantic Science Fiction novels Foreign Identity and Gateway to Reality, and Sub-Normal, a series of short stories. An avid lover of stories that tiptoe the line between fantasy and reality (even when they plunge off one side or the other), Becca looks for new angles on bridging the gap between the two. She holds a special place in her heart for any story that involves superpowers or time travel. Her passion is defying the limits of her own creativity. You can find her on her Author Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Amazon

Monday, May 13, 2013

Things I Love

There is a little blog I love to follow called Bonzai Aphrodite. It is written by this incredibly genuine, intelligent vegan woman named Sayward, who writes all about the vegan lifestyle, gardening, and raising her beautiful little boy. It makes me feel inspired every time I read it, and you should definitely check it out. One of the things Sayward does every Friday is post something she calls, "Le Love List." It is a compilation of all the wonderful things she is loving in her life at the moment--a kind of thankfulness list that lets her remember she has a lot to be grateful for, and encourages others to share what they are grateful for too. I think it is a great practice, so I thought I would take a minute to share some of the things I am loving in my life at this moment as well. So here is a short list of things I'm in love with this week:

We planted: tomatoes, zucchini, rosemary, basil, oregano, lettuce, and lemon verbena.
1. My Garden
I am not a huge fan of summer, but one thing I love is being able to grow fresh vegetables and herbs. The hubs is a huge gardening buff, so he keeps our house well landscaped and full of flowering goodness, which I love. There is nothing more relaxing than sitting on the patio amid climbing vines and vibrant blooms, listening to the wind chimes and thinking about the homemade pesto you will make later. I love it.

2. Iced Coffee
One other good thing about warmer weather is iced caffeinated beverages. Something about cold coffee is just so refreshing and satisfying and wonderful. I personally usually use Pioneer Woman's iced coffee recipe to brew it cold and keep a huge pitcher of it in my fridge, but instead of adding condensed milk the way she does (which is delicious, by the way) I use liquid Sugar in the Raw, and tell myself I'm being healthier. Don't spoil it for me. If you have never tried iced coffee, I must insist that you do so immediately. If you aren't into caffeine, go decaf! It's better than lemonade on a warm spring day, trust me.

                                                                                        3. My Family
Not pictured: my dad, who works more behind the scenes.
Mother's Day just happened, and obviously I was thrilled to let the mothers in my life know how important they are. It was kind of wonderful and weird to be receiving calls as well as making them this Mother's Day. But I am so thankful for my whole family. My husband, my daughter, my mom, my sister, my dad, my grandma--everyone. The older I get the more I realize how disgustingly functional we all really are, and it makes me so happy that I have this safety net, and a group of people that I am actually thrilled to be a part of.

4. Goal Completion
Something huge happened to me last week. I took the very last final of my Master's degree. After three years of working full time, going to school at night, and even giving birth during midterms, I have finally completed my Master's in English! Not only am I so grateful that I have accomplished what I set out to do, and that I will finally have a little bit of free time to do things like clean the house and review more books for the blog, but I am so utterly grateful to the staff, faculty, and overall English program at UCO. After spending the last three years there, I can say that this is possibly one of the most underrated universities in the state. I learned so much from the professors, all of whom are passionate, intelligent, and great at what they do. This is a program that really has the student in mind, and it was very refreshing. I could not be happier that I chose to do my first graduate degree there.

5. Goal Making
Now that I have a big accomplishment under my belt (I'm not trying to be a braggart, I promise. I'm just pumped.) it's time to make more goals. Among these new goals ranks getting a new job, working on getting more special training for my career, and actually sitting down and writing a short story. I'm really grateful that I have these ambitions, because sometimes I get really frustrated with the state of the world, and the slow progress of my professional life, and it's very discouraging. Knowing that there are still things I want to accomplish keeps me focused and motivated, and I love that.

Now it's your turn! What things are you loving right now? What inspires you? What are you thankful for? How was your mother's day? Share it with the world!