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Impostor Syndrome

Here’s the good news: I am a guest author at not one, but two different science fiction conventions this October, SWFL Writer’s Showcase and NecronomiCon. Here’s the bad news: I don’t feel like an author.

There’s a tendency for artists and creators to get in a kind of funk when they haven’t been producing much. Legitimately or not, we often think of ourselves only as good as our most recent work output—I may have edited a pretty great book last year (check out Silent Screams if you haven’t yet), but… well… I haven’t had a story published in a while. Even worse, more and more when I sit down to write, I’ve been having trouble solidifying my imagination into words and getting them onto paper. I have some killer ideas for my next novel, and some fun short fiction concepts rattling around the brain-box, but haven’t had anything to share with my writing critique group for the past month or so.

Here’s where self-doubt comes in—the nagging thought that maybe I just suck at this and my previous successes were flukes. This is compounded by things like being a guest at conventions. Who the heck am I to sit on panels next to way more successful and famous people and give others writing advice?

In Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Lumiere laments that “life is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving.” I second that emotion. When I’m not actively producing, I feel… well, less somehow. There’s a weird sort of guilt, like I’m wasting time and not living up to my potential. We like to put ourselves into boxes and categorize ourselves with neat definitions. I am a painter, so I paint. I am an athlete, so I compete. I am an intellectual, so I debate.

I am an author, so I write.

I think, therefore, I am.

But what of the painter who can do no more than doodle swirly lines on her canvas? What of the athlete who, through a tragic accident, winds up confined to a wheelchair? What of the intellectual who struggles with bouts of depression or crippling headaches?

Am I still an author when I’m hitting the writer’s block wall or when I’d rather crank up Steam than my word processor? Am I still a Christian when my devotional life tanks and my prayers are empty parrot-talk? Am I still a teacher when, despite my best intentions, I don’t communicate what I want my students to learn?

Of course, the answer to all three of these is yes. Failure is a normal part of life. That doesn’t mean I quit trying, but it does mean that I can cut myself a little slack when things aren’t going so well. The fact that I’m concerned about the times I’m not doing so well helps prove that my heart is in the right place, and that I will eventually wind up back on top. The struggle isn’t what defines me, but what I do through it.

God’s grace is bigger than my sin. He will see me through, because it’s in His nature. It’s what He does.

My imagination is bigger than my writer’s block, and one day, soon, the stories will flow again. It’s in my nature. It’s what I do.

I am an author, so I write.

Sometimes.

And sometimes, that’s good enough.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2017 in Blog

 

Done, Done, On to the Next One

Today marks a milestone. I completed the final illustration for my children’s picture book. As I glued the last piece in place, sitting back to examine my work, I experienced a quiet glow of satisfaction. No fanfare blew, no confetti fell from the ceiling (although the floor around me was, as usual, already covered with tiny scraps of paper), and so far I have yet to receive any unsolicited calls from publishers desperate to make me a superstar. Still, it feels good just to be done with the thing. I began working on this book a full eight years ago, and it’s been a labor of love (as all art worth making must be).

The story, a simple fable about anthropomorphized talking tools, is a personal one to me, born out of a period of frustration and longing and loneliness, written with a deep sense of having been made for a purpose and a hope in things yet unseen. I’ve always been of the opinion that a story’s genre and style should, as well as possible, match the author’s message. Sometimes children’s stories say best what’s to be said.

Shortly after writing its initial draft and sketching the characters, I became interested in collage art—using scraps of old magazines to create new images. Upon encouragement from friends and family, I used this method to create the illustrations, poster-sized to maintain the level of detail I wanted each picture to have.

Looking back, I wish I’d kept a tally of how many magazines I’ve destroyed to make these illustrations, as well as how many glue sticks I’ve gone through. My estimate is that I’ve harvested colors from easily thousands of magazines, and worn at least a few hundred glue sticks down to the plastics. A conservative guess is that about 600 hours went into the collages (15 in total at about 40 hours apiece). This time was spread over nearly a decade; while my picture book waited in the background, I put out two books for adults and spent three years in grad school (during which I barely touched any other projects).

“So what are you going to do now that you’re finished?” my wife asked. I almost laughed. “You forget you’re married to the man with 1000 hobbies,” I told her. Art and writing are, for me, like the hydra: cut off one head and two more grow to take its place.

First things first: the actual story text some serious overhaul. Needless to say, I’ve grown a lot as a writer in the past ten years, and I think that some trimming and sanding and polishing are in order before this thing is ready for prime time.

I also need to learn all I can about children’s publishing. All my previous experience is in writing for adults—sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Picture books are a whole different animal.

And, of course, there’s my other writing to attend to—more short fiction, and the ever-looming “second novel.” In the immortal words of Semisonic, “Every new beginning starts with some other beginning’s end.”

Who knows? Given the speed this project has moved at thus far, maybe I’ll be able to get this thing published and into a form people can actually read within another ten years.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2017 in Blog

 

The Girl

Last time I had seen her, she was in middle school. Her sister and I were high school friends (same graduating class). As kids we had all gone to church and played together (I have especially fond memories of putting on puppet shows with a portable stage) but, as life has a way of sending people different directions, we hadn’t seen each other or spoken in about fifteen years.

In hindsight, it seems inevitable that when we met for the second time, it would be at the library. The library in my hometown is about the size of an average McDonalds. Although the town itself has grown considerably over the past 20 years, the library has remained in the same building it’s always occupied. Since I was there about once a week, it was inevitable that the librarians would know me. They make it a habit to greet their frequent fliers by name. It’s a bit like Cheers that way.

I was hanging out at my parents’ house for the summer vacation (one of the few real perks of being a teacher), looking for a new job, hoping for a change. Jonesing for a comic book, I swung by the library. I hadn’t been there in about a year (since I’d been living an another town), and was surprised to see this beautiful young lady– a woman I had known as a girl long ago, standing behind the counter.

Last time I had seen her, she’d been a skinny kid in a baggy rock-and-roll tee shirt. Now she was grown up, working as a librarian, and… well… cute. After a hug and the initial “long time no see” banter, I asked her what she was up to these days.

“I’m finishing up my master’s degree right now. I’m studying theology and creative writing.”

“That’s cool,” I said, trying to sound casual. “What kind of stuff do you like to write?”

She smiled. “Mostly science fiction.”

Be still, my heart.

We exchanged information, me awkwardly telling her that if she ever wanted to get together and *ahem* talk about writing some time, I’d be happy to hang out.

Then I took my books and left. That, I figured, was that. She was pretty, but what of it? Lots of girls are pretty. After all, I would not likely be in town long.The new school year was rapidly approaching, and I still had no idea where I would be teaching.

Little did I know our paths would cross again a few nights later. I was over at a friend’s home for supper and board games when she walked in. I’d had no idea she would be there. That evening, as we sat around eating Mexican food and playing Takinoko, I was more and more impressed– she was smart and funny and full of life.

As there were others who were interested in writing, we planned to meet that Sunday evening for a writers’ group. We did. It was nice, but fairly uneventful.

Later that week I was offered a job near my grandparents in South Florida. The school year was about to begin, so, without even time for a proper goodbye, I dropped a ninja smoke bomb in North Carolina and raced down to prepare my classroom and curriculum.

And that, I figured, was that.

…Which just goes to show how little I knew. That fall, I was beginning to gather stories for Silent Screams, and she was interested in contributing one. We spoke on the phone several times, then on Skype, initially to brainstorm and swap ideas but more and more just to talk. Our conversations would extend for hours.

When I was home for Christmas break, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t take the chance to ask her out. That first date, on a cold, gray day, we sat and talked over sushi and frozen yogurt for about five hours. My family made fun of me when I got home, but I didn’t care. There weren’t a lot of fireworks, no flashes of heady passion (those would come later). It was just nice to be with her, to hear her thoughts, to enjoy her company.

When I returned to Florida, we kept up contact over email and Skype; very soon we were speaking almost every night. It didn’t take long before I was head over heels in love. When I was about to go home for spring break, my grandmother jokingly asked if I planned to propose.

“Don’t be silly,” I told her. “We’ve only been dating for about three months. That’s not going to happen. That’s too fast. Normal, sane people don’t do that.”

…Which just goes to show how little I knew.

Seeing her again was better than wonderful. Where there weren’t fireworks before, this time I had enough to fill Crazy Ed’s Roadside Bargain Warehouse.

Halfway through the week, we had a conversation that began with “How do you think all this is going?” and ended with “I guess we should get married, then.” I was completely unprepared; I hadn’t even purchased a ring. I kissed her. I had no idea it was possible to be so happy.

Three months later, only about one year after that initial encounter at the library, we said our vows at the front of a full church. She wore white. I wore a suit. There was music and laughter and cake.

She is asleep in the other room as I type this.

At the risk of being redundant, I had no idea it was possible to be so happy.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2017 in Blog

 

Silent Screams Coming Soon… Finally!

I just saw that it has been nearly a year since my last blog post. Part of me is baffled by this revelation (where did the time go?), but it makes sense. The past year has been a whirlwind of activity, in which I met a girl, fell in love, got married, bought a house, moved, and edited an anthology, while still working full time and doing all those normal life things a functional adult is supposed to.

Perhaps I’ll do a more lengthy write up about my bride and the crazy unexpected beautiful way our relationship came about on another day– it is a story that would require a blog post in itself. For the moment, though, I want to announce the exciting news that, at long last, the Silent Screams anthology is going to be released.

This has been a huge undertaking and a true labor of love. I am extremely excited about this book, and cannot wait to share it with the world. The ebook comes out on Halloween– October 31st, with a print version to follow shortly after. If you read dark fiction, this is one you won’t want to miss. I can’t wait to unleash it on the world.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2016 in Blog

 

Setbacks and Excuses

“Editing an anthology will be a lot of work,” they said. “It’ll take a lot of time and dedication,” they said. Did I listen? Ha!

Ha, I say!

Ok, so this whole anthology undertaking has already been a huge learning experience. The good news is that the learning ain’t over yet, but the bad news is that it’s not going to be finished as quickly as I thought it would be. For some reason I thought I would be able to finish up all my selections and do all the editing necessary within a couple of weeks at the end of November, having the book properly formatted and ready for public consumption in time for Christmas. Boy, was I wrong. Between my day job and life in general, I’ve been pretty much slammed… also I was far more optimistic about how much time the anthology would take than I had any right to be.

I have made progress. The Silent Screams submission period closed at the end of October, with a grand total of 182 submissions. I’ve read all the stories, but I still haven’t finalized my TOC– there are a couple I’m still debating over. Besides this I still have a largish chunk of actual editing to do on the stories I’ve accepted, as well as a few other details to finalize. As things stand (with December nearly upon us), there is no way the book will be finished as quickly as I would like.

I did acknowledge the possibility of this in my submission guidelines, though. It looks like we’re going to be leaning toward the “early 2016” side of things, rather than the “December 2015” projected release date. Hang on just a little while longer, folks. I have high hopes for this book, but I also don’t want to rush it. I want it to be the best it can possibly be. Here’s to January-February 2016.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2015 in Blog

 

Silent Screams Update

I’m now almost halfway into the second month of reading for Silent Screams, with a month-and-a-half or so to go. I’ve actually done a good job so far of keeping up with the reading as stories come in. It’s slow going, but some progress is taking place. Here’s a quick rundown of statistics for you number-crunching types:

SUBMISSIONS SO FAR- 70
EARLY ACCEPTANCES- 6
REJECTIONS- 49
MAYBES- 15

So far the anthology is about one quarter full, as far as my vision for it goes (I’m hoping for around 100,000 words, all said and done– about 20-25 stories). A quick glance at this list shows that, thus far, I’ve accepted less than one in ten of the stories I’ve read. It’s no fun to send out rejections, but I knew getting into this that it would be part of the deal. As I hoped when beginning this project, I’m learning a lot by simply doing it, and I’ve gained a lot of sympathy for others who edit anthologies and magazines. Rejections, I’ve found, can be for any number of reasons– sometimes for bad writing, of course, but more often the reasons are more subtle. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of deciding whether or not a story fits my vision for the book, and doesn’t have a lot to do with the quality of the story itself. Here are two major instructions, though, that I feel will apply to anyone submitting stories, regardless of the market he or she is submitting to. They ought to go without saying, but after reading through a lot of stories and seeing them ignored on multiple occasions, I’ll repeat them here:

1. READ THE GUIDELINES, PEOPLE
Sometimes folks send in things that offer a different interpretation on my theme than I initially had in mind. I have no problem with this– sometimes the story doesn’t fit at all with my vision, and I have to send a rejection, but on a couple of occasions I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the nuance of their work, and the different perspective they bring. Even if I ultimately can’t accept their story, I appreciate the thought they put into their submission. It shows respect for me and my time.

However, I’ve been made teeth-grittingly frustrated by a couple of authors who have no regard at all for my guidelines. These are folks that I think are simply carpet-bombing publications, hoping to get lucky. I understand this approach, but it only goes so far– at the end of the day, if your story is so far outside the realm of what I’m looking for, you’re just wasting your time, as well as mine. The worst of it is that I’ve gotten a couple of pretty cool stories this way, read all the way through them, and then realized at the end that they had nothing at all to do with my anthology.

Here’s the deal: If your story has nothing to do with the theme an editor is working with, it doesn’t matter how cool your story is. Don’t waste editors’ time with stories that aren’t what they’re looking for.

2. THE BASICS MATTER
I hate to be a stickler, but when I receive a story and it’s improperly formatted or there are basic grammar errors in the first paragraph, I’m not really inclined to think favorably of it from the start. In all honesty, I’ll probably continue reading at least a little (I’d hate to miss a gem on account of a technicality) but, depending on my mood or how tired I am after work that day, I may not.

Here’s the deal. SFWA format exists for a reason– it’s a comforting thing for editors to open a document and see all the proper information in place where they expect it to be. Authors who care enough to put their manuscripts into proper SFWA format also can often be better trusted to be decent writers, to pay attention to guidelines (see above), and all that other good stuff. To ignore the little things like proper formatting and basic grammar just makes a writer look incompetent, uncaring, and sloppy.

Editing a book is tough. I now understand why a pile of unread submissions is typically referred to as “slush.” Choosing stories sometimes feels like digging through a mountain of poo in search of gold nuggets. But oh, those gold nuggets– how they sparkle. Those can make the rest of the struggle worth it. I have a few that I already can’t wait to share with you guys.

So please, writers, keep sending me your stories. This prospector ain’t finished yet. There’s a little more than a month and a half to go– plenty of time to submit. I can’t wait to see what new chunks of gold the rest of this submission period brings my way.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2015 in Blog

 

An Update on Writing, Editing, Life, Etc.

Since I’m not good at blogging (and the first to admit it), there’s a temptation to meta-blog whenever I do get on here. Obviously the rare times I do update this page are the moments when it’s on my mind, and since it’s on my mind it’s what I feel like writing about. this makes for lame reading, I know.

Since my posts tend to be so few and far between, major life changes tend to take place in the interim. It seems like only a few months ago that I wrote about my move to Statesville, NC and my work as a teacher there. Well, fast-forward a little, and I’ve moved again. Now I’m living in South Florida (where, in an unexpected plot twist, I actually lived for about 5 months right after graduating college). This move is for a number of reasons, I suppose– Florida teachers, while by no means wealthy, are at least paid better than their North Carolina cohorts; I’m living near my grandparents (both maternal and paternal– collect them all!) and aunts, uncles, and cousins; and the school I’m working at seems like it will be a good fit for me. I freak myself out if I try to think too far in the future, but I’m planning on this move being at least semi-permanent, and I plan to stick around here for at least a couple of years. I’m tired of bouncing around all the time, and I would like to start putting down roots.

Of course, job hunting and moving and the start of a new school year have taken a toll on my creative energy. I have one short story I’ve been struggling with since last winter, and I need to get it finished and on paper and out into the real world. Otherwise, the bulk of my creative thought has gone into the anthology I’m editing, Silent Screams. I’m about a month into accepting submissions, and have accepted a handful of stories. My friend Emory Watts has drawn up some amazing cover art, and it is coming together nicely.

The idea for Silent Screams has been on my heart and mind for several years now. Horror writers often have an image (one we sometimes encourage) of being a particularly sick and morbid bunch, but, as I’ve mentioned before here, I’ve found the opposite to often be the case; the genre is filled with people who are kind and generous  and who care deeply about others. Horror fiction, for me, is a genre of ideas; about asking dangerous “what if” questions and exploring their ramifications, of analyzing the nature of evil that lurks within each of us and holding it up for examination against what is good, and true, and pure. In some vital ways, horror is about being honest about the brokenness of the world we live in, and the best stories for me are those that inspire compassion and a willingness to see things from another person’s point of view.

Proverbs 31:8-9 says “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (NIV).” My understanding of social justice begins with my faith– I believe people are important because they are important to God, made in His very image. Like many others, I have been pretty ill about the recent news surrounding Planned Parenthood, but this is only one example of the way in which the vulnerable are exploited in our modern age. If we remain silent in the face of modern slavery, and abortion, and genocide, and religious persecution, we are ourselves a part of the problem. We, the privileged, have a duty to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. My platform is the realm of speculative fiction. Perhaps I have been placed here for just such a time as this. Thus, Silent Screams.

I’m excited about this book– it’s not going to be a fun-filled romp like Pantheon, nor will it be a book for everyone (not all people are horror fans, after all), but it feels like an important and worthwhile project. I’ve seen some great stories so far, and fully expect to see more in the next several months. May the cries of the innocent no longer go unheard.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Blog

 

Announcing Serpent And Dove Speculative Fiction

Writing and publishing are an adventure, and, like any journey, full of bumps, potholes, and  unexpected twists along the way. Many of you are aware that Pantheon’s publisher, Musa, went out of business some months ago. It was a bummer, but in the process all rights to my book (as well as all the editing work that Musa staff put into it) reverted back to me. Pantheon was removed from online retailers, and I was left with several boxes of Musa-branded paperbacks to sell at conventions and signings.

Between job-hunting and life in general, I’ve been trying to decide on the most prudent course of action to take with my book. Upon careful consideration, I’ve decided to self-publish under my own, newly formed imprint, Serpent And Dove Speculative Fiction. The name comes from Jesus’ words in  Matthew 10:16, in which He instructs his followers to be “…as wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (KJV). It’s as good a description for what I want my writing (and my life) to be about as any I can come up with. My upcoming horror anthology, Silent Screams will also be released under this imprint. (By the way, writers, if you haven’t checked out my guidelines for Silent Screams, please do so and consider sending something in. It’s going to be a great book.)

I’ll have a cool logo to show off in the near future, and will over the next couple of weeks work on re-releasing Pantheon under the new label. Thanks to all my friends for your continued support.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2015 in Blog

 

Guest Post: Misty Massey and the Weird Wild West

Howdy All, Today I’m turning my blog over to author/editor Misty Massey to talk about her upcoming anthology of weird westerns (Westerns crossed with elements of science fiction and fantasy, i.e. Pantheon by Yours Truly). I met Misty (along with anthology contributer Gail Z. Martin) at AtomaCon a couple of months ago, and had a great time hearing about this project. Check out their Kickstarter, and if you’re interested, consider supporting the book– they’re getting very close to their funding goal! With no further ado, here’s Misty:

The Weird Wild West Needs Settlers!

My name is Misty Massey, and until last summer, I was a writer of fantastic fiction and author of Mad Kestrel (pirates and magic and adventure…oh my!) I say ‘until last summer’ because that was when things became slightly more crazy and exciting in my world and I agreed to be an editor.

I was a guest at Congregate, and I had just finished a rousing session of Live Action Slush. I was in the hallway chatting with my co-conspirators Emily Leverett and Margaret McGraw when the subject of publishing an anthology of weird western stories came up. We all thought it sounded like great fun, so we started approaching authors we believed would add to the thrill of such a project. Nearly all of them said “Yes!” (okay, a couple were squealing with excitement, but I’m not going to try to spell that sound for you!) so we started querying publishers. Danielle Ackley-McPhail of eSpec Books snapped us up, and before we knew it, we were running a Kickstarter to fund the project.

What is weird west? It’s fantasy or science fiction set in the world (or the aesthetic) of the American western frontier. Movies like High Plains Drifter and Cowboys and Aliens for example, and television shows like the Star Trek episode “Spectre of the Gun”, and Firefly and The Wild Wild West. Print examples include R S Belcher’s The Six Gun Tarot, Steven King’s Dark Tower saga and Melissa Marr’s The Arrivals. It’s the idea of people living on the edge of civilization, where the magic hasn’t died out yet, where the inventors are free to indulge their imaginations in bizarre directions.

I’m here today is to talk about our Kickstarter. The book will be called The Weird Wild West, and it will feature stories by R S Belcher, Tonia Brown, Diana Pharaoh Francis, John Hartness, Jonathan Maberry, Gail Martin, James Tuck and me! If we manage to reach our stretch goals, we’ll add stories by Robert Waters and David Sherman. But that’s not all – we want to open four spaces for you to submit your own stories! That’s right, we’d like to see people we’ve never met before sharing our little town of the weird!

But the only way that can happen is with your help. We’re working toward our funding goal, and we’d love for you to be a part of that. As all frontier towns did, our project needs settlers – you!

Take a look at the project page and explore the pledge levels. For as little as $10, you can get your very own copy of this great book, and there are higher pledge levels which offer some truly neat things – have a character named for you, have a character named for your pet, get a professional critique of your manuscript or even a signed advance copy of Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust”.

So wander through our dusty streets, and if you like what you see, toss a little support our way. We’d be glad to pour you a shot of entertaining stories!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dackley-mcphail/tales-of-the-weird-wild-west

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2015 in Blog

 

2014—My Year In Books

The past year has been a whirlwind of activity—One that at times threatened to swallow me whole in its vortex of business and stress, but one which also marked several major accomplishments for me—namely the publication of my first novel (go buy it, if you haven’t), and the completion of my Masters degree. It also marked my move to a new city and my taking a new job.

In the midst of all this, somehow I also found the time to read (which is why the excuse some people make about being too busy to read strikes me as fairly absurd—if I can do it, anyone can).  In fact, this year is a record-breaking year for me book wise; I completed over 120 books in 2014 (averaging more than 2 a week). True, a number of these were audiobooks I listened to during my commute or while doing other tasks that didn’t require a lot of brain power, but still. A book is a book.

I won’t list them all here, nor will I attempt to give in-depth reviews for the ones I do mention (I’ll limit my statements to a pithy sentence or two per book), but I do want to pass along a few I found particularly notable:

BEST ANTHOLOGY: Toss-up between The Weird by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer and The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

The Weird is a massive tome, as anthologies go, collecting over 100 of the most influential stories of the horror subgenre “weird” fiction from the past century (not quite sci-fi, not quite fantasy, not quite horror, but likely containing elements of all three). If you like subtle, quiet horror based on a sense of the uncanny rather than on blood and gore, this book works like a Masters-level class on that type of fiction.

The King In Yellow is also a collection of weird, dark fiction, but besides the horror I found surprising notes of hope and redemption within its pages. Chambers is best remembered today for his influence on H.P. Lovecraft, but I actually think he’s a better writer than Lovecraft.

BEST BIOGRAPHY: Fearless by Eric Blehm

Fearless tells the inspiring true-life story of Navy Seal Adam Brown, who rose from a crippling drug addiction to become one of the most respected members of the legendary Seal Team 6, tasked with hunting down Osama Bin Laden. His is a story of hope in the midst of heartache, of God’s grace and of one man’s determination to give his all for the sake of the people he loved.

BEST HUMOR: Toss-up between Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan and My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

I listened to the audio version of Dad is Fat, and Gaffigan’s delivery of his material makes it all the better. Regardless, this is a good-natured and humorous account of the highs-and-lows of parenthood, told by one of the funniest comedians in the business today.

My Man Jeeves reads like the prototype for the modern sitcom: Playboy Bertie Wooster gets in one ridiculous scrape after another, only to be saved time and again by his long-suffering and brilliant butler, Jeeves. It’s a bit formulaic, but the sheer ludicrousness of each situation, along with the snappy dialogue (peppered with old-timey slang, don’t you know) make it an absolute blast. I’m going to be reading the rest of Wodehouse’s Jeeves books sooner or later.

BEST THEOLOGY/PHILOSOPHY: Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

I was very pleasantly surprised by Chesterton’s droll spy novel The Man Who Was Thursday over the summer, and quickly followed it up with some of his nonfiction. Orthodoxy was not a disappointment—a wonderful volume on some of the central ideas of the Christian faith, lofty ideas put into simple, easily digestible language. A long-term C.S. Lewis fan, I was pleased to note Chesterton’s influence on Lewis—right down to the gentle sense of humor that comes through his writing. Orthodoxy is one of those rare books I know I’m going to wind up re-reading.

BEST COMIC: Astro City by Kurt Busiek

Simple as it looks on the surface, Astro City is a marvel. Taking the familiar tropes from fifty-or-so-years worth of superhero comics and viewing them through a thoroughly modern but never cynical lens, Busiek manages to weave together stories that are fantastically entertaining while being deeply grounded in the human experience—heartbreaking and hopeful and redemptive and infuriating and messy and poignant. I can’t say enough good things about this series; it’s among the finest comics I’ve ever read.

BEST SCI-FI: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Although the other two books of the MaddAddam trilogy never really live up to the staggering potential of the first one, Atwood’s Oryx and Crake may be one of the most important sci-fi novels I’ve read in a long time. Intensely dark and troubling, it reads a bit like A Brave New World for the 21st Century—a warning against unchecked scientific progress for its own sake and a hint at some things that may be on the horizon if we’re not careful. Touching on a number of hot-button bioethical issues ranging from birth control and pharmaceuticals to eugenics and genetic engineering, this is one of the most timely and terrifying novels I’ve read in quite some time.

BEST FANTASY: Phantastes by George MacDonald

Phantastes is George MacDonald at his most George MacDonald-y: A fairy tale for adults in which the moody and mysterious are mingled with the whimsical and wonderful, and Christian ideology stands side-by-side with the purely fantastic. Beautiful and lyrical and sad and peaceful, this novel is ultimately a contemplation about death as a natural part of life, and a comforting reflection on the fact that, to the Christian, death need not be feared.

BEST HORROR: Psycho by Robert Bloch

As a fan of the classic Hitchcock adaptation, I also loved the novel Psycho, which actually is quite similar to the movie. The only thing Hitchcock changed really was by cutting out extended conversations between Norman Bates and his mother, which, although it works just fine in the book, would have been difficult to handle without giving away too much in the film.

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK: Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

Pinocchio is one of the weirdest, most surreal children’s stories I’ve read in some time. The Disney version is strange enough in itself, but is super-tame compared to the Adventure Time-level absurdity that is the core of this book—I’d love to see a movie adaptation done that had the guts to accurately depict this story in all its bizarre wonder.

BEST LITERARY FICTION: Toss-up between David Copperfield by Charles Dickens and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

David Copperfield was apparently Dickens’ favorite of his own books, and, with its large cast of quirky characters and its telling of the life story of its titular character from boyhood through adulthood, it’s easy to see how he would grow attached to them as a writer. It’s not my favorite of Dickens, though—His trademark humor is present, but I just didn’t find the story as compelling as, say, A Tale of Two Cities. Still, this is a fairly sweeping epic, and one I did enjoy a lot.

Anna Karenina is a tragic tale of the dangers of moral compromise and the slippery slope of deception. Tolstoy is wonderful in his descriptions and his character development and, long as this book was, I viewed it as something of a taste-test to see if I liked Tolstoy before committing to his famously lengthy War and Peace. The good news is that I found I do indeed like Tolstoy. The bad news is that I no longer have a good excuse not to read War and Peace.

BEST UNCATAGORIZABLE: Watership Down by Richard Adams

Is Watership Down a book for children or adults? Is it a fantasy? A family drama? A piece of literary fiction? A war novel? A book on the habits of rabbits in the wild? Ultimately these questions don’t matter all that much—the real question at hand is “is it good?” The answer to this is a resounding yes. A serious novel about a family of rabbits searching for a new home, Watership Down is a surprisingly epic and utterly unique piece of fiction.

So there you have it—a handful of the books I loved in 2014. Feel free to comment and share yours—I’m always on the prowl for good stuff to read. Until next time, see ya.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2015 in Blog