Preacher: Take Me to Church

I’m sure in recent weeks the pun on Hozier’s song and AMC’s new show Preacher has been made more than a few times, but I couldn’t resist the urge. There’s something about the slow, steady rhythm and blasphemous nature of ‘Take Me to Church’ that fits right in line with the attitude and delivery of Preacher.

That delivery is amazing so far. I’ve enjoyed the show so much that I’m having hard time finding a place to start talking about it. The episodes are tense, character-driven, cinematic beauties with a dark humor and a flair for violence. What could wind up being ridiculously unbelievable characters are acted (and directed and written) with just enough down-to-Earthness to make the ludicrous things that happen sympathetic. Cassidy is just a fun loving guy (well, vampire) that just happens to wind up in these terribly bloody fights. Tulip is smart, clever, and completely capable of getting whatever she wants in a scene (respect, a map, surviving) except for Jesse. And Jesse wants a quiet no-hassle life but people won’t stop pushing for him to do his new job and he feels compelled to protect innocents.

I’ve only seen the first three episodes so far, but there’s some great dynamics happening with the main three characters and the other lead supporting cast. The relationship between Tulip and Jesse is the hardest to figure out so far, but that’s half the point of the presentation. The audience meets Tulip in the middle of a fight, who then goes on to prepare for the next wave of attack, protect a couple of kids by getting them out of harm’s way before the fight even starts, and then she’s off. While she gives a small speech about love during all of this, she never brings up Jesse’s name or any details about this ex of her. That part becomes clear later on. Without this early scene, she’d likely come off as the psych-exgirlfriend. She still does in some of her scenes with Jesse, but bits and pieces of their past are coming to light through the show and it’s obvious that something deeply traumatic and wrong happened–something that pushed Jesse away from their old lives and made Tulip cling to it and her mental image of Jesse even harder. There’s unfinished business and Tulip seems to need Jesse to complete, not because she needs her man, but because he was there when the business started. All parties need to be there to see it through–including Jesse if she has to drag him back kicking and screaming (which she just might at this point…) So, really, the greatest part of Tulip and Jesse’s relationship is the fact that it pulls double duty as a plot.

One of the other fantastic aspects of the show is the sets and cinematography. Like other AMC shows (Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels come to mind), Preacher‘s not afraid to use longer, wider shots. Instead of bouncing from face to face, as most shows do during conversations, Jesse and Cassidy lounge on pews, furniture, whatever’s handy. The show loves to feature the long, dusty road up to church. You get to see Jesse’s truck sitting in the background when he goes into a place. Basically, there’s a strong sense of world in this show that helps envelop you in its reality.

I’m really liking this show so far and hopefully we’ll get many more seasons of Preacher (and hopefully it doesn’t eventually disappoint like some things). Definitely go check out the first few episodes on amc.com or double check your On Demand for access.

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So I’m done reading Stephen King’s The Stand

Funny enough, this last week while I finished reading The Stand, I caught a common spring cold. Thanks to the powers that be I didn’t wind up getting swollen throat glands–I may have become a slight bit paranoid in regards to physical health. Of course, the amount of time spent on ensuring good health in The Stand is bound to make anyone a bit nutty (something I commented on last time, too).

Okay, so, I’m done reading. My verdict? Unless you’re a hardcore King fan, or a hardcore conspiracy or apocalypse fan, skip this title. You can see my review on the first two thirds of the book in my last post, so in this one I’ll focus on why the ending drew more of a negative response from me.

My first problem with the ending is that, despite having 1200 pages, the book has no central active conflict. Run through the ‘basic’ conflict structures (person vs person, person vs environment, etc) and each will have some representation. The main characters have some minor conflicts among each other, they have reservations about the supernatural dreams they’ve been having, they’re trying to survive various places, they’re trying to get the power back on, and in the case of Larry–trying to see himself as a better human being. However, none of these have a driving active element once they meet Mother Abigail. The only unifying theme is this ‘epic’ struggle of the Free Zone versus the Las Vegas group–a good versus evil set up. That plot becomes passive because the characters take no action to alter any events. Mother Abigail tells them to go, and not to take anything with them, and the four men (of course it had to be all men, despite Fran being part of the ‘important’ people of the Free Zone) accept this as God’s word. They undertake the journey because they were told to take it. That late in the novel, the characters should have had desires that pointed them in that direction. Instead, they’re cruising along, trying to get the Free Zone in order, a bomb explodes and then Mother Abigail gives an order. I didn’t feel that any of the characters had weight in their own choices, especially Stu and Ralph who were characters that pretty much did as the others suggested anyway.

Another problem is that the characters don’t take the opportunity to grow. A few of them get tiny new buds to their personality, but there’s no major alteration to any of them. Stu only becomes a slightly more talkative person, but he’s basically the same East Texan. Glen never shuts up about sociological ideas and still hesitates around ‘white magic.’ Larry struggles with how he sees himself the whole way through. The only two characters that have a seeable change is Leo, who returns to being a little boy and less of a feral potential killer, and Fran, who becomes more irrational as time goes on. (Oh, and Fran’s reasons are often seen by others and then herself as irrational rantings of a pregnant woman. Too much is blamed on her pregnancy.)

In fact, the book goes out of its way to make the point that even society doesn’t change–that the Free Zone is developing exactly along the lines that Glen Bateman predicted and may easily create the exact same problems of the old world within a few generations. Not exactly encouraging stuff.

I will remember the last scenes for years to come simply because I’m disappointed. Larry, Ralph, and Glen just all go ‘okay, ready to die for God ’cause I have faith in the old woman’ and Trashcan Man kills everyone with an atom bomb? All so that Randall Flagg winds up waking up somewhere else, becoming someone else, and starting all over again? If anything, the point of this novel becomes “the song remains the same.” While a totally valid point to make, it’s not one I find myself enjoying.

Add the unsatisfying ending to the problems I pointed out in the last post, and the book definitely joins my ‘don’t actively recommend’ list. Besides the paranoia of health, I did pick up a few ideas about how to write characters who have so much built in hate. As a writer, I think that’s the one really good lesson to learn from The Stand. Some characters simply hate that much.

The next books I’m reading are The Mists of Avalon and The Twentieth Wife. One of the two will be next week’s entry. Happy reading and writing!

Book Review: Oleander House

The world of online publishing is a frustrating place, perhaps more so in the area of LGBT+ lit. First, you’ve got to find where they’re hiding the LGBT+ books (to which I primarily mean the Nook and Oyster search systems. Roaming through their categories gets you next to nowhere. And good luck finding anything that belongs to the B and T areas. (To the +’s, you deserve more luck than I’m able to give you). Once you find that section, you’ve got to find a book worth your time. This leads to either reading about a dozen samples and becoming frustrated, or reading through the reviews. I try to trust the reviews. This seems like a rookie error, but I’ve got my reason. If enough people like a book, I want to read it so I can try and find out why. (I am still clueless as to the appeal of Hunger Games though).

I outlined all of that for you so you understood how I wound up with Ally Blue’s Oleander House in my hands. I was hunting up books that fell into Gay Romance/Paranormal Adventure types for research purposes. If one wants to write in a given genre, one has to read a given genre. It’s just good business. The reviews on the Nook market held the book in decent regard. Oleander House, first of the Bay City Paranormal Investigations, is a train-wreck from a storyteller’s perspective. All of the seeds are there for a decent story, but about halfway through the book, I realized it was never going to pull up from the nosedive into crap territory. I’d held out hope for that long only because I’m an optimist.

Let’s talk about why this work fails. It’s a case of all the right elements and none of the right refinement. We’ve got our hero, Sam. He’s starting a new job and a new life in a new town–so new that he doesn’t even get to the apartment before going to the paranormal hunt at the Oleander House. He’s a sexy gay guy who, because he lives in the South, feels the need to be a bit protective of his sexuality. He falls quickly for his boss, Bo–who is struggling with his own sexuality. With the other members of the Bay City team, they investigate the strangeness of Oleander House. The southern house has a long and bloody past which includes leaving some victims completely comatose. During the course of the book, there’s a strange occurrence with an entity (demon?) trying to break through the dimensional barrier that’s weak in Oleander House.

Sounds like a neat idea, right?

The problems start on the first page and only mount up as the book goes on. The setting is given in pretty much one long continuous run. In a horror story, especially a Haunted House horror book, the setting needs to provide a consistent mood. Did you ever watch Rose Red? Or The Shining? Or The Woman in Black? Even the Ghostbusters establish the hinkey vibe. The setting in a horror novel has to breathe with life. It has to bear on your subconscious–think of the “Nameless City” by H.P. Lovecraft or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Without the mood in a horror piece, you lose a prime way of keeping your readers on the edge of their seats. Oleander House gave such long descriptions of every room that I grew bored and forgot the layout–and after the first time of not remembering what room was connected to what, I stopped caring.

The characters were a disaster. Each one seemed to fall back on a predominate trait: annoying. Even Sam, our ‘hero,’ was bland and flat. Worst of all was Bo, the love interest. See, Bo was one of those stereotypical ‘oh, I’m married and I’m so not gay. Nope. Not at allllllllll—but I’m way into you but I’m hiding and my bestie knows I’m hiding but I’m married so stay away. No, I can’t stay away because of my attraction to you!’ Bo waffles back and forth, telling Sam so many different things. He’s completely inconsistent from one scene to the next. Sam spends so much of the novel staring after Bo and imagining doing things to Bo that I’m wondering how he managed to believe that no one would ever catch onto him, or why all but one character seemed to ignore the blatant staring he did scene after scene. —These two are great examples of stereotype in the Gay Romance genre. For nearly this exact dynamic (one partner happily identifying as gay while the other struggles with his attraction to men), read the first of Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series, Fatal Shadows. Adrien and Jake are fine examples incorporating what’s typically a boring stereotype into a character aspect. (First hint, it’s the fact that those are only ASPECTS of the character and not the DEFINING characteristic, which is where Blue’s book falls flat).

The other characters are hardly worth mentioning at all. They chat constantly and rehash the ongoings over and over and over. They’re nearly indistinguishable from each other. The four of them form two heterosexual couples. And for whatever reason, one half of each couple has to be afflicted with dreams, though none so bad as what Sam has. Supporting cast members need to represent different ideas or what’s the point in having them involved? Only one seemed to have a point and that was to harass both Sam and Bo about the growing attraction between them. (In more stereotypical fashion: she did this because Bo was married to her best friend and ‘Gawd, you can’t do that to my best friend!’….)

The hurdles of setting and character are hard enough to jump over, but this last one pushed the book into unbearable territory. The ghost hunt, or investigation, wasn’t much of one at all. They considered themselves professionals in their field, but they seemed to lack some basic knowledge. For starters, how about staying up all night to actually investigate the house? Instead, everyone seemed to turn in by midnight–a prime haunt hour by most accounts. BCPI also made the astounding claim that they recorded everything on film (two types of film), because ‘film is harder to fake.’ I was flabbergasted at the idea–people have faked footage on film since we invented the stuff and those still win over supports. The Film is Better than Digital argument was something I swallowed down because an author should be allowed a little leeway in developing their story. However, BCPI would take that video footage and guess what they do afterwards? Load it up, splice together the juicy bits and give the client a CD version. If I had had a physical copy, I would have tossed it across the room at that line. It’s one thing to be a bit contradictory in how you do things, it’s another to negate what your characters are doing. Having seen far too many episodes of Ghost Hunters, and Most Haunted, and listened to a few too many Coast to Coast in college, I had certain expectations out of the hunt. This tale flew against all of them in such a way that makes me wonder if the author did a basic research into paranormal investigations. I mean, the investigators did more work in the middle of the day than in the middle of the night.

In short, this book failed in the spectacular ways of setting, character, and basic research. If you want to create a horror story, these are the three prime aspects you need to keep your reader hooked. Without a hypnotic, creepy atmosphere, relatable and consistent main characters, or the minor details someone versed in genre ought to know, you’re going to lose more people than keep. Check out Oleander House only in a case of what not to do—and look to the others I mentioned as better examples of storytelling.