Book Review: Wild Things Will Roam

Wild Things Will Roam, the debut novel by K.M. West, is a post-apocalyptic gore fest with a soul. The surprises don’t stop there.

The concept that the things that go bump in the night are still with us is reframed. The beasties are wearing new fangs in the wilds left behind by the destruction of our familiar order. The idea is handled so skillfully that the reader is left wondering what might already be staring back from the dark.

The story is written with a crystal clear prose that doesn’t hamper the reader’s experience. The style allows the characters to shine and the story to move forward unimpeded. In short, it was a pleasure to read. A genuine surprise is waiting in West’s fluid and graceful prose even while walking the reader through the horrors of Hell.

The horrors of Hell, it is. The landscape drawn by West is far from benign. Readers who have a history of trauma might want to bear this in mind. The story is a frightening look into what lies under the thin veneer of civilization. It explores not only the world post disaster but also the consequences when that protection from the wild within our own nature is broken.

Cover of the novel Wild Things Will Roam
To Purchase a copy from Amazon

Within this brutal landscape the story follows the struggles of a small group of people thrown together by happenstance ā€“ or is it fate?

That is the question that challenges one of the characters, Liv, throughout the story. How much of our action is self-determined versus what our circumstances lead us toward?

While Liv struggles with the concepts of something beyond the seen, others in the group offer varying levels of acceptance with the unknown. Liv’s guardian, Carian starts the novel as aware of the unseen. Lash, a protector and guardian, takes the presence of an infinite plan for granted ā€“ perhaps he even sees it as his due. Ander, the younger brother to Lash, is so steeped in the ideas of some overarching other that he is often lost beyond the borders of reality. This causes him to act as something of a lightning rod between what is and what will.

But the question remains at the end, as we see everyone’s sense of the world has changed, is Ander led or deluded? What of his vision is true and what of it fantasy? It looks like we will have to wait for the next book in the series to find the answer.

I would consider buying the hardcover to have it on my library shelves. In a day of electronic consumption this says more of how I feel about this work than all the analysis I can offer.

Off the rails

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a bitch.
I was trying for something more academic sounding, but let’s face it, I’m not on that plane today. Nope, today is one of those days where I’m just trying to figure out where I put my sh*t. Or, more accurately, where I lost it.

I know when. That much I am certain of. But, where all my bits scattered to after that I have no bloody idea. I’m off the rails, ground to a halt and trying to find a way to right myself and start moving again.

I hate this.

And yet, I know this process very well. This is a cornerstone of my CPTSD. This cycle repeats itself ad nauseum. Every time through this process these days I’m better at being able to identify which part of the cycle I am in. That, although it sounds trivial is a huge step.

It used to be that I didn’t know what was happening. My CPTSD manifests in many ways. The aspect being activated here is my emotional dysregulation. The cycle goes something like this.

Phase 1:
Calm, cool, collected. Moving forward with life tasks and goals.
Small emotional moments are managed by either listening to the emotion or ignoring.
The sum of the emotion is no change in my equilibrium.

Phase 2:
An event of intense emotion.
The event can be almost anything and can trigger almost any emotion possible. The track-record is more to the negative, but positive emotional events have also kicked the cycle into motion.
In the event there is a sharp dichotomy about expressing or not expressing what I am feeling. More often than not I fall to the side of repression. Which, as loved ones have told me, can feel deceptively normal – or intensely dangerous. I’ll admit, from the inside I can’t tell the difference.
On the upside, I am at least getting better at acknowledging that I am feeling ‘something’. Even if I cannot always identify the emotion, these days I am at least aware that I am feeling. It may sound inconsequential, but for someone who has lived with emotional paralysis for 40+ years, this is a huge step.

Phase 3:
Working my way out of ‘the moment.’ Because of the confusion surrounding my emotions, their muted state and sometimes just the delay in determining what is happening, the ‘moment’ of emotion can last. It is like sitting down and teasing apart lines of rope that have been coated in tar. Laboriously I peel apart the strands of what I am thinking from what I am feeling. At the end of the process I need to sit with that feeling and try to not only understand it in a rational manner, but to also process it at an emotional level. That processing is another intense period of labor as the creaking and stunted machinery of my inner emotional self is prodded into motion.
Previous patterns of attempting to ignore or stuff the feelings away results in anger, depression and intense self-loathing. Enough of that and I will begin to start longing for ‘out’.
So, these days I work through it. Believe me when I call it work. It is.

Phase 4:
The aftermath of one of these events is all encompassing. Every system of myself suffers under the impact of such an event. Physically there might be muscle spasms, stomach upset, migraines, exhaustion. Emotionally the rawness caused by this unprepared for intensity leaves me in one of two states; hyper-aroused or depressed. Periods of hyper-arousal are followed by emotional numbness.
There is another feature in all this backwash. The question inevitably comes up of “Why am I doing this again?” Why am I spending time and effort and money on trying to connect with these emotions when I was doing well-enough as an automaton?
All those storylines where an android wants to ‘become a real boy’ – wow, I’m pretty sure I could talk them out of it. Because, seriously – why am I doing this?

Phase 5:
Recovering my balance.
Much as I wish that recovery from such an event was as simple as recognizing that I am in the midst of one, it isn’t. Recovery takes time. Time to process the emotions. Time to process the event that caused it. Time to herd the physical and mental processes back on-line. Time to pour it all out onto a page in an effort to move past the wreckage. Time to reflect, but not to fall into an old pattern of over analysis.

That is where I am, right now.

I’m trying to feel my jaw unknot. I’m coaxing my shoulders to relax. Telling my stomach that this too shall pass and to try to stop cannibalizing itself. Above all reminding myself to breathe.

I will end with a couple of quotes from Winston Churchill:
First “When going through Hell, keep walking,” and the second – “Success is never permanent, and failure is not fatal.”

So – here’s me, walking.

Book Review: The Sons of Mil

The Sons of Mil
L.M. Riviere

If you are a fan of epics, Celtic myth, or simply good storytelling,Ā The Sons of Mil, L.M. Riviere’s debut novel is a welcome outing. From a diverse group of characters, the author weaves a tale of complex politics, the brutal conditions in fictional Innisfail, treachery, and a quest for redemption. The story opens with an act of opportunism and pride that heralds disaster. The killing of a white stag, an animal sacred to the Sidhe, establishes the theme of bearing the consequences of actions driven by pride. The opening also establishes the tension between the Sidhe and the human, Milesian, population.

From there we follow Ben Maeden, one of the hunters on the ill-fated trespass, as he is forced to abandon his home for his failures to protect another hunter. With a series of encounters, we learn more and more of Ben’s history as the layers of his disguise are literally and figuratively stripped away.

Ben’s central relationship forms with a young woman, Una. Una is a pawn who is both powerful and powerless. She makes for an interesting counterpoint to Ben’s discoveries about himself as she joins him on his journey.

Innisfail is fleshed out from the bones of Celtic mythology. If the reader is enchanted by the stories of the Sidhe, the Ard Ri, and Tara, they won’t be disappointed with a stroll through this detailed and complex world.

The storytelling is fast-paced and moves along well. The only place I found myself wanting faster development was in the characters themselves. But, there is a delicate ballet of revealing and concealing at play between the two main actors which would be spoiled by rushing it.

Only one point feels misplaced in the story. There are repeated references to ‘the Transition.’ Those references hint at a time before Innisfail. The setup makes me wonder if we are somehow sitting in a fantasy story set on top of a dystopian future base. If this is the case, it would make the scientific terms that arise in the prose and the conversation easier to accept. This one piece of the story is like a pulled stitch on a sweater. It needs to be smoothed into place.

Like many first novels in a series, and there is more I hear, The Sons of Mil is overfilled with leads to develop. They are tempting, but at the same time, it leaves the story with a somewhat unresolved feeling to the ending. Lots of little ‘what ifs’ are left lurking in the reader’s mind. But, there is a wee point of great satisfaction as we see how Ben Maeden has broken free of his past.

I look forward to reading more of this author’s work.

L.M. Riviere

For my brother

Duane Robert Stewart
October 16, 1964 – January 18, 2021

My brother died today and I wept for him, for us.
For all the warm words we never exchanged,
For all the jealousy we held for each other,
For all the times pain was our only contact,
For the words of hurt,
For the thefts,
For the bruises,
For the silence,
And for the little boy
At the bottom of the stairs
Who screamed in panic
As I fled upward
And father raged below.
You deserved better,
And so did I.

Touching base

Well, January 2021 certainly led off with a bang. I still see things on the horizon of concern. I’m trying very hard NOT to focus on those.

Instead, I am head-down in editing my second novel while waiting somewhat patiently for my first novel to have a pre-order date. I’m also trying to remind myself that even though things seem overwhelming at the moment there is the slow, steady process of just taking one breath after another.

One thing I did learn from CPTSD is that some days just getting to the end of the day was enough. Those days, sometimes, are the hardest. Remember, it can be done.

There are some behind the scenes ‘shenanigans’ going on which I am not yet in a position to relate. I hope it will be a funny story with a good ending – but, until then, everyone buckle up.

With any luck, I will be able to write next week about a very boring and uneventful Inauguration. Let’s keep hoping for that.

Peace, ya’ll.

Picking up Clues: January 6, 2021

Holiday break is over. That means I am back at the keys.
You can’t see me but I’m over here shaking my head because of the events in the US in the past 24 hours.

I’m reading all my various news feeds and still head shaking. It’s mystifying – why are all these people acting surprised? I’ve said it repeatedly since December 2015 that Trump was going to be a disaster. I even broke Godwin’s Law at the time and compared him to Hitler. Readers may still think that comparison is extreme. I don’t.

Where did people think the erosion of the truth, the persistent lying, and the scapegoating was going to lead? Where? These actions are drawn whole-cloth from the 1933 Nazi party.

I could go on with comparisons, but I’ve already written that essay over here:
Echoes of 1933. There is no need to retread that ground.

What disappoints me is that there are so many people who find the events of yesterday surprising. All the information was there folks. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Moreover – the political atmosphere should not have been allowed to become poisoned to this extent.

Someone on Twitter asked: What one word do you think future historians will use to describe the Trump administration?

Among all the things you might expect to see I added one that might seem out of place – ‘pivotal’. I believe that is the most accurate way to describe the erosion that this administration has brought our nation and our government.

This administration and the general ineffectual leadership of our elected officials, all of them, has brought us to a point where nearly half of the people in the US think that this administration has been good for them. Half? I find that number both depressing and sickening.

And the political talking heads of the media have bewailed all the impropriety, while at the same time providing a platform willing or not for the public poisoning of our government and our nation.

Pivotal. I chose that word because here we, everyone, needs to start valuing truth again. We need to see if we can resuscitate our national decency. This frothing of the mob was predictable every step along the arc of the last four years.

Sometimes I feel very much like Cassandra. Usually it doesn’t bother me. There are moments like this, however, that frustrate me because what seems so obvious to me has been ignored or downplayed.

It’s a simple thing to see. So, if you’re surprised, you haven’t been paying attention.

Everyone else is just too tall

Several years ago I was introduced to the idea of “the culture of character” and its near opposite “the culture of personality.” Before I plunge into today’s societal navel-gazing it is worth the time to look at and define these two types of social structures.

They may appear to some people to be synonymous. Other people will see them as vastly different approaches. In order for this essay to be cohesive I need to take a few moments to set my definitions first.

Warren Susman, a social historian coined these terms. He pointed to the turn of the 19th century to the 20th as the moment when American culture began the shift from being a ‘culture of character’ to a ‘culture of personality.’

What he was observing and commenting on was the 19th century’s culture which demanded ‘character’ – a person’s oath is their bond, morality, being honest and upright – was losing ground to an up and coming ‘culture of personality.’ The new culture of the 20th century was centered not on the individuals interior qualities, but instead on the personal qualities of being liked and admired.

we began trading in self-sacrifice for self-expression, the work ethic for the leisure ethic and integrity for charm.

Character Takes on Personality, Henry Allen January 5, 1986, Washington Post

What we didn’t see at the time was the cost that came with this alteration in our cultural priorities. We can see it now. On full display in the American political arena is the result of the clash between the ‘culture of character’ and the ‘culture of personality’.

It reminds me of a quote by John Adams that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

I do take issue with the mention of religion – because it perpetuates the myth that a person cannot be moral without identifying as religious, but that is representative of the 18th century.

The rest of the quote I find to still be accurate. We are seeing the proof of it today.

It is imprudent to paint everyone in a culture as adhering to a single set of priorities. As in any mass of people there will be those who are and those who are not representative of the cultural climate.

So, what is the cost that I mentioned above? It may be the very democracy that we as Americans claim to cherish. We are seeing the ‘culture of personality’ engaging in an active attempt to undermine the government.

Until now the political arena for the highest political post in the American government operated on character. Indeed, it operated this way for centuries and we did not perceive how dependent our institutions had grown on the possession of character by our leaders. We had never witnessed a product of the ‘culture of personality’ in this position.

We have now. John Adams was right, democracy cannot endure in an atmosphere where morality is dismissed. The sheer audacity of a person indoctrinated solely in the ‘culture of personality’ to believe that it is their right to be liked astonishes. This is also what is driving the current Trump/GOP push to invalidate the election. The idea that Trump is not liked, loved, admired, worshiped is intolerable to him, as well as his followers, and therefore they insist it must be false.

They are insisting, repetitively. Over and over the GOP and its operatives are putting forward the baseless narrative that the election was somehow tampered with and therefore the results are illegitimate. This is despite the total lack of evidence for their claims. But, even tough it is tempting to sit back and comfort ourselves with the knowledge that these unfounded and frivolous attacks have been dismissed in nearly every court what we should be concerned with is the persistent drip of poisonous unreality into our electoral process.

Even a fiction can become reality if repeated often enough.

Denial of the truth, or the selective picking and choosing of what is true is a hallmark of the erosion of democracies throughout history. There is no doubt that the rise of a ‘cult of personality’ can be the death-knell for attempts at democracy or governmental reform. History bears this pattern out again and again.

So, what is the future of a democracy that confuses personality for character? What happens when the populace chooses the sweet-rotting fruit of the huckster that can intoxicate them over the plainer fare of the candidate with character?

You end up in a situation much like our current one, where it was more important to one person to be liked than it was to deal with reality. The important mundane needs of running a nation go unmet. The result of that fundamental neglect of the duties of leadership results in what we see today. Thousands dead, thousands facing the prospect of homelessness, hunger, despair are what follows the con.

And yet, in that wake you still find people hoping to capture the candy floss reality that they have become so sick from ingesting. They are still chasing that high heedless of the cost, not only to themselves, but to the community around them.

It sounds very much like an addiction.

A diet of sweets and intoxicants can’t sustain the body. The high will be followed by the inevitable crash. Trust me, when the crash comes the dealer will be long gone. Those who willingly took his poison will deny their own responsibility leaving the remains to those of character to restore.

Those driven by the ‘culture of personality’ will abdicate the responsibility for the results of their actions. No matter how deep the hole they find themselves in, no matter how weak or malnourished, they will keep digging in an attempt to find another colorful, distraction to provide them entertainment. Someone to tell them what they want to hear, that they aren’t in a hole, everyone else is just too tall.

In the can.

CPTSD is a strange thing to grow up with. Even stranger to live with once you know you have it.

For Example:
My latest InstagramPost-

There it is the manuscript for Book 4 in the Unhomed series. Still debating titles. I do like to stick with one word – but this particular word is proving elusive.
Despite that this manuscript will be placed into a drawer to ‘marinate’ for a year, at least. I’ll come back to it in Jan 2022. Provided I’m still here.

You might be wondering what is so ‘typical’ of CPTSD in that little post above. I’ll point out the last line. Now, while it may be very appropriate in 2020 to not take making it to tomorrow for granted it goes a bit deeper than that.

From Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving I pull this quote from the section on “Toxic Shame and Soul Murder.” (If that isn’t a powerful phrase I don’t know what is?)

Quote: When our emotional intelligence is restricted, we often do not know what we really want.

~ Pete Walker

I don’t think I can convey how estranged I was, and let’s admit still am, from my feelings. I can see that emotional emptiness echoing back through my life. With it I can follow the ambivalence I had about life.

One of the questions I have always struggled with is “Where do you want to be in ten years?” Or even five. Hell, I don’t know where I want to eat lunch let alone what I want to do with myself in a year. Never mind ten years.

Learned helplessness is a survival tool. Additionally, it is a phrase I absolutely loathe. But, love it or loathe it, learned helplessness is a firm part of my past. I still wrestle with it.

I never really planned for anything because promises were broken, plans were ignored, asking for something was too much. I became able to be grateful for what I was given and not to expect or hope for more. This is the core of learned helplessness. There is nothing you can do to improve your situation, so you learn to endure. Later when the cause of the suffering is removed the mind is still locked in the role of the abused and cannot see that circumstances have changed.

How does all that relate to planning for tomorrow? For me there was no planning for any future. I dealt with what was given to me. My future was to fulfill the expectations of my family. I didn’t think about my future. I didn’t get to.

So, although I have every intention of revising, editing, and publishing the book above, I know that nothing in life is promised, not even tomorrow.

Thanksgiving, rewritten

As many of my readers will know, Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday. Putting my family together with the expectations of a celebration to rival the covers of the Saturday Evening Post never worked out well. It was more like a production of The Crucible.

For many years, and I know I’m not alone in this, I avoided this holiday in any way I could. I worked. I was ‘on-call’. I watched a sick kitten. Even sitting here thinking of those past gatherings has my stomach trying to tie itself into knots. Easy stomach. Down boy.

Being an analytical sort I thought I would sit down and dissect exactly what was going through my brain. Plus, it takes me out of the arena of emotions and solidly back on the ground of intellectualism. Hooray for avoidance.

What is Thanksgiving at its very core?

  • A historical commemoration
  • A family gathering
  • A celebration of (something?)
  • A time to reflect on what we are thankful for

I have no problem with these ideas.

I believe in commemorating historical events. I don’t believe in most of the myth that surrounds the discovery and early European colonization of the Americas. That is a history lesson for another day.

Family getting together is not a bad thing. Not in the main. Some people simply have ‘chosen’ families rather than biological. I know that it is common to trot out the old saw that ‘Blood is thicker than water.’ Indeed, some folks have wonderful, giving, supportive families. Others, don’t.

Celebrating something. Sure. Why not?
But, to celebrate something doesn’t require mounds of excess that devolves into this frenzy of acquisition. Again, that is a different essay.

A time to reflect on what we are thankful for. Yes. This is, in my opinion, the reason to celebrate on Thanksgiving Day.

So what do I have a problem with? The expectation that the day will be perfect. That the family will rise to some level of decency and caring that isn’t there the other 360+ days of the year. That in one day we can reach over the chasms between us for appearances. To provide the feeling, no matter how false, that we are a close loving family.

I stopped being able to do that years ago. The mask and the costume wouldn’t fit anymore. I was tired of pretending.

It’s a sad thing to think about. There are lots of ‘maybe’ and ‘what if’ and ‘why’ in all those memories. There’s a yearning for something that we pretended to have really been true. It’s a lovely wish.

I know it is just a fancy, all that stuff about wishes and fishes and bicycles and beggars.

I would rewrite Thanksgiving and I would make the center of it consist of gratitude. I admit I would strip it of most of the bells and whistles. So what might it look like?

It would look like me writing and contemplating all the people who have helped me this year. I would take a moment to say ‘Thank You’.

Thank you to the people of the CPTSD community for your support when I have needed it. Thank you for allowing me to help and offer support where I could.
Thank you to the mental health professionals who have helped me find more pieces of myself.

Thank you to the wonderful folks at Episodic Publishing for having faith in my novel.
Thank you to LaNae and Kaleigh and Bex for helping polish the manuscript and for creating images that will help it shine.

Then I would probably go into a long litany of individuals of who I wanted to thank, for their help, their encouragement, their kindness. The occasional dose of reality and keeping me on track. My chosen family whom I miss and pray that you all stay safe and healthy.

I would finish by thanking those who are on this journey. Thank you for supporting me, for understanding, and most of all sharing this road with me.

Two paths diverged in a yellow wood

I love the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost which contains the line used for the title. The simple idea that we all face choices that define our lives. Those choices can be momentous or tiny. They can be so small that at the time we didn’t notice that we had made a choice.

I suspect we have all stood at a decision point in the path and tried to discern which one would be ‘better’. For me, the reality is that often I made the choice based on what I knew others expected. I did this no only because it was the expectation, but equally because I had no idea what I wanted. I spent the bulk of my life constrained by fear of the unknown, fear of punishment, fear of speaking up, fear of speaking or doing, at all.

I am learning, rather late in life, that these choices were mine or at least they were meant to be mine. I still wonder, were the choices taken from me or did I abdicate them in the hope of buying safety?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and Iā€”
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I stood upon a road facing a divide,
I trembled knowing that on one path
Without premonition, sign or guide
Both branches were equally eyed.
Filled with doubt I must choose to pass.

On both roads stood dread unknown
Faceless fears and boogie men
Childhood monsters though I’m grown
Follow me far from home
And try to draw me back again.

I was caged safe and sound
My hands could span from wall to wall
In silence I sat making myself small
Blinded to the bars that did surround
For if I did not rise then I could not fall.

When I saw the cage I had designed
Silver bars and barbed wire fence
About myself for fear I did wind
I was prisoner in my own mind
And that has made all the difference.

As the author of the poem stated, “And that has made all the difference”.