Bonecruncher: Matt Posner’s pro wrestling novel SQUARED CIRCLE BLUES

Squared Circle BluesSQUARED CIRCLE BLUES:
A Novel of Professional Wrestling

by MATT POSNER

Reviewed by Andrew McCoy

SQUARED CIRCLE BLUES is exactly what it says on the tin, a novel of pro wrestling. Author Matt Posner pulls no punches, paints no glosses, makes no excuses for the milieu, the characters, or their actions. Pro wrestling turns out exactly as expected, only more violent, more dangerous, more crooked and more ruinous of the lives of innocent bystanders.

SQUARED CIRCLE BLUES rings true because it is true to the spirit and the detail of pro wrestling, which isn’t a sport but a business which consumes its children.

The organizers of pro wrestling are, of course, unsympathetic characters. But the surprising thing is how many of the wrestlers, and their families, are simpatico. It helps enormously to build our identification with the good characaters that Mr Posner gives us their viewpoint largely in dialogue, in their own words. He has a fine ear for the vernacular, and it turns these fantastic characters from the bizarre end of the spectrum of human experience into people like our
neighbours, at least if our neighbours were colourful.

By adding a large appendix of sources in which his facts can be checked, Mr Posner reinforces the impression that SQUARED CIRCLE BLUES, if it weren’t such good storytelling, could be a documentary, straightforward journalism told mainly in dialogue.

lanceseriesgraphicFor me, the main takeaway from this surprising, fascinating novel is how smoothly Mr Posner has managed to undermine our prejudicial certainties about people outside our own circle of trust and knowledge.
Andrew McCoy is the author of the Lance Weber series of adventure novels and literary criticism like STIEG LARSSON Man, Myth & Mistress.

Buggins’ Turn the Original Screenplay by Andre Jute, reviewed by Matt Posner: “farcical”

Matt Posner taking notes in Malmo, Sweden
Matt Posner taking notes in Malmo, Sweden

Buggins’ Turn is a farcical screenplay that reads like it has come out of the 1970s. I seriously could envision the forty-years-ago Dudley Moore (R.I.P.) or Peter Sellers (also R.I.P.) and Dyan Cannon in this one. Buggins is a mild-mannered, clueless nebbish who gets pushed around endlessly and has little control of his fate till the love of a woman begins to break through his timidity.

Buggins is up against a mega-corporation run by Lord and Lady Amazon. As one might expect with farce, Lord Amazon is way shorter than his wife, a riff that is coincidentally also found in some of the Shrek movies. I read the presence of a company called Amazon as an unsubtle play upon Jeff Bezos’ company.

buggins__turn_cover_800pxhBuggins’ allies are Celia (the woman I mentioned) a bumbling agent named Allan Allin (I may have botched the spelling) and Bloody Raztoz Razzamatazz, a nihilistic, dreadlocked Caribbean rap artist. Also featured are a hateful neighbor with an aggressive male dog named Lassie, a street urchin, the crackpot owners of a dictaphone store, and a number of villainous business types. Hell’s Angels make an extended appearance, with somewhat of the comic intensity of the motorcycle gang in Every Which Way You Can.

andre_jute_singapore
André Jute passing through Singapore. Photo: Roz Pain-Hayman.

I can definitely see this type of plot and action getting filmed in the 1970s; I saw many films of this type as a child. I think that Buggins’ Turn is however really more of a quick, amusing read than a viable script at this point, for which purpose I used it this morning while waiting in a room.

See more books by Andre Jute.

See Matt Posner’s books.

 

“I give this book five stars. It is highly recommended for everyone with a strong stomach for violence.” — Matt Posner

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Contemporary review of
BLOOD IVORY by Andrew McCoy
by the novelist
Matt Posner
***** (5 stars out of 5)

This book was originally published in the 1970s; I read the new edition by Cool Main Press, which is both re-issuing Andrew McCoy’s work and commissioning new novels from him. This text was provided to me by the publisher at my request since I was interviewing the gentleman for my website.

Blood Ivory is a direct sequel to African Revenge, to which I also gave five stars. Both feature as hero Lance Weber, who is an apprentice adventurer in the first novel and a veteran adventurer here, travelling on the road in a caravan of trucks with a mixture of sub-Saharan Africans as employees and partners. Both are unflinching in their depiction of race relations and racial conflict. Blood Ivory adds some new elements: boats, helicopters, and Chinese participants in the conflicts.

lance_weber_series_cover_2500

The range of this story is expanded to include England and many places in Asia, including Singapore and Hong Kong. More parts of Africa are shown; I was surprised by the small scale, since the truck convoy seems to cross countries in fewer hours than it would take to cross states that I drive through in the United States. I know Andrew McCoy has it right, however. No thriller writer knows Africa better than Andrew McCoy.

The novel posits an alternate-reality version of the 1970s world in which wild elephants are near extinction, and with their extermination, the price of their ivory will be dramatically magnified. The result, as one might expect after reading African Revenge, is brutal slaughter of men as well as animals.

Blood Ivory is a very gripping novel with strong characterization and terrific plot. It confirms me in my belief that I will enjoy anything Andrew McCoy writes, even when I am horrified by the cruelty and gore and even when I find the characters’ attitudes alien to my own. This is a different type of thriller than those written in this century, because of its setting, because of the treatment of race (and violence toward women), because of the characters’ necessary reliance upon 1970s technology (no mobile phones or computers).

I give this book five stars. It is highly recommended for everyone with a strong stomach for violence.

I hope I will soon see a reissue of McCoy’s controversial novel Atrocity Week. Really longing for a look at that one.

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Heroic fantasy starts new series: review of Mind Crafter by J. A. Beard

Mind Crafter
by J.A. Beard
A review by Matt Posner

It was my pleasure to meet J.A. Beard some years ago in an online group helmed by Andre Jute, and a further pleasure to become acquainted with his fantasy writing. Mind Crafter, his most recent novel, is an interesting heroic fantasy book which begins one of several series on which Mr. Beard is working.

The story is set in an invented world of empires containing diverse peoples, some conquered by others. Technology is comparable to Renaissance Europe without guns, population density more like Roman Europe. Technological progress has not been necessary, because instead there exist clans of people called crafters, essentially wizards who are born with the potential to control mind, body, soul, metal, or the traditional Empedoclean four elements of air, earth, water, and fire. Every society has crafters, but the dominant Larangian empire has the most and best-organized community of them, and has accordingly defeated many of its neighbors, sometimes without much resistance.

Beard’s heroine, Fifth Shala, is the titular mind crafter, with the ability to probe, control, still, and deceive minds. She is a scholar, not a fighter, and prefers to fight her battles in the library, but at the start of the book, a chance encounter with the destructive cultists of the Cleansing Gods thrusts her into the midst of the intrigues of the Imperial Court. She is given a dangerous research task by single, childless Empress Tua Van, with whom she enjoys a contentious, tumultuous friendship. Tua Van is also an important viewpoint character in the book.

With the complex Shala firmly situated in the court, the book focuses upon unraveling the mysteries of the world’s history and developing a relatable cast of mostly female characters. Vividly written dreams punctuate the narrative, providing historic information along with cinematic visuals. Inside the palace, the claustrophobic atmosphere of manipulation and betrayal put me in mind of A Game of Thrones, although there is more magic and less slaughter.

Beard’s style in this book is quite different than is his cool and quirky first novel The Emerald City. He pursues a formal and syntactically complex style of character speech, combined with prose that is more matter-of-fact and that reminds me somewhat of Fred Saberhagen. The elevated diction of the characters is sometimes awkward, just as Shala herself is socially awkward, preferring the library and privacy to the Empress’ circle of status-conscious intriguers. The fact that a mind crafter struggles to maneuver socially is a central motif of the book and also a source of some moderate irony in what is overwhelmingly a serious, in fact a grim story. Shala also faces the challenge of her ethnicity: she is Kanstadi, born in a conquered province and distinguishable by darker skin. While she is not attached to her place of birth, it is attached to her, and leaves her on the receiving end of some ugly prejudice. Thus there is a mild subtext of racism in the book. Beard has informed me that there will be more exploration of this theme in the sequel, although it does not run parallel to the American experience of racism.

There are numerous adversaries to be overcome in the book, but one worth noting is Feng, Acting Minister of Harmony, a spymaster who schemes like J. Edgar Hoover and bloviates like Rush Limbaugh. Probably my favorite of the many well-developed characters is Ansa, a diligent and loving servant girl who becomes a favorite of both the Empress and Shala and who, while only peripheral to the plotline, serves well to highlight the basic decency of the two squabbling female leads. I predict that Ansa will grow in importance as the series develops. The next book, Dream Crafter, is well under way, I am told, and will take the characters to a new setting.

I am pleased to recommend Mind Crafter to fantasy readers who enjoy strong female characters, tales of political intrigue, focus on character development, and complex settings with detailed history.

Copyright © 2013 Matt Posner.

J. A. Beard on Dialogue

ja beard a woman of proper accomplishmentsJ. A. Beard’s A Woman of Proper Accomplishments

When I first decided to take my creative writing from occasional short story scribbling to something greater, I found I had an issue with dialog. This isn’t to say that my dialog was utterly horrid, but rather that the speech patterns of most of my characters sounded rather suspiciously like a transcript of my own speech patterns or, occasionally, the speech patterns of my youth, which have the dual issue of still being somewhat specific to me and comically out of date.

Initially, I thought the problem was simple. I thought it was just a matter of working out the background of my characters and then keeping that in the forefront of my thoughts as I penned their dialog. If I knew the background of XYZ character, I could adjust accordingly. Easy, right? Yeah, not so much.

Once I accepted the depth of my problem with dialog, I decided to follow a piece of an advice that is as good for writing as it is for relationships:   listen, listen, listen. I started paying a lot more attention to what people around me were saying and how they were saying it.

The issue, I found, was that there’s a large gap between what I thought best represented my characters on the page and what actually felt natural. First and foremost, readers respond to what flows naturally and reads authentically. Characters whose speech patterns don’t line up with how they are otherwise represented in the story damage the holy of holies of fiction: verisimilitude. It’s also not very natural for everyone in a story to sound exactly the same (e.g., just like the author).

My quest for dialog became (and continues to be) both an exercise in improving my fundamental writing ability and a linguistic exercise. Active listening taught me that speech patterns are a fingerprint of sort, consisting of various sorts of distinguishable elements that can rendered on the page, including many things beyond the obvious such as phonetics, slang, and jargon. For example, it’s amazing how much diversity in a relatively homogenous population one encounters in things like simple word choice and syntax emphasis.

In addition to actually critically analyzing speech in the real world, I also have come to value the useful resource of other novels and stories. Different authors bring own their style and backgrounds to their writing, both of which work together to influence what sort of dialog makes it to the page. Exploring the dialog of others has helped to crystallize for me what sorts of elements make for good dialog.

I’ve found it isn’t about being slavish to a total accurate representation of actual speech, but rather about knowing what to emphasize for a good combination of natural flow and verisimilitude. This, combined with my listening, has helped teach me how to tweak dialog to feel real but still best serve the needs of the written page.

Recently, I was asked to contribute to the book How to Write Dialog, by my friend Matt Posner, who actually put significant effort into gathering a huge number of examples from many different authors and situations. In reading through the book beyond on my very meager contributions, I was fascinated by all the different examples from authors both old and new. Given there are so many different ways of representing interesting speech and it serves so many functions, a wide variety of examples are helpful.

The world changes. People changes. Writing fashions come and go. Therefore, I’ll always need to be critically listening to the language around me and critically studying the grand expanse of other authors: from the time-tested authors of the classics to my modern peers.

J.A. Beard is a restless soul married to an equally restless soul. He has restless children. When he hasn’t been writing, studying history, or making excuses for not writing, he’s tried his hand at several careers including intelligence analysis, programming, scientific editing, and research science.

Though he likes to declare himself the Pie Master, he’s yet to prove his worth in the brutal baking show-downs of Celebration, Florida.

In addition to his recent contributions to How to Write Dialog, J.A. Beard has penned several fantasy novels. He’s dabbled in a variety of sub-genres, including historical fantasy (A Woman of Proper Accomplishments), epic fantasy (Mind Crafter), and contemporary YA fantasy (The Emerald City).

He can be contacted on his author Facebook page, bms.beard@gmail, or at his blog at jabeard.com.

Interview: Matt Posner, author of How to Write Dialogue

Matt Posner taking notes in Malmo, Sweden81bKbRotWIL._SL1500_

I’ll let Matt speak. My questions are in bold:

Andre, many thanks for hosting me at Kissing the Blarney.  You are THE MAN in my lights and I am proud to say that if Andre Jute wrote it, I will read it.

I’m here today to introduce my new book, How to Write Dialogue. It’s a manual for fiction writers of all experience levels that offers ideas, analysis, and inspiration for telling a story through character conversation. How to Write Dialogue. includes not only examples by me, but examples from classic novels and from my bullpen of working professional novelists:    J.A. Beard; Cynthia Echterling; Marita A. Hansen; Junying Kirk; Stuart Land; Mysti Parker; Roquel Rodgers; Jess C. Scott; Chrystalla Thoma; Ey Wade; and Georgina Young-Ellis. I was also lucky to get essays on dialogue by Jess and by bestselling thriller and police procedural author Tim Ellis. My close friend,  fine artist Eric Henty, also provided me with numerous line drawings of unusual characters.  I welcome the chance to hear from readers, especially other writers and writing students, about the impact of my ideas in this book.

1. Why a book on dialogue as distinct from, say, plotting?

I chose to write a book on dialogue because I consider it my greatest strength as a fiction writer. Dialogue comes very easily to me:  writing it is as close to effortless as anything I can do in composition, and it’s sort of my default mode for telling a story. Sometimes, in fact, I have to go back through pages of dialogue and force myself to add in anything else.

I can’t pinpoint how I acquired this particular facility, but there are a number of factors that probably contributed. One factor was, of course, reading and rereading favorite authors, both children’s and adult books, and reading up to three chapter books a day at my youthful peak.  Another factor was watching well-written TV comedy in the 1970s and 1980s. Shows like Mary Tyler Moore, All in the Family, Barney Miller, and WKRP in Cincinnati were among those whose strong dialogue I absorbed by repeated viewing.  I turned to fiction as a desirable future profession starting at age 13, and toward that end, I rewrote one novel over and over and had the chance to improve the same scenes time and again in the course of several years.  Things developed from there.

I do know how to construct plots, pretty much, so I hope I’ll get to that topic in a future book.

2. Once a teacher, always a teacher, eh, Matt?

Yes, being a teacher stays in the blood, somewhat like a debilitating infection.

3. You were an athlete once, a wrestler. Is there a lesson in the training methods for writers?

I liked wrestling but I wasn’t good at it. The one thing I accomplished for two years is that when I wanted to quit, I went to practice anyway and somehow didn’t quit.  Actually, I did quit, but not until I had proved something to myself — that I could endure the suffering that a hard practice entailed. Enduring suffering seems to be part of the game for writers, as it is for teachers, too. (Ow!)

4. How much does your School of the Ages series about the young magicians depend on dialogue? Would even a strongly plotted story like one of those fall flat without good dialogue, including good interior dialogue?

All my fiction depends heavily upon dialogue. It’s my main storytelling method. While my young protagonists are capable of action and can let their magic speak for them in some ways, I think conversation is essential to things they do, such as planning, problem-solving, and confronting enemies. When my magicians meet, and are facing a possible fight, they do a lot of verbal taunting and posturing, like Arthurian knights:  it’s just part of their culture. Also, the kids are like all characters in that they have to talk about their feelings.  Finally, verbal humor is essential to the entertainment value in all the School of the Ages books except perhaps the somewhat bleak initial volume.

I think a strongly plotted book falls flat with bad dialogue, because bad dialogue destroys the pleasure of reading.  A badly plotted book can’t survive on good dialogue either. These are essential components — clear, effective, and satisfying sentence writing is a third.

Interior dialogue (the character’s thoughts) isn’t covered by the volume we’re discussing.  However, I believe contemporary readers demand it. If they don’t know what the main character is thinking, they feel disenfranchised.

5. Tell us the worst atrocity in dialogue you’ve ever come across.

The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks, which I reread not too long ago, has characters analyzing each other’s personalities and motivations in some very clunky dialogue. Yes, I realize Brooks has outsold me ten million to one, but that just proves it’s better to be lucky than good.

I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I hear it’s exponentially worse.

6. If you were limited to one quick tip on dialogue for the beginning writer, what would it be?

Your dialogue needs to do a lot of things besides entertain, but if it isn’t entertaining, you will lose your reader.

7. A shiny-eyed newbie wants to see how you practice what you preach. Which of your books, aside from the textbook itself, should that aspiring writer read first to get the best value out of your example?

The novel I’m writing now (contents mysterious) will be especially good for dialogue. School of the Ages in general shows that I practice what I preach, but I think the sharpest dialogue is in Book 3, The War Against Love. Other readers may have a different favorite.

Here is a selection, in which the Arch-Mage Jan Vorkin from Prague questions my fifteen-year-old hero Simon.

“Welcome, Simon Magus. Thank you for seeing me. I promise it will be to your advantage. A wonderful school you have here. So many talented youths are gathered together:  I am much struck by it. I shall be questioning you, but I think it will not be too painful.”

“I don’t think it will be painful at all.”

He settled into his seat, sipping his coffee. Realizing I had nothing to drink, he took another can from a satchel on the chair next to him and slid it across the table to me. The label was in a language I didn’t recognize, presumably Czech. I had some. It was unsweetened and bitter. I drank deeply.

“Now, I will start with your name. You have some other name, of course, as do many in our line. You could have chosen any name for yourself, yet you chose the name of a known deceiver and villain. Why?”

“At first, I just liked the sound. Later, I learned that the name tied me in to events in the past. I think many people in ancient times called themselves Simon Magus, and now I’m one of them.”

“But you are no deceiver?”

“Maybe I am, and maybe I’m not,” I said, “but neither all the time. In our line, to use your words, we have to be deceptive and mysterious.”

“Of course. Tell me, as you are a handsome boy, does your handsomeness come from your father or your mother?”

“I look like my father. My mother is beautiful too.” He might have met her, as she was the Dean’s assistant, but I saw no reason to give him that information.

“Do you prefer fire or water?”

That was an odd question, but he was serious about it; his body was tilted across the table toward me, eagerly awaiting the answer.

“Arch-Mage,” I told him, “I saw the attack on 9/11 from the ground. After seeing the towers burn, and walking in the smoke, I could never love fire. Why do you ask that?”

“I have fire and water to dispose of. Now, tell me of your brothers and sisters.”

“Tell me about yours.”

“In my case that is expensive knowledge.”

“Then you see my problem,” I said.

“You answer a complex question, and refuse a simple one,” he said. “How did you come to be made that way?”

“I don’t know, Arch-Mage. I know that I’m representing my school here, and I expected to be asked professional questions. I don’t know why you’re asking personal ones.”

He nodded. Perhaps his eyes twinkled. “Do you dance?”

“No.”

“Sing? Paint? Sculpt?”

“No, no, and no.”

“I thought not. Write?”

“I will, someday, when the story is ready. Why are you asking these questions, sir?”

8. Where can readers link to you, Matt?

Website:  http://schooloftheages.webs.com

Fan page:  http://www.facebook.com/schooloftheages

Twitter:  http://www.twitter.com/schooloftheages

9.  When will  How to Write Dialogue be for sale?

How to Write Dialogue is out now at:

US:  http://www.amazon.com/How-Write-Dialogue-Tim-Ellis-ebook/dp/B00GM02410/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1384468399&sr=8-11&keywords=matt+posner

UK:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Write-Dialogue-Tim-Ellis-ebook/dp/B00GM02410/ref=sr_1_12?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1384468432&sr=1-12

© Copyright 2013 Andre Jute. Free to reproduce in full complete with this copyright notice.

 

How evil is man? Are you a villain?

Villains are driven by desire,

even as we all are,

and we understand

what our favorite villains want,

and differ from them only

in that they will do things we won’t —

they will hurt people along the way.

Matt Posner in  Villains in Literature

Well-deserved recognition for authors of teen guide to the most burning question

Cracking jokes on his Facebook page with Matt Posner about Comic Consciousness (and cosmic consciousness too, if you insist) I notice he won another award, for the Teen Guide to Sex & Relationships he wrote with Jess C Scott.

Nice work if you can get it. Congratulations, Matt!

The TV Cook-off from Hell

A FEAST OF THE IMAGINATION
Carnival of Cryptids: An Anthology of Strange and Mysterious Creatures
Editor: Bernard J. Schaffer
REVIEWED by Andre Jute

A cryptid is an imaginary creature. This is the second volume of short stories in which all the proceeds go to a most worthwhile cause, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. But never mind that you’re doing a good deed by buying and reading this book, what are the stories like?

Well, they’re what I would call “substantial commuter stories”. Substantial because they’re not short-shorts, they’re pretty meaty in ideas and length. And they’re commuter stories because several of them, if you’re a nervous type, you’d better not read in bed, but on the train or the bus going to work, when there are guaranteed to be plenty of people around.

As for “meaty”, I read the interesting author bios at the back first, and then, since I was there already, and since I know Matt Posner from his YA series School of the Ages about the young Jewish magician, I started with his story “The Paring Knife”, which is about a kitchen from hell, a TV show from the boiler room of hell, and a supply of cooking ingredients and condiments from a truly olympian imagination. Posner tells his story as a TV script, which is clever, because it makes his almost universally nasty cooking contest competitors instantly accessible to the reader without in the least stereotyping them. I wish I thought first of the cook who tries to use the contest to poison his detested sister right out in public!

Carnival of Cryptids: An Anthology of Strange and Mysterious Creatures features these stories which other reviewers are also finding good:

“Carnival of Cryptids Pts. 1-9” by Bernard Schaffer
“ABC” by Tony Healey
“Six-Gun Dipolomacy” by William Vitka
“Where is Captain Rook?” by Jeff Provine
“The Cage” by Simon John Cox
“The Ogopogo Club” by Susan Smith-Josephy
“Oh, My Darling of the Deep Blue Sea” by Doug Glassford
“The Paring Knife” by Matt Posner

Stars don’t really matter, but since Amazon insists, I gave Carnival of Cryptids five stars.

Also on Kissing the Blarney you’ll find an article by Bernard Schaffer explaining how he became interested in cryptids, Blame Leonard Nimoy.

Blame Leonard Nimoy

Resistance Front, the first Kindle All Stars  book in aid of charity, did so well that there’s now a second one. The Carnival of Cryptids, below left,  will be released at the end of January.  All profits from the book will be donated to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The team leader of the Kindle All Stars is Bernard J. Schaffer, bottom right,  whose star associate  Matt Posner, Dean of School of the Ages, is well know to readers of Kissing the Blarney as an expert on the Cabala and a writer for young adults. I asked Bernard to tell us how his interest in cryptids first developed. — Andre Jute

cryptids_600pxh

Blame Leonard Nimoy
by Bernard Schaffer

 People react with curious amusement when I tell them the new Kindle All-Stars book is based on cryptozoology.  That, or they have no clue what I’m talking about.  Cryptozoology, the study of hidden animals, such as Bigfoot, Nessie, Chupacabra, and hundreds of other legendary creatures.

Every region in the world has their own whispered folktales about something that lives in the shadows, the mountains, or the water.  Normally, it’s just an excuse to blame for the various plights visited on the local residents.  Sometimes it’s simply a way to make petulant children go to bed and be quiet.

But not always.

Several cryptids have been found and documented and reclassified based on genus and species.  The platypus, for instance, was initially thought to be a hoax when it was first described by George Shaw in 1799.  One can only imagine what early researchers made of the tale of a venomous semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal with the bill of a duck.

The okapi, a type of zebra-giraffe, was not confirmed to exist until 1901.

Most famously, the giant squid, long since thought the stuff of old sailor stories and a bit too much rum, was not photographed until 2004.

With such scientific descriptions and photographs and confirmations, the cryptid takes its rightful place among the classified species of the world.  And with that, a little bit of their magic goes away.

Sometimes I wonder if the people searching for Bigfoot with such fervor are aware of the consequences of their actions.  What do they think will happen if one is found?  Do they think science will hesitate to cut the creatures open and slab their organs in an excited dash to unlock its biological mysteries?  Of course not.  We’d be childish to think otherwise.

Bigfoot would then be given a proper name.  Something like Australopithecus Robustus or Gigantopithecus Canadensis.  It would eventually wind up in zoos.  Sure, we’d give it a nice faux-habitat and stare at it from behind thick glass and casually observe these majestic, almost human creatures.

I’d be right there next to you.  If you capture a Bigfoot and put him on display, I will come to see it just like everyone else.  And then, when that creature turns to look out at the crowd with its sad, soulful eyes, we’ll say the same things we do about gorillas and tigers.

Personally, I prefer him out there in the wild, somewhere.

If Bigfoot is real, he clearly has no inclination to get closer to humanity, and who can blame him?  I’ve met a few of you and there are times I’d prefer to go live in the woods too.

***

My father was a police officer in Horsham Township, Pennsylvania, for almost thirty years.  Some of my earliest memories are of him coming home on his meal break and telling me it was time for Star Trek.  Now all you whippersnappers are going to have a hard time understanding this, but back in the day, aside from having to hand-churn butter and drink our milk fresh from the family cow’s udder, we only had four TV stations.

Our television wasn’t like these flat screen HD things you hang on the wall, sonny.  It was a piece of furniture, an enormous wooden structure that took up a whole corner of the room, filled with diodes and glass tubes.  We put lamps on top of it and other decorations, because it was just too big to leave unadorned.  Whenever someone in town broke their TV, they dropped them off at the local dump and the cops would go and shoot them up.

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On my dad’s meal breaks, we sat on the couch with our TV trays and ate, enjoying our time together that, in many ways, we never would again.  One afternoon he was home, sitting on the couch in his crisp blue uniform, with me carefully balancing my metal Mr. Spock TV tray, and Star Trek didn’t come on.

Instead, it was In Search Of, starring Leonard Nimoy.  My dad complained bitterly and told me to turn it off, but I was absolutely stunned to see that my favorite Vulcan had somehow been transformed into a human being.  Nimoy was talking in somber tones about some sort of mysterious creature that he called, “Part-ape, part-man.”

Through Nimoy’s show, I first learned about the wide array of cryptid creatures, from Bigfoot to the Ogopogo to the Swamp Monsters of Louisiana.  Scary, thrilling, fascinating, and somehow it was all okay because the firm and steady hand of Mr. Spock was there to guide me.

People ask me, why a book about cryptozoology?

I say it’s to honor the spirit of things we’ll always look for, always be in search of, and that I hope we only occasionally find.

Once more, for bookmarking: The Carnival of Cryptids will be released at the end of January.  All profits from the book will be donated to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

IDITAROD “Stunningly Intricate and Fascinating Tale of Adventure”

“Stunningly Intricate and Fascinating Tale of Adventure”
5-star review by Matt Posner “The Dean” of
IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth

I bought this book to read for pleasure because I am already a fan of Andre Jute, as an author and as a human being. I’m very glad I did, as it was thrilling. Andre’s deep research led to a stunningly intricate and fascinating tale of adventure with two appealing and admirable young protagonists. I really liked both Rhodes Delaney and James Whitbury, a woman and man with courage and integrity, ingenuity and athleticism, who are racing each other in the Iditarod as a way to resist their nigh-irresistable attraction to each other, an attraction that is fed by rivalry and danger in the greatest race on earth.

I was not initially convinced that the Iditarod would provide steady interest as the subject of a book. I didn’t think there would be enough variety in the situations it presented to a reader. I changed my mind right away when the race began with a lively series of problems and challenges for the young people. There is not one possible threat they do not face and overcome, in an atmosphere so authentic that I can’t help wondering if Andre took part in the race some time under a pseudonym and doesn’t want to tell us…

The best praise I can offer this book is to compare Rhodes and James and their dogs Toots, Delilah, and General to beloved characters from my childhood in the 1970’s: Alec and the Black, from Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. Those books, showing the union of a young person and a working animal through love and respect, defined a genre. Iditarod might be the best book of its kind since.

Thanks for a great read, Andre.

From Matt Posner‘s 5-star review of
IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth

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THE CABALA an instant introduction to an ancient magic with modern ramifications by Matt Posner

Of course I didn’t give Matt Posner a plug for his new book jacket because I’m such a nice guy. I wanted something in return. You don’t just stand on the town square and shout out for an expert who can give you a comprehensible short piece on something as esoteric as the Cabala, so I demanded just that from Matt.

Matt too knows how to play the game, so let’s give him a commercial spot first. He’s earned it!

Thanks, Andre, for hosting me on this blog. I’m writing today to announce the release of THE WAR AGAINST LOVE, the third novel in the School of the Ages series, over 520 pages of romance and magical war. Featuring an awesome cover by Mande Matthews and a blurb from my gentle host, this is a book full of bittersweet love and brutal battles to the death. It’s good for ages twelve and up.

Cabala has been a subtext in the School of the Ages series since the beginning, with my goal being ultimately to incorporate numerous world magical traditions and to create a kind of universality to magical and religious belief. But what is Cabala exactly? I am not a Cabalist per se, just a writer who has done research, but I think Cabala is pretty cool and I am glad to tell you a little bit about it and about its role in my books.

THE CABALA
an instant introduction
to an ancient magic
with modern ramifications
by Matt Posner

Cabala is Jewish magic and mysticism. Many sects of Judaism decline to study it, since it is in some senses at odds with mainstream teaching. Other sects state, quite reasonably, that Cabala is only for study by mature students who already have a strong grounding in Torah and Talmud. Honestly, I’ve been around talmidim (students of Talmud) and I’m convinced you can study Talmud forever and never exhaust its potential to provoke thought and spirited debate!

Cabalistic texts, such as Zohar and Sefer Yetzirah, offer a number of approaches to the ultimate goal, which is mystical access to God. Sefer Yetzirah, a pamphlet-length book written in the second century C.E., is a brief but profound cosmology. The Zohar is a mystical Aramaic commentary upon the Torah. The starting place for a non-scholar to understand this philosophy is the Sefiroth, a tree made of mystical values which all represent aspects or names of God. They are defined also as the means that God uses to communicate. To meditate upon these values, and one of these values in relation to the others, may lead a sincere devotee to some sort of insight.  The tree of the Sefiroth was first outlined in Sefer Yetzirah. Translated from Hebrew, the values on the tree are:  Kether (supreme intelligence); Chokhmah (supreme thought); Binah (supreme understanding); Daat (intellect); Chesed (supreme kindness); Gevurah (force or justice); Tiphereth (mercy); Netzach (eternal victory); Hod (glory and splendor); Yesod (foundation for knowledge) and Malkhuth (kingdom). If those definitions confuse you, you’re not alone. They are very loose translations of concepts that must certainly be difficult to grasp even in the original text.

In my books, the tree of the Sefiroth is diagrammed on the floor of the entrance of School of the Ages, to remind the school’s Cabalists of the meditative values by which they must (literally) be inspired.  When my non-Jewish character Simon is tutored by the fictional great Cabalist, the Rambal, he is taught using only two of the Sefiroth, Chokhmah and Binah, which Simon translates as logic and intuition. Beginning in the second School of the Ages novel, Level Three’s Dream, Simon learns to rely upon these two qualities of the universe to supply him with ideas and abilities which will solve his often life-threatening challenges.

Meditating upon God is an approach common to all mystical traditions, especially the Vedic (ancient Hindu) tradition upon which I am inclined to think Jewish mysticism is based.  Likely, if you are a sincere devotee, then one form of meditation is as good as another. However, Cabala has certain other features that may surprise you, and that may have led to its pre-Medieval banning in the Jewish community.

According to the view of Cabala, the God of the Torah (Yahweh, or Jehovah, usually called Adonai or Hashem) is not the creator of the universe, but a product of creation. Creation comes originally from Ayn Soph, or Ayn Soph Aur, which is unknowable by man, and proceeds to that which is knowable, called Emanations.  Hashem is more of a caretaker for the universe, which came to be after an event that created emanations and began a process of continuous growth and expansion. Does this remind you of anything perhaps — like, say, the concept of the Big Bang? If so, one would tend to suppose that both the Vedas and the Cabala figured it out tens of centuries before scientists did.

The term Practical Cabala means the Jewish tradition of actual magic spells and operations. It includes healing and cures, strategies for confronting spirit possession, names of God that can produce specific effects, and some forms of divination. Jewish law bars divination of the future, however. For this reason, in my first novel, The Ghost in the Crystal, a Cabalist rabbi states an alternate approach:  ask God your questions, and when he answers you, you’ll know for sure that you have the answer. For storyline purposes, I have expanded Practical Cabala to have additional dimensions, applications for mental and physical battle, especially as wielded by my young Cabala student anti-hero, Yakov Mermelstein. I was partly inspired to do this by the character of M. Millhorn in John Bellairs’ The Face in the Frost. The late Bellairs, in this one adult if whimsical fantasy, depicts Cabala as the strongest form of magic. I find this an intriguing perspective, and have somewhat adopted it, but have made Cabalists more defense-oriented than aggressive, as befits the insularity of the Chasidic community in which my tale positions its practitioners.

Although in my books I trace Cabalistic learning through Chasidism, this is a convenience for my own storylines. The founder of Chadisim, the Baal Shem Tov, was not explicitly a Cabalist. Some pivotal figures in the popularization of Cabala include Rabbi Isaac Luria, originator of Etz Hayim (commentaries on the Zohar), and the Maharal, Rabbi Yehuda Loew ben Bezalel, the wonder rabbi of Prague and creator of the Golem., who is mentioned several times in my series.

Inspired by the tradition of Eastern European wonder rabbis, and by the fictional character of Rabbi Isaac Saunders from Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, I invented my own wonder rabbi, Rabbi Moshe ben Lichtman, who is called the Rambal (just as the powerfully real Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, a pivotal Jewish scholar, is the Rambam). My character is both a Chasid and a master cabalist. Although he is more active in Level Three’s Dream, in which he explains some of the concepts above, than he is in the present book, The War Against Love, the Rambal is the figure in School of the Ages who provides both a source of deeper understanding and a form of comfort through philosophy. Many details of the Rambal’s life are revealed at the end of The War Against Love, in which he talks about his childhood, his early manhood, and his activities during World War II.

I hope this article offers some interesting answers to a beginner’s questions about Cabala and its supporting role in School of the Ages.

Matt Posner is a writer and teacher who keeps a website for his books and interests.

REVIEW of THE WAR AGAINST LOVE: “Posner’s good things roll on every time you turn a page”

THE WAR AGAINST LOVE by Matt Posner
Reviewed by
Andre Jute

Posner’s good things roll on every time you turn a page

I was about to say, “What I like best about THE WAR AGAINST LOVE is…” when I realized that there are too many things I like “best” about it, and their ranking must perforce be tied in to one’s perception of the audience for young adult books. Despite one of my novels having won a prize in a young adult category, I don’t even pretend to know who is a young adult reader. But Matt Posner is a school and college teacher who also writes self-help non-fiction for young adults, so, if anyone knows who is in his audience, he does. From the outside, peering in admiration through the window of THE WAR AGAINST LOVE, I can easily see that the youngest readers will be delighted with the fight scenes, some of which go on for several chapters, that romantics of any age will be entranced with the tragic love story, that teachers will note that the multicultural love story spreads knowledge and tolerant attitudes. But those good things are far from all. The magic in THE WAR AGAINST LOVE, and in the series in which it belongs, is cleverly slotted into Western root-civilization by being Jewish- and Indian-sourced, and the result is — there is no other word for it — magical. Still Posner’s good things roll on every time you turn a page. I don’t want to go on boringly about the intellectual interest ofTHE WAR AGAINST LOVE but can’t resist showing one of the many examples where Posner with a light touch integrates wit with a sideswipe at the wretchedness of modern relativism: “The doorbell rang. Peter was watching a very dumb reality show on TV. Reality includes God and magic, and the people on the show knew neither. I got up and went to the door and checked the peephole, and saw outside a nightmare.” — André Jute