Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: Danvers Asylum by Chrystian Marrero

Those who have read my blog over the course of the past year or so I am sure have learned quite a few things about me.  I'm a hardcore horror and erotica fan, as well as an avid reader.  I'm opinionated.  I tend to be meticulous and research like crazy, not only when it comes to writing stories, but about anything that just plain strikes my fancy as well.  I like to tell it like it is about almost everything, and being that this is my personal blog I don't hold back.

I initially began doing reviews right after I bought my Kindle.  Then I stepped up my reviewing over this past summer.  Most of the stories I initially reviewed just happened to be what I was reading at the time, especially if it was something that I felt a connection with, or on the other end of the spectrum I reviewed some things that were horribly, even laughably bad.  As I stepped up the pace of my reading for pleasure I tended to pick of authors I had gotten to know, or went with ones that they suggested.  I followed suggestions on Amazon, as well as stories that were getting buzzed on Twitter and other social sites.  In August I received my first request for a review from another author who had read this blog and some of the reviews on it.  Then about a month ago I received my first request for a work to be reviewed from a small publishing company.

The request itself came during the time I had been suffering with migraines for several weeks, and the e-mails from Naughty Nights Press owner Gina Kincade and Penny Petersson, her personal executive assistant and NNP's director of marketing and research, sat in my mailbox for a couple of weeks before I checked the address on this blog to see what was there.  I had come to their attention because Ms. Kincade had liked my review of Ray Sostre's Their First Night Together.

I was of course flattered to be offered a chance to review what was pretty much billed as NNP's first straight horror story, Danvers Asylum by Chrystian Marrero, so I accepted the offer to do a review.  However I did issue the warning that I would not hold back in my review, although I would take into account whatever was good and bad in the work.  In fact this is what I wrote to Ms. Kincade on the subject in my response e-mail:

If you have read some of my other reviews you can see that not everyone gets off easy.  As a self-published writer myself I tend to be critical on most all points, but I do look for the good and the bad, as well as trying to put myself in the mind-set of the intended target audience.  I had went the story submission route for a year and found that "comments" on stories were just that, and not reviews.  What I try to give is what I want on my work, critical reviews that say this is where you went wrong as well as here's what you did right on the money.  For stories that have no middle ground, that are just plain awful, I have been less than kind to, although most of my blog followers say they read my reviews because I have no problem telling it like it is.  Another friend and writer has even suggested that I'm sometimes too kind for being able to point out the things that I find brilliant parts in an overall awful story.

I just want yo to know this so you're aware the I do not sugar coat my opinions and feelings.  Even with writers I am acquainted with, such as the editors of One Buck Horror and Mr. Sostre himself, get my opinion, whatever it is, with no holding back.

I received this response from Ms. Kincade, and was pretty sure she knew where I was coming from.  (At least for the most part, because again I temper being positive and negative in my delivery of a review based on the work itself.  Again, there are several reasons that I call myself Master Vyle.)

"The honesty of your reviewing and that you, like me, don't believe in sugar coating the truth, is exactly WHY I'm interested in sharing our works with you.  I dislike those who only sing praises about a work when in reality the author benefits from constructive criticism.  Of course, putting it positively is key but it still MUST be addressed for an author to learn & improve.  I'm a publisher, but I will always be an author first.  I get it and only want my writers to learn & advance."

To say working on this review has been a slight odyssey, with a heavy expression on the odd, would probably be an understatement.  I went into this one feeling that I was about to see something truly awesome.  Here I was being presented with a work that a figure no less than the owner of the publishing company was firmly and totally behind.  In fact Ms Kincade had no problem singing Mr. Marrero's praises, so I almost felt as if she were expecting me to feel like my socks were about to be totally blown off by this story.  She told me in her e-mail that, "I think you'll find Danvers quite unique & interesting for a boy of eighteen to write.  I was impressed the first time with his writing and it only grows daily.  Chrystian will be big.  Bank on it, I do."

Even Ms. Petersson had a great deal of confidence in the work and Ms. Kincade's faith in it.  It was so much so that I in fact asked her to go ahead and send me a copy for review without bothering to look over the excerpts that she had provided with her initial e-mail.

Of course before I go any further I an going to state that I do not want this review to be seen as encompassing everyone or everything published through Naught Nights Press.  In my research into NNP I found that there were several authors there I have read stories from over the past couple of years, authors who do fantastic work.  I know that when I first alluded to doing this review in my post Egomania Runnin' Wild! that I said I was going to grade the publisher overall, but in hindsight and without having read everything in NNP's catalogue I think that perhaps Ms. Kincade "grabbed up" something outside of her element, and the element of her press.

Additionally, as if I really need to because after all it is my personal blog, let me state that the following review is my opinion.  I am pretty sure that most people realize that what is on this blog, the views and opinions of Michael C. Laney (Master Vyle) and House Of Master Vyle, are my own opinions, and in no way reflect the opinion or opinions of every other man, woman and child on the face of Planet Earth.  (Sorry, I'm pretty shitty at doing lame disclaimers about totally obvious garbage.)

Again, I'm pretty nit-picky about stories in general.  I also feel that for the most part that horror fans overall are a nit-picky bunch.  I happen to be a member of several groups that discuss horror films and literature, and if there is anything that I have learned through them is that they're all fairly critical.  No, I wouldn't say we're all beyond stories that lack logic, because a vast majority of the time you do end up hoping someone will do something stupid so that they die a horrible and gory death.  However that also comes the most part in films, because you have that one and a half to two hours to watch the story, so it has to unfold pretty quickly, whether the film itself is a box office blockbuster or z-grade trash.

The written word is another animal.  When you have the words on a page and actually have to go through the action page by page and line by line it takes time, which also gives the reader much more time to think over the action and actions being presented to them.

As I reached the mid-point of Danvers Asylum I found the story to be fraught with problems and inaccuracies.  Also as someone who has read quite a few horror novels and short stories over the years (ranging from brilliant best sellers to horrible hack work) I was finding that despite the inaccuracies the novel itself was not all that, and was pretty much no where close.  So, having been sent the novel to review, I decided that it was best to write to Ms. Kincade about a few of the inaccurate details, as well as what I perceived as a major flaw in the premise of the story itself, listing a few of the things I saw as problems that other readers might have issue with.  Below is my message in its entirety.  I know it discusses details about the story itself that I have not gotten to, but I do promise to explain them where necessary as I get into the actual review of Marrero's novel.

Greetings Gina,

I am about halfway through with Danvers Asylum.  Judging from what I have seen so far I'm afraid that my review for this work will be quite critical.  There are several problems that just jump out at me.  After doing the math I came to the conclusion that Devore, the private investigator, would have been 17 when his daughter was born, making him a genius who would have been in college since he was 13 or 14 years old.  A thousand dollars for a blackmailed PI also seems pretty steep, especially considering the setting of late 1990.

A trip from Bangor, Maine to Boston Massachusetts, by car, would only take just over four hours, and is about 235 miles, which is hardly thousands of miles and flying this distance would take than less than an hour as opposed to the tiring hours of flight described in Marrero's narrative.

Also Devore's youthful past-time of extreme skateboarding it was not likely to have existed in his teen years, because at that time in the 1960's skateboarding was only in its infancy, and even at that point it was mainly done by surfers as practice, which would not likely be done in Chicago, Illinois around that time.

Mr. Marrero presents an interesting idea with the words beginning with capital letters spelling out messages in the books, although sometimes proper names and the first words in sentences are part of the puzzle and sometimes they are not.  He clearly has a great deal of imagination.  However, his age does show, his work revealing that he is lacking somewhat in life experience, and that he needs to better research what to many familiar with the United States and the distances and travel times between them, are going to see as flaws.

I also have to add that even in the 60's Bangor, Maine was a major metropolitan area, and it has been the third most populous area in the State of Maine for over a century, hardly one of the most remote places in America.

Now please understand, I'm not saying that I think he should hang it up.  My own works from when I started writing are lacking, and I've been retro-engineering the first novel I wrote for the past two years to make sure that it works and all the facts are straight, because at Marrero's age I made many of the same kind of mistakes.

I hate to pass a full judgment with only being halfway done, however, in my opinion, this story needs a major overhaul.  Horror readers are a nit-picky bunch, and I personally grew up with the genre, which may make me a little more critical than most.

I just wanted you to be aware of what I am seeing as major flaws with this work, and to show you where my mind is on it, and to give you just a few examples of the things other readers may find issue with.

Be Well,
Michael C. Laney

Now granted I am the one who wrote the above statement.  Even now it looks fairly diplomatic and is even supportive of the author.  It was my feeling that Ms. Kincade should be very aware of the fact that I did not see what she saw in this story, and that my review was going to reflect that.  Of course I didn't expect a response back that was going to be in total agreement with my mid-point assessment.  However, I did expect a response that was going to be perhaps as equally diplomatic, even professional, since it was a response from the owner of a small publishing company.  Instead I got this response (also reproduced in its entirety).  Now this may be my opinion, or even my own writer's Egomanic ego, but this response seems a little snarky.

Michael,

I appreciate you letting me know.  Although I will admit what you've said, your critique, surprises me.

Your review is just that, your opinion and that is what we do ask for.  However, I would ask you to remember one important factor, Danvers IS fiction, not fact, as is outlines at the start of the book.  In no way is any of the information meant to represent fact or reality but rather, just as an erotic book where characters may get into some physically unbelievable positions or situations, it is intended to entertain.

So far, as you've mentioned to me little else, you have identified things that would be mainly fact based assumptions.

I do have one minor concern, you claim "Horror readers are a nit-picky bunch" and from what I would gather you feel you speak for all of us on a whole.  I too grew up with horror as one of the main reading genres and though I truly enjoined many of the novels by Stephen King, Clive Barker and many more, not for a moment did I sit and analyze whether the story lines were believable anymore than I did the alien movies that were also the rage at the time.

You also say you'd hate to pass judgement with the book only half done but in all honesty, from your critical assessment of what you believe should be factual rather than fictional, you already have.  To say it needs a complete overhaul?  Really.  You've not yet passed judgement?  Hmmm.

I'm not sure why it seems you are taking this as a bit more personal then you did the erotic piece by Ray Sostre.  Almost as if Marrero's age plays a role in your opinion, which of course it shouldn't.  Since you yourself brought it up I could tell you of some works by those of a much more advanced age that would astound you with the seemingly inexperience in life they must have!

Whew!

When did life experience become a prerequisite for writing fiction?  I've virgins who write some of the hottest pieces of erotic literature I've read and obviously that comes from the imagination only.

You can of course continue or not, your choice, but might I ask a favor of you if you choose - remember that nothing in the book whatsoever is meant to be true.

As a Canadian myself I haven't the foggiest idea how long it would take to get from Chicago to Maine, nor do I care.  I do however, know that in my own travels a train ride from Belleville, Ontario to Kitchener, Ontario takes two and a half hours by car, CAN take eleven exhausting hours of travel time.  Now that IS pathetically fact, but I doubt anyone who read my books would notice.

I hope you can see the opposite perspective on my point and enjoy the rest of the book.

Oh and while I'm writing I might also mention that Penny likely sent you the unedited ARC copy so capitals and such would certainly not have been addressed in said copy.

I was under the impression you were more of one who looked at the story line rather then the editing.  Perhaps I was unintentionally wrong in my assessment based on your review of Mr. Sostre's work,

*shrugs*

It happens.  No human can claim to be perfect right.

Have a terrific day!

Yours,
Lady G

Well, okay then.  Guess I got served there, Lady G.  And by the way, Madame Publisher, it's than and not then.  Plus you may want to be a bit more careful with your punctuation.  And I suppose the fact that it was an unedited copy of a work you wanted a review for does explain the absence of a single apostrophe in the entire work, quotation marks filling in for them for the entire length of Danvers Asylum.  I have to admit the use of asterisks to denote motion the way they are commonly used in Internet chat is a brave choice for someone older than me.  And I have got to say that virgins writing erotica line still makes me nearly piss my pants laughing every time I read it.  I can already admit that had I been given a piece of that hotness I think it might have actually been entertainment, as opposed to the work that she did send to me.

So, did she not make any inferences from my e-mail that it was probably a good idea to check out some of the other reviews on this blog?  Was her assessment of my review style and content based solely on one good review wrong?  Did I misunderstand that she understood what I was saying in my e-mail to her, even though in her initial response she sounded as if she whole-heartedly agreed with what I was saying on nearly every point?

Well, I think that first off I really must have misunderstood the fact that she was not actually looking for a serious critical review.  I guess I was supposed to give Danvers Asylum the same, glowing, Five Star, reviews that the novel has gotten from other reviewers, which in some cases were written much better than the novel itself, and in other cases look as if they're merely regurgitating the description of the story with a slightly different wording.  Maybe I was supposed to say that Marrero's work reminds me of Stephen King and Clive Barker, as some people do according to some of the reviews and interviews I read claim.  It reminds me of neither in the least, not even if the reference was to awful film adaptations of their novels and not the actual novels themselves.

Now as far as me taking or having something personal against what I was reading, well it really seemed to me that Ms. Kincade was the one taking my poking holes in her belief that this novel was great and that Mr. Marrero is going to be big personally.  According to a couple of interviews I came across of Mr. Marrero discussing his association with NNP he states that Ms. Kincade was the one who approached him about publishing the novel through NNP after she had read the first two chapters on a story site.  I will admit that I did think those two chapters were okay, and in fact would go as far as to say that they were the best chapters in the whole novel.

The thing is there is a huge gap between erotica and horror as genres.  Yes, most readers do not care for facts or logic in erotic stories, although (at least it seems) a majority of writers I have seen who care enough to put them there have checked them beforehand.  No, life experience is not a prerequisite to writing fiction, although it does happen to be a prerequisite to writing believable fiction, interesting fiction, captivating fiction.  And maybe if Ms. Kincade wrote a story about traveling from Belleville to Kitchener no one would care that it takes two hours by car and eleven by train, although I think explaining the reasons for the difference in travel times as well as relating the horrors of traveling by rail would make for an interesting fact based piece of fiction.  However, were I to go from Belleville to Kitchener I can already say that I would be smart enough to take a car.

However, the subject at hand was a flight from one airport in New England to another, and not really a car ride (which was given as a matter or comparison and contrasting), or a hypothetical train ride.  And true, and I'm not trying to make assumptions about Canadian readers based on Ms. Kincade's statement that as a Canadian she doesn't have, "...the foggiest idea how long it would take to get from Chicago to Maine, nor do I care.", (and I feel here I should point out, again, the trip in question was from Maine to Massachusetts) however I can't help but feel that there are more than a few Canadian readers who do care about correct details in a story.  Not to mention the fact that in the Internet Age I am sure that there is a great potential for readers in many other countries, including the United States, where the story is set, to actually purchase and read this story.  And true, some people will have no idea where any of these places are, or what the distances between them are, however those who do and think it matters are going to be more than willing to tear this story apart, as there are many people out there who itch for nothing more than to rip a story up due to inaccurate facts alone.

Now I do live in an area far from the setting of the story, half the continental U.S. away in fact.  I have asked several people (and my local area is a mix of people who grew up here, people from other countries, and even people who once lived in New England) if going from Bangor, Maine to Boston, Massachusetts was a matter of tens of miles, hundreds of miles, or thousands of miles.  The unanimous answer to this impromptu  and eclectic little poll was hundreds of miles.  My wife, who is from New England, actually laughed at the idea that this would be a journey of thousands of miles and tiring hours by air plane.  My friend Alice the librarian (because her name is Alice and she is a librarian), who originally came from the United Kingdom, said to me, "The publisher really doesn't care about any of this?", after I ran down a list of problems within this story that stuck out like a pair of sore thumbs.

I do get the fact that Danvers Asylum is a work of fiction.  However, that fact and the fact that there is a disclaimer (that a majority of readers are going to skip anyhow) that states that it is a story completely from the author's imagination does not exonerate it from being accurate when the facts and logic presented within the story are untrue or totally wrong.  You see for something to be fully the product of the author's imagination you have to eliminate facts PERIOD.  To have a story that is set in a fictitious town, or location, in "the present day" is one thing.  However, once you enter a known fact, a time frame, or even a known location whether they are used in a fictitious manner or not, and these elements are meant to enhance the story, the author looses the right and ability to simply say, "Oh, it's all in my made-up Universe."

Just a little research into the actual Danvers Asylum, which the disclaimer admits is a real location and that the asylum in the story only shares its name with, could have provided some great ambiance facts.  Facts such as Danvers being referred to as "the castle on the hill", or that it is undercut by a "wagon wheel"-like series of tunnels, or that it is rumored to be the place where the pre-frontal lobotomy was pioneered would have certainly made the location come alive as opposed to being just a location on a map chosen at random.

The truth, of course, was that Marrero chose the name of Danvers Asylum for a purpose, and without question a purpose, that being name recognition.  Otherwise he could have pulled any name out of his ass and given the asylum in his story that name.  Marrero further connects his "fictional" asylum to reality by setting the story in Danvers, Massachusetts, the location of the actual asylum, as opposed to Toronto, Canada, or Cardiff, Wales or even Corozal, Puerto Rico.

I felt it was fairly apparent that Mr. Marrero idolizes Stephen King, and to anyone who has read a great deal of King's work it's pretty hard to miss.  From the New England setting of the story, to the fact that his, intended, main character in the story is a famous horror author named John Stephenson, to the fact that Bangor, Maine, a place King mentions quite often as a location or point of reference is home to another character.  Yes even to the fact that he goes as far to say that on Stephenson's bookshelf, "Authors ranged from obscure talents such as Garry Noonan and George Richardson, to the master of horror and suspense known throughout the entire world as Stephen King - the modern day master of English literature.", reveal that Marrero is a big-time Stephen King fan boy.

Now I find no issue with that, in fact I was a huge fan of King's at one point as well.  The thing is Stephen King is so great not only because he can spin a good yarn and has a great memory for detail, but also because he no doubt does his homework when necessary.  King writes a great deal about life in New England and it seems so real, probably due to the fact that King has spent a majority of his life in New England.  If you ever want to reach the level of King, then you have to work, like King.  You see, there's a reason that some of King's early work such as The Glass Floor and The Star Invaders have never been published, and that's because they're fairly juvenile work from when he was just beginning to write.

Now of course I do have to point out, in a little twist of irony, that King has actually at least once used the excuse that he was writing "in his own Universe" when questioned about a song title mentioned in a story set a year before the song came out.  Was he being serious?  Well, it is hard to tell with someone who thinks so much of themselves that they would use themselves as a character in a work of fiction.  However, based on my own experience with King I tend to doubt that when the man is giving facts, maybe other than stating that McDonald's would provide coloring sheets with Mayor McCheese on them several years after Sid and Marty Kroft successfully sued McDonald's to keep them from using the character in Insomnia (according to the mid-90's setting of the story), he is rarely anything but dead on.

Now Ms. Kincade feels I had already passed total judgment on Danvers Asylum at the mid-point.  The truth is that I had not totally made up my mind.  However, I do not let a good story get in the way of the facts, and Danvers Asylum is not a very good story.  I did my best not to take the fact that I though it was bad, from both a writer's and a reader's point-of-view, personally, as Ms. Kincade suggest.  I also did my best not to let her snippy and snarky comments in her response e-mail personally as I went back to finish the remaining half of the novel.  However, to grossly paraphrase Dr. Phil, the number one way to predict how good or bad the second half of a novel is going to be is to have read the first part of the novel.

Yes, halfway in I knew there was nothing that was suddenly going to turn this work into the Six Star novel that Ms. Kincade seems to believe it is, despite the fact that she also claims to recognize that Mr. Marrero needs to learn and grow as a writer.  However I was hoping to find some glimmers of  the brilliance she felt was there, the same things I found in Thomas Scopel's Twitch.

Danvers Asylum is basically, or at least at one point was meant to be, the story of two men, Dr. Eugene Charles and horror author John Stephenson.  Set in October 1990, Charles, the director of Danvers Asylum, in Danvers, Massachusetts, becomes obsessed with best selling local horror author, John Stephenson after learning that two patients at the asylum were inspired to murder their families after reading Stephenson's books.  After reading the books for himself and finding messages spelled out in them with certain combinations of oddly placed capital letters Charles's obsession grows, and he begins to hear a voice that directs him to imprison Stephenson within the asylum to keep him from completing his ultimate work.  To this end he enlist the aid of private investigator, Edgar Devore, and asylum security guards Chuck and Steve.

Stephenson finds himself locked away in the asylum, a prisoner of the obsessed institution director.  The author hears a voice as well, a force that has spoken to him quite often, without him knowing it, directing him to write words that will cause people to kill.  The voice is speaking to John directly now, because they need to be free in order John to pen a final work that will cause the death of millions.

Now on the surface the idea seems somewhat brilliant, in a way, key words (in this case letters more than words) placed in books that would make their readers kill.  True the concept has been used in various ways and to better effect by others, from Lovecraft's forbidden books to the Carrionites using words as reality bending power and scientific magic on Doctor Who.  For me the problem with the concept in Marrero's hands is that it falls apart rather quickly.  He devoted several passages to Charles reading the parts of Stephenson's books where the messages could be found.  The messages are supposed to be made up from the first letters of capitalized words, which might work, however, in some cases (as stated in my e-mail to Ms. Kincade) the first words in sentences and proper names were part of the message, and in other cases they were not.  Maybe that was supposed to be intentional, so the reader would have to work to figure out what the messages were, which would explain how only three people reading a best selling novel would have found the passages.  Plus I find it highly unlikely that a publisher, or editor, would let a work with random capitalized words in it pass, especially, AGAIN, considering that the story was set in 1990, when writers didn't have the convenience of sending a file to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, pressing a few buttons and then having it go live and for sale two or three days later without anyone else ever looking it over.

As I came closer to the end of the story it became more and more predictable, despite my open mind, which means it would have actually been better for me to have passed judgment on the first half of the novel, because as it turns out, that is actually the best part of Danvers Asylum.  The last few pages of the novel not only fail to save it, but totally destroy anything that might have been good about it, as you discover the voice in Stephenson's head and the voice in Charles's head are the same voice.  It is this fact that makes the entire story and plot as pointless as the story and plot of Aliens turns out once you factor in what happens at the beginning of Alien 3.  The sad truth is without the erroneous facts in the story to bog it down and devalue it Danvers Asylum is only a Two Star story, and once a nit-picker adds them back in it makes it into a One Star Story.

As far as those problems with facts and logic, they are here aplenty.  Most of them seem to surround the private investigator, Devore, who should be a secondary character, but whose life takes up a good quarter plus of the narrative in the first part of the novel before he is all but forgotten through a majority of the second half.  Mr. Marrero, in at least one interview, states that Devore is his favorite character (the irony there being that Devore is a medical school drop-out).  He is described at the beginning of the book as being "colored", although I actually began to feel I may have been mistaken about seeing that as I read on.  That was until the fact that he was "black" is mentioned several times in his last scene in the novel, as if Marrero suddenly remembered this fact and felt the need to drive it home to the reader, though the fact does nothing to advance the story whatsoever.  Devore also initially wanted to become a priest, and Marrero lets the reader know it was a good thing for the altar boys that he didn't.  It sounded like the start of a possible sub-plot, however since it is only mentioned once, and the reason as to why the altar boys would be glad he did not become a priest is never explored it ends up being nothing more than a worthless, throw-away, line.  I did mention the age problems in my e-mail, as well as the inaccuracy that extreme skateboarding would have existed in his youth.  And of course that his price, despite the fact that Charles was blackmailing him to do his dirty work, $1,000 an hour is steep.  I admit that this is something that I did not research.  However, considering a couple of years ago that Jerry Biggs, my own parasite of an attorney, only charged $100 an hour, I can assume that PIs, who never seem to be living as quite high on the hog as attorneys would charge much less an hour over two decades ago, even if the economy was a hell of a lot better then.

Dr. Charles, the erstwhile villain, is the chief administrator of a state asylum, and is over 70 years old, yet he has trouble going to the bookstore and finding books by a best selling author.  I know, it's one of those facts that no one cares about, but in the 1990s we still had bookstores here in the Untied States.  Not only that, they were arranged by subject and you could find most best selling authors listed alphabetically (last name first) in the fiction section.  Charles's confrontation with the owner of the bookstore is pointless (as is him giving the man an assumed name), does nothing to advance the plot of the novel, or even add any ambiance.

John Stephenson, the erstwhile hero of the story (I guess), is barely in the novel and comes off as an unlikable, wimpy, little pussy.  He has an entity living in his head that drives him to insert these secret messages in his novels that he is described as not being aware of until he entered the asylum at some points, and somewhat aware of before he entered the asylum at others.

The being, who should be described as the major driving force of the story (what little there is), is trying to help Stephenson escape his imprisonment at the hands of Charles, who it convinced to imprison Stephenson in the first place.

Considering the fact that Stephenson is supposedly a genius best seller I would think that the body count from those his books had driven to kill would be much higher, and there would indeed be a lot of people doing some killing.  Since it is not implied otherwise, in the story or by any other stretch of the imagination, I can only assume that two people were actually driven to kill after reading Stephenson's novels.

Of the other two characters who have much relevance in the book, other than the two men driven to kill their loved ones, Chuck and Steve, the security guards, come off as beyond stereotypical rent-a-cops, and I think that calling them a pair of bumbling dumb-asses would actually be a kindness on my part.

The Prologue is what even the most basic reader could easily point out as being "Chapter Two".  There's no logical or even artistic reason to juxtapose it and put it at the beginning.  If Marrero was making an attempt to present the story out of order to fit in with the madhouse setting of the story he failed miserably by doing it only in this one instance.

Stephenson's two novels (both of them his first and second novels) were published simultaneously, which is a great feat.  And they both became best sellers, an even greater feat.  In one scene it states one was published in hardcover and the other was published as a trade paperback.  In later scenes both are described as being hardcover books.

Stephenson's capture by Devore comes after the investigator has stalked him for three days, which is obviously enough time to know everything there is about a suspect as well as their entire routine.  In his investigation inside Stephenson's house the one thing he never looks at is the manuscript for the author's next work, that happens to be laying out just like Jack Torrance's "novel" in King's The Shinning, which is another reason I feel Devore is not, "One of the best private investigators in the country," as Marrero describes him at one point.

When Devore does take Stephenson down he uses a powerful drug Charles supplies him with, M-99, to do the job.  The drug knocks him out, for what will supposedly be hours, yet by the time the guys in the white coats show up to pick Stephenson up he is already waking up.  M-99, at least a drug called M-99, does not exist, and I would think that someone who is a medical student, as Marrero's biography claims he is, would have at least come up with the name of an actual sedative.

Plus, speaking of Mr. Marrero's biography it states he's from Coroza;, Puerto Rico.  If you missed it that's Coroza; ending with a " ; " .  It's Corozal, yet I've seen Coroza; on several sites.  It even kind of jumps right out at you in the novel's description on Barnes & Noble.

There is anarchism after anarchism in the story, and again I remind the reader it was set in October 1990 (about three years before Marrero was born).  These include cell-phones that can fit in a person's pocket, plasma screen televisions and DVDs.  When Charles trashes his office it is described as looking like an Iraqi war zone, despite the fact that military action during the Persian Gulf War did not begin until mid-January of the next year.  When questioned Stephenson says that his favorite television show is CSI, which did not debut until a decade later in 2000.  He also says that he voted for Bill Clinton in the last election.  Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992.  Had Stephenson voted Democrat in the "last election" that would have been in 1988, and he would have voted for Mike Dukakis (who in another of those little ironies was a two term Governor of Massachusetts, as well as still holding that position at the time the story covers).  When in doubt on who was running for president in a modern election in the United States saying that your character voted for Ralph Nader in the last election will probably be correct about 68% of the time.  (Yes, I did pull that 68% out of my ass),

In fact the only period fact which Marrero gets right is that a Glock 22 handgun was something that actually existed in 1990.  It may not have been standard issue for security guards at mental intuitions, but I suppose it was factually possible, and maybe factually plausible.

Beyond inaccurate facts and a weak and pointless plot the novel itself suffers from a bland narrative where the characters are lifeless, and without them being named it would be pretty hard, for the most part, to tell one character from the next.  There's nothing very thrilling about Marrero's style, which as I described it in my Egomania Runnin' Wild! post reminded me of an 11th grader's creative writing assignment.  Then, of course, there are several little gems of narrative and dialogue that are pure, though I am sure unintentional, comic gold, including the line meant to praise Stephen King as, "...the modern day master of English literature."

There are such great lines as:

"He looked the way a kid looks when his mom catches him eating a cookie before dinner or when daddy walks in while he's playing with a box of matches."

I can only imagine Raymond Chandler would be rolling over his grave after hearing a description like that.  That statement was dated when I was 18 years old.  IN 1990!

Or how about this little gem?

"The night Mike Wireman finished reading the final page of the second book was also the last night that his wife and daughter exercised their right to live."

Well, again I hate to pass judgement before reaching the end of something I'm reading, but I actually have to break down and say that Jacob M. Drake sounds better at making a grandiose statement he thinks is so clever and intelligent in an attempt to make his writing seem much deeper than it really is.

"It took thirty seconds - the longest thirty seconds of both their lives, but in the end, Stacy suffered the same fate as her daughter.  She was drowned two feet above her dead baby's body."

So, okay, was that the longest thirty seconds since the last time that they had sex?  To give you a point of reference Mrs. Wireman is being drowned in the bathtub by her husband in this scene.  Now, maybe it will sound a little too nit-picky, but the standard bathtub in the Untied States is about a foot deep.  Impossible?  Well, not if it's a claw foot style tub.  Again, details.

Now, how about this line which describes Charles's obsession with reading Stephenson's two books cover to cover over a three day period:

"He had only left the office seven times; each of them involving food and beverages."

Huh?  So after he consumed the food and beverages where did they go?  Out the window?  Did the cat get booted out of the corner?  Did Marrero forget to mention that Charles is a die hard World Of WarCraft player and already had a five gallon bucket under his desk?

I think perhaps Charles ended his quest for the truth about Stephenson's work with a nice, warm enema and a big ass handful of prescription strength laxatives.

In describing the noises made by the being in Stephenson's head Marrero tells us that:

"The screaming decibels inside John's head were terrifying enough; the words accompanying those screams were utterly stupefying."

Yeah, that line has me stupefied as well.  Especially when you consider those words are not anything to write home about.  No big revelation.  No alien language being spewed out.  Just a lot of talk about escaping and this and that.

"And if he could've slapped himself in the face he would've done so."

Yeah, I took that one under consideration as I felt it might have possibly made the experience of reading this novel seem a little bit exciting.

"(To be freed or not to be freed?  That was the question.)"

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  HUH?

On deciding whether or not to let Stephenson out of his cell and help him escape the intrepid Steve and Chuck ponder this:

"Charles was abusing his power and position as the head of the asylum, and that was plain wrong.  But what could they - a mere couple of security guards - do about such a thing?"

Oh, what could this mere couple of mere security guards do indeed?  Gee, I don't know?  Report it to the proper authorities?  Maybe even go so far as to contact the office of Governor Dukakis himself?

No, of course they're going to take matters into their own hands, because that's what moronic security guards at insane asylums in horror stories do.  And I can respect that, despite the fact that neither of these morons really have that much of an introspective or reflective thought between them.

In a complete lack of logic we are presented with this contradiction:

"Charles looked at the shard of bloody glass, which was still safely clenched in his hand and smiled."

??????

However the best little piece of unintentional humor comes in the form of this line where Stephenson is thinking about his writing:

"But that was okay, all that mattered was the fact that he was writing good stuff... great stuff... out-of-this-world and stunningly-mind-bending stuff."

Well, I have to say that I am glad that someone was, but unfortunately it was not Chrystian Marrero.  By no means have I pointed out every bad line, flaw or total lack of logic in this work, but to say that it's lacking in them would be a gross understatement.  Is it the worst thing I have ever read?  Oh, no, by no means.  In fact that distinction goes to Rhymer's Varney The Vampyre and the works of Matt Moreau on Literotica, which are Half, Zero and Negative Star efforts that are so intensely tiresome I would rather saw my own balls off with a butter knife than try to read them.

Having made it from cover to cover I am not sure that I hold the same opinion as I did when I was at the halfway point in the story, that Marrero would be a better writer with the proper guidance and work.  I can say that had he not made an attempt to set a date on the story it would have made it much better, because those facts that Ms Kincade does not believe will matter actually would not have.  However he did, which was a major mistake, especially when you consider it is a year he knows nothing about.  Setting a time frame of 1990 does nothing for the story.  There's no solid reason to ground it in that year.  It adds no ambiance to the story, and really the only thing it does is totally undermine a story that was not all that great to begin with.

Again, it really had the feel of an 11th grade creative writing assignment, it's overall length really the only thing to totally keep it from being one.  I kept wondering if Marrero had gotten his inspiration to do the story from watching some late-night horror movie marathon on WAPA that featured Session 9, a movie set in Danvers Asylum, and John Carpenter's In The Mouth Of Madness, a movie about an author who writes books that make people kill, among other things.

Should he tie a hard copy of the manuscript of Danvers Asylum around his neck, weight his body down with a couple of cinder blocks and wade into the Rio del los Negros and end it all?  Of course not.  The truth is I did make some of the same mistakes that Marrero did when I was writing at his age.  I even made worse mistakes prior to that.  If he wants to write he needs to stick to that old standard, "Write what you know."  That would be the beginning.  Writing stories of this caliber is not likely to land Mr. Marrero a guest interview on SuperXClusivo, just as King's early work would have never slated him a guest interview on the Today show, or mine would have gotten me onto Entertainment Tonight.

I obviously will not speak for others who have reviewed this work.  Four and Five Stars is more than very generous for this novel.  If these reviewers truly found Danvers Asylum a great read then...

Im fraid gd lit is bout 2 b ded.

Now, if you're over 25 what that says is, I'm afraid that well written literature is now a dying art form.

Look, I may have never taken 250 some odd hours in creative writing correspondence courses, but I do have a passion for writing, and I did take a semester of creative writing at Polk Community College.  It was a worthless experience for the most part, because the instructor spent a majority of his time verbally masturbating about Flannery O' Connor, and almost every writer in the class had more talent in their little curlies than this guy had in his whole body.  However, the things that the class itself was lacking in was more than made up for by my classmates and peers.  Unlike in high school, where anything gross was brilliant according to your classmates, and if you followed the rules of grammar the least you would ever get was a B minus, my college classmates were more critical.

In my junior year in high school I wrote a short horror story titled The Rocking Chair for English Honors III.  The teacher, a tough and joyless woman aged beyond her years by being a total bitch, one Mrs. Kalbfliesch, grudgingly liked the story.  My classmates told me that it was so great I was going to be the next Stephen King, a remark I took as the compliment it was meant as, considering most of them (probably like those comparing Marrero to King) had only seen film adaptations of King's work and had never actually read one of his stories.  So, I got off with a B minus and high praise from my friends and schoolmates.  However, when I did a slight rewrite and extension of the story as part of an assignment for my college creative writing class (which let's face it, if the teacher was not going to put any real effort into it then neither was I) it got an A, but my peers ended up being far less than kind with their comments and criticisms.

At first I was mad, totally pissed, because the story that all my friends in high school loved and believed would make me the next Stephen King was being ripped a new one by a collection of writers of such various ages and background that at the time I did not even consider them to be my peers.  Then I looked at the points they were finding issue with and realized that I had to agree that there were certain things about the premise and about the story that did not make any sense, and the narrative was actually lacking a great deal as well.  Looking back not only was it the best thing that happened to me in that creative writing class, but it was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me as a writer as well.

Is there a writer in Chrystian Marrero?  There could be.  For all the faults it has, and despite the fact that Danvers Asylum is juvenile work at best, he did sustain the story long enough for it to reach novel length.  Marrero, if he indeed feels writing is his passion and calling, needs to work, and I mean actually put effort, into refining his writing as his craft.  If story after story is like this he may give a few in the 13 to 25 year old age range a cheap thrill, but unfortunately older readers will view it as bad fiction and hack work.

I also have to note that I hope that Marrero is more passionate and diligent in his medical studies than he is at writing so far.  If not, if I ever end up in an ER in Puerto Rico I really hope not to hear the words, "This is Doctor Marrero and he will be taking care of you."

There are some of you that may say, Man you went out of your way to rip that story and author a new one.  And yes this review could have been shorter, and a lot less interesting.  However, I just wanted to prove that doing a little research, (doing your "homework") can make a piece, no matter how long, or what format or genre, a bit more interesting and alive. 

Ms. Kincade did not sit and analyze the works of King or Barker when she was younger to determine whether they made sense or were accurate because she didn't have to.  King and Barker and a whole slew of authors in several genres across the board are best sellers because they each and every one put effort into their work.

Just the other day my work boss asked me (because I made a comment on something and used pro-wrestling as a reference), why I always used wrestling when making a comparison, and the answer was, "Because it's what I know.  I write what I know and I talk what I know.  Plus a lot of the time it's easy to apply those facts to several 'real world' situations."  (Yeah, I know that's a little ironic.)  That said, over the past few years in the top two wrestling promotions in the United States, the statement has been made that if a wrestler is not there to win the world title then they have no business in wrestling.  What that actually means is not everyone is going to be the world champion, but they should always preform like they will be someday.  Having watched many wrestlers on the independent wrestling circuit, who put everything on the line and give more than most big name stars bother to once they "make it", despite the fact that many of them may never even work in WWE, ROH or Impact Wrestling, all having matches like they're fighting for the world title I find it a shame that it is not the same with writers (independent, small press, or otherwise).  If you are not here to be a best seller, if you are not even here to make an attempt, you have no business writing.  And again, I do realize that everyone has their own definition of success and their own goals, so let me state that in another way.  If you consider yourself a writer and have never dreamed, not even once in your wildest dreams, about being a best seller, and you do not make the best effort to write the best that you can, learn from your mistakes or advance beyond that which you have written before, then what are you doing here?

You can find Danvers Asylum here:

Amazon:   http://www.amazon.com/Danvers-Asylum-ebook/dp/B00585CCY4
Barnes & Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/danvers-asylum-chrystian-marrero/1104728388
Smashwords:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/70595

Lurk for it if you dare.

Master Vyle

7 comments:

  1. I for one find this an excellent post. I won't name the author, but this author is from another country and had a story set in America. Said author also had American beta-readers, but they failed to notice some inconsistencies in several areas - namely Police procedures, public accessibility to firearms - and greater yet, a character behaving inconsistent with the style set for the majority of the book. When I told the author these things, what did the author do? Delayed the release date of the book so the matters could be addressed. Frankly anyone who is going to consider themselves a publisher, or is getting into the publisher business - particularly if they are writer's themselves, SHOULD take logistics and facts of a story into account. Pawning off a lack of research as "it's fiction and I can do whatever I want" is not only lazy, it's unprofessional and a disservice to both author and reader. Fact checking a work of fiction is par for the course in traditional publishing houses. Her comments to your review I frankly find appalling. If you don't care to nitpick the details of a novel then you don't care about the reader experience. At this point, I would not care then - to purchase the book, or any book from that publishing house. Thanks for such an insightful post. I've run across a few books in the Indie world like this - but the author I mentioned? Is working on the inconsistencies I found in what is a very good novel. Readers DO notice these things. We're the members in the movie audience who find little mistakes or gems - like the Ent who puts his own fire out in the flooding of Isengard at the bottom left of the movie screen - however, in reading gems or mistakes - they either annoy or delight more so, in the movie our mind's conjure while reading. Shame on Ms. Kincade!

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  2. Well, I'm the author and I must say I agree with everything you said. This was my first attempt at writing a novel and I feel proud of it. I may be a terrible writer, but I set out to finish this story and I did. That's good enough for me.

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    1. Kudos to you, Mr. Marrero. It may surprise people to see me post this, considering the contents of this review, and considering the fact that you have in fact been the butt of many snide comments when it comes to rotten writing from me over the past several months, however I know it also takes a great deal for an author to stand by a particularly rough review and still be proud of their accomplishment. And yes it is an accomplishment to get that first novel done, though it's not always a good idea for it to go right to press. (Mine's still sitting under the bed, some 18 years old, and can legally smoke and have sex.)

      Now, I'm not sure if your agreement with everything in my review really means "everything", though I do hope you have walked away from this review in mind that I did say you had plenty of room to grow. Stick to the one tried and true method of good story telling, tell stories based from your experiences and those close to you, and if you're going to build a deeper world around that grounded in somewhere you've never been you have to reasearch.

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  3. Hey MV...nice to know your novel is old enough to smoke, and from the picture I've seen of the printout, if it ever caught fire, it just might burn the town down...

    I do agree with RL.T about readers noticing inconsistencies, regardless of whether the story itself is fiction or not...if it's set in a real locale, the facts should add up...just my two cents this morning...now let me go get more coffee...

    Cheers,
    Alan.

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    1. I know Alan, the WOD manuscript looks like a dirty whore that does some underage drinking as well. Bring condoms. Hhehehehehe.

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  4. It's a good idea to have an unpublished first novel sitting around so someone can publish it many years after you die a famous author. I keep seeing previously unpublished novels making it into print by people like Ernest Hemingway or Arthur Conan Doyle. I think to myself, I know they were awesome novelists, but how good are those books going to be if the authors are dead for about a hundred years before anyone dares to publish them?

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    1. LOL... The same reason I quoted Prince in Demoni because, "...they say the first time ain't the greatest."

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