Review — “Sway” — Zachary Lazar

SwaySway by Zachary Lazar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An intriguing diversion that attempts to connect the occult, death, and the later hippie culture. The novel centres around the Rolling Stones, the film maker and occultist Kenneth Anger, and Charles Manson disciple Bobby Beausoleil, and attempts to meld together the early anger of the Stones, the dissolution of 60s youth like Beausoleil, and the death of the hippie dream, using Anger as a device that connects those worlds.

The power of the novel lies in the descriptions of the mess that appeared to be the early, young, Rolling Stones, and, to an extent in the description of the development of Kenneth Anger.
Where it is weakest is in connecting all this somehow with Manson, and with death. Thanatomania (obsession with one’s own death) might be a theme that Anger is working through, and Mick and Keith might have written a song called “Sympathy for the Devil”, yet the connections remain flimsy. I don’t feel that the convergence and conjunction of these elements, these people, is drawing me towards the inevitable murders by The Family, nor towards tragedy at Altamont.

For all its subject matter of murder and death, the book lacks tension. For somebody of my generation (70s freak rather than 60s hippie), the stories of Brian Jones, the Family and Altamont are well-known; there is thus no element of surprise to the novel. What it provides instead is atmosphere, a kind of overarching view of a particular 60s weltanschauung.

It is, however, well-written, and well-researched. When it talks about the Stones, or about Anger, there is a feeling of verisimilitude. There are also nice turns of phrase that arrested my attention. It’s not essential, however, and it doesn’t really tell me anything new about the era, or explain why the peace and love movement ended in death. Yet, for those interested in such things, it is worth a read.

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So, Where Are We

A comment by one of my readers  about whether the Panylraeans – the aliens of the first book, Sorrow Mystica – return in later novels got me thinking about how I have arrived at a position where I know there will be at least seven novels (Nodes 0 and 2-6), and possibly eight if Node 1 (Operation Flashlight) ever gets finished. And possibly more. And that the Panylraeans may not (but then again, they might) return.

So – to begin at the beginning. The first of the Dereham Nodes to be written is the one recently published, Raven of Dispersion. As it was my first novel, there were things I wasn’t happy with, so several million rewrites occurred. Okay, so several million is an exaggeration. About twenty drafts.

During these travails I helped Kevin Goodman write his UFO Warminster: Cradle of Contact. After we finished that, Kevin suggested we write something else. Knowing of his interest in science fiction and UFOs, I suggested fiction with a sci fi bent. Of course, Kevin wanted aliens in there somewhere. I wanted to subvert such notions. So we kind of compromised on a Ruth Rendell-style sci fi involving aliens, contactees, relationships and… well… read it, and you’ll see how it all came together. But, because Raven already involved the paranormal and young people looking for flying saucers, I thought it might be fun if we set at least part of Sorrow in Dereham, the ufological hotspot I had already invented for Raven. The seeds for a series were thus sown.

After I’d finished writing Raven of Dispersion and was editing that and Kev’s book, I had an idea for a novel I thought of as “Band Novel”, that would move the characters of “Raven” to 1984 — older, possibly wiser, possibly madder in some cases, some of whom would be, yes, you guessed it, in a band. So I started making notes.

However, while I was making notes for “Band Novel”, I was looking at some of my old writing notes, and noticed one that involved a hitman. What, I thought, if a bunch of young Wiltshire hippies were confronted with somebody who claimed he was a hitman? Wouldn’t they just think him delusional? And what if they started following him around. What would happen? And so The Ethical Hitman – which will be the next novel published – took shape.

Meanwhile, Kevin had become interested in what had happened to some of the characters from Sorrow Mystica, and what they might get up to after that book finished. So he started sending me rough ideas for a kind of thriller spy-type book. Given that I’d already started working on The Ethical Hitman, and knew “Band Novel” would happen at some point in the future, I could see ways to tie all these together, and make fun interconnections between all the books.

Kevin wanted  what was to become Crossing the Line to be a spy-thriller-guns-explosions type of book. But I wanted to subvert that. So, we compromised on a Ruth Rendell-style spy-thriller-guns-explosions type book. Yes, we were mashing genres. We wrote Crossing really quickly, enjoying ourselves immensely, finishing it and the drafts of Sorrow while I was still on draft 12 of Raven.

Sorrow Mystica and Crossing the Line are set in 1971/1972, while Raven of Dispersion is set in 1976. It made sense then that, when I decided to self-publish, the novels should be released in the same order as their timeline.

So next then will be The Ethical Hitman, Genial (both set in 1976), and then German Overalls (set in 1984).

Kevin and I are also working on Panlyrae: A Message for Mankind and Operation Flashlight, which would be nodes 0 and 1, and will be set in the 40s/50s/60s. These could be released at any point in the series.

And then, there might well be something set on the planet Panlyrae at some indeterminate point in the age of the universe. I have ideas…

There might also be something about a couple of characters from Dereham dithering about whether to take a trip on the Settle and Carlisle railway. This one will be a hoot. I might need Kevin to subvert the rather Ruth Rendell-ish, Anita Brookner-ish nature of it with guns, bombs, aliens and spies.

Node 4 – “Raven of Dispersion” Published

Finally! Node 4 of the Dereham Connections has arrived.

Not quite in time for Christmas, unless you’re very quick – but it is finally published this year, at least. The book is available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon, and available to order as a paperback from other places, I should imagine.

Raven of Dispersion is set in the imaginary Dereham, somewhere in an imaginary corner of Wiltshire, in a very real long, hot, summer of 1976. The mysteries that swirl about the town are about to entangle the young and the arrogant in ways they can’t imagine.

Six friends. Charlie, James and  Imogen, Stuart and Kate, Paul. They walk the sun-soaked hill tops, searching for answers, looking for UFOs. They talk about the occult. They drink, flirt, smoke and kiss.

Charlie had always fancied Imo. Tall, beautiful Imo. Everybody loved her.

Imo loved James. Except… Except, James was fond of his brandy, and at eighteen had already started down a road that led, Imo feared, to drunkenness and dissolution.

Imo was, however, happy that her best and oldest friend had fallen for Stuart. Handsome Stuart. Flirty Stuart. Lots of girls fancied Stuart, even Imogen once – much to Charlie’s chagrin. What Charlie feared most was that Imogen would one day leave James and take up with Stuart. Why he feared this outcome above all else, Charlie wasn’t sure. So when he fell for Paul’s younger sister Jane, he felt he could at last put all that nonsense about Imo behind him. It wasn’t like he was obsessed or anything. No, he wasn’t like that at all.

And Paul? He had studied the occult masters, and was a neophyte no longer. He knew how to perform the Banishing Ritual and Regardie’s Healing Ritual of the Middle Pillar. He had seen Raphael and Ariel. When he and James whimsically decide to work the paths of the Kabbala one night on Copsehill, what could possibly go wrong?

Everything…

Because when the Raven of Dispersion enters their world, a slow spiral into madness begins.

Raven of Dispersion at Amazon

Dereham Connections – Node 3 – “Crossing the Line”

Having established (see previous posts!) that all the Nodes in the Dereham Connections have some linkage to Dereham, how are they connected?

Well, I can’t tell you too much without giving several games away. While all the books are designed to stand alone, inevitably, things happen in the books that will affect other books.

Still, Node 3 is called Crossing the Line. In Crossing the Line, several lines are crossed. Spies spy on people they really shouldn’t, agencies operate where they’re not allowed and chase information fruitlessly. An agent falls in love with the sister of the woman he was watching. Security services work with terrorists. A bad man becomes much worse. And all because Peta Shepherd might finally have discovered something and told nobody except Archibald Franklin Conn. Everybody is searching for information. Many people are searching for Archie, for various reasons. All Archie is searching for is an easy life.

Set in London, South Wales and Reading, in late 1972 and early 1973, Crossing the Line is the book that has least to do with Dereham. And yet the events in Dereham, described in Sorrow Mystica, are the impetus for the drama in Crossing the Line. And the man who Archie becomes in Crossing the Line reverberates through the connections and has consequences in 1976, in Node 5.

After the vague sci-fi feel of Sorrow Mystica, Crossing the Line crosses into the spy and thriller genres. There are no aliens or spaceships, no skywatchers or paranormal mysteries. But the aliens we meet in Sorrow Mystica, and their channel, Peta Shepherd, provide the McGuffin that propels Crossing the Line.

Crossing the Line should be available early in the new year.

(For more information on the series of Dereham Connections novels, see the Come to Dereham blog and Facebook page.

Sorrow Mystica — Why Connections, Why Nodes…

The perspicacious among you might have noticed the subtitle to Sorrow MysticaDereham Connections: Node 2 — and wondered what that was all about…

Well, the novels so far written are all connected in some way. They are a series, a chronicle, or what have you. Informally, they were known for some time as The Dereham Chronicles; but that implied they were all set in the imaginary Dereham — that they were a chronicle of the town. However, the series is not so much about Dereham, as about people whose lives intersect and are in some way influenced by events in the town. (Although, if the books also lead you to want to move to Dereham, I’ll have done my job.)

Still, I wanted to give notice that the novels are connected in some way. I thought an overall title like A Dance to the Music of Time might work. But then I thought something like that might be a bit too… precious… for some scifi-spy-thriller-paranormal-romance-based novels; such a “series” title might make the books appear as, “that is to say, literature”, as Henry Miller once wrote. And the fact that at least one of the books is not set in Dereham bugged me. And then one day I concluded that the books were about the connections between the characters in them; it was the connections that were important. And that’s how Dereham Connections came to be.

And then I saw each novel as a coming together, a meeting point, of the strands and webs of the lives I was weaving, where the connections created a knot, a tangle of wires — a node. And that was how each book came to be called a Node. So why is the first book Node: 2? Because there is no Node 1. Not yet, at any rate. All the Nodes are ordered by when they are set – starting in 1971 for Node 2, and ending in 1984 for Node 6. But they might yet be published in a different order; expect the unexpected.

Anyway, here are the nodes that we — co-author Kevin and I — know for sure will be published over the next year or so:

Node 2         Sorrow Mystica                                                    
Node 3         Crossing the Line
Node 3.5      Genial — Being the Tale of the Courtship of Simon and Julie
Node 4         Raven of Dispersion
Node 5         The Ethical Hitman
Node 6         German Overalls

Only Node 6 remains unwritten — but I know what it’s about. There are notes. And it has to be written. Nodes 2 and 3 are co-written with Kevin. Nodes 3.5 through 6 are written solely by me.

There are other nodes in the pipeline, but they remain a little vague (and depend on my co-author)…

Review: The Magician

The Magician
The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Magician describes the relationships between two women and a man, and how these relationships are affected by their meeting with the magician of the title.

Margaret and Susie share rooms in Paris. Arthur Burdon is Margaret’s fiance. Burdon is a renowned surgeon; his mentor is the retired doctor and occult scholar Dr. Porhoët. Porhoët introduces Oliver Haddo to his friends; Haddo is an occultist, a magician — loosely based on Aleister Crowley, “the wickedest man in the world”, whom Maugham had met in Paris — and over the next few days, Haddo makes claims about the powers he can conjure. He appears to demonstrate such powers, but Burdon is a man of reason, and rejects Haddo’s claims.

Burdon finds Haddo overbearing and obnoxious, and they brawl after Haddo kicks Margaret’s dog. Burdon comes out on top, but this is the trigger for Haddo to use his powers to manipulate Margaret into leaving Burdon and eventually marrying Haddo.

Burdon is a broken man. Susie also loves Burdon, and tries to help him. She hears stories about Margaret and her marriage to Haddo that distress her. Susie sees Margaret fading, and becomes worried. Burdon returns, determined to regain Margaret’s love but reconciliation is impossible. Margaret has literally been charmed by Haddo, she is enraptured by him, and there is thus no escape, even if she wanted it.

There are hints that Haddo uses Margaret in his rituals and other occult practices, that her energy is being given up to them. What will become of Margaret; can her friends Burdon and Susie arrest her dissolution? And what can they do about Haddo?

The novel moves from a story of relationships, manners and ideas through to a climactic, gothic ending, similar to a horror-story from M R James or Algernon Blackwood. It is one of Maugham’s earlier novels, but is nonetheless well-crafted, with finely wrought sentences. My one complaint is that the novel is, perhaps, a little slow in places. Still, The Magician is an enjoyable read.

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Drafting and Drafting and Drafting….

A couple of nights ago, I finished reading draft two of the novel known as Crossing the Line for the second time. The draft now contains lots of markups, and editing began last night.

When I’ve finished editing Crossing the Line, my intention was to return to editing the novel known as Panlyrae — which is on draft nine, I think — and after that, Raven of Dispersion, which is at draft 18!!

After editing Panlyrae and Raven, I will edit draft eight of the novel known either as Archibald Franklin Fucking Conn or The Ethical Hitman. And there will be at least one more draft after that, as well — this draft will better dovetail some loose ends, and add some scenes, and these additions and changes will need at least one more edit.

And then — finally — I’ll be able to begin writing the new novel — tentatively titled German Overalls, after a Peter Hammill song — that has been rolling around my head in images, and for which I have been making notes, for the last four years.

At the same time, I need to create, edit and self-publish what I amusingly call The Dead John Miscellany, which is a book of the collected writings of my friend John, who died back in 2009, and was my co-author on In Alien Heat. As an executor of his estate, I became de facto his literary executor, and I’m not going to let his poems, lyrics and short stories be forgotten — among his friends at least — so intend self-publishing his collected works using available cheap platforms, such as Kindle and CreateSpace.

My editing plans have already gone awry, however. Last night, my intention had been to edit Crossing the Line. Crossing and Panlyrae are linked, and when I began editing Crossing I realised that I had no idea where I was in time, and how the timeline connected to the end of Panlyrae. The novels are structured so that they can be read as independent novels; however, for those who do read both, the timeline should be clear and make sense. I am, therefore, now going to edit Panlyrae first, and during the edit ensure I understand the timeline — because if I can’t. who will… 

Still, it keeps me off the streets…