Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dead Hungry: a ghoulish delight by Louis Arata

Flesh:  It’s What’s For Dinner.

Ghouls are overrunning Chicago.  We’re not talking supernatural beasties but humans with an inexplicable appetite for the dead.  It doesn’t matter if it’s road-kill, bodies from the morgue, or the recently buried.

For graduate student Tucker Smith, life is now scarier than the horror novels he studies.  His girlfriend is feeling peckish for raw meat.  His roommate is dabbling in the Ghoul Culture.  And his grunge rocker brother is involved in the black market supply of bodies.

Tucker soon discovers that low-budget horror movies, reality TV shows, national food competitions, and cultural sensitivity collide with family secrets.


       “DON’T TELL me that movie didn’t suck, because it did.  It was so way like that other movie with the killer in that shitty mask trying to be all Jason, but it’s also like that Wes Craven flick, you know, all self-referential, but this one, this movie, this was just crap!”
Freddie combusted with caffeinated energy, his spiky red hair a halo of fire.  Enveloped in two oversized t-shirts and a flannel shirt, he wore a belt almost a foot too long, and his boxers jutted over his waistband.  He tried to agitate Tucker and Darien into the same state of stunned disbelief.
“Can’t they come up with one frigging original idea, just once?  Like we don’t know the main chick’s going to be some tough Barbie who stabs the psycho with his own ice pick.  And of course you know!  You know he’s going to pop up again.  Boo!  Ooh, I’m scared, he’s still alive!  Shit, like we haven’t seen that a bazillion times before!”
Freddie turned to Tucker.  “Come on, admit it.  It was shit.  Right?  It was shit.”
“Yes, it was shit.”
“Thank you!”  Freddie took a victory lap around his friends.  To celebrate, he dodged into traffic like a crazed prophet.  “Skip this movie!  It sucked!” He gestured wildly at the movie theater.
Freddie’s antics reminded Tucker of Kevin McCarthy at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, warning travelers that they’re here, they’re here, you’re next.  Grinning, he threw an arm over Freddie’s shoulder and guided him down the street.
Freddie proceeded to rave about overlooked classics such as Hell Hounds II:  Bark Until Dark and Field of Screams, which were so much better than tonight’s Chop ‘Til You Drop.  “Great title, stooopid story,” he said.
“Of course it’s stupid,” said Tucker.  “What did you expect?  Movies like this aren’t about creativity; they’re about what sells.  Sexy women, violent stalkers, grisly deaths.”
“Don’t forget stupid puns as titles,” said Darien.
“No movie like this is going to have an original thought in its head.  It’s movie-making by cliché.  Stick enough familiar elements together, market it to teenage boys, and you make enough money for a sequel.”
“Exactly, exactly!” exclaimed Freddie, as though his ranting had made the same point.  “They could be sooo much smarter if they did something cool.”
“You’re the one who picked the movie,” said Darien.
“Yeah, but still.”
A hazy film of car exhaust permeated Chicago’s humid night air.  Up and down Michigan Avenue, skyscrapers formed a glistening cavern.  Tucker steered his friends onto the plaza next to the Tribune Tower, its neo-Gothic design infested with gargoyles watching from flying buttresses.  Freddie ran ahead to pretend-skateboard along the lip of a stone planter.
“Next time, I choose the movie,” Darien said privately to Tucker.  “No more horror, okay?  How can you stomach it?”
“It’s all fodder for the dissertation.”
“You don’t really like them, do you?”  Darien shook his head in distaste.  “You heard the guys behind us, right?  Laughing their heads off when the killer cut out that girl’s tongue.”
Tucker shrugged.  “Horror gets more intense as violence becomes more permissible to show, but does it ever really change?  The same things still scare us.”
“Since when does seeing people get butchered become entertainment?”
“All I want is to figure out why people enjoy a good scare.  That pleasant chill of fear.  Movies are a safe way to experience that.  You’re not really in danger, even if you feel scared.”
“Okay, I can see that’s why you watch horror movies.  But Freddie?”
“He’s about the gross-out factor.  He’s got that catalog of all the different ways people get maimed in movies.”
Darien laughed.  “He’s a psycho.”
“I don’t think he makes a connection between a real serial killer and the killer in Chop ‘Til You Drop.  For him, they are two completely different animals.  He’s a goofball, but in-between his ranting and raving, sometimes he’s got a little insight.”
“Kind of hard to believe,” Darien murmured.  Up ahead Freddie was executing fake skateboard maneuvers that drew cheers from a nonexistent crowd.
They headed down to the Loop to a pub for a late night beer.  Tucker liked seeing the city lit up along the river.  The Wrigley Building glowed in sugar-coated cheerfulness, and behind it loomed the glass visage of Trump Tower.  Near the DuSable Bridge, a saxophonist played an endless iteration of Auld Lang Syne.
Further south, they passed under the El tracks on Wabash Avenue.  Heavy shadows formed a subterranean world.  When a train roared overhead, its cars thumping, it was like a monster rising from its lair.  Street lamps couldn’t cut through the grimy residue staining the buildings.  Retail stores, pressed shoulder-to-shoulder, featured generic posters for kitschy clothes and jewelry.  In second and third-story windows, bright neon signs advertised Tarot readings, yoga and massage.
The street stretched empty and dark.  Apart from the El trains, Freddie remained the greatest source of noise.  He kept mercilessly teasing Darien about the movie.  “You had your eyes closed the whole damn time!”
Darien refused to be taunted.  “I saw it.  Though I wish I hadn’t.”
Just then, Freddie jumped back a foot.  “Holy shit!”
A big rat bolted from an alley.  It moved so fast, it registered only as fluid motion.  In the middle of the street, it halted to pick at litter flattened in the road.
A delivery van came through the intersection and crushed it.  In an instant it went from being a rat to being a glossy, steaming, lumpy thing.  Its leg twitched twice before becoming still.
Oh god, Tucker thought.
Freddie slapped Darien’s arm.  “Come on,” he said, jogging toward the furry gob.  He hunkered down next to it.  “Poor devil never had a chance.”
“Don’t be gross.”
“Probably working late to support the wife and kids.  I sure hope he had insurance.  Notify the next of kin!”  Freddie pinched one of the snapped legs and waved it at his friends.  In a squeaky voice, he said, “Officer, I saw the whole thing!  He was drunk, I tell you, drunk!”
“Freddie, leave it alone.”
Wiping his hands on his jeans, Freddie trumpeted a doleful Taps.  Tucker hated to admit he wanted to laugh.  Catching Freddie’s arm, he moved him away from the mess.  With a second glance at the rat, Tucker felt surprisingly disturbed, as if he’d witnessed a drive-by shooting.
Then something else emerged from the alley.  Much larger, it shambled onto the sidewalk.  Darkness hid the face, and the body was hefty with layers of soiled clothes.  Without a visible face, he seemed less than human.  A zombie, something Undead.
The man appeared not to see them; he cut across their path at a leaden gait.  Tucker gave him a wide berth, while Freddie, more fascinated than brave, hunched over to peer up into the man’s face.  “Hey dude, what’s happening?”
Darien tried a gentle approach.  “Hey, man.”  No response.  To Tucker, he said, “We need to do something.  He needs help.”
Tucker wasn’t sure what to do.  Something didn’t feel right.  The man moved through his own world, disconnected from reality.  What emanated from him, maybe a form of psychosis, was more than Tucker could handle.  All he wanted was to get his friends to safety.
Freddie walked directly up to the man.  “Looking to get tanked, blotto, piss-faced?  You need some change?”  He rummaged loose coins from his pocket.
Tucker stopped him.  Freddie protested, “Hey, I’m being a good Samaritan is all.”
The homeless man, visible beneath a street light, was probably white, except his skin was grimy and his beard too thick to tell.  His clothes peeled like the skin of a rotting onion, his boots held together with packing tape.  His overcoat had an oily sheen, like city streets after a rainstorm.  Unconscious of their presence, he walked like a discarded clockwork winding down.
He circled in the street, closing in on the dead rat.  No cars were coming, yet even if they were, he paid no attention to his surroundings.  He crouched over the rat.
It was time to do something; Tucker couldn’t simply walk away.  Clearly the man didn’t recognize the danger of wandering in traffic at night, in Chicago.  Tucker took a step toward him then stopped.
The man was eating the rat.

Purchase Dead Hungry


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About the Author

I am not a vegetarian, but after writing Dead Hungry, I’m one step closer to becoming one.  I’m a long-term resident of Chicago, so it was fun bringing fictional mayhem to its crowded streets.  While I’ve written novels since I was in my teens, Dead Hungry was my first horror novel.  Various jobs have allowed me to sell classified ads, balance checkbooks, debrief former gang members, format surveys, build databases, hand out stipend checks, and assist with million dollar budget projections.  For fun, I’m involved in theatre.  My play, A Careful Wish, was first produced at the Fourth Street Theatre, in Chesterton, IN.  

Connect with Louis

Twitter:  @LouisArata

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Memory Chose a Woman's Body: a poetic memoir

1. Tell us about Memory Chose a Woman's Body.  What inspired you to write it? 

Memory Chose a Woman’s Body is a poetry memoir.  It speaks of many topics that I was unable to speak freely of when I was young. The book took many years to write and I second-guessed whether or not I should move forward with it. However, when hiding my memories proved to be detrimental to my current life, I decided to speak openly about the topics. Not only that, I decided to move forward with helping to change others’ lives. Sometimes we won’t do for ourselves what we are willing to do for others. This has resulted in a happiness that I have never allowed myself to feel before.

My goal is to show the effects of abuse and depression on a person’s life. The book takes the reader through the process of that life, and all the in-betweens of pain. Although the book is fairly somber, it ends with hope; there’s a lot of hope in my future.

2. Why did you become a writer?

I needed someone that I could speak openly and freely to. From a young age, due to certain events, I didn’t feel I could open up and speak to anyone without judgment or ridicule. I was extremely unconfident and untrusting. Poetry was that friend and caregiver to me. Poetry saved my life.

3. What’s your writing routine like?  Do you have a special place where you write, a favorite pen, listen to a particular type of music, etc.?

I reserve listening to classical music for my writing time. In addition, I like to write in public places where I have no ties to the people around me. Writing poetry is a therapeutic part of life for me, and I make myself vulnerable so that I can be honest in my writing.

4. Do you stick to just one genre, or do you write in multiple genres?  Why?

I tend to stick with the truth--poetry and memoirs are my absolute favorites. Children’s books are also important to me. I believe there are many lessons that we, as adults, can relearn from The Velveteen Rabbit, etc.

5. What are your favorite books/authors?

I’m not only a poet, but I absolutely love reading others’ poetry. My shelves are getting quite full. I collect and read poetry books that I find at thrift stores, Craigslist and yard sales. It’s exciting when I find a good read that I might not have found otherwise. I’m a fan of Sharon Olds, Jack Gilbert, Diane Gilliam Fisher, Bukowski, Plath and (one of my new favorites) Beth Bentley.

6. What are you reading right now?

I am reading, and enjoying, Leaving Tulsa by Jennifer Elise Foerster.

7. Are there any emerging authors that you’re excited about?

I’m very excited about Loren Kleinman’s work. I found her poetry online and immediately reached out to her. Not only is she a great contemporary author, she is also very fostering of other writers’ talents. I believe that is so important in today’s writing world.

Author Bio
Angela M. Carter was born, and raised, in a Virginia farming town of less than 280 country-folk. Angela moved abroad to England for nearly five years and returned to sweet Virginia with a newfound confidence and voice.

Her first full-length poetry collection, Memory Chose a Woman’s Body (unbound CONTENT) is a poetic journey that spotlights the effects of the silences endured after negative life occurrences, and openly describes the difficult roads she travelled on her way towards healing. Angela is a poetry editor of CityLitRag (NYC webzine), a coordinator of Rocktown Poetry Circle, a motivational speaker, an artist, and has obtained article and anthology publications.  She currently lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia with her husband, two daughters, two dogs and with dreams of making others aware that every moment has a butterfly effect into our (and others’) futures.

Connect with Angela:

Thanks for reading!  Please feel free to ask questions/leave comments for Angela.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wizard of Ends: a new fantasy series by Vanessa Finaughty

When Lashlor Leaflin offers to escort Queen Narraki Dragonsbane to the Jeltar Woods, he’s unwittingly caught up in a magical adventure of the type he would rather not have.

The sorceress Assassa believes the Land of Ends to be rightfully hers, but King Lanaran refuses to hand over his crown. In retaliation, the sorceress conjures creatures of darkness to hunt the queen and end her life. Lashlor helps where he can, but it isn’t easy when the Guards of Ends who protect the queen believe him to be false.

A confrontation with Assassa will be the death of him, Lashlor is certain. However, the king insists on his help and it soon becomes apparent that he may have no choice.

Wizard of Ends is a fantasy novella series that will be released later this year if all goes according to plan. At the moment, Book 1 is complete, and Book 2 is halfway there. The author plans to release both the first books on the same day during a month-long virtual book tour, during which Book 2 will be discounted – and Book 1 will be permanently free.

Finaughty isn’t ready to reveal too much about this series until the virtual book tour, but here’s a short teaser from the author’s first draft of Book 1 to whet your appetite:

King Lanaran Dragonsbane, ruler of the Land of Ends, stood at the foot of the royal bed, gazing down at the sleeping queen, whose silky black hair framed her pale oval face. So intense was his love for Queen Narraki that his breath caught in his throat as a faint smile curved her delicate lips. She must be dreaming about something pleasant, he thought, realising that he was smiling too – her smiles had always been so infectious. Even now, in this darkest of moments. His chest ached with the knowledge of what was to come. He could stop it if he wanted to. All he had to do was give the order and she could remain here where it was safe. He could… but he couldn’t. Not if he was to retain his throne – and the respect of his people. He could not show weakness, for to do so would invite war, and that would kill more than just his wife. His enemies had spies everywhere. What he was forced to do now was proof of that.

Lanaran turned from the bed and walked to the door, where he cast one last glance upon his wife. Then he left the room and, without meeting their eyes, murmured to the guards outside, “You remember what we discussed.” It wasn’t a question. He knew that they knew. “The potion has worked. She will sleep for some time. Make sure no one sees you, and be quick about it.”

The two Guards of Ends, both of who would be loyal to the end, Lanaran was sure, nodded almost imperceptibly.


Lanaran strode down the wide stone corridor and went to the royal lounge, which was always stocked with a choice variety of the best wines. Goodness knew, he needed a drink if he was to get through the night without sounding the alarm and sabotaging his own plans.


Readers & Bloggers

If you would like to participate in the Wizard of Ends virtual book tour, please contact Vanessa at for details.

Author Bio

Vanessa grew up in Cape Town, and still lives there with her husband of fifteen years, her baby daughter and plenty of furry, four-legged ‘children.’

Her passion for the written word started her career as an editor and copywriter, and she ran a writers’ critique group for close on seven years. She’s been writing ever since she learnt how, has always been an avid reader, and currently lives on coffee and her e-cigarette.

Her interests include reading, photography, the supernatural, life’s mysteries and martial arts, of which she has five years’ experience.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

“Why do you wear that stupid hat?” and other questions for a transplant patient

This summer, my husband and I celebrated his second kidney day.  He received his kidney transplant in June 2012.  It’s definitely something worth celebrating-- two years of health and an exponentially improved quality of life.  We owe this to a good family who was able to think of others in their time of grief.

In that time, we have discovered that most people seem to think getting an organ transplant means the end of all medical-related woes—they seem surprised that Patrick even has to take medication.  People that didn’t know him before he got his transplant are shocked to hear that anything was ever wrong with him. 

A few weeks ago, at Patrick’s job, this conversation happened:

Coworker 1: Hey, Patrick, why do you wear that stupid hat?
Coworker 2: Oh, dude.  Don’t ask him that.  The answer’s going to make you feel like a fucking asshole.
Coworker 1: No, seriously, bro.  What’s with the hat?
Coworker 2:  Fine.  You’re a fucking asshole.

The reason for the stupid hat is that transplant patients are at risk for skin cancer due to immunosuppressant drugs.  Depending on the type of cancer, transplant patients have up to a 100-fold higher risk for developing skin cancer compared to the general population.  Patrick has been encouraged to see a dermatologist at least once a year.  When he goes out, he has also been advised to wear sunscreen. 

Mostly, Patrick just tries to stay out of the sun altogether, which is tough for him.  He’s always been a sun-worshipper.  He loves swimming and hiking and all that outdoor shit.  Me, I’ve always been white—I don’t quite combust when light touches me.  I’m more like a deep-sea creature.  If you try to get me in the sun, I’ll probably just squirt ink at you and retreat to my shadowy depths.  That’s a writer joke.  Geddit?

I squirt my ink all over you.

So I can’t really appreciate what he’s going through.  When we know catching some rays is unavoidable, we make sure he puts on sunblock.  But any sunscreen that’s worth a damn is just unpleasant.  It’s greasy, it gets in your eyes, it gets in your beard, (Patrick’s beard, that is.  Not mine.  I don’t have a beard), and it stains the hell out of men’s undershirts. 

The rest of the time, he keeps himself covered-- jeans, long-sleeve shirts and a hat.  We considered a classy parasol, but we felt that that would necessitate an extensive wardrobe overhaul and that just ain’t in our budget.  I mean, otherwise, c’mon.  It’s a fucking parasol. 

Manly as fuck.

So we opted for a hat.  This is the Midwest.  Wearing a broad-brimmed hat is so normal here, that if people see you wearing one, they just assume you’re going to go back to your pickup truck and drive somewhere to have rugged sexytimes with Jake Gyllenhaal or whatever it is cowboys do. 

So all this has inspired me to compile a short(ish) list of some basic things people don’t seem to know about kidney transplants.  (Bearing in mind, of course, that I am not a doctor.  This is entirely based on our experience.) 

1. Kidneys: limit one per customer.
People ask us all the time if Patrick got two transplanted kidneys.  No.  You get one.  Uno.  Un.  Eins.  That way, another patient suffering on dialysis can get a transplant, too.  Spread the wealth, y’know?

Fifty percent kidney functionality is all one needs to lead a mostly normal, healthy life.  This is why live kidney donors are able to go through with it—they still get to keep one of theirs. 

Also, people ask us what happened to Patrick’s dead kidneys.  (We like to think of them as “zombie kidneys.”)  They’re still in Patrick’s body.  They do not get removed.  We’ve had people who seemed almost disappointed to learn this, that we don’t get to keep them in a jar as some kind of gruesome conversation piece.  (Though, to be fair, if they did take them out, we would keep them.  In a jar.  Either on the coffee table or on a bookshelf.  So they would be a gruesome conversation piece. . . Our friends know us really well.)  The kidneys, even zombie kidneys, are attached to a freakin’ lot of blood vessels.  It’s an unnecessary risk to remove them.  The new kidney is placed in the front of the body, near the appendix.  So, right now, Patrick actually has three kidneys in his body. 

2. Getting an organ donation frequently means that somebody died.
This is a tough fact to face.  Sometimes, people are fortunate enough to get a live donor.  Kidney donation matches are largely determined by blood type, which means that sometimes, kidney patients can find a donor in his/her family.  A lucky few get an organ donation from a total stranger—just somebody who felt like banking that much good karma, I guess. 

But generally speaking, you probably got your organ from a dead donor.  You are alive today because someone died.  There are few truths as stark as that one.

Due to medical privacy laws, not everyone gets to find out who their donor was.  We were fortunate to receive a letter from our donor’s family.  I blogged about it here

While we were awaiting a transplant, we found that medical professionals can get pretty ghoulish about the donation process.  We were on the waiting list for almost three years.  Every time winter weather came around, invariably, at least one nurse would holler, “IT’S CAR ACCIDENT SEASON!”  Like, it’s black ice time, WOO!  All we have to do is kick back and wait for all those plump, juicy, non-pulverized organs to just roll in!  New Year’s is a peak time, as is prom season and graduation.  Anytime there are a lot of drunk drivers on the road, the death rates go up.  And when death rates go up, it means that people are about to get those desperately-needed hearts, livers, lungs, kidneys, eyeballs.  You  name it. 

The math is pretty simple.  Every day, 18 people die waiting for an organ donation.  The average organ donor can help as many as 50. 

If you don’t have organ donor checked on your driver’s license, do it now.

3.  It’s a treatment.  Not a cure.
To be clear: receiving a kidney transplant is not a cure.  It’s considered an on-going treatment.  Patrick has an auto-immune disorder that caused his kidneys to fail.  The immunosuppressant drugs he takes should stop his rabid immune system from attacking the new kidney. 

But no matter what medications he takes, a donated kidney has a finite lifespan.  It could last for as long as twenty years, or as little as seven.  There’s no way to know. 

4.  Drugs. 
I mentioned that people seem surprised that Patrick even needs to take drugs?  Well, he does.  Like, a boatload-- antirejection drugs, mostly, which he will have to take for as long as the kidney holds out, which means that he still carries around one of these bad boys:

In case you couldn’t tell by that parasol remark, we’re all about the accessories.

The medication has to be taken regularly.  The antirejection medication has to be taken twice a day at a very precise time.  If it is not taken on time, his body may begin the process of rejecting his transplanted kidney.  If he is even 15 minutes late taking his medication, the body can begin the rejection process.

Also, a lot of the drugs he takes are hard on his one functioning kidney.  So that 7-20 year life expectancy for the donated kidney I mentioned?  Might be cut short because it requires so many strong drugs to keep his body functioning in the first place. 

So . . . you know when you watch zombie movies, and the survivors all scramble around, trying to stockpile water and weapons and stuff, and you wonder what you would grab first?  I already know the answer to that question.  In case of a zombie apocalypse, I’d be raiding every drugstore I could find for every single capsule of immunosuppressants.  Without them, we’d be going the way of the walking dead sooner than we’d like.

5. Doctor, Doctor, Mister M.D. 
For the first year after Patrick got his transplant, it was doctors, doctors, all the time.  The nephrologist, the kidney transplant team, the dermatologist.  Now, he still has to see them all at least once a year, and get monthly blood tests to make sure all of his levels are all right—creatinine, cholesterol, red blood cells, all sorts of things that give the doctors a picture of his kidney health,  as well as his overall health.

6. Forget about life insurance.
Expensive, completely indispensable-to-survival drugs?  Check.  Routine medical tests and doctor visits, including specialists?  Check.  Shortened lifespan?  Check.  We’re an insurance company’s worst nightmare.

Oh, what’s that?  Does Patrick have a life insurance plan?



I don’t want to make this political or anything, but . . .

7. Take that steak well-done.
In a cowtown like KC, requesting your steak a well-done is like sacrilege.  Why would you cook all the delicious flavor out? 

Because transplant patients can’t have foods that may contain bacteria.  That rules out a lot of yummy but undercooked/uncooked things, like sushi, or vegetables that can harbor bacteria, such as bean sprouts.  It also means no organ meats.  (Patrick was a fan of menudo before.)  Bacterial infections could wreck that kidney we had to wait three years for.  Starfruit and grapefruit are also off the menu, as they can be fatal to kidney patients.  That's right, I said fatal.  

No one wants 'citrus' listed as their cause of death. No one.

But giving up these food items is a small price to pay when you consider that during his dialysis years he never had any appetite at all.  His weight used to hover around 125 or so.  Now he’s able to enjoy eating again and back to a healthy weight.

Also, kidney patients, like pregnant women, are advised to stay away from litter boxes, which carry the risk of toxoplasmosis.  In other words, he has a lifetime exemption from cleaning the litter box.  So there’s that.

And now, your requisite adorable kitty photo.

Thanks for reading, and, as always, please feel free to leave any questions or comments below!  

Like this article?  Read more about Patrick's and my journey through kidney disease: Hanging Blood, Go Ask AliceThe Heavy WaitThey All Said Life's a Bowl of Cherries ButHack and SlashLessons on Being a Caregiver, or pretty much any blog post labeled "Health."