Monsters aren’t always supernatural or super human. Sometimes they are part of the family.

Martin is certainly one of these monsters in Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling (Riverhead Books, August). In this beautifully written, highly praised and powerful, yet horrific, debut novel, 14-year-old Turtle lives with her father, Martin, who abuses her in every way, yet provides her with the only
world she knows. Once she begins to understand the appeal of life outside of the Mendocino County wilderness, she needs all the survivalist skills her father has taught her.

The monster in History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Atlantic Monthly Press, January 2017) is not blatantly evil like Martin and Kreagar (below). Leo is devoted to his faith, but distant from his family, except in his ability to manipulate his wife, even when the life of his diabetic son, Paul, is at stake. Teenage Linda’s life becomes intertwined with this family when she is hired to look after Paul, and that continues to haunt her as she matures.

Other books that feature familial monsters that have already been described in this column include The Wolf Road (Beth Lewis) – a young girl tries
to escape from Kreagar, the murderer who raised her in the apocalyptic north woods; The Education of Dixie Dupree (Donna Everhart) – Uncle Ray comes to help after a family tragedy but begins to give too much special attention to 12-year-old Dixie, while her mother hides a dark secret; Bull Mountain (Brian Panowich) – three generations of moonshiners and drug dealers will stop at nothing to carry on their trade, including shooting brothers and turning their sons into monsters like themselves.

VALLEY WRITERS

Douglas E. Noll’s latest book, De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less, was released by Simon and Schuster last month. Noll’s book offers instructions on how to calm oneself quickly and then remain calm while defusing the other person’s anger.

Noll’s technique calls for the de-escalators to set aside themselves and submerge themselves in what the other person is saying. This involves seeking a core message, guessing what the angry person is feeling, and repeating this back to him. He rejects the common advice of giving “I” messages and instead advises people to put the entire focus on the other speaker.

Noll is the co-founder of the Prison Peace Project where he and his partner honed this technique with violent convicts. Noll has also taught this technique in schools.

Noll’s other three books are Elusive Peace (which won the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution Book of the Year Award in 2012), Peacemaking (the law and human conflict), and Sex, Politics and Religion at the Office (the advantage of diversity in the workplace). The latter was co-authored by Dr. John Boogaert.

WRITING HORROR

Cris Freese gives his advice on “The Horror Genre: On Writing Horror and Avoiding Clichés” at writersdigest.com. One of his bits of advice is to write about what disturbs you personally, rather than well-used themes.

An example of this is in Alan Averill’s The Beautiful Land. Now, who could be afraid of baby birds? Averill said he is – and his baby birds are like no others.

In “Gray Matter – 13 Tips for Writing Horror Fiction” (he did say thirteen), Robert Gray advises that to come up with a good hook, ask “what if…?” For example, what if an impenetrable dome came down over a small town? (You would have Stephen King’s Under the Dome.) The other 12 tips are at hellnotes.com.

WRITING CONTEST

The 45th New Millennium Writing Awards are offered in poetry, fiction, flash fiction and non fiction. Any subject or style is accepted. Each category winner receives $1,000 and publication. Certain finalists will also be published. Entry fee is $20 for one entry, up to $75 for five. Three poems equal one entry. Deadline is November 30. Details at: newmillenniumwritings.submittable.com/submit.

THE LAST WORD

“There is no life to be found in violence. Every act of violence brings us closer to death. Whether it’s the mundane violence we do to our bodies by overeating toxic food or drink or the extreme violence of child abuse, domestic warfare, life- threatening poverty, addiction, or state terrorism.” – Bell Hooks (1952 – )