Dean Koontz, Edgier Than I

I was at the Catholic Writer’s Guild’s writer’s retreat in 2017, taking a needed respite from writing my edgy-Catholic thriller, When the Wood Is Dry, or rather, spending some time with other writers as I had spent too much time with myself and this rather troubling work, while continuing to edit and refine the thing, which seemed to be eating my soul. When I explained to the other writers what I was up to in writing Edgy, Catholic fiction, one of them mentioned Dean Koontz. I had heard of Mr. Koontz and seen his name in oversized letters on best-selling thrillers, but I never thought of him as a Catholic writer. And, I had never sampled his work.

That’s the thing about Catholic writers. They often just go about the business of writing and avoid talking about religion, though their religious perspective does show up in their work. I feel a little awkward “outing” Dean Koontz as a Catholic to those who have not yet figured it out or who would like, perhaps, to simply ignore the evidence and enjoy his books. It is no secret that Mr. Koontz is a Catholic, and he has talked about it, but the current state of affairs is that such revelations are not helpful to a career as a writer. Catholic bigotry, though, is not so mainstream these days as it was in Shakespeare’s day when you might well have your property confiscated and worse, but it likely is common enough that book sales might slip.

So, I checked out Mr. Koontz. Well, I’m happy to say, I’ve found a Catholic writer who is edgier than I. I started with the Odd Thomas series, which just seemed like a great name, and his power to see spirits of the lingering dead was along the lines of my Blind Prophet story. But, Mr. Koontz hits the edgy material hard, soon, and often in Odd Thomas. We are treated early on to an encounter with a killer who raped his victim and saved samples of her virgin blood. Now that is edgy. Even edgier than the events in my soon-to-be-released Edgy Catholic Thriller, When the Wood Is Dry, and I’m putting warning labels on that one, advising readers to skip parts because they may be too intense, especially for religious readers.

I will be reviewing the Odd Thomas series in the reviews section on edgycatholic.com, so I will not go much further into it here. I will say that despite its edginess, Odd Thomas is written from a distinctly Catholic perspective (the main characters remain chaste on principle, there are scenes in a church, a book in the series is set in a monastery, and the final book is entitled, Saint Odd) and there are not many quibbles to make about the series. One quibble, and it is a significant one, is that the bad guys are invariably irredeemable, so much so that no one even tries to redeem them. And, that is perhaps a less than Catholic view. I would say that Odd Thomas, while acting on the intuition that is part of his prophetic ability, is a bit trigger-happy at times. Likely, in the thriller genre, black-and-white morality works well in making exciting and easily understood stories, but perhaps a villain with a few qualms might add a more Catholic dimension. But, perhaps, such villains would be a shade less terrifying, and terror is part of the thrill. And, Mr. Koontz’s villains are terrifying.

The black-hat, white-hat nature of Mr. Koontz’s characters and their fairly static morality is a trait many readers enjoy, so we are not too critical. There is a lot of gray-area fiction in the marketplace, so some clarity is welcome. We do note some wavering of the Odd Thomas character in the final book or two of the series. I have read now the Odd Thomas series and what has been written to date of the Jane Hawk series, as well as several stand-alone works by Mr. Koontz. I have enjoyed them all. The Jane Hawk series is particularly terrifying. I have not come close to reading everything he has written, but I sure would enjoy a book by him that featured a story of redemption, a bad egg turning good. Or, even a fall from grace, a good egg turning bad. Redemption and falls from grace are very Catholic concepts. And, can be quite edgy.

Just a post note, I do recall a character falling from grace in one of the Odd Thomas books. Not wishing any spoilers, but wishing to avoid error, I acknowledge this notable exception without providing details.

PORTRAITS, POEMS & HEROIN: THIRTY SOULS TELL THE STORY Review

A fellow author, Mary Ellen D’Angelo-Lombari  just published a book on the Kindle and asked me to review it.  It really blew me away!  It’s called

PORTRAITS, POEMS & HEROIN: THIRTY SOULS TELL THE STORY

The book juxtaposes artistic portraits of people who died from heroin overdoses with short bios from their family members, and a poem.

I’m not usually one who goes for poetry, but I think this book really is a work of art and you should check it out, especially if you know anyone who suffers from addiction.  Here’s a link to the edgycatholic.com review:

http://edgycatholic.com/reviews/book-reviews/portraits-poems-heroin/

Here’s the link to the book on Amazon:

Me, too?

I met an author recently who “…simply told a story about a young woman.” But, she does admit that, “…only fiction and poetry show us the truth,” so we suspect there is a truth here she is attempting to show us.

You may sample the story she wrote in just a few pages, Pear Trees, by Dena Hunt, here:

http://dappledthings.org/4437/pear-trees/

In an interview about the story, she says:

A lot was gained by the feminist movement, but a lot was lost, and young women today have no reference point for those losses.

And,

So many young women unknowingly participate in their own degradation.

You can check out the full interview here:

https://imageandlikenessanthology.wordpress.com/2016/12/19/interview-with-contributor-dena-hunt/

I don’t like to comment on things I don’t understand, which leaves me out of most serious conversations about women. But I find the story to be edgy and Catholic, though it really should not be considered edgy, given our modern values, and it does not mention religion at all.

I wonder, though, if there are women who will read this story, and have the courage to raise their hand to say, “Me, too…”

And, I wonder, as a man, is wondering about such things not a dangerously Catholic and Edgy thing to do?

Two-Sentence Edgy Catholic Horror Story

So, for “Horror Week” on Goodreads.com, they sent questions to authors requesting a two-sentence horror story. So, here’s the question and my response, then a little analysis of the Edgy Catholic nature of this concise example:

Goodreads: Can you tell us a two-sentence horror story?

Joseph Cillo Jr: Ok, but it will be dark, Poe-like, with a Catholic edge, and I will need to use commas in a way that some may view as cheating to keep it to two-sentences…

The More Infernal Hell
By Joseph Cillo, Jr.

And I wondered, as I felt the life draining out of me, why, if there were no God, why was it that I so delighted to see her suffer at my hand, why any of it should matter, why anything should be so important, in this random, accidental universe? Feeling the heat of the eternal flames as my soul made its hellward descent, I pondered whether there were, indeed, saints who pass the test, who have faith enough to not cross the point of this hidden God’s mercy, and if perhaps I had not done her a favor in cutting off her path to that point, when my blade slit her throat, condemning my soul to a hell more infernal than the flames meant for my torment.

So, what’s so Edgy and what’s so Catholic about our two sentence story?

1) A first-person murder confession is a bit edgy, putting the reader in the place of the murderer. Also, very Poe-like.

2) The idea that the narrator “delighted” in causing suffering? Well, sure, that is edgy, especially in the first person.

3) The Catholic writer’s advantage of eternal consequences raises the stakes. Imagine this story without the existence of an afterlife and a judgment. The first sentence still works and is a bit edgy, but the eternal stakes adds power and intricacy, a whole new dimension to the story.

4) The discovery of the truth of a God and a judgement is very Catholic. The edginess of the character will often lead to a discovery of some truth that confounds their edgy worldview, which they may accept and change to accommodate in a redemption story, or, as in this story, be made more miserable by the revelation.

5) The idea that there is a merciful God is very Catholic

6) The idea that a murderer may have done his victim a favor in killing her, well that’s Edgy, and likely only makes sense in a Catholic context.

7) The idea of lack of repentance making Hell more infernal, I’d say that’s Edgy-Catholic.

When you find these kinds of elements in literature or movies, especially the unexpected discovery of the truth of something Catholic’s believe, no matter what the primary genre, you are likely experiencing something that we would consider Edgy-Catholic. The degree of edginess typically depends on the character’s worldview before discovering the Catholic moral truth.

So, that’s your edgy-Catholic lesson for today. Keep an eye out for the Edgy-Catholic! It’s coming for you!

So, Who Was The First Edgy Catholic?

Jesus! So, what do I mean by that? Well, Jesus did not tell sanitized stories for the whole family. Don’t get me wrong. The Lord loved children, and would never tell stories that would scare them. Just, when he was telling stories, he was not talking to children. He was addressing adults, and confronting them with some quite shocking tales, with very pointed moral lessons. So, how about a few examples?

Well, we have the story of Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. Here’s the passage, taken from the RSVCE:

The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.[g] The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.[h] 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Well, we have a full-on supernatural horror tale, complete with hell-fire! If we made a story like this into a feature film, would it be for the whole family? Or, maybe, PG-13? Or, depending on the director, perhaps an R?

And, then there’s the story of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32 from the RSVCE:

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother
11 Then Jesus[a] said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with[b] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[c] 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father[d] said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

So, here we have a rather edgy redemption story, a very popular kind of Edgy Catholic story. Now, we have a translation here of “dissolute living,” but the Living Bible has a more modern translation of, ” wasted all his money on parties and prostitutes.” We can imagine a feature film would be quite racy in depicting the dissolute living. And, certainly asking your father for your inheritance and squandering it would have been quite a shocking thing to do in Jesus’ day. Would a feature film based on this story be less than R-rated?

The point is, our savior used stories to shock people. He did not tell nice stories to entertain the whole family. So, Catholic and Christian writers, if they want to impact souls in our depraved generation, will need to leave the safety and security of the family-friendly, and venture into the deeper waters, approaching the edge, if they are to follow in the footsteps of Christ.