#3.) The Miracle Sin by Marcus Hawke

ON THE TABLE for this installment we have THE MIRACLE SIN by Canadian author Marcus Hawke (through Blood Rites Horror). Reading the afterward to this book only serves to further warm my early impression of the novel–a SUCCESSFUL display of horror appreciation (ranging from the comedic to the brutal) carried through excellent prose. As with most writers I come across in the writing community, I don’t remember when I first came across Marcus. However, I had caught some posts on his novel and the cover stood out. It’s funny how we decide to read works by indie authors. In the case of Marcus, while searching for something to pick up and dissect, I saw one of his posts urging readers to download his book for free on Kindle in search of reviews. I appreciated the straightforward, open sentiment, and took it a step further by grabbing a physical copy off Amazon. Simply put–through all the stress we endure devising ways to get our work out there, one fact remains: ask, and you shall receive (or not; but best to try). Without adieu, let’s dive in–

Official Synopsis:

Have you ever wondered if there’s more to life? If we are destined for something great, part of a divine plan rather than just subjects of random chaos?
Mason Cole has wondered these things. And he has the answer…
No.
How could that be when his parents were killed in an earthquake that destroyed the city of Jerusalem, yet he alone survived? How could he be destined for great things when he’s stuck in a town-shaped reststop where nothing he does makes a difference? And why would God do this to him in the first place?
Then one day a stranger passes through town, bringing with him a unique explanation of his past, one he never could have imagined, and wishes he could forget. It sounds like something from one of his books, only this time it’s happening to him, and it becomes clear that not every miracle is a blessing. Now, with a red-haired devil hell bent on possessing him for his own sinister gains, Mason must discover the answers to these questions if he ever hopes to survive in a world where the dark no longer hides that which dwells within.

Plot Overview:

Three acts comprise THE MIRACLE SIN. As the novel features a large supporting cast and a winding story, my intention here is to break the acts to components I can discuss generally in my takeaways.

Act I. (Heaven and Earth; 16 chapters) —

Mason Cole, an eighteen-year-old orphaned by his grandmother, Rose, faces a dead-end life in his slow Ohio town. As his friends Julie and Dale gear to pursue their college experiences, Mason must come to terms with his lack of opportunity as he pumps gas at a local station. All the while silently loving Julie, and struggling to find a way to expose his feelings.

The narrative sets up a convincing and intriguing teen dynamic. Yet, just as the tensions seem set to find catharsis, Hawke allows the horror, which has been writhing through the grass like a snake, to strike and sink its venom into the story.

One night Mason, Julie, and Dale get pulled over by two police officers. Against the teens’ protests, the cops take them to a remote location and hypnotize them, revealing their true identities as operators in a grander scheme.

In this moment Mason reveals a power (that will be explored extensively in the following acts), and he breaks free from the hypnosis that contains him and escapes his captors (more alive than he left them) with his friends.

Mason returns home and finds a man waiting for him (Blake Grimshaw, AKA Grim) with Rose–the same man who came to the gas station earlier that day, who Mason mistook for an evangelical hoping for his spiritual enlistment and immediately forgot about. The following action sees Mason lose every shed of familiarity he has in life, and he can kiss the past goodbye. Central to the cabal of blood suckers that has upended his life is the copper-haired fiend, Novak, in whom Mason can directly ascribe the torching of everything he’s ever known to the ground.

Act II. (Slings and Arrows; 24 chapters) —

The second act finds Mason settling in with the Boston chapter of the Holy Order of Militia Dei, a private sect of the Catholic Church that specializes in the supernatural and occult. Mason discovers that he is the current messiah (the powers of which aided their escape from Novak), a role that has been passed through the generations down a mostly hereditary-based succession. A working class kid from middle America, Mason struggles to accept his reality.

Regardless of what he is willing to accept, however, the group that has taken him in trains him to harness his powers (including, through meditations–the ability to glean entire lifetimes in his mind’s eye by touching another–even if just an amputated finger; access to increased senses and the ability to connect with his surroundings on a metaphysical level; the exhibition of telekinetic capacities; among others) as well as handle himself in clandestine situations (fighting training, workout regiments, etc.).

Following a series of chapters fostering inter-character development and informing Mason (and the reader) of their group’s purpose, the novel shifts back to its central goal of finding Novak.

Act III. (My Thoughts Be Bloody; fifteen chapters) —

The final act provides many revelations of the mythology Grim and the others have provided Mason regarding the mystery surrounding his predecessor and a whirlwind of nail-biting action scenes. To make a (long) story short, I can only imagine the ending suggests that THE MIRACLE SIN is the first in a series.

Takeaways:

First off, I love the matte cover–a skull set against a black background framed by a simple yet elegant border, its texture giving the impression of an antiquated volume.

On the writing–

Hawke does a great job of varying sentence structures and utilizing a strong, active voice yet modest vocabulary. You can tell that the book is the end result in a long writing and editing process (congratulations on not quitting, Marcus).

Details are installed in such a way to suggest the reader should already be aware of them, and are soon after expanded upon and clarified (to scratch that itch that makes us wonder if we missed something).

Despite the satirical air that bubbles throughout the narrative, moments that demand a suspension of disbelief do so with ease (I nearly looked up earthquakes in Jerusalem to see if I missed a blaring event in history, only to realize that the compulsion represented a great feat on Hawke’s part).

Also despite this satirical air–and always beneath it, is a seriousness that drives the story. Philosophical questions arise as expectantly as the next joke. Poetic metaphors always find their home. Beautiful descriptions of scenery abound. The nail-biting action, as I described above, can pounce across several pages before you realize how many you have turned.

Coupled with the chapters full of extensive action and dialogue are short moments that, while occupying only a paragraph’s space, do as much to steer the novel as its larger counterparts–resulting in a great variety of chapter lengths and densities.

I consider THE MIRACLE to be a long book at 462 pages, and, within this huge bracket of space, Hawke covers as much ground as possible without veering away from the story completely–as though applying more relish in its composition than a following a strict adherence to following the arc of the underlying storyline (Mason’s reflections on his former life, drama between team members, acceptance of our current position versus where we had originally imagined ourselves winding up, etc.).

Regarding the issue of authorial intervention, I believe Hawke takes a hands-off approach on editorializing what the reader should be believing as they read. While faith and religion play a heavy hand in the story, the scales shift according to what the characters are experiencing–there are no total claims brought on by the author. That said, there are plenty of amusing sacrilegious moments as well as thoughtful moments of reverence. The shifting tides of Mason’s faith really help bring the story to life.


Movies, TV, etc. reminiscent of THE MIRACLE SIN in some way: Rocky, The Boys, Karate Kid, Fright Night, Underworld, The Matrix, X-Men.

Amputations:

I don’t have much blaring criticisms for THE MIRACLE SIN; in fact, many of the stories strengths seem to work against themselves. Carrying confidence through strong writing, the novel feels to be a well-crafted work by an avid horror fan. The unique moments could be conveyed through any genre, but the horror elements seem to be the author’s favorites in the recognized canon of horror. Not to say the novel lacks originality, but rather that the author created the first installment in a greatest hits modern vampire story. That said, I really enjoyed the elements of the vampire story that Hawke chose to run with, and believe that he succeeded in creating his own yarn with them. The story seems to be a collection of individual asides and moments to explore Mason’s developing awareness of his powers.

I’m still having trouble grappling with my opinion on this next detail– while I don’t believe anything should have been cut from the text, it did seem to distract itself from the central storyline. As an introduction to a cast of characters it works exceedingly well. However, at several points I wondered what the story was exactly. The events flowed naturally and at an organic pace, and couldn’t be trimmed and maintain their effect. Despite what I perceived as plot ambiguity, and experiencing the busiest month of the year in the time it took to read the novel, I felt driven to finish and am happy that I finally have.


As I wrote above–THE MIRACLE SIN seems poised as the first in a series, and I hope that this is a decision that Hawke chooses to pursue. Otherwise, looking forward to his next works.

Final Score: 4.5

#2.) The Bell Chime by Mona Kabbani

When I published my anthology collection, BIZARRE MESSAGING, I had no idea how to pursue the public fiction arena. But one thing stood clear: the reading and writing communities are largely confined to the internet. Having existed largely off the grid at the time, I realized I had to snap off my aversion for social media and try to find a way to establish some kind of presence. And when one looks at the reading and writing communities for the first time, one sees an endless, intermingled map of personalities–with no discernible door into the fold.

Mona Kabbani was one of the first people I approached (on Instagram) upon publishing BIZARRE MESSAGING. Shortly after, she wrote the first review for my little book (for which I’ll always be grateful, having proven that the reading community is open to completely unknown authors, and not just floor show exhibits dedicated to Stephen King praise). At the time, however, (to my mild embarrassment) I didn’t realize that Mona was embarking her own literary pursuits, juggling reviews and her edits like a circus trapeze artist twirling fire mid-air.

Since then, we’ve seen the Wattpad publication of the short story LAUREN, the release of THE BELL CHIME, and, most recently, the arrival of VANILLA (which I will most definitely be reading). Now, almost a year and a half after finding her, I’m proud to read and provide an HONEST review of Mona’s first published book, THE BELL CHIME.

Official Synopsis:

"Can you hear the bell chime?"

A girl suffering from paralyzing night terrors finds a missing poster hanging from the door of her apartment building. On that poster is a photograph of a frighteningly familiar face.

It's her.

Only, she's never seen this photo before and something about its grin scares her. How its eyes seem to follow her no matter where she finds herself in the room.

Over a series of strange events to follow--events that will make her question whether her sanity is still there or fleeting--she must discover:

What is real and what is the nightmare?

Plot Overview:

At the risk of exposing spoilers (considering its novella length), an examination of THE BELL CHIME’s structure will suffice for a plot overview.

My favorite part of THE BELL CHIME is its fearlessness in chopping itself into smaller parts that are then juggled back into the deck out of chronological order. These parts are framed within the FORWARD, INTERMISSION, END OF INTERMISSION, and AFTERWARD, wherein the author makes an expository appearance to introduce the story (as well as her initiation as a writer) and help shift the gears of its narrative meat. I often scorn authorial intervention, the addition of outside opinion in the story (which Mona doesn’t do)–however, there’s nothing wrong with BREAKING THE FOURTH WALL, especially when yielding exceeding results (which Mona does).This technique adds to the theatrical effect of the project, framing the longer sections: THE BELL CHIME, [section title withheld for preservation of effect], BEFORE THE RING, DYLAN WERNER, and THE FIRST RING.

With the juggled chronology between the parts, which now feels like a series of interconnected short stories, Mona does a great job of refocusing the camera, so to speak. Though the points of intersection are not hidden as they unravel (urging the reader to attempt connecting the dots before the author does it for us), Mona allows them to hover in the air until she ties the pieces together by the end.

Takeaways:

First off–I loved the design of the book, inside and out. The online images of the matte cover don’t quite do the physical version justice. I particularly liked the back cover, which does as well a job as introducing Mona Kabbani the author as it does the story.

Inside, the design couldn’t be more clean.

Regarding voice, each of the longer sections of the story take on their own character. As each part finds the protagonist in a different stage of her journey, her awareness of the situation takes on new proximities of clarity depending on where she stands on the timeline. For a mentally-unstable individual, the

The nuances are applied believably, as we the readers often know more about what’s happening than our protagonist.

Sentences are written with brisk confidence, with no time wasted on single ideas. I really enjoyed the fragments following the full clauses, setting a good rhythm and shading. No rambling sentences appear, the syntax is solid. This contained style lends well to the chopped nature of the narrative, and allows shifts in character perception to be seen loudly in their subtlety.

Mona’s writing takes on exceptional flourish amid action scenes, sending off electric vibes, though the generous supply of metaphors in the reflective moments provides the author’s willingness to take chances and expect success time and time again.

For such a short book, Mona couldn’t have covered more ground. I believe the content to be appropriate to general audiences. As such, at times (in the best way) the story felt like a fleshed out episode from anthology shows such as CREEPSHOW 2, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, nhetc.

Several books and movies that THE BELL CHIME brings to mind: JACOB’S LADDER, THE MATRIX, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, FIGHT CLUB.

Amputations:

Following the FORWARD, the first scene begins with a character waking up from a dream. Though this setup is typically regarded as a cliché, it is soon proven intrinsic to the story, as the story’s protagonist (let’s just consider her largely unnamed throughout the story) is prone to night terrors/sleep paralysis. I wondered if this introductory scene could have been omitted from the story’s final version, but realized that would have taken the edge off the introduction, as the dynamics between the protagonist and her boyfriend are rolled out through how they deal with this situation. The issue of the protagonist’s sleep paralysis are confined to the very beginning of the story, and I’m happy they are treated more as an introduction to the character rather than a revisited theme throughout.

Despite all the great things I can say about the writing and organization of the BELL CHIME, occasionally wordings would arise that seemed to hit the mark less squarely than they could have. This is primarily in the verb department. These moments didn’t hinder my overall view of the book, but I did have to stop several times and think about them.

Final Rating: 4

#1.) Father of Contention by Lanie Mores

A sense of dread accompanies the prospect of reading your friends’ writing for the purpose of a review. When they bounce ideas off you, ask for feedback, or anything else that yields in pre-publication reinforcement, it’s easy–you don’t have to own any criticisms; the recipient of said criticism can happily apply the suggestions without a sense of slight. Feedback helps to avert roadblocks, see things that wouldn’t be noticed without outside eyes. For a writer (who’s honest about bettering their craft), nothing is more valuable than good feedback–save for a good review. Fortunately for me, Canadian author Lanie More’s FATHER OF CONTENTION, the first in a four-part series, is an awesome novel from start to finish–and I don’t have to concern myself with handling it with kid gloves for my first review.

***

Official Synopsis:

There was only ever meant to be one Creator. In 1972, German scientist Renner Scholz travels to Barbora Bay, Washington to continue his research in recombinant DNA technology. Only believing in things proven by science, his deeply held beliefs are challenged when he meets Milena Nowak, a psychic. After a whirlwind romance, Renner becomes obsessed with understanding Milena's unexplainable ability. Stumbling upon an exclusive occult ritual involving an evil spell that connects him to the spiritual realm where psychic abilities and power originate, he finds the answers he's been searching for...but at a cost. Compelled by the ritual, Renner pursues a new vein of research. He develops the genetic blueprint to produce psychic abilities in humans—creating a superhuman—without realizing he is the main player in a plot to destroy mankind. Milena senses that Renner has changed and a new darkness resides within him. Helplessly she watches as the man she loves transforms, becoming deceptive, volatile and both physically and mentally more powerful. Can Milena save Renner from this evil presence? Or will she become an unwilling participant in his next experiment—one of the darkest kinds?

***

Plot Overview (Warning—potential spoilers):

FATHER OF CONTENTION is broken into two parts, which are sandwiched by a prologue, an interlude, and an epilogue, written in verse and conveying the voice of a demonic presence determined to find a mortal vessel. To be honest–I’m not a huge fan of prologues because they don’t always connect to the story in a meaningful enough manner to warrant their existence. Hence, I read the prologue at the end of the first part, and appreciated the added context its presence provided, as though filling in blanks rather than setting the stage; I read the interlude and epilogue in their proper order.

Part I. covers Renner Scholz as an ethical, ambitious student determined to find success in his discipline of recombinant DNA technology as he strives to abandon brutal memories buried in his early childhood. Leaving his foster parents in Germany to continue his studies at a fictitious university in Washington state, Renner, possessing a single-minded obsession with his goals, sets on his path to acquire the academic and professional clout to inject a revolutionary impact in human health–perhaps find the cure for cancer, which ails his foster father and pushes him ever-closer toward death.

Upon arriving at his dorm, Renner is displeased to discover that, as housing is limited, he will be forced to shack up with a roommate, Paul. Paul, an arrogant slob, quickly establishes himself as a rival (being a student in the same discipline), offering mixed signals of friendship and competition during the entire span of their relationship, which extends beyond their days at the university.

It is during their time as students when Renner meets Milena Nowak, a psychic. As a scientist Renner balks at Milena’s claim to possess such powers, but after Milena provides him a reading and taps into the memories that Renner so desperately wants to hide from himself, the resolve of his doubts waver. The couple soon elope–Paul finding a way to insert himself as a witness at the court, of course.

Paul, who has marginally discussed Milena’s psychic abilities with Renner since he learns that she claims to be a clairvoyant, and has somewhat established the subject as a mainstay in their communications, invites Renner and his new wife to a ceremony hosted by a medium, claiming that the experience will explain how someone like Paul can receive such great grades with minimal effort through the reception of her spells. Renner agrees to come with Paul; after some resistance Milena agrees to attend as well. Milena watches the ceremony with dread, ultimately witnessing a dark force enter her husband (the realization of the wishes of the Demon who voices the prologue, interlude, and epilogue), which will taint his ambitions from this point forward.

During the ceremony, DMT is utilized to enhance the spiritual effects of the ritual. Once Renner has identified the chemical, he reads material professing how the properties of DMT may create a bridge to the spiritual world. Inspired by the possibilities of bridging this gap–an illuminated state of mental being–Renner concocts a plan that will test every ethical value he holds dear and threatens to corrupt his soul.

***

Part II. follows Renner’s motivations to actualize his plans. Now a successful scientist working for a prominent company (and having inherited an exuberant sum from his foster father, who has passed away), he conducts his studies at home in private, knowing full well that the discovery of his indiscretion will yield in criminal charges and institutional excommunication. Despite the risks, at every stage of his experience upon arriving on American soil–through his scientific determination, spiritual enhancement (at its own cost), and total monetary insulation, Renner’s greed never fails to simmer until his eyes literally turn black.

Milena–formerly vibrant in spirituality, full of exotic beauty, and physically ravishing, experiences a total deflation of self, experiences a total deflation of self as Renner’s star shines brighter and his eyes burn darker. Toward the beginning of her marriage to Renner she has a premonition that she refuses to accept as plausible. As a result of averting the image from her consciousness, she abandons utilizing her psychic abilities altogether. Renner accumulates all–while she dwindles until she represents little more than raw research for her husband’s eventual experiments.

***

Part I. builds up the tension gradually, almost allowing the reader to feel a sense of comfort in the setting and interpersonal situations to this point. Part II. shatters this false sense of security and pushes boundaries that can’t be repaired. Domino pieces fall into place with a surgeon’s precision–almost too conveniently at times (although I’m not sure that’s exactly the right word, as much calculation has gone into aligning the fragments), but every issue is addressed.

Takeaways:

The first thing that stands out in FATHER OF CONTENTION, clocking in at a fairly dense yet breezy 375 pages, is its focus. To accomplish this, Mores keeps a tight leash on every ingredient, ensuring that each character and event plays into the grand scheme–no red herrings, no throw away characters. It’s only a matter of time before the story answers questions plotted throughout; just when you wonder what happened with X at the beginning of the story, it explodes before you, and you can’t help but relish in such well-placed catharses.

The novel carries a neutral tone, maintaining an almost clinical view of events to match the climate in which the story takes place: the lab. And even when the story takes its dark turns, investigating the speculative nature of the occult or the horrors of domestic abuse, the spikes in tension take on an illuminated nature within the narrative’s level casing. I don’t want to spoil anything regarding these elements, but let’s say I didn’t expect to see certain things transpire with such a cold gaze.

A note on the science–while the story doesn’t dawdle into rambling theory, it does delve deep enough in the theories contained to truly captivate. I had to remind myself that my more experimental days are behind me (supposedly) when a desire to dabble in DMT bubbled up in the back of my mind. Lanie reveals in the afterward that these concepts are partially based in real studies and inflated with imagination.

Perhaps one of my favorite elements of FATHER OF CONTENTION is its insular nature–every expository detail pertains to the characters’ past experiences or the world around them. Meaning, minimal authorial intervention (when a writer injects their own perspective into the narrative, staining what could potentially stand as a successful story). Some people thrive on utilizing and ingesting authorial intervention, but in Lanie’s writing it’s simply a nonentity, and I look forward to reading the three next three books in the series.

Amputations:

I have to strain to summon a short list of criticisms for FATHER OF CONTENTION.

At times I felt that certain words were repeated too often in proximity, such as referring to Renner and Milena as “the young married couple” several times on a single page.

I mentioned earlier that some resolutions occurred somewhat conveniently. In other terms however, it can be said that Mores ties loose ends when the narrative allows the space to attend each issue simmering beneath the story.

The cover stands as a somewhat sore point for me, though it doesn’t affect the rating–the front shows a depiction of Renner while Milena’s image occupies the back. This is a sensible enough concept, but Lanie points such a clear image of the characters at the beginning of the story that the models on display don’t do their source material justice.

Final Rating: 4.5

Review of Maldito by S.O. Bailey / General Address to the Writing Community

Caveat: there is no nepotism at play. I reached out to S.O. because he is a person I want to know more about, and in order to do that I have to read his material. In fact, the first contact I made was a direct message on Instagram showcasing a screenshot of my Amazon receipt for my purchase of Maldito. I joined the IG writing community (an unofficial entity, obviously) in October and have since kept my eyes open for anyone that I could build a rapport with in any community. I have scoured through many people, and once I followed S.O. I realized how many accounts we have in common, that we are in the same game. I’m not exactly a horror writer, but it is my native genre as far as movies go, and I believe that my themes overlap with horror in general. So, if I want to meet my peers, I have to look at horror, where everything seems to intersect.

To be honest, lately I’ve been watching more movies than reading books. This is because the mainstream publishing landscape seems to be saturated by SJW policies that either water-down and turn the project into a pamphlet rather than a creative work, or infringe on harmless trajectories that don’t fall in line with the scruples of modern Orwellian Newspeak. That’s the first thing that stood out to me in Maldito, that Bailey speaks plainly to the audience, the entire work is a blunt force excursion into the next page.

I believe movies are the best conveyor of the horror—and that’s where Maldito comes into play. From the first page, Maldito carries the spirit of a Netflix movie maybe six years ago, when you could find an eighty-minute shot to the face that left your heart pacing and mind reeling—when you could find them in abundance. I bought Maldito and read 40 of 54 pages the night I finally picked it up. Then it took a few weeks until I read the last fifteen pages. This lapse in reading wasn’t a lack of interest—I just didn’t want it to end! I can’t tell you how many books in my library I have read 75% of but haven’t finished out of fear that I won’t find anything to replace the excitement I have for that book. This is what happened with Maldito, except that I managed to finish it while confined in an airplane.

Since the book is so short, it’s hard to really dig into the plot without giving the story away. The summary is available on S.O.’s Amazon page, linked below. This review is purely reactionary. But I will say that every turn felt natural, and I did not expect the double twist at the end. The story wasn’t completely stark, which left a glimmer of hope for a happy ending. I can’t say how, but, although cathartic, the ending was not happy at all in the slightest for the characters of the story, but left a satisfying aftertaste in the mind of the reader with the final turns of Bailey’s knife.

Though I do not endeavor to become a book reviewer, the following is the breakdown I will follow I do review books (which I predict will remain in indie territory), and I’m happy to roll it out for Maldito:

Tone: The tone of the writing matched the environment of each scene. From the beginning, when the starring couple is at the tropical resort, each environment felt natural. As the story veered further off the beaten path, pardon the pun, so did the sense of comfort expressed in the writing. For the short span, this evolution in tension is very important.

Voice: As stated above, Bailey writes plainly to the audience, using the action of the plot and the horrors the characters experience rather than relying on poetic language. This directness works well for Bailey, who writes just enough to get all the necessary plot points in place, when he then seals them with confidence.

Plot and Pacing: Something that many writers struggle with is alternating backstory with the present stream of action. Bailey does not have that problem at all in this book. He always finds the best places to briefly drop expository elements that only strengthen the audience’s connection with the awful conflict.

Characters: Like many great horror stories, Maldito stars a couple on vacation. Bailey is honest about his characters and uses their weaknesses to enhance the peril they face. The marriage of the leading couple expresses an increasingly common dynamic in American culture, where the wife is the senior money earner while the husband reaches for his aspirations. In this case, the husband is an aspiring writer and the wife is a successful saleswoman. Over the course of the story, circumstance challenges the man’s masculinity, and Bailey does this fearlessly.


Thank you for reading my review of Maldito by S.O. Bailey. Though this is a book review of Bailey, it is also clearly an awesome vehicle to move my blog forward. My stints of opportunism tend to benefit the subject of my gaze, and I also want to be open about it. As this blog unfolds, I will be featuring other creatives to give my own testimony as to their development. You can always expect me to cast a burning spotlight on my peers and those I respect.This is a heavy review for 54 pages, but it’s also indicative of Bailey’s future as a writer, which is bloody and bright, regardless of how abysmal his imagination may be.

From the other side of strange,

–JMDIII

Click cover image to buy Maldito by S.O. Bailey
S.O. Bailey; the t-shirt says it all.

My Technical Process to Guitar Videos (Pseudo-tutorial)

Ran my blog for a while and ran into a brick wall. Now I’ve privatized all my old posts to start from scratch. No sense in deleting the old content, but I had to bridge the divide between where I left it and where I am now; I will probably re-categorize those posts and create a new page so you can see where I was during that stretch of time.

To embark the new incarnation of the blog, I will give you guys a little behind the scenes about my technical process.

(Note: uploads refer to Instagram posts)

Guitar/amp scenario:

I have four guitars that I have been using as of late: Red Fender Stratocaster with black pickguard, antique-wood seven-string Ibanez, bright pink Ibanez RG, and my Baby Taylor acoustic. I also own a couple that need to be set up: a black Gibson Les Paul Studio and a red ESP H-1000. With guitars like these, the tone is in the hands. The guitars themselves just carry the notes with different weight: the Fender is blocky and creamy, the Ibanez guitars cut through like lasers, the Les Paul is a mixture of both sounds. Tonal confidence in hand, I’m not too worried about the sound for the time being.

Why say it like that? Well, I have cut “quality” out the window in favor of efficiency. To record my videos, I use the internal amps of the Zoom H4n, a four-track handheld recorder, and the amp models in the Fender Mustang lunchbox-style amp. I have a Peavey XXX as well, but the opportunity hasn’t called for a tube amp yet (full disclosure, I need to have the tubes in that amp replaced).

In the Zoom, I choose the Diesel amp, then set the Limiter as follows: Threshold 10, ratio 3, release 0; in the amp settings, I lower the gain to 0 (the guitars carry their own weight in the end mix). For the Mustang, I dial in one of the amp models, plug a 1/8″ aux cable into the headphone out, plug into one of the Zoom’s two 1/4″ input channels, and assign that to a dry channel in the recorder. So that’s the amp setup.

Setting up songs in Zoom recorder

If I’m recording on top of audio, I have to jump through some hoops to get the song into the recorder. You have to have a .wav version available on your computer to load into one of the recorder’s file folders. This is easy to do in iTunes, where you can also buy the song you want to work on if you don’t want to rip it some other way. Edit the song so that it’s a minute long. Plug in the Zoom to a USB port via mini USB and set the device to USB mode, choosing the file storage option. Load the .wav file into one of the file folders in the Stereo folder in explore. Then exit USB mode on the recorder.

You’ll have to move the .wav stereo pair from the its folder in Stereo mode to a project in multi-track mode (MTR). Switch the recorder to MTR mode in the main menu and go to the project folder where you moved the stereo pair .wav file. Highlight channel 1 and scroll till you find the link option and click. Then scroll till you find the song and click. Now the song is loaded and you can record audio using the remaining two tracks (the link stereo pair occupies the first two).

Hours of preparing

I have a long list of songs that I want to go over, and therefore also have general plans for what I want to do with them once I get there. Oftentimes the final result is dramatically different than what I set out to do. This is usually because I succumb to the desire to make everything as layered as possible. In any case, it takes a long time to basically rewrite other peoples’ songs to get a hot guitar take on it. I’ll go over the song many times just to feel around, never with a click track when it’s to a band recording.

For metal recordings, I’ll typically use one guitar track so I don’t muddle the mix too much. For more ambient songs, I’ll record two guitar tracks to harmonize with each other. Again, it takes hours and hours to narrow in on something I can stand behind, then I’m ready to move onto the video aspect.

Recording and syncing video

If the song has more than one guitar layer, I will record the rhythm first and video the lead layer later. I set my phone on a tripod, use my Bluetooth controller to trigger the recording, and engage the Zoom to record. I’ll do up to twenty takes until I can finally play all the way through doing everything I planned in the rehearsal process. I have to constantly delete the file of that track’s recording with each time I make a mistake. Once it’s finally good to go, you have to bounce the project to a compressed .wav file. Turn the USB storage mode on again, move the bounced recording into iTunes, where you’ll convert the bounced .wav file into an .mp3 version. Move the .mp3 into your phone so that you can put the video project together.

I use Videoshop because, like my amp tone, “quality” of equipment isn’t a big priority at the moment, it’s all about the quality of the ideas. In Videoshop you’ll load the video of your performance and import the audio of the audio recording. Once the video and audio are loaded, you have to sync them. The audio will be your guide since it’s already a minute long, the maximum video length on Instagram. This part is a real bitch because it entails a lot of trial and error. You basically have to choose the video clip and click edit, and trim. You have to scroll the start point to a where it looks like the first note is being struck. At this point you can’t hear the way the trimmed video will match the audio. You have to click the green check and press play in the project area to see how well it matches up. After up to a dozen and a half attempts, the movements of your fingers on the guitar will match the movement in the audio.

I’ll then add a ton of filters on the videos to match the current theme of my feed. I’m very OCD about this, and am definitely going to expand my software capacity for the sheer need to have higher quality image filters to apply to the videos.


Till next time, stay classy.

From the other side of strange,

–JMDIII