Recently Read: Arena by Karen Hancock

An amazing novel by Karen Hancock, Arena is like an allegory, a virtual reality adventure, and an exercise in dramatic suspense all rolled up into one.

What amazes me most is this novel was not written in first person. I suppose I might stereotype female writers as always wanting to write in first person to maximize on the emotional aspect of the story. Karen Hancock easily and skillfully breaks my mental construct. She may have sacrificed her majority audience by not writing Arena diary-style, but the novel is presented intelligently and with such expert writing style, it would not have been as great if written in first person. Who wouldn’t rather have a superior quality novel than a popular one?

One consequence of the chosen point of view is the novel Arena hits the moments of tension with extreme accuracy. There’s a functional element of suspense in the writing, which is fun for the reader because the reader actually cares about what happens next.

The main character, Callie Hayes, appears to have gotten herself into a virtual world. It’s real enough she can’t easily escape. There are dangers at every turn, not the least of which are the other participants in the same virtual game. There are wild animals and treacherous landscapes. She is challenged to make choices all along the way. Some choices are good, others bad, many unclear—until later. Her challenges are multiplied when she meets others who want to help her, especially a rough and rugged man named Pierce.

I particularly enjoyed that Callie Hayes is not one of those characters you read about making one stupid mistake after another. She makes good choices at times, bad choices other times, and is still affected by the rotten choices of those around her.

There’s beautiful balance in Karen Hancock’s characterizations. Not all heroes are infallible, not all enemies are incurable. Friends turn on each other and then turn back. Much like life.

Like any good writer, Miss Hancock is a student of life, an observer of people, and a documenter of them all.

  1. Drawing Power  *

The writing style has such flow, the reader is easily drawn into the story and pulled along through to the end.

  1. Interesting  *

There is accuracy in the tense moments. There is great detail in the scenery, the dialog, the situations, and the props. Enough in all to make you want to keep reading.

  1. Offensive factor  *

Non-offensive, yet real enough for any calloused reader.

  1. Range of emotion 1/2 *

Within Arena there are a wide variety of emotions described. I think some of them, describing the way female emotions work, are lost on this man. Still, the emotions I felt while reading coincided at least half the time with what the writer was trying to convey.

  1. Character factor  *

Excellent characterization. Top scores for Karen Hancock creating real characters, believable characters.

  1. Technic  *

Karen’s style is pleasant. Her flow is smooth, plotting is without excess or obstacles, and she has the ability to get the right details in the narrative to make the reader care.

  1. Proper length  *

Just right. No word padding in this one.

Grand total: Arena by Karen Hancock is a * * * * * * 1/2 * 6 and 1/2 * star novel.

Blog blog

There should be a blog about snowshoeing. There should be a blog about snowshoeing while wearing a kilt. There should be a blog about lacing snowshoes while wearing a kilt without getting your little tushy in the snow.

But not this one. Not my blog. Yours.

There should be a blog about how to learn how to love reading. Because. . .teenagers. Pfft. Ornery teenagers. “I don’t even like reading,” they say.

There should be a blog about how to play the harmonica. There should be a blog about how to play harmonica in the rain. There should be a blog about how to play the armonica. . .yes, they’re different. (Though, I don’t have any idea what the second one is. Don’t ask.)

If I get interested in something, there should be a blog about it. Who will fill the need for all these blogs? There will be millions of them.

In the summer, there should be a blog about summer sports and summer activities. In the winter, a blog about winter sports.

There should be a blog about backgammon. I don’t think anyone on earth knows how to play that game. Someone should figure it out and write about it.

And if there was a blog about how to solve a Rubik’s cube, that would be helpful. Oh wait, there are those. Many of them.

There should be a blog about how to reuse everything. Reduce, recycle, reuse. That’s what we always say. But how to do it may be something of a mystery. It’s always good to know how to practice what we preach.

Zombie Origins

As every child who has ever asked their momma knows, zombies come from spores.

Spores are wicked, little gobs of dusty fuzz that cling to the following: the undersides of plants, chewed up gum on the sidewalk, dried up mushrooms, carbon dioxide molecules, political parties, anti-gender tweets, socks, and of course in the vapor of an electronic cigarette. There are so many places they could hide, it’s almost impossible to prevent the spread. They were once discovered in the bones of a mastodon frozen in Siberian ice. Fortunately, those spores were neutralized before they could infect a new age of victims.

With every gust of wind, or careless step of a traveler, the spores are released from their hiding places and sent to the air around us where they are breathed in by unwary and unlucky souls. Whoever breathes in this toxic dust will first act as if they’ve been drinking, with slurred speech and lowered inhibitions, then soon after they will start to search for brains. This is because the spores will be consuming the infected individual’s brain, turning them into a zombie. Soon he, or she, will have a sudden urge to find brains elsewhere.

Keep your eyes aware and your brain engaged! If you’re wondering about the origins of things, be sure to ask your momma.

Most importantly, be prepared to meet some zombies in real life. Be on the lookout for those around you who appear to be searching for something they no longer have—and watch your step!


Had a battle with the wardrobe. Nothing matched. Plaids and stripes collided, like atomic collisions, so disaster inevitably happened. No one wanted to be my friend. No one wanted to be near me. It was a plague of the fashion variety. Everyone thought it would kill them if they got too close. They turned and ran. 

Now sitting here in the park plaza, buildings oppress on every side, though grass and trees create peace. I can see the method of my outfit symbolically in my surroundings. The good stuff is here with the grass and trees. The good stuff is here, though in small amounts. All else is a mismatched disarray of concrete, steel, and glass. The city grows taller than the natural things. Even here in the park there’s an invasion of concrete in the walkways and the drainage gutters.

On a bench an old man waits. For what he waits, I do not know. Not me. He does not wait for me. He seemed a bit shocked to see me sitting on another bench within the park. The shock didn’t dislodge him from his waiting, or his position. His waiting is as slow and uneventful as the grass growing. And yet, his assembly of clothing is far better than mine. I can’t judge him. I have no leverage. Not that I would approach and disturb his calm meditation anyway. His peace is complementary to the beautiful greenery. They’re so similar as to almost be one. Perhaps in a few years (if this man could wait that long) the park and the old man would assimilate. Tree roots would slowly mold themselves to encircle his feet. His thin grey hair would gradually turn green. Ears, nose, cheeks would become like the bark on a tree, hardened by elements. He would move no more from his bench, but his eyes would still search and wait and watch, until one day, the wood might overtake his eyes too.

Then, I might return to view the park, to enjoy its peace and pleasant smells. The old man might still be there. No one can be sure if I will recognize him. No one can predict if he will be shocked at my future collisions; pink shirt, purple pants, yellow socks, red shoes.

Looking for a car metaphor.

Like running the wipers on a dry day.

Fixing the engine when the tires are all flat.

Like driving with your lights on in the daytime.

Peaceful as driving slower than necessary through a tree-lined street.

Like putting small wheels on a car and thinking it’s fast.

Like putting giant wheels on a car and thinking it’s a truck.

Not nearly as loud as taking off the muffler and turning the radio up!

Like trading a Ferrari for a Ford.

Throwing the keys under the seat and expecting to start the car.

Like comparing apples to lugnuts.

Like burning down your garage to make the RV fit.

Putting a pizza in it and calling it “air freshner”.

Emptying the gas tank and then telling someone else their tank is empty. Expecting everyone to drive courteously when all you do is call everyone else an idiot and fly the bird.

Like adding excessive amps so you don’t have to hear all the people calling each other idiots.

Like honking the horn at a herd of cows.

Like driving blind.

Like decking out the chrome and the window tint.

Like washing it one day before rain. Like washing it before you go mudding. Like wishing you could go mudding, but you’re driving a convertible.

Like putting diesel fuel in when your car drives on unleaded.

Like driving your car into the ocean.

Driving through the carwash with all the windows down.

Like fossil fuel and new technology.

Like racing around only to find you never left your yard.