Up and Vanished Podcast Review

up and vanished podcast review, erick mertz

I picked up Episode #1 of this podcast for one single reason: a missing person cold case. What could be better? Well, this “Up and Vanished Podcast” review will sort out whether or not Season #1 lived up to its eerie premise.

In order to get quickly up to speed, Season #1 of the “Up and Vanished” podcast came out in 2016 and in a two-part, twenty-four episode format it covers the real life missing person case of Tara Grinstead. Hosted by Payne Lindsey and based out of Atlanta, the show has already been optioned as a television series by the Oxygen network.

What Works?

I’m the target market. I am a sucker for missing person cold cases. Ever since I was a youngster watching Unsolved Mysteries, my spine tingles and my hair raises at a story that starts with a person that has mysteriously vanished into thin air. And Ms. Grinstead vanished.

The production on “Up and Vanished” is quite clean. From the early podcast episodes it feels streamlined and well put together.

The Grinstead case is a creeper, too. All of the missing persons tropes are at play and work their magic on the podcast.

What Doesn’t Work?

First off, Lindsey jumps into the Grinstead case right away. From Episode #1/Season #1, he’s talking to witnesses and sorting evidence.

The right into it approach works… I guess.

I barely knew anything about who Tara Grinstead was as a person before people were hanging up on the host. There was little to no sense of anticipation built into the podcast’s first few episodes. Sure, I knew she was a teacher involved with beauty pageants but I need a little more backstory to get my curiosity up.

As I stated previously, I simply love missing person cold case stories. The phenomenon is a staple of my Strange Air supernatural mystery series. But “Up and Vanished” seems to play fast and loose with the necessary component of mysterious circumstances.

Another issue I’ve had with the show is that it’s not a clean publication. My iTunes library is littered with so much bonus and extra content it’s really difficult to feel what is necessary and what is extraneous.

What Does It All Mean?

Early on, Payne Lindsey tells his listeners how we all got to Ocilla, Georgia. He was in love with the Serial podcast and out of that love, he started looking for a subject for an investigative podcast.

And here we are.

Everything about the “Up and Vanished” podcast feels constructed to me. There isn’t the organic sense of discovery from something like S-Town. There isn’t the spellbinding storytelling of Serial either.

How to summarize “Up And Vanished” podcast review? It definitely fills a void if you’re looking for a missing person cold case podcast to hammer on. But it’s first season isn’t going to keep you from searching and listening to your friends for more recommendations.

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Do Writers Listen To Music When They Write?

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Ornatorpet’s album, Hymner Fran Snokulla is the perfect album for writers to listen to while working on a story set in winter.

Do writers listen to music when they write? The answer from me is a resounding, yes, they should.

Ornatorpet is a electronic/ambient outfit from Boras, Sweden and really all you need to know about this album is right on there the cover. Hymner Fran Snokulla is a deep dive into winter’s bluster and cold.

Truth be told, I don’t get enough of winter. I spend three months out of the year enjoying it and nine months wanting it back. Hymner Fran Snokulla gives me a burst of cold whenever I want it.

What Works?

From my first listen to Hymner Fran Snokulla I felt like I was dropped into the middle of a D&D campaign. Suddenly, I was circling down into murky dungeons and there were torch lights and a strange radiance.

Ornatorpet conjures strange contradictions. The songs here are dark. But at the same time, they’re not grim. Although the tracks explore widely they are also riddled with a claustrophobic feeling.

What Doesn’t Work?

Really, there isn’t much not to like about Hymner Fran Snokulla. Everything on this album comes together quite nicely.

The tracks take the listener on a polar adventure. The sounds are evocative of not only a place but a feeling of depth and solitude.

On a musical level, the production is robust. It’s not a minimalist recording. Instead its full and deep and every tone is satisfying.

What Does It All Mean?

They call the genre Ornatorpet performs “dungeon synth” which for me is as accurate a musical description as I have ever heard.

This record is one of my favorite ambient recordings ever. That makes it one of the most indispensable albums for writing in my collection.

Do writers listen to music when they write? They should, and one of the first albums they should go find is this one.

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Where Should I Write?

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David Mamet Playwright & Cultural Critic

I see the question asked frequently in a variety of writer chatrooms, social media groups and bulletin boards — where should I write?

Usually, the person asking is a writer. They either find themselves unable to work on their project at home, or are perhaps looking for some variety in their creative venue.

The question is one I ask myself quite often. Home is another confinement. Writing is, I believe, unlike most other creative pursuits in that where it is performed and under what circumstances affects the outcome.

The World According To Mamet

“My alma mater is the Chicago Public Library”

– David Mamet

One of my favorite answers to “where should I write” comes from famed Chicago playwright and cultural critic, David Mamet (who actually graduated from Goddard College).

When asked by a room full of eager graduating students what he recommended they do about grad school, he advised them to save their money and instead find a bar. When prodded further, he described the bar as ideally a pool hall without a television or loud music where they can listen to how people talk.

How very brilliant. How very Mamet-esque. After all, the man wrote a book on the subject, Writing In Restaurants.

The idea is to find, if not quiet, the right noise. Writing in public would be different than writing in the safety of home if it wasn’t for the voices.

Where should I write? Find a place that’s beyond the noise of every day.

Give Me A List?

I’ve traipsed around the Portland area in my writer costume for a more than twenty years. Most of that time I am seeking solitude.

Here is a small list of the places that fit the “Mamet principle”.

1.) The Oregon City Public Library.

2.) The cafeteria in Powell’s Bookstore in downtown Portland.

3.) The student union at Clackamas Community College.

4.) The tree house bar at the Woodstock New Seasons.

5.) The Sterling Writer’s Room on the third floor of the downtown Multnomah County Library.

6.) In my car with a note pad on my knee — often with windshield wipers sweeping back and forth.

7.) The lobby of downtown office buildings.

8.) Gino’s in Sellwood.

9.) A little cafe in Hollywood, Petite Provence where they play classical.

These are only my haunts though and a short list of them at that. You likely don’t live in Portland, Oregon.

Where Should I Write?

Writing in public is an opportunity. The best place to write in public is as close as your next discovery.

Go to your library. Find that one cafe in town without noise. Dress in your finest writer clothes and hang out in a lobby somewhere.

They’ll think you’re a spy. Which you are, in a sense, right?

Circulate them. Move through a list. Find a different place for every single different mood, from fiery tiger days to your more watery moods.

Part of why we write in public is to feel ourselves circulating, as opposed to the sometimes idling feeling of your own safe home.

Risk discovery. Risk exposure.

Have a favorite writing spot already?

Share it in the comments below. I would love to know where you go. Perhaps I’ll see you there.

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The Magnus Archives Review

The Magnus Archives, Presented by Rusty Quill Productions

Everyone has that friend. You know the one I am talking about. The friend who knows about cool stuff before anyone else. In my world, one of those people is Jim. We can leave that right there at “Jim”.

I had not seen my Jim in a long while, but after some years, we had that long anticipated catch-up drink and during that session he introduced me to a new podcast. The Magnus Archives. Jim knows horror. Jim knows my affinity for horror as well, and it only took a few sniffs of strong ale and a burger before Jim got me excited about this podcast.

Here are the basics.

The Magnus Archives is a horror anthology podcast. Episodes come out weekly (on Thursdays) from Rusty Quill Productions and the story centers on a fictional London archive that catalogs weird and esoteric happenings.

The main character is a man named Jonathan Sims. In the podcast’s first season, he is new in his role of head archivist, having taken over for a predecessor who vanished mysteriously. His Sisyphean task is to organize an archive of accounts that has been left in shambles.

Sims is funny and filled with snarky bits. Most importantly though, the main character is a keen observer of strange and unexplained phenomena. As of the writing of this Magnus Archives review the podcast has featured over one hundred and thirty episodes and they are still going strong.

This Magnus Archives review will cover some of what works, what does not work and what that all adds up to.

What Works?

magnus archives review, erick mertz, supernatural fiction
A fan’s rendering of Jonathan Sims

First off, the podcast is among the more consistent productions available on the market. Consistency is a challenge in any storytelling (in the horror genre especially) and Rusty Quill shines through.

The writing is strong. The character voices are unique, which is critical, because every episode centers on Sims reading an account. This necessitates a different “voice” every time out.

The characters evolve too. Jonathan settles into his role as archivist. His snarky tone stays consistent but he accepts things as he progresses.

Another surprisingly satisfying aspect is the use of body horror. The production team employs a fair amount but do so judiciously. A few episodes involve some deeply grotesque subjects and images.

Usually body horror isn’t my thing, but the producers of the Magnus Archives are careful not to over do it. The storyline is not about body horror. Instead, they use those elements when the story warrants.

Lastly, the concept of a podcast centered on a single paranormal archive would seem limiting. All of the statements come from Londoners, but the writers have been keen to ensure that is not claustrophobic. They work in a few accounts taking place at sea and in different countries (which includes my favorite, Episode #31, First Hunt).

What Doesn’t Work?

The baseline premise in The Magnus Archives of an archivist working to clean up a messy, disorganized archive really works for me.

For me, that is enough to hold it all together.

Through Season #1, a meta-narrative insinuates it’s way into the story. Not only are we experiencing these random accounts the archivist reads for our entertainment, there is something else going on in the archive.

I suppose that is fine. It’s not a clumsy meta narrative by any stretch of the imagination. My thinking, however, is that it doesn’t really need this to hold together. It’s fine as it as as a series of vignettes.

On a storytelling angle, I am not crazy about how modern most of these tales are. The accounts that the archivist reads for us are contemporary. That limitation makes me want for more variety.

Like geography, however, I think that the producers and writers of The Magnus Archives do a good job of pulling threads here and there in order to explore older times. This is a matter of my taste though. I like older times in fiction. The modern day holds less appeal.

I’m down to quibbles now, but it’s worth mentioning that as the meta-narrative develops into Season #2, it necessitates a few interruptions. This means, ss Sims is reading an account, someone from the office butts in.

Again, this is a quibble, but with a story flow that is often so good, I’m not happy when I’m pulled out of it.

What Does That Mean?

I could hardly recommend a podcast any higher than this one. It’s among the cream of the crop. It’s not only horror podcasting at its finest. It’s contemporary horror writing at it’s finest.

A Google search of The Magnus Archives reveals that fans are out there and many of them are already rabid.

Any Magnus Archives review would be incomplete without mentioning it’s binge worthiness. I often find myself going deeper than expected.

I might go for a walk expecting to listen to one, only to find myself two episodes in and wanting to loop back around the neighborhood for a third. My sincerest thanks to Jim for that.

Have you listened to this podcast? Want to add something to this Magnus Archives Review?

If so, leave a comment below.

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Bukowski On Libraries

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The original cover of the 1982 Black Sparrow Press edition of Ham On Rye by Charles Bukowski

Powerful influences are critical for the burgeoning writer. We must draw on the wisdom of pioneers before launching down this strange path. One of those powerful influences for me was Charles Bukowski, specifically an idea in a quote by Charles Bukowski on libraries.

As a young writer, Bukowski’s allure was in his boozing and womanizing. Terrible to look back on now, there was a sort of romantic idea behind drinking wine all day and carousing with fans that (unfortunately) appeals to youth on the brink of an unconventional career.

Growing on from that though, Bukowski’s allure feels quite different now. Bukowski was a genuine gallows poet. Bukowski was brave and persistent in his pursuit of his writing.

Charles Bukowski knew how to be alone. And that’s what this pursuit is.

Bukowski On The Power of Solitude

For me, Bukowski’s renown as a drinker has always been overemphasized. Certainly, Bukowski was one of the “great drinkers” of our times, known to booze morning, noon and night whether or not he was writing on a book. That is only a small part of his overall appeal as a literary figure though.

What makes Bukowski a genuine touchstone is how he championed the importance of solitude. Other writers have lauded the need to separate and get away, but precious few in the modern age have been so vocal and articulate on the subject. Bukowski died before social media and cell phones were invented, but he bristled appropriately on any incursion into his solitude in an era which to us now would seem quaint.

Bukowski understood, I think, better than anyone in contemporary literature, the importance of being good at being alone.

The art of solitude and the need to thrive in it is more challenging now than it has ever been before. There are more of us walking around out there. There is fewer space where you can flee. Other people are everywhere. They’re in our lives even when we’re alone.

Charles Bukowski knew the importance of rising above the noise. More than this though, he understood how importance of finding a place to go.

Bukowski On Libraries

Charles Bukowski wrote frequently about his surroundings. Environment was an integral part of his fiction and poetry. Bukowski on bar life is classic. Also on women. He is one of the great writers about horses and gambling.

Nowhere in his writing is his love more elegant than his love of libraries. Already a great thinker, Charles Bukowski on libraries is especially moving.

Charlies Bukowski spent almost every day between his late teens and early 20’s in the public library reading and writing. Broke and going nowhere, Bukowski understood that libraries provided an important place for the down on their luck people from all walks of life. Whether as an escape into free books and music, or a nexus of opportunities, this quote from Charles Bukowski on libraries is my favorite.

“First paycheck I get, I thought, I’m going to get myself a room near the downtown LA Public Library.”

– Charles Bukowski, Ham On Rye

This quote has been transformative for me for quite a few reasons. First, it is simple. It is humble of purpose. Understanding the importance of a library to all peoples is critical. The hallowed book lined halls have always been some of my favorite places. But Charles Bukowski understood that a library’s importance was beyond money and that is especially moving.

When I decide to bring my writing outside the house, I think quite fondly of this quote from Ham On Rye. I can afford the cup of coffee or the beer to work in a cafe or bar. I can probably afford to rent a little space down in the industrial inner Eastside to write while overlooking the water.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Everyone loves a nice cup of coffee and a view.

But that would be missing the point for me. It’s not really about the money. It is about the surrounding. Not just about solitude. It’s about a certain kind of solitude. One I learned from Bukowski.

It’s about knowing where you belong and fitting yourself in there.

Recently, I wrote another blog about libraries, check it out.

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Oregon City Library Summer Reading

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As I get older, summer’s return makes me pine for simpler things. I spent many warm days in my youth cooped up indoors. Well, not exactly cooped up, I had the Oregon City Library at my disposal.

Maybe that meant I was a strange kid. Well, that alone wasn’t exactly the tipping point in that direction, but the library stacks were always more inviting than actual vistas because at least there was the possibility of a railroad heist or a dragon lurking inside.

Summer is different now. The world doesn’t pause for imagination anymore. This is OK though. Everything in its time, right? I had my time for summer memories. Now my son will have his.

I get to a different summer simple now. When I can, I like to read outside. If I’m lucky, whenever possible, I like to write outside, too.

My mother volunteers at the Friends Of Oregon City Library Book Store. This is what she does now that she doesn’t really need to do anything.

The book store is a good gig for her. She has her regular group to hang out with and she also spends her whole day around books.

The upside for me is that I have an inside connection.

It’s not uncommon for my Mom to show up at my house with a stack of paperback books. Usually when I’m working on assembling a series, all it takes is one phone call. After a few years my exploitation of this connection has gotten a little ridiculous, but so far there is enough room.

So far.

The Return of Ellery Queen Mystery

The other day my mom showed up with a stack of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines. Ten issues in total, scattered over a few years.

Can you use these? She asked. As though there was a usefulness sunset on a hard boiled short story delivered on newsprint.

The whole exchange brought me back in time to summer days of old. Nothing to do but read and daydream. Perhaps some of these issues were ones I read already, cross legged in the Oregon City Library when it felt naive not to believe in the power of crazy stories.

The idea of time travel has always held an appeal for me. There should be no surprise that I have incorporated a weird element of time travel into my supernatural mystery fiction.

Maybe it’s not so far fetched. School isn’t out for another hour. This means I have got a little sliver of time. The weather is delightful.

There is also an Ellery Queen rolled comfortably into my pocket.

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The Book Of Witness Characters – Sia Temple

erick mertz, the book of witness, supernatural mysteryBeware of working with kids and animals. I first heard that advice in reference to movies. When I dreamt up Sia Temple for The Book Of Witness, this advice struck me.

What did I end up doing in Bell The Cat? I doubled down. I wrote a story about a child and an animal.

The way I saw it, as a writer if you’re going to commit the cardinal sin of writing a story told from the point of view of a child, why not throw a cat in there too for good measure?

I don’t know if the short story “Bell The Cat” is really about a cat and a frightened little girl though. For me, the story is about strange patterns of behavior. Sia Temple is child seeking escape from her bickering parents. Consequently, she spends her days alone in the barn. The family’s barn cat (nature’s most willful miscreant) does the bidding of another.

Capturing strange behavior was my motivator for “Bell The Cat”. Even a slight variation on what we understand as “normal” has the capacity to frightens us to the core. Any detection of an unnatural action and movement is one of our primitive protections.

There is a distinct jolt when we experience our sense of order upside down.

Sia and Jasper are, I think, expressions of that fear, as subtle as that may be. Looking back at how the finished short story played out, I feel like there also a host of questions.

Where did Sia end up going after telling her story? Why did her teacher “Bell The Cat” go batty after moving to Portland? And what is Doctor Aldous going to do with the manuscript?

You can get your eBook copy of The Book Of Witness at my Books page, or go directly to my Amazon Author Page. You can also read a similar blog about Rebecca Cotton in “A Devil Wind”.

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The Book Of Witness Characters – Rebecca Cotton

the book of witness, erick mertz, supernatural mysteryEach of us has seemingly lived a life prior to the one we are living right now. All of us could have become someone or something else.

Not Rebecca Cotton though. Rebecca was born to become one thing: a fire fighter. In the story “A Devil Wind” from The Book Of Witness she describes a clarity of vision few of us are likely to feel in our lives. Even when faced with a tragedy, she remained steady.

Over the years, I have written countless versions of this particular short story. Each of those variations was told from a different point of view but something just didn’t work. What has remained consistent through this iteration was the idea of something moving into the forest fire when everything else should move away. That stayed in place. It was the unmovable part of the story.

Slowly, things in “A Devil Wind” unlocked. Foremost was transforming the point of view to a woman. Once I changed Robert to Rebecca the story took its proper shape. That’s what it took.

Her story was the one I wanted to tell.

In a previous life my sister was a fire fighter. Part of what helped me write this story was seeing the struggle she went through trying to achieve her dream. I don’t know if she experienced the same scrutiny as Rebecca would have in the 1950’s, but it was still an inspiration.

Gender prejudice is real. A man can simply work toward becoming a fire fighter. A woman must work to become a “female fire fighter” in a similar way that Barack Obama worked to become the first “black President”.

It’s a fine distinction maybe, but an important one nevertheless.

You can get your copy of The Book Of Witness to my Books page, or go directly to my Amazon Author Page. You can also read a similar blog about Sia Temple in “Bell The Cat”.

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