Twisted Tales in "Dancing in Valhalla" (2019) by John West – An eBook Collection of Short Stories

By: Shane Lambert

I met John West in a Facebook group that we are both a part of called “Indie Authors Networking.” We share an interest in writing short stories and he was nice enough to chat online for a short time about a project of his that’s available on Amazon.

John West, author of
“Dancing in Valhalla.”

Entitled “Dancing in Valhalla,” Mr. West answered four questions for me and the readers of this site regarding his 13 short stories. They are posted below and may help readers decide if West’s eBook or Paperback is the right choice for them.

Me, Shane Lambert: “I saw that you called your short stories ‘twisted tales.’ Would you put them in horror or suspense categories as well? If someone liked the “Tales from the Crypt” comic books, do you think they would like your 13 stories?”

The Cryptkeeper. Depicted by artist Al Feldstein.

John West, author: “These stories bounce between horror and suspense, Shane. But they all have twists in the tale. Hence “twisted.” Although that could also apply that to some of the events and characters in the stories. And the lunatic who wrote them. I like to think that “Crypt” fans would definitely enjoy these. So did the Cryptkeeper. He told me so over drinks the other night.”

Me, Shane Lambert: “I see. I wonder how his breath was? On that matter, should someone read your stories if he or she has a weak stomach?”

John West, author: “I don’t write for people with weak stomachs. Anyone who struggles with the first story in the collection should stop reading immediately and consult a medical practitioner. Or pour a stiff drink and soldier on. Best keep the bottle nearby for emergencies.”

That’s what a five-star review looks like in this genre.

Me, Shane Lambert: “I guess when it comes to that kind of writing, if your reader pukes real bad — it means it’s good. Speaking of your readers, one of your fans, in his review, was happy with your work. However, he said that he didn’t like the South African slang in some parts. It does seem that if a story was set in South Africa, then realism requires slang common to that area so maybe the criticism isn’t entirely fair. But can you offer a quick glossary on the terms he might be referring to as a service to your future readers? Even just 2-3 South African slang words.”

John West, author: “I wrote this one for the South African fans who came out to buy my first novel at book fairs around Johannesburg. So, yes, I pushed the SA slang aspect this time, based on mates from 1980s Hillbrow (you know who you are).

Bra = brother/friend. Oke = guy. Make out = see/understand. Tune = tell.

All in all, it makes about as much sense as the rest of our delightful English language.”

Me, Shane Lambert: “Thanks for that. I think ‘Bra’ is common in my knack of the woods at least for meaning ‘brother/friend.’ Now, completely off topic. One of your short-story descriptions mentioned Jack the Ripper. As far as you can ‘tune,’ any guesses on what his identity might have been? What if I narrowed your choices down to Aaron Kosminski and Charles Lechmere? Hint-hint: an article about a short story with one ‘Charley Lechmere’ is the most popular blog on this website.”

John West, author: “Not John Williams? I’ve read theories ranging from Masons to demons. So Polish barbers and meat cart drivers are well within the realm of possibilities. If I had to choose between Aaron and Charles? I wouldn’t. I don’t believe records from the time are accurate enough to definitively prove it one way or another. Let Whitechapel keep its secrets.”

John West’s “Dancing in Valhalla” has a publication date at Amazon of April 21st, 2019. As for the reviews, it seems that those that have read it have enjoyed it. Described as “13 twisted tales of music, magick, mayhem & murder,” the eBook is available on Amazon on a variety of devices. It’s also available in a paperback edition.

Note: his eBook cover definitely beats the hell out of mine!

Whooops!! My Misadventures in eBook Cover Design….

By: Shane Lambert

I completed a short story in early 2018. At first, I didn’t know what to do with it. When I started writing the short story, it was more like I was scratching an itch than thinking about a final product. However, when I finished it I definitely wanted it to be read by others. I self-published it at Amazon and part of this process involved creating an eBook cover.

I don’t know much about art, at least not the kind involving painting or drawing. All the marketing tips I read said that I should have a nice eBook cover to represent the book, something I agreed with wholeheartedly. So, I went to the freelancers online to try and create something that might draw in some readers.

But, before I did this, I had to think of a cover design that I wanted to be drawn. I didn’t want an artist to have to read the short story and then think of a cover by himself or herself. That would be time-consuming and, I assumed, it would then cost more money to get the job done.

While I’ve made a lot of extra money over the years writing, as of yet self-published eBooks haven’t really brought me in that much. My writing-related income comes mainly from writing for websites. Since my first attempts at self-publishing back in 2012, I’ve only sold about 1500 eBooks. That doesn’t mean that the effort, for some of them, hasn’t been worth it but you can see how it has not really been a clearly successful venture for me.

Due to this, I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on an eBook cover. Instead, I decided that I would try to find a talented artist who needed to establish himself or herself, someone who would be willing to work for an hour on this project for something very affordable.

My short story, which can now be found on short-stories-online.com, is about a well-meaning man who decides to pick up a hitchhiker. Subsequently, he wonders if the hitchhiker, who is female, is suspicious of his intentions. That manifests into a concern that others, people the hitchhiker talks to at a rest stop, might actually think that the man is a serial killer.

In the end, the man develops what could be viewed as a paranoia over his image. Others might see the man’s concern as reasonable and not the result of paranoia. That’s a question posed in the story.

My question was how do I represent the short story in an eBook cover in a way that might intrigue people?

At one point, I thought that I could put anything on the cover and just let the reader run wild with metaphorical interpretation. However, I abandoned this idea when I found an artist that had some significant ability and was willing to work cheap. I described the scene to her that should be on the cover as follows.

Three people were to be illustrated as pushing a car off of a cliff. The vehicle was to have a terrified male driver sitting at the wheel. The three people doing the pushing were to be depicted as a female hitchhiker, a member of the public, and a police officer. In the background, I instructed that a Ted-Bundy-like serial-killer character is supposed to be engaged in sardonic laughter as the driver of the vehicle suffers for something he, the actual serial killer, did.

It was all was supposed to show, metaphorically, how four people were involved in stifling congenial behavior in society. The driver of the car stopped to help a stranded traveler as an act of kindness but this act was instead distorted. You may have to read the story to understand the point in view. But as for the eBook cover, to make sure we were on the same page I offered this juvenile sketch to my hired help:

The setting of the story is in the Canadian Rockies, as depicted by the rocky ‘waves’ in the background. The sign in the sketch is a common one that highway users see when they travel. That sign is a part of the story but I won’t get into that here too much. I just wanted to point out that everything in the sketch is relevant to the plot — nothing is arbitrary.

The next step in the cover design was getting some work back before the artist did too much on her own. She sent a first draft after both getting my instructions and seeing the simple sketch above. Importantly, the sketch below, while not completed, is far better artwork than I could draw myself.

What you are looking at is a man being pushed over the edge of a cliff in a car. However, my opinion was that the car looked more like a small pick-up truck and that was taken up with the artist.

The driver is the protagonist, someone I call “Fictional Me” because I often write fiction in the first person. The woman with the backpack on (pictured on the right) is the hitchhiker and she’s giving an ironic thumbs-up as she aids in pushing Fictional Me and my car over a cliff.

The man in the middle is a guy she speaks to at a gas station, ‘alerting’ him to the fact that Fictional Me is an individual who picks up female hitchhikers. He’s pushing the car with one hand and scrutinizing Fictional Me with a magnifying glass with the other.

The police officer is both finger-wagging and helping to kill Fictional Me. In the background, you can see the actual serial killer who is enjoying the mess that he created. The serial killer finds twisted humor in the fact that someone else is being tormented for what he, the serial killer, did.

The next draft looked like this:

Was this the final draft? At this point, I had some opinions — all of which were entirely irrelevant.

Part of me didn’t think the three ‘pushers’ looked active enough in pushing. I also didn’t think that it made sense that they could push so hard as to get a car through the rail on the side of the highway.

On another matter, I thought the outline of the car was a little wonky as it looks like the front is the back and the back is the front to me. Lastly, the mountains seemed red and arid while the setting of the story was in an area where the mountains were tree-covered and dark or silver.

The reason my opinions were irrelevant was because I’m a reasonable person and I knew that I couldn’t push someone too hard at revisions when I was only paying $25US. Unwilling to spend more, I was happy with what I got for what I paid, I left the artist a great review, and I put the eBook cover up as a better cover than the site-generated ugly ones. Even if I end up -$25US on the project, it definitely made me smile to work on it.

If you want to read the short story, it won’t cost you anything. It’s called “On Being Indistinguishable” and it’s on this website.

"Jack the Ripper" — Identity Conjecture Involving Literature Analysis

By: Shane Lambert

Students of the unsolved Whitechapel murders in London in 1888, murders that are commonly attributed to an unknown assailant named Jack the Ripper, will recognize the name Charles Lechmere. Now long dead, he was an individual who lived in the area of the murders at the time when the murders were committed. This he has in common with some thousands of people.

But he is considered a leading suspect in the murders by many in modern times because of circumstances that he does not have in common with any of his fellow Londoners. Lechmere’s incontrovertible connection to the Jack the Ripper mystery is that he was seen hovering over the body of one of the recently-murdered victims. This much has been ascertained about him.

Charles Lechmere. This photo was uncovered by Christer Holmgrem but the photographer is unknown.

Whether he was hovering over the body to have a look at it as an innocent passerby or whether he was admiring his work after killing the victim has been debated in modern times. In fact, Lechmere’s culpability in the Jack the Ripper murders was the subject of a documentary not too many years ago, a documentary that’s still on Youtube as of December 3rd, 2019. The documentary prominently features Swedish journalist Christer Holmgrem making his case that Lechmere was the infamous serial killer. The documentary was titled “Jack the Ripper – The Missing Evidence” (directors: Martin Pupp, Sam Taplin).

This link exits to IMDB’s page for the show.

Public domain photo. Mary Ann Nichols was found dead near this location, known as Buck’s Row.

Lechmere, back in 1888, was associated with the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, otherwise known as Polly Nichols. Lechmere’s own words on his relationship to her death is that he found the body. Certainly, this could be an on-the-spot lie and whether or not this is true is central to the Lechmere debate. It could be that Lechmere did find the body and then decided to hover over it. But it could also be that he didn’t really discover the dead body but created it himself, meaning he would be Jack the Ripper.

On this matter, one thing I will state is that if you discover a dead body in contemporary times, you’ll often need to be cleared of killing the person. This is something I’ve gleaned from reading literally hundreds of missing person’s reports and the affiliated articles over the years (I am an “Active Member” of websleuths.com and I have my own missing person’s blog). If the same kind of circumstances occurred in modern times then modern police would be very interested in Lechmere — this is something I am very confident in.

I don’t remember the documentary on Lechmere making this exact point, that modern police would be very interested in Lechmere because he discovered the body. However, “Jack the Ripper – The Missing Evidence” makes the following points:

  • Lechmere was seen hovering over a the dead body of a person that Jack the Ripper killed;
  • Lechmere gave a misleading name to police when he had to confront them;
  • His path to work would have brought him near many of the murders;
  • Other murders not on Lechmere’s route to work were located near the homes of his family members (and may have been committed on his days off);
  • There were logical holes in his story regarding the timing of finding the body;
  • Lechmere had a troubled upbringing like many serial killers.
A hot-air balloon.

None of the above individual points are all that enthralling. But so many Ripper suspects have ‘evidence’ against them that is complete hot air when looked at critically. The case against Lechmere is not full of hot air at all. It is conjecture but the conjecture is reasonable and intriguing.

For me, the elephant in the room with Lechmere is that he was seen hovering over the dead body of a known Ripper victim that was dead for a very short time. That’s more than just eyebrow raising, it does, in my opinion, make Lechmere the leading suspect. While we are only talking about an individual murder, once you figure out who committed one Ripper murder then you do figure out who committed them all.

Lechmere’s Short story connection

Chuck Lechmere? Or is it Charley Lechmere? Oh wait…that’s the late, maybe not-so-great, Charles Lechmere, otherwise known as a Jack The Ripper suspect.

At this point, I will remind you that this isn’t an unsolved mysteries website. It’s one that publishes short stories and offers commentary about historical ones. For the balance of this article, I’m going to look at a short work of fiction that just might pertain to Jack the Ripper, a short story that was written in the first person.

Back in February of 2018, I decided to plug Lechmere’s name into a historical newspaper database that I have a membership for (newspapers.com). I searched for “Charles Lechmere” to see how his name showed up in reporting from the 1880’s or just in general. 

My searches for Lechmere’s name were actually quite disappointing until I came across a short story with a protagonist named “Charley Lechmere.” “Charley,” as a variant of Charles, had largely evaded my keyword searching but I did find it at last, mainly because of another user’s tag.

What I’ve wondered is if the short story was written by someone who knew or suspected that Charles Lechmere committed the White Chapel Murders. Perhaps this writer, for fear of blow-back, chose to reveal his suspicions in an opaque way. Literature does allow you to imply things because, quite frankly, literature doesn’t have to be true.

Certainly, literature is full of indirect references as the events or characters that authors describe are so often metaphors for something else. The Big Bad Wolf, for example, is more like a pedophile lurking in the forest looking for a virgin to rape rather than an actual wolf. The story describes the dangers of the society it was written in but without the author explicitly treading onto topics that might cause him blow-back. Using metaphor, fiction writers can actually cloak what they are talking about while still talking about it.

Somewhat along these lines, I will argue that the short story I read, called “The Story of a Perversion,” represents the point of view of a man who feels a rage towards prostitutes. I believe this interpretation to be correct independent of any connection to Charles Lechmere or the Whitechapel murders of prostitutes in the summer/fall of 1888.

As far as the connection goes, readers should not expect a deductive and conclusive naming of Jack The Ripper in this publication: this is a site that analyzes and publishes short stories — and that’s not going to yield a smoking gun or bloody knife that can be tied to someone’s 130-year old DNA. I make no apologies for not being able to prove what I think, however, I do feel as though my analysis of “The Story of a Perversion” should be a part of Ripperology.

From June 15th, 1894’s The Westminster Budget

The story appears below and it is from Page 14 of June 15th, 1894’s The Westminster Budget, a publication from the Greater London Area. The readers of this article must read the short story before reading further. I uploaded it in five parts so that the font size made the words legible.

Fri, Jun 15, 1894 – Page 14 · The Westminster Budget (London, Greater London, England) · Newspapers.com. No author mentioned.

Analysis of the story

Firstly, let’s look at the title: “The Story of a Perversion.” Perversion, with a Google search, is defined as “the alteration of something from its original course… of what was first intended.” So then the question then is what course is changed in this story? I will argue that the protagonist’s intentions towards women, or at least a singular woman, has altered in this work of short fiction.

The story tells of a man named Charley Lechmere. He is a man who is travelling within England when he meets a woman in a hotel, a woman that he finds agreeable. He wonders if his current trip might be a life-changing one because of this meeting: “Why,” the narrator asks, “should not my visit to Beachside begin a new era in my life? Who was this handsome girl?” 

With those statements, we see that the first intended course that Lechmere had for this woman was to fall for her charms and pursue a romantic relationship with her. However, the narrator then begins to reference something that he hates: advertisements. While enjoying the romantic atmosphere of the evening, the moon lights an advertisement outside and it bothers him while, conversely, the advertisement delights the woman. 

When this story is taken literally, then it’s one many of us might relate to. Advertisements might be something that a lot of us hate.

Do you want a billboard in front of this?

Who among us hasn’t felt that a cluster of billboards simply blocked some scenery and that it would be better if the billboards came down because of that? Who among us has not been annoyed by a television program that was loaded with just a few too many commercials?

In “The Story of a Perversion” the advertisements, which are for horseradish, are a major point of contention between Charley Lechmere and the woman. His hatred for the advertisements is such that he claims to have lobbied against them in a political forum. Meanwhile, the woman, who is named Hilda Horribell (sounds like “Hilda Horrible”) not only admires the advertisements but, in fact, she is actually the beneficiary of them. Her father owns the horseradish company whose product is featured. 

If you are sticking with a literal interpretation, then the short story has a twist ending. The man’s perversion is that he started with wanting to marry Hilda but then learned something about her he didn’t like. The title leads us to conclude that its his feelings for the woman that have changed route or become perverted.

The story could also be analyzed from another perspective, one that I will review quickly starting with a simple statement: newspapers sell ads. Accordingly, from a business perspective, it would be in The Westminster Budget’s interests to publish something that critiques the emergence of competing forms of advertisements.

Things like billboards and advertisements on the sides of buildings can certainly be viewed as an eye sore to many. But from a newspaper’s point of view, they are also a threat. Newspapers want those that would like to purchase advertising to use the columns along their articles — not public spaces. From this point of view, the publication of “The Story of a Perversion” is a tacit attack against non-print advertising.

However, a metaphorical interpretation could see advertising as a metaphor for prostitution. Before scoffing at that and dismissing it as an arbitrary connection, consider the following points.

We’ve all heard the saying “Sex sells” and certainly there are prostitutes on streets that try to be eye catching, just as advertisements are. This commonality between how prostitutes have to operate and how advertisements have to operate is significant in my opinion. Both prostitutes and advertisements need to stand out on the street in order to be effective.

Furthermore, both the hotel and the night-time setting do hint at prostitution in some ways to me. Prostitutes have been called “Ladies of the night” and hotels, if you’ll take the opinion of a former hotel manager (me), do have some clandestine activities in them from time to time (even the nice hotels).

From the point of view that advertising is actually a metaphor for prostitution, the man starts out interested in pursuing a relationship with Hilda. Their conversation could then be viewed as the man learning about her being a prostitute — something that changes him.

The man’s literal claim to be against advertisements would then metaphorically be taken to mean he is against prostitution. His political actions against the advertising industry could be taken to mean he has politically lobbied against the practice of prostitution.

In my view, the way advertisements are described in the story could be a description of prostitution in a major city or area where it was rampant. Consider the following statements which literally describe the advertisements in the story; however, instead try to understand “the thing” to be prostitution and not a billboard or sign. The following two paragraphs then read as though the man has bumped into a fair number of prostitutes as a traveler. He is politically opposed to prostitution and yet finds that he can’t escape it – and he blames prostitution (….or prostitutes) for ruining his vacation. 

From “The Story of a Perversion.”

The last statement, about the woman’s affinity for “the thing” reveals the changed course for the man. He loses his feelings for her and instead starts to hate her. That’s the “perversion” or changed course: he started out as a man who was interested in true romance with Hilda Horribell (also sounds like Whory Belle) but ended up a man who hated her.

In the final paragraphs, the narrator changes the wording of the slogan in the advertisement from “What is Life without Hope” to “What is Life without Love.” The last line of the short story, “And I am in the business,” is ambiguous but can’t really be read to mean that he’s in the horseradish business. It could be read to mean that he’s in the advertising business but it could conversely be read to mean that he’s in the business of “Life without Love.” That could be his lament at not finding romantic love in his life and the effect that it had on his soul. It is a very grim statement for him to make.

Getting back to Jack the Ripper

So who is a man that hated prostitutes in England at about the time of this story’s publication? Jack the Ripper is the best answer and real-life Charles Lechmere is a strong suspect for being Jack. It could be that the author of “The Story of a Perversion” believed Charles Lechmere to be a suspect and named him Charley Lechmere in this story as a reference. Maybe this short story is an Easter Egg that Ripperologists were supposed to find.

For those that think that Charles Lechmere was Jack the Ripper, “A Story of Perversion” should be intriguing. That’s because it’s a story that tells the tale of one Charley Lechmere, a man who changes from an adoring suitor to someone much more bitter. What causes that bitterness? Something as trivial as advertisements if you take the plot literally. But, in this case, I think a literal translation might be shallow.

I think prostitution is between the lines in the story based on the setting at a night-time hotel and based on the fact that prostitution ran rampant in England at this period in history — as rampant as the advertisements so described in the story. I think that the content of the short story reveals growing animosity within the protagonist toward Hilda, who could be viewed as a representation of all prostitutes. Could be that’s got something to do with one Charles Lechmere, a historical figure with a strong circumstantial case against him for killing prostitutes.

It’s a weird coincidence to say the least.

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