Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How real is real-world fiction?

I've long loved to write and tell stories, but I've had a lot to learn, over the years, about how to write and tell stories. First there was that great head-teacher who made me choose between the pencil and microphone, thus teaching me to write. Then there was the brother who told me all fiction is lies, thus teaching me not to write. Then a friend suggested how wrong it was that people never go to the bathroom in children's novels. "Maybe they do in grown-up ones," she suggested. So I started to read the library  book under Mum's bed while I dusted her room. Nobody went to the bathroom there either. So I start to write "real" stories where every detail was told, and then I learned it's better to "show now tell," and then... Well, I learned, slowly. And people don't go to the bathroom much in my books, children's or adult's. After all, I don't tell how many breaths they take from morning to evening either.

But how real should novels be if they're set in the real world? I've read a fine collection of real-world, gritty-world, wounded-world novels recently, and they all feel real, and they're all very different from each other. Somehow I suspect it's the characters and the way we view the world through the characters' eyes that makes it real, but what do you think? Grab a coffee and read some book reviews while you decide.

First in my list is Hot Start by David Freed, another novel of aspiring Buddhist agent-turned-flight-instructor Cordell Logan, as he steps in, again, to help someone who can't (and rather seriously won't) help himself. The California heat, the heat of politics and murder, the warmth of unworkable love, or the purring warmth of the very strange cat called Kiddiot -- all of these combine in a tale of murder with multiple red herrings, scary dangers, flights to Europe and back, all told with Logan's convincingly low-key, gently humorous, self-deprecatingly natural written voice. Enjoy this smooth, warm read with a smoothly elegant and complex 4-star coffee.

Then there's Blacklist by Sara Paretsky, part of a much longer series, with serious popular acclaim. I'd already enjoyed the beginning of the series, but this novel will have a much more special place in my memory, combining present-day, post-911 concerns so effectively with McCarthyism of the past. The mystery is filled with twists and turns, the rooms are filled with rich and poor, and the reading is filled with thought-provoking dichotomies, and a welcome reminder that rushing to judgement is almost never right. Enjoy some more complex 4-star coffee with this literarily pleasing and complex tale.

The mystery is much smaller and more personal in Coincidences by Maria Savva, where a young woman searches for her father, inspired by strange dreams of a stranger on the news. Meanwhile her mother struggles with questions of how to hide daughter from the father who betrayed her. And a friend urges honesty. The story delves into issues of secrets and lies, protection and truth, and twists through its own strange coincidences on its way to a final resolution. Sometimes predictable, but filled with very real-world believable characters, it a good book to read over a well-balanced three-star coffee.

Finally a wonderfully English novel evokes the countryside in a way rarely seen, with dark honesty, intriguing personality, and hauntingly evocative description. The Burnt Fox by Neil Grimmett invites readers to explore the real world of caring for the rich, preparing for the hunt, country farming, isolation, forestry, and life away from the brutal misery of a council housing estate. Perhaps there's something brutal and miserable in old-world realities too, or something dark in this home, or maybe just the darkness of human nature. It's cool, dark, scary, humorous, and an absolute treat to read. Enjoy with some complex, elegant 4-star coffee.

Of all these worlds, the fourth might perhaps be most real and the first most thoroughly intriguing. But how real is your world?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Wish you could visit Krakow?

I love to collect guide books from places that I visit. I like them to have a nice mix of pictures and writing, and I like to feel I've maybe had a guided tour, even when I haven't. But I don't often read guide books to places I haven't visited, unless a good friend is sharing their joy in a trip.

I love to read fiction about fascinating characters, but I've never been so enthralled with biography. Real characters live such messy lives compared to those of fiction, their stories blurred by paths not taken, and their patterns and symbols jarring when too much is known. That said, I've read a few really great biographies, and one of them is first in today's list of book reviews...

Except, it's also a history book, and a guide book, and more. So... if you've ever regretted the fact that you'll probably never see Krakow, or if you're planning a visit, or if you want to know the longer history of the world Pope John Paul II grew up in - the historical and social dynamics that led to the miseries of Poland perhaps - or if you'd like to know more about a sainted Pope and his teaching, City of Saints – a pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow – by George Weigel is surely the book for you. Enjoy an amazingly smooth read, a deeply fascinating trip into history and geography, a genuinely interesting exposition of streets and buildings, and a wonderful quiet step into the life and works of a truly holy man. And drink some truly elegant 4-star coffee.

Where Love Begins  by Donna Fletcher Crow takes readers into the past of Methodism, another great Christian faith. The novel is fictional, though many of the characters and situations are real. And the theme of the rich and influential denying faith to the poor, administering weakness where God promises strength, might seem not so different. Where Love Begins is an enjoyable, thought-provoking historical romance, bound up in faith. Enjoy with some more elegant 4-star coffee.

Tracy Krauss' Neighbors is set in present-day America, in a neighborhood filled with everyday characters whose hurts and joys inspire a fine collection of stories. I've only read the short Volume 1, but already I like the people and want to know more. Enjoy these tales with some lively easy-drinking 2-star coffee.

Then there's Bellanok the Reluctant Savior by Ralene Burke, a novel that juxtaposes a pleasingly mythical version of Eden (replete with fairies, unicorns and more) with a darkly everyday earthen reality. Evil is invading Eden, and a human savior has been chosen. Not that the wounded Pastor Brian should care, as his faith in heaven's Savior begins to slip. The novel is only the first part of a much larger story, but it's an intriguingly different tale, easily read, and well-suited to an easy-drinking 2-star coffee.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What genre do you publish?

Strangers, on learning that I'm a published author, frequently ask, "What do you write, then?" They probably want me to answer with a nice simple genre - mysteries say - and I almost wish I could oblige. But instead I tell them I write novels and children's fiction, then elaborate, if they ask, with the fact that my second novel, Infinite Sum, has just been released, and that I have children's books with two different publishers. One children's series (with almost enough books now for a book-a-month club) is the Five-Minute Bible Story series, published by Cape Arago press. And the other is a series of animal stories from Linkville press, with only one book (Tails of Mystery) out so far.

My tangled answer got me wondering, do we ask publishers what genre they publish? Technically we authors research our publishers, determine they have an interest in the sort of thing we write, and then submit. But what if the publisher's interests are as eclectic as our own.

I decided to read some books from Linkville Press and see what else they publish, besides my sweet animal tales. So choose your coffee, fill your mug, and pick your next book to read.

Fate’s Crossing by J. R. Smith has the feel of a California-based Shannara, with a modern-day student traveling to California and finding far more than she expected.The story's stold with pleasing humor, and enticing touches of mystery, and Liana slowly learns there is far far more to her life than the surface allowed. It's a complete enough story in itself, but it's clearly part one of something bigger. Enjoy its light-hearted tone with some 2-star easy-drinking coffee. But darkness awaits.

Killing from the Inside by Bea Brugge is a much darker tale, inviting readers into the wounded mind of a serial killer. The splatter-movie road-trip feeling is counterbalanced by a dogged detective seeking to catch his criminal, and the somewhat haunted touch of a love interest. But it's a truly dark tale, best enjoyed with a seriously dark 5-star coffee.

A novel in a very different genre is The East End Beckons by Ian Parson, which recreates a well-researched and fascinating world of Cornwall and London in the 1800s, as governments bow down to the rich, globalization threatens livelihoods, and the poor are reluctantly drawn into politics. It's a world not so different from today, and it's deeply enthralling. Enjoy this complex tale with some complex 4-star coffee.

Then there's Different ways of being by Alan Balter, another very different novel that invites readers into the world of the Deaf - not a people deprived of hearing, so much as a people differently gifted than the rest of us. The novel explores other "handicaps" too - from mental illness to paraplegia. It's filled with fascinating facts, making it a curious blend of fiction and information, but it's a fascinating read that will leave you thinking you've really met some of the characters. Enjoy with some complex 4-star coffee.

Then, of course, there's my beloved Tails of Mystery, wagging their way toward volume two, a Nose For Adventure. I guess my publisher's answer to "What genre do you publish?" will be as mixed as my answer to "What genre do you read?" But perhaps that's not so surprising. After all, will you answer with one simple word when I ask, what genre do you read?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Will You Identify With These (Prime) Characters?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Dan O'Brien to my blog. His new book, first in a new series, is about to come out. It's called Sixth Prime and... well, it's sci-fi, mystery, galactic war, and... well, and something different, plus that interesting question, are you Prime? So, over to Dan, and thank you for visiting my blog.

When I started writing Sixth Prime, I decided early on to do something very deliberate: I would make half the main characters female; I would make sure the personalities better reflected the myriad of the human experience; and I would describe characters without using skin color or any physical identifiers.
You might be wondering: what exactly is the point of that?
Women represent half the population
I would be remiss if I ignored the statistics right in front of me. 82% of readers are female, so why wouldn't you include female characters when so many readers are women. I don't mean the traditional roles of queens and romantic interests; I'm talking about adventurers and villains, scientists and soldiers, and everything in between. The goal should be to tell the best possible story. I waited until I had outlined everything, and then randomly assigned characters as men and women (this includes romantic relationships as well, so buckle your seatbelts).
Personality guides behavior and decision-making.
I went to graduate school for psychology, and as such I've always had a fascination with why people do what they do. This, naturally, translated into thinking about how I could smuggle personality psychology into a narrative. The Prime saga, beginning with Sixth Prime, is an attempt to do just that. I wanted readers to feel like they were represented by one of the characters in such a way that the decisions and consequences felt more real to them.
The reader should decide how the characters look.  
I know it's a long shot, but maybe (just maybe) the Prime Saga becomes a movie or limited series. I bring this up because nothing is worse than people arguing how characters should look or the kinds of actors or actresses who should play them. Really, even if an adaptation is not in order, I love the idea of people coming to their own conclusions about how a character should look based on their choices, personality, and behavior. I want the characters to be defined by how they make readers feel; I want a reader to be able to see themselves in the character and as the character.
 I agree with you Dan. Even when the author tells me what a character looks like, I still frequently end up with an entirely different image. And seeing yourself in the character is half the fun. So... reading Sixth Prime should be a lot of fun. Good luck with the release.

A war brews as a galaxy struggles to maintain a peace treaty signed in haste. The Commonwealth boasts sprawling cities built upon slums. The Sovereignty has placed the yoke of industry upon its citizens. Sixteen men and women are connected in a way they cannot yet understand. A murder of a prominent artist begins a chain of events that will ultimately determine the fate of the universe.
Only thirteen will remain.
In the end, there can be only one Prime.
Are you a Prime?

If you're looking for something to read, Dan has a really cool preview plus excerpt at https://authordanobrien.com/2016/06/15/preview-of-sixth-prime/ I really recommend it!


It's coming soon... but you can already pre-order the Kindle version for only $2.99 http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01ENLPOVG