Concept: Everything from Western fairy tales, fables, and myths is real. The powers of good and evil, light and dark, are locked in an eternal struggle that goes all the way back to the beginning of time. A modern day woman finds herself wrapped up in the war as she discovers she has the power of influence, to command the light and the dark, but the other side of that coin is she has become a target.
Execution: Do nothing that is obvious. Subvert expectations time and again. Build a rich, alluring world that incorporates fantastical elements of old Anglo-Saxon cultures to modern urban contemporaries. Create unique characters based on familiar ideas. Entertain. Stimulate the intellect. Cut the fat and reject nonsense. Tell a simple, powerful story that’s never been told before.
My experience in reading Frightfully Ever After by Nick DeWolf had a recurring theme, which was to be continually impressed by how incredibly imaginative it is. Originality and creativity are planted firmly in the driver’s seat. In trying to analyze the experience, I kept thinking of words like “alluring,” “captivating,” and “immersive.” I’ll no doubt use those words multiple times as I write this.
Though not a tome—and by fantasy standards, it’s relatively short—it secretes imagination. Cracking this book open, breaking its spine for the first time, I had to wonder if this thing was bound in the bone marrow of Beowulf or Edgar Allan Poe.
At the beginning of this year, I teased some big things. I learned a lesson in teasers: It’s not a good idea unless the things you’re teasing are definite. Many of my hopes for 2016 haven’t quite panned out. I finished my second novel, but I’ve struggled to find a home for it. I’ve also finished some solid short stories, but it’s been a mix of rejection and taking a long time to hear back.
I get it. I’m shooting for the stars, and it takes a long time for even light to travel through interstellar space.
However, in the face of a disappointing 2016 (seriously, has anyone had a good 2016?), one of those things I teased (something big regarding Carrier) is definitely happening.
That’s an interior proof. But wait, wasn’t Carrier already published? Yes.
I’m sitting here at my desk, and instead of working on moving my WIPs to the “Ready for Humiliation” folder, I’m staring at my bookshelf. I’m gazing at the spines of Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy, and I’m thinking about reading them again.
I recently finished the third book, The City of Mirrors, and it’s one of few trilogies that I can legitimately, honestly say I loved. It has everything (well, many things) I look for in fiction: a fantastical, alluring world; rich mythology; risky storytelling; deep characters; solid writing that is at times literary; complexity in just about everything. In a word: depth.
I loved it, but I’m not thinking about reading it again only because of how I felt about it. You see, The Passage is one of the only trilogies or series I bought into immediately. I can’t recall any others that I picked up before they were all completely written. And Justin Cronin isn’t cranking out a new novel every quarter. He’s putting three or four years of his life into a book, and that’s a lot of time for a reader between books. But it’s part of the reason they are so good.
I’m increasingly of the mind that good fiction cannot be rushed out the door, that authors need to live in their worlds and with their characters to truly grant them the substance they need to create meaning and allow readers to leave and take with them whatever it is they find there in those pages.
Granted, I know plenty of authors who put out really good work annually and semi-annually. Those people are freaks.
I watched a History Channel documentary series on the World Wars this weekend, so that basically makes me a history buff. It’s interesting to me, however, that I decided to sit down and watch the entire thing during the weekend preceding Veterans Day. It offered me a bit of an epiphany I’d like to share.
Most people know about the trench warfare and mustard gas of World War I, and most people know about Hitler and the terrible, terrible Holocaust. But these conflicts were the most deadly in human history, and the circumstances surrounding them were very complex.
When we talk about the World Wars, we don’t often mention Stalin or Mussolini. We talk about the Japanese Empire, but usually in the context of Pearl Harbor or the bombs that ended the war. We don’t often talk about the Treaty of Versailles and how it sowed such resentment in the German people that Hitler was able to capitalize on it. We don’t talk about how the Great Depression made everything worse or how FDR’s New Deal saved the U.S. economy but weakened its military and how Britain did essentially the same.
We don’t talk about the precariousness of the edge that the world was on.
Reading Rich Hawkins’ novella, Black Star, Black Sun, is a bit like waking up and finding the world has already been consumed by fire, and the final embers are burning the ashen remains. It is a fearless journey into an abyss of despair.
Why would anyone want to read that? Because it’s hauntingly beautiful.
We begin with Ben Ottway returning to his hometown, a small village in England, after the mysterious disappearance of his wife, but this is no thriller with plot twists you can see coming a mile away or that are surprising because they’re utter nonsense. Ben’s wife is gone, and the point is his world has ended, yet he fights it and remains hopeful.
As I walked among the cosplayers dressed as slasher idols and evil deadites, the people wearing death metal or obscure B-horror t-shirts, one thought kept going through my mind: These are my people.
For all of the fascination with murder and the macabre and the gore make-up, I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a place where there was more kinship and acceptance, where it didn’t matter who or what you were, just that you shared similar passions. Everyone had come for a single, unified purpose: to have a great time.
It’s been almost a month since I put The King of Clayfield by Shane Gregory down, and it’s lingered with me all this time. I don’t attribute its staying power to any raw emotional experience I had with it, nor do I find its relentless grip in any particular shock or horror. The King of Clayfield sticks with me to this day because I’ve yet to be able to truly pin it down. Certain stories fall clearly within a genre, adhering to established guidelines and rules. The King of Clayfield is somewhat unique in that it flows naturally, as if it were grounded in reality instead of someone’s imagination.
Of course, The King of Clayfield has many imaginative and creative elements, but while it isn’t strictly an epistolary, it reads almost like a journal. Shane’s prose is no-nonsense, written in natural language. At times, it may be reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy. He steps out of the way and lets his character tell the story. What’s notable here is that, in my experience with first-person narratives, I’ve found many writers tend to overdo this. They adopt certain tendencies to attempt to force the voice through. Shane doesn’t. The difference is he seems to trust his story and his characters to be interesting rather than trying to make or contrive intrigue. The aspect that interests me the most, though, is that The King of Clayfield is almost formless in its presentation. It is anything but formulaic, but it isn’t without structure or deliberate momentum. It doesn’t lull, but it doesn’t force action. It doesn’t adhere to the typical “three rising actions, climax, resolution,” but it follows a logical pattern of building tension to a powerful and satisfying conclusion.
Amid personal distractions, big events, work, and other happenings, I didn’t get to read as much in 2014 as I would have liked. But I did read some really good books that I connected with in ways that either surprised me or continue to affect me. Please note, I read some really good stuff this year, and these are just the books that struck a personal nerve.
Without further ado, here are my favorite novels that I read in 2014.
When I picked up Autumn Moon by Slade Grayson, I was excited because I couldn’t remember the last time I had read a werewolf novel that I enjoyed. Autumn Moon is enjoyable, satisfying, and so much more. It contains a world full of almost-magical intrigue and allure and a narrative that keeps moving logically and naturally to a fulfilling conclusion.
I think the thing I appreciated most about Autumn Moon is it seems self-aware. I’ve come to this novel with the knowledge that it will contain werewolves, and Slade never is coy with that idea. It might seem disingenuous to treat the revelation of the shapeshifters as some great mystery, and while there is a moderate surprise, it isn’t overdone. Mainly, it seems to be for the characters’ benefit, not for ours, a case of dramatic irony that is handled expertly.
When I finished Deep Black Sea, I found myself dwelling on its strengths. Of course, not many works are without faults, but there are some really powerful elements here that I found creative, interesting, and entertaining.
One of Deep Black Sea’s greatest strengths is its foundation of plausibility. In a nutshell, the United States elects a new president who effectively guts NASA’s funding for a mission to Mars in favor of pursuing deep-water research. While such a broad and far-reaching decree in a democratic society is unlikely, it isn’t an unfamiliar point of consternation in the scientific community: the idea that we should understand our own planet before we explore others, and we still know so little about life at the bottom of the ocean.