With my hand on the wheel and my brain in neutral . . .

Archive for June, 2015

Helen Spring and the IBB

The Indie Book Boosters Club has a number of pretty good writers, but my favorite among them so far is Helen Spring.   I don’t believe she’ll take exception if I say that although her writing is not absolutely perfect or awe-inspiringly beautiful, it is certainly impressive!   When you read her books, you will wonder why she isn’t already more famous. You will think of other, more widely-known authors you’ve picked up and put down, and you will wonder why aren’t her books already overflowing out of airport kiosks?

From my review of her Strands of Gold:

I found myself reading it way past my bedtime and then going right back to it with my morning coffee.   Pretty quickly I realized that the author is a true storyteller: she pulls you in and makes you want to discover what happens next. It is apparent that she spent a lot of time imagining the characters and details of the story, impressive in its thoroughness, exactly enough to make it all feel quite real.

Repeatedly I thought of how, as a young reader many years ago, I would be absorbed into a novel and transported to a new world. On the surface this story is about a proper English woman in Singapore and Australia circa 1900, but the undercurrent is about timeless, universal ideas of integrity, loyalty, perspectives of truth, and more.   There’s a love story in here, too, and it’s more than just a popcorn romance tale: I’m recommending this book to my niece for the examples of strong-hearted women and what really matters in love.

It is apparent that the author is comfortable with her craft and her self-image as a novelist: the writing is not at all self-conscious or clumsy. Her use of dialogue is better than average, her plot and sub-plots are well-executed, and her characters are portrayed with all the complexities of real people. To top it off, because her heroes are such likeable people, she – the author who created them – is quite likeable, too.

Strands of Gold by Helen Spring

From my review of her The Chainmakers:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Helen Spring is a true storyteller!

99 percent of this book flows through your eyes and into your mind as easily and comfortably as the thoughts of a daydream. The author writes with enough skill that 99 percent of the time you read and believe the fiction as fact, like you’re the proverbial fly on the wall absorbing it all.

Her characters are distinct, complex, and layered with maturity as the story progresses. She has villains with redeeming graces and heroes with faults, and she portrays both in wholly believable fashion. She made me care about what happened to the characters not simply out of curiosity but because I LIKED them as if they were real people, my friends or acquaintances in real life. That’s a neat trick, and it is books like this one that fuel a reader’s desire to search out another good book. This is why I’ve been telling friends who like to read to give this author a try whether or not her books are in their favorite genre.

The Chainmakers by Helen Spring

So why am I posting this on my blog? Because that’s what we in the Indie Book Boosters Club do: we help other indie authors we respect and admire. Why?   Because as Sophocles said, “If we always helped one another, no one would need luck.”

Note: If you like her books, and especially if you agree that she deserves big success as an author, please go to Amazon (or Amazon.co.uk, or whichever branch you use) to post a review for her. Thank you!

PS – If you like a good read, or if you have friends who like a good read, please tell them about Helen Spring.  If you’re a fellow blogger here on WordPress, please repost this!  If you like the indie spirit, or if you’re an indie writer yourself, please repost this!  Woo-hoo!

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In Defense of Vampires, Ghosts, Dragons, and Other Things That Go Slash in the Night

Yondu Udonta, Guardians of the Galaxy

Yondu Udonta, Guardians of the Galaxy

A surprising percentage of people all over the world don’t know this, but the thing about vampires, ghosts, visiting aliens, and all kinds of other so-called imaginary beings, is that if you look at them directly, you cannot see them. It has something to do with the human eye and how the brain interprets the biochemical visual signals: it’s partly why sailors know to look just a tad to the left and right of a target far off on the water to prevent it from “disappearing.”

Some of the time – actually most of the time – if you want to show somebody something that will scare him, it works well if you use the sailor’s trick and show him something a little to the left or right of the reality you want him to see. People so easily accept something they almost see out of the corner of their eye (“What was that?”), much more so than something they don’t want to see, even when it is right there in front of them (“Um, ya, uhh, ya, okay, I love you, now c’mon over here . . .”)

Here’s a great example from the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, y’know, the movie with the man from Earth boppin’ around the galaxy with a talking raccoon warrior, a walking, one-sentence-talking tree, a green-skinned woman assassin, and . . . well, go watch the movie! Here’s the dialogue from the scene that is a great example of the usefulness of stories of spacemen, vampires, ghosts, dragons, wizards, and the like:

Yondu Udonta: When I picked you up as a kid, these boys wanted to eat you. They ain’t never tasted Terran before. I saved your life!

Peter Quill: Oh, will you shut up about that? God! Twenty years, you’ve been throwing that in my face, like it’s some great thing, not eating me! Normal people don’t even think about eating someone else! Much less that person having to be grateful for it!

It wouldn’t have been very interesting at all, and it probably would have made many in the audience lose interest in the bigger story, if instead the “step-father” figure had said, instead of “I didn’t let them eat you,”, just “I put a roof over your head and fed you!” The not-letting-them-eat-you un-reality deftly carries the larger reality of the following line, “Normal people don’t even think about . . . (fill in the blank with your own family / relationship issue.)

Sometimes to see, or show, the forest through the trees . . . well, sometimes you gotta go left to get right.

Want a much more powerful example? Well, remember the gods of Greek and Roman mythology? Or all the parables of the Christian Bible? (I’m not attacking Christianity here; I’m just saying that as a story it certainly has many elements that can be considered fantastic, magical, metaphysical, and the like.) Millions, no, billions of people have read the Bible (religion in story format), but how many of them have read or can even name just one treatise on religious dogma (in academic, informational, or theological format?) No doubt about it, stories rule.

Sometimes the more fantastic, the more unbelievable a story is on the surface, the more human truth it holds, and the more powerful it is. So, if you don’t already have respect for ghosts, vampires, dragons, wizards, demons, aliens, and the like, just remember, sometimes you gotta go east to get West.

A Great Opening Line

“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

This was written by John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars (36,000 reviews on Amazon, and made in to a movie, too. Ya, it’s pretty good.) This is not the book’s opening line, but it could have been. It would function well for any of several genres: romance, coming of age, even vampires or a murder mystery! Regardless of your favorite genre, from this line alone, don’t you want to read more of the author’s writing?

I came across this line, this quote, somewhere on the internet – Pinterest, Instagram,   Facebook, wherever – and I made a note of it because it did its job: it pulled me in gently but firmly. It is credible, relatable, has a touch of poetic vision, and implicitly carries the promise of a story that matters, a story that is important, maybe even pivotal, even if only to the fictional characters and the author. All of this, contained in just 15 words . . . oh ya, this book has got to be worth reading!

An opening that is at least good is essential; a good opening line makes what follows all the more inviting; a great opening line is irresistible.

Two Old Men of Iron and One Not-So-Old Man of Polish Sausage

Ya, I did that teak!

Lately I’ve been working on the teak cap and hand rails on a 104-foot power yacht, and I’ve been having a hard time keeping up with my workmates, an 86-year-old man and a 74-year-old-man. I’m not kidding: every day, long after I’d be ready for a break, long after I’d ask them if they’d like me to fetch drinking water “for them”, they’d shoot me a quick glance and say, “Less talk, more work.” Sweat would be dripping off our faces, sweat would soak our shirts not damp but downright wet, and as we walked we would trail a cloud of teak dust. Eventually, finally, we’d break for lunch. These old doogans were working machines!

Once, going to lunch, I told them every night I went home and cried myself to sleep because they were Men of Iron and in comparison I was just a Boy Made of Polish Sausage and French Crepes. Telling them that opened the door, or should I say, opened their mouths.  After lunch, and for days, they ran with the joke:

“Hey, Sausage! You got the box of paper?”

“Hey, Scrapple! . . . ”

“Hey, Hamburger! . . . ”

“Hey, Ground Beef . . .”

“Hey, Chopped Liver. . .”

“Hey, Peanut Butter and Jelly . . .” followed quickly by “No, no Peanut Butter – just Jelly.”

“Hey, Soup . . .” and “No, not Soup – just Broth!” and “What’s that Mexican cold soup? Gar-bage-bo?”

“Hey, Puddin’ . . .”

“Hey, Jello . . . ”

(Note: I’m not using their names or photos ’cause they both hate the internet and love their privacy.)

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