8.21.2014

Many Confused Thoughts About Eren Being Published

I've been planning to write this post for a while, but every time I think about it I worry the words won't come out right. There's a lot of things I want to express but - despite being, y'know, a writer - it's difficult to capture certain things adequately. Maybe it's because I'm a writer, and I want to get it just right, and I know when the words are wrong, that I'm stumbling a bit.

Eren comes out next month, and although I've known this for a long time - that the book will be published, that it will be published on this particular day - the imminence has added an entirely new factor. It surprised me this week to realise that now, for the first time, I'm actually getting nervous - scared, even - about the whole thing.

The reality of Eren being a book has finally, actually hit me, and it all seems a bit insane. It's a book that's been with me - and only me, really - for so, so long. This thing, this idea of having a book published, has been my dream for all of my adult life so far (I am only 28, I know, but still...) and, honestly, so much of my childhood. I came to books late, but I latched upon the idea of sharing my books with the world pretty fast. I've spent years writing, dreaming, cursing and getting better. It's easy to look back; it was hard to look forward and see any future where Eren would be read. Now we're counting down to that future in days, not years, and ... I mean, what do you do with that?

This week, copies of Eren went out to book bloggers and reviewers, many of whom will be wonderful enough to write about it as part of a blog tour. I went shopping with my wife / sister-in-law (two people, not one. Come on, now) to buy things for the launch party. I signed the first actual copies of the book. I have an agent and and an editor (two, actually, thanks to a US deal) and a publicist and many other things that I always wanted but never really believed would happen. I'm so thankful for these people, who guide and support and challenge me.

And earlier this week, thinking about Eren and bookshops and readers, I was struck by a single thought:

What if they hate it? What if this doesn't work?

What if it's not very good?

I know it's normal to think all those things. I'm a pretty up-beat guy but still, as an author, it's usual to face doubts and fears about your work at some point. I know, also, that some people will hate the book. Some people will like it. That's how art works: it's a reflection of a world, but not the world, and that means people react differently. Putting something out in the world has to count for something, but Eren is an intensely personal thing - a part of me, I guess - and sharing that with strangers is ... odd.

I'm very, very happy that Eren will be read. I'm also somewhat unsure what that means. Is it my story, still? Am I over thinking things? (Probably). I've never done this before, and I never will again - not with a book like Eren.

So, these are my muddled, excited, nervous thoughts. I'm apprehensive and giddy. Maybe things like this are why writers get a bad name. Either way, the die is cast, and next month - 28 days' time! - Eren, my book, will be published, and from that point on I guess it won't be quite my book anymore.

It's going to be an interesting month.

8.13.2014

Review: There Will Be Bears by Ryan Gebhart

It's time for another review. As 2014 trundles on, the number of We Are One Four'ers whose books are actually out is slowly increasing, but one guy - Ryan Gebhart - was way ahead of the pack, publishing his debut novel back in April. There Will Be Bears, a coming-of-age-ish, dealing-with-life-ish middle grade adventure, won great praise from Kirkus and readers alike, and I've been meaning to see what all the fuss was about.

Well, now I have, and what a good thing it was.

First, a bit about the book:


Thirteen-year-old Tyson loves hanging out with his roughneck Grandpa Gene, who’s a lot more fun than Tyson’s ex–best friend, Brighton. These days, Bright just wants to be seen with the cool jocks who make fun of Tyson’s Taylor Swift obsession and dorky ways. So when Grandpa Gene has to move to a nursing home that can manage his kidney disease, Tyson feels like he’s losing his only friend. Not only that, but Tyson was counting on Grandpa Gene to take him on his first big hunt. So in defiance of Mom and Dad’s strict orders, and despite reports of a scary, stalking, man-eating grizzly named Sandy, the two sneak off to the Grand Tetons. Yes, there will be action, like shooting and dressing a six-hundred-pound elk. Is Tyson tough enough? There will be heart-pounding suspense: is Grandpa Gene too sick to handle the hunt, miles away from help? And, oh yes, there will be bears. . . .


I've said before that reading books by people you know - even if you only 'know' them online - is fraught with the potential for disaster. What do you do if you don't like a book? Leave an insipid review? Leave none? Lie?

Maybe one day I'll find out. Lucky for Ryan, I was engrossed by this book. So engrossed, in fact, that I failed to notice a man had come to a complete stop next to me, lawn mower still roaring away, because I was sat where he needed to work. Think you can't fail to notice heavy machinery just because you're reading? Think again - and here's why: This is a brilliant book. Tyson's an genuine and self-deprecating kid, one who's also disarmingly honest about himself and his life. He's not afraid to show how he feels, and that's a huge strength, even if it causes problems with his friends and family. Ryan's managed to capture something special here: a narrator who's just as self-obsessed as any thirteen year old, but one who's been forced to care about other things, too, and does so entirely believably. I guess the main question of the book is two-fold: Will Tyson end up alone, and will he go on the bear hunt that's been promised for so long? These two things - friendship and family, and the rite of passage - are big and important things, but that doesn't stop There Will Be Bears from being funny, witty, and down-to-earth. His friendship with Bright - his best friend for so long who seems to be changing - is one of the best things in this book, I think. It's captured well, right down to the awkwardness of feeling uncool even though you're doing things that used to be cool, the strange balance young guys have between needing friends and not wanting to admit it, and even the dumb in-jokes we all have that still mean so much. I've seen some readers draw back from Tyson's sexist or not-P.C. remarks when he's with his mates, or talking back to a teacher. I think anyone who's actually spent time with thirteen year olds will recognize these things for what they are: genuine world-building and solid characters. Is Tyson a bit of a jerk? Cocky? Well, yeah. He's also patient and self assured and oh my gosh the ending of this book is so good.

I'm not going to spoil it for you, so I spent most of this review focusing on the people and the writing. The plot, though - let me tell you quickly - is intense and balanced and just the right side of unpredictable. The title's no lie, I promise, but don't think you've got this book sussed: it's an adventure with real guts, a page-turner in the best sense.

So, yes. Big thumbs up for this book. Well done, Ryan - can't wait for your next one (There Will Be Bears II: There Were Bears? Think about it.)

***
Other Recent Reviews:

Hook's Revenge by Heidi Schulz
Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis

8.11.2014

Writing When You Know Nothing - The Art of Letting Go Blog Tour

How do you go about researching a book? Does it matter if things are accurate - cities, facts, the way things work? I'm turning over m'blog today to a fellow writer - a fellow debut writer - to answer just that question. Chloe Banks' debut novel, The Art of Letting Go, came out last month, and Chloe's already written some great posts on how failing made her better and the importance of a strong voice in writing.

The Art of Letting Go tells the story of Rosemary, whose peaceful seclusion is disrupted by the man she hoped she'd managed to be rid of decades earlier; only this time he’s lying in a coma and Rosemary must decide whether to let him live, or let him go. In the midst of her secret dilemma  she meets an abstract artist who is used to manipulating shapes and colours to make people see things differently. But what else is he manipulating? And can he help Rosemary see her own situation in a different light?

The Art of Letting Go is available as a paperback and an e-book here.

Now, over to Chloe...

****

If you gave me a lifetime to do it, I could never write a historical novel. I just know that within 48 hours of publishing the masterpiece that took a decade of painstaking research, somebody would be on Amazon telling the world that I am a buffoon for not realising a word I used on page 278 wasn’t invented until six months after the events in my book took place.

I do, however, want to write modern novels that are accurate. In The Art of Letting Go, my main character Rosemary spent the first three drafts happily running up and down steps cut into sandstone cliffs in Sussex. In draft four I checked the geology of that particular stretch of English coastline – it’s chalk not sandstone. Similarly, Rosemary regularly visited a hospice, right up until the moment my mother-in-law pointed out that I probably meant a private hospital, not a hospice. God bless in-laws who happen to be nurses.

All these minor details are one thing, whole areas of expertise are another. The Art of Letting Go might not be a historical romp or a police procedural, but it does have an abstract artist as one of the principal characters. I know nothing about art. In the first draft, I tried very hard to skirt round the subject of painting as much as possible – alluding to it, but never directly addressing it. And it was ridiculous. For something so fundamental to both character insight and theme, to avoid it would’ve made the whole novel pointless. So I set about reading.

I didn’t spend six months visiting the major European art galleries, but I did read a lot about abstract art movements. And as I researched, I found something odd. Not only was it enjoyable to be learning something new, but the story developed in ways I hadn’t imagined. Instead of using art to add a little detail to the narrative, art began to direct the narrative instead. As I read about how painters manipulated colour and shapes, I could see parallels with the way my characters manipulated people and situations. Art began to twist its way through the novel and hold it all together, creating a subtext I was barely aware existed in the first draft. I ended up having to cut the amount of art in the book, rather than add to it.

When I look back now, I wonder how I had the audacity to write a novel about something I know zilch about. And perhaps the answer is that I didn’t set out to write about art; I set out to tell the story of an artist. So while I’ll never perhaps choose to write in a genre that requires months of background reading, I now look forward to researching the ideas behind my latest projects (currently involving heart transplants, train derailments and arranged marriages). If nothing else it has the potential to make me sound more intelligent at parties. Who was the founder of neo-plasticism, you ask? Why, Piet Mondrian of course! So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read up on how to steer conversations on to the topic of 20th-century art movements. See you at the bar.

Do you enjoy research? Have you ever come across (or been responsible for!) details in a book that are just plain wrong?




Chloe Banks lives in Devon with her husband, son and an obsession with words. She started writing for a dare and forgot to stop until it was too late. She is a prize-winning short story writer and a first-time novelist, represented by The Andrew Lownie Literary Agency.

7.22.2014

Mountain - The Fourth Eren Tale

A quick note to say that the latest Eren Tale is now online. You can read MOUNTAIN, along with the first three tales, right here. Photographer Brandon Rechten's done another great job providing art for the story - see some below, and be sure to check out more of his work on his website.

You can also read a blog post about taking the photos and writing the story HERE.

Enjoy!



7.19.2014

Review: Hook's Revenge by Heidi Schulz

Hands down one of the best things about being a debut author is the friendship of other debut authors. Like terrified, ego-filled puppies, we stick together, watch each other, and generally make an interesting bunch (and yes, sometimes, a bit of a mess).

There's also quite a lot of books going back and forth.

A few months ago I reviewed Kat Ellis' BLACKFIN SKY. Now, I've had another chance to take a sneak-peek at an upcoming book - HOOK'S REVENGE by Heidi Schulz. Jealous? You totally should be.


First, a bit about Cap'n Heidi:

Heidi Schulz is a writer, reader, and giraffe suspicioner. She lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband, co-captaining a crew made of their teen daughter, a terrible little dog, and five irascible chickens. Her debut novel for middle grade readers, HOOK’S REVENGE, will be published by Disney•Hyperion on September 16, 2014. A sequel, HOOK’S REVENGE: THE PIRATE CODE, will follow in fall 2015. Bloomsbury Kids will publish her picture book debut, GIRAFFES RUIN EVERYTHING, in 2016.

And a bit about the book:

Twelve-year-old Jocelyn dreams of becoming every bit as daring as her infamous father, Captain James Hook. Her grandfather, on the other hand, intends to see her starched and pressed into a fine society lady. When she’s sent to Miss Eliza Crumb-Biddlecomb’s Finishing School for Young Ladies, Jocelyn’s hopes of following in her father’s fearsome footsteps are lost in a heap of dance lessons, white gloves, and way too much pink.

So when Jocelyn receives a letter from her father challenging her to avenge his untimely demise at the jaws of the Neverland crocodile, she doesn’t hesitate-here at last is the adventure she has been waiting for. But Jocelyn finds that being a pirate is a bit more difficult than she’d bargained for. As if attempting to defeat the Neverland’s most fearsome beast isn’t enough to deal with, she’s tasked with captaining a crew of woefully untrained pirates, outwitting cannibals wild for English cuisine, and rescuing her best friend from a certain pack of lost children, not to mention that pesky Peter Pan who keeps barging in uninvited.

Now for the interesting stuff - my review.

I got this book in the post last week. I have now finished this book and convinced two other people to read it. That should tell you a lot. It's a brilliant read - fast-paced, unpredictable, witty, and even a little moving (not that this sea-hardened rogue would ever admit to such emotions). Jocelyn's journey from bored ward to stifled student to - of course - adventuring pirate is wonderfully handled. I felt her pain at being cooped up, at feeling like Greater Things were going on without her, and I felt the relief when she finally managed to escape and chase her fortune. That's an important point to make, by the way - Jocelyn escapes, and is not rescued. She's strong, well rounded, and clever. She does what she needs to, fights for what she believes in, and spends the entire book demonstrating perfectly well that the best young women have no need for flying boys when they're already planning their next escapade. Heidi's writing is just right for this tale and I genuinely felt the itch to grab a sword, head for open water, and see what I could make of my life.

There's two things I want to especially praise about this book. The first is the narrator, and the second is the many minor characters that pepper the pages.

The narrator - a sarcastic, impatient, somewhat dark-humoured fellow who seems to know a bit too much about poison, daggers, and the best way to dispose of a body - has no time for children, no time for cats, and serves as a brilliant storyteller. I loved the voice Heidi's created, and the sense that you're sitting in a richly furnished room (perhaps with several questionable objects displayed. That gun above the fireplace couldn't really be loaded, could it? Could it? And that's not real blood on the map. That would be silly, right?) listening to a crotchety, but very clever, uncle. It drew me in and kept me laughing. For children, it's a great way to keep them gripped and never condescend. There's definitely a couple of jokes for the more grown-up readers among us, too.

The several minor characters that Jocelyn comes across - Miss Eliza, the king of the Karnapine people, and even the Neverland mermaids - are just as believable and well-written as Jocelyn. They're irritating, honest, sympathetic, and useful. Children's books can sometimes be bloated with extraneous characters, and it might have been tempting to do so when the whole of Neverland was at her disposal, but Heidi's created an entire world that's unique and alive. Heck, Neverland actually is alive in this book, and the few hints we get about its moods, its nature, and its sense of adventure, leave me wanting more. There's already a sequel planned, and I for one cannot wait.

Finally, Heidi's take on Peter Pan - and the fact he's mostly not in this story - was just right. Jocelyn has a quest, and it's a good, old fashioned Quest with a capital Q. She has to avenge her father's death, but she also has to learn about him, to find a link to the distant man she dreamed of, but one that might not be quite so perfect as she'd hoped. There's honesty in this book - about parents and their flaws, love and its limitations, and wishes and quite how tricky they can be. It's surprisingly mature, but then some of the best stories are, I suppose.

You can probably tell I liked this book.

Sadly for you, it's not out till September 14, 2014. For now, why not add Heidi on Twitter, and add HOOK'S REVENGE on Goodreads. You can also visit Heidi's rather snazzy website at http://heidischulzbooks.com/

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some treasure to steal polish.