Thursday, April 20, 2017

Guest post by Peter Gray, author of Telemachus



Hey everyone, today you get to hear from a real author on this blog. I mean, I guess Anna and I are authors in that we co-author The Wood Between the Worlds, but today you get to hear from an author who actually has a book published. 

Peter Gray's novel Telemachus won first place in the 2016 Writer's Digest Self-Published E-book Awards, and the book has gotten great reviews. 

Here's what the author says about how this story came about:



To make a writer

by Peter Gray, author of Telemachus


Telemachus: how did it come about?

For someone who has spent a long career treating Thoroughbred horses - for everything from infertility to racing performance - the transformation to writer has been a long, unlikely and tenuous road.  

I started dabbling with a pen back in the Seventies, realized my talents weren’t exactly ripe, but doggedness convinced me to continue.  I have read a lot of fiction, but always with reservations about copying style or ideas.  It was my aim, if I was ever to succeed, to have a voice that would be distinct and not depend on anyone else’s ideas – even subconsciously. 

In the Nineties, I was approached to write some equestrian books for J A Allen, in London.  That was easy, as I was familiar with the subject matter.  But it wasn’t real writing, in my view, even if there would be a total of 12 books. 

I have a myriad of projects here I started but never managed to get an agent or publisher to read.  I took literature classes, but with a terrible determination not to be influenced by others. 

There were bits of encouragement.  An agent told me I had ‘a voice’; another could see seeds in incubation.  When my Dad died, I wrote some blank verse and they said I was a poet.  I’m not a poet.

Then Telemachus slipped into being; created in a moment of sadness, but fun.  It didn’t take long to write, perhaps longer to refine, but the story poured out and I enjoyed every moment.  I could laugh at my previously undiscovered imagination.

When finished, it was still just my bit of fun and no one else would want to read it.  Classified as ‘rubbish’ by members of my family, even my own children raised their eyebrows and tut-tutted.

I thought of putting it on Amazon, but was afraid I wouldn’t do it properly; needed an independent opinion by someone qualified who would be objective, truthful and professional about it.  But where would I find someone like that and how costly would it be? 

Then I came across a website that offered the whole package for a sum that looked inviting.  They would proof-read, edit, format, help with cover design, write blurbs, advise on marketing, place it on Amazon – all for a figure that was less than the cost of a professional edit.  I submitted a Word file on a Sunday afternoon and, incredibly, had a response within an hour.  The proposition looked ‘very promising’, they said.  

Two days later, I had a seven page free assessment that was glowing as well as comprehensive.  I sent this to two of my children and both screamed ‘fraud’.  Still, I decided to gamble and felt the book would be ready with an edit.  It was the best gamble ever; my work was published on Amazon within two months. 

The person responsible for the service had had a long career in publishing and certainly knew about books.  He has since been accused of fraud, but I owe him a debt of gratitude.  He died and was no fraudster, just a man trying to secure his family in the knowledge he was going to die – I suspect. 

It was my intention taking the book down if it got bad reviews, but, surprisingly, they were positive from the start.  People liked the quality of the writing, the intricacies of the story, the underlying mystery of it all.  But I was stunned when I got the report from the Writer’s Digest judge, which almost duplicated the publisher’s assessment and even went a bit further.  To be told ‘ – the depth of the allegory is astounding’ was unreal.  

Telling me it was ‘an achievement’ – and a winner for mainstream literary fiction - meant I had finally got to where I wanted.

Maybe I can call myself ‘a writer’ now! 


Now that you know the backstory, check out Telemachus by Peter Gray


Here's what one reader says about it: 
"The encyclopedia of useless detail" – fantastic.  I enjoy your prose, and the crafting that has clearly gone into this.  Your inner monologues are wise and astute, never boring.  The depth of the allegory is pretty astounding.  This is such a rare quality.  The parallels you draw with issues of divorce, child-rearing, leadership and community are beautifully done."



Until tomorrow.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Crystal Castle by John D. Ashton

Title: Crystal Castle
Author: John D. Ashton
Publication Date: October 24 2016
Number of Pages: 190
Buy: Amazon

What Goodreads has to say:

Gabriel sits by his fire awaiting the arrival of each member of his fellowship. They do not know of him nor of the epic journey that lies ahead. Brought together by forces unknown, they travel across the vast landscape of New Earth on their quest to bring to an end the evil reign of the mysterious Ruler of the Crystal Castle. During their treacherous journey, which is plagued by the cruel, dark power of the Ruler, they find friendship and love, but also suffer great loss and witness untold horrors as they move closer to the infamous Crystal Castle. Gabriel knows that this mission is his fellowship's destiny, but will they be strong enough to succeed?

What I have to say:

Crystal Castle intrigued me from the moment I read the blurb. What's not to love about a group of unlikely heroes on an epic quest to destroy evil and save the world? Reminiscent of stories like Lord of the Rings, Sword of Shannara (but I repeat myself), and Mistborn, Crystal Castle is an adventure in the mythic, archetypal sense, with relatable characters and an action-packed story-line.

The setting is New Earth: a conglomeration of desert wastelands, undead swamps, frontier towns, and rugged mountains. The landscape and world-building were probably my favorite elements of the story. Looking back, it's cool how diverse New Earth is - both in its terrain and its residents. I especially liked the western-town/steampunk-esque feel of Silvergold, one of the towns the main characters pass through on their adventures. Kind of made me think of a Dr. Who episode, which was cool.

I also appreciated how the action was realistic and easy to get caught up in (though some of the main characters were surprisingly good with guns). On the whole the action felt real and the fight sequences had a sense of urgency that worked really well. 

Overall, this is a great story, and the fact that it's a debut makes it that much more impressive. There were a couple things I would have liked to see more of, though. For one thing, while the romance elements were nice, I felt like they kind of came out of nowhere. I guess sometimes that's how it works, but I would have liked a little more buildup before some of the main characters fell madly in love with each other. 

Personally, I also would have appreciated a little more resolution at the end. There were a few questions the story raised that I felt never really got answered (unless I missed it, which is entirely possible). The book is a quick read, which makes it fun. But if the author could have fleshed out some of the story's elements a little more, I think it would have made the novel stronger and more engaging. As an author myself, though, fleshing out the story is something I struggle with, so who am I to point fingers? 

Anyway, if you're looking for a gritty adventure story with a mythic element and plenty of humorous exchanges, check out Crystal Castle.


Rating: 


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Cool Tolkien art

Hey, hope everyone's Thursday is shaping up all right.

Why don't you take a break from whatever you're doing (homework, chores, competing in the Hunger Games) to check out this awesome graphic novel version of the first part of The Silmarillion:
J.R.R. Tolkien’s AinulindalĂ«


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Butterbeer ice cream


Sounds like the single best thing ever invented, right?

Yuengling's Ice Cream just released the flavor this week. It's supposedly available in grocery stores nation wide.

So go get some and let's party like we just got our acceptance letters to Hogwarts.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Quickly: 6 things about Beauty and the Beast


If you haven't seen it yet, go. I'm not saying Disney's new Beauty and the Beast film is perfect, or that you won't be disappointed at all, but overall it's a great film, and full of magic. I thought I'd mix things up a little with something that's not a straightforward review. Here's a {spoiler-free} list of 6 things you'll learn from the new Beauty and the Beast film:


1. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are great actors and highly attractive people - they just can't sing.

Sound of Music much?

Yeah. We all saw it coming, and basically it was what we expected. Emma Watson makes a fantastic Belle, and who doesn't love Dan Stevens as the Beast? There's just one problem: it's a musical. 

Some of the supporting actors have pretty good voices: Luke Evans isn't bad as Gaston, and Kevin Kline's brief solo is surprisingly good. Emma Thompson can sing well enough to play Mrs. Potts, and Audra McDonald is great as Garderobe (because McDonald actually sings). 

But, sadly, Emma and Dan don't quite pull it off. A great orchestra helps them out in the big moments of the score, but it can't take them all the way. Do I wish Disney had cast better singers in the roles? I'm not sure. It's a trade-off, I guess. 

2. LeFou is more complicated than we thought, but not quite as funny.


Don't get me wrong - he's still funny. And I couldn't have picked a better actor than Josh Gad to play Gaston's buffoonish sidekick. But Gad takes the character in a different direction. He's not just an imbecile, and he has character development. Also, yes, he's gay. But I think the press has made that into a bigger deal than it actually is in the film.

3. Gaston is sort of likeable.


I mean until he ties Maurice up to a tree and leaves him to the wolves. I almost liked the guy. And I loved the "Gaston" scene in the tavern. It was one of the highlights of the film. Dancing on the table a la Newsies = yes.

4. We should all return to 18th century French fashions.


Also yes are every single one of Belle's dresses, Gaston's overcoat, and pretty much anything that anyone wears in the entire movie. The visuals are gorgeous, from the set and landscape shots to the costumes, camera angles, and lighting. As a piece of visual artistry, it's perfect. 

The ballroom scene - !!!

5. This isn't the Beauty and the Beast you think you know.


JK, it totally is. I mean they changed a few lines here and there, added a couple brief songs, and mixed some scenes up a little, but for the most part it's pretty much the original cartoon replayed with live actors. I was kind of hoping they'd throw in the song "If I Can't Love Her" from the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast, but they didn't. They did give the Beast a new song, but in my opinion it was a little on the lame side. 

Overall, though, I loved what they did with the story. Of course I loved the courage and little personality touches that Emma Watson brought to Belle, making her an inventor like her father and emphasizing her love of Shakespeare and such (Shakespeare!). And the orchestral score was breathtaking. (Bum bum bum bum bum bum bum! [bum] Bum bum bum bum bum bum bum! [bum] Bum bum bum bum, bum bum bum bum, bum bum bum bum bum....bbuummm...... OK I'm done.)

6. To love another person is to see the face of God.


So enough from me. Go see the movie.



Until tomorrow.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert

Hey folks,

Here's another theatre review for you (since those have been few and far between on this blog so far). FPA's C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert is currently playing in New York, but if it follows the pattern of FPA's previous productions, it will probably go on tour after a little while. If you're a fan of C. S. Lewis (as I think many of you are) it's worth seeing.


Theater Review • March 2017

C.S. LEWIS ONSTAGE: THE MOST RELUCTANT CONVERT. Photo by Jeremy Daniel
C. S. Lewis is arguably the most important Christian writer of the 20th century. His large number of works include The Chronicles of NarniaThe Great Divorce, and The Screwtape Letters, and his influence on modern Christian thought is incalculable. But for much of his early life, Lewis was a decided atheist.

In C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert, the newest production from Fellowship for Performing Arts, Lewis’ early atheism and conversion to Christianity take center stage. Written and performed by Max McLean, who also co-directs the play with Ken Denison, The Most Reluctant Convert chronicles Lewis’ journey toward belief: beginning in his early childhood and closing when he takes Communion at age 33, when Lewis firmly declares: “I now believe.”

The play takes place in Lewis’ Study at Magdalen College in Oxford, where he served as an English tutor for many years. The year is 1950, just before the publication of Lewis’ first Narnian story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Taking cues from recordings of Lewis’ voice and accounts of his behavior, McLean convincingly and endearingly enacts the Oxford don as he tells the audience about his stubborn struggle to keep God out of his life, and his extreme reluctance to accept the Christian faith. Of his eventual defeat, Lewis says: “I [was] perhaps, the most… reluctant convert in all of England.”

Far from what you might expect in a play with only one character and setting, The Most Reluctant Convert doesn’t feel limited in its action. Thanks in part to changing image projections, and in part to McLean’s acting abilities, the story moves successfully from Lewis’ childhood home in Ireland, to the Surrey countryside, the WWI trenches, and the University of Oxford. The dialogue is also offset by brief pauses, lighting changes, and musical interludes. In addition, McLean makes use of the whole stage: sitting at Lewis’ desk, walking up and down the study, pouring a glass of wine, and settling in the armchair at center stage.

It’s a great credit to McLean and his artistic team that, in a play that’s really just one long monologue, the audience never gets bored or restless. That being said, audience members may find themselves briefly zoning out from time to time, and with a script largely drawn from Lewis’ own writings, it’s nearly impossible to catch everything that’s said. If viewers want more, though, they can go to the source material listed in the program notes. And no matter how many times the audience zones out, McLean always brings them back.

Hosted by the Acorn Theatre and Theatre Row, the play is a must-see for fans of C. S. Lewis, and sure to interest and inspire both skeptics and believers alike. Whether you’re a Christian, an atheist, something in the middle, or something else entirely, The Most Reluctant Convert speaks to you where you are – much like C. S. Lewis himself.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Just add dragons: Dragon's Future by Kandi J. Wyatt


Title: Dragon's Future (Dragon Courage # 1)
Author: Kandi J. Wyatt
Publication Date: August 10 2015
Publishing Company: Booktrope/Updrift
Number of Pages: 262
Buy: Amazon

What Goodreads has to say:

Every child of Woolpren dreams of becoming one, but only a few are chosen. Now, ten-year-old twin brother and sister, Ruskya and Duskya, have been selected to join an elite group of riders: dragon riders. Full of awe and excitement, the twins leave their mother, and their home, to train for their new lives.

Fifteen years later, dragons are becoming extinct and riders are rare. One day, Ruskya is at the general store in town when a man announces that he is recruiting new dragon riders. Ruskya goes undercover, and discovers that there is another colony of riders with their own agenda—a quest to find a mysterious plant that could restore the dragon population, or destroy it. When a battle erupts between the two colonies, it’s up to Ruskya and his friends to fight for their dragons’ future, and their lives.

Follow Ruskya’s quest as he finds courage and friendship in this exciting middle grade fantasy series by new author Kandi J Wyatt.

What I have to say:

Dragon's Future is a fun little story about family, friendship, courage, and, of course, dragons.

Because adding dragons to any story automatically makes it that much more awesome.

Also, kudos to whoever is responsible for that cover, because it's gorgeous.

This book made me think of a quote often attributed to G. K. Chesterton:

"Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten."

Which leads me on to a similar C. S. Lewis quote: 


"Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker."

As I reflect back on Dragon's Future, I find that this is my main takeaway from the book. To paraphrase the two quotes above, great stories - and specifically great fantasy stories - arm children with the courage they need to face their own "dragons." This is one of the many reasons that fantasy stories are useful and essential to society, but lest I get carried away on this topic, I'll return to Dragon's Future.

Dragons can in fact be beaten, and that's something Wyatt's story illustrates very well. But the story also teaches that not all dragons need beating. Some dragons are, in fact, quite adorable.

As Ruskya and his friends form lasting friendships with dragons, they are given power and courage to face their worst fears. Of course, their friends help as well. As Ruskya rides off to battle his nemesis (that's all I'll say, as I don't want to give any spoilers), he knows he couldn't pull it off without the help of his friends and his dragon. And I think that teaches us something important as well.

Wyatt's characters are charming and likeable throughout; I was especially taken with Carryl, the brave healer with an impenetrable strength.

Dragon's Future propels its reader into a world of dragons, farmers, and townsfolk. I loved the feel created by the names of characters and places, and the details we got about the setting and environment. Names like "Woolpren," "Duskya," and "Wyeth" just give me a kind of warm, honey feeling. But maybe that's just me.

While it was a fun story with likeable characters and an imaginative setting, though, there were a few things that kept me from really immersing myself in this book.

For one thing, I couldn't get behind the writing style. While there were moments of great storytelling, in general I felt like the voice left something to be desired. I think the author could really have improved the story by showing more instead of telling.

On a related note, the story didn't draw me in as much as I would have liked. The first chapter was fun, as two young twins attend a ceremony to find out if any of the dragons will choose them as riders. But after that, the plot kind of got stuck for a bit. Maybe it's because learning to communicate mentally - while an awesome ability - is not all that exciting to read about. And while the characters are all likeable, and some are interesting, I felt like most of them had more potential for growth, which would have made the story a little more engaging.

That being said, I am not a Middle Grade reader, and maybe readers closer in age to the intended audience (roughly 8 to 12, I think) will enjoy this story more than I did.

After all, it does have dragons in it.

Rating (out of 5) :




Until tomorrow.