Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Why I stopped writing for four months - guest post by author Chris Bridge

Hello readers! 

Today we're happy to bring you this guest post from Chris Bridge, author of Girl Without a Voice. The topic is something a lot of writers can probably relate to.

Why I stopped writing for four months 

by Chris Bridge

One morning, nearly three years ago, I got up early, as usual, and began to write. My novel was called Long Lost then. Later it morphed into Girl Without a Voice. The story had been skipping along. I had an outline so I knew where I was going but not exactly how I was going to get there. I aim to write 1000 words before breakfast. That morning I remember I was way over my target.

I’d written quickly but with a sense of unease. As I wrote, a new idea crept into my mind and stayed there. It wasn’t what I ever intended to write. It was in none of the plans I’d drawn up. But it was perfect. It fitted everything and would add wings to the plot. This new thought suddenly seemed like a really good idea.

My characters seemed to think so too. I realized they had been heading for this confrontation for a long time. It was absolutely true to both of them at that moment. It was exactly what each of them would have done. So I wrote the scene.

When I read it back I was appalled. I’m a man who tends to write about women. Leah is not only my main character, she is my narrator, so I had written the scene from her point of view. I read it back and thought, you’ve no right to do that. As a man you can’t know enough to make the scene real. It could seem horribly gratuitous.

I re-read it and my doubts intensified. Every writer has their red lines. I’d crossed one of mine. I’d already saved what I’d written. I’d done this from habit before I read it over.  I didn’t delete it. But I shut down the computer and abandoned the more than 30,000 words I’d already written, all that planning and the extensive research.

I didn’t go back to it for four months. But when I read it through it came alive off the page. I was excited by the trajectory that lead to the scene, and then both moved and disturbed by the scene itself. It worked. It really worked. Women friends of mine agreed.

So much of what we do as writers exists in our imaginations. I think we have to be true to all the experiences we have had, and to all the observations we have made, and every story we have been told. Truth is the only red line. We are not confined by gender or by age but only by the way in which we have opened ourselves up to so many layers of experience and the way we stay true to what we think we know.

Nice, right? If that left you wanting more, here's the scoop on Chris Bridge's new book Girl Without a Voice:

Robbed of speech and ignored, Leah exists on the margins. Then Patrick arrives.

Bullied as a child by her siblings, Leah is so traumatised that she loses the power of speech.

Being mute has made her acutely observant, so years later she notices how her mother, Izzy, becomes energized the moment the funeral of Leah’s father is over. She soon learns that Izzy is searching for the son she gave up for adoption.

Patrick is found and Izzy is delighted. He soon becomes a frequent visitor. Leah is so enthralled by Patrick that she changes her usual look of long cardigan over men’s trousers for a more appealing, womanly look. The change is not lost on Patrick who responds in a very non-brotherly way.

Leah runs away to the only friend she has and, after regaining the use of her voice, enlists his help in discovering the truth about her supposed half-brother.

Their search leads them to Leah’s estranged uncle and a run-in with the cult of the Living Saints.

Can Leah convince her mother that all is not as it appears with Patrick?

Can she and her family rescue their mother from the religious cult and escape Patrick once and for all?

Happy reading,
Erin & Anna

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What do diet Coke, Andy Warhol, and aliens have in common? They're all in 'The Book of Ralph'

Title: The Book of Ralph
Author: Christopher Steinsvold
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 416
Publisher: Medallion Press
Buy: Amazon

What Goodreads has to say:

A message appears on the moon. It is legible from Earth, and almost no one knows how it was created. Markus West leads the government’s investigation to find the creator.

The message is simple and familiar. But those three words, written in blazing crimson letters on the lunar surface, will foster the strangest revolution humankind has ever endured, and make Markus West wish he was never involved.

The message is ‘Drink Diet Coke.’

When Coca-Cola denies responsibility, mass annoyance becomes worldwide indignation. And when his investigation confirms Coca-Cola’s innocence, Markus West becomes one of the most hated men on Earth.

Later, five miles above the White House, a cylinder is discovered floating in the night. It is 400 feet tall, 250 feet in diameter, and exactly resembles a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup. Nearly everyone thinks the cylinder is a promotional stunt gone wrong, just like the lunar advertisement. And this is exactly what the alien in the cylinder wants people to think.

Ralph, an eccentric extraterrestrial who’s been hiding on the moon, needs Markus’s help to personally deliver a dark warning to the White House. Ralph has a big heart, a fetish for Andy Warhol, and a dangerous plan to save the world.

2016 Silver Medal for the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Top ten books of 2016, Our Book Reviews Online.

What I have to say:

I just realized the cover for The Book of Ralph looks like a can of Campbell's soup. I'm a little slow on the uptake, I guess, though to be fair I read this on kindle, so the cover was black and white and I didn't really look at it that often. Anyway, A+ design choice.

Here's my favorite line:
"In essence, the universe is an exquisitely efficient and maximally elegant, ego-crunching machine. That is what it does."
I read this shortly after experiencing an ego-crunch myself, so it felt very true.

The Book of Ralph is an extremely enjoyable, well-paced adventure peppered with sly humor that sometimes feels a little Douglas Adams-ish (that's a word, I just invented it). There's definitely an Adams feel behind the line quoted above. And other things, like the fact that the evil aliens happen to be from the planet Kardash and are thus "Kardashians" are reminiscent of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy humor.

But on the whole, The Book of Ralph steers clear of just being a tribute to Hitchhiker's Guide, or to any other work of science fiction, for that matter. It's fresh, original, and imaginative. In fact, it's set up in such a way that it kind of messes with your expectations.

The story begins when an inexplicable message appears on the moon during a solar eclipse. The message reads: "Drink Diet Coke." Markus - our protagonist - is hired to head up an investigation, ultimately finding that Coca-Cola was not behind the message. This makes him extremely unpopular.

So this is going to be a clever, comic sci-fi story, I'm thinking at this point. The writing is great: very clean in the sense that it reads easy and it's clever. I'm enjoying it vastly.

Fast forward a bit, and we have our first contact with an extraterrestrial. Ralph (the alien in question) is hilarious and adorable and I love everything about him. At this point, it's still a very funny story. But all that's about to change.

Through a series of disastrous events which none of the main characters could reasonably have foreseen, some prominent people die and it looks like the earth is going to be invaded by evil aliens (yes, these are the Kardashians).

Suddenly everything's dark and scary and we're faced with the threat of the end of civilization as we know it. Where the heck did this come from? Wasn't this supposed to be a cute, tongue-in-cheek story about an alien with an Andy Warhol fetish?

Not quite. Or rather, yes, it was supposed (air quotes) to be about that, but that was probably just a ploy to lull us into a false sense of security or something. At any rate, what we have on our hands now is a serious discussion of good and evil, hatred, envy, violence, the ego, and humanity.

We're still rooting for Ralph, but whereas before we were rooting for him to seize the day, upset the status quo, and possibly have sex with the president, now we're rooting for him to save the earth from imminent destruction without dying in the process.

It's well done, because the tone change doesn't feel jarring as you're reading. Or rather, it feels a little jarring in the way it would if you were hanging out with an adorable alien one minute, then facing the threat of total destruction from a hostile race of extraterrestrials the next. But that's just good storytelling.

There's also a lot to think about - Markus and Ralph have some pretty deep philosophical talks around the middle of the book, and those parts are also well done. In particular, my concepts of hate and envy have probably changed after hearing Ralph's explanations of the two feelings. I've also gained more insight into the ego and why it's actually a good thing that the universe keeps crunching mine.

Then, like most good science fiction stories, there's a plot twist. And of course there's a moment where the fate of humanity depends on the actions of the main characters, and someone has to make a sacrifice.

I'm enthusiastic about this book. I wanted to like it, and I did. The author does a great job portraying and developing his alien characters - well, mainly Ralph, since he's the only alien we really get close to. Ralph isn't just a guy from another planet who has two heads or is green or something; he's really, completely, alien. But, incredibly, he seems more human than any actual human. And you can connect with him on a level you can't with another human.

Still, when I finished this book, I was left wanting something more. It's not that the book wasn't well-written, because it was - clever and engaging and psychologically deep - I just didn't feel profoundly changed by it, and that's what I want out of a really good science fiction novel.

After reading over my review, I realize the book did change the way I think about certain concepts, and now I feel like I'm just being a jerk about this whole thing. It's a fun story. I enjoyed it. I loved Ralph, and I loved reading his book.

Also I'm going to give a disclaimer here letting you know that there's some swearing in this book, like mainly the F word. If you're like, why the heck do I need to know that, Erin? just ignore this. If you're like, thanks I don't want to read a book that has the F word in it, you're welcome.


Until tomorrow.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A random C.S. Lewis story

The name of this blog is taken from a story by C. S. Lewis, so I just wanted to take this opportunity to share a brief but AWESOME story from C. S. Lewis' life that I just read.

You may or may not know that Lewis (known to his friends as Jack so that's what we'll call him cause we're on a first name basis with the guy and you know it) was an English tutor at Oxford. And apparently he had strong feelings on the subject of poetry. Because this one time he was arguing with one of his pupils about whether or not this one poem was any good, and the pupil was having none of it. So Lewis quoted like, half the poem to him, and the pupil was like, yeah I just don't think this poem is actually that good.

So Jack was like, "The sword must settle it!"

And for some reason that no one could explain afterward, there were two swords in the corner of the room, and Jack picked them up and freaking STARTED FENCING WITH HIS PUPIL. LIKE THEY LEGIT HAD A FENCING MATCH RIGHT THERE IN THE CLASSROOM.

This is my new favorite thing ever.

That's all. Have a good day.

(Also if you're wondering, this book is The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter and yes, I recommend it.)

Until tomorrow.