Sunday, November 25, 2012

#12NovelsIn12Months Update: I Might Fail

As I write this, I my head and throat are aching and I'm sitting upright in bed. There's a cup of peppermint tea and several cough drop wrappers on my nightstand. Yes, I'm sick. I began feeling it on Wednesday. Thursday morning it was worse, but I forced myself to write 3,000 words on Darkridge Hall. Friday it was about the same, but Saturday I woke up feeling absolutely miserable. Today I am a little better, but my energy is sapped and the creative juices are flowing like molasses.

So, I must face a fact: I might fail in reaching 60,000 words this month and completing Darkridge Hall. My original goal was to write a novel a month for twelve months, but I notice that the hashtag I chose for it, #12NovelsIn12Months, does not make that distinction. I can cheat and say I'll write those twelve anytime during the twelve months. Sure, it's semantic justification, but if it keeps me from feeling like a failure, so be it. Anyway, if I finish Darkridge Hall sometime in early December, what difference will a few days have made in the long run? It means I'll have to be diligent to keep up a good pace for my December book, but I will not abandon the entire project because I fell behind one month. I will write these twelve novels. Yes, the title of this post should be "I Won't Fail."

There is still a chance I'll be able to rally and finish Darkridge Hall in the next few days. I'm going to try to write today, but I don't know how far I'll get. The time might be better served editing one of my completed projects. Either way, wish me luck!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What Scares You?

As mentioned in a previous post, I am now writing a horror novel called Darkridge Hall as part of my #12NovelsIn12Months project. This is a new experience for me. Now, years and years ago, long before I was any type of "serious" writer, I had begun and rather quickly abandoned a few horror stories, and a couple of the short stories available in my collection are horror, but this is my first serious effort at a full-length horror novel.

My biggest concern in writing it is this: can I make it scary? Sure, I can have "scary" things happen to my characters, but will they necessarily scare the reader? I don't know yet. However, I did creep myself out a bit while writing the other day. I suppose my main concern for now should just be to tell the story. If the element of horror is not strong enough after the first draft, I can always go back and try to punch it up.

So let me ask my readers for advice: What do you find scary in a horror novel? What makes your skin crawl, your spine tingle, your short and curlys stand on end? What gives you goosebumps, the willies, the heeby-jeebies, the creeps? I don't mean particular things you find scary, but what literary elements make a scene scary? Let me know and I'll keep your suggestions in mind as I continue writing Darkridge Hall!

All the Best,
Michael K. Rose

Monday, November 5, 2012

Review: Dolphin Island by Arthur C. Clarke

Yes, I am reading a lot of Arthur C. Clarke lately. I had begun Dolphin Island after finishing Garden of Rama. I couldn't find Rama Revealed at the local used bookstore, so I ordered it online and, being in a Clarke mood already, plucked this off my shelf to tide me over (sorry) because it was fairly short.

As fate would have it, Rama Revealed arrived later the same day, and I put Dolphin Island down so I could finish the Rama series (see my review here). When I picked Dolphin Island back up again, I was transported into a world of wonder and adventure.

What I didn't know when I began this book is that it is a young adult adventure novel. It takes place in the near future, as envisioned from 1963. The main character is a teenage boy named Johnny who hitches a ride on a hovership to escape his dreary home life. When the engines of the hovership explode over open water, Johnny is left stranded, floating on a piece of debris.

He is saved by a group of dolphins who pull him to an island on the Great Barrier Reef called, appropriately, Dolphin Island, where a biologist, Professor Kazan, has been experimenting with communicating with dolphins and has, as it turns out, had quite a lot of success with it.

I don't want to reveal too much about the plot, but the story progresses at a pretty good clip from that point onward, and Clarke's experience as a diver lends authenticity to the descriptions of the animals inhabiting the reef around the island. And as far as young adult adventure novels go, this one is quite good. It captured my imagination and, even though I left my childhood behind long ago, it made me yearn for sandy beaches, coral reefs and exotic locales where a new adventure is waiting around every corner.

I give it 4 out of 5 stars. It's a very short book and is pure escapist fun. While it seems to be currently out of print, used copies can be had for just a few bucks if you can find it. There are many other Arthur C. Clarke novels I'd recommend reading before Dolphin Island, but if you've already read his more popular works and are a fan, this one is definitely worth a look.

Image Source: Dolphin Underwater by Bobbi Jones Jones

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Review: The Rest of Arthur C. Clarke's Rama Series

About a month ago I wrote a review of Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama. I loved it and immediately began reading Rama II by Clarke and his co-author Gentry Lee. I then read Garden of Rama immediately after that and, not finding Rama Revealed in my local used bookstore, I ordered a copy and impatiently waited for it to arrive. I've now finished the entire series and since Rama II, Garden of Rama and Rama Revealed tell one cohesive story line and follow the same set of characters, I've decided to review them together.

Rama II begins 70 years after the events that took place in Rendezvous with Rama when a second, seemingly identical Rama ship arrives in our solar system. This time Earth has more time to prepare to meet it and sends a crew that has been carefully selected for the task. If I tell you anything beyond that I will a) have to reveal key plot points and b) be here quite a long time because the story is vast. I will instead like to talk about my impressions of the Rama sequels versus the highly negative impressions that so many others seem to have of these books.

If you look at the Amazon reviews for any of the Rama sequels you'll see endless complaints, most of them directed at Gentry Lee who, according to what I read, did the majority of the writing on the Rama sequels with Clarke providing the basic plot and suggesting changes after Lee sent him chapters he had completed.

This may not be a popular point of view but I honestly believe that Gentry Lee is a great writer. The complaints stem from the fact that so many who had read Rendezvous with Rama picked up the others expecting them to be classic Arthur C. Clarke. Now, Clarke is my all-time favorite science fiction writer, and I do confess to having to adjust to the very different style of Lee, but once I did that and understood that Rama II and the rest of the books are not the Clark books but Lee books with guidance by Clarke, I really began to appreciate his style.

First of all, Lee is a lot wordier than Clarke. Clarke is famous, in fact, for his minimalist approach when it comes to character; he is all about telling the story and describing the science. And this works wonderfully with the right kind of story. In Rendezvous with Rama, the minimal characterization allows one to focus on the spaceship Rama and experience it for its awe-inspiring alien-ness. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the mysterious power behind the monolith is given a similar treatment unencumbered by lots of details about the characters' pasts and inner thoughts.

But this impression that Clarke does not write character well, or does so minimally, is a misconception. Read Childhood's End or The Songs of Distant Earth, for example, and the beauty of those novels can be found in how the very human characters react to the unusual experiences they are having. So even though some readers of Rendezvous with Rama wanted minimalist Clarke in the sequels, their expectation was unfounded.

So Rama II and the other sequels are not in Clarke's classic style. This is true. So what? As I read, I began to fall in love with the intricately crafted characters that Lee wrote. Even if some of them are remarkable people, they are still fully human. Some said the Rama sequels were soap opera-ish because of this focus on the characters and what they are feeling. No, that's how real people respond to stressful situations: emotionally. "But wait," some will say."They don't respond like real people. They're much too well-balanced and competent." Well, this is the opposite complaint but my answer: of course! The main characters were hand-picked from the top of their respective fields to go on this mission to rendezvous with the second Rama ship. So yes, their inner lives are explored in detail but the actions they take, in spite of what they are feeling emotionally, are the competent actions of professionals. Few people are all one way or the other. Everyone contradicts themselves at times. Lee has been able to explore this human-ness in a very real way.

The next complaint I came across was that Gentry Lee is a dirty old man who likes to write gratuitous sex scenes. Hmm.... Apparently these people don't get out much. Are there a handful of sex scenes? Yes. Are they particularly vulgar? Not really. Perhaps I'm not as prudish as some, but I didn't find anything all that shocking about them. And are they gratuitous? Quite the opposite, actually. There is a rich interplay between the main characters and how they respond to each other sexually is part of that. If you read them out of context, not knowing the characters, you may not see the point of the sex scenes. But in the context of the story, those scenes tell us volumes about the characters.

Complaint three (or is it four?): Gentry Lee over-described everything. Again, I think this mostly comes down to expectation. For the most part, Clarke wrote rather brief novels. In the copies I have, Rendezvous... runs to around 250 pages. None of the sequels are less than 450 pages. But again, this is because of the rich characterization and, in the later books, the highly-detailed work Lee does describing the biology and behavior of different alien species. I found it all fascinating. I can close my eyes right now, and because of Lee's descriptive skill I can picture very clearly the places and creatures that inhabit the world of Rama.

Now in spite of all that I've already said, the novels are not perfect. There are more than a few cliches, some of the secondary characters are stereotypes and there are some plot points left hanging at the end of the series. I will also acknowledge that some slight trimming probably would have strengthened the books. But by the end of Rama Revealed I had grown not only to know the handful of main characters but to love them, to root for them, to rejoice at their triumphs and I will admit I even shed tears on more than one occasion. A writer who can do this for me is, in my book, a great writer.

If you do decide to read the rest of the Rama books, go in knowing you aren't getting "classic" Clarke. But it doesn't matter. Gentry Lee took Clarke's Rama and made it his own, and his Rama is definitely a world worth exploring.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

#12NovelsIn12Months Update:
Sullivan's Wrath is Finished!

The first month of my #12NovelsIn12Months project has been a success! I completed Sullivan's Wrath, and it is over 60,000 words in length. This is, of course, a first draft, and I expect to add a bit to it as I flesh out some scenes during revision.

Some of you have asked when I'll have time to do said revisions and edits. Well, if I can keep on track this month as I write Darkridge Hall, a paranormal thriller, I will have a few days left over at the end of the month which I will use to work on a second draft of Sullivan's Wrath. The plan right now is to release it at the end of January.

The third book in the Sullivan Saga, Sullivan's Watch, will be written during the month of December. Then, as I'm doing in November, I'll write something else in January to take a break from the series and finish it off with the fourth Sullivan book in February.

I had written before that the trilogy of Sullivan books would be bookended by two others, one taking place before Sullivan's War and one taking place after the main story line of the series. However, I have decided to combine those into one book and actually increase Sullivan's involvement; I had originally planned for him to be a secondary character. This way, the Sullivan Saga, as I'm calling it, will be all about Sullivan, but the scope of the final book will be much larger than any of the first three books.

On a final note, this is November, and I imagine lots of you will be participating in NaNoWriMo. I am as well, by default, but I won't be participating in the communal aspect of it, posting daily word counts and all that. However, I do wish those of you participating the best of luck! I've just written a book in a month, so I know that while it is a challenge, it is not as difficult as you might imagine. You can do it!

I'll post another #12NovelsIn12Months update when I have something to report. Until then, don't forget that signed print copies of my books are currently on sale. Details can be found here. I'd also like to add that Nov. 1 & 2, Sergeant Riley's Account, the prologue to Sullivan's War, is free at Amazon. Click here for links.

Michael K. Rose