News and updates about Gordon's fiction, available at Amazon and at Barnes & Noble, courtesy of Oghma Creative Media.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

What I'm reading (#28)

I'm a real fan of books that keep you guessing, so it is no great surprise that I read A. J. Aalto's latest book, Closet Full of Bones, in a single day.  If you've read any of her Marnie Baranuik series (beginning with the hilarious and madcap thrill-ride Touched), you might be surprised when you start reading her newest release, which is dark, understated, and as intricate as a labyrinth.

The novel centers on the siblings Gillian Hearth and Frankie Farmer, who are about as opposite as sisters can be.  Gillian is cautious, thoughtful, and loyal to a fault; Frankie is flighty, irresponsible, and trusting.  This has cast Gillian in the role of protector since they were children.  Gillian has always had to watch over her sister, protect her from the consequences of her own choices, and clean up the mess when the inevitable problems happen.

When they purchase a bed-and-breakfast together, Gillian hopes that this is a sign that Frankie's troubled past is over, that she will settle down into responsible adulthood.  But the past isn't going to let them go quite yet.  Trouble crops up in the shape of a jealous former boyfriend, Travis Freeman, and the response of the sisters to this unexpected complication starts them on a long downward spiral toward tragedy.

To give away anything more about the plot would be unfair -- this is not a book that anyone should have ruined for them by spoilers.  It's a shadowy puzzle-box of a story, centering on Gillian's determination that Frankie should be saved from herself.  It's about as different from Touched and its sequels as you can get, linked only by A. J. Aalto's tight, vivid writing and brilliant skill at drawing characters.  You will be thinking about this one long after you turn the last page.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Author interview - JC Crumpton

It was my pleasure to interview JC Crumpton this week, whose chilling and captivating first novel Silence in the Garden (published by Oghma Creative Media) will hit bookstore shelves on May 25 (it's available for preorder now at the link provided!).  Enjoy this interesting perspective from a writer you're sure to hear more about.


GB: When did you first start writing?  Tell us about how you figured out you were a storyteller.
JC: It was so long ago that I cannot even remember writing the first story that I wrote for other people.  My mother tells me I was five and it was called “The Peanut with Measles.”  Even back then, I wrote dark stories…she tells me the story didn’t have a happy ending. 
 I knew pretty much from a young age that I wanted to tell stories.  I wrote stories just to entertain me and my friends.  Things like role-playing adventures, or making up stories for my teachers when we were supposed to be keeping journals (I already did that but didn’t want to share them with the school—too many secrets).  My father served 20 years in the US Navy, and I lived in places from West Coast to the East Coast and in Europe.  I experienced so many different cultures that these stories just popped up in my imagination.  And then it helped that we spent three years in Iceland—a place where the majority of people believed in elves, and they have this incredible literary history in the Icelandic Sagas…tales of love, adventure, betrayal, murder, monsters, loyalty.  I remember traveling the country and imagining all these wonderful stories that took place across the land.  Then I spent three months in Germany with my maternal grandparents. They took us to Frankenstein’s castle, to the walled city of Rothenberg, to the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, and here again I imagined what might have happened in all these magical places.  When I graduated high school, the prophecy that was written about me was that I would be writing books in a castle in Ireland.  Haven’t been yet, but I plan to.  Everyone has always known I would tell stories.
GB: Where do you get your inspiration?
JC: Where?  I cannot tell you one specific place.  Almost everywhere.  Each morning, I send my son a word of the day along with random facts and historical events that occurred on that day.  I have a new idea for a story about a man who wouldn’t did from one of the articles I sent him.  My western serial “Field of Strong Men” came to me on a drive through southeast Kansas when I wondered to myself if there were any other cowtowns in Kansas beside Wichita and Dodge City…turns out there is a whole history of the different towns that served as the destination for cattle drives up from Texas to catch trains back east.   

The idea for my debut novel Silence in the Garden first popped into my head when some friends and I would go up to Eureka Springs nearly every weekend just to soak in the vibes from all the artists and history there.  Then the mother of one friend became the manager of the Crescent Hotel.  We would wonder through the halls looking for ghosts.  My next novel, Venus:One, got its spark when talking with a friend of mine that has his Ph.D. in Biochemistry about the feasibility that humans could be the result of generations of genetic experimentation.  So, I guess my inspiration can come from anywhere and anytime…I just need to recognize it for its potential to be a story.
GB: For you, what is the hardest thing about writing? What is the most rewarding?
JC:The hardest part is finishing.  Definitely setting down the pen or pushing the keyboard away and telling myself that it is time to wrap it up.  Every time I read something of mine, I inevitably want to edit and change it. There is a quote attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci: Art is never finished, only abandoned. 
The most rewarding? Having someone say that my work inspired them, whether it was the characters, the plot, or just one tiny thing among the words.
GB: Silence in the Garden is, at least in part, based on real historical events, although with a paranormal twist.  How much time did you put into researching the actual events you describe in the story?
JC:As I said earlier…the inspiration came to ma a long time ago.  So, I have been reading about the Crescent Hotel and Eureka Springs for over twenty years.  But the funny thing about the research is that I started writing the story before I did a single bit of digging.  When I went back to connect it to the history of the place, I learned that a lot of what I had written was pretty close to the actual events.  Maybe something was whispering in my ear?
GB: Like what?
JC: Richard Thompson, the president of the Crescent College and Conservatory for Young Women owned the lakeside resort the school goes to in the book.  I wrote the scene in the story, and discovered when I went down to visit it that he used to own it.  Those kinds of things strike me as more than coincidence.
GB: Do you have a preferred time and/or place to write?
JC:I actually prefer writing at night…late, when the world is quiet.  I am easily distracted…if the world is asleep and dreaming, I can work.  But that make me very tired most mornings when I get up at 6:00.
GB: What do you do when you get stuck or hit a writer’s block?  Do you have a favorite way of jarring the ideas loose?
JC: If I get stuck on a particular project, I like to work on another.  Never stop writing.  Something is bound to pop out. 
Free writing and association is one of the methods I will use to oil up the cogs in the old brain pan.  Just keep writing…you can always come back to edit.
GB:  You definitely left some openings in SITG for a sequel, especially centered around the character of Lionel Peterson – you very much give the impression that he is involved in activities far beyond what happened in this book. Are you considering turning this into the first of a series?
JC: Not originally…but when I realized Peterson had a history outside the constraints of this story, it actually became an idea for an origin story…another historical event.
GB:Tell us about your next project.
JC: I am working on more than one right now.  My next deadline is June 8, when I am to have a story turned in for an anthology.  I am also working on my first Lonford Universe novel, Venus:One.  It goes back to that idea I had talking to a friend of mine: what happens when humans find out they are the result of a genetic experiment?  Then I expanded on that and thought, what would be the social and economic impact of terra-forming Venus and making the planet Earth’s twin in more than just name?
GB: Anything else you’d like us to know?
JC: Just thank you, and I hope you enjoy Silence in the Garden.  Don’t be afraid to contact me on my Facebook author page or on my website that is currently being built if you have any questions or just want to chat about it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

What I'm reading (#27)

It's not often that I read a book which afterwards, if someone asked me "Did you like it?", my honest answer would be, "I have no idea."

That, however, would be my reaction should anyone ask me about William Least Heat-Moon's Celestial Mechanics.  It's an odd story -- about a writer named Silas Fortunato, his intensely unlikeable wife Dominique, her sister Celeste, and a peculiar neighbor named Kyzmyt whom I was never really convinced was real.

As far as what happened in the story... well, I'm not entirely sure about that, either.  Silas and his wife spend a lot of time sniping at each other (mostly her at him).  It's clear from about page 10 that she doesn't like him much, and Silas lost a good measure of my sympathy for him when for chapter after chapter he simply let her ridicule and insult and neglect him.  (And continued to try to persuade her to stay in the marriage, or at least in their house.)

Then Dominique takes off on a business trip, and sort of... vanishes.  In case you want to read it, and I actually hope some of you will, if for no other reason to see what your reaction is, I won't tell you the circumstances of her disappearance.  But I will say if you want things tied up at the end -- if you want anything tied up at the end -- don't get your hopes up too high.

I don't mind a book that's mysterious and leaves you to fill in the missing pieces; I often write that way myself.  But in addition to Celestial Mechanics feeling like an incomplete (albeit long) story, there were two other things about it that really bugged me.

One is that there are no dialogue tags.  At all.  I know this is the current fad in novel writing, but c'mon.  Especially in the first half of the book, I lost track of the number of times I had to count backwards until I found a line of dialogue that gave me a clue as to who was talking.  I know that action phrases are better than "he said" and "she said" over and over again, but giving the reader nothing but the person's mere words to go on was pretty damned frustrating, especially given the second problem...

... which was that the characters, especially the four main characters, all sort of sounded alike.  They were erudite and glib, throwing around metaphors and literary allusions and puns and symbolism in virtually every line, only occasionally coming down out of the clouds to say something practical like "What would you like for dinner?"  (When Celeste, in response to some abstruse pronouncement by Silas, said, "I have no idea what you're talking about," I nearly cheered.)

It's a problem I have with the dialogue in a lot of television shows; after about five minutes, I'm scowling and saying, "No one really talks like that."  Nobody is that continuously clever, sardonic, and intellectual, 24/7/365.  In the case of Celestial Mechanics, it kept reminding me that I was reading fiction -- the absolute last thing you want your reader to experience.

So it was a mixed bag.  It had its intriguing moments; Dominique's repeated visions of what she thinks is the ghost of a child, Kyzmyt's peculiar witches' brews/teas, Celeste's kindness when Silas is recovering from an injury (and Celeste is far and away the most sympathetic character).  It's certainly smartly, and tightly, written.

But overall?  I can't say I liked it much.  It's a strange story about strange characters, and gives the reader little to hang on to.  All in all, Celestial Mechanics didn't really work for me.  Even as a writer of speculative fiction -- often involving the paranormal -- my main reaction is that it just didn't seem rooted enough in the real world for me to figure out what it was trying to say.