Book Review: Daughter of Magic by Karen Eisenbrey

I don’t think the timing of Daughter of Magic‘s release could have be any better.  I know, talking about the timing of a book’s release is a terrible way to begin reviewing it, but just as I am sitting down to begin to enjoy the warm summer days, I find myself reading through a book which completely envelopes the feeling of the summer days of youth.

Yeah, sure, this is a book about magic, real magic, and bad guys, and cool transformations into birds and stuff, but the whole time I read through it, I just kept thinking of my summers as a kid.  Exploring the world and learning about it.  And learning about myself.

This book may be set in a fantasy setting, with all those names that seem to weigh too heavily on either the consonants or the vowels, but none of that really matters, as this is a beautiful coming of age story where you feel as though you really are Luskell being on her own while her parents are out, learning about her family and about herself as she discovers there’s a lot more to herself than she had thought.

Eisenbrey may have given us a wonderful fantasy story filled with a sort of magic I don’t know if I’ve seen before, but she manages to do so with this grace that causes a sort of euphoria for our own youthful days of exploration.

Don’t get me wrong, the story itself is a whole lot of fun.  There are evil wizards, dead wizards, evil dead wizards turned good, and, you know…good wizards and whatnot.  There is amazing character development where each character in the story seems to have their own motivations for what they do, even those aforementioned evil wizards.

And there’s this spectacular world which Eisenbrey has built.  One I hope we may get to see a glimpse of again.

Buy it now!

That Time My Book Got Called Racist

(The title is only a little sensationalist.  My book didn’t actually get called racist in quite so many words.)

I found a new review for The Agora Files yesterday.  It’s not exactly a glowing one.  But I’m actually okay with that.  I don’t expect everyone to fall in love with my work.  It’s a little different and she’s not wrong when she notes how awkward the pacing can be when it’s just Cyrus running alone and we’re stuck listening to his internal monologue.  I think it turned out great, but when writing it, I was fully aware of how that could work out for the reader.

Heck, even her comments about how unrealistic Cyrus’ preparation for a run is doesn’t doesn’t really bother me much.  We don’t get to see prep time here.  It’s even noted right at the beginning of the book.  This kid’s on the run.  Every second.  And no, he wouldn’t be stuffing his face mid-run because he’s going to puke it all up.  And yes, apples can actually be a terrible thing to eat while running because it can run right through you and come out the other end much less solid, but it’s also a solid source of complex carbohydrates which will give you awesome amounts of energy with minimal amounts of space being taken up in a backpack.

Heck, almost everything about the running aspect of this book could be seen as unrealistic.  While I did a great deal of research on ultra-marathoning, the reality is…it’s not that exciting.  While there are those who run more than 70 miles in a day, there are very few who can finish that, take a couple hours of a break, and get right back out there for another 70.  Cyrus is not intended to be a serious look at the sport of ultramarathoning.  He’s an action hero.  He’s John McClane. You can’t stop to question the amount of math that would go into sending a motorcycle into the air to knock down a helicopter, you just appreciate the ride.  I based the running in this book in reality, but it’s an intentional exaggeration.  Just like very few fictional characters ever go to the bathroom, there is an expectation of a suspension of disbelief.

However… Although I did happen to go off on that a bit, that’s not what got me about this review.  It’s the note about racism in the book.

And not because she’s wrong.  In fact, I’m amazed she’s the first person who called it out.  It’s there. It’s definitely there. And it’s intended to be there.

But again..the details aren’t exactly all that exciting…and, as I’ll point out shortly…aren’t really necessary.

You see, Cyrus lives in a world which deviated from our own history at the point of resolution for World War II.  He lives in a world where the Civil Rights movement never happened.  He lives in a world where there is still an expected difference between people of one of the multiple colors of skin available and those who are as pale as the moon.

And so, with that, perhaps she is right.  There is definitely a history which could be told.  Cyrus, in his internal monologue could go on at length, musing about how these ‘dark skins’ (which, for the record, is not an accurate portrayal of how people of color are referenced in the book, they are generally discussed as something along the lines of darker skinned people…it actually changes per usage, because it’s not a label, but a description used by Cyrus in his internal monologue) have it different.  Heck, he could have even had a discussion with Charlie or Bruno, or maybe even Grant…somehow…about it, to give it some color.

I even had it in an early draft where Cyrus and Charlie discussed it a bit with regards to how difficult it would be for a black person to be smuggling goods across the country as compared to a white person because they would be more highly visible as a result of how people, including those in law enforcement, have a long history of expecting black people to be up to no good.

But the point is…I shouldn’t have to.  Which is why it was taken out.  Because, although the Civil Rights Movement may not have ever occurred for Cyrus and the people of his world…these situations are things which occur in our world.  Heck, since I’ve published Agora Files, it’s become much more present in our daily news.  People of color simply don’t have the same freedoms as those without pigmentation.

So, I took out any explanation of such things.

Because…although he might call them ‘dark skins’ (although I’m fairly certain he doesn’t) instead of labeling all people with black skin pigmentation as being African-American regardless of their cultural heritage or current citizenship status, the reality is, Cyrus isn’t wrong.

And if you look throughout the books (book 3 coming very very soon!), you’ll notice something.  Cyrus isn’t looking down at people of color, but being intrigued by how they reach the statuses they do.  He’s amazed when he finds out Charlie was a Runner, because it would simply be that much harder for him.  Similarly with other reveals that crop up, but…well…I don’t want to spoil things for those who haven’t read the books.

In short, I included subtle notes of racism in this book because racism itself often is exactly that.  Subtle.

Sure, we may have situations where a couple of black men sit down to wait for an interview in a coffee shop and get dragged out by the police, but even more frequent are black men and women who have cops slow roll past them when they’re walking down the street to make sure they aren’t causing any trouble.  Or parents keeping a corner of their eye on them to make sure they aren’t going to do something to their children…or simply rolling up your windows as you go through a ‘black’ neighborhood and locking your doors at the stoplight.

I stand by these moments in Agora Files as I believe they should paint a far stronger picture for people who notice them than if it were to be directly called out.  And it paints an even stronger picture to see how infrequently it’s noticed at all.

It should make you at least slightly uncomfortable.  Because the reality of Cyrus’ world, not just with regards to racism, is that it’s actually not all that much different than our own.  Just exaggerated…

And she notes that the comment about ‘dark skins’ ends up having a negative impact on the reader for the character.  That’s not intentional.  And I’m definitely not going to suggest anything as far as what that might mean.  But even if it were intentional, it should have an even greater impact later when each and every one of these characters of color show their strength, their true colors.  Again, I don’t want to spoil anything for you…but these ‘dark skins’ as the review references them…they’re the good guys.

Well, you know…not by definition or anything, just as a character trait which is shared by each of them…even if it doesn’t appear that way in the beginning.

Book Review: Teach a Teacher a Lesson by Cat Nicolaou

(I know, it’s been nearly six months since I last posted on here and I come back with a book review?  What’s up with that?)

I’m going to go right out and say it.  Teach a Teacher a Lesson by Cat Nicolaou is a romance novel.  But…then again…is it?  I’ll admit that I don’t read many romance novels, and I’m not even completely certain what caused me to decide to read this one, but this just doesn’t quite read like what I would expect.

Mainly, because…well, no one really seems completely happy about any of the romance.  And maybe that’s normal…or maybe it should be.  But, ultimately, there’s a bit more excitement here in that you don’t really know where the story is going.  You have some ideas as the story begins, and also, maybe, some fears, but Nicolaou twists your expectations to bring this story in a realm I’m happy to admit I haven’t seen much in the realm of the romance novel.  Suspense.

Now, I’ll admit…I didn’t really find myself liking any of the characters…well, not the primary characters anyway.  There are some secondary ones whom I felt need their own spinoff book where they slap protagonists of other romance novels around and force them to get their heads on straight.

But my dislike of those main characters actually didn’t manage to detract me from the story at all.  I found myself rooting for the two lovebirds not to get together, which, I really don’t believe they should.

Which brings me to my realization of the subtext of this story.  Nicolaou manages to tell a love story about two people who really shouldn’t be together, where, as opposed to feeling like we are that main character being swept away by the Fabio from the cover, we feel a lot more like the friend on the sidelines who just wants to run in there and rip them off each other.

Of course, I know I’m reading into this much more than I should.  It’s still a romance novel after all.  And, for those who read this style of fiction, I’m sure it still works as others in the genre do.  After all, this is also a story of passion, a story of undying love, a story of a man (a much younger man at that) who, no matter how hard he tries, just can’t stay mad at the woman who continues to spurn his advances.

All this goes to show that although this may, at its heart, still be a romance novel, it does cause one to consider, is the romance enough?  Is there an opportunity for there to be too much passion?  And, ultimately, does love always win?  Or, more importantly, should it?

Buy it now!

Fat Mogul vs. Blogging

When I began this blog ages ago (6.5 years ago, at least for this iteration), I didn’t really have a solid idea of what I wanted to do with the space.  It was primarily a place where I would go to unload some of the random thoughts flying around my head before I would get down to some serious writing.

As time went on, and this blog started gaining a regular readership, I realized I should probably do something a bit more regular with it and, well, came up with some more standard concepts to pursue in the writing realm, basically looking at the topics I would write about most regularly and focus on a way to keep them from becoming so repetitive.

Of course, as time went on, these topics themselves got stale and then life got busy, and I stopped writing here altogether.

Now that I’m back, I’ve been struggling with what to do with the space.  I’ve wanted to write here regularly, partially for the same reasons I initially began writing, but often find myself not having much of worth to say.

And since I actually have readers now, just dumping out a random assortment of words purely to free my mind of those random assortment of words isn’t really all that fair to you, the reader.  Which is why I’ve attempted to pursue some far more refined writing for the space.  But that also means that blogging takes a heckuva lot more effort than it once did, which means that the actual writing I wish to do ends up falling by the wayside.

So, I’ve been forced to reach the conclusion that this blog will no longer be a regular blogging platform, but one which will be updated as inspiration hits.  The most focused articles have certainly received a great deal more response, but I simply don’t have the energy needed to do those on a regular basis (unless, of course, a facebook post gets me all riled up again and I simply can’t focus on anything else).

I’ve loved blogging, and I’ve been happy to get back here to do it more regularly again, but I can’t simply put out the junk I used to put out here.

So, this space will still exist.  And I’ll continue to populate it with new content from time to time.  But it won’t be the daily blog it once was.  It may not even be the weekly blog.  It’ll be the blog which comes about when inspiration hits.  When I legitimately have something to say that I think is worthwhile.

Which, surprisingly enough to even me, happens fairly frequently.

I’m also going to put the Jack to the Future bits on hold here, as I reconsider how to go about the story.  I haven’t had the time to focus on it very well and I can already tell the story is suffering because of it.  And since it hasn’t gotten much response, I feel fairly confident that it’s better to hold off on the tale until I can give it the time it deserves.

But that’s part of what all this is about.  Giving my writing the time it deserves. I’ve been focusing on pushing out content now that I’ve returned to the regular writing schedule, but many times that content has existed purely to exist.

No more.

But, I do have some great plans for the near future…I promise.


Book Review: The Astrocytoma Diaries by Ken Mooney

The Astrocytoma Diaries by Ken Mooney is something I feel everyone absolutely must read.  At its most simplest, it’s a first hand accounting of what it is like to battle cancer.  But its heart is much more than that.  It’s a detailed look at the human condition, of how a person can be given the terrible news that they have a tumor on their brain, and can choose to not only not give up, but face that battle head on.

It’s often easy to separate the human from the cancer.  When you hear someone has cancer, you know it sucks, you feel terrible for them, but unless you yourself have seen the process first hand, you can’t truly know what it’s like. Mooney refers to this knowledge by noting a look that folks who have gone through this whole ordeal give each other, a certain knowing of the unknowable.

And this book, this diary, can only give you a portion of the knowledge of what it’s like to hear those life changing words, to go through the process of attempting to remove those deadly cells and growths and, well, you know, cancer, from your body.  It can only give you a small idea of what it’s like to know that life is never going to be quite as simple as it was yesterday.

That moment of recognition that you are, indeed, mortal, and that the effort of living has now become an actual battle.

Read this book.  It’s heart wrenching.  But it’s a book about survival.  A book about war.  A book about the human spirit.

As well as being a book about cancer.

Buy it now!

Fat Mogul vs. Nationalism

For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt a little weird about things like the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance.  Well, I’ve felt particularly weird about the Pledge of Allegiance, but all around, the whole “America is the bestest country God has ever put on this planet” thing has always kinda bothered me.  More than bothered me.  It’s left a rotten itch in a place I just can’t scratch.

I don’t like it.

Or maybe, what I really don’t like is that to think any differently is completely un-American.

America seems to require this identity that we are the absolute best.  In everything.  And part of that bestest-ness includes how we respond to things like our National Anthem and our flag.

I get the concept of allegiance.  As an American, who relies on the things our country does for us, who believes in the freedoms afforded us by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, we should make claim that we will support our country and, you know, not be all treasonous and junk.

But…the reverence we put behind the flag, behind that song, behind our country…it’s almost a religion.  Heck, it is a religion, because we put so much effort behind the concept that God is what makes our country the bestest country ever in the history of the world (because Americans are now God’s chosen people?  Or just because he likes baseball and apple pie?).

And so we have our children memorize a chant, a pledge, and hold up their hand to their heart as they give reference to a symbol for our country.

If you put a cross in front of them instead of a flag, we would call this worship.

We teach our children to worship America.

And it terrifies me.

Because it allows our country to be so terrible.  Because it gives us this concept that America can do no wrong when it so obvious does plenty of wrong.

Now, to be fair, there are very few adult Americans who believe America is doing everything completely right.  Just pay attention to the political rhetoric coming from your friends and neighbors and family and you’ll hear about at least a few dozen things going wrong in this country today.

But to actually state that our country is wrong, that our country is terrible, that our country is undeserving of worship (or that any other country is better)…that is heresy.

And so when folks such as Colin Kaepernick choose to not worship with the rest of us, we get mad.  They are treasonous assholes who do not recognize the wonderful country God made for us.

It’s un-American to not give reverence to the flag.  But for folks like Kaepernick, they see things.  They believe there are issues with our country, things which cause it to be undeserving of our worship, things which need to be changed because they are just downright evil.  Kaepernick is not worshiping.  And we’re mad.

I recently came across a post from an old high school friend of mine, who happens to live (or used to live…I’m not really sure) in Washington, you know, the state where the Seattle Seahawks are from, claiming how he would now be cheering against his home team for as long as they had team members refusing to stand during the National Anthem.  For as long as they had unbelievers in their midst.

Why does this rile us up so badly?  Is it because we think that what they are trying to say is unnecessary?  Is it because we hold this country is such high reverence that even if you have something to say against it, you should continue to worship at its symbol?  Hell, why do we even play the National Anthem prior to sporting events?  Is it like the dinner prayer, asking the country to bless this match?  It was played prior to a monster truck rally I went to a few weeks ago…should it be played at theaters before movies?

There are so many questions we just gloss over in our eagerness to condemn.  But the biggest one is, at what point should we be allowed to protest in such a way?  At what point is our country no longer deserving to be worshiped?  At what point do we actually recognize that there may be people inside our country who simply feel as though our country has failed them? Has wronged them? Has wronged an entire group of people?  Time and again?

At what point is it okay to stop believing in the god we have made America into and actually require it to change?

I stand with those who choose to kneel.  Because they should be allowed to stop worshiping at the feet of the god who has turned its back on them.  Because America isn’t a god.  America is a body of people, a community, who have chosen to remind themselves at every chance that they are the best community in the world, thereby allowing itself to ignore the things it is doing wrong.  The people it continues to wrong.  The peoples it continues to wrong.

We pledge allegiance to this country once we enter the school system, before we even have a concept of what this country is.  And we do so daily, pointing our bodies at its flag, covering our hearts to show we are honest (i.e. cross our hearts and hope to die), all the while having absolutely no concept of what we are pledging ourselves to.

This is nationalism.  A blind faith that our country can do no wrong.  That our country deserves to be worshiped by one and all, the world over.  And this is what we should consider when we see what our sports figures are willing to go through in order to make their statement by simply taking a knee.

But America has never been known as the country with an open ear to debate.  It does not listen to protest.  It does not consider its implications or its history.  It simply expects what is to be done and gets mad if it isn’t.

This is not freedom, folks.  And if a person (or many people) are willing to put their multi-million dollar sports contracts on the line to show how they believe something is wrong with this country, we might want to take a second to consider they could have a point…instead of simply suggesting that they are entitled assholes who don’t love our country enough.

Because the reality is: our country isn’t that great and it isn’t that free…and we definitely aren’t all equal.

Fat Mogul vs. Creation

I’m going to go right out and admit that I’ve been severely struggling to write as of late.  Although, as mentioned here, I’ve been incredibly busy, which certainly hasn’t helped with giving me the opportunity to sit back and create, there have been more than enough times where I’ve had the bandwidth, opened the word processor, and then decided to see what’s going on with Facebook or picked up the controller to play some video games instead.

Even further than that, I’ve cleared my schedule more than a few times for the distinct purpose of writing and decided, instead, to go take care of some house chores.

Part of this is simply because I’ve fallen out of my schedule.  When I was writing regularly, it was just a part of my routine.  I would sit down, plop down a thousand words or so, and then go about whatever else I had planned for the day.  I barely even thought about it when I sat down to do it.  Now, after being out of the routine for a couple years, there’s this anxiety tied to it.  This idea that no matter what I do, it’s just not worth it.  That the effort placed in creating just doesn’t matter.

Coincidentally, I’ve known for a while that writing is my non-medicinal cure for my depression, and I’ve struggled more with my mild mental illness since I’ve fallen out of the routine than I have in years, most notably last December, which led to me pouring my heart out on here about the disease.

While I’ve been struggling with trying to get back into my creative mindset, my daughter has been asking me regularly about when I will finish work on my young reader book Chippewa Chao, a book which she is incredibly gung ho about producing some artwork for.  And I often respond by muttering about how I just need to finish the first draft of the final book in The Agora Files series and it’s next on my plate.  She takes it in stride, but every time I reply with that, I feel terrible.

Last night, during my pre-sleep reading, I happened to be reading a graphic novel which actually approached the subject of creativity vs. doubt.  If you must know, it’s an incredibly nerdy reading choice which you can pick up here.  The story within was about the Dreamfinder, who holds the power of imagination, but found himself infected with doubt, which infected all those around him who had been long inspired by him.  Suddenly, this world they lived in was filled with these zombie-like creatures who just went about their days completely unable to even talk.

Yeah, I know, my description of the story doesn’t exactly make it sound like solid adult-level reading. And yes, on the surface, it’s fairly juvenile.  But under it all, it really spoke to me.  It spoke to the exact battle I was facing with my own creativity.  I was battling doubts about my own creativity, about whether or not it mattered, about whether or not it was worth the effort.  And although the message of “whether or not this idea works, it’s the path that’s worth it” definitely spoke to me, it was the final pages which really broke me down a bit.

You see, The Dreamfinder was saved by his great-great-great grand niece (or something like that, due to imagination’s ability to travel through time).  And when he offered his thanks, she turned it on him and stated how the only reason she was able to fight this battle was due to the inspiration she had provided for him.  How his work had led her to be the creative force she was in this story.

If you’re not already making the connection back to earlier where I talked about my daughter asking me about my writing process, well, consider this your dot connecting statement.

You see, what originally pushed me to actually get off my butt and do something about this creative energy I’ve always felt inside of myself was the impending birth of my daughter.  I looked at my daily life, at my career, and I couldn’t help but think there was nothing there I could show my kids and feel proud about. Look, Little-Oster, I made this amazing report to showcase FTE savings!  And I had always wanted to write.  At that point in my life, I had produced two movies which, due to my personal level of creative prowess, were not something I was proud of.  I had dropped all ideas of ever doing anything creative again.  I had gone from looking into film schools to relegating myself to a desk job.  I had even turned down a possibly long term and paying acting gig (something of which at the time was my dream) to pursue something more…safe.

But my daughter (not discounting my other two children whom I also wish to inspire to chase their dreams), she was the spark which put me back into motion.

And reading this book (which I’ll admit I thoroughly enjoyed) put me right back into that same mindset.

Which put me in front of my computer this morning, cup of coffee in hand, anxious as hell about trying to get something creative out.

But I’m going to do it.  It’s happening.  Not because I hope it will make money someday, not because it serves as a form of therapy for myself, but because I’ve spent far too long just sitting on my hands, and not nearly enough time thinking about how I can inspire my own children to do more.

And also, just a little bit, because I really need to finish Agora Files 3 so people will stop asking me when it’s coming out.