A Few (more) Quick Questions With…Devri Walls

Ages ago (it seems), Devri Walls stopped by to talk about her stand-alone The Wizard’s Heir, and gave us a little taste of her upcoming series, Venators (including a cover that I don’t think I ever saw again). Since then, I’ve actually spoken to her at book store events and a comic convention (sat in on a couple of her panels, too). At the book launch for her most recent book, Venators: Promises Forged, (see my earlier post) she did a Q&A that got a couple of questions percolating in the back of my mind. Before I knew it, I had enough for one of these posts and Devri was able to find a time to answer them.

Before I get to the Q&A, a word about that book launch — Devri seems to have a good number of solid fans, it’s encouraging to see — from a wide age-range, too. She had more people in the front row of her reading than were in the audience of the last reading I’d been to at Rediscovered Books (and that author had one of the major publishing houses behind him) — and she had some Facebook live viewers, too. It’s good to see an indie author getting that kind of support.

As is usual when I get a second shot with someone, we got a little more into details of the particular book/series in question—but I don’t think you have to be a Venators-reader to appreciate these answers. Check them out and then go grab her books.

You’ve talked about how everyone’s favorite character is Beltran (I demur), given his appeal/popularity—how hard is it to keep him from taking over the series? How are you going about that?
This book is different in that there really are a lot of main players. This is going to allow Beltran to have a large role, and you’re going to see him really stepping into that in book three. But yes, he cannot take over. I think the key when working with strong supporting characters is that although they can have a heavy-handed part in the story, at the end of the day, they can’t be the hero. They can assist the hero, they can motivate the hero, they can set up a hero, but they can’t actually “pull the trigger”, so to speak. Given who Beltran is this will be tricky, but it has to be done in order for the climax to feel satisfactory to the readers.
Let’s talk about names for a minute: there’s a lot of creativity and strangeness in names (up to Rune from Earth), but then you give us Tate. An oddly Earthy name. Is that just to mess with people? I’ve always wondered, but never asked anyone—how do you come up with character names? Is the process different per series/world/book?
This made me laugh! No, I was not trying to just mess with you. Although I will admit to giving the giant race ridiculously human names because it amused me. However I promise to keep it consistent. With Tate on the other hand, he is part Venator, which means he’s part human. It made sense to me that given the backstory of this world and its connection to earth that there would be human names floating around both in the human villages as well as the Venators.

When it comes to choosing names there is there rare occasion that I will just completely make a name up, but for the most part I lean heavily on baby name websites. People are ever disappointed when I give this answer because they think that we authors pull all of these things out of our heads. The thing I looove about the baby name websites is that I can sort the results. For example, I can choose to look at old Scottish names specifically or only Norse names. This allows me to keep a consistent feel through an entire story, or in a book like Venators, a consistent feel within different species.

Normally before I even start a book I will visit baby name websites. Trying to choose names is both a time suck and a momentum killer for me. If I have a list of names both male and female that I have decided I like ready to go, then I have a very short list to reference when I add a new character.

Talk to me a little more about Arwin the wizard. First, how am I not supposed to think about Liv Tyler/the Lady of Rivendell? Secondly, the brilliant character who probably knows more about what’s going on than anyone, but plays the doddering, clumsy fool is a mainstay. How hard is it to pull that character off convincingly? And why have you gone that route with him—is it just because that’s more interesting than the super-powerful, all wise type?
I think anytime you’re working with a genre like fantasy there’s always going to be things that remind you of other stories. It’s, dare I say, almost unavoidable. But instead of fighting this, I did lean into the tropes on purpose. I wanted to play on the idea that all the stories and legends we tell today originated in Eon. In order to do that some of the threads needed to feel very familiar, while others I purposely twisted. Just like in the game telephone the end result will have some aspects of truth and some other things that have drifted far from the truth. That’s the basis that I was working from when deciding lore and chapter traits to keep or leave.

As far as Arwin’s character is concerned, I did choose to portray him as doddering very specifically. I needed to balance the story. When you look at the council you have a werewolf, vampire, incubus, succubus, elf, fae and wizard. From that list, three characters are very intense and serious. One of the characters is cruel and although she think she has a sense of humor, it’s dark and malevolent. Two of the characters have the ability to break tension in a scene but the sexual themes that run through that tension break is only sustainable for so long. And although all of these characters are much, much deeper than their facades, it’s the facades that they must present at the council house in order to keep themselves and their own people safe. Which means that by default every council scene will become unavoidably stifling. I needed someone to diffuse the situation and add a lightness to the writing. Thus, Arwin’s portrayal was born. Now, we are too early in the edits so I can’t guarantee that this scene will stay, but in book three we get a delightful taste of Arwin dropping that part of himself and showing the reader exactly what he is capable in a Council meeting by breaking up a argument between Dimitri and Silen. I think both you and the readers will be very happy with the result.

Now that you’ve told me about it, the scene has to stay. At the very least it needs to be included as a cut scene in an appendix. Or there will be rioting in the streets! (assuming I can figure out how to instigate one)

Can you tell me about the timeline for this series? A lot has happened in less than 2 weeks in Eon (assuming my memory/math is right), your poor characters have barely been able to catch their breath—are you planning on some kind of time jump? Is it going to keep going at this pace?

I’m a big believer in whatever timeline is natural and working for the story is the timeline that I’m going to use. Most of my work has always been a continual line without a lot of time jumping. For the first few books in the series I expect that will continue with small time jumps added to account for travel days. When we get past book five, I suspect we may need a time jump and some summarization of their day to day life when their world is not completely falling apart. But yes, overall I take it as it comes and I like a very logical and linear progression.
At the book launch, you talked a lot about what you’ve got worked out for the future in terms of plot and character—but I want to look at the world. How much of Eon have you mapped out (mentally or literally), do you know this world’s geography or is it more of a case of “I need an area like X, I’ll put it overrrrrr…here!”
Oh geography, I hate geography. Maps really do hurt my head. By happy accident I made a new writer friend who looooves making maps. So much so that she actually sat down with me and offered to map out the first general idea of Eon. It was very basic. However, as I’ve been writing book three and thinking through the plot points for the next couple of books, I realized that in order to set things up properly the geography absolutely had to be handled. Almost all of the council members areas have now been mapped out with the exception of Tashara and Shax for reasons I will explain in another book. But yes, there is actually a solid map on my wall now and despite the process causing me an aneurysm, I do really like the end result. Having something solid to refer to has been great. I definitely see the advantage to mapping things out at the start of the story and will probably move more toward doing that earlier in future projects.
I’m glad you were able to find some time in your hectic schedule for these answers and hope Promises Forged is a big success (and that you survive the editing process for #3!)
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Venators: Promises Forged by Devri Walls: Out of the Frying Pan and into the . . . Clutches of a Life Siphoning Fae?

Venators: Promises ForgedVenators: Promises Forged

by Devri Walls
Series: Venators, #2


Paperback, 428 pg.
Brown Books Publishing Group, 2019

Read: May 3 – 7, 2019

I’m about a month late with this one — every time I sat down to write it, I decided I wanted to chew on things a bit more (and then I arranged to do a Q&A with the author in conjunction with the post and so I bought myself some time to let things stew while she found time to get the answers done). Now that I have her answers in my inbox, I have no excuse to put this off. So, despite some of my thoughts still being half-baked, here we go…

And yes, that was one very convoluted series of food metaphors. That really doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in this post, does it?

So the ending of the previous book (Venators: Magic Unleashed) focused on a dragon being unleashed by the series’ (apparent) Big Bad, the sorceress Zio. Not surprisingly, the series central characters survived the encounter. This book starts with a quick recap of that survival from the point of view of Zio — which is a great way to get the reader back into the moment and build on their understanding of what happened and Zio.

We quickly return to our Earthlings, Grey and Rune and the aftermath of their unauthorized excursion to rescue humans from a werewolf pack, which culminated in the aforementioned dragon attack. Rune’s proving to be a quick study of Council politics and was able to turn things to their advantage and buy them some leniency from the Council. The ways the two humans respond to and interact with Council members is pretty interesting and I suspect will be one of the more interesting developments from this point forward in the series. I suspect the Venator abilities that make these two the warriors they are in this world are in play with Rune’s politicking — no one mentions mental acuity when talking about Venator abilities, but maybe they should. Watching Rune play the games (both successfully and less-so) that the various Council members throw her way is probably my favorite part of the character.

And she has to do a lot of politicking and game playing here, because her co-Venator and friend Grey has found himself in quite the pickle. After their ordeal with the werewolves, the two Earthlings’ need for training was even more apparent. They get just a little of it (a good, promising start) before getting momentarily side-tracked. Before they get a chance to build on that, Grey is lured into the one place the two have been told they absolutely cannot go. Because forbidding people from going somewhere always works out (how many Hogwarts students stayed out of the forest? How long did Belle stay out of the West Wing? Even the Federation had to know that forbidding landing on Talos IV wouldn’t work for long).

Grey has found himself in the clutches of a powerful Fae, Feena. Feena will spend days/weeks/years sucking the life out of her prisoners to feed her own magics. Given that Grey is more powerful than your typical Eonian, you know she’ll drag it out as long as possible. It’s a torturous experience for Grey, but he does what he can to resist and fight back. On the one hand, watching him stupidly and blindly put himself in this situation was maddening. But after that, watching Grey endure what he has to and struggle in response is pretty cool. As much as I appreciate Rune’s playing politics, I enjoy watching Grey in action.

So the book boils down to this — can Rune get permission to run a rescue mission — or at the very least, find a window in which she can pull off another unauthorized mission? Can Grey survive long enough for the cavalry to arrive? Assuming they do, how can Grey be rescued and the Venators get back to their training without causing a diplomatic incident that will shake up everything?

The actions of the Venators’ guides, teachers, allies confuse me. They’ve got these two kids in a world they clearly don’t understand, with abilities they don’t understand and then expect them to react appropriately in new situations. Even worse, all of them are keeping things from Grey and Rune — telling them half-truths, deflecting legitimate questions and delaying explanations. It’s maddening. It’s bad enough that the Council, who are clearly only using these two for their own ends do that, but the people who supposedly are looking to them to change the world? A little honesty, being a little forthcoming, helping them to avoid the minefields they keep running into rather than saying “oh, you shouldn’t have done that” — it would make it a lot easier for this reader to stomach them.

The Council? I need to see more of them. I have little patience for them as individuals or as an entity at the moment, but as individuals and as an entity there’s great potential for something interesting to happen. Feena’s a good villain — she’s not worth several books, but for one novel? She’s a good opponent. The Fae? It’s simple — any universe, any world, any author — when it comes to Fae politics, Fae dealings with other Fae, Fae dealings with non-Fae? It’s complicated, tricky and messy. It’s good to know you can count on something.

So much is happening in a very short period of time, it’s hard to know what kind of impact the events are having on anyone — it’s been less than two weeks since these two jumped into this world, leaving St. Louis behind. It’s hard for them — or a reader — to really take it all in. We do know that already both Venators are changing because of their abilities (as well as the experiences in this new world) — both are self-aware enough to see how it’s happening (at least in part) and are both resisting and embracing the changes. Both are, naturally, deluded about how easy it will be to resist this kind of thing — denial’s not just a river on Earth.

I’m enjoying these books — I do hope that under the new publisher, they’re able to come out pretty regularly, it’ll help sustain my interest (and, I’m guessing, the reading public’s). I know that Walls has several more books planned, so it makes it okay that I’m still on the fence about the series as a whole — there’s a lot of potential to the series and these characters and she has time to help them reach their potential. There are aspects of the books (the prospective — and lingering — romantic entanglements, for example) that I’m withholding an opinion on until more happens. And I’m not sure if I should appreciate how little we’re getting with Zio and Rune’s brother, or if it should annoy me. Is Walls building suspense, or is she simply being obfuscatory? I’m hoping that after Book 3, I’ll be more settled with my expectations about these books — I know I’m enjoying them, I’m just not sure if I should wait on them getting better.

An interesting world, great characters (even if they frustrate me), good action — and a fast moving plot. This YA fantasy is a crowd pleaser, I’m sure of that — you should join the crowd.

—–

3.5 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Venators: Magic Unleashed by Devri Walls: Welcome to Eon in this Promising YA Fantasy Introduction

Venators: Magic UnleashedVenators: Magic Unleashed

by Devri Walls
Series: Venators, #1

Paperback, 354 pg.
Brown Books Publishing Group, 2018
Read: April 17 – 18, 2019

Back in 2016, I read and blogged about Venators: Through the Arch, which was later picked up by a new publisher, given a re-write, a spiffy new cover, and was re-born as Venators: Magic Unleashed. I haven’t read that old post in a long time, and won’t until I finish with this one, I’m only linking out of habit. I hate to say it, but I remember very little about the original version of this book beyond a vague grasp of the plot outline, some vague notions of characters and an overall positive regard. Oh, and a strong interest in volume two. This revamped version is stronger, with some of the rough edges smoothed out, and strengths sharpened. Brown Books and Walls made good use of the relaunch. But let’s set aside the comparisons and focus on Magic Unleashed.

This is a portal fantasy about a world called Eon, populated by humans, elves, vampires, werewolves, elves, dragons, etc. There are connections between Earth and Eon, allowing travel between the two — although they’re not as strong as they once were. It turns out some humans from Earth have a certain invulnerability to the kinds of magic employed by the various races (like a werewolf or vampire bite, but not, say, an invulnerability to a werewolf tearing off their head). Thee humans also have other enhanced physical attributes allowing them to go toe-to-toe in combat with members of these races. Which has made these humans a powerful force for good, and a potentially tyrannical force as well. Eon’s known more of the latter lately, which has led to a lack of recruitment.

But now, society’s on the verge of collapse into chaos, warring tribes trying to wipe out other races in a fight for dominance, and the end of law. So some people have taken it upon themselves to reintroduce these humans, Venators, to Eon. Enter Tate, a warrior who is convinced that Venators are the key to Eon’s survival — he’s been to Earth before, and now returns to bring back some people he observed then. Six years ago, he encountered a young teen named Grey Malteer — who was forever changed by their brief encounter. Now in college, Grey is about as well-read in the lore of the supernatural and weird as is possible for someone to be while stuck on Earth and not being known as a crackpot (although he’s regarded as pretty eccentric, probably well on his way to crack-pot status).

An acquaintance of his from childhood, now attending the same college, Rune Jenkins is repulsed by the same things that Grey is focused on (while also drawn to them). Rune is totally unprepared to accept that the supernatural is anything but wild fiction until she’s attacked by goblins and rescued by a large blue man (the aforementioned Tate). Which really can only make her a believer — or drive her to some sort of psychotic break. Thankfully, she goes with the former. Tate brings Rune and Grey into Eon and sets before them the calling of Venator.

To oversimplify things: from here out, the two are introduced to this world, the beings that populate it, the political realities that govern it (and see them only as pawns), and they begin to embrace their new identities, while engaging in a brief battle or two. While Rune and Grey are introduced to all this, so is the reader — and it’s clearly the point of this book — to bring the reader and these two into Eon, give us all a taste of what’s to come and help us get to know the players. There is a clear plotline and definite story here — don’t get me wrong — but the major function is to provide a foundation for things to come.

The book would have to be a lot longer to serve as anything other than an introduction — the ruling council alone is made up of enough characters we’d need a few more chapters to really get to know them and their goals — although they can be summed up in lust for power and influence for themselves and their race to the possible detriment of every other council member/race. Then you throw in Tate; his allies (however temporary) the vampire Veridia and the shapeshifter Beltran; the two humans; and the council’s enemy, Zio — and really, you’ve got enough players that you really can only skim the surface with in 354 pages.

We get to know Grey and Rune enough to see they’re well-developed and three-dimensional, and many of the rest show signs of being that developed, but we don’t get to see that fully displayed — but we see enough to know that given the opportunity, the characters will be easily fleshed out. One thing I noted in particular while reading this is just how many seeds Walls planted in the characters and situations to come back to in future installments. This foundation is built in such a way that several books can be built on it — it’s really impressive to note.

Yes, this is written for the YA market, so there’s a bit more action than others might use. There’s a focus on certain kinds of emotional beats, and that sort of thing. But it’s more of an accent to the storytelling than other writers would’ve made it. For some reason, Mercedes Lackey’s Hunter series and Brandon Mull’s Beyonders Trilogy come to mind as I think about similar series — but the YA-ness of both of those comes through more strongly than it does with this book.

Book Two, Venators: Promises Forged releases today, and I’m hoping to start it in a day or two — I’m looking forward to seeing how Walls takes all these ideas, characters, and potential and develops them. This is a good starting point, and what comes next can’t help but be better when she can focus more on exploring the world she’s created and shown us rather than just establishing it here. This is a good book and I do encourage people to read it, but its foundational nature should be borne in mind.

—–

3.5 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Dispatches from a Tourist Trap by James Bailey: Jason’s Woes Follow (and Grow) in his new Small Town

Dispatches from a Tourist TrapDispatches from a Tourist Trap

by James Bailey

Series: The Jason Van Otterloo Trilogy, Book 2

Kindle Edition, 253 pg.
2019
Read: April 1, 2019

Sometimes lately I feel like life is a chess match, and no matter how hard I look at the board I can’t see the next move. Or maybe I think I see it, but really I don’t. Like my pawn is sitting there, all ready to put the other king in check, and somehow my queen gets swiped and two moves later I’ve lost the game and my pawn is still waiting there, impotent and useless.

So Jason mother’s Janice continues her bad decisions when it comes to men — she leaves her husband for a new guy, who happens to be the dentist she’s started working for. We met him in The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo, and they clearly didn’t waste time resuming whatever it was they had back in high school. Janice has moved herself and Jason to her parents’ house, enrolled Jason in a school filled with very friendly people, and tried to move on with her life.

Jason realizes full-well that his choices are a life with his grandparents and a much smaller school, hours away from his friends and girlfriend; or life with Rob, near them. As much as he doesn’t want to be in Icicle Flats, he knows it’s the better choice available. But he complains the whole time about it — this is good for readers, Jason complaining makes for an entertaining read. This time, he’s not just complaining in emails, he’s set up a blog, too. I was wondering how the blog was going to work instead of the emails — it’s actually a really good move, allowing Jason to tell longer stories without the emails being too long.

Which is good — because he has long stories to tell this time. There’s a literature club he’s involved with at school that’s discussing books that ruffle the feathers of many, which leads to all sorts of trouble. There’s a flirtation with pirate radio. A camping trip that is fantastic to read about (and probably not a lot of fun to live through). A disastrous experiment with eBay. And basically, a bucket-load of culture shock. Also, after a few short weeks of dating, Jason’s first real relationship becomes a long-distance one. High school relationships are bad enough, throwing in a few hour bus-ride into things is just asking for trouble. So yeah, between emails and his blog — he’s got a lot to write about, and his friends have a lot to respond to. Somehow, they make it through the school year more or less intact.

Jason feels incredibly authentic — immature, self-centered, irresponsible, but he’s got his moments. He can put others before himself, do the right thing because it’s right — not to stay out of trouble; But man, he can be frustrating the rest of the time. There were a lot of opportunities along the way here for him to be a better friend, a much better boyfriend, son and grandson; and he missed almost all of them. He comes through when necessary, don’t get me wrong and he’s not a bad guy — I just wish he’d grow up a bit faster. Which again, means that Bailey has nailed his characterization, this his how people his age should be.

I’m less than thrilled with Bailey’s approach to religious characters in these two books. I’m not questioning that there are people like the characters he depicts running around everywhere and that the situations would’ve played out a lot like they did here (but some of it pushed believability). I just would like a small indication that there were some sincere people trying to do the right thing in the middle of all this.

Having talked about The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo just two weeks ago, it feels hard to talk about this book beyond some of the plot changes — this feels like the same book, just with new problems. Which is pretty much the point, right? I still like Jason (as frustrating as he can be), his girlfriend is fantastic, I want good things to happen to Drew. Jason’s already complicated life is about to get a lot worse, which should prove very entertaining for the rest of us. A strong follow-up in this series.

—–

3.5 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

A Few Quick Questions With…James Bailey

I’ve had some really good Q&A’s this year — which is entirely due to those providing the A’s. Here’s one of the crème de la crème. Now I wrote about James Bailey’s book, The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo a week or so ago, but I didn’t have time to read and post about the sequel by today, its release date. So instead, I’ve got this little back-and-forth with the author to celebrate the release of Dispatches from a Tourist Trap. I’ll try to get something written about it by the end of this week, but I know better than to promise anything.

So sit back and enjoy this before you go to buy the book, which should have downloaded to my Kindle this morning. I’m going to go verify that as you read Bailey’s thoughtful and funny contributions below.

Most authors have dozens of ideas bouncing around their craniums at once — what was it about this idea that made you say, “Yup — this is the one for me.”? What came first, the choice to go for a YA story instead of your adult novels or the story idea?
I have so many Chapter 1’s on my computer it’s not even funny, so, yeah, I have ideas bouncing around all the time. Some of them never get any further than a few notes jotted down on a scrap of paper. The idea for Jason came to me while re-reading The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 . I thought it would be fun to try something like that, but more modern. I went with email instead of a diary. I got the image for his parents from my neighbors, who are probably closer to Rob and Janice than most people would want their parents to be. They are prone to fighting, occasionally physically, in their driveway. Any time we see a police car in the neighborhood, we almost expect to see it stop in front of their house. As for Jason, I wanted a likeable (if sometimes mildly self-centered) protagonist. On my last novel, Sorry I Wasn’t What You Needed, I started with the concept of a borderline asshole for the main character. He was definitely selfish, sometimes worse. One of my beta readers tabbed him a sociopath. I did soften him a little after that. I wasn’t quite aiming for sociopath. And I think he grew enough by the end that readers wouldn’t throw stuff at him if they met him on the street. But for First World Problems I wanted someone more likeable, and hopefully Jason comes across as a decent kid.

As for the YA angle, I’m not always even sure what counts as YA. I suspect most YA books are read by adults at least as much or more than they are by teens. Is it the protagonist being young, dealing with teen trials and tribulations, or is it the reader being young? Is Nick Hornby’s Slam a YA book? (One of my favorite Hornby novels, btw.) For me, when I read something that falls under the YA umbrella there’s often a nostalgia factor in there somewhere, and sometimes a “man, I’m glad I don’t have to relive all that again” factor. But when you look back on your life, there’s something about those high school years, as good or bad as they were, that never fades. Most of us will remember life as a 14-18 year old much more distinctly than we will life as a 24-28 year old or 34-38 year old, etc. It’s a formative period. Still, once I finish off the series, I’ll probably go back to writing “adult” books. (Though when you say it like that, it sounds like adult films, which have a seriously different meaning.)

I honestly laughed out loud there. Also, I have to confess — I’ve never read Slam. I bought it when it came out, my wife read and enjoyed it. But the Hardcover is sitting on my shelf. I really need to.

Anyway, why did you choose to go with an Epistolary book? What are the specific challenges that come with it — are there specific benefits?

As mentioned in the first answer, I was riffing off Adrian Mole a little when I started this project. The first couple of drafts were all Jason. I didn’t work in replies from the other characters until later. A friend who read an early draft said it was hard to get a feel for anyone else’s personality as it was. I’m really glad I changed course, because it definitely allowed them each to show more of who they are. Drew, especially, but Gina as well. Want a challenge? How about telling your brain to ignore all the spell-checker issues when writing her responses. While I was editing the rest of the book to make sure the spelling and grammar was correct, I had to keep making hers worse. She was fun to write. I only hope everyone can decipher what she said.
Ugh! I meant to talk about Gina’s grammar and spelling — how could I forget about that? It was so nice to read intentional misspellings and atrocious sentences. I’ve read too much of both lately in theoretially edited works.

Why 2003? Why not something more current — or further back? (Feel free to mock any of my rambling about the time)

You answered this one yourself in your review, almost exactly. I had to freeze it back in a time period when it was still realistic that guys like Jason and Drew wouldn’t have had phones. If I had set this in 2018, everything would have been in texts. That would be horrible. As it is, it still requires a minor suspension of disbelief that they would write in complete sentences, but then again, they’re intellectual fellows. I could have gone a little further back in time, but not much beyond the mid-90s. Earlier than that and email would have been a stretch for the opposite reason.
I’ve often heard that writers, or artists in general, will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
I now have a 1-star review on Amazon for each of my four books. Fortunately, those are the minority. I’m not sure about the “worst,” but I do have a stupidest. A guy gave my first book, The Greatest Show on Dirt, a 1-star review. All he said was, “not about baseball. Its a dumb story about people who work at a baseball stadium,” That’s it. Well, there’s a lot of baseball in the book. Not sure what he was looking for. But here’s the kicker. He’s also the guy who left a one-star review on my second book, Nine Bucks a Pound. For that one he said, “only started it. Not very good.” He posted both reviews on the same day. My question for him would be, if you didn’t like one, why’d you bother with the other? But you can’t respond to reviewers. There’s nothing to gain from it and a lot to lose. You have to just try to tune the negative ones out. Not always easy. Then again, if most of the reviews for a book are 4 or 5 stars, and someone posts a 1 star review, to me that says more about them than it does the author or the book.

And try to find a book on Amazon that everyone liked. My favorite novel of all time, A Confederacy of Dunces, has 221 1-star reviews. That book is brilliant. It’s hilarious, creative, the characters jump off the page. How in the world that all came together in one man’s mind just amazes me. But 221 people hated it enough to rip it on Amazon. When I see people saying “This isn’t funny,” about Ignatius J. Reilly, that tells me all I need to know about them. They have no sense of humor, whatsoever.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
If I thought hard enough about this, I’m sure I could come up with a handful, but the first thing that pops into my head is a book called Dinosaurs and Prime Numbers, by Tom Moran. And while I might wish I had written it, if I’m honest there’s no way I could have. It’s just too zany. It’s about a time traveling detective named Walton Cumberfield, who has to solve the mystery of why an old man broke into his house after Walton beats him to death with a Guinness Book of World Records (2008 edition). It’s a bit silly at times, and if you hate puns you might struggle with it, but it’s clever, creative, and fun. Walton reminded me in some ways of Ignatius J. Reilly (two Confederacy of Dunces references in one Q&A; is that a record?). There was a second book in the series, called A Debt to the Universe, that was enjoyable, but not quite as good.

I’ve loved time-travel movies and books since I saw Back to the Future when I was 15. I’ve toyed around with some ideas for writing one myself, but I haven’t quite hit on the right storyline yet. Maybe someday.

You care to give the elevator pitch for Book Two of the Trilogy? (and maybe a hint about Book Three, if you can)
Okay, I’m hardly kidding when I say it’s easier to write a book than it is to write a blurb about that book. I’ve finally finished rewriting the one that’s going to go up on Amazon, and you’re asking for an elevator pitch, which to me connotes something even shorter, so I’m going to hack it down slightly here. If you want the fuller version, you can find it up on Amazon (the book is available now for pre-order). Anyway, here’s my elevator pitch version:

Thanks to his parents’ separation, Jason is starting his sophomore year of high school in tiny Icicle Flats, a quaint Bavarian-themed mountain village three hours east of Seattle. This town has barely changed since Janice grew up there, and she’s only going back because she has a new boyfriend, who is also her new boss.

Leaving his friends is hard, but the worst part is leaving Sian, right when things were getting good. In between visits, they exchange a lot of email and phone calls, but long-distance relationships are always challenging, especially for someone like Jason who forever seems to be digging himself into a hole. Fortunately, Drew is just an email away. If only Jason would ever heed his advice.

Jason joins an after-school book club, where he hooks up with a couple of other students who love to push boundaries. Mayhem ensues, involving the school board, the town Christmas parade, and a pirate radio station. Who ever said life in a small novelty town would be dull?

As for Book 3, I haven’t started writing it yet, but I do have some ideas. Jason’s family will expand when Rob gets remarried and a new bundle of joy appears. Fortunately for his little brother, his stepmother is a competent adult, which brings the grand total to one in Jason’s circle. His relationship with Sian will be strained once more when she heads off to Ireland as an exchange student. Jason will learn how to drive. And Rob may see a UFO. For now, I’m envisioning the book covering the summer before his junior year (picking up where Book 2 leaves off) and running through the school year. But there’s a lot TBD at this stage.

Thanks for your time — and thanks for introducing me to Jason Van Otterloo.
And thank you, for your time and the opportunity to reach some new readers.

Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles by Thomas Lennon, John Hendrix: A Young Irish Police Officer Takes on Leprechauns and other sorts of faerie folk.

Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of RiddlesRonan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles

by Thomas Lennon, John Hendrix (Illustrator)
Series: Ronan Boyle, #1

Hardcover, 286 pg.
Amulet Books, 2019
Read: March 20 – 22, 2019

I didn’t tell Captain Fearnly that I was joining the garda as part of a plot to exonerate my parents and find a four-thousand-year-old mummy — and there is no place to enter this type of thing in the online application, so I just kept it to myself.

Last year, when Thomas Lennon was a guest on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show #371, they spent some time talking about this book. I knew I had to give it a shot almost immediately. When I got home and found it on Goodreads, I was a little disappointed to find out it was for the MG crowd — I didn’t get that impression at all from his description (I may have missed something while driving). Still, I put it on the “To Read” list and kept an eye out for its publication. It still sounded like a good time.

And boy, oh, boy it was.

Ronan Boyle is a young man who watched his parents get arrested (in the middle of a family game night) and put into prison. They’re academics, and were found guilty of selling antiquities that belonged to the Irish government. As noted above, Ronan joined the Irish police as an intern, primarily as a way to . Until one night when he was recruited to help dealing with a leprechaun (he was the only one the right size to get where the leprechaun was keeping something). He did well enough with that assignment that he was immediately recruited for Garda Special Unit of Tir Na Nog — the supernatural division.

We follow Ronan through his training — imagine Hogwarts summarized in a hundred pages or so (although this is a shorter course of training) — what he and his fellow cadets (including a girl who thought she was a log for most of her life, and a medium-sized bear that may or may not have been a fellow cadet) go through is unlike any training program you’ve seen or read about. Yet it’s familiar enough that it feels comfortable. Then we see Ronan and his compatriots begin their garda careers in earnest.

Meanwhile, Ronan makes a little progress with the investigation to clear his parents. He also makes friends — from multiple species — and decides that he really likes berets. He’s a very unlikely hero — not terribly coordinated, skinny, as physically un-intimidating as you can possibly imagine with poor eyesight. He also has a strange obsession with Dame Judi Dench (not that Dench isn’t worth obsessing over, it’s just not someone many teen boys fixate on)

All in all, an entertaining story steeped in Irish lore, myth and culture — all very well-researched and lovingly told. I’d probably recommend it just on these grounds.
But it’s the way that Lennon tells this story that seals the deal. His voice is chatty, whimsical and infectious. The imagery, language, and overall feel is hilarious. Yes, I’d recommend the book just on the characters/plot. But I’d also recommend it for voice and style alone. For example:

It was a mysterious garda officer named Pat Finch, whose ghoulish face is so crisscrossed with bright red veins that it looks like a map of hell drawn by a monk in a medieval lunatic asylum. Pat Finch looks like what a heart attack would look like if it could walk around eating fish-and-chips and saying terrible things about Roscommon Football Club’s starting lineup.

“There’s a leprechaun navy?”

“Yes. Probably the least reliable fighting force in the known world,” replied the captain. “The leprechaun navy is basically a heavily armed musical-theater troupe with two boats.”

If you know Thomas Lennon as a performer, you’ll be able to “hear” significant portions in his voice. I think I saw that he does the audiobook,which is good — because otherwise you’d have to find someone who can do a decent impression of him to really pull of the cadence and rhythms of the text.

Oh, you must read the footnotes. All of them. They’re the best use of fictional footnotes since Lutz’ The Spellman Files or Bazell’s Beat the Reaper — except these are MG appropriate.

Hendrix’ illustrations fit the mood perfectly. Intricate, goofy, and skillful. They’re not essential, but they add a very welcome touch to the text.

This is ideal for MG readers who like early Riordan, but wouldn’t mind a bit more silliness and an Irish focus. Or for those who liked Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant books. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ignore that (or go read them after you read this). It’s just a fun, goofy read with a touch of adventure. Perfect for MG readers or adults who don’t mind reading MG if it’s well-done. This is. At the end of the day, you need to pick up a copy just so you can read the back cover blurbs by Weird Al and Patton Oswalt, really. Of course, then you’ll want to read the thing based on what they say. So just save yourself the effort and get it.

The ending sets up at least one sequel and you can bet that I’ll be waiting for it.

—–

3.5 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

The Great Brain (Audiobook) by John D. Fitzgerald, Ron McLarty: A frequently pleasant stroll down memory lane

The Great Brain (Audiobook)The Great Brain

by John D. Fitzgerald, Ron McLarty (Narrator)
Series: The Great Brain, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 4 Hours, 41 Minutes
Listening Library, 2002

Read: February 25 – 26, 2019


Growing up, these stories about a pre-teen con artist in late 19th Century Utah were among my favorites. I remember stumbling on a box set at a Yard Sale after I’d read them from the Library a couple of times and just about wore out the set reading and re-reading them. Even then, I remember that I had problems with some of the characters, and recall that my favorite was always the narrator, John D., not the titular Great Brain himself, Tom D. About 10 years ago, I read the series to my kids, and enjoyed it (possibly more than they did), but not as much as I remembered. Still, when I saw it listed as a new addition to my library’s catalog, I took a second glance and when I saw that Ron McLarty did the narration, I had to try it.

This book is a series of episodes from over a year or so in the life of three brothers, Sweyn D., Tom D. and John D. Fitzgerald. Sweyn is around a little bit as the more mature eldest brother, John’s the youngest (8 or 9, I believe) and Tom is 10 and the star. He’s Greedy, conniving, and ambitious — and his ego is bigger than the rest of his attributes combined. They live in a small, largely LDS, town in Utah during the last decade of the 1800s. The episodes feature different ways in which Tom’s Great Brain works to make him money and/or notoriety in the community, especially with the kids.

Some of these antics are silly, some are serious. Almost all of them are profitable for Tom. The strength of the stories is the humanity of the rest of the community — the traveling Jewish merchant, the local farmers, the Greek immigrant family, for starters. The weakness comes from the very laissez-faire approach to parenting the Fitzgeralds take — allowing Tom D. to pretty much get away with everything he wants.

There is some charm, some heart, throughout — even from Tom. That part appeals to me, the ego-driven greedy exploits of the Great Brain don’t. John’s narration occasionally will critique Tom’s motives, but mostly John’s a little brother thinking his big brother is fantastic no matter what. I know John becomes more disillusioned later, but for now, it was annoying. I want better for him.

How’s the narration you ask? Honestly, the chance to listen to Ron McLarty narrate was half the reason I had for grabbing this. McLarty will always be Sgt. Frank Belson to me, despite the many other things he’s accomplished in life. He did a fine job, at times a great job. Something about him reading the contraction-less dialogue bugged the tar out of me. George Guidal can make it work when he reads Henry Standing Bear — although it helps that no one else does it. McLarty can’t make it work, probably because despite the fact that slang is used, time appropriate language — but not a contraction from anyone? I don’t lay the fault at McLarty’s feet, it’s just a prominent feature.

I still recommend the books and enjoyed them. It’s just a tempered enjoyment. I’ll probably keep chipping away at the series over the next few months — waiting to see John’s disillusionment grow, and the brothers develop a conscience.

—–

3 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge