A Writer Considers Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey Series

One of the advantages of reviewing an older series of books is that unless your readers have been living under a rock, they already know the basic storyline: Dave Bowman and Frank Poole fly to Jupiter and HAL, their hyper-intelligent computer, tries to kill them.  Pretty straight forward, or is it?

When it came out in 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was mandatory viewing for anyone who grew up believing in the endless promise of space exploration.  At the age of fourteen, the graphics—cutting edge at the time—impressed me enough to read the novel.  I don’t remember whether I caught the inconsistencies between the two story lines at that point, in fact I’m sure I didn’t.  Critical literary analysis wasn’t at the top of my list.  For me it was just entertainment.

Recently I caught parts of Kubrick’s masterpiece on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and thought I’d like to revisit the novel—actually, the series.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that I was actually unaware that Clarke had written a four book series.  Here are the novels and their publication dates:

There is no doubt that these books are, and will remain, icons in the halls of science fiction, so do not let any of my comments make you think that I have anything but the highest esteem for Clarke’s genius.  With that said, from a writer’s perspective, I want to point a few areas where his writing doesn’t really work for me:

  • Having a novel released after the movie. In his introduction to 2001, Clarke went into great detail about his collaboration with Kubrick.  He confronted the belief, held by many at the time, that the novel was written after the movie was released, and written to the movie plot.  This belief, although wrong is not entirely unnatural because the novel was released shortly after the movie.  In reality, Clarke fed Kubrick the novel as it was developing, but Kubrick changed the plot for the movie.
  • Writing the sequel to the movie instead of the novel. In Clarke’s Author’s Notes to 2010, he addresses this issue by stating that the sequel while fed by the first novel, takes place in a different universe.  This causes a problem for the reader, of course.  If you somehow missed the movie and/or skipped the Author’s Notes and jumped right into the story, there are areas that just don’t synch.  And, of course, that out of synch feeling would carry on through all the sequels.  In fact, had Clarke stuck to the original plot, 3001 might not have been possible.
  • Reuse of material throughout the sequels. Throughout the sequels, Clarke drew heavily on pre-published material.  For instance, 3001 contained whole pages from the previous three novels.  2061 contained whole portions from the previous two novels, and 2010 contained verbatim text from 2001.  This technique upped the page count, helped with consistency, and saved Clarke from creating more original content.  Personally, I believe it’s fully acceptable for a technical paper or thesis, but not for fiction.  As soon as I came to those chapters (yes, some whole chapters), I skipped over them and moved on, hoping for more original content.
  • A little science goes a long way. All four novels are, for the most part, built on credible science or scientific theory.  Clarke even included detailed references and notes at the end of each novel.  That’s what makes his novels science fiction.  They include science and scientific detail.  To my mind though, the science makes these novels cold—unless that’s what he intended.  Space isn’t exactly touchy-feely.  While I have been engrossed with science, especially physics, since I was young, in the end it just didn’t work for me in these novels.  Science-based fiction should inspire the reader to further research the themes and concepts from the story, without inhibiting the momentum of the plot.
  • The information is dated. There is always a certain amount of risk in tying the plot to a specific date in the future.  Eventually that date arrives and what seemed prescient in 1968, seems anachronistic in 2001.
  • Lack of empathy for the characters. I found it very difficult to empathize with the characters in these novels.  I really can’t explain why, other than to say that Clarke introduced some side characters and themes that he failed to adequately expand upon.  The universe Clarke created is about more than just Dave Bowman and Frank Poole.
  • The monoliths are straight-jacketed by the science. I will tread around this carefully, because if you haven’t read 3001, I’d hate to ruin it for you.  Let’s just say that I was disappointed in the explanation, descriptions, and capabilities of the monoliths and those who controlled them.  I find it difficult to believe that our understanding of the universe is so parochial as to believe that everything in it is governed by the laws we have defined.
  • An ending without a punch. As I finished 3001, I kept waiting for the brilliant finale, something that made fighting through hundreds of pages and thousands of words worth the effort.  Instead, it was just, well, the end.  Perhaps, after all the hype, I expected too much.

What Clarke did right, was to accurately describe the immenseness of the universe.  Perhaps that is the thing that makes these novels so special.

©Copyright 2017 by Kevin Fraleigh

The Last Pope of Antioch

Here’s something I hope you’ll like and will comment on, an excerpt from a novel I’m working on called The Last Pope of Antioch. Be sure to let me know what you think of it.  Thanks!

Part One: The Red Convertible

The red convertible flew down the dusty, empty road like flame seeking something to ignite. The driver concentrated on his task. Seeing far beyond his horizon, far past his destination, he stared out through the waves of heat reflected from the road surface, sunglasses wrapped around his face seeming to form themselves to the contour of it. His face was angular, giving the impression of sharpness. Although it had been days since he had shaved, his pockmarked skin, possibly an artifact of the ravages of youth, showed no sign of stubble. The truth of it was that he had never developed a beard, so common in other men, and he counted himself lucky to be spared the razor, that dragging of sharp steel across unprotected flesh.

It may have been a reflection of light off the red convertible, complete with a red interior, but his skin had also taken on an unnatural redness. It was redness from more than just exposure or windburn. The redness stayed with him and was part of him. Contrasting with the redness was a gold ring that complimented his left ear and a dark, flat, wide-brim hat turned low in the front to shade his eyes.

He drove on through the wasted land, never turning, never stopping, never caring for what or who might either be by or in the road. Had there been a what or who, he would have simply gone around or through, never slowing, never losing his fix on that which his sight, not his eyes, showed him. His eyes sometimes failed him, but his sight was perfect. With his sight he saw the city, but before the city was—

The small town, it’s stick buildings little more than a flashpoint in the sun, stood as the last habitation before the hundreds of miles of borderland that separated the wastelands from the city. The wastelands were death. No one enters the wastelands and no one ever leaves was the old adage. The borderlands offered at least the possibility of life. And yet there he was, about to leave the wastelands, the cloud of dust generated by his flight still drifting across the scorched earth.

He brought the red convertible to a halt in front of what, in another life, may have been a hotel or saloon, but now it was a little more than a façade, a former shadow of itself. Despite its appearance, it seemed to offer respite from the glare of the hardpan and the suggestion that there might be drink. He sensed that there was life here, the smell of it was undeniable. If there was life, then there had to be water, or even better, hard drink. And if it was here, he would have it.

He was right about the life, of course, within the building were people―old, gray, frighteningly thin―dressed in rags, remnants of a time even before their remembering. Shadows within shadows, their existence was survival. Each breath was their work, every drop of sweat a cost. Trapped by their circumstances, they hid within their prison, terrified of the light. Their prison had been their home, a boarding house in the beforetime, now it was their coffin.

At his coming, the tremor of his engine brought them to the windows, disbelieving their own senses. And suddenly it was there and the very sight of it filled them with trepidation. Bright red body, chrome wheels, immaculate tires, it was something so alien to the people, so foreign, even to the concept of it, that they dared not even consider approaching it. So they stayed inside, hidden back against the shadows until he emerged from it. It was upon his emergence that the people turned from awe to trembling.

Had there been one still, or for that matter had there been one ever, one might say that he was dressed for Florida. But of course, there was no Florida, and not to anyone’s knowledge had there ever been. There was only the here and now, the hot dry hardpan of the wasteland. Yet there he was, with his leather deck shoes without socks, white khaki slacks, and a brightly flowered shirt, loose and airy. All these were clothes foreign to this where and when, a rash display of color foreign to this drab world of dust and dirt.

In a moment he was standing in the boarding house doorway. With the open door, light and heat burst in from the street, temporarily incinerating the shadow. He walked through the door, staring into the shadow, and squinted his dark green eyes together in an attempt to focus. As the door closed, the shadow regained its dominion.

Around him was noise, at first almost imperceptible, then it rose to a shuffling and the unmistakable sound of several someones trying far too hard to be quiet. Those sounds were followed by animated mumbling, but he could make out a few words. There was the word “stranger”, the word “red”, and the word “dangerous”. He didn’t like that at all. He didn’t come here to make trouble, just to get what he needed and leave.

The room he entered had, perhaps, been intended as a foyer with a sort of welcome desk facing the front door, but now there were several dusty tables with chairs between the desk and the door. This suggested to him that at some point in time the tables had been necessary to accommodate an overflow beyond the normal capacity of the dining room. The extra tables and chairs certainly weren’t needed now as the entire population of this town, including him, could probably be seated at two tables.

He picked a table in the center of the room and, after blowing the dust away from the seat, sat down.

“Barkeep!” he shouted to the shadows. “Whiskey for me and my friends. And water for my pony.” He spoke with a gritty brogue.

The shuffling and murmuring in the shadows grew more pronounced. He drummed his fingers on the table, not impatiently, but as if keeping time with a tune only he could hear. No, he was not impatient. He knew they would come to him eventually. They had to. They always did.

From the murmuring, from the shadows, came the first to be drawn. A tremulous, barely audible voice.

“Ain’t no whiskey nor water,” said the voice. “None since the beforetime.”

The beforetime. A quaint reference to the mythical time before this and all the worlds changed, he thought. And the thought brought him a tenuous grin. It was all myth to them and it would remain so. Their miserable lives were full of myths, like whiskey, ice cream, and God. When you have nothing else, myths fill the dark, empty, scary places in the lives of the lost.

“You may not have whiskey, but you must have water,” he said. “If you are alive, you must have water.”
The voices murmured were again punctuated by shuffling feet.

“Ain’t enuf ta share,” said the voice. “Ya bitter go now for the dark come.”

“Good advice,” he replied, “but I must still have water. Haven’t you heard that man cannot live by bread alone, he must also have water?”

More murmuring, more shuffling feet.

“God,” said the voice. This time he spoke more confidently. “Must have God.”

“God?” he asked, and then followed with, “No God, just water.”

“No water,” said the voice

“No whiskey. No water. No God,” he said flatly. “Are you ghosts that you have nothing, want nothing?”

“Not ghosts, alive all,” said the voice defensively.

He smiled now, as genuinely as he was able, disarmingly so.

“Then show me you are alive. I have not seen anyone in weeks,” he said. “Would you not share yourselves with a stranger?”

There was more murmuring and in the murmuring was fear. Their fear was palpable. He could feel it like a buzz in the air surrounding him, and he was glad for it. The fear made him strong and them weak. Fear opened the empty places so he could fill them with—

Darkness, more darkness than Kef Haener had ever experienced. And cold, even amid the one hundred and ten degree heat, he was chilled. He stood among them, suddenly struggling for breath with a thousand times his weight pulling him downward, down into a dark chasm within himself, down into the dark and the cold. In his terror he cried out.

“Stop! It hurts!” Kef screamed. “The dark. The cold. The…” He stopped screaming suddenly, because there was something else in there with him. He stopped screaming just short of naming it. His cries turned to pleas. “Make it stop. Oh, God, please make it stop.”

“No God,” the stranger said affectlessly. “No god can stop it, only I can. But you need to be emptied before you can be filled.”

Kef had fallen backwards violently, as if pushed, back into the small cluster of men and women in the shadows. In falling he knocked over a table and several chairs, creating a general tumult that scared the others and filled them with fear that the same thing would happen to them. They pulled back from Kef, not understanding what was happening. They could not comprehend his terror, could not conceive how the stranger was responsible, but were sure that he was. They shrank even farther back into the shadows while Kef began to gather himself. He stood, wobbly at first, but stood unaided, and then slowly, deliberately walked forward towards the stranger.

“Kef,” said the stranger, “if you would look behind the desk, I believe that there is a closet. In the back of the closet there is a panel that, once pressed, will open to reveal a trove of little treasures. And a bottle of whiskey. If you would bring me the bottle of whiskey with some water, I would be extremely grateful.”

Kef didn’t know why, but he was no longer afraid of the stranger, in fact he wanted to please the man. When the stranger requested the whiskey and water, he had no other thought than to comply. He found the bottle of whiskey and from a jug hidden behind the desk he poured a glass of water. He poured the precious liquid without thinking, without considering that it was all they had. One partially filled jug of water for all of them to share. The others, still afraid to show themselves, watched with horror as what little they had was presented to the stranger. Their horror turned to an impotent rage as Kef set the glass and bottle down.

“Leave the whiskey with me,” said the stranger, “but the water goes to my pony.”
“Pardon?” Kef looked confused.

“My little red pony.” The stranger made a waving motion towards the convertible. “The radiator must need water by now. Just check it and fill up the radiator if it’s low.”

Having never seen a convertible, much less a radiator, Kef stood there dumbfounded, unable to express his confusion.

“Hmmm,” mulled the stranger, “I can see where you might have a problem with that.” He stood up. “Grab the jug of water and come with me.” He motioned for Kef to follow him as he walked towards the door, whiskey bottle in hand. Kef followed obediently, although still not completely understanding why.

Outside in the terrible glare of the sun, the stranger unlatched the hood and explained to Kef about an automobile. The reservoir for the radiator was low and the stranger instructed Kef how to fill it. As Kef poured the water into the reservoir, angry, confused faces watched from the shadows through dust crusted windows.

Kef lowered the hood and was about to go back inside the boarding house when the stranger motioned for him to wait.

“You don’t need to go back in there,” he said. “Their destiny is no longer yours.” Kef didn’t understand what the stranger meant by that, but had no desire to question it. He turned and walked obediently back to the car.

The stranger stood for a moment staring at the boarding house. He shrugged his shoulders as if whatever he was contemplating had concluded without real resolution. Still holding the whiskey bottle, he screwed off the lid and held it up to his lips, taking a deep draught. He turned to Kef to offer him a drink, but then pulled it back as if thinking better of it. Next, he removed a rag that was lying on the dashboard of the convertible and tore off a strip which he soaked with whiskey. He shoved the whiskey soaked rag down the neck of the bottle. Taking a match, one perhaps saved for this specific purpose, from his pocket, he struck it and set the rag on fire. He watched the fire burn for a moment, then with an overhand pitch threw the bottle in a perfect arc, smashing it into and through the open door of the boarding house.

Immediately the dry timber building was an inferno. There was barely enough time for those left inside to realize they were dead, no time for anguish or prayers. Within minutes there was only ash and ember.

Kef’s reaction of horror was real, if delayed. He had known that others would die. He had known that from the moment the stranger walked into the boarding house. The others were different, somehow lesser, like bit players that existed only to keep him occupied until the stranger arrived. It was the suddenness of their deaths that shocked Kef, the sheer suddenness. And now he was alone with the stranger.

And now they were in the convertible, flying towards the borderlands at what Kef believed to be an unimaginable speed. The vehicle, the red pony as the stranger called it, moving almost soundlessly on the road, was something totally foreign to Kef. Yes, there were those that talked about such things, about how things like that existed in the beforetime, long ago before the world changed. As foreign as the concept of the red convertible was to him, one might have well described a moon landing, ice cream, or God.
© Copyright 2014 by Kevin Fraleigh.

Murder In A Dark Place

There’s a book on my Amazon wish list that I can’t wait to read. It’s A Serial Killer in Nazi Berlin: The Chilling True Story of the S-Bahn Murderer by Scott Andrew Selby. It’s not fiction and it’s not horror, but it inspires a thought that is appropriate to both. Just imagine this―amidst all the death normally associated with Nazi Germany, a serial killer methodically murders young woman using the nightly blackouts as cover. Now that’s not the typical war story is it?

It also begs the question about how to discriminate the work of an “abnormal” psychopath from the work of the “normal” psychopaths who ran the Nazi regime. It makes me wonder how the average German police officer discerned the difference. In a place where an atmosphere of terror and mistrust were normal, where the Gestapo making people disappear was commonplace, how would a missing person or even a murdered person have been treated?

As I see it, there are basically two ways to tell a story about murder in a totalitarian state/repressive regime. The first is to tell the story from the cop’s point-of-view. Even in a totalitarian state there must be cops who just want to get the job done, to protect the people until the veil of madness is pulled from the society at large. He would want to catch the killer and bring him to justice. Or is it more complicated than that?

The second way to tell the story, of course, is from the killer’s perspective. He (or she) would feel the rush of excitement, the feeling of god-like dominance and total control in a world in which he is otherwise powerless. Others kill because they have to. He kills because he likes it.

And then there is the nature of crime itself. Is every crime a crime against the state? How does the repressive environment affect crime within the state? Does even a petty crime make the perpetrator an enemy of the state? And then there is murder. That’s the big one, isn’t it? If a series of disappearances occurred would they even be reported or would the common citizen fear attracting the attention of his repressors?

The idea of the totalitarian state lends itself very well to horror fiction. There is just so much opportunity to really build an environment saturated with impending doom, fear in every word, terror in every heartbeat. And it’s not just the Nazi regime. The same can be applied to the Soviet and North Korean regimes, or even to more democratic regimes, anytime common police work has to be carried out in a highly politically charged environment where the wrong word or wrong thinking can have dire consequences.
© Copyright 2014 by Kevin Fraleigh.

I Need Your Opinion

I’m working on a new intro for my eBook, Any Tomorrow: The Calling.  Would this make you want to know more about the story?

Could the world end without you knowing? Could the dead surpass the living without you being aware? Could the desolation overtake the earth without you being affected?

It   depends.

Which world? Which earth? The one before or after that odd déjà vu? The one that moved you to that so similar, but not quite the same, place? Or the one that took you to a place so radically different that your mind refused to believe it was real?

But it was real.

You know it was real and you know that you were brought to that place for a purpose. But was it to save the world or to destroy it?

And did it matter anyway?

Had he the presence of mind, Gerhardt Linder might have considered this, but he had no time as the SS-men in the black uniforms jackbooted their way towards his door. All he knew, all he would remember, was the slight distortion in the sunlight streaming through his apartment window. It was oh so slight a shimmer and, in so many other ways, unremarkable. But it was remarkable, because once he passed through it the SS-men were gone and everything he had thought to be true and real had changed forever.

From that moment onward he knew that any tomorrow he might be compelled to a different where and when by a fate over which he had no control or claim, a fate that was beyond him to refuse, a fate that would determine everything.

Leave a comment and let me know.  Thanks.
© Copyright 2013 by Kevin Fraleigh.

Is Anybody Out There?

The worst thing a writer can say is, “Hey, what’s on TV tonight?”

The second worst thing a writer can say is, “I’ll just be on the internet for a minute…”

And there it goes, the best intentions for starting a new story, editing one of those fifty trunk novels, or marketing the ones already on Amazon.  Before you know it, it’s four a.m., you have to leave for work at seven, and your wife doesn’t even know you snuck out of bed to go “work”.

Well, that’s how it is sometimes, but if you’re honest with yourself at all, it catches up with you after a while. You begin to feel guilty about it because, face it, you’re not getting any younger and you know that both what you’ve written and what you’ve got swirling around in your mind is worth writing, publishing, and offering to the world.

With this in mind I’ve started doing something new. I’ve started carrying a notepad and every chance I get, I write in it.  I know it’s old school and not a particularly efficient way to write, but it’s better than nothing. And I’ve actually begun what may be a new potential novel this way. I’m trying it out anyway. As long as I can score enough computer time to polish it up and expand it, it should work.

The new story is something different for me. It’s not straight horror, but more noirish, a story built a hard-boiled cynical detective at a physical and psychological tipping point on the edge of failure, a beautiful woman with terrible secrets, and a host of crooked cops, psychopathic crooks, and a dark presence of evil that orchestrates the misery of a dark bleak sleazy world that is the city.

Yeah, I can do that.

So for any of you that thought I’d just given up on the blogging, please accept my mea culpa. For those of you who haven’t done so yet, go to Amazon and check out my novels.  Better yet, buy a couple.  And for those of you who are writers, whether you use a laptop, a PC or a notepad, keep on writing.
© Copyright 2013 by Kevin Fraleigh.

A Vision Of Hell In North Korea

Escape From Camp 14 is the fascinating, if at times disturbing, tale of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known escapee born in one of North Korea’s concentration camps.  Journalist Blaine Harden’s masterfully multi-dimensional and compelling tale weaves Shin’s experiences in the camp, his escape, and psychological adjustment to the world beyond the barbed wire.

My interest in Escape From Camp 14 started with a feature on NPR last March (Link), but the interview didn’t just spark my interest, it reignited my fascination with what is the perhaps the most tightly controlled, institutionally barbaric society ever to have existed.  It reminded me that North Korea is a place where psychopathy is not an aberration, but a cultural imperative.  North Korea is a society built on lies and deception and life is forfeit for the smallest infraction.  While this is true of the general society, it is even more so in the prison camps.  For instance, Shin relates the story of a young girl who, in a camp classroom, was beaten to death in front of her fellow students for the sin of having five kernels of corn in her pocket.  As the girl was beaten by the instructor, the other children watched, understanding that this consequence was completely normal for the camp.

As a former intelligence analyst whose specialty was North Korea, Shin’s story brought back memories of the experiences of hundreds of other defectors and escapees.  Since the 1950’s, North Korea has perfected a system of prison camps into which hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have disappeared.  Escape From Camp 14 provides a startling first-hand look into one of the very worst camps.

As a writer of speculative fiction I like to explore the psychopathic persona so much so that in an early review of Any Tomorrow: The Calling, the reviewer thought my character, Henry Turner, was excessively violent and sexually aggressive.  After reading Escape From Camp 14 and recalling the horrors other defectors have reported over the years, there is nothing I could have written that can compare to the institutionalized mechanism for the terror of the North Korean prison camps.  In comparison, they make the NAZI concentration camps seem tame and the Soviet Gulag welcoming.

For anyone who values freedom, who has an interest in humanity, or desires to know what hell is like, read Escape From Camp 14.  Then try to imagine surviving it.
© Copyright 2013 by Kevin Fraleigh.

A Review of “Fire Angels” by Joseph Richardson

A few weeks ago a friend passed me a copy of “Fire Angels”, a self-published novel by Joseph Richardson. Fire Angels is the story of David and Sara Cooper, and their son Noble, set in Walako, Florida during the period of 1915-1925. In this story Richardson attempts to weave a complex narrative into which he draws xenophobic anti-German sentiment, racial hatred, and class conflict. But he tries too hard. By doing this he fails to delve into the emotions and psychological depth that would have made this story come alive. For instance, following America’s entry into World War I, David and his best friend, Robert Love, are sent to France. Following their first big battle, Robert is killed by a sniper. Following the war, David comes home and attempts to find catharsis in plowing a field. In that act David is overcome by the memory of Robert’s death and all the horrors of war Richardson did not include in the short description of David’s experience in France. The problem is that there is too much story, so nothing gets the depth necessary to draw the reader into the historical and emotional context. I wanted to be drawn into this story. I wanted to feel what David felt and really understand what life was like in early Twentieth Century small-town Florida. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

And there is something else by way of technical criticism. This novel, like many self-published efforts, could have benefited from a good, thorough professional editing. Numerous errors in the text detracted from the reading experience. For instance, I found inexplicably underlined or italicized words, dropped words, sentences all in caps, and other problems with formatting. These are not issues with style. These are basic errors I would expect to find in a draft novel, not a finished product.
© Copyright 2012 by Kevin Fraleigh.

A Review Of Wednesday’s Child by Alan Zendell

On Amazon there are more than twenty novels entitled  Wednesday’s Child .   And this is one of them.

Wednesday’s Child  poses an interesting dilemma for Dylan Brice.  He goes to sleep on Tuesday night, but wakes up on Thursday morning.  He goes to sleep on Thursday night and wakes up on Wednesday morning.  He goes to sleep on Wednesday night and wakes up on Friday morning.

Confused?  Author Alan Zendell explains the process with allusions to the space-time continuum, a reference to Groundhog Day, and the mysterious Übermensch.   [If you’re not familiar with the term Übermensch, refer to Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1883 philosophical masterwork,  Thus Spoke Zarathustra .  The exact meaning in  Wednesday’s Child  is implied and not fully defined.]  The problem is that it takes the first nine chapters to explain it.  After that Zendell hits his stride delivering an interesting thriller that includes spies, terrorists, and the threat of radiological attack.

Unfortunately, the action climaxes in chapter forty-eight, with the final three chapters devoted to revealing Dylan’s real mission, trying to save the world from itself.   Other authors have used science fiction to promote their political or social message, but in this story it’s less than compelling.

Wednesday’s Child  is, as they say, a story with good bones.  It has a solid premise, but I find fault with Dylan, who becomes ultra-aware of his situation too quickly.  He immediately assumes that every bad thing―a co-worker falling, a surgeon killed, a hit-and-run―were all because of him.  He quickly determines that if it happens on Thursday, he can fix it on Wednesday, so that everything is good on Friday.  This plays out over and over again.

Suddenly faced with a situation that would push any other rational person to the brink of madness, Dylan is analytical, objective, and detached.  He’s suddenly able not only to process it, but to share it with his wife, Ilene, who pretty quickly accepts it as reality.  More than that, I didn’t get a real sense of deep internal conflict between him and his new situation.  And his wife.  And his co-workers.  It seems like everyone just accepts his situation too easily.  They’re too willing to help.  The physics of what happens to Dylan is complex, but the reality of his relationships and his own internal struggles deserve to be shown as even more complex and investigated.  Even though Dylan is secretly a  deep cover  CIA asset, that doesn’t make him an expert in quantum mechanics.  And that inferred expertise shows up way too soon in his thinking process.  Even James Bond had to have complex scientific theories explained to him.

And then there’s the physics.  That would take an entire review by itself.

The problems with  Wednesday’s Child  start at the very beginning.  The title is not unique.  The cover art appears amateurish and doesn’t really relate to the story.  The synopsis is wordy and just didn’t grab me.  The final paragraph if the synopsis is even a little preachy―  It portrays marriage as a loving and mutually respectful partnership that strengthens both partners… ―and on and on.  This is a story about shifting space-time, spies, and terrorism, not touchy-feely relationships.  Or is it?

I had to resist the urge, while reading the synopsis, to close the file and not open it again.  For the story itself, the writing, especially in the beginning, is often difficult to follow and poorly polished.  Throughout the first nine chapters, I had to fight to stay interested long enough to get to the action.  It felt like chapters ten through forty-eight were written first and chapters one through nine were written afterwards to explain the main story.  I believe the physics of Dylan’s situation could have been better integrated into the main story.

The worst offense I find in this novel is the repeated  puppy  reference to a human being, as in  puppy-dog neediness ,  helpless puppy ,  frightened puppy dog look ,  helpless puppy look .   The English language is rife with wonderful descriptors for human emotion, puppy anything is not one of them.

Wednesday’s Child  would have benefited greatly from a thorough editing and objective peer review.  As I said before, the story has good bones, hence great potential, but in its present form it doesn’t realize that potential.
© Copyright 2012 by Kevin Fraleigh.

Oh, the Horror! It is Horror!

Writing for me is a very intimate process.  My stories well up first as images to form a vision.  Sometimes they are intensely detailed and other times mere wisps of idea.  My challenge is to translate the still fresh vision into words that can, hopefully, accurately portray it.  This is the essence of creation, something no one can do for me or help me with.  To do so would interfere with the act of birthing the vision onto paper.  Until the story takes form, until it remarkably transforms into something that conveys meaning, it remains vulnerable and I remain vulnerable.  Until then the nascent story must be protected, because until the story can stand alone, it is not really mine.

Not long ago, another blogger described their writing process.  He said that he always had trouble at the beginning.  He started out almost mechanically, like he was filling out a form, but after a while it would all come together for him.  In another forum, a writer said that he decided on the ending first and then wrote the words that would get his characters there.  Is this why Amazon is filled with hundreds of books on vampires and zombies?  Is this why short, quick reads are becoming the mainstay of pop fiction?

In response to my last post about whether I should keep Any Tomorrow as a trilogy or reconstitute it into a single book, the vast majority commented that (a) no traditional publisher will touch a 300K word book from new writer and (b) no one will read a 300K word book.  It was even suggested that I make the trilogy into four or five books for quicker reads.  Or condense the reconstituted book into a thousand words.

And I received other comments, some very helpful, about my covers, book descriptions, formatting, and overall marketing.  These comments really did give me pause because for some time now I had begun to doubt that what I had written was truly horror/fantasy.  I had begun to believe that it was more adventure or sci-fi or even historical fiction.  All those elements are there, but when I reread Any Tomorrow I could see that I was right from the beginning.  It is horror in the truest sense.  And it’s a damn good read, all the way through.

So, while I have incorporated some changes, such as reworking my book descriptions, you can get to them from my Amazon Author’s page (here), and have been mulling over my marketing plan, I will not sacrifice my story for the sake of short attention spans.  My chapters and paragraphs are already intentionally short to work better in an eBook format.   And the book itself is divided into eleven interwoven tales of terror that take the reader on a roller coaster of horror right up to the end.

So, to those who provided me with comments on my blog, google+, facebook, gather, linkedin, and goodreads, thank you.  For those who took the extra step of actually reading my blog, checking out my book descriptions, author’s page, and even sampling my writing before commenting, a very special thank you!
© Copyright 2012 by Kevin Fraleigh.

The Reaction I Hoped For

The weekend following my last post, my wife and I drove over to Largo to see my niece run the mile and 800 meter races in her track meet.  For us that’s like a two and a half hour drive.  Normally that’s okay, we can find things to talk about for that long, but it’s still pretty much wasted time.  This time I schemed to use the time productively.

As I said in my last post, Malette has been after me to write a book for my granddaughter, who will be five in September.  I’m sorry, I tried, but my mind just can’t do the Dr. Seuss or Winnie-the-Pooh kind of thing.  It just doesn’t work.  What I have begun is something for young adults.  I included the first chapter of The Darkened Room in my last post.  Malette wanted something she could read and not get freaked out by.  No rape, incest, bestiality, murder, or creative use of cream cheese.  I saw the trip over as an opportunity to preview the first five chapters.

I printed out a copy of what I had so far, placed it in the car beside my seat, and didn’t tell her about it until we were on the interstate.  She asked what I wanted to talk about and I gave her the copy.

Her review was enthusiastically positive, and not just because she’s my wife.  After thirty-three years together she has no problem pointing out when I screw up.  This makes her opinion of the story all the more valuable.  Now, that doesn’t mean that she didn’t find any mistakes.  She found a typo (it is a rough draft after all), made a couple of suggestions, and said that I needed to show it to Pam, my sister-in-law, who is a trained elementary school teacher, but now home schools.

Before we left for the track meet, Pam read the copy and was equally enthusiastic.  But the best part was when she got to the last page:

“What!  Wait a minute.  You can’t stop it here.  Where’s the rest?”

I couldn’t buy a reaction like that.  And when you’re reader says, “You can’t leave me hanging like that.”  I’d say I’m on the right track.  What do you think?

Last night Malette asked me if I’d written anything new on the story.  I don’t think that’s ever happened before.  So now I’m working on Chapter 10 and I finally have a clear idea of where the book is going, but I can’t share that yet.  Not with her, and not with you.  Sorry.  The world I’ve created is too new and it, to a degree, is still in flux.  When it’s ready to emerge, I’ll let you know.

If all goes well, The Darkened Room will be finished in a couple of months.  Then comes editing and reviews.  I’ll try to keep you up to date as things happen.  After that I hope to turn my focus on my other novel, 1933, and get that completed.

If you would like to share your ideas about what I’ve written, feel free to contact me here, on my blog, or using other social media.  Thanks.
© Copyright 2012 by Kevin Fraleigh.