STATION ELEVEN: ANOTHER VIEW OF A PANDEMIC AND OUR FUTURE?

Why do we, well, really me, love apocalyptic novels? Is it because they voice our fears about our so-called civilization? Or is it because we secretly wish our society and all the crazy people and things that happen would get their comeuppance?

In any case, here’s another in the series, but one that’s stunningly well written as well as an attention-grabber. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, published in 2014 and thrust into best-seller and best-book status, rings so true, every character—and there’s plenty of them, from an eight-year-old girl to a thumping good, evil, self-proclaimed prophet –could be your friends and neighbors.

Mandel’s fourth novel takes place primarily in the Great Lakes region after a fictional swine flu pandemic, known as the “Georgia Flu”, has devastated the world, killing most of the population. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2015. Although critics praise the understated nature of Mandel’s writing, I think that’s a misnomer. She simply lays out the characters and plot in a realistic, matter-of-fact way, so the 300 survivors in one area who take refuge in an airport function exactly like you’d envision your friends and neighbors would.

There’s lots of action, fighting off bad guys, battling for sheer survival, but also much insightful psychological and thoughtful musings about nature and humans and the earth’s future. Mandel’s talent as a literary author is indisputable. She doesn’t consider herself a “scfi” writer, but “literary.” I hesitate to use that term because it seems to scare people. Believe me, readers will adore both the content and the style.

Perhaps I’m not panicky over our current COVID pandemic because it’s not nearly as extreme as the other dystopian novels I’ve read—Ashfall, A Journal of the Plague Year, Hunger Games, Ship Breaker, Divergent, Rule of Three. When I close the covers of a book, I return to the world in which every one I’m attached to still survives and the culture around me still has unbelievable riches and opportunities. Yet each of these volumes, and most especially Station Eleven, carries a warning not to get too comfortable. For unless we improve our ways, that world could become one I don’t want.

Terror Proves Thrilling Once Again

AUTHOR LAURENCE ST JOHN

            Science fiction/fantasy author Laurence St John tackles action-adventure in his third novel in the Metatron series. In his new release, Metatron: Dagger or Mortality, he creates a young adult hero who “sustains constant action.” Superhero-in-training Metatron, 15-year-old Tyler struggles to stop the relentless animosity of a demonic figure and his accomplice.

            People today are all-too-familiar with terrorism and fake news. St John uses a similar scenario to place his protagonist in a situation as the suspect of a mass murder. A headline reads “Terror on the East Coast – Two Million Dead!” Fake or real (in the book)? St. John quickly grabs the reader’s attention, then poses the ultimate question: Can superheroes really be killed?

            Tyler believes a Superhero’s responsibility is to make the right decision, then follow it through to the end. But what if the outcome results in his death? He’s been in isolation for eight months so he could focus on completing his superhero training. Not even one day after his completion, Master Pat Tanaka urgently summons Tyler to help him.

            Kelltie, an evil girl, is threatening Tyler’s destiny of being a superhero by framing him for what will be the largest mass killings in American history. She also teams up with Black Shadow, a ruthless demonic figure with his own agenda — to use the Dagger of Mortality and kill Metatron.

            Feeling vulnerable, Tyler gets inspiration one last time from his Master instructor. He faces the Black Shadow, who seeks revenge for an unknown reason, and Tyler must render the most arduous choice of his life. He’ll save himself, save his beloved girlfriend Kendall, or save millions of helpless people and hinder Kelltie’s plan The story is set in New York, Nevada, and Massachusetts, where the action-packed adventure opens your mind’s eye.

            Author Kenna McKinnon said, “Teens and adults alike will identify with Tyler and his all-too-human angst as he executes superhero feats in a way only St. John’s hero can accomplish, with many twists and surprising turns of events in this young adult thriller.”

            St. John hails from just south of Toledo, Ohio. He’s currently working on book four and five in the Metatron Series. During the day, he works for Precision Strip, a company dealing with processing of raw material. During his off-hours he creates his novels.

            Metatron: Dagger of Mortality is published by Ogopogo Book, an Imprint of Imajin Books. For more information visit http://getbook.at/DaggerofMortality or imajinbooks.com. Reach Laurence at www.laurencestjohn.com; http://twitter.com/laurencestjohn; http://www.facebook.com/laurenceastjohn.

 

 

The Thrill of Writing About Love

By Khaled Talib, author of thrillers

In my newly released thriller, Gun Kiss, the protagonist falls in love with the co-protagonist, a common occurrence in books of all genres. As I sought reviews for the novel, I queried a book blogger who agreed to read it, but it didn’t turn out well for me. The blogger was abusive in her review of my book, highlighting nothing positive about it. In fact, she even went so far to say it wasn’t a book she would recommend to anyone. Yet she cared enough to publish the review on her blog, book cover and all. Why bother if she hated it that much?

That blogger was just one of the many reviewers I had contacted. Of course, I didn’t agree with the reviewer’s unsubstantiated comments. Like other authors, I have enjoyed my fair share of positive reviews. Gun Kiss was no exception as it also received praise from some renowned critics.

I could have responded to all her nitpicking, but I didn’t see the need because other reviewers and readers didn’t have problems with them. However, the blogger complained that “like instantly” after seeing her once. She added: “Had seen her once, when he rescued her and now he [sic] in love.”

It seemed to me the reviewer’s closer attention to my words would have revealed the depth of the story. I had explained the protagonist’s reaction when he first sees the co-protagonist, a famous Hollywood movie star, despite the circumstances in which they were both embroiled. I explained his excitement and infatuation amidst chaos, then later some reflection of thoughts when the protagonist was in a better situation.

But really, why shouldn’t a character in a book fall in love instantly? It’s not unnatural. I knew someone who fell in love with his wife in a heartbeat at university, then proposed to her after two weeks. I also know cases of men who got married within a day’s notice. Some people might surrender to love slowly, but others experience it at lightning speed. What has time got to do with the human heart?

An important realization for authors in order to reach readers is that the story must sound believable. It must sound authentic. To do that, all writers know that they must control their imagination while infusing information or facts that sound realistic, albeit in the realm of fiction. While writing Gun Kiss, I didn’t stray from the lessons I’ve learned. I did no wrong in creating scenes where the protagonist expressed his love for the co-protagonist. In fact, I wrote those scenes reinforced by fact.

ABOUT GUN KISS: A Hollywood movie star is abducted by an obsessed drug lord. With the help of a reluctant army friend, Blake Deco, a former US soldier, mounts a daring rescue across the border. What he doesn’t expect is to have feelings for the actress—or that a killer is hunting them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A former magazine journalist and public relations practitioner, Khaled lives in Singapore. His journalism stint included a three-year stay in Egypt. The author is a member of the International Thriller Writers. Gun Kiss is his third novel.

Official Website: www.khaledtalibthriller.com

Amazon: http://getbook.at/GunKiss

(Also available on Kindle Unlimited)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/khaled.talib/

(This piece is based on an article that originally appeared in Marie Lavender’s I Love Romance Blog, https://iloveromanceblog.wordpress.com)

Is cross-genre writing like cross-dressing? Yes! The benefits and attraction of cross-genre writing for readers and writers

 

dystopia manThe trouble with categories for books? Like categories of humans, as soon as you slap a label on a book, you limit it. People tend to avoid it unless it’s a genre they read. Of course many books, like people, don’t fit neatly into a pigeonhole. A major category, and one that some readers are uncomfortable with, even avoid, is literary. They assume the language will challenge them, the plot won’t flow.

You deny yourself a great deal of reading pleasure if you avoid literary work. On the flip side, you deny yourself a great deal of reading pleasure if you avoid genre work because you approach it with preconceptions. I’ve found some of my favorite novels are cross-genre, frequently sci fi or speculative with literary. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is an example.

You increase your reading pleasure when you sample cross-genre writing, a hybrid of themes and elements from two or more genres. Often stimulating, it presents opportunities for creativity in writing as well as discussions among readers.

A new-ish, genre-leaping novel is Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. This 2014 work shouldered its way into notice via a list of awards as long as my arm, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award, finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, 10 Best Books of the Year by the Washinton Post and others.

At this point, dystopian novels are as common as situational comedies on television. For many of us, our vision of the future looms grim, which might account for the popularity of the genre. I still enjoy a number of them, but a book has to possess outstanding writing for me to rave on about it.

This one succeeded not because it was more violent, bloody, action-packed, sexy, or even original. Mandel’s writing style appeals to me. She juggles numerous characters, leaps back and forth in time, switches voices, and encourages speculation from her readers about what has happened and might occur. No space aliens, nothing outside the realm of possibility. A new virus spreads rapidly over the world, killing 99% of the population. The remainders group together in new ways, intent on sheer survival, most of those the book follows eventually tied together in some manner. Mandel’s language is clear yet evocative; her control over her material, stunning. I ended the novel depressed over the world it created but in awe of the journey.

Readers and writers thrive on outstanding writing. It can be traditional or innovative in approach, of a genre or genre-crossed. Don’t miss this one.

What Is Real and What Is Not? Hallucinations, Creativity, and Lives Well-Lived

I rarely read nonfictioschizophrenia-awareness-hallucination-260-70641n, believing that fiction exposes the truths about life and humans better than a scientific approach. One book I inhaled recently, though, was Hallucinations, by neurologist Oliver Sacks. While the book is fascinating on its own, illustrating the phenomenon evidently can be experienced by nearly anyone and caused by birth, injury, drugs, disease, or insomnia, I was especially intrigued by its use in writing and other creative endeavors.

When I took college philosophy and psychology classes, students continually debated the definition and reality of, well, reality. For example, how do I know that the color blue I perceive is the same color blue that you do. In short, how do we know what is real and what is not? Certainly this question slops over into religious faith. Of all the ideas of an afterlife, how can we be sure of heaven, ancestral spirits, Nirvana, or seventy-two virgins?

In short, we can’t. Scientists may have ways to measure, probe, evaluate, but absolute certainty is beyond even them. Throughout Hallucinations, Sacks reiterates the complexity of the causes of hallucinations. The impacts, however, are complex and enthralling. All our five senses can be affected. Because we interpret external sensations for our internal view of life, hallucinations can be a metaphor for all of humanity’s misinterpretations of one another and our values.

War is a prime example. No, let’s take social media as an example. Every simpleton with access to the Internet and the media delivered by it feels perfectly free to state his opinion on every matter under the sun, as rudely as he wishes. While I may believe that Trump’s opinions about immigration deserve no consideration, lots of earnest individuals seem to disagree with me.

Who’s to say who is right and who is wrong? We are able to respond only for ourselves, although we may believe otherwise. If I apply this theorem to writing, I open myself and my work to an infinity of possibilities. Alice in Wonderland, Hunger Games, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Catch-22, every work of fiction is predicated on “what if?” Frequently fantasy and imagination play a big role in creation.

Hallucinations approximate this condition. (I have difficulty distinguishing among hallucination, delusion, and illusion. All seem to be individual responses to what’s out there in the physical world, or reality, as it could be termed. So I’ll just use ‘hallucinations.”) Sacks may not have intended his volume to be a workbook for writers, but that’s one interesting application.

Even more interesting, writing is a way to share our realities. Here are some quotes from famous people that seem true to me, perhaps even real.

  • All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions. Leonardo Da Vinci

  • There is no truth. There is only perception. Gustave Flaubert

  • We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are. Anais Nin

Sadly, Dr. Sacks passed away recently. He left a legacy of his books, insights and thoughts. Sample them at http://www.oliversacks.com/ and http://www.newyorker.com/contributors/oliver-sacks/all/1