Discussion has officially started!
Synopsis: Electrocution and a two-story fall from a church rooftop leave former musician Tobe Mohr deaf, burned, and broken. A guilt-wracked priest invites him to live in the vacant rectory during his recovery, where many townsfolk believe Tobe — despite his own skepticism — has developed clairvoyance in his return from death. Adapting to rural life after having toured the world’s stages, Tobe forms an intense relationship with the enchanting Sera and her daughter. But their disappearance forces him to embrace his rewired senses that have helped so many others, as he navigates Sera’s mysterious past to find them, and to become once again the man he thought died long ago.
About the Author: Gordon Highland is the author of the 2009 novel Major Inversions, as well as several short stories appearing in such publications as Warmed and Bound: A Velvet Anthology, In Search of a City: Los Angeles in 1000 Words, Nefarious Muse, Colored C halk, and others. He lives in the Kansas City area, where he directs videos by day and enjoys writing, recording, and performing music by night. Visit him at http://gordonhighland.com.
Gordon's story was one of my favorite stories in Warmed and Bound. I'm really looking forward to reading this. I've had it in my hands for a few weeks, but I've been holding off because I wanted it to be fresh for discussion time. Can't wait to crack this open and to see what everybody has to say about it.
Here's the Booked Podcast review of the book (they also review Phil's In Praise of Motherhood): http://www.bookedpodcast.com/2012/05/26/episode-89-st-authors-say/
Gordon will be joining us for the discussion. He's a cool guy. So everybody be nice.
Buy it from Amazon
Get to reading!
Ahh, I wondered if there was going to be some discussion about this book.
I was going to buy it anyway, as like Pete, I thought Gordon's story in W&B was very cool. Same with the thunderdome LA story.
Damn, my to read pile is swelling up again. Never enough hours in the day. I also still mean to post some more thoughts in the We Live Inside You Thread when I get my copy of that back from a buddy I lent it to.
Will Gordon be joining in this one? I hope so.
Yeah, I should have mentioned that in the post. oops! Good thing I can edit. :)
Good to be here. Thanks for the discussion and the invite. I think I'll follow precedent and just kind of lurk in here quietly, then contribute more later in the month once everyone's caught up with spoilerage. Though if there's anything someone wants me to address as they go along, just call me out specifically; I'll be around. Please don't let my presence deter you from negative criticism—all thoughts are welcome. And of course, if you do like it, I encourage you to help me spread that word outside of these walls in whatever outlets are available to you. Thanks, and enjoy!
Nice choice. Can't wait.
Get'cho self a taste!
Always glad to support a Kansas City area writer. I look forward to reading it.
Oh, this will be an absolute pleasure to yack about - great choice!
And Martin (wickedvoodoo), how scary is this backlog of books we're nurturing...? ;)
Looking forward to this one. I got the nook book and this will be the first one I read where I've figured out the highlight/notations gadges.
Gordon is also a great guy for drinking beer with. His writing, well, it's secondary to his beer drinking with me.
It's secondary for me, as well.
Ha Ha Ha - I get that, matey! ;)
Damn. I wouldn't mind getting in on this, but I'll have to see if I can manage it despite my trip home.
Well discussion doesn't start until the next month. And then you have all of next month to discuss. And then the thread never closes.
So, no excuses!
Excellent! That sounds pretty doable, then.
In lieu of creating a trailer, here's a more direct appeal/primer with all you need to know. Sharing encouraged.
Why does almost everything in my life outside of Kentucky come back to Kansas?
The description does not do this book justice. But I wouldn't even know where to start if I had to write one.
Just finished it, and I loved it. Can't wait to see what you guys have to say about it.
Gordon, is that an actual poster of Flashover behind you, or is that your video wizardy?
It's the original 16x20" canvas painting that I commished. I flopped it when designing the cover because the subject had been cropped on the left, meaning the printer would otherwise have to get the fold absolutely perfect or it would bleed onto the spine.
No fairy dust sprinkled on that video, other than doing a second take of the reading segment. The true wizardry was in remaining un-slurry after drinking a whole bottle of The Sixth Glass beforehand. haha
That stuff looks mad - The Sixth Glass, I mean; oh, and your fine tome rocks it. Started yesterday.
I know it's a couple days early, but I just wanted to make sure that I remembered to "open" discussion because I didn't know if I would be by my computer on the 1st. Enjoy this book guys, it's great.
Still about to get properly stuck into this as I've had my hands tied on this anthology I'm putting together - but I just read a bloody brilliant short story by Gordon. Does that count...? ;)
It does to me, Andrez! That Tobacco-Stained Sky anthology looks to be most excellent, from all the early word I'm hearing.
Gordon, I wanted to ask you about the timeline. It's kind of all over the place. The story isn't very linear at all. And then there are times when Sera has changed her name (and other things I don't want to mention because they will contain spoilers). But, yeah, I wanted to ask you about keeping track of all that and how you decided the order of things. I mean, you seem to have picked the order perfectly. It reveals just the right things at the right times when we are in the past. What was your process for that like?
Also - I know I've heard you say you right with Scrivner (is that the spelling?), was that integral to your process?
I used Sarah vs Sera as a sort of timeline shorthand. There's a point in the novel where she leaves her old life behind and starts over, re-christening herself. So even late in the book, when someone still refers to her as Sarah, that tells us they knew her from way back. It helps the reader, too, since I was jumping around so much. There's great care taken re: present vs past tense, but that can be too subtle sometimes, so the name helps reinforce it. I also drop lots of signposts along the way that ground you in the current time period, like mentioning the Millenium or a grungy Lollapalooza tour or the Trade Center tragedy, or a current song title, stuff like that, and tried not to rely on numbers like ages and years so much.
As far as managing the timeline, that was outlined in advance. There were parts when I wanted to show characters' histories paralleling one another, others where they should contrast, etc. Reinforcing certain thematic elements, too. As well as maintaining a respectful and suspenseful balance of periods when the reader is ahead of the characters, vs others where we're guessing. The climaxes of characters' arcs take place in different years, so going nonlinear allowed me to place those around the same chapter at the right spot pacing-wise. I also jumped in right away with the first three chapters in medias res in present tense so we would know the goals and thru-line story immediately, then flashed back for a bunch of chapters to show how Tobe was before his life changed (context, empathy, etc.), then rejoined the present-tense action after a bit.
Sorry if that sounds theoretical and vague. I'm not usually so academic. haha Just didn't wanna give any story away yet.
I wrote the whole novel in Scrivener, yeah. The main advantage was in not having to leave the interface: to have my research (of which there was a lot—for me) one click away, use the note cards as chapter outlines up in the corner, a scratch pad for notes, and a split view to write my chapter in one pane while seeing either the timeline or a character dossier or a saved web page in the other. I also used each of my characters/locations as color-coded keywords (representing various amounts of conflict from red to green shades), so I could get a basic visual on how much tension each chapter contained. I wasn't able to take much advantage of Scrivener's nonlinear-friendliness, though, because I was workshopping the first half of the novel and felt a responsiblity to my group to write/submit chapters in their actual order so they could follow properly.
Man, this sounds inspired - I need to pull my finger out, but great to get these insights before hand.
So, did anybody find the time lines and multiple POVs hard to follow?
There's one scene that I loved that was hilarious to me. It was when the priest tells the little girl that in his country they call cigarettes "fags." And then she sees that ashtray that says Jesus hates Smoking (or whatever) and she says, "See Jesus does hate fags!"
I couldn't stop laughing.
Damn, that Scrivner screenshot is intimidating.
@Pete, I had some difficulty with the timeline for the first 1/3 or so, but once the twists start happening and the pace quickened, the timeline started to flow pretty easy for me. The Sera/Sarah thing helped quite a bit, too.
Gordon has said a lot that he wrote this book specifically as an easier read (compared to Major Inversions), but I found it still quite "literary" in the sense that we weren't pushed as readers to care only about the what, but we also fell into the who. What are your thoughts? Does Gordon do a disservice by qualifying the book as "plotty"? (quotes for emphais, not as a direct quote from Gordon)
Also, keep on the lookout for my next World's First Author Video Blog video (episode 17). Flashover makes a bit of a cameo. It won't add to this discussion, but...
I think it the timeline threw me a bit, but probably only the first 3 chapters maybe. After I settled in to what was going on, it was pretty easy. But, yeah, at first - I wasn't expecting it. But I get that any time a novel jumps around a little. At least at first.
I still haven't read Major Inversions, so I can't compare it to that it any way. (Though it is in my pile, hopefully I'll get to it eventually.)
I agree that Gordon has a more "literary" way of writing. I feel like, even though the story is all over the place, it's still always about who. And the way we are talking about it, I guess the timeline thing can seem gimicky. But really it's not. It makes sense to use the timeline technique. If the book wasn't so "plotty," it would lose a lot of those moments I really loved in it.
I'm not sure if I totally understood your question though...
Nah, I think you understood the question. It was more of a conversation prod than a question, anyway.
Oh, and no need to search for the video. It's here:
Anyone else finished this book, yet?
It's too good to die this early.
Very cool. Can't wait to crack this sucker open this week and catch up.
Caleb I feel the same way. I really wish people were talking about this book... Very frustrating.
I, for one, really liked that part where the unexpected thing happened; totally didn't see that coming. And it was worded pretty interestingly, too.
But seriously. No need to wait until you're done reading. There haven't been any spoilers, so in-progress discussion is fine.
I am about 60 percent done, according to my Kindle. I like the concept, the plot, and the characters. In fact, I would call the characters one of the strongest features of the book thus far. I haven't had much of a problem with the jumps in the timeline. It has been easy enough for me to keep track of the Sarah and Sera days, along with the present.
I know it helps with the timeline, but I have never been a fan of present tense in novels. Which is odd because I write screenplays and that is normal. I think the switch back and forth between past tense and present tense draws more attention to me than it normally would.
My only other issue is the metaphor use. I love a good metaphor, but goddamn, Gordon must love them even more than I do. I didn't notice it as much while there was action or conversation, but when the characters turned introspective, I felt pulled out of the novel on occasion. The introspective parts sometimes felt a flooded with metaphors to the point of distraction. I know Gordon is a good writer but sometimes I felt like I was being reminded of that fact instead of reading the story. Of course, that is a stylistic thing and some people like that.
Otherwise, I've been happy with the book, thus far.
I looked around at local bookstores hoping to find this easily, but no luck and ended up buying online. I just hope it gets here before the month is over and the discussion is finished. I have set aside time, and will drop any book i'm currently reading to jump right into this though, so i just hope the US Postal Service does not disappoint.
Remember, you can always come back and post in these discussion threads - even if the stated month is over.
Personally, I hope the discussion threads never "die."
Just finished the book. This one is a hard one to talk about without spoilers, and I hate to give spoilers. I liked all the twists in the book. What I said in my previous post still stands, for the most part. The characters are the strength of the story, although living in the Kansas City area, I enjoy the quips about the Royals sucking. I think the timeline structure really had to work the way it did, otherwise you would know too much too quickly and the twists would fall apart.
I appreciate the chance to read this book this month. It probably isn't something I would have stumbled upon, otherwise. I hope to read more Lit Reactor alumni books in the future.
I hope to read more Lit Reactor alumni books in the future.
I hope to read more Lit Reactor alumni books in the future.
Good, because I like mixing them into the Book Clubs. In my experience, the indy authors and small press authors are better than almost all of the popular best seller stuff out there. And, I like helping these guys out.
You made a comment in a previous post about the use of metaphor. Do you still feel the same? I think Gordon has had criticism about being too clever. Though it worked for me, I can see why some people would say that.
Your other criticism before was the present tense in some spots. I felt like it was necessary for what the story was doing. After finishing it now, what are you thoughts about the use of present tense?
I think there were spots when the present tense was needed as a transition, so I can definitely see why he did it. That being said, for some reason there were a couple of spots where it was a little jarring for me. There was a particular transition right at the end where I thought it was absolutely necessary though, right before the climax. That made me forgive the couple of instances of it that I didn't like it because it let me think, "Okay, here we go!"
Yeah, I am still where I was before on the metaphor use. Like I said, I love metaphors and the reason I am so hard on them right now is more about my writing than anyone elses. I'm another person who has been called too clever or too literary. I think my issue with metaphors is that sometimes they make an image stronger, but sometimes they remove us slightly from it. I always think of Jack Ketchum's phrase about not looking away. Sometimes, a metaphor makes us look at something else, like the magician who draws attention to his other hand and when we look back, the bird is gone. There was one in particular about a second skin during the climax that I felt actually robbed me a little bit of the visual of what happened. I felt like if I had just been explicitly told what was happening, it might have had a bit more impact.
I didn't mind them during the flashes because that is a more magical, stream of consciousness setting. During action and dialogue, they were seemless. But it seemed that when characters started thinking to themselves, they thought heavily in metraphors.
I think it is a delicate balance because Gordon is clever and you say to yourself "Ah, I see what you did there." But if you are saying that, then you are temporarily out of the story. It's a very minor criticism, and I don't want it to seem like I didn't like the book. I liked it very much.
Awesome. So glad you dug it, and thanks for the kind words.
"Too clever" is definitely a fair criticism of some of my work. It's toned down a lot from my first book, which has more of that first-person cynical insight and Palahniuk-ian platitudes. Such a POV excuses it in a sense (it was literally a character study), but that doesn't mean it doesn't wear on the reader regardless. Something I'm often criticizing in others' work is too much character alone time and inner monologuing. Characters are most exciting when playing off each other, and that goes for mine as well.
This time around, I was trying to strip out as much personality and judgment as possible from the narrative voice. Which was actually a criticism I'd received in workshop, that they missed/wanted the voice and perspective they'd read from me before, but unless the story's being told by a character, it feels inappropriate to me. Leave the clever shit to the cast. Give them the best lines. Which is something I focused on in revisions. There's also a very tricky balance in where to put the "camera" in omniscient third person. I doubt I could articulate how/when it works, but I needed to be able to vary this, where most of the time we're pretty distant, but it does crouch down right next to the character sometimes. Usually following some dialogue of theirs, I might tack on a little subjective insight or thought. Then zoom back out to the wide view.
It's true the italicized flashovers are intentionally very purple prose. It's still third-person, but written very much like first-. Dreamlike. (Hopefully you noticed me restating several of these flashovers line-for-line later on in much clearer language once Tobe catches on...) Elsewhere, whenever it came to specific sensory detail, I gave myself more permission to go florid, especially with the deafness aspect, but also trying to convey the sheer agony of burn recovery, etc.
To keep this party going, I'm offering free e-books of Flashover through Friday. Details:
I wish I could fully participate in this, but having not read the book... yeah. I guess I can't (though I do have my free ebook copy—thank you!—and my print copy on the way).
Interesting to hear your comments about a character working better when playing off other characters, though, Gordon. My manuscript definitely has a bit too much internal conflict with the main character in some ways, too much philosophizing and being at odds with the universe. I like the scenes with other characters fairly well, but still go back to that too often. I keep wondering if I shouldn't rewrite certain scenes as conversations where characters argue or hash out some of the stuff rather than the main character pondering it, but at the same time, the narrative in many ways revolves around the guy digging his own grave and dragging himself into it. It can be a hard balance to strike, especially when you feel those bits of the writing are interesting enough regardless of lacking some character interaction... which is of course purely subjective and difficult to figure out on your own. This is why I'm workshopping it with some other LR folks. I honestly can't tell what works and what doesn't. The whole thing is just too personal.
Someone once said that (totally paraphrasing from bad memory) every writer's first novel is basically a laundry list of complaints/rants or a letter to someone who wronged them. "First book-itis," I call it. Mine certainly was. Of course I dressed it up and weaved those elements into a plot, tried to pry a little distance from myself. But it's also why they suggest burying the fucker in a bottom drawer after getting it out of your system, because agents and publishers see right through it and assume the public doesn't want to read such stuff.
If you can take that philosophizing and put it in context, spread it around to various characters, that helps, yeah. You wanna be sure you're not just soapboxing for your own benefit, that there's a plot-relevant reason for it. Sure, technically everything that a first-person narrator does is revealing character in some way, which is good, but you gotta balance that out and keep the tension escalating at the same time. Convey those philosophies through actions/subtext whenever possible instead of spelling it out via expository narration or dialogue.
I just finished this book. I honestly loved it, and I'm really glad that I decided to check it out, literally based on the fact it was the book club selection and then after watching a clip someone posted of Gordon reading live somewhere.
The timeline didn't throw me at all. I really liked how it was put together, and I thought there was enough information already put out there to make the transitions come across smoothly. Not to mention the tension/suspense that was built by the placement of each flashback.
As far as the metaphors, I don't know, I liked them. I didn't feel like they distracted or pulled me out of the story at all. I like the way it was written.
I definitely think the strength of the book came across through the characters. They were very well-written, very vivid pictures in my mind as I read.
I don't really have any criticisms, honestly. I wish I had gotten my copy earlier, so that I could have joined in the conversation before now. So it goes. Finishing this makes me feel the need to go out and find Major Inversions.
Gordon, sir, job well done.
Thanks for the kind words, Sean. Glad you dug it!
I just started reading this and I'm about 45 percent done. I didn't really know what to expect with this but it has really impressed me so far. It's written really well and I can tell Gordon put a lot of thought and work into this. Can't wait to finish it. Then again I don't want to because it's so good.