The Bridge of Dead Things by Michael Gallagher

gallagher_tbodtTitleThe Bridge of Dead Things
Author: Michael Gallagher
Publisher: Seventh Rainbow Publishing
Year Published: 2013
Format: E-Book (MOBI Arc Edition)
Pages: 267

First Line: “ELIZA MAY BLAYLOCK! Stand up!”

Lizzie Blaylock is a young lady who discovers, quite by accident, that she is a conduit for the dead. Worse, she can’t control when or where the “bridge” will form. Set in the 1800s, Lizzy’s “talent” leads her to seances and sideshows while she tries not just to figure out how to control her new gift, but also what exactly the dead have gotten her mixed up in.

The development of the primary characters is quite enjoyable. Lizzie, specifically, has an interesting journey, although I do feel there were some non-essential elements utilized to “help” the reader empathize with her. In particular, the sassy, know-it-all attitude of Lizzie Blaylock is wonderfully done, and it is especially poignant when that, too, experiences change. There are a few important secondary characters who remain a bit steadfast even when confronted with a resolution, but it didn’t detract from the overall story.

Bridge is a quick read, and Mr. Gallagher’s pacing is outstanding. Even in the few description-heavy scenes, everything is essential and helps modify the tension. I didn’t read it in a single sitting, but I could easily have done so had I the time.

This is a terrific first book for Mr. Gallagher. It’s listed as aYA title, and I think that’s exactly where it belongs. It is an outstanding introduction to several genres that are traditionally set outside the realm of YA, the most significant of which is that of the gothic. Personally, I would have liked to see a slightly stronger focus on the gothic elements, but I’m not certain that would have rung true with the YA categorization. As it stands, it is more of a mystery and historical fiction novel than anything.

I’m looking forward to book 2 in the series (The Scarab Heart) to see where Mr. Gallagher takes young Lizzie.

On a side note, if you like this kind of story but prefer your fiction more on the adult side of things, you might enjoy Necroscope by Brian Lumley. It’s much closer to horror than Bridge, but it’s focus is on a young man who discovers he can converse with the dead. Written during the Cold War, Lumley incorporates much of the political climate into the novel. And now that I’ve thought about it, I think it’s time to read that particular story again. It’s one of my favorites.

 

The Clearing by Thomas Ryyder

Title: The Clearing
Author: Thomas Rydder
Publisher: Greyhart Press
Year Published: 2013
Pages: 228 (ebook)

First Line (Prologue): He stepped aside and let the followers pass.

Received through the Early Reviewers program over at LibraryThing.

I wasn’t overly impressed with The Clearing, but I wasn’t disappointed, either. Writing in a well established genre, especially one currently dominated by teen-angst ridden garbage, is difficult, and kudos to Rydder for giving it a whirl. And really, there’s nothing exactly wrong with The Clearing. It does a couple things well, narrowly misses a couple others, and falls far short in a couple areas as well. There is a single thing that ruins the entire book for me, but it’s a personal preference and probably shouldn’t be held against Mr. Rydder or The Clearing.

All in all, a solid and respectable first book that Rydder should be proud of. And hey… At least nothing sparkles.

What worked:
1. I really liked the reintroduction of the more traditional elements of the werewolf legend. There were a few new elements that Rydder implemented, as well, and he kept them in line with the traditions of the genre. That worked extremely well for him throughout the novel.
2. Rydder’s description is solid. His tendency to imply rather than be explicit works well for him, especially when focused on the inherent violence and gore of the genre. But that solid description comes with a bit of a price, which I’ll get into more in a moment.

What almost worked, but just missed:
1. PoV of a dog: I love the idea, but for me it fell short of it’s potential. This is a dog… I think there needs to be a much more drastic change in the style and/or structure of the narrative to pull it off. A more pronounced sensory component, perhaps, with limitations of black/white vision. But the thought process, in general was extremely similar to the PoV-human sections. I have no idea what the thought process is of a dog, but I would have liked to see something much more distinctive that set it apart from the other chapters/sections of the novel.
2. The overall structure of the novel seemed… choppy. I think this was intentional and meant to assist the pacing of the story itself – things happening quickly – but, for me, it just seemed awkward and, in places, unfinished. He seems to have found a sort of no-man’s-land with scene length that just didn’t work – I always either wanted more action or less “filler” (see below).

There were also a couple things that fell far, far short for me:
1. I didn’t buy the budding romance of the main characters at all. Much of it had to do with the female character, Beth. She starts out as a strong, independent woman, which was a breath of fresh air in the stale female characters typically generated for this genre. Soon, however, her strength evaporates and she devolves into the typical weak-willed and weak-minded girl-who-needs-saving by the big strong man. The relationship that forms between Beth and “big strong man,” as a direct result, is cliche and just doesn’t work. The romance also drew focus from the primary storyline, and the overall focus of the book becomes very unclear.
2. The biggest weakness of the novel, though, is Rydder’s struggle with dialogue. It is, to be blunt, awful. Rydder seems to be aware of this, however, and he results to long passages of exposition and description, often times in places where it would be best to focus on action and, unfortunately, dialogue. There were times, especially in the “romantic” scenes, that the dialogue seemed so far removed from any sort of characterization that I nearly put the book down.

The ruiner:
I loathe being beaten about the eyes in the final paragraphs of a novel with obvious setup for the next novel – especially if the setup novel is not even 300 pages and the next is going to start immediately without a change in the overall conflict! In my mind, The Clearing is half a book. I’m a fan of multi-volume stories with story arcs that span multiple novels (see my upcoming post on The Wheel of Time, for example), but they need to be planned that way from the beginning, and the arc needs to be strong enough to tie everything together. That is not the case with The Clearing. Instead, Rydder started the story arc for his sequel about 2/3 of the way through, and then pummeled me with the main characters making plans for what to do next in the final pages. I felt tricked, used and wholly unsatisfied with the conclusion of The Clearing.

That said, I still think The Clearing is a solid first book. Will I read the sequel? Probably not, but primarily because of the the personal preference that ruined the book for me rather than anything else about the narrative or style. The research Rydder did is evident and paid off early on. I just wish he had stuck with telling me a story he has finished rather than selling me a story he hasn’t.

Have a quick laugh…

I’m currently reading the 4th edition of Writing Your Life, a book geared to help folks write autobiographies. I’ll have a more detailed review coming later (I’m about 1/3 of the way through it), but I wanted to share something from the book that made me laugh out loud.

One particular thing I like are the samples of “student” writing that the author, Mary Borg, includes as examples of the prompts she discusses. Some are more effective than others, but this one by John Mills is so well crafted I just had to share. It is a terrific example of how to set up humor through twisting the expectations of your audience:

When I was 10 or 11, there occurred a case of incest in our town. My dad was a lawyer, and the court appointed him to represent the father. Much discussion took place in our house in hushed tones, which naturally aroused my curiosity. I asked what was going on, and my mother took a stab at enlightening me.

She said, “John, you know what you have down there,” and gestured rather vaguely toward my lower abdomen. I don’t recall what else she said, but it must have been pretty murky. All I know is that I was suspicious and perplexed about my belly button for some time.

I love this, and hopefully it’s indicative of what the rest of the book holds in store. I hope to have a full commentary in the next week or so.

Other upcoming posts:
A review of The Clearing by Thomas Rydder
A review of Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
A review of Daemon by Daniel Suarez
Some thoughts on The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

I love it when students surprise me

In my Comp 1 class last semester I made a wonderful discovery…

One of my students, Taylor, was a doodler. I noticed right away that she was always drawing something… everything was inspiration for her. By the end of our very first class meeting, her copy of the syllabus was covered with little scenes taken from snippets of conversation and discussion during the class.

In September I assigned a reading in class on the World Trade Center. The accompanying worksheet came back with a wonderful illustration of the NYC skyline  – sketched out in pencil and blue ink. I began to look forward to every homework assignment Taylor turned in, and we had more than a few conversations about her artwork and interpretations of various images, discussions, and texts.

I was very happy when I saw that she signed up for my Comp 2 class this semester.

Our first unit of the semester was on poetry. Technically, I’m not a fan of giving comprehensive exams in a writing course – I find them counterproductive in a class that is supposed to be based on writing. But it’s required, so I make a bit of an adjustment to the typical “Unit Test”.

I treat the exam as an extensive Homework assignment. I give them a week to complete it. A few multiple choice questions, but mainly short answer based on analysis of poems from the text that we did not go over in class. The danger with this approach is that the students simply use the internet and don’t actually think about the poem they are writing about. They let themselves be led by the nose because they are, as HS has taught them, concerned about being “Right.” Personally, I don’t care about “Right” and “Wrong” when it comes to interpretation. I care about “Supported”, “Unsupported”, and the “Expression” of their interpretation. Remember, this isn’t a Lit course. It’s a Composition course.

To combat the internet problem, I have taken to giving the students an unpublished poem with no author credited. I’ve used poems of friends, but mainly I stick with something that I’ve written without telling the students I wrote it. Typically I ask students to, in paragraph form, first paraphrase the poem and then analyze it. This semester I used a sonnet that I wrote a dozen years ago or so.

Now, I don’t consider myself much of a poet. I use poetry as writing exercises to help me focus on specific elements and devices for my fiction and non-fiction. It’s fun, and exhausting, and intensive, and – most often – infuriating, and I think it makes me a better writer even if I’m not very “good” at it.

Below, with Taylor’s permission, is what she submitted with her unit test. I was – AM – floored.

[singlepic id=245 w=320 h=240 float=center]

It’s a wonderful interpretation. It’s unique. It’s creative. It translates some elements of the poem while adding new elements missing from the text of the poem.

It’s inspiring.

See how that works? This is what I try to teach. Inspiration breeds inspiration. Creativity breeds creativity.

If you allow yourself to be affected, you will, in turn, affect others.

A typical classroom conversation, or, Yes, yes… we all must make time to fart

Being an English teacher, I use lots of examples from books other than a textbook. I try to pull from books I think my students may have read – lots of LotR (they know the movies – ah well) and Harry Potter (again, ahh well) references, for example – but I also give examples and then quick summaries of books I think they’ll like. I did that today with Dune, and one of my students commented on how many different books I talk about. Which, naturally, spiraled into into reading and then finding the time to read. Much of what I’ve discovered, you see, isn’t that students don’t like reading… they don’t like how long it takes to read a book… the time investment. Here is the abridged and paraphrased conversation:

Student: So how many books a year do you read?

Me: Varies… maybe 20 to 30.

(stunned silence)

Student: How?

Me: Well, first I pour a glass of wine. Then I sit in my favorite chai….

Student: No, no, no… how do you have time?

Me: Time? It’s not like reading is a race. Besides, there’s always time to read.

(silence)
Me: Everyone take out your cell phones…. now… open up the Book application on it.
Student: There’s a book application?

(laughter)

Me: How many books?

(various answers from 1 to 5 or so)

Me: ok… so there’s a place to keep books…. thousands of them! Now… break into groups and take out a sheet of paper. I want you to, as a group, come up with the three best TV shows.

After about 5 minutes, I poll the shows and there are 5 that get listed on the board that almost everyone watches regularly.

Me: ok… how long do those shows last?

Students: an hour.

Me: so… that’s five hours a week you spend watching TV. Relaxing. Enjoying some down time.

Student: Doing homework.

Me: Ahh Multitasking!

Student: And eating.

Me: And eating.

Student in the back: And farting.

(laughter)

Me: Yes, yes… we must all make time to fart. The consequences otherwise would be dire.

(laughter)

Me (looking over the list on the board): Which one’s the best?

(argument – decision – it’s one everyone has watched)

Me: Turn your page over and summarize it as briefly as possible. Not just one episode, the whole show.

(scribble scribble)

Me: ok… pass them up. I’ll take a look at them.

Student: Which one’s your favorite, professor?

Me: No clue. I haven’t seen any of them.

Student: Really?

Me: Think for a sec… what was the question that got us started talking and writing about TV shows during a discussion on poetry?

(no one could remember, which made me laugh – but then someone did)

Student: How you read so much!

Student: Wait… you mean you don’t watch TV?

Me: Miss *********, I don’t own a TV.

(silence)

Me: Reading’s a choice, folks. Those five hours in front of the tv each week? You summarize those shows and I’ll find you books that are better. Better stories, better characters, better love scenes and fight scenes. But even if you still want to watch TV, with your phones and tablets and laptops and regular old-fashioned books, not having time isn’t an excuse anymore. Hell, if, instead of sending text messages, you read 4 or 5 pages on your phone every time you sat on the can, you’d finish about a book a month. I have about 400 books on my phone. I’ve read about 9 of ’em sittin’ on the toilet.

(laughter)

So your question shouldn’t be “How do you find the time to read?” Instead, it should be, “What should I read next?”