Writer Wednesday – Jackie Gamber

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Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
With Jackie Gamber, author of the Leland Dragon series

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’ve been a soldier, a secretary, and a stay-at-home mom, gone rogue into writing professionally.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
My published works include poetry, short stories, novelettes, and novels in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the genre-bending blends of them. I’m also an indie screenwriter/director, with four produced short films.

…and what you’re working on right now.
Since I’ve just finished “Reclamation”, book three of my Leland Dragons trilogy, I have a few more novel projects in the works; a steampunk fantasy, a SF-romance, and a paranormal-lit about a twin whose sister has died, and begins journaling as a tribute. I’m also writing my second full-length screenplay entitled “The Mark”, as well as other short film scripts.

What are your earliest book ­related memories?
I remember the Scholastic book program in school where I could peruse the book catalogue and order books that would come a month or so later right to my classroom. I always started with a “one of everything” sort of list, and then had to whittle down to one, or two – sometimes for 99cents! Also, I could describe in detail the layout of my town’s library. It used to have a clawfoot bathtub that I would spend more than my fair share of time in, with huge stacks of books beside me. I love libraries.

What are your three favorite books?
Just three? This is always a tough question for me to answer! I have favorite books for different reasons, but I have to say “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, and “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
When I read fiction I read one at a time. Non-fiction books could be as many as three or so, back and forth. Right now I’m reading “Quiet” by Susan Cain, about introversion in an extravert culture.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…forget about everything else. I even get irritated when I have to pause to use the restroom.

To re­read or not to re­read that is the question.
I re-read all the time! I don’t keep every book I buy because my bookshelves couldn’t possibly hold them all. I’m selective in that I only keep the ones I know I’ll go back to again.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
In my profession, I get a lot of recommendations. I don’t have enough time in the world to read them all, unfortunately. But I will, if it’s from a reader source I trust and the story sounds like my kind of thing. That’s really how all readers find books, mostly—word of mouth.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very likely! I do it all the time. Speaking of which, have you read “The Midwich Cuckoos” by John Wyndham?

What do you look for in a good book?
To me, a good book is full of believable characters that get involved in their own tale.

Why do you write?
I write because I’m a storyteller. I resisted the notion for years, but the truth is that I see life, and the world, through metaphor and symbolism. I’m always asking, “But what does that really mean?” and “What makes a person think like that?” It’s in my nature.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I have a knack for looking at others’ stories, and seeing why what they think they’re saying isn’t actually being communicated that way. If I wasn’t a writing, I’d be an editor (although, I do both, already). Outside of words, though, I’d be working more with animals; at a zoo or a rescue, probably.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
To be honest, I don’t exactly know the mechanism that whirrs into motion from observation to idea. But I spend a lot of time watching the world, and studying it, and trying to figure it out. Somewhere in there, inspiration happens.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
I’ve gone through dry periods, and times when I’ve set down my pen, so to speak, for the greater good of other responsibilities. I’ve struggled with how to find readers, how to prove to my contemporaries I’m not a hack. I’ve battled my demons that terrify me, and there have been days I’ve almost decided to just stop, because the desire to be heard is too hard to carry into an industry of cacophony.

I’ve lived with writing, and without it. What I’ve learned, is that I turn too inward, and become bitter and miserable, unless I believe in a world where writing happens, and that I can be a part of it.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My husband and two kids (my children are grown, now) have always been my support system. Beyond that, it’s hard to say. The stigma that science fiction or fantasy isn’t real writing lingers.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I wouldn’t wish a stereotype on anyone. Human beings share commonalities, of course, but I like to think my job as a writer, and fellow human, is to bust stereotypes, not feed them.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The writing industry is in a stage of rapid, almost violent, evolution. What used to be “the way” just isn’t anymore. Authors are writing books aimed at other authors for “how to do it the way I did” and a new one emerges practically every week. The biggest challenge I see for writers today is holding on to their own conviction, and their own ideals, while everyone is shouting into their face that their doing it wrong.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Some mistakes take a long time to make themselves known. My perception is that I may have trusted the wrong people a little too much, or a little too long. Sometimes, I haven’t trusted enough.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I’ve always said it’s a life goal of mine to write a book that one day is banned!

How do you deal with your fan base?
I don’t think of myself as having fans. But I love readers! I have so much in common with fellow readers. In the end, that’s what I am, anyway; a book lover who can’t resist writing a few of her own.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
I’m a pretty transparent person—or at least, I aim to be—so I’m not sure how surprising I am! Although I do tend to get a reaction of disbelief when I share with people how introverted I am. They say “You’re not shy!” But I am incredibly introverted, nonetheless. And I’ve spent an inordinate number of years figuring out it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Jackie Gamber is the award-winning author of many short stories, screenplays, and novels, including “Redheart”, “Sela”, and “Reclamation”, Books one through three of the Leland Dragon Series. For more information about Jackie and her mosaic mind, visit http://www.jackiegamber.com

And meet Jackie elsewhere on the world wide web at:
https://www.facebook.com/AllotropeMedia
http://www.amazon.com/author/JackieGamber
http://www.twitter.com/JackieGamber
http://www.facebook.com/jackiegamber

Book Review – Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Title: Allegiant
Author: Veronica Roth
Format: Hardback
Published: 2013
So, we’re finally at the last book of the Divergent series, and this review is going to be difficult to write because of spoilers.  Bear with me.  To see my past reviews of the series: Divergent (Book 1) or Insurgent (Book 2). You can also see Misheal’s review of the first book HERE or Katherine’s interesting review of the first couple in this post.

Now then.

The book starts with Tris and her friends in Erudite headquarters, where they’re being held for the stuff that happens in book 2.  They then leave the city and discover what is going on outside the city where nobody’s allowed to go.  Beyond that, I can’t really say much without going into a lot of spoilers.  Seriously, a LOT happens in this book.

On the plus side of things, after how much I hated book 2, this book seriously redeemed the series.  I still think that book 2 could have been condensed into a couple chapters in book 1.  But in this book, the story moved quickly, the characters were interesting to read about (for the most part), and I got a lot of the questions that I had in book 1 answered outright or at least well enough.

On the negative, I still have issues with Veronica’s decision to just go from one book to the next as easily as one chapter to the next.  These books came out like eight months or a year or something apart.  And with NOTHING to recap what happened in the last book, there are several places where I had to stop reading and try to remember what happened.  Oh, wait, why are they at Erudite…?  What does this term mean, again…?  Who is this person…?  Really, would it have killed Roth to give us a wee bit of overlap?

Also, Caleb annoyed the hell out of me.  Yes, I understand why he was there.  Yes, I get what the author was doing.  But every scene with Caleb in it annoyed me somehow.

Also, and here’s the biggest one… I have already complained about first person (especially first person present).  I hate it, and it’s almost never done well.  While Veronica’s story is good enough to make that okay, in this case it was the most annoying thing ever.  Why?  Because every single friggin’ chapter changed the main character that we were following between Tris and Four.  And while I like Tris and Four, it’s really annoying to have to remember who is talking when all anyone is saying is “I am doing this stuff right now.”   There were several instances when I was so into the book that I forgot that the POV changed until somebody referenced the character that I thought was speaking.  *sigh*

PRO TIP – when we’re all into a book and reading, we’re not stopping to look at the chapter headings to change point of view.  Just sayin’.

Honestly, it got to the point that I would only read a chapter at a time and stop whenever the POV changed.

 

End result – the good outweighed the bad for the most part, but I have to only given this a four out of five because of the POV thing.  Sorry.

Book Review – W is for Wasted

Title: W is for Wasted
Author: Sue Grafton
Format: Hardcover
Published: 2013

W is for Wasted is the 23rd book in Sue Grafton’s alphabet series.
In this story, we follow Kinsey Millhone (rhymes with Bone) as a series of bizarre events unfold around her. To start, a homeless man dies on the beach with her name in his pocket. The story flips back and forth between the first person POV of Kinsey (as the entire series was) and the third person POV of something happening to somebody, but you’re not exactly sure who is involved or why we need to know it. Oh, and for some strange reason, Robert Deets is in town, asking Kinsey about the guy who stiffed him on a bill. Eventually it all ties in.

As the story unfolds, Kinsey ends up with a group of unlikely allies – the homeless friends of the dead man. Henry ends up with a cat. And we eventually find out how it all fits together.

I’m trying to not have any spoilers here, so I apologize if the review is vague, but there’s really not a lot of specifics I can give.

I didn’t mind the storyline so much. It was a bit predictable in places – a lot of the third person stuff I had figured out really early on. But then again, this is a cozy mystery, so of course it’s a bit predictable. There weren’t any huge issues, aside from characters that I just didn’t like. But that wasn’t a fault of the author.

I did have a bit of an issue with some of the phrasings in the book and a few of the references. Remember, the series started in the early 80s, and Sue has tried really hard to make Kinsey not age all that much. She keeps her slightly antiquated – she likes using index cards so she can slide them around… She likes the sound of her typewriter – so we don’t feel time as much, but there’s still that little thing in the back of your mind. If Only Kinsey had a cell phone. But then again, if that were the case, she’d be in her 50s, and I’m thinking there’s not that much running down the beach after a guy with a gun that she can do in that state.
Anyway, as I was saying… there were several references that we had to question – some felt too old, some felt too new, some were just weird. Like I said, Kinsey’s my mother’s age, so I kept asking her “would you have ever said…” or “what would you call…”

My biggest problem, though, had to deal with this book versus the rest of the series.
Here’s the thing. When Sue started the series back in the early 80s (it’s almost as old as I am!), the books had a very dedicated format/feel/whatever. The last few, however – since at least Q – have had a different feel than the rest of the series. I’m not saying it’s bad or good, but you sort of want a series to have the same feel all the way through. Maybe that’s the side effect of writing a 26 book series, or the side effect of writing for 30 years on a series. But A, B, C… don’t feel anything like the last half dozen have. (My favorite in the series is still L.)

So this causes the problem of rating the book.
I asked my mother (she read it at the same time I was, which made sharing the book really interesting) what she would rate it and she said 4/5.
As a standalone, I’d agree. The writing is better than the earlier books, and the story is tighter.
As for how it fits the series, I’d only give it a 3/5, if that makes sense.

Book Review – Operation Saladin by Roger Croft

Title: Operation Saladin
Author: Roger Croft
Format: Paperback
Published: May 2, 2013

In Operation Saladin Michael Vaux is a British expat journalist working in Cairo for a Damascus newspaper.  His lies from the previous novel The Wayward Spy catch up to him after eight years, and he’s warned to flee the country.  A section of MI6 called B3 which Vaux had worked for and abandoned eight years earlier decides to take advantage of his situation and recruit him for a new mission.

If you loved how The Wayward Spy ended, you probably shouldn’t read this book, and if you haven’t read The Wayward Spy, then I can’t image why you would want to read this book.  If you love to read about divorced, alcoholic, middle-aged men living out spy fantasies with (a) significantly younger mistress(es) and aren’t a fan of all that silly action and characterization stuff, then you might like this.

I must admit my knowledge of the Middle East is sketchy, and there’s quite possibly a lot of good research and British spy novel in-jokes that I’m failing to appreciate.  If so, I apologize; I must stick to reviewing things I am familiar with like plot, pacing, and characterization.  To my knowledge, there was nothing wrong with the research other than my deepest hope that the professionals in British intelligence organizations are not actually this stupid.

First the plusses, most of the sentences are coherent, and the formatting is well done.  The profanity is moderate, and the sex is not explicit.  (Personal preferences, but I appreciate the light touch.) There was the occasional droll chuckle, and some characters who might have been interesting if they had been better written.

But frankly this was the most boring novel I’ve ever read.  (The Old Man and the Sea is a novella.)  There are other novels I abandoned that may be worse, but I kept hoping this one would pick up the pace.  Argh, the pace!  To give you an idea, a man is murdered, and then a week later B3 has an emergency meeting about it.  Two weeks later, Vaux starts to think about something doing something he should have done about a minute after the murder occurs…and then he puts off actually doing it for another week or two.

Eighty percent of this book was either meetings or Vaux going from safe house to safe house or meetings about Vaux going to a safe house.  Chapter two seems to mainly be a recap of The Wayward Spy with notes that probably would have been less confusing if I had read The Wayward Spy first, but I suspect chapter two covers most of the plot.  However I doubt it would have seemed less artificial.  The characters kept kicking off paragraphs with phrases like “Do you remember?” for things that obviously they do and should remember and are just saying for the readers’ benefit.  While chapter two is the worst offender, this continues at odd points for much of the novel, and even plot points that are covered in this book and not from the last get restated half-a-dozen times as though the author does not trust the reader’s memory to reach beyond a couple of chapters.

The author is also a former journalist, and I expect the repetition is one of those things that works well in journalism but not so well in a novel.  Most of the action is very short and/or summarized and in only one scene does our protagonist sort of take part…though without really affecting anything.  The little bit of actual espionage work he does is also summarized and rushed, and he has a handler to lead him through every step.

Supposedly there’s an eight year gap between the two books, but it doesn’t feel like anyone’s been doing eight year’s worth of stuff in that time.  Alena and Vaux don’t act like two people who’ve known each other for eight years, B3 seems to have worked no cases in that eight year gap, and everyone in England acts like Vaux has only been away for a few months.

There’s a lot of alcohol consumption.  Nearly every page someone is having a drink or thinking about having a drink.  Most of the time it’s Vaux drinking (but never showing any signs of drunkenness other than a generally dull mind), but it’s also a lot of official folk drinking on the job.  Maybe this was normal in Britain in the year 2000, but personally I hope the Special Forces soldier guarding my safe house isn’t drinking vodka while on duty.

A generous 2/5.

Book Review – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

Title: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Author: 
William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer
Format: Hardcover Nonfiction
Published: 
2009

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the story of William Kamkwamba, a teenage boy in Malawi who builds a windmill from salvaged parts.  It’s also a story of poverty and famine in a struggling African country.  William is raised on a subsistence farm in a small village called Masitala, where the belief in magic is still very strong.  When he can no longer afford to continue his education, William struggles to self-educate, first by sneaking into classes and later by making use of a small library of books which have been donated to his village school.

This is a brilliant book.  The writing is very smooth.  Kamkwamba admits his English is rough, and Bryan Mealer is an experience author and journalist.  But you get the sense that Mealer did his best to make William’s voice rather than his own shine through.  While the subject matter of the famine is grim, the tone is able to capture the seriousness of the situation without giving way to fatalism.

More than a simple slice of life biography, William’s story touches on a number of great subjects from faith (mainly represented by his father) to green energy to education, entrepreneurship, and determination.  It gives a taste of an African culture and third-world country from an insider’s perspective, which is educational, particular for first world Westerners.  And it will give you fresh appreciation for conveniences like electricity, plumbing, and public education.

The world they present isn’t sugar-coated.  But it doesn’t try to paint things as more bleak than they are either.  There’s a balance of life here, as much joy and hope as sadness and difficulty.  William dreams and learns and tries rather than despairing.

My criticisms are minor.  A few story points are told out of order, which got a little confusing when I was trying to place them in the time line, and a few of images struck me as oddly placed.  But these are stickler issues and not so bad as ruin the overall meaning or effect.

Overall, I’ll give this one 5/5.  I might suggest the Young Reader version for elementary students.  It’s a fairly clean book but does touch on some adult topics in the anecdotes, which may be a bit much for a fourth grader.  However, I think they would still find William’s story of learning and applying science to help his family and community inspiring and relevant.

Book Review – Big appetites by Christopher Boffoli

Title: Big Appetites:  tiny people in a world of big food
Author/Photographer: Christopher Boffoli
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2013

Okay, Big Appetites: tiny people in a world of big food is an art book of photography that is pretty much exactly what you’ve pictured with the title.  The creator has taken those uber small miniatures, positioned them on food like the food had something to do with their job or hobby, and taken pictures.  Each photograph is shown in full color with a caption that relates the surreal scene back to real life somehow.

One of my favorites was about somebody making due at work even though he forgot his special lefty scissors, and featured several worker men positioned in a head of ornamental broccoli.  Another was somebody on top of a hostess cupcake, captioned something along the lines of ‘even though it was a two person job, he, being a perfectionist, preferred to work alone…’

The book is arranged by meal.  I think the thing that really got me, though, is how current and real this stuff actually felt.  These are characters just going about daily life.  The fact that they’re bicycling up a banana or harvesting pomegranate seeds  is almost incidental to what is happening.  It’s a very real look at life with a very silly visual aid attached.

I love this book.  5/5.

Book Review – Mama’s Tales of Kanji: The Turtle’s Shell

Title: Mama’s Tales of Kanji: The Turtle’s Shell.
Author & Illustrator: Vincent Eke
Format: Paperback Picture Book
Published: 2013

Mama’s Tales of Kanji: The Turtle’s Shell is about a greedy turtle who doesn’t share his food during a famine with the other members of the animal kingdom, and when they find out about this they tie up his family, take all the food, and then chase him off a cliff.  Oh and some poor goat gets eaten for lying (actually telling the truth), because apparently the lion doesn’t have to share with the other meat eating animals but does have to rationalize.

Along with the normal Dr. Seuss and Thomas the Tank Engine, I’ve been reading my five-year-old nephew Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, often a full chapter in a single sitting. Keep that in mind when I say I think my nephew would be bored and bothered by The Turtle’s Shell.  I certainly was.

On the upside, I can’t criticize the spelling or grammar, but the wording was often clunky and redundant. Not in the charming way that children’s stories can repeat a line with rhythmic variation, but the staid way of repeating information unnecessarily.  The animals gathered for a meeting; the animals have the meeting; the animals go to do what they agreed upon in the meeting.  Five pages are dedicated not to the story itself but to the storyteller before and after the tale.  This sort of metafiction wrapping might work if it had been short and punchy, but it isn’t.  Instead it gives a lot of descriptive information that should be provided by the pictures in a picture book.

At first glance, the cover illustration has a nice balance of color, and the title pops. The golden tone of the story pages have an intriguing richness to them. But soon the illusion of good art begins to fade. The line work looks appropriate to a dollar store coloring book, and the coloring is a clunky mix of Photoshop gradient fills and inconsistent brush work. The tree looks nice and crisp, but the children’s faces are oddly waxy. The back cover is flat out awful, and things don’t improve inside where we get the same coloring book line work with no color.

If the book was designed to be a “color it yourself” interactive experience, the lack of interior color on the illustrations and coloring book style would make sense, but I could find no indication that this was the intention.

On to technical issues: This book is awkwardly large.  My nephew has plenty of other books the same size, but they tend to be hardback, which stay open more easily, and have more intricate illustrations. Even with the oversized font, there’s lots of wasted space. The empty bubbles that frame the title page so neatly continue through the whole book and seem to serve no purpose or connection to the story.

The font is a little too big for the reading level and far too small to use as an oversized book in a group read setting. It was not so bad for the first few pages, but midway through my eyes were getting tired.

The story is a bit too complex and violent for most preschool readers.  I would not try the current version with a child under eight and definitely not as a group read.  It could easily be trimmed down into a nice fable of greed and consequence, but only if the superfluous material was cut away. However if it’s intended for eight and up, it’s really too short and might be better off expanding to a proper chapter book.

The idea of introducing some African wisdom and fables to general audiences is good, but as a nerd, I’m annoyed that there’s no reference whatsoever to what portion of Africa this story is supposed to come from. Instead of some interesting culture notes at the end, we’re bombarded with an avalanche of links to help us follow the author online.  In particular, an explanation of the term “Kanji” would be nice, since it’s clearly not referring to the Chinese symbols commonly used in Japan.

One last note, there are a couple references to the “wisdom of the gods”, which may make some parents uncomfortable and seem out of place in a picture book that claims to be appropriate to all children. I have no problem with children’s books that deal with religious topics, but since this one doesn’t, the framing in these sort of religious terms seems out of place, adding to the too complex for preschoolers aspect mentioned earlier.

This one gets a 2/5 for good idea but poor execution.

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