guest: Author Jeri Westerson

Once I read some of her work, I knew I wanted to ask award-winning author Jeri Westerson to join us on 4F, 1H. She has written in several genres including paranormal, rom/com and historicals. Her short stories are touching. She has a new series out called “Booke of the Hidden”. (Yes, the book was hidden, but, well, I’ll let her tell you more!)

Jeri

Jeri has developed “Medieval Noir”, which centers around a disgraced knight, Crispin Guest. Crispin is a medieval equivalent of a private investigator, who uses clues and his wits to solve crimes that the local sheriff can’t, or won’t. More about him later.

Welcome, Jeri!

I just finished “Booke of the Hidden”, which is the first installment in your new urban fantasy series. It is spooky and funny at the same time! Please tell our readers how you “dreamed up” the idea for this storyline.

Funny how you should put it quite that way. I was talking to my agent about venturing into the paranormal genre and I was kicking around some ideas. And then I dreamed. I mean I literally had a dream. I dreamed of a woman named Kylie who found an ancient book stuffed behind a wall, and when she opened it, it released all these deadly creatures into the world. It became her mission to put them all back with the help of the demon from the book. It was a very compelling and interesting dream, and when I woke up, I just lay in bed for a while thinking about how amusing it was. And when I told my husband about it as he readied for work, he told me, “Write. It. Down.” So I did. And then fleshed out the rest of the story in a one-page synopsis. And when I showed him that, he told me, “Write. The. Book!” Writing a paranormal is a lot of fun, a whole different experience from a heavily researched medieval mystery, dense with prose. Writing humor with dramatic scenes is always fun and very cinematic. Making the paranormal come alive is almost as challenging at making fourteenth century London alive to readers.

Would you, Jeri, be likely to open a book that had been walled-up? (I don’t think that I would dare!)

Of course I would! Especially if it looked really old. So I’d be a goner for sure.

Jeri Book of the HIdden

 

This was not your first foray into the supernatural genre, but how much did you know about the elements in this story before you started writing about the Booke? How do you do research for any and all of your writings?

The Crispin Guest books always have some mystical element in them in the form of a religious relic or venerated object. Usually their magic is ambiguous: do they or don’t they have mystical powers? This time, it’s pretty much unquestionable. But like any story, I approach it by working on a story arc that spans the series. I needed each book to accomplish an important part of the six books planned, so I write loose paragraphs about each book and what should happen in them. Loose, because as I write the novels these things inevitably change. And there are also legendary/mythical creatures in each book that need research, and there’s keeping track of the world-building I’ve established as to what each demon can do magically, who’s in the town, and who the bad guys are and why. I’ve also never been to Maine, and though I made up the name of the town, “Moody Bog”, I extrapolated the name from researching place names of Maine, which in turn, provided me with surnames that go back to the founding of the state, and Founders become important to the overall story arc. Research always leads to new ideas and new plotpoints. The medieval mysteries take lots of heavy-duty research, but any book you write always needs some sort of inquiry, whether it’s what kind of uniforms the local cops wear, to the landscape (in order to create your fictional town and its features). The more truthful you are in the foundation of your story, the more real your paranormal aspects can be.

Kylie starts out in California, your home state. Why did you pick Maine for her new home?

It’s hot where I live. So I like to write about colder places: medieval London, Maine. I also wanted a place that had a history as old and older than the country that would play into my fake history of the area. Dark, cold nights. As simple as that.

Is there a method as to how you choose the names of your characters?

I have to like the way they sound and the way they look on the page since I’d have to be typing them over and over. Plus, I like the cadence of a one syllable first name and a two syllable last name, or vice versa. Crispin Guest, Jack Tucker, Kylie Strange, Erasmus Dark…well, he has three syllables in his first name. Names also have meaning, so I like to make sure that names are just a little Dickensian in that sense.

So, you have this planned as a six-book series, correct? Have all your demon/ducks in a row, have you? Do you foresee changes as you go along, or, (unlike mine), do all of your characters always cooperate with you?

I foresee changes as I go along. It always happens. It can’t help but happen as you write each one, and an editor suggests something else. I have to at least get it right in the first books and then stay consistent.

The first book has some sex and sexuality, which fits within the story. I’d call it mild-to-moderate. Are you planning on keeping it to that level?

I’m taking my cue from other books in the genre, like the Sookie Stackhouse books. They’ll stay at that level. It’s romantic enough but not, er, clinical.

I found much of what happens with the characters a little more, shall we say, ‘realistic’ than with many stories. Some of what happens, i.e.: not being able to find perfect people who know all the cure-alls, (no Mary Sues here!). It is also refreshing to see a main character who isn’t sure she should tell everyone everything, but then, quite humanly, does spill what is on her mind to those she chooses to trust. Are you more or less like her?

I’m never much like my characters. And I certainly don’t trust as easily as she does. She also has a lot of gumption, and while I can characterize myself that way, I don’t think I’d be as responsible as her and stick around. I’d run screaming. You have to admire her for being a mensch and doing the right thing.

I also liked the fact that, (again, more closer to reality), Kylie gets caught snooping and no one buys her pretense. This is the type of the hapless thing that have kept me from playing ‘detective’ in other people’s houses or at crime scenes! How about you? Are you the amateur detective type?

Never. I’ve always said, if there’s a murder on a cruise or a country house and a mystery writer is there, please don’t count on us to solve the crime. We have months and months to figure out murders, and we make up everything, including clues, and sometimes we change the murderer at the end. That doesn’t happen in real life. Me, if I found a body? First, I’d scream, then call 911. And that would be the last I’d want to know about it.

Crispin Guest is one of the most unique characters I have run across in some time. How did you come up with him?

I wanted to write a medieval mystery without the typical monk or nun protagonist. And I wanted to do something else different with it that might make it stand out. It took some time—something like two years—to develop the idea of the series, but when it occurred to me to create a hard-boiled detective on the order of a Sam Spade, it began to fall into place. A man who was a lone wolf, and in the case of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, a white knight who followed his own code, was hard-drinking, hard-fighting, tough-talking…and a sucker for a dame in trouble. What if I could translate those sensibilities to a gritty fourteenth century London, with a man who was a disgraced knight, who had all the advantages of money and status, a place at the table at court, and then lost it all and was forced to reinvent himself as a detective who had to live by his wits. He became the “Tracker” for hire to solve crimes and find lost objects, and the series became “Medieval Noir.” The tenth book, SEASON OF BLOOD, will be released in the US on New Year’s Day 2018.

Jeri book two

I love Crispin’s Journal! [http://www.jeriwesterson.com/crispins-blog] I truly enjoy the tone of the speech you use. It is archaic/lyric enough to put your readers into the period, but not so antiquated to be annoying or to a cause a reader to struggle with the tenor of the story. How do you do it?!

Like an actor, a writer gets into character. And though the books are in a close third person, the journal is in first. It helps me understand the character better to do this first person writing, and because these posts are brief, it helps the reader, too. It was a way to bridge the gap between the release of the books…which reminds me that I haven’t written a post in a while! Also, it would have been impossible to write the series in Middle English and impossible to find people to read it. So I just give them a more formalized way of speaking, much like in a Victorian novel. [ Jeri is being modest; we have all read Regency /Victorian novels which are downright annoying; some of us have put our hands-to-pen , attempting to write in another time or place, but “Crispin” is pure fun to the mind’s ear.-T]

Why are you so fascinated with the Middle Ages? Please tell us about your collection of historical pieces. How involved have you been with what is often erroneously called “Renaissance Festivals”?

I was raised by rabid Anglophiles who had lots of historical fiction and non-fiction on our shelves, so I came by my interest in all things medieval naturally. And when I started writing the mystery series, I knew that when they were finally published (and it took fourteen years to finally get a publisher, having first started writing historical novels for ten of those years before I switched to medieval mysteries), I was going to have to develop some talks for libraries and bookstores. I thought that having show-and-tell items would be fun, so I started by getting a broadsword and daggers, and then a flail, and helmets, gauntlets…it escalated from there. But I must say, there is nothing quite as amusing as a plump, middle-aged woman swinging a sword around. As far as “Renaissance Faires” I did work at one with my then boyfriend, now husband, when we were in college. And it was fun, but there isn’t much authentic about it.

I have also read some of your (very) short stories. I found “Catching Elijah” completely charming. Although it is based on a young girl’s memories of one particular Passover, I think people of any religious background can identify with the family and their holiday traditions. I found it along the lines of the movie “Avalon”. How much of it is based on your own Passover memories?

A lot of it. And a lot of the people in it. It’s very autobiographical, except none of that really happened.

The Tin Box” is a heart-warming story of a man who learns about his late father through the older man’s personal papers. May I ask what inspired that story?

It’s very similar to a story an old priest told about his own experience with his difficult father. He was Irish, but I switched it to Welsh-Americans. He approved of the story, by the way.

Thank you so much for being my guest, Jeri. Congratulations on your new series and all of your awards! How can our readers learn more about you and your work?

Thank YOU for inviting me! Anyone interested in exploring my books further can go to BOOKEoftheHIDDEN.com and JeriWesterson.com. Friend me on Facebook at Facebook.com/cripsin.guest and Instagram at jeriwestersonauthor. And do check out the fabulous book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=3LPfNQAIasc

[Great trailer, but it does not show any of the humor of the book-T]

Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Both bookstores and authors take a chance on each other, so it would be great to have people come down to these appearances or at least order the book from these bookstores. Everyone should have a chance to see an author event, and, if I do say so myself, mine are a lot of fun. Check BOOKEoftheHIDDEN.com for my appearance schedule to see if I’ll be near you. They’re almost always free and it will be a fun time.

Thank you for joining us today, Jeri. I think most of the crew and many of the visitors here can all relate to both sides of the table at writers’ events. I’d love to join you at one of yours one day!

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When the Real Story Makes You Want to Scream

Disturbing but Fascinating Account of What Really Happened During and After the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

By Jeff Salter

“No more dynamite!” I felt like screaming, as I read this book. “You’ve already made things horribly worse!”

That was among my visceral reactions to Dennis Smith’s fascinating account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. His book: San Francisco Is Burning — the Untold Story of the 1906 Earthquake and Fires.

First, I guess it’s important to indicate my sparse general knowledge – or lack of it – about that horrible event. My previous understanding – based mostly on clips of a Clark Gable movie and a few mentions in history books or articles – was that the massive quake caused most of the damage, notably creating the fires (which exponentially multiplied the destruction).

Frisco-burning

But here’s some of what we learn in Smith’s exhaustively detailed account:

* most of the city’s buildings were made of wood and were set on soil (or “fill”) which was inferior, unstable, and unsuitable as “foundation”. So the quake smashed those structures like Godzilla tromping on the soundstage representing Tokyo.

* the city (and surrounding area) was mostly run by dishonest political hacks who rather openly fed on graft and corruption. Many viewed their positions as multiple ways to line their own pockets… rather than investing in the city and trying to improve things.

* the fire chief had tried for many years to secure adequate water supplies – not only for his department’s potential use, but for the city’s population generally. But those efforts were ignored because the politicians wanted to use the water crisis for their own financial advantage instead of the public’s good.

* The fire chief – only person in the area with the right training, insight, leadership, and public persona to take control and actually defeat the fires – was horribly injured during the first moments of the quake. He was incapacitated and unable to even speak over the next couple of days… and died before the last fires were put out. Neither of his assistant chiefs had the training, leadership, or public clout to assume control and therefore the fire department was relegated to a support role (more on this in a moment).

* The head politicians knew nothing of crisis management and even less about fighting fires. Most had only been in politics because of its access to power and illegal financial gain.

* into this gap stepped a respected army general, who – though he was proven on the battlefield – knew nothing about fire control and even less about handing civil disasters. His ILLEGAL response was to declare martial law, arm his own men and a few other military units, and SHOOT any citizen who disobeyed nebulous orders.

* it was this general who authorized and insisted on the incredible step of blowing up city block after city block of buildings in the paths of the multiple fires — presumably to set up fire “breaks”… but actually accomplishing the opposite. Yeah, nearly every time they blew up buildings or blocks, the fire only spread farther and faster.

* they didn’t even have the right type of explosives for the type of controlled blasts which COULD POSSIBLY HAVE helped… so they used black power and just about anything else that would blow up.

* the guy put in charge of setting off most of these charges… was not experienced in this type of explosion and possibly not even sober (this varies in the retelling) for much of the time.

* in many cases, after a building had been SAVED by the heroic efforts of the fire teams and civilians, and (in some cases) the military who (against orders) put down their rifles and picked up shovels — the general in charge decided to blow up that building anyway! And the fire spread even more.

* heroic and intelligent responses by certain Naval units (operating out of the bay initially, but later even going block to block) had very good results… many of which were later mitigated by the actions of the army general. And, to rub salt in their wounds, the general’s after-action reports pointedly disregarded the sacrificial work of those Navy guys.

* the author introduces us to many civilians caught up in the disaster. We come to know them and we hope for their survival. We share the joy of those who prevailed… and we share the grief over those who didn’t.

* under the illegal martial law, soldiers were ordered to evict (at bayonet point) residents of their own homes and workers at their own businesses. If the citizens did not comply, they could be shot. Many were. In a few isolated cases, people remained “illegally” and successfully saved their structures from the fire. Those cases illustrate what could have happened if citizens had been given a choice.

* though the “official” after action reports refer to a handful of deaths from the soldiers’ actions, the author gives a figure he considers conservative: at least 500 citizens were shot dead on sight, on the presumption that their presence in an area categorized as looters. In fact, many were the owners or residents of the buildings they were near.

* don’t get me started about the insurance companies which simply walked away from this disaster without paying a single claim!

I could go on. I guess you can see how my blood boiled over what I read in Smith’s account. And, it goes without saying that if this author can draw me into this 111 year old disaster to this extent, he’s a powerful writer!

Let me end this by summarizing (with the luxury of hindsight and without the pressure of being in the middle of that disaster) how this event COULD HAVE turned out instead.

Damage from the quake itself would have been quite rebuildable … AND destruction from the several (isolated) fires would have likely been containable

IF

* the trained and capable fire chief had NOT been removed from the equation in those first moments

* the politicians had heeded the numerous prior warnings about deficient water supply and actually done something to correct it

* the city had honest and capable managers with some actual leadership ability

* the general had used his troops to help with disaster relief (fighting fires, setting EFFECTIVE fire breaks, rescuing injured citizens, hauling hoses and water, etc.) instead of their ill-advised assignment as armed “guards”.

* the citizens had been allowed to remain on their property and fight the fire sparks before they spread

* the general had NOT chosen to blast entire sections of the city to smithereens

I could go on. Of course, in 1906, most large cities did not have evacuation routes, disaster response teams, emergency plans for first responders, etc. And, in fact, many lessons from this event COULD have been helpful in developing some of those plans for future disasters. However, the powers-that-be chose instead to quash much of the research and statistics of this event because it (rightly) portrayed them in a bad light.

Question:

Ever read a book that makes you want to scream, “don’t blow up that city block! It will just make things worse!”

[JLS # 358]

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Guest Author: Jennifer Griffith Tells WHY

I’ll admit that I spend way too much time on social media sites when I should be working on other projects, but every now and then I’ll find something meaningful that makes me stop and read all the way to the end. I’m not one to dive into long essays, but for some reason, this post by author Jennifer Griffith caught my eye. Since she and I write the same sub-genre (clean romance), her words resonated with me. I asked for permission to share her post, and thankfully she agreed.

 

Why I Write What I Write
by Jennifer Griffith

Jennifer G250x300Why do I write light romance? First and foremost, I believe that it helps others escape from the stress and pressure of their daily lives. Escapist fiction, clean and uplifting (at least on some level, giving a hope of love and resolution to problems), is a needed quantity in the world. People need a break from their own concerns to worry about someone else’s for a while. They need to be able to vicariously experience an emotionally wrenching “dark moment” as a relationship looks like it’s about to fail, and then the triumph as love overcomes. In this way, a reader can be transported to a place of escape, as well as a place of emotional healing. The vicarious experience is part of why storytelling has been prominent in every society in all the history of the world.

Here’s another way to consider it. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, “Children do not need fairy tales to know there are dragons in the world. They need fairy tales to know that dragons can be slain.” The same can be said of light fiction, especially including romance. We need to believe in happily ever afters. We need to believe that love and romance and happiness can all exist in one good relationship. We need to have something to model our own behaviors on, as women and men treat each other well and make one another fall in love with each other. We need to be able to see it working out, even when we might have imperfect relationships in our own lives.

There is so much of the other kind of writing out there: the tawdry, the titillating, the downright filthy. Sectors of my genre can often be boiled down to pornography for women. Women crave a love story, and if there isn’t a clean one, all that will be left is the sludge. If writers like me and those in my clean romance movement failed to write, there would be nothing to fill that need, and a huge void would be left. We offer a solution, fill a need, and a wholesome—if not always necessarily uplifting—escape. I’m only saying this that it’s not necessarily uplifting because I usually would attribute a spiritual aspect to that word. However, on the other hand, true love expressed (within bounds of morals and decency) must needs be uplifting.

A few years ago, there was a huge incident of civil unrest in the Middle East, which became known as the Arab Spring. Governments were overthrown by military groups, upheaval was everywhere, putting civilians at risk. I have a cousin who grew up in Idaho but who married an Egyptian man. She has lived many years outside Cairo. During the Arab Spring’s events, we all worried for her and her family’s safety. And then, she gave me a gift: an email that changed everything about how I saw my writing. It was along the lines of this: Jenny, During all this craziness, I’ve been confined to my house. We placed large barricades in our cul de sac to keep tanks from entering our neighborhood. I couldn’t go outside or leave for several days. So, to take my mind off things, I reread your book Delicious Conversation. It was a great escape until the smoke cleared.

Tell me that fluffy fiction is useless or powerless now.

The final thing is from a Kate DiCamillo quote on Facebook that I didn’t read but heard about. I should note that she is my favorite writer of all time. She is beautiful and amazing, and every book of hers that I read feels like a glimpse into a wise and precious soul who knows what our ideal of love and relationships should really be, and she conveys that through gentle relationships, quirky and broken souls who need the healing of love. Anyway, Kate DiCamillo recently said on social media that she felt so helpless in a world that felt like it was growing darker all the time, and that there’s no way to combat it—until she realized that her writing was light, and that we have to fill the world with stories. “Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark.”

I feel like my voice cannot shout and tell the world to stop its sludgy trudge toward Gomorrah. I can’t be like one of those terrible, shouting radio announcers or bloggers that tell us everything that is morally sliding into the murk. I have those thoughts, but I don’t have that gift, nor do I want to accomplish such an outcome through contention, which I assume that type of communication would always entail.

Instead, I have a different gift, a talent that I’ve cultivated and practiced and given time to over the course of more than two decades. That gift is stories. That gift is to fill the world with light—and when I say light fiction, I can mean it both ways: light as in fluffy, but also light as in illuminating to a dark or heavy soul. I can do as Kate, my writing hero, says, and fill the world with light. The world needs my stories. I’m not wasting my time by writing. I’m giving the world my little, happy gifts. I hope they will receive them.

That’s why I write what I write: light fiction.

Asked and Answered CoverJennifer is the author of nearly twenty books including the Legally in Love Collection.
Book 1, Asked and Answered is currently FREE (click on the book cover for the link).
Others in the series include:
Book 2 Legally Wedded
Book 3 Wills & Trust
Book 4 Merger & Acquisitions
Book 5 Assumption of the Risk (free short story/Halloween-ish)

 

 

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I Was Hoping For “Utopian”

When I glanced over the topics for the quarter, I thought this week’s was about our favorite Utopian world. When the week started, I found that it was to be our favorite DYSTOPIAN world; big difference.

Over the years, several Foxes have commented on how they would really hate being the Friday Fox, because nearly everything on any topic would probably have been said by others. I have not found that to be the case, since we are all individuals with differing ideas and experiences. In a case like this week’s, I am glad to have had the extra time!

I generally have my posts ready beforehand, but I do edit if I feel that something I wished to cover had been discussed enough, or was referred to in more than one other post during the week. I don’t think that is going to be a problem because I rather avoid dystopia.

Maybe it’s because my own ‘society’ has been well, not necessarily dystopian, but sometimes dysfunctional enough that I like to see a good outcome. I root for the good guys and although I don’t want to read only hearts-and-flower stories, too much hardship is a real bummer to me.

I don’t go looking for suffering.

So while I was thinking, “OK, Tolkien” and how I’d love to move in to Rivendell because, after all, the Elves aren’t using it, still, I don’t want Mordor marching in. Nope, the Ring would have had to be destroyed already and no, I don’t want to picture myself along for that journey.

I heard “The Lottery” read online while I cleaned the kitchen some years ago, but I did not identify with the woman who left her dishes to go to the ‘celebration’. I found the story to be obvious and the great profundity it was supposed to represent was lost to me. [Do you know it? It’s the story of a small-town festival with bands, parades, balloons, the whole works. One by one, every name in the community is read. The joy of the festivities slowly turns solemn the until the last person left is stoned to death. NOT a fun read.]

“1984” is too close for comfort anymore.

The Husband, to my complete surprise, was curious enough to watch“The Hunger Games” movies, all of them. No, thanks; he saw them alone.

But I assume even those ended well. MS and YA books often do, which is why I like them, and I will have to mention again some of those, most of which I have either reviewed here or posted interviews with the authors.

Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson (the early series), Septimus Heap and others all had their worlds go upside-down, taken-over or nearly taken-over by The Bad Guys and the ‘ride’ was thrilling, but I knew the good guys would prevail.

The one series that stands out, however, are the “Chronicles of Egg”, written by a Geoff Rodkey, who was gracious enough to be a guest of mine here  in September of 2016.[Guest:Geoff Rodkey ] Geoff has written a great deal for movies and TV, plus he has a fun series out for kids, (“The Tapper Twins”, a kinder but just-as-funny of The Wimpy Kid books genre). However, my mind keeps wandering back to “Egg”.

The Chronicles are a trilogy, written for Middle School level, I found it profound. The good guys prevail, but their world is still far from perfect and there are many unknowns facing them. My grandson, who is now in High School, will still occasionally comment how he wishes that we could find out about Egg and his friends when they are grown; they became that real to us.

The world Egg was born into was gruesome, ruled by his hate-filled, tyrannical father and his equally horrific siblings. They live on a sweltering island where his father has an ugly fruit plantation, manned by broken-down pirates. Egg is motherless and neglected, but just as often abused; books are his only solace. I almost didn’t read past the beginning, but I am glad that I did because Egg and his world became quite compelling. I think boys would be more apt to take to this story at the beginning, but it is a great adventure which some girls would miss out on if their sensibilities are delicate.

Soon into the on-going story, Egg’s world is broadened to introduce more horrors from a corrupt governor and uncaring wealthy, frightful pirates and natives who believe in human sacrifice: in other words, his world is truly ‘dystopian”.

During his many misadventures, Egg does find a few good souls and friends, although some are false and use him for their own motives. (Geoff Rodkey really keeps you guessing throughout the trilogy.)
So, there we go, my favorite dystopian world was written by the man best known for writing family comedy, (“Daddy Day Care”, “The RV”, and “Good Luck Charlie”).

I wish I could read more of Egg and his friends’ lives.

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Walker Percy’s Thanatos Syndrome

Percy’s Look at a Dystopian Society

By Jeff Salter

I can’t claim that Walker Percy ever used the term “dystopian” to describe this novel or its prequel, but this pair of novels is what I thought of when we received this week’s assignment about dystopian worlds. Below is a significantly abbreviated version of a review I wrote some 30 years ago. Its complete version was published (around that time) in an edition of the LLA Bulletin.

# # # # #

Percy, Walker.  The Thanatos Syndrome.  New York:  Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1987.

Review by Jeffrey L. Salter

Walker Percy’s sixth novel, Thanatos Syndrome, is a sequel to Love in the Ruins and rejoins psychiatrist Dr. Thomas More approximately three years after the epilogue of the earlier book.  Love in the Ruins, published in 1971, is set in southeastern Louisiana at a time “near the end of the world” (presumably 1983) when everything is in chaos.  Society has collapsed: automobiles and machinery are abandoned because no one can repair things, freeways are overgrown with vines, and there are threats of a catastrophic end to the western world.  A racial revolution is taking place with snipers, destructive raids by militants, and other isolated pockets of violence.  Society is also polarized:  conservatives and liberals both suffer medically, though from quite different ailments.  There has been an accident involving Heavy Sodium, which has left a strange yellow cloud resulting in irregular behavior.  There are also effects from Heavy Chloride exposure and some people suffer from combinations of both.  The general decline of society, More believes, is caused by the effects of “noxious particles”.

More’s goal had been to win the Nobel Prize for his “lapsometer” device which restores the body with the soul.  He is betrayed and his invention is abused, causing further atmospheric complications.

An epilogue is set five years later (presumably 1988) after the major crises have passed.  More is poor but content.  The militants have taken over the former country club, but not through revolution: their occupation of the swamp led to oil discoveries.  Many have left the area:  conservatives (driven mad by noxious particles) and liberals (quaking with terror).

The plot and development are quite exaggerated, which is essential to Percy’s creation of such a broad satire of society, politics, religion and science.  Termed by some critics as “madcap,” Love in the Ruins is considered a significant departure from the novels which preceded it and those which followed.

WalkerPercy_TheThanatosSyndrome

SYNOPSIS

In Thanatos Syndrome Percy has abandoned the broad strokes of hard-core satire in favor of a more subtle treatment of the same themes:  love, moral confusion, spiritual search, and mental dysfunction.  The reprise rejoins psychiatrist Dr. Thomas More (probably 1991) approximately three years after the epilogue of the earlier book.  More has recently returned to “Feliciana” (Louisiana’s Florida Parishes) after two years in minimum security prison for prescription transgressions.  Things have changed during his absence: many people have a flatness in manner and speech and many possess a superior capacity for out-of-context data retrieval.  The racial reversal in the earlier novel has given way to a relaxed order of the “Old South.”  New laws have encouraged killing the aged, the “pre-persons,” and the terminally ill instead of using treatment and therapy.  More is troubled by sessions with three former patients who used to be stricken by insomnia, terror, and marital problems.  No longer exhibiting their previous symptoms, they visit for favors rather than therapy.  More suspects a syndrome.

The meaning of “thanatos” in Percy’s context appears to be death which is unnecessary, or an end without meaning.

More has previously observed that people are either bluebirds (mostly women) who value “being” or jaybirds (mostly men) who value “doing.”  Now, he finds, “they’ve all turned into chickens” and he suspects a syndrome.  More confides in Lucy Lipscomb, a distant relative, who has computer access to almost every significant electronic databank in the region.  Together they discover a distinct pattern of heavy sodium contamination of the bloodstream.  This contamination was not caused by an accident (as in the earlier novel) but is a deliberate experiment using waste coolant from a nuclear plant.  This pilot program, dubbed “Blue Boy,” is not sanctioned by any of the agencies whose funding and resources are used:  it is the result of “aberrant local initiative.”

The project directors (Van Dorn and Comeaux) cite positive social results, including:  decline in crime rate, reduction of teenage pregnancies, and superbrains in computation and recall.  More objects on the grounds of civil rights:  “You’re assaulting the cortex of an individual…” without his knowledge or consent.  The directors want More on their team for his expertise in isotope brain pharmacology and to neutralize his objections.  In spite of their warnings, More investigates the waste sodium pipeline and is arrested.  He is confined near Angola and is threatened with return to an Alabama prison for parole violation.  But More’s concerns are about other matters:  eliminating the sodium contamination and rescuing children from wide-spread sexual abuse by a private school faculty.

More devises a rescue plan which he hopes will also force Van Dorn to abandon the project.  The rescuers find photos and video tapes showing sexual abuse, but those will not suffice as legal evidence, so More forces the faculty to ingest highly concentrated sodium.  The effects on them are not only comical, but are sufficiently extreme to cause the sheriff to confine them.  Later, through a mixture of ingenuity and subtle blackmail, More is able to convince Comeaux and Gottlieb to terminate the contamination project.

As the novel closes, things are basically back to pre-sodium normal:  More is indecisive again and has no patients, his wife is “her old tart, lusty self,” and the societal effects are reversing.  In the final scene, a former patient seeks treatment because she’s had a recurrence of her old terror.

THOMAS MORE

In the earlier novel, More was a bemused erstwhile survivalist with three girl friends, a supply of liquor, a roomful of bland canned goods and a carbine for protection.  He seemed to drift in and out of situations and he was prone to alcoholic stupors and “morning terror.”

This new More is mostly sober and he emerges at the proper time as a man of action.  He’s rumpled and ill-kempt and he still has frailties: his sinuses run at inopportune times and he is liable to while away idle time tossing paper airplanes.  But when others do not perceive a problem, he pinpoints a syndrome; when others are hesitant and without hope, he formulates a plan and challenges the Mississippi in a pirogue.  This is not the same scalp-tingled More who collapses in sand traps and examines the contents of his pockets for clues about himself.

Like many of Percy’s main characters, More is seeking and he determines fairly early that he is “on to something.”  During his quest, More transcends his professional lethargy and personal indecision; when the crisis is over he returns, somewhat renewed, to his unique status quo.

CHARACTERS

The hallmarks of Percy’s fiction are his development of characters.  Percy’s description of mannerisms his depiction of dialogue is superb, whether the character is a local bartender or a federal project director.

FATHER SMITH

Father Smith returns from the earlier novel as a very different person who now holes up in a fire tower.  More visits Smith and quickly notes he has “the super-sane chipperness of the true nut” — he is concerned about the loss of meaning in words and whether they “signify.”  Smith tells a lengthy tale about a teenage visit to pre-war Europe and confesses he was so intoxicated with the esprit of the German SS that he would have joined them.  More is led to perceive some “lesson” about the experiments and thinking of prominent pre-WWII scientists and doctors.  There are certain parallels with the society More reenters:  the legalized killing, the effects of the sodium project, and the attitudes of the directors.  There are obvious conclusions that if the Reich’s experiments could develop into something so unspeakable, perhaps these “well-meaning” bureaucrats and their projects could become equally monstrous.

HUMOR

Many critics have labeled Percy’s other novels as “comic realism” or “philosophical comedy” and comedy is certainly present in his newest work.  One particularly humorous part occurs between More and Lucy as they investigate the suspected syndrome.  There is a good bit of banter between them: she is very suggestive and physical while he feigns naïveté and tries to sound businesslike.  As she manipulates her computer, the verbal interplay has many double entendres and is nearly electric with sexual tension.

INTERLUDES

Right after More and Lucy discover the sodium syndrome, he takes a drink in her dining room; he becomes disoriented and practically immobile, so Lucy helps him up to the bedroom.  She obviously has more on her mind than merely tucking him in, and it appears the distant cousins have one or more sexual unions.  Intermittently during the night his mind wanders and the episode takes on the rambling dimensions of a Faulknerian dream with some sort of collective subconscious.  Upon awakening More realizes most of his delirious visions were not real.  What IS real is the taste in More’s mouth of Lucy’s tobacco.  He obviously has a shy desire for Lucy and it’s a shame that when they “get together” he is too delirious to concentrate.

PERCY

Percy uses characters More and Smith to ruminate over some of his own pet subjects: alienation, semiotics, malaise, clichés and jargon… plus the author’s own observations on people, places, and meanings.  With More and Smith as narrators, Percy has an enviable position much like a TV sports color commentator:  far enough away to see all the action, access to close-up and “slo-mo” technology, and time to philosophize about all of it.

Percy was – I believe – Louisiana’s most notable resident author and he was certainly among a small handful of America’s outstanding writers.  He may well be the most readable of the “quality” fiction writers, and his body of work should definitely prevail long after his contemporaries are forgotten.  Percy is much more of a poet than he would probably admit:  he has the art of telling us more about ourselves (and others) than we thought anyone knew, and he says it with a wink and a smile.

[JLS # 357]

 

 

Posted in America, authors, book review, characters, dystopian worlds, Jeff Salter, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Something’s not quite right…

I am fascinated by distopian worlds. The events that have created them and how society and community have worked themselves into something that kind of works. Since it’s distopian something isn’t right with the world the author created and the main character will have to find a way to resolve that.
I don’t think I would like to live in any distopian world I’ve read about, but some of the historical writers are remarkably prescient about future times.
Brave New World’s focus on pleasure and escapism. Fahrenheit 451’s emphasis on meaningless entertainment. Animal Farm’s some people are more equal than others. Atlas Shrugged where government regulation becomes so burdensome the economy can no longer function. I could add 1984 to this list as well, though I haven’t been able to make myself read it since high school.
The world that is most interesting to me is the one that is probably the least like our current world and I hope that in fifty years this remains true. I am choosing the world created in Hunger Games.
One of the things that fascinates me about this world is how the author allows us to view it… only through Katniss’ eyes. The first time I read the books I felt the distance that Katniss puts between herself and anything that could make her feel. I didn’t trust her stated affection for anyone but Prim, her sister. Was she playing the reader by pretending to fall in love with Peeta as much as she was putting on a show for Panem? I was certain this was the case.
My niece also read the books and loved Peeta. She was convinced the affection was real. We went back and forth, discussing and debating. I almost had her convinced that Peeta died in the end. That was her biggest fear, so she was blindsided by Prim’s death. We both loved the discussion, so I think that influences my interest in this world.
What would a world be like where you must take the chance of sacrificing your children in order to provide more food for the rest of your family? Or where you are forced to watch your child be celebrated in a kill or be killed contest?
Posted in Joselyn Vaughn, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

With These Wings

I remember reading Divergent when it first came out. It was a good book, I was enthralled but the other books just sort of lost me. I haven’t seen the movies. I didn’t watch The Hunger Games until the came out with the last movie and only then because I was puppy sitting. It was one in the morning and I had to be up to bottle feed the new born puppies because their mother couldn’t nurse them. The movie was on. It was pretty good but it did not move me enough to read the book. My daughter has read the books and loved them.

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So when I have to think of a Dystopian world that I enjoy I think I would have to go with Wendy Knight’s With These Wings. The story is set in America after not one but two alien invasions! Everything is gone, the few people left are struggling to survive and fighting for their lives. This book completely moved me. The entire time I was reading it (and the other books in the series) I could picture it as a movie. There have been a few times in my life when books have crept their way into my dreams. This was one of those books that managed to do that.

I think I loved it because there was still hope and romance. While these young adults fighting for survival they still have to deal with their emotions. They’re realizing who they are and digging deep down to find what the strength that has always been in them so that they can push forward and deal with the difficulties that are ahead of them.

What also appealed to me was that it was set in our time. It wasn’t hundreds of years in the future. It was a great read and I would absolutely love if someone day it could be turned into a movie.

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