Review of Mark Paxson’s Weed Therapy

Normally I don’t recommend that a reader go through the About This Author page or Note to the Reader page in a book, but for this one I do. I say this because as I read Weed Therapy, it seemed like two very different stories woven together to make one novel.

Kelvin Rockwell is unhappy in his marriage, in his job, and with his life. A stranger in a bar tells him about a priest in a tiny town in Baja California, and how the stranger’s visit there changed his life. Kelvin leaves his family and visits this poor village to get some answers and some advice.

The first thing I would have you understand is that Mr. Paxson has a wonderful writing style, a great way of putting words together to paint a picture or convey a feeling in a story. The narrative about visiting the village, learning how these simple people find their happiness, and the conversations with the old priest remind me of Hermann Hesse’s writing. There’s something mystical and spiritual about the experience, and I wanted to soak in the aura as long as possible.

The other aspect of the novel is Rockwell in first person telling the reader how his marriage has gone south, how his wife doesn’t express her love for him the way he wants, and how his kids have drifted from him. I went through a divorce and custody proceedings more than a decade ago, so when I read these sections of Rockwell complaining and blaming his wife, I wanted someone to shake him out of it and see the other side of the issue. But I realize that is my perspective, and that re-marrying as an older, hopefully wiser person has changed the way I look at relationships.

Ironically, the old Mexican priest’s words are spot-on for Rockwell, despite his protestations and complaining, and the reader can go a couple of different ways with this story. You can feel the pain Rockwell is experiencing, and sympathize with his thinking. Or you can view his narrative as flawed and myopic, and sympathize more with his wife.

Either way this is a good read, and makes me want to get a copy of Paxson’s other novel, One Night in Bridgeport.

Review of My Novel, Fugue in C Minor

Kevin Wallace reviews Fugue in C Minor in Goodreads:

I read a draft version of Fugue in C Minor and found the story interesting and many of the issues fascinating. Having now read the new version, I face the challenge of seeing it on its own terms. I gained certain impressions of the novel from the draft, and found that in the end these were not quite the direction Dickinson took it in the final edit. So my perspective needs a little adjustment. As I am fond of saying to my students, every text provides its own set of reading instructions, so I had to relearn them for the second version.

In doing so, I definitely enjoyed it, as I have all of Dickinson’s published stories thus far. He is very good at developing plots that are not always straightforward, surprise-laden, and which bring in and integrate issues of characters and theme that would sound disparate if I were to list them. One late revelation about a principle character in appears jarring, and I felt I was not properly prepared for it. But that is just one, amid many that I found quite satisfyingly unpredictable. For the most part, he integrates them well and makes good sense of them. To mind mind, his stories reflect the complexities of real-life characters: while I may not see myself in Maxim Edgars, I can recognize in him my own frequent confusion, and the way my life story is buffeted in various unpredictable directions by the often contradictory impulses to which I guess we are all subject.

Fugue’s real strength isn’t so much the analysis of an amnesiac rebuilding his memories. Instead it is his protagonist’s growing understanding of himself as part of a love relationship. Maxim has the unique opportunity first to reinvent his life, and then, due to his brain injury, to reinvent his own relationship with his past, and the way his present is affected by it. The story shows what such an experience could mean – to be freed from the influence of past errors, betrayals, the real and the imagined selves that one must live up to. As Maxim rediscovers his past, he’s in the enviable position of being able to choose between his various possible selves, and to sidestep (but never erase) the guilt and regret that, for most of us, make such choices so difficult, no matter how many times we have to make them.

In a way, the “fugue” or amnesia aspect of the story comes off, in this version, as more of a device – a situation – that makes Dickinson’s unique discussion of love and marriage possible. I found myself wanting more psychic angst – the fear, the distrust, the paranoia – that I suppose such an experience might entail. But that’s because “angst” is my personal oeuvre. To be sure, Dickinson doesn’t neglect these aspects; but I admit I was hoping for more of it.

These minor caveats aside, I “really liked it” (to quote the Goodreads rating criteria). Of the three novels I’ve read by this writer, Fugue in C Minor has been my favourite (I look forward to the rumoured rewrite of Virtual Silence). What I like best about Dickinson’s storytelling is here in strength, and I have to say, I learned a few things. Can’t be bad!

My Goodreads.com Giveaway Has Started

In the first two or three hours of the giveaway promotion, 23 people “added” my book to their interested list. That’s not a bad start. Only one person has signed up for the actual giveaway so far, but there are 29.8 days to go!

Hard Copy Giveaway

I’m going to setup a book giveaway for Fugue in C Minor in Goodreads. I’ll probably start that tomorrow. I have five copies, so it’s likely that’s how many I’ll use in this promotion.

Wish me luck on getting eyes on the book! It’s still all about getting reviews right now.

Marketing a Self-Published Novel

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago called “The Process of Writing a Novel.” In it I listed my steps for writing a novel, how I do it. The last step had to do with marketing, and I haven’t written that section yet. A lot of people will sell you snake oil. Some people will get lucky. Most of us, whether our novels are good or not, won’t sell anything. Every news report I read says the same thing. Everyone has a poster child for marketing indie books this way or that. Good on them when it works out.

I tried something simple and inexpensive. I paid $15 for an advertisement on Kindle Boards. They have 52,000 fans on Facebook. I figured a one time ad would get some eyes on my book and maybe get a few sales. I wasn’t expecting 1,000 sales, or even 100. But when I asked them where my ad was, they wrote back and said, “Click this link.”

Be honest with me. Are you likely to click this link?

And then scroll down to find my novel? It’s the yellow one. I have an image of it and a link to my Amazon page right over here, anyway. ———————–>

Let me know if you’ve had better luck.

Character Editing

This is something different from character development. What I refer to here is the act of making certain each character is unique, but also that each character is described uniquely. So it’s more about what the author and narrator have done than what the character has done.

In my spreadsheets I like to make sure I describe what every character is wearing the first time we see them. What color is their hair? What marks them as different? Do they have unique mannerisms. I put all of that in my spreadsheet. When were they born? Who are they related to? What is their secret? They each have a dossier!

In my timeline notes I mark the major events of their lives. You don’t want to refer to John’s gender re-assignment surgery three years before he became Juanita!

The draft I am working on right now is partly about making sure every character gets an appropriate introduction and description.

Inspiration

The reason I list inspiration as a step in the writing process is that, as a much younger person many decades ago, all of my stories came and went through the same thing: my ego. So now I try to pay attention more to the ways people do things. I’m not saying you should watch every sci-fi film or read every sci-fi book before you write your own sci-fi story. But it’s important to pay attention to how the real world works in order to find wisdom and little jewels others might miss.

One example of this was a bird I saw at work once, maybe three years ago. It might have been a robin or a starling. There’s this corner of the building where the black windows make a nook on the north side, about halfway from center to the east side of the building. You can see inside the building there, but I can understand how a bird could get confused. It started trying to fly into the window. Why it wanted to visit Cubeland, I don’t know. But it kept flying into this window, maybe five times before it flew back away from the building.

This scene is going into one of my future novels because it got me thinking about how human beings do the same stupid stuff over and over, hoping the results will change one day. They tend not to change. Flying into a window generally will not get you where you want to go, especially if you’re a bird.

So I watch and listen, and allow things to inspire me as I write. I don’t know everything. Don’t tell my wife I said that.