Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Sun Singer

The Sun Singer by Malcolm R. Campbell
(iUniverse / 0-595-31665-4 / June 2004 / 320 pages / $19.95)

Robert is a normal teenage boy who has lots of very imaginative dreams inspired by his adventures in a time he has never known. Yes, the dreams feature a teenage girl or two, but his special relationship with his grandfather has taught him that the strange dreams contain a new reality he will soon enter. He has been groomed for this new adventure since he was very young. He had witnessed a tragic accident in which a young girl was killed, a day that would forever haunt his consciousness. After his grandfather dies, the remainder of the Elliott family takes a summer vacation to the mountains of Robert's destiny. One by one, the places, characters, and events of his dreams begin to come to life.

In my opinion, the best element of The Sun Singer is the way the story holds its ties with Robert's real world and family. Once he enters the dream world for real, the story becomes a fantasy in which Robert is now known as Osprey, and also as The Sun Singer. The Disney classic movie, Dragonslayer, stars a similar young hero who must save the tribe of the good guys from the evil villain. If you liked Dragonslayer, you will enjoy The Sun Singer, as there are similarities in the plot and characters. I mention that old '80's movie because it was of a particularly high quality, and so is the storyline of this book. The difference lies in The Sun Singer's firm grip on the current millennium. In this respect, the book owes more to the Carlos Castaneda Don Juan adventures with psychotropic plants than it does to Dragonslayer. Robert Adams lives in the current time and Osprey exists in a time long ago, but not in a galaxy far away. Robert flashes back and forth, at least within his own mind, between then and now. He was Osprey then and he is Robert now, but both are operating at the same mountainous location in the Western U.S. Robert steps through a time portal often traversed by his grandfather. While his body is apparently in one time, his mind can sometimes fluctuate between the two eras. They didn't call him the Soothsayer of West Wood Street for nuttin'!

That is all of the plotline that should be explained here. Malcolm R. Campbell has successfully crafted an elegant, romantic fantasy of good vs. evil that most fans of the genre should appreciate. The novel has been promoted as one for both old and young adults, and I concur with that assessment. I particularly like the way Robert acts like an adventurous, intelligent, well-behaved teenager. Although the book offers an appeal to adults with its separate reality ala A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, it does not include language or attitudes that tend to influence young readers in a negative manner. The character development is well done, and I mean that with a double entendre. Fantasy fans will eagerly await a sequel when they can step into another time with Osprey without leaving Robert or his modern lifestyle completely behind.

Two very small, negative issues need to be mentioned. By doing so, maybe the next time Robert becomes Osprey, the adventure will be even more enjoyable. The first is that a little more care should be applied to the proofreading stage. Although of the most trivial nature, the typos in this book reach a far higher number than they should. These are of such a miniscule type that they do not slow down the reading or comprehension a whit, but a book with this high quality of storytelling deserves the look of a completely professional effort. The second issue is that I think the story would be more immediate in its feel of excitement if it had been told in the present tense instead of the past tense. The present tense would better serve the reader's wonder and exhilaration of the time-travel experience. I have no further complaints. I am not a rabid fan of the fantasy genre, but I liked the book and I enjoyed the experience of flashing through time and space with well-developed characters within a psychologically believable storyline. If an old nonfiction writer like me found the trip entertaining, certainly many of the multitude of fantasy readers out there will be ecstatic from the journey.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Latest Updates

If you are here, you probably already know there are a few honest book review sites out there in the ozone, and that this is one of them. I have just posted a new article at Authors Den about the subject: Made in China

Coming soon will be a review of the first fantasy book on this site, Malcolm R. Campbell's The Sun Singer. So far it's gotten off to a good start. The Sun Singer will probably be followed by Hannah R. Goodman's My Summer Vacation for young adult readers. As always, we are a first to arrive, first reviewed website. Thank you for coming.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Proof is in the Nitpick

Probably the most boring task in writing and producing a book is the proofreading stage. Any POD author must develop a taste for this task or the result will just invite the slap-fighters to a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, and we all know who's posterior is getting stabbed with pins! Did I say who's? Now this is exactly what today's lesson is about. We are also going to discuss how to sit your paper down on you're desk and read the text of your the book from your comoputer screen. Their are of course many other ways author's make a mess of there proofreading job, and I hope to manage to compile a complete listing of all the many ways I have encountered them doing so. So, get the led out of your pencils so I can lead the ways. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him durnk.

The final inspiration for this article was a post by POD-dy Mouth. She has a link to a site that is currently displaying the first chapters of many potential POD books. A read through some of the chapters with particularly low ratings will quite promptly expose a lack of proper proofreading. After many comparisons of what the Girl on Demand says about her multitudinous submissions for reviews with the few submissions I have received, I can only conclude that I have discovered the way to read a selection of very high-quality iUniverse books, while she has waded through the depth of the POD pit to discover the few diamonds she seeks. As I have covered in previous posts, I can only conclude that we each effectively find what we seek. The key difference is the manner in which we run our respective slushpile operations. I think I can honestly surmise that Poddy Girl and I both feel that many deserving POD authors do not get the attention they deserve. I also think there is no downside to the production of a POD book that has been as perfectly composed, edited, and proofread as possible.

For those of you who do not wish to play the donkey at the next party, here is a list to help keep the pinholes out of your derriere. Just for your information, the last book I completed contained more stupid, careless, proofreading-type errors than any iUniverse book I have read or reviewed on this site. It was a 500-page, traditionally published book on the subject of HTML. It was published in 1998, so you cannot say that the sloppy proofing was the result of Bush's bad trade policies. It was written by a PhD, so you cannot say it was written by a moron, either. Does a computer nerd know how to use a spelling and grammar program? Somebody just did not care enough to properly and carefully proofread the book.

Here is your first hint to use in the betterment of your future publications: the errors increased in frequency as the text neared the final pages of the HTML book. By the end, I was spotting at least one every other page! This is a common problem that I have observed in both iUniverse and traditionally published books. My guess is that the proofreader is tiring of the tedious job as he plods toward the end. I deliberately misstated the problem. I don't think the proofreader is plodding enough. He is rushing to complete the job as the finish line comes into focus. He is missing little boo-boos that he would have easily caught when he was feeling fresh and excited on his first run through the text. He's fumbling the ball in overtime. He dropped the ball in the last inning. There was a turnover at the five yard line. He was being led by the text when he should have gotten the lead out. Do you see how I got in a hurry and let the tense get jumbled while I began repeating myself? Rule #1: Pay even more attention as you read Chapter 50. I know its boring, but do it anyway! And while your at it, do it again... and again. Proofread the whole book three times.

Rule #2: Proofread the book in a somewhat different manner each of the three times you go though it. If you are reading it silently the first time, read it aloud the second. If you are reading it in a goal-directed, short-term manner the first time, read it at your leisure on the second go around. The best method is to read it out loud to another person while that person follows along in the text. If one of you is reading from a computer monitor, have the other one read from a copy you have printed on junk paper. If you like to mark up the junk paper version with a red pen, do so. If you like to correct as you go in a Word document, do it that way on the second reading. Whatever floats your boat keeps it from being christened Titanic.

Rule #3: Don't never ever let your trusted assistant make any changes in the Word document. You and only you should make these alterations; that is, unkless you want to confuse yourself silly and widn up with errors you throught you fixed, but she said she fixed thm, and you assumed that you had the correct and lastest version of the document in your computer, but actually that was the one she threw in the trash when she said she thought you had the findal document version in you're comoputer. Whew! You got the message?

Rule #4: By all means, use whatever spelling and grammar checking program(s) you have, but keep in mind that Bill Gates doesn't know everything about writing the world's greatest novel and publishing it with iUniverse. Look carefully at the suggestions made by the computer programs, but make each final, small decision yourself.

Rule #5: You are no longer in middle school. Don't be afraid to open a dictionary whenever you have a question. There are no smart alecks in the back row to laugh at your nerdy ignorance.

Rule #6: As I have stated many times previously, the most common mistake is the misplacement, omission, or repetition of the most common words.

Rule #7: Watch out for incorrectly changing tense. It happens to the best of us. It happens within paragraphs, and it even happens within sentences.

Rule #8: No matter how clever you think you are, none of your readers like plowing though any particular conceit, grammatical element, or any other cute twist of the English language if it is repeated too often in your book. A few examples are: italics, bold text, super-short and/or incomplete sentences, too-long sentences, and words or phrases that are simply repeated too often. A particular point to keep in mind is that the iUniverse printing system does not handle underlining well. Any word or phrase underlined in an iU book looks as if the underline is in bold and the word is in regular text. I recommend using underlining in an iU manuscript only in applications in which the underline is the only grammatically correct way to display the word or phrase.

Rule #9: Many sentence structures are not exactly incorrect, but they are what I call funky. These are the ones that Word will highlight as grammatically incorrect every time, but we all know that real Americans speak that way anyway. For example, you may have discovered that Word sometimes spits up sentences with a passive structure. If you have no personal objection, then by all means follow Word's orders and fix the funky sentence. In many cases, you may want the sentence to still do the funky chicken, and this is not necessarily wrong, just funky. Pay attention to Word, but use your own judgement, too.

Rule #10: Punctuation is the little engine that could funk up your whole project, so give it its due. Capitalize the right words and put the commas in all the right places, but none of the wrong ones. Use too many ...'s and I'll have to send you back up to #8! Punctuate your whole book as if you were addressing an email or searching for a URL. You know where a lost dot can take you in that department, don't you? Ignore #10... and we'll be saying; we've got the tail, where are the pins?