A Tale of Disappointment and Two Endings

meme

You killed my favorite character in your book. It’s like you killed my favorite bunny.

Spoilers ahead, including details of book endings

You’ve invested days, maybe weeks of time in a relationship, but at the end, you’re disappointed. It happens in real-life relationships, and it happens to readers invested in a novel’s characters. Fortunately, the latter is a rare thing, but when it happens, it can be a gut punch. I was stunned by the ending of a book by one of my favorite authors, John le Carré, who’s best known for his espionage novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Le Carré has a storytelling style that reminds me of peeling layers off an onion while blindfolded. It’s a labyrinthine journey of discovery.

Disappointment with Le Carré descended on me while I was listening to the last few minutes of an audiobook version of Our Kind of Traitor, the author’s 22nd novel. It’s the story of a young Oxford academic and his barrister girlfriend, who vacation on the island of Antigua and meet Dima, a Russian millionaire who came by his wealth by less-than-honest means. The plot focuses on a plan to rescue him and his family from the Russian mafia by giving him a new life in England. In exchange, he promises to tell investigators everything he knows about his money-laundering ways, betraying his criminal colleagues. Continue reading

‘Bet’ now at Seattle Public Library; Poll: Change Joe’s name

Bet: Stowaway Daughter cover

Bet: Stowaway Daughter, my self-published novel, is now available for checkout from the Seattle Public Library.

Getting into the local library is one of the biggest challenges for the self-published author. I’ve leapt that hurdle with my one self-published novel, Bet: Stowaway Daughter, which I released as an e-book in 2009. It’s now available for checkout at the Seattle Public Library and the King County Public Library. Download it to your Kindle! (Oh, yeah, you can buy it on Amazon.) To find it at the libary, simply search the catalog on my last name, Follansbee. Here’s the blurb:

During the Great Depression, Lisbet “Bet” Lindstrom is the 13-year-old daughter of a sea captain convicted of theft and sent to prison. Bet is convinced her father is innocent, but she has no way to prove it. Desperate to free her father, she visits his old fishing boat, and spots a horribly scarred sailor who might know the truth about the crime. Ignoring the warnings of her friends, she secretly jumps aboard the ship, and sails to Alaska. She braves huge storms, performs daring rescues and faces the man who threatens everything she loves.

I’m still hoping an agent will pick up Carbon Run, my first science fiction novel. In case no one bites, the manuscript is ready to be self-published. Lately, I’ve been thinking my author name, “Joe Follansbee,” is a bit weak, and there’s evidence that author names without a gender get more traction for certain subjects or content. (Would you buy a Regency romance novel from someone named “Joe?”) I’m conducting a poll, asking what name you prefer. Help me change my name (or not) by picking one of the options below.


Any other thoughts? Let me know.

Review: Why aren’t ‘serious’ writers writing about climate change?

Cover for Anthropocene Fictions

Why aren’t more literary realists getting real about climate change?

Policy wonks, eco-alarmists, and right-wing denialists dominate the climate change conversation with boring reports, deafening polemics, and forgettable op-eds. The mound of non-fiction reaches to the moon, and we’re no closer to a collective response to a warming world. In contrast, the number of novels written with climate change themes might not reach the top shelf in your living room.

Where are the novelists, author Adam Trexler asks? Where are the imagineers using story to organize, illustrate, and give emotional meaning to the nearly invisible fact of a heating planet? They’re out there, he says, but they’re lurking among the paperback thrillers in airport newsstands and on science fiction shelves in mega-bookstores. With a few exceptions, the “serious” literary world is completely ignoring the most important challenge to Homo Sapiens in 10,000 years.

Trexler builds the title of his book, Anthropocene Fictions: The Novel in a Time of Climate Change, published the University of Virginia Press, on a relatively new argument: humanity is the most potent geological and ecological force on the planet since the last Ice Age. The Anthropocene Era started with the invention of agriculture, but it picked up steam in the 18th century with the burning of coal to fuel industry, which turned the atmosphere into a dump for waste carbon. When a real-life “greenhouse effect” was first identified by science in the mid-20th century, intrepid sci-fi and thriller writers found fertile ground for storytelling. Continue reading

Review: To get at The Truth, dig deeper

Cover image for The Truth

The Truth, by Michael Palin

You can read a book through different lenses. Most reviewers of The Truth, the second novel by ex-Monty Python comic Michael Palin, read it as mainstream literature. I read it through a narrower lens, as a writer interested in how fiction makers work with environmental themes. Seen in this way, Palin’s book is about hero-worship, and how emotional closeness to a subject can obscure the truth.

Protagonist Keith Mabbut is a divorced, middle-aged writer personally and professionally adrift. In his youth, he won an award for an investigative piece exposing an industrial polluter, but his career stalled out, and now he’s writing histories of oil companies to make ends meet. Mabbut is an intelligent, if easily manipulated man naive despite his years, and when he’s offered a chance to revive his journalism career, he falls into the trap of believing he’s found the truth when, in fact, he asked the wrong questions. Continue reading

Review: A Being Darkly Wise

A Being Darkly Wise Cover

A Being Darkly Wise, by John Atcheson

Environmentalists share a kinship with devotees of religion the former prefers to ignore and the latter enjoys lampooning. Extremists in both camps have a matching emotional commitment to their cause an anarchist or Taliban mullah would admire. Both have a mystical attachment to an idea, one an invisible spiritual value of nature, the other a devotion to an unseen God. Except for Jake Christianson, the antagonist in John Atcheson’s self-published psychological thriller, A Being Darkly Wise. Christianson brings both traditions together into a megalomanical monster, while another monster worthy of Greek or Norse mythology lurks nearby.

The protagonist, Pete Andersen, is a middle-aged, mid-level bureaucrat in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sick of the insularity and unresponsiveness of Washington D.C. politics. He’s disillusioned by his careerist colleagues, whose drive for power leads to watered-down policies on combating climate change. And he suffers a guilt complex over the murder of his brother, which prevents him from taking on K Street lobbyists working for the coal and oil industries. Andersen is the cubicle drone ordinary people fear becoming. Continue reading

Excerpt: Extinction’s Kapitan Gore tells his story

Tiger in the Jungle

A detail from Tiger in the Jungle, by Yuri Kravchenko.

As the corsair sub Extinction cruises the open waters of the Arctic Ocean, a cooling system on its ancient nuclear reactor fails. Brother Martin Scribb, kidnapped and made one of the crew, saves the boat with some quick thinking. He is invited to the cabin of Kapitan Gore, the boat’s commander. The monstrous master of Extinction reveals his story in this excerpt from chapter 21 of Carbon Run.

Martin Scribb sat in the captain’s great cabin, sweating. Extinction’s air was kept at a low humidity to resist corrosion, but here in Gore’s living space, the humidity had to be 90 to 100 percent, Martin thought. Tropical plants lined the walls, some with huge flowers with exotic scents that matched the thickness of the air. Mixed with the moisture and perfume was a whiff of decaying leaf litter. It was the smell of slow death. The only thing missing was the cacophony of insects mating, killing, and dying in a true jungle. The metal walls and deck were clear of the rust Martin would’ve expected in a humid environment. A special paint or coating fought off the inevitable oxidation.

Gore tapped at a tablet keyboard, his fingers dexterous despite their thickness and covering of tawny hair. The curved claws that the creature showed on Martin’s arrival were retracted, much like a real cat’s. Gore’s green-yellow eyes bored into Martin. “Well, Mr. Scribb. It seems you have saved Extinction.”

“Please, sir.” Martin picked up on the military forms of address favored on the sub. “I’m a brother of the Penitents of Saint Francis.”

“I see… Brother Scribb.” Gore grimaced, which Martin took as a kind of smile, though the teeth were that of a carnivore, not an omnivore. “Allow me to say thank-you. You are the hero of the hour.”

Martin, like most people who act quickly in an emergency, did not feel himself a hero. “If I had not acted, everyone on board might’ve died, myself included.”

“Indeed. And you are responsible for enough death, aren’t you?” Continue reading

10 omens that auger self-publishing for your novel

Crystal ball

Look into my crystal ball and learn if self-publishing is for you.

Authors new and established face a question unthinkable a few years ago: Should I publish my book myself? Some writers finish a novel and go right to self-publishing. Others go the traditional route to see if an agent or publisher will take a chance on their work. For the latter group, here’s 10 omens that auger self-publishing your novel.

  • The volume of rejection emails from publishers and agents forces your email provider to suspend your account.
  • The pile of hard-copy unpublished manuscripts on your desk falls over and crushes your cat.
  • On your 54th birthday, your mother asks you if you’re ever going to make something of that masters in English you got in 1983.
  • You’re the only person in your writing group who hasn’t had his/her third novel published. Or second. Or first.
  • You measure success by the ratio of actual rejections by agents and publishers to no-response whatsoever.
  • Your royalty checks fail to cover your checking account’s overdraft fees.
  • You realize that three of your unpublished novels have the same ideas as A Time to Kill, Wool, and Fifty Shades of Grey.
  • The rejected manuscript the UPS guy delivered was typed on the IBM Selectric you owned before you bought the 1999 iMac you use now.
  • Your collection of rejection letters would paper the outside walls of the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum combined.
  • A museum curator asks to use your early rejection letter for an exhibit on obsolete publishing models.

What signs and portents foretell self-publishing for you?

Excerpt: Extinction and Kapitan Gore find a target

Image taken through a periscope

Kapitan Gore and Extinction find a victim.

In chapter 20 of Carbon Run, Brother Martin Scribb of the Penitents of Saint Francis is rising in the ranks of the corsair submarine Extinction. The sub prowls the Arctic Ocean, searching for ships carrying a valuable, illegal cargo. In this excerpt, Kapitan Gore finds what he’s looking for.

The decision to accept Kapitan Gore’s offer of “freedom and wealth” came easily to Martin. He had known plenty of the alternative since his disidentification, and although he still held hope of finding Molly Bain and the possibility of redemption in the eyes of the larger society, Martin saw Extinction as a way to hedge his bets. Gore would extract some sort of price for his generosity, though Martin had no idea what that price was.

One day, the captain invited Martin to the control room, where every officer, male and female, greeted him with contempt. Martin recognized Nelson, whom Gore introduced as his executive officer. Lurking near a holo-console was Reason, Gore’s tactical officer and well as chief thug. Continue reading

Excerpt: The truth about Anne Penn’s mother

Lauren Carr photo

Image courtesy Lauren Carr.

In chapter 18 of Carbon Run, Deputy Inspector Janine Kilel of the Bureau of Environmental Security visits the Penn Ranch, which is next to a wildlife refuge destroyed by a fire. Kilel believes Anne Penn’s father, Bill, sparked the blaze caused the extinction of an endangered bird. But her suspect has escaped, and Kilel hopes Anne will help her locate the suspect. But Anne is hostile, as is her friend, Gary Schmidt. During her visit, Kilel picks through belongings Anne salvaged from the fire, which also destroyed Anne’s home.

Kilel studied the holo-pic. The image was familiar. But it was faded and grainy. “Who is this?”

Anne cooled down. “My mother.”

Kilel tried to place the woman’s face. “What’s her name?”

“Molly. She died when I was very young.”

Molly! “She’s dead?”

“Yes! Why are you asking me about her?”

“What was her name?”

“Molly Penn.” Anne said the name as if Kilel were dense as stone.

“No, her maiden name.”

“Bain.”

A shock went up Kilel’s spine. She had to check against something objective. She called up the BES database in her minds-eye and the answer came back almost before she finished composing the query. The photo in the database wasn’t the same as the holo-pic. But it was an image of the same person taken a few years later. Kilel addressed Anne. “Your mother is Molly Bain.”

“That’s what I said. What are you getting at?”

“Molly Bain is an environmental criminal. She was convicted of crimes related to the Spike. She escaped disidentification by turning state’s evidence against Martin Scribb.”

Anne looked as if Kilel had told the young woman that her mother was alive. “You’re wrong!” Anne said. “She died after the Spike! Because of the Spike. That’s what my dad told me. It was a flood or something.”

“Molly Bain, formerly Mrs. William Penn, with one child, Anne Penn, was an AI researcher who programmed the drilling robots that failed on all the Algid Project methyl hydrate sites, causing a massive release of methane. The release started a cascading failure of the entire methyl hydrate bed in the Barents Sea, releasing millions of metric tons into the atmosphere, doubling its capacity to retain atmospheric heat for nearly a decade. Your mother killed 20 percent of the wild species on the planet. Your mother caused the worst mass extinction in 65 million years.”

“Stop it!” Mike stepped in front of Anne, blocking her from Kilel’s view.

The inspector shook with anger. She looked away from Anne and Mike, fearful she might lash out with her fist. A primal part of her wanted to strike Anne for the part of Molly Bain in the young woman, even if it was only a strand of DNA. She wanted to visit punishment on Anne for the sins of the mother for her environmental genocide.

“Stop it!” Mike repeated. “Anne was a baby. She had nothing to do with the Spike or what her mother did.”

Kilel breathed in and closed her eyes, fighting to regain control of herself. “You’re correct, Mr. Schmidt. Anne had nothing to do with the Spike or her mother’s crimes. And unlike her father, she’s not responsible for the fire that wiped out a species. But she is her mother’s daughter, and her father’s daughter.” Kilel glanced at the snag with the magpie nest. “That much is clear.”

Kilel turned on her heel and returned to the car. I can’t be here. I can’t control myself when I think of what that family represents. Sweat trickled down her neck and back, soaking the blouse under her tunic. She punched in the unlock code and the car came on. A blast of hot air blew out of the vent, before the artificial breeze cooled it to an office-like temperature. She ordered the car back to the highway and it kicked up dust from the unpaved driveway, leaving a cloud that obscured Kilel’s view of Anne Penn and Mike Schmidt in the rear view monitor.

Read more excerpts from Carbon Run. What do you think?

Review of Voyage: Embarkation

Voyage Embarkation cover

Voyage: Embarkation’s cover was designed by Aubry Kae Andersen, who also created 14 interior illustrations.

Some novels demonstrate how a writer evolves over time and practice. His or her style changes over the years it takes to write a novel. Some themes are important early, and they’re supplanted by others later on. That’s the case with Zachary Bonelli’s first science-fiction novel, Voyage: Embarkation, published in 2013 by Fuzzy Hedgehog Press. The novel is the first in the author’s Voyage Along the Catastrophe of Notions series. Bonelli says the novel began in 2000 as a series of posts on a fantasy forum. Written in high school, the posts formed the early chapters of the book. Though the novel is really a series of loosely connected anecdotes, the reader can see how Bonelli’s writing becomes more confident and polished by the end of the book’s 515 pages.

The novel’s arc focuses on Kal Anders, a teenage boy with an unusual allergy that exiles him to an alternate Earth populated with giant house cats. Nanotechnology forms the core of his ability to visit Earths in other, parallel timelines via the “metaxia,” described as “the unspace between universes.” He meets Tria, a virtual brother, who tags along on the protagonist’s adventures, and he encounters worlds ranging from the uninhabitable to an update of the old TV series Fantasy Island. Much of the action takes place in and around variations of Chicago and the surrounding geography near Bonelli’s childhood home. Important themes are intolerance, sexual identity, loneliness, and the acceptance of things one cannot change.

As a first novel, Voyage: Embarkation is an imaginative experiment, with its episodic structure and unpolished narrative. A few of the episodes, such as “Benevolence,” about a world dominated by a monster made of mud, stick in your mind, while others are forgettable. “Liberty” is a transparent rant against a crazy boss and the self-repression of workers in a technology corporation. (Bonelli works a day job as a programmer.) Mature readers who have fumed at the stupidity of management will immediately recognize Kal’s experience at the hands of his supervisor. The episode comes late in the novel, and it’s something Bonelli could not have written as a teenager. It’ll be interesting to see how he matures further in his next works.