Yeah I know, the only thing I’m consistent about is starting things and leaving them half-done.
It’s been a while since I pressed on with this bucket list of the best self-published/small press books to read before you either die or go and buy another book from a big publishing house; given you some time to check the ones I’ve already covered didn’t it?
If you can cast your mind back to the last part, I was rapping about the fantasy genre. Advice from established authors can often be “write about what you know,” but with fantasy that’s not so simple; you can adapt the reality you know but you’re going to have to imagine too, you have to capture a dream.
My advice for this is to pretend you’re a child again; if you’re a writer you were probably one of the kids who could take themselves out of reality and stage an epic story through play; a natural talent most lose through the journey to adulthood. I say “sod adulthood,” train your mind to return to a juvenile state when your imagination held no bounds, just stop picking your nose and fidgeting at the dinner table.
Still, you can forget all that and write about a real situation if you like; I enjoy non-fiction too. With big publishers you need to adopt a certain style, close in on a genre and stick to it. With self-publishing you can experiment, change your style, genre, and write about whatever the heck you want to. So this episode we’ll look at fantasy and reality and then straddle the border between them.
American born Kevin Kato lives in Japan, he wrote humour, generally. His book I want to mention is set wholly in reality. “For Now; After the Quake-a Father’s Journey,” is a journal of his family during the fourth strongest earthquake in recorded history.
Living in Fukushima, Japan around March 2011 Kevin witnesses the monstrous tsunami pound the north-eastern shores, reducing towns to splinters and leaving 20,000 loved ones dead or missing. Two days later, fifty miles from his family and home, the reactors at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant began to explode.
Poignant and moving, Kevin Kato delivers fact and fear of the emotional events and the legacy it left upon the city. He tells the tale first hand in periodical form describing the hell that his family went through and how the population of Fukushima dealt with the issues.
“For the sake and safety of my two young sons there was no decision to be made, just get them away,” Kevin writes as his blurb. “For myself, the choice was much less clear. How can I run away when so people, right down the road, are in such dire need - of food, of shelter, of the helping, caring hands of another human being? The urgency of the moment made it impossible to do both - and left me feeling capable of neither.”
You can read all the news you want to about natural disasters but a books like “For Now,” gives it a certain reality and that extra dimension; It is quite breath-taking and should be filed “a must read.”
Kevin dedicated the book “to the memory of those lost and the courage of the affected that remain.”
Some fiction though is so close to reality it can be a poignant as “For Now.” For this you need to be one remarkable writer, come on down Jonah Pierce. There’s a series of versions of this story but the one I read was “Anissa of Syria,” subtitled, “A Christian Refugee’s Saga from the Syrian War to The American Dream,” and it is part of a series called “The Love of Antioch.”
Phew, one paragraph just to tell you the title, which has an alternative “ruder” version by Jonah’s alter-ego Mr Zack Love called “The Syrian Virgin: A Young Woman's Journey From War in Syria to Love in New York (The Syrian Virgin Series Book 1.)”
Trust me to pick the clean version, not that I’m into reading erotica. Neither is the romance genre usually my thing but I am not one to mark a book down due to my personal tastes, I mean I picked it right? I picked it because of the plot that surrounds the romance elements, a young girl fleeing the horrors in Syria; touching and topical.
For the first half I got what I came for, Jonah’s writing is strenuous and flows wonderfully, it’s intelligent and operates above the regularity of the romance genre. Once the protagonist has successfully made the journey to New York the narrative concentrates more with the personal aspects of the girl’s life, her understanding of social etiquette in the city, her education and campaigning for her cause but mostly, her love life.
One may fairly label it as a modern Anne Frank’s diary; it is certainly set out in diary form and follows a similar line; if you came looking for action, you have to remind yourself that this is the diary of a teenager and it deals with pubescent issues equally as much as the horrors of the war-torn predicament she resides in. The only difference here is that Anne Frank’s diary is real but Anissa is fiction. If there was a reason I could give for knocking that star off it would have been this one, and as the story warms towards her romantic activities and distances itself from the troubles in Syria. However, I then considered how believable the character is; at times I thought I could reach into the book and pull her out of there (which is why I should have read the ruder version) and that, to me, deserves all my acclaim.
So all in all I enjoyed this read but if it is all-out-action, boy’s stuff you’re searching for you may be disappointed. This is thoughtful, moving and gratifying.
Truth told, as much as I admire a well-written non-fiction or reality-driven story, nothing enchants me more than to be imbibed into the imaginary world of someone skilful enough to execute a realm of total fantasy and more importantly make it funny too. My newfound friend from across the pond Antonio Simon Jnr, of who I’m honoured to share a contribution to the horror anthology Shadows and Teeth with, fulfils this need more than anyone.
The book is called “The Gullwing Odyssey,” winner of the 2014 Royal Palm Literary Award in the category of Humor and Satire, yeah, I know the missing U annoys me too but this is without doubt one of the finest reads, like, ever.
It follows Marco Gullwing, a messenger who stumbles into a case of mistaken identity and his adventures which follows. Stranded in foreign lands within this fantasy realm Marco is “constantly outrunning pirates, embroiled in international intrigue, and attacked by a hummingbird with an appetite for human brains – that’s just the start of his misadventures.”
Lovers of Jeff Smith’s “Bone” will be a home here. If the Monty Python team wrote Gulliver’s Travels in the spirit of Don Quixote you might be close to just how awesome this is. The goodness arrives from the realm and the quirky misadventures, but mostly from the sheer quality of the characters. Marco is a lucky sprite, with the blessing from a god he has no faith in; he humorously survives scrapes most would perish. He’s no fool but no hero either; an everyman.
Marco is surrounded by equally resolute and intelligently grafted characters, a princess dragon who takes a shining to him, the brash indestructible Latino female pirate and the overzealous knight Barclay who, despite his foreboding of dragons, follows on not as friend but for reimbursement for saving his life.
With amusing ways of doing battle there’s silliness abound and I guarantee you’ve not read anything quite like this.
So ending there brings our bucket-list to ten but there’s still more to come: (in no particular order)
For Now by Kevin Kato https://www.amazon.co.uk/Now-After-Quake-Fathers-Journey-ebook/dp/B00IVLZTOW/
Anissa of Syria by Jonah Pierce https://www.amazon.co.uk/Syrian-Virgin-Young-Womans-Journey-ebook/dp/B00PCTY5N2/
Gullwing Odyssey by Antonio Simon Jnr https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gullwing-Odyssey-Antonio-Simon-Jr-ebook/dp/B00F8OVB8I/
And in previous blogs:
Khe by Alexes Razevich
Shadowline Drift by Alexes Razevich
Speak Swahili Dammit! by James Penhaligon
Judas by Roy Bright
War of the Never (series) by Colin Rutherford
The Order of the Anakim (series) by Cecily Magnon
Kyrathaba Rising by William Bryan Miller