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Other Indie - Early 2017

 

Table of Contents

Introduction
Matthew LeDrew 2

Review: Carrots by Colleen Helme 3

The Interview: Colleen Helme 5

Review: 15 Minutes by Jill Cooper 7

Review: Kowloon Walled City, 1984 by Nicholas Morine 9

Review: Zombies on the Rock: Outbreak by Paul Carberry 11

Review: Flight or Fight by Scott Bartlett 13

Review: Standing Tall: A Daughter’s Gift by Jaqui Tam 15

Review: Damnation Code by William Massa 17

Call of the Sea
Amanda Labonté
Chapter 1 20

A Scene from: Carrots
by Colleen Helme 22

 

[] Introduction[
**]Matthew LeDrew

 

Welcome to Other Indie #1!

Other Indie is planned to be a twice-yearly eZine style publication that focuses on the best of independently-produced fiction in any genre: contemporary, thriller, science-fiction, fantasy… anything!

The Independent book market is a sea of titles right now, with great platforms like KDP and Shakespir making it easier than ever to get your work out there to a wide audience: and that’s a good thing! But it can lead to market saturation and readers who don’t know which books will give them the best quality for their dollar: enter Other Indie, which strives to highlight the best in Independent fiction on the market right now so that you – the reader – know what’s worth trying!

 

 

In this issue we sit down with Colleen Helme, author of the Shelby Nichols novels and one of the driving forces behind the blossoming paperback-mystery genre of the Indie market right now. We have a full interview with her in which we learn about her upcoming projects, as well as get into the head of the author of over ten novels to see what makes her tick creatively!

 

We also have a full review of the first novel in Helme’s Shelby Nichols series, Carrots, and reviews of six other great Indie titles by artists like Nicholas Morine, Paul Carberry, Scott Bartlett, and Jill Cooper.

 

Next issue we’ll be doing an all Fantasy from the Rock edition, highlighting the best in Indie Fantasy works and those contributing to the upcoming blockbuster anthology Fantasy from the Rock. We hope to see you then.

Matt

 

 

 

 

 

 

[] Review: Carrots by Colleen Helme

 

 

Carrots is a 2011 mystery novel written by Colleen Helme and published through the Amazon CreateSpace platform, which allows original work to be published in a print-on-demand format. This is the first novel to feature the character of Shelby Nichols, who has since become a sort of avatar for Helme’s work. There are currently eight books in the Shelby Nichols adventure series, with a ninth available for pre-order now.

This book is part Janet Evanovich (of the Stephanie Plum novels) and part Brian Michael Bendis (of Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers fame).

I loved every moment of this instant classic by Helme. The book takes the “Mommy Mystery” (hate that term) format and spins it on its head by adding a touch of the super-powered and supernatural when the series’ titular hero, Shelby Nichols, is struck on the head and gains psychic powers: all because she stopped on the way home to get some carrots.

On the subject of the adding of the ‘supernatural’ element to an otherwise ‘normal’ mystery novel, there’s always a temptation on the part of an author to take the “easy” way out and just offer the same formula as the mother genre (in this case a paperback mystery) with small element of the new genre for flavor. You’ll usually be able to recognize this sort of ploy by the sort of pitch-meeting dialog that happens in its presentation: “It’s Miami Vice… with a twist!” or “It’s a superhero story… with a twist!” Books that make this sort of change can too often fall victim to formulae and not take enough time to develop characters and tension, relying on the ‘twists’ that the imported element lend to the familiar genre’s subject matter to carry the book: and it rarely works. To put it another way: it’s like putting Dijon mustard on a Big Mac and then trying to sell it as a different burger. It won’t go over well.

Carrots doesn’t do that in the slightest. The psychic / supernatural elements are not just added in artificially for flavor, they are the meat of the characterization of the story. As Shelby learns to develop her new-found powers she’s able to see into the passing thoughts of her husband, his attractive female co-worker, and everyone around her. The book takes great pains to explore the reality that people cannot control their thoughts and that what they think is not what defines them, but rather what they do. However… knowing that your husband and his co-worker have mutual attraction to each other, it’s hard not to act on that information. It tows a delicate line of right and wrong as Shelby balances making her choices based on what she should know and what she does know.

We learn about our lead character and those around her via Shelby’s powers, which is an ingenious way of getting around clunky, expository dialog (people think in ways they don’t traditionally speak in). With the characterization handled by the powered portion of the novel, the plot is handled by the mystery portion that Shelby gets entangled in, which I will not spoil here. It involves a crime-syndicate and is handled masterfully by Helme.

These two elements dovetail in a masterstroke of artistry and complement each other in a way that elevates both: the crime-plot increases the tension of the psychic plot, and the psychic plot ratchets up the stakes and tension of the crime-syndicate elements. I’ve preached this sort of unity and narrative cohesiveness in writing workshops for a decade now: having separate elements that meet at the end is the way to do plot-driven fiction. Bonus points if one of those elements is character-driven, for lit-wits like me.

 

I love taking the Freudian method of dream analysis and applying it to literature. Quick/Dirty rundown: you take the part of the book that bothered you the most, then spin the analysis so that that is what the book is about. At least, what it’s about for you.

The thing that ‘bothered’ me about Carrots was the dichotomy between what people said and what they really thought, once you could see into their minds. It plays on that fear and anxiety of not knowing if we’re loved, cared for, and respected. I could make a strong case that that is what Carrots is ‘about,’ the anxieties of finding out what people really think of you, in a sense destroying your own privately-held version of yourself. You can no longer tell yourself you were “the boss” at that last meeting, because you can read everyone’s mind and know they’re bored to tears. There’s also a strong sense of destruction of self being a prominent theme when viewed along these lines… if “you think therefore you are,” if other people’s thoughts intrude into yours, are they then [_affecting _]who you are? Can you be the same person you were without the thoughts, even if the thoughts stop? 

These are big, complex themes, and Helme wisely doesn’t dwell on them too much lest they derail the plot of the novel… but they’re still there, pointed at a much more thought provoking and intellectually stimulating debate happening just between the lines of this supernatural thriller.

 

Part satire, part mystery, and part supernatural thriller, this book is one of my top-reads so far in 2016 and a must read for anyone who thinks that independent authors don’t have anything to offer. One of the best and rarest gems of the indie book market.

Carrots is available in print, eBook, and audiobook (jealous) formats. Check it out, a must-read for people interested in supporting good independent  fiction and those who like my work.

 

 

 

[] The Interview: Colleen Helme

As the author of the Shelby Nichols Adventure Series, Colleen is often asked if Shelby Nichols is her alter-ego. “Definitely,” she says. “Shelby is the epitome of everything I wish I dared to be.” Known for her laugh since she was a kid, Colleen has always tried to find the humor in every situation and continues to enjoy writing about Shelby’s adventures. “I love getting Shelby into trouble…I just don’t always know how to get her out of it!” Colleen lives in the Rocky Mountains with her family. Besides writing, she loves a good book, biking, hiking, and playing board and card games with family and friends. She loves to connect with readers and admits that fans of the series keep her writing.

Helme was born and raised in Utah and has visited (and loved) all of the National parks therein -- Arches is her favorite, but she maintains that Zions is a “close second.” She loves hiking along the Wasatch mountains, and it’s easy to see that zest for adventure when she writes Shelby Nichols who, despite being a city dweller in her novels, it is not hard to envision scaling a mountain range.

Other Indie caught up to Helme during one of her rare instances of downtime not involving mountains.

 

Other Indie: Okay, let’s start this simple: what is your favorite word?

Colleen Helme: That’s a tough one… But I’d have to go with Relish… because when you

say it out loud it sounds just like what it means!

 

OI: What is your least favorite word?

CH: NO – because who likes to be told no!

 

OI: Do you have a favorite movie or book?

CH: My favorite show of all time is an oldie but so hilarious: What’s Up Doc? The question of a favorite book though is a tough one, because: one? Seriously? Okay – I’ll say one of my favorites is Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. There's just something magical about that book and it captures that time frame so incredibly -- it's a real treasure.

 

OI: What was the last book you read for pleasure?

CH: I just finished Book Nine of the Charlie Davidson series by Darynda Jones, and next up is Camp Alien, the thirteenth book in the Alien novels series by Gina Koch.

 

OI: How did you get into publishing?

CH: I wanted to write a story about a dream I had, so I started writing but got frustrated because I wasn’t sure what I was doing. So I took a novel-writing class and it was the best thing I ever did. Taught me soooo much about point-of-view, showing vs. telling, etc. It gave me the confidence to begin, but it took a lot of practice to get it right. I wrote three fantasy novels which were published by a small press. That got me started, but it wasn’t until I wrote Carrots, my first Shelby Nichols Adventure, that I hit my stride and really found my voice. I decided to try the indie route with Carrots, and I haven’t looked back!

OI: That’s funny, we’ve had similar stories here at Engen Books, and our motto is ‘Never Look Back’ partly for that exact reason. 

 

OI: What are you currently working on?

CH: Book #10 in my Shelby Nichols Adventure series – Laced in Lies.

 

OI: In the spirit of Other Indie, what is your favorite Indie book besides your own?

CH: Not sure about that one – there are so many good ones out there and I’m always reading… the last one I really liked was Cinder & Ella by Kelly Oram -- and I've liked her Jamie Baker series.

 

OI: What (professionally) would you most like to accomplish?

CH: A movie producer contacted me once about film rights for the series, but it didn’t work out. But, I would love, love, love to see that happen!

 

OI: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

CH: Yikes! I’ve tried other things and found writing suits me best! But I love art and have decorated my house with my watercolor paintings – then I also love music and have written some of my own compositions – So I love being creative!

 

OI: What profession would you not like to do?

CH: Anything with numbers – I am horrible at math and that sort of thing, plus, it’s very boring!

 

OI: Ha ha, that’s awesome. So what’s next for you?

CH: Well, since Shelby goes to New York in the book I’m currently working on – I’ve decided I need to visit the Big Apple! So I’m heading there in February. I’m even staying in the hotel where I’ve set the scene for Shelby to stay and I’m going to the same Broadway musical she is!! Woohoo!

 

Other Indie would like to thank Colleen Helme for taking the time to speak with us, and encourages everyone to check out the Shelby Nichols series for fun, action, and adventure.

 

 

 

[] Review: 15 Minutes by Jill Cooper

15 Minutes is a 2013 science-fiction thriller by Jill Cooper and published through the Amazon CreateSpace platform, which allows original work to be published in a print-on-demand format. This is the first novel in the Rewind Agency series, of which there are currently four titles (three novels, one novella), and stars the character of Lara Crane.

Right on the cover, this book promises that “Every time-travel law is about to be broken,” and this is both true in the sense that — within the context of the novel — there are set laws governing time travel that are broken during the course of the narrative, but also in the metatextual sense that there are unspoken rules to how an author tells a time-travel story, which Cooper gleefully breaks from page one, making for a dynamic and interesting read for anyone who has grown up on stories of chronological displacement that have followed the same stagnant formulae.

15 Minutes doesn’t just experiment with the structure of telling a time-travel story, but with the traditional structure of stories in general, in that Cooper chooses to omit a first act entirely.

In writing terms, one of the most popular storytelling techniques is the three-act structure. In the first act, we learn who the main character(s) are, we see them in their normal lives (usually at work and at home) and then we see the inciting incident: the inciting incident being the thing that sets them on their journey. In terms of a “road-trip” movie, the first act would be everything before they set out on the road. It’s usually just setting up the pieces you’ll need later in the narrative: the meat of the story — all the exciting bits — are in that second act, when you’re on the road.

In a time-travel story, the first act typically  takes place in the present (or default) timeline, and we see the character as they presumably have been their entire lives. We see the “normal” timeline. Think of Back to the Future: in the first act we see Marty and all the principle characters — Mom, Dad, and Doc — as they are, and we establish that Marty doesn’t see his parents as “people.” This is around the line “I think the woman was born a nun.”  (People can quibble over where the inciting incident is, I’m just picking one for effect). The reason we see all this in the first act is to contrast how different it is in the second act when we see Lorraine in her youth, and then in the third act when we see her happy in the ‘new timeline.’

In 15 Minutes, Cooper wisely omits this. We start right at the beginning of the second act, with Lara Crane traveling back in time to save her mother from being murdered. This sets up motivation instantly: we don’t need ten scenes with a character to know why they would want to save their mother, that’s obvious to all of us as humans: so why have them?

We then jump to ‘the present’ where everything is different: Lara did what she did to save one parent, but has now damned the other, as her father ended up being implicated in the attempted murder. But how can we see how things are different if we didn’t get to see them as they were? Cooper makes the inspired choice of having the novel told from the first-person perspective of Lara Crane, meaning that we hear her thoughts as she notes the difference between the two realities. Again, this is a stroke of genius in storytelling and takes advantage of the medium: this is something easily done in print and hard to do in film, making it an ideal choice when a story takes place in the print medium.

This book is part Frequency part Batman: Year One and part Memento, but I say that just as a log-line so you can gauge your own interest. It is it’s own dynamic, fun, action-packed story that will keep you interested. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable entry into the sci-fi thriller market that everyone who’s a fan of the genre should check out.

I love taking the Freudian method of dream analysis and applying it to literature. Quick/Dirty rundown: you take the part of the book that bothered you the most, then spin the analysis so that that is what the book is about. At least, what it’s about for you.

What bothered me about this story was the process of erasure that occurred once Lara had changed her own past, in which she slowly began to forget her memories and the world as it had been, and assimilate to the way the world as it now was. This “re-writing” was very akin to an illness, such as Alzheimer’s or a stroke, which erases memory and alters who you are as a person.

This invokes a strong theme of identity, which is a powerful theme any time it crops up in fiction, as it’s something we all must wrestle with at some point in our lives. It is a “Universal Theme,” one that speaks to the human condition, and as such makes the novel instantly relate-able. There is strong evidence to support this analysis of the text, as each time a person acts in a way they would not have in the previous reality, Lara makes some variation on the statement: “Who is this person? They would never do this?”

It also makes a strong case for the “Nurture over Nature” debate, as the novel implies that who we are is not set in stone, but rather that by changing the events that shaped us as a person we in fact change who the person is.

There are in fact several strong themes in this work. ‘Free will’ is one I could point to, as well as the inherent flaw in our view of the ‘dead, who can do no wrong.’ Lara wants her Mother back in her life, but not all the choices her mother made. When she envisioned her mother back in her life she envisioned her as a snapshot of as she was when she was five years old, not as a different woman with 10+ years worth of choices and changes that Lara may not have agreed with.

For a novel that’s only 234 pages, that’s a lot to unpack, and this work may be in need of a “deep reading” in order to unearth all the treasures hidden within. 15 Minutes is a diamond in the crown of the time-travel genre, and one that deserves close examination.

15 Minutes is available in print, eBook, and audiobook formats. Check it out, a must-read for people interested in supporting good independent  fiction and those who like my work.

 

 

[] Review: Kowloon Walled City, 1984 by Nicholas Morine

 

Kowloon Walled City, 1984 is a 2016 cultural thriller by Nova Scotia native Nicholas Morine and published by the Newfoundland indie company Problematic Press. It stars Fang, a heroin dealer for the 14K gang, as he rises to the top of the Kowloon fighting circuit and becomes embroiled in danger and violence as he deals with corrupt police, gang politics, and an annual martial arts tournament calling the very best warriors from across the globe called the Siu Nin a Fu. Will he make it out of this world alive? You’ll have to read it to see.

For those who may not know, and I was among them, Kowloon Walled City was a densely populated, largely ungoverned settlement in Kowloon City, Hong Kong. Originally a Chinese military fort, the Walled City became an enclave after the New Territories were leased to Britain in 1898. In this novel, Morine takes great pains to infuse the text with enough cultural and symbolic references to immerse the reader in this foreign culture. The places he borrows from feel immediately real, and once the setting feels real he builds the characters to the same magnitude, and the stakes in kind, until the argument of the novel itself is upon you before you even know it. This novel sneaks up and takes you, much like the sort of fighter Fang must be to survive.

As a recent graduate with an English major and Anthropology minor, this book checks all the boxes for me. It has a complex narrative with interesting and well-designed, well thought-out characters, but also teaches me about another segment of human culture that I hadn’t known about before. This is done through osmosis, not through heavy-handed exposition. We learn about Kowloon through the action, not via long diatribes or explanations. Morine takes care to balance introducing the setting to those who aren’t familiar with it while not patronizing those that are, no meager feat.

As a novel, this book owes a lot to Rocky. By which I do not mean that this story reminds me of Rocky. What I mean is that this is that story of the danger and politics that surround a young lower-class man as he enters into the Kowloon fighting scene, ultimately culminating in a large fighting tournament. Until a certain point in our cultural tapestry, these types of stories always ended with the protagonist winning. But ever since the original Rocky and its popularity, we now cannot take that for granted. As such, every punch and kick thrown in the epic, bloody battles of the Siu Nin a Fu tournament are wrought with tension and dramatic suspense, which Morine delivers with expert prose and seamless pacing.

I love taking the Freudian method of dream analysis and applying it to literature. Quick/Dirty rundown: you take the part of the book that bothered you the most, then spin the analysis so that that is what the book is about. At least, what it’s about for you.

Kowloon Walled City, 1984 had possibly the most immediately- apparent thing that bothered me, and for once, I think it was actually intentional by the author (not that that matters in Freudian analysis).

What bothered me about this story is that Kowloon Walled City no longer exists, the walls having come down in 1993. This bothers me, in no small part, because I myself am from a community which will likely, very soon, no longer exist in the form it always has: one of the last outport communities in Newfoundland. And while I understand the march of time and progress, something about that does stick with me.

I can find loads of evidence to support an analysis of the text wherein Morine has crafted a story about places and cultures that no longer exist. Firstly is the title itself: it is literally the setting. The story isn’t called The Nine Battles of Fang or The Siu Nin a Fu, it’s called Kowloon Walled City, 1984, marking this story as not only being about this place, but about this time. Morine also could have chosen any point in Kowloon’s long history, but chose a time period less than a decade before the walls came down.

Throughout the novel, Fang loses the support of his girlfriend and his father, two things that represent “home” for him, continuing this theme of ‘loss of home’ and ‘a loss of where one comes from.’ On page 230, Morine states (in reference to the police entering the Walled City) that “The foundations of Fang’s world were shaken.” On page 262, Fang goes as far to say: “Nothing changes. Nothing will change,” a dramatic irony when we, the readers, know that change is less than a decade off. The last lines of the novel, which I will not spoil, echo a similar sentiment.

But what makes me think that this message was intentional on the part of the author and not merely my own personal feelings reading into the text comes from the first lines of the book, in the dedication, which reads: “To all those who dwell in communities that once were and are no longer.” Not only does this dedication point towards my analysis, but look at it. Really, look at the genius, masterful phrasing Morine has employed here: there is an important, subtle tense shift: dwell can have the double-meaning of being a place where one lives or someone dwelling on something. The fact that he uses it in the present-tense when speaking of settings that are in the past means that although it seems to be dedicated to those who lived in places that are no longer, it’s actually dedicated to those for whom thoughts of places that are no longer preoccupy. This sort of masterful, complex turn-of-phrase is just the tip of the Iceberg of what one can expect from this novel, and why Morine is poised to become one of the greatest novelists in Canada within the decade.

Kowloon Walled City, 1984 needs to be read by everyone. It’s a novel that is very covertly about the changing and dissolving of culture, which is of great importance to many Newfoundlanders, many of whom see the same happening to their way of life.

Kowloon Walled City, 1984 is available in print and eBook formats. Check it out, a must-read for people interested in supporting good independent fiction and anyone open minded enough to experience other cultures.

 

 

[] Review: Zombies on the Rock: Outbreak by Paul Carberry

 

Zombies on the Rock: Outbreak is a 2015 action-thriller by Corner Brook native Paul Carberry and was independently published via AuthorHouse, a self-publishing print-on-demand business based in the United States. It is set in the near future and stars an ensemble cast of likeable, identifiable characters as they deal with the very early onset of a zombie outbreak (hence the novel’s subtitle). Characters like Hank, Chris, Eric, and Cathy must navigate the astonishing and brutal landscape of this not-too-distant future in order to be among the survivors as the island of Newfoundland — and the entire world — is plunged into an apocalyptic nightmare.

One of the great foibles of publishing genre fiction in Newfoundland is that it can be immensely limiting. If the story isn’t set in Newfoundland many local retailers won’t carry it, but if it IS set in Newfoundland it all too often destroys the reader’s suspension of disbelief: world-altering apocalyptic events don’t seem plausible in Newfoundland, hence why fiction of those genres tend to take place in populated hubs like New York or Los Angeles. What Carberry does in Zombies on the Rock is walk that fine line with style and finesse not often seen from an author’s first outing, so much so that this may be one of those rarest of rare gems: a horror novel which transcends its genre and becomes something more, permeating the cultural lexicon and becoming a genre unto itself.

While the action takes place primarily on the west coast of Newfoundland (including several shout-outs of a place near and dear to my heart, Burgeo), Carberry makes it clear that this is a global event: as the first half of the noel progresses, news programs and stories come in about a rabies-like viral outbreak happening at different points around the globe… this is happening everywhere, Carberry just chooses to tell us the regional story of how this event affects those local to western Newfoundland. In that respect the novel does for zombies what Signs did for aliens (which I say as a compliment).

The people in this book react the way people of this province would: they see this disaster on the evening news and are rightly horrified, but at the same time they shrug and say “glad it’s not happening here.” We’re very guilty of that in Newfoundland, as our island affords us a certain degree of protection from epidemics that might run rampant in other parts of the world. This creates a sense of dread and suspense over the first half of the book, as the characters go about their lives unaware of the danger that is about to befall them. This is truly masterful suspense by Carberry, who clearly understands that suspense occurs when the reader knows something the character does not.

This book is a fun action thrill-ride with lots of great characterization and careful plotting, but don’t let the fun you’ll have reading it fool you into thinking this is just another pulp novel: there’s more going on here from a literary sense as well. Carberry chose to name a company in this novel Pharmakon, something that did not go unnoticed. Those with a keen eye will find allusions and clever, biting commentaries that will enhance the read and elevates this from the sort of entry in the horror genre which is merely enjoyed to the sort of entry which is studied.

What ‘bothered’ me about Zombies on the Rock were the scenes expressly dealing with Pharmakon, and the nearly one-dimensional way their greed and apathy negatively affected the lives of the innocents in this novel. It plays on  a general mistrust of power, a xenophobia that in the end is sadly justified as the epidemic spreads, forcing the Newfoundlanders to retreat in order to survive. I can point to many scenes that would support a reading of this text having an anti-corporate slant, such as any of the scenes with Pharmakon, or the scene when a pastor refers to the corporate greed of “charging $2.00 for water.” For anyone who understands Newfoundland history and Newfoundland culture, these are powerful statements, as many of us feel that “big corporations” and “outsiders” have been able to pillage our island for far too long, and long to return to a more natural and peaceful, traditional lifestyle… just as the surviving members of the novel are forced to near the end of the second act. Read this way, Carberry has written a cautionary tale that is a metaphor about the dangers of corporate greed — but even as it shows us the worst of what can happen, it gives us solace by reminding us that there is a solution.

These are big, bold themes that have a broad appeal while still being, at their heart, decidedly Newfoundland. Carberry wisely doesn’t dwell too long on them, but like most great authors in the genre, he leaves enough on the bone to form thoughts and ideas in the minds of his readers about just what kind of future they want.

 

 

This is an astonishing first novel from Paul Carberry. I read it over the course of two days, and in those two days my time was divided thusly: reading it, and wishing I were still reading it. Part police procedural, part action-thriller, and part disaster movie, Zombies on the Rock is a must-read for any fans of the horror genre, and any who think that independent genre authors in Newfoundland don’t have anything to offer.

Zombies on the Rock: Outbreak is available in print and electronic formats. Check it out, a must-read for people interested in supporting good independent fiction and those who like my work.

 

 

[] Review: Flight or Fight by Scott Bartlett

Written by Sam Bauer

 

The end of our world fascinates us. From Ragnarok, the end of the world in Norse mythology, to the groundbreaking 1984 by George Orwell, to the more modern Hunger Games and Maze Runner, not to mention countless disaster movies, TV shows and video games. It is enough to make one sick of dystopia, groan at zombies, and run screaming from a nuclear or biological holocaust. (Though I must admit, I do the last one on basic principle.) Indeed, it is rare for me to find a dystopic or apocalyptic novel that I enjoy.

But, as the more astute of you have already guessed, I have found a rarity. Its name is Flight or Fight, a 2016 cyberpunk satire written by Scott Bartlett and published by Mirth Publishing.

Taking place in the Schrodinger-awful city of Dodge, a governmentless, anarchic place where everything is run by private corporations, everybody hates their job, and everybody works to get on a plane to the “New World”, a place of peace and plenty. Early in the novel, the main character, Carl Intoever, is told he is the messiah of the only religion -that being Probabilism- and as such, is labelled “Schrodinger reborn.” The novel then chronicles his change from being desperate to “get out of Dodge” so he may fulfill his destiny in the new world to that of taking on the corrupt establishment of Dodge at great personal risk.

What I focused on in the novel was the handling of the economy. Now, I know that economic arguments are often seen as boring, but I would argue that the whole premise of the novel is based in economics. The city of Dodge is without any government, instead it is run by corporations. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is free. You buy load times for your sites through “Net-Neutrality” subscriptions. Your activity is monitored through social media and a video recording of your life, called your “LifeLog”, resulting in other corporations buying that info to jack up prices for important meals, taxi rides, and probably anything, based on how much they can extort from you. It is almost comical, a caricature of the ideas of Libertarianism, Laissez-Faire Capitalism, and the current interference of large corporations in government.

Touted often by the characters in the novel is the idea of the Free Market. Xavier Ofvalour, the person with the highest “LifeRank” -basically a leaderboard for life, with certain actions increasing your score and certain actions decreasing it- is known as the “Hand of the Market”. But, as certain characters make evidently clear, the market is not really free. It is controlled by monopolies, with a social system that punishes innovation by removing credit from the innovator and giving it to the one in power. It is stagnant, with the populace being fed the lie that “innovation is not needed, as technology has met the needs of the people completely.” Despite this being absolutely false, even in the context of the novel, the sentiment is, in a way, right if even only for the world of the novel.

Without spoiling anything, the state of affairs in Dodge can be thought of as the endstate of laissez-faire capitalism. Without an effective government, companies would grow larger and larger, eventually get to the point where they have no competitors, and the need to innovate is gone. Companies would take over the normal role of government. Innovation would stifle, and quality of life would decrease. Human rights would begin to crumble, and a despotic government of the rich would rule. Exactly as it does in Fight or Flight. But enough of my rambling about how I adore this dystopic view of laissez-faire capitalism, how is the novel as a novel?

The thought with which Scott Bartlett tackles this philosophical dystopia is both the strongest and weakest point of the novel. A big plus to Fight or Flight is the use of topical terms. The idea of having a “net neutrality subscription” brings memories of the constant stream of videos and posts about the near abolishment of the real world’s net neutrality laws, and pulls me deeper into seeing if this world is possible from our own. Another large plus is the lack of privacy and how pervasive it is. Nothing is really secret. People can see your life from your eyes, with the right to shut off that service limited to corporate employees given that right and preachers. That lack of privacy combined with the pervasiveness of technology is sinisterly similar to our world in the same way as 1984. The monetization of everything, as well as the bureaucratic opaqueness with hints of Catch-22, adds to the other strong points and creates a potent and slightly unsettling world, as any good satire should.

Matthew LeDrew, founder of Engen Books, loves taking the Freudian method of dream analysis and applying it to literature. Quick/Dirty rundown: you take the part of the book that bothered you the most, then spin the analysis so that that is what the book is about. At least, what it’s about for you.

What bothered me about Flight or Fight comes from same place as the highest points, the world. From early on, the only religion is Probabilism. This is where Carl’s title of “Schrodinger Reborn” is from. But, save for this crucial role, the religion is mentioned in passing, with someone being “A devout Probibalist” and the use of “prayer dice.” But there is nothing more made of it. Carl goes to a sermon at one point, reminds the reader that he is “Schrodinger Reborn” on occasion, but the church remains ever unexplored. It carries the sinister corporate pseudo-slogan of it being “the only religion left because all others were outcompeted” and at points seems to act as a way to influence the populace, but nothing is really made of it.

Flight or Fight (The Out of Dodge Trilogy Book 1) by Scott Bartlett is available in print and electronic formats. I thoroughly enjoyed this take on laissez-faire capitalism taken to the extreme, and Scott Bartlett has earned his place on my shelf beside the likes of George Orwell and Joseph Heller. I recommend it to everyone, and look forwards to reading more from Scott Bartlett.

 

 

[] Review: Standing Tall: A Daughter’s Gift by Jaqui Tam

 

A Daughter’s Gift is a 2010/12 (depending on the edition) IPPY Award-winning memoir written by the acclaimed and accomplished Jacqui Tam. It chronicles the life of her father, Richard Joseph Barron, and his struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as she and her family’s coming to terms with it. It is unique in that it can be read as a memoir from two points of view: both as Tam’s account of her father’s illness and as a posthumous memoir of the man himself, preserving the memories of this great man in a way his illness, sadly, prevented him from doing.

Tam writes: Richard Joseph Barron had sailed the world over, fought in war, and returned home to Newfoundland to raise three children with his beloved wife. His life had been full of adventure, and he shared his stories without malice or ego, whenever he was asked. Until they were stolen from his memory. When ‘Dick’ Barron fought Alzheimer’s, awareness of the disease was still limited. He knew that he was forgetting, but not why. His family knew that he was disappearing, but not how. Yet beneath the shadow of that slow tragedy, the spirit of his life was not lost. Emerging from the darkness, his daughter learned an important truth: what the mind forgets, the soul remembers.

Memoirs are difficult to review. Discussions of plot, character, development, and closure all go out the window immediately: life doesn’t have those things, although I will argue that it’s obvious that Tam took great pains in arranging the scenes and moments in such a way to best convey her message to the reader. What a memoir does have in common with other literary work is style, composition, and execution: all of which Tam has in excess. No scene or emotional event is given too much time, or too little. The exact right amount of gravity is put on each event in Barron’s illness and his family’s struggle, meaning that each note hits home perfectly. This book can be emotional, and I did become emotional reading it, but Tam never manipulates: she’s not presenting the world in a certain way to elicit an emotional reaction,  she’s presenting the world exactly as it is, and that in and of itself presents the reaction.

It is at times uncomfortable, as Tam pulls no punches with regard to putting you right there in her living room while her father bore the brunt of this ravenous disease.

In revisiting this wonderful book to write this article, I am at the very least filled with some measure of hope through the heartache presented here: in the years since the publication of A Daughter’s Gift, there have been great strides made in Alzheimer’s research. We now know about the musashi protein, a protein which actually causes memory erosion, proving that forgetting is an active process, rather than the lapse of an active process as we long thought. An active process can be thwarted, maybe.

So there’s hope.

I love taking the Freudian method of dream analysis and applying it to literature. Quick/Dirty rundown: you take the part of the book that bothered you the most, then spin the analysis so that that is what the book is about. At least, what it’s about for you.

What ‘bothered’ me about A Daughter’s Gift should be immediately apparent: the thought of losing my memories, and my sense of self, to something I can’t fight or control is immensely terrifying. Preserving those memories is what this book is all about. It’s on every page, in every line, and felt in every tear.

This book is a must read for anyone who has been touched by Alzheimer’s disease or anyone who is in dire straits and needs to be reminded of the amazing nature of the human spirit. It is one of those books that, if you haven’t read it, you simply aren’t complete.

I should also mention that a second book in Tam’s Standing Tall series, Twenty-One Days in May, was released two months ago. It deals with the death of Tam’s mother, Mary Louise Barron, after a twenty-one day battle with cancer.

Both books are available in print and electronic formats from Iceberg Publishing by clicking either cover on this page. I encourage anyone and everyone to try these wonderful, emotional books and be all the better for the experience.

 

 

 

 

 

[] Review: Damnation Code by William Massa

 

Damnation Code is a 2015 supernatural thriller by screenwriter William Massa and produced by the intensely-successful small press publishing platform Critical Mass Publishing. It stars Mark Talon, a Delta Force Operator who has spent nearly a decade as a career soldier fighting America’s enemies abroad becoming entangled in the fight against a techno-savvy supernatural death cult after his reporter girlfriend is ritualistically murdered for getting too close to their operations. This book is the first in the Occult Assassin series, of which there are currently six titles (4 main entries and 2 side-books).

This novel is the perfect blend of genre and off-genre elements that proves Massa is a gifted, intelligent author. He knows exactly how to manipulate the reader — in a good way — using the tropes and recognizable storytelling elements of familiar genres. That’s what nobody ever tells young writers: tropes aren’t a bad thing. Tropes are just elements that recur over and over again in a particular type of literature. As humans we’re very good at noticing these patterns, and using them to predict what will happen next. A smart author — like Massa — will use these tropes to subconsciously set up expectations in the reader’s mind, only to subvert them at a critical moment. And without digging too deep into spoilers, that’s what happens here.

Part of what I think makes the independent market so great is that it much quicker adapting to — and subverting — the problems with genre. Because of turnaround time getting sales numbers back and quarterly market research, traditionally published books can take a long to pivot if the whims of readers change. They also tend to like things “in their box”: romance is romance, thrillers are thrillers, occult is occult, and never-shall-they-mix. Massa subverts all that in a way I often respect and have tried to emulate, taking a intensely supernatural story and first framing it in a natural, grounded world. And in doing so, he takes the groundedness of a contemporary war novel and mixes it with the thrills of a psychological and supernatural thriller, set in the three-act story structure of a classic superhero tale. It is these intricate, inter-woven mesh that makes Messa’s script unpredictable and exhilarating to read.

By ‘superhero’ I don’t mean capes and cowls either. I don’t mean the aesthetic, I mean the formulae. Formulae, like trope, isn’t a bad thing if used creatively, and Massa’s mastery of structure undoubtedly comes from his his history as a screenwriter. Throughout the novel the well-versed eye can see the elements of graphic-novel style at play: the prose starts methodical and aggressively normal in the first chapter, hammering in the “realness” of the world so the reader is unprepared for the insanity that follows. We’re then introduced to a far-too-storybook romance with a perfect female lead, Michelle. After she’s taken, Talon slowly — over the course of this first adventure –accumulates his supporting cast: there’s his billionaire benefactor Casa, his tech-expert / Microchip / Moneypenny Becky, and his link to the police force, Serrone. All these elements are great. they are worked in organically. You can recognize them for what they are only after they are in place, never before, giving the reader multiple “oh I figured it out” moments as they go through the prose.

In a lot of ways, Mark Talon owes a lot to The Punisher, and the mention of “Microchip” above was intentional in that regard. This book can be summed up — if need be — as “what if the Punisher’s family had been killed by Cultists, not by criminals?” The story they progresses from there as you would expect. In boiling it down to a simple analogy I feel as though I’m not giving Massa or Mark Talon their credit: this book is a thrilling read with an interesting — if not unfamiliar — premise. And let’s not forget, both Christopher Golden and Rick Remender have tried the ‘mystical Punisher’ trick before to lackluster results, so it’s to great credit that I say Massa has made this book one of my favorites I’ve read in 2016.

I love taking the Freudian method of dream analysis and applying it to literature. Quick/Dirty rundown: you take the part of the book that bothered you the most, then spin the analysis so that that is what the book is about. At least, what it’s about for you.

A few things early on competed — or at least, I thought they would compete — for the role of “what bothered me most” about Damnation Code, but what finally stood out is that one of the big action set-pieces of the novel took place in a heavily recognizable — and named — Apple Store.

Now it’s not that there was a real-world product prominently featured that bothered me: longtime readers will know I’m a huge fan of K-Mart Realism. The choice to use the real Apple Store — and to call it the Apple Store, is a decidedly bold one. Most authors would have gone for those annoying slight alterations, calling it The Pear Store or something like that. Although the brand-name-recognition, and its repetition, is what made it stand out for me, I think what bothered me is what it must represent: in the novel, The Apple Store was used as the meeting place for the new-age techno death-cultists and their leader, Zagan. In picking that place — such a prominent, real-world location — for the meeting of a group of fanatically-obsessed followers paints a picture of what this novel is about: not one man versus the occult, but the old guard versus new-generation hipsters.

There’s evidence to support this as well. On page 30, Talon experiences PTSD-like symptoms after the death of Michelle, while Zagan’s cultists are able to commit atrocious acts without such drawbacks: a metaphor for a more violently-jaded current generation, possibly. On page 68, Talon sees what he describes as his ‘worst fear’ come to bear: not that Michelle died, but that she died because of her job and he couldn’t protect her, pointing to a previous-generation family dynamic with the man as the protector, as well as hinting at a deep-seeded fear of women entering the workplace. And, perhaps most blatantly, on page 73 when Talon is told his coffee is $4.00 he thinks to himself: “What is happening to this country?”

Evidence for the opposition regarding Zagan’s cult exists in plenty as well. There is the aforementioned Apple Store connection, but also the presence of tech-savvy elements from social media, binary tattoos, and Matrix references. All this adds up to a book that is, for me, about a morally-upright ‘Greatest Generation’ coming to odds (and to terms) with the rise of a new generation whose differences unsettle and scare him. Will his ideals survive? Well, that would be telling.

Everyone needs to pick up Damnation Code. It is an amazingly well-written masterpiece of modern fiction, combining elements of everything that is hot in the market right now in a way that will make it still fresh and exciting twenty years from now. I’ll be picking up its sequel, Apocalypse Soldier, soon as well.

Occult Assassin 1: Damnation Code is available now in print and eBook formats.

[] [Call of the Sea
Amanda Labonté
Chapter 1]

 

Come to me, she called, she called.

Come to me my one, my only…

The melody played at the edges of his consciousness. The gentle sound of woodwind instruments with the occasional infusion of something deeper, a low, sonorous percussion. He floated along on the feeling of a familiar dream — until it became louder, more pronounced, overpowering his other senses.

Come to me my one, my only…

Alex sat up in bed, his heart racing, and looked toward the open window. This was not how he’d envisioned his first night home after being away for almost a month. Knowing exactly where the sound was coming from and what he had to do, he ducked out from under the lower bunk and fumbled in the dark for a T-shirt. He pulled the stretch cotton over his head while sneaking into the hallway, making as little noise as possible so as not to wake the household.

He paused halfway down the stairs as the wooden clock in the living room chimed the hour. One … two … three … four. Far too early to be up. Moving on, he used the light over the stove in the kitchen to find his sneakers and was almost to the back door when he heard Poppy muttering.

Doubling back to the first floor bedroom, he listened outside the door and thought about checking on him but decided against it. Poppy frequently woke in the middle of the night, but he didn’t wander. Anyway, the music was getting louder, giving him a headache. He needed to get moving.

He left through the back, careful not to let the screen door swing shut. The predawn air was pleasantly warm, and the walk would have been almost welcome if Alex wasn’t hearing a song to which everyone else remained deaf. He followed the driveway out onto the main road and down the hill that led to the beach path.

Oddly, as he got closer, the music became softer, as though some cosmic power had been shouting for his attention, and now that he’d answered, it was all right for it to whisper. By the time his feet slid onto the beach rocks, the melody had blended so subtly with the sound of the waves that he might have imagined it.

Except that if he turned back now, he knew it would start all over again.

The tide was out, revealing the narrow strip of sandy beach that was actually a piece of the ocean floor. It made a path to the horned rock, nicknamed for the horn-like appendages that protruded from the ocean side of the boulder. The novelty of the rock was that when the tide was in it was surrounded by water, but when the tide was out it was completely accessible. The trick was not to get caught when the tide changed.

He sank down on the strip of sand, facing the ocean, and felt the sense of relief that came with answering the music’s call. It was a clear night, and he could see the stars and the crescent moon. He took a deep, cleansing breath, tasting the salt air. The music had completely dissipated now, and it was easy to think that it had all been an illusion. Closing his eyes, he listened to the natural, rhythmic sound of the waves. He’d missed the ocean while he’d been away.

He wasn’t sure what alerted him. He hadn’t felt or heard anything strange, but the hairs on the back of his neck prickled. Slowly, he opened his eyes and scanned the beach. A shadow moved in his peripheral vision, and he looked toward the horned rock. Alex caught a glint of red in the moonlight, and his stomach dropped. She was there. He could feel her watching him.

Though every instinct told him to run, he knew it would make no difference. He had to face her. The wet sand squished beneath his sneakers, making his feet damp, but Alex remained focused on the shadowy figure whose profile he was just starting to make out when a cloud passed over the moon and made it impossible to see.

But he didn’t need to see her to feel her presence.

Fighting the urge to bolt, he took one step back and waited.

Silence.

Finally, she spoke. The voice that haunted his dreams filled the night around him.

“It’s time.”

Alex froze in place. Even his breathing stopped. He wasn’t sure if he was too afraid to move, or if he simply couldn’t.

The clouds parted and allowed him to fully take in his surroundings once more. The horned rock stood, bathed in moonlight, with every crevice and jagged edge visible. No shadows. No one watching him.

Reaching up, he touched the chain at his neck. A chill crept up his spine and spread through his limbs. He began to shiver uncontrollably.

The girl in the water had come back, and he knew she wouldn’t be leaving alone.

 

 

While twins Alex and Ben are at sea, they get into a fight, and Ben disappears suddenly from the boat without so much as a ripple in the water. Determined to find his brother, Alex begins the biggest adventure of his life, armed only with a mysterious musical talent and the help of a local girl named Meg. But his best hope just might come from the same place as a song he’s been hearing since childhood ― the alluring and dangerous girl he finds amidst the frothing ocean waves.

[+ Download it today for only $4.99+]!

 

Amanda Labonté lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where she gets much of the inspiration for the characters and places about which she writes. Though she knew she wanted to be a writer since the eighth grade, it was many years before she finally walked into a creative writing class and found a new home. As the co-owner of an educational business and mother of two she spends much of her day with kids of all ages. They give her some of the best reading recommendations.

[] A Scene from: Carrots[
**]by Colleen Helme

“Crap.” I slammed the phone shut, hanging up on Chris. “We’ve got to go.”

“Did you just hang up on your husband?” Ramos asked. “That’s not good.”

“No, you don’t understand. He said Hodges left his office about twenty minutes ago.” Just then my phone rang again, and I nearly dropped it. I did the only thing I could think of, and turned it off.

Ramos shook his head, thinking I was making a mess of things. “Come on.” He took the stairs two at a time and flipped off the light before I got to the top. He opened the door, but before going out, closed it again. A second later I heard the back door close, and understood why. Hodges was home.

We sat at the top of the stairs, barely breathing. We could hear Hodges’ footsteps as he walked through the kitchen, and down the hall. As he came closer to the door, I held my breath. I felt Ramos tense beside me, ready to spring on Hodges if he had to. The footsteps kept going, and a door closed.

Ramos was trying to decide if we should make a run for it. He would if it wasn’t for me, but he was afraid I might trip or something and Hodges would catch us. Uncle Joey wouldn’t like that, so we stayed. Then he thought about going back down the stairs, but in the dark, he was afraid I might trip, or knock something over, and Hodges would catch us.

Geeze, did he think I was a klutz or something? He finally decided we were safe enough where we were because Hodges probably didn’t go down in the small basement very often. We sat on the stairs for a long time, listening to Hodges move around the house. I finally relaxed, realizing that if Hodges ever decided to open the door, he’d have Ramos to deal with.

While we waited, Ramos worried that I’d say something and give us away. After a while, when I didn’t say anything, he wondered what was wrong with me. He couldn’t figure me out. His thoughts were driving me crazy, so I put up my shields and tried to decide what I was going to tell Chris.

He’d want to know why I’d hung up on him. Twice. Then he’d want to know why I wondered where Hodges was. I certainly wasn’t ready to tell him the truth. I needed more on Uncle Joey before I could do that. Of course, by the time I got out of here, it might be the middle of the night. Chris would probably call Dimples, and the entire police force would be out looking for me. I might as well tell Ramos to shoot me now.

My legs were starting to cramp when Hodges finally left. I sighed with relief and checked my watch. It was nearly five. Ramos opened the door and cautiously looked out, then disappeared. I was so eager to leave that my feet got tangled up, and I tripped over the top stair. I stumbled into the hallway, sending the basement door crashing into the wall.

Ramos came running, and when he saw me sprawled on the floor, he started to laugh. He tried to hold it in, but the harder he tried, the more he laughed. He finally took pity on me and helped me up. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” I was pretty embarrassed, but I had to admit it was funny, and once I started laughing, it was hard to stop. I think the stress was getting to me.

“Good, ‘cause we should really go now.” He kept chuckling every once in a while, then thanked his lucky stars he hadn’t decided to make a run for it. He knew I’d trip over something. I almost told him that maybe he had ESP or something, but I held my tongue. I was in enough trouble already.

Shelby Nichols is an average woman whose life is organized and predictable. But the day she stops at the grocery store for some carrots, everything changes. As the cashier scans her purchases, a gunman is busy robbing the store. When shots ring out, Shelby finds herself face to face with the killer. The next thing she knows, she’s lying on the floor with a bullet wound to her head. Luckily, the bullet only grazes her scalp, and she doesn’t suspect any lasting effects until later, when she suddenly ‘hears’ what people are thinking. With this uncanny ability, her life takes on a whole new dimension. Her kids think she’s bossy and too old to understand them, but that’s nothing compared to her husband. He says he loves her, but what is it about the redhead at work that he doesn’t want her to know? As if that isn’t enough, the gunman knows she can identify him, and he’s out to silence her forever. In her fight to stay alive, she is saved from certain death by a handsome hit-man with ties to organized crime. This pulls Shelby even deeper into danger, where knowing someone’s thoughts can not only hurt her feelings, but get her killed.

[+ Download it today for only $1.32+]!


Other Indie - Early 2017

‘Other Indie’ is a bi-annual e-zine in which the best in independent publishing is highlighted by authors and editors that have worked in the field for over a decade, in the hopes of helping readers break through the cluster of books they may not be sure about in an age when anyone can publish via digital formats. This issue's spotlight: Carrots by Colleen Helme, in which we review, interview Helme about her work, and include a short excerpt. Also included, review of: Damnation Code by William Massa, A Daughter’s Gift by Jacqui Tam, Flight or Fight by Scott Bartlett, Zombies on the Rock: Outbreak by Paul Carberry, Kowloon Walled City, 1984 by Nicholas Morine, and 15 Minutes by Jill Cooper, as well as an excerpt from 2016's smash hit, Call of the Sea by Amanda Labonté!

  • Author: Matthew LeDrew
  • Published: 2017-02-02 03:05:12
  • Words: 10196
Other Indie - Early 2017 Other Indie - Early 2017