Sunday, October 23, 2011

Satisfying Shades of Disturbing - A Look At Crude Sunlight by Philip Tucker.

Crude SunlightCrude Sunlight by Philip Tucker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane is a grand and terrible building. Abandoned over forty years ago, there now  sound,  in rooms and halls where tortured screams once rung, only the tread of urban explorers as they marvel at its ruined grandeur.

Yet something still resides in its ancient depths.

When his younger brother goes missing Thomas Verkraft takes the opportunity to escape his imploding life in New York City and come to Buffalo to find him. Following a trail of black and white photographs, home made exploration videos, legends and rumors, he tracks Henry down to the doors of the State Asylum.

It's the last building Henry entered before he disappeared.

Accompanied by Julia, his younger brother's tormented ex-girlfriend, Thomas forces himself to walk the same downward spiral that claimed Henry.

But the hunger that Henry awoke has broken stronger men than Thomas, shattered their minds and consumed them whole in the darkness. What hope does Thomas have in the face of such ravening despair?

My Take:

There is something satisfying in finding an author who can tap into the psyche of their protagonists and antagonists in such a way that you find yourself descending into the very realms of those characters minds. You experience their journey in a way that is visceral and satisfyingly so. In such a moodily dark setting as the one that author Philip Tucker has created for his debut novel, it becomes essential to experience rather than simply read.

In Crude Sunlight, Tucker's deliciously disturbing psychological thriller, there is a sense of dread and foreboding that draws you in right away. There is little to comfort you in the complex tableaux that unfolds and this is definitely one of the novels strengths. Tucker succeeds in the horror that he suggests rather than the horror he explicitly portrays. It makes for a more immersive reading experience because we will inevitably find our own imaginations fired by what we deduce from the plot points.

Comparisons to the likes of Silent Hill and The Ring have been made and I think Crude Sunlight stands well alongside those works in as much as Tucker has crafted a similar sort of texture in his writing style. Crude Sunlight is visually stimulating. There are descriptions of black and white, sound and light and texture that instantly remind one of the imagery inherent in those other works - yet Tuckers voice is resoundingly original and fresh.

Tucker's characters too, are well drawn and intriguing. The protagonist, Thomas, is a flawed anti-hero in the beginning, but he is also dogged and as his journey progresses he evolves into a subtle hero who realizes his purpose and becomes determined as a result. I was reminded a little of Rick Deckard - a similar sort of anti-hero from the movie Bladerunner. Like Deckard, Thomas is not immediately likeable, he is plagued by doubts and he flirts with failure often. Julia, the ex-girlfriend of Thomas' missing brother Henry, is also exceedingly well drawn as a conflicted and ambivalent counterpart who possesses a darkness that is revealed gradually.

Crude Sunlight is also a well crafted mystery using clues and red herrings well in keeping the reader guessing as well as invested. So much of what makes the novel work can be derived from this component. The pacing is tight, drawing upon tension and fear and propelling the story forward without laboring too long.

Crude Sunlight is a work that is satisfyingly disturbing and Philip Tucker has every reason to be proud of his debut.

About The Author:

Philip Tucker ascribes his love of writing to a teacher who once told his class, "Don't be a writer if you can stand to be anything else. Go be a carpenter, a business man, a firefighter, whatever. Get out of this gig while you still can".

Philip thought at the time that she was being overly harsh, but ten years down the road and hundreds of thousands of words later, he says that he realizes she was right.

The only reason Tucker writes today is because, in his words, nothing else has worked for him. Not being a mortgage broker on South Beach or a factory worker in Sydney. Brazilian born and British raised, Tucker says that he's since lost his accent, gained a unique world view due to his peripatetic upbringing, and has found that the only thing that regularly ignites his passion is sitting down at his laptop to write.

Philip has a portal at Facebook and you can also read about his exploits at his Amazon page.


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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I'm Going To Give You My 99 Cents.

I have been giving some thought to the whole 99 cent eBook issue, which has been discussed around the various writing communities. I have been involved in some discussion recently about the issue and I think it's worthy of an opinion from me, as a published author.

I am, admittedly, ambivalent about the notion of this price point.

When I wrote my novel, The Hambledown Dream, I gave little thought to the eBook marketplace and I came into the market having little concept of pricing. I quickly discovered the trend towards pricing works at 99 cents and my initial thought was 'Is this for real?' I poured my heart and my soul into my novel and the market is going to expect me to price it at less than a buck?

Fortunately for me, my publisher Michelle Halket at ireadiwrite and I discussed this at length and we were both loathe to release the novel digitally at such a low price point.

99 cents, whilst being attractive for getting large sales numbers, I believe it runs the risk of cheapening the eBook marketplace as a whole. If you've worked hard and diligently to produce a work that you're proud of, then you have every right to set a price that gives you the maximum potential for reward.

The 99 cent price point actually damages this notion. When I see an eBook listed at any one of the major retailers I instantly equate them to the old dime novels my grandfather used to buy - you know the ones? The western novels that you could (and probably still can) pick up for a couple of bucks off the newsagents shelf. Whilst mildly entertaining, most of these titles were pretty much throwaway reads, lacking in quality and literary merit. It's a shame, because I have picked a number of 99 cent titles and have found them to be excellent works of literature. 

If you have written a solid piece of literature,
and I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I regard my novel The Hambledown Dream as a solid piece of literature, then you are doing yourself a disservice by pricing it at 99 cents. It cheapens your brand and by extension your name. It is hard enough in the digital environment, where independent authors are constantly subject to criticism that unfairly compares them on a lower rung to traditionally published authors, without further diluting the quality of works by pricing them so low. Now, there are exceptions to this rule and I think of one right off the bat - the novelette.

Typically, the novelette has a word count of around 15,000 words - significantly less than a standard novel. I think that there is justification in setting the price point lower - even as low as 99 cents - just as long as it's clear the product you are selling is in fact, a novelette. The distinction between products needs to be clear enough so that confusion and by extension arguments can't be allowed to run away. Also, there are occasional promotional opportunities that come up for authors whereby setting the price of a book at a special price of 99 cents for a limited time is acceptable and can assist in raising your profile in the marketplace. I recently participated in such a promotion and it was certainly valuable in attracting readers to my work.  But this has a limited shelf life and I wouldn't encourage authors to do this for an extended period of time.

I don't buy the argument that because the book is not a physical entity then people shouldn't expect to have to pay higher price for it. Sure, it might not have the tactile presence of a paperback or hardcover object - but what you as the reader holds in your hand via your electronic device is a literary experience equal to - perhaps greater than - any other literary experience available. There is an inherent value in this that should not be understated. The medium through which we experience a work is, in my view, irrelevant. That said, I am shrewd enough to realize that the marketplace, at present, does have its own tipping point in terms of what consumers are willing to pay. But they should pay a decent price for a literary work.

I would like to see authors price their works higher across the board. If authors, collectively priced their works higher then I do think the market would cope. There is a high saturation of users out there and I think they would accept a higher base price. I mean, you pay at least $3 for a good cup of coffee don't you - and that cup gives you what - maybe a 5 or 10 minute experience?

My ambivalence on the issue of the 99 cent price point has evolved over time from observing the market and talking with others about there own thoughts on the subject. I think that the marketplace needs to accept high price points from authors who are passionate about their work and believe it stands equally alongside both printed literature and literature produced through the traditional publishing houses. 

I therefore, don't encourage the pricing of literary works in the digital format at 99 cents.


Monday, October 10, 2011

I Am Here Alone.

A couple of weeks have passed by since you left. Those weeks have felt like years and I feel as though I am in a no man's land.

I have made several abortive attempts at continuing on with my writing journey, but they are slow. They feel fruitless. Sometimes I sit in front of the screen for what feels like hours and nothing comes forth. The cursor blinks patiently as though waiting for my cue, ready and eager to skip across the pixels with a word trail fanning out behind it. But nothing happens. What am I doing?

It's not the same, now you are gone. I've no one to bounce ideas off of. No one to help me edit, no one to listen to me agonize over my sentences, my lines of dialogue, my random ideas. The story is there. It is mapped out. We mapped it out together - you and I. Over luke warm coffee at 2 in the morning when I couldn't sleep and I would pace outside on the patio with you, a pencil in hand, my journal on the outdoor table opened to receive those new ideas like radio signals from a distant star. Anyone else would have thought I was crazy, but not you. You never once.admonished me for my randomosity.

Now you are gone, I feel as though the ideas are locked behind an iron door. I stand alone on the patio now, at 2 in the morning and all I have is the moon and the stars to accompany me. I often wonder if one of those stars is you. Is it you?

I can't write you the way I did before. Before, you were beside me. I could reach down and pat your side, feel your fur and look into your eyes and know your character. I had such a vivid notion of you before and you lived on the page with

Now you live only in my memories. You reside in that place, so eloquently described by Thomas Harris as my 'memory palace' and those memories are much harder to make tangible. I feel as though they are fading - that you are fading - and soon I will lose my sense of you and how you were before.

I have not known this depth of sadness. Yes, I have lost loved ones, family members, friends. But never a companion such as you. You and I knew each other like nobody else did. It was unexplainable. It was just...there. You knew my emotions before I even knew them myself. You knew my routine, my quirks, my humaness. You tolerated my failings and you sought always to bring out the best in me.

You were my brother Simon, I loved you.

I miss the hell out of you.