Friday, November 25, 2016

Galactic Catalyst - My Take On Star Wars Catalyst - A Rogue One Novel.

Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel (Star Wars)Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

War is tearing the galaxy apart. For years the Republic and the Separatists have battled across the stars, each building more and more deadly technology in an attempt to win the war. As a member of Chancellor Palpatine's top secret Death Star project, Orson Krennic is determined to develop a superweapon before their enemies can. And an old friend of Krennic's, the brilliant scientist Galen Erso, could be the key.

Galen's energy-focused research has captured the attention of both Krennic and his foes, making the scientist a crucial pawn in the galactic conflict. But after Krennic rescues Galen, his wife, Lyra, and their young daughter, Jyn, from Separatist kidnappers, the Erso family is deeply in Krennic's debt. Krennic then offers Galen an extraordinary opportunity: to continue his scientific studies with every resource put utterly at his disposal. While Galen and Lyra believe that his energy research will be used purely in altruistic ways, Krennic has other plans that will finally make the Death Star a reality. Trapped in their benefactor's tightening grasp, the Ersos must untangle Krennic's web of deception to save themselves and the galaxy itself.

James Luceno is one of my favourite Star Wars writers and having gotten comfortable with his prose in previous works, I found Catalyst easy to slip into here. He has a distinctive, lyrical writing style which I'm aware is not to everyone's taste but I have always found it to be engaging and satisfying. In fact, I was relieved by the familiarity as I was worried that Luceno would actually be hampered by the oversight of the Story Group - so much that his unique voice would have been stymied. I'm glad this wasn't the case.



(Star Wars author James Luceno.)

Catalyst traverses a time period in Star Wars that I have long been fascinated with - that being the Dark Times between Episodes 3 & 4 of the cinematic saga. It is a period that I've thought has been neglected in Star Wars storytelling so to find such a compelling story being told that features the Death Star's conception and construction, a story that explores the devastating rise of the Empire was satisfying.

Luceno's attention to the cast was absorbing and vivid. I found myself particularly drawn to the character of Lyra Erso - Galen Erso's devoted and head strong wife. I thought Lyra's arc throughout Catalyst was really compelling and I empathized with her struggle to open her husband's eyes to the truth of how Imperial Commander Orson Krennic was manipulating them both. Lyra had to dig into her reserves of strength to prevent her's and Galen's world from collapsing and I thought it was emotionally visceral and ultimately satisfying. I was reminded a little of the relationship between the famed mathematician John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) and his wife Alicia. Alicia Nash was said to have been John Nash 's anchor throughout their long relationship and while mental illness wasn't a feature in Galen Erso's characterisation, his genius and accompanying "eccentricities" required Lyra to have a lot of patience and strength. I really cheered for her.



(Irish actress Valene Kane will portray Lyra Erso in Rogue One).

The other surprise packet for me was the character of Has Obitt. I really liked his evolution from selfish (?) smuggler to conscientious freedom fighter and his was another instance where Lyra Erso made a positive and poignant impact.

And of course, Orson Krennic. How exquisite is this character?! Knowing Ben Mendelssohn's work as an actor and his capabilities in both protagonist and antagonist roles, Luceno's fleshing out of Krennic was a joy to read and I know I'm going to go into Rogue One watching Mendelssohn's performance closely.



(Australian actor Ben Mendelssohn as Orson Krennic in Rogue One.)

I was so excited for Catalyst and James Luceno's novel didn't disappoint. It captures the epic scale of a Star Wars story with characters as immediate and compelling as those we have come to know from the existing cinematic saga. I'm so excited now for Rogue One this December.

DFA.


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Monday, October 24, 2016

The Involuntary Pause - Misadventures In Writing & Other Things.

I wasn't feeling it today.

Maybe it was because I'd indulged a little more than I'd planned to last night at the Pub when I was catching up with family. Maybe it was because it was such a lovely morning this morning and I found myself tending to my garden and lawns while listening to an ever enlightening episode of the Osher Günsberg podcast.



Whatever it was - I just couldn't engage my creative impulse today and, despite the eventual two hours I spent at my computer, my output wasn't good. I think I stared at my screen more than I did input anything of value. I'm struggling with the challenge of bringing two people together in a way that is gentle and convincing - and not soppy. So far, it has involved my protagonist, Hayden Luschcombe, helping my co-protagonist, Isabelle Sampi, with a blocked fuel line in her car and her showing him her bakehouse that she pretty much built herself. There's gotta be romance in there somewhere right.

It's a long story...

...And it's not easy.

Traditionally, I've been really hard on myself and overly criticized myself for not being productive. It's sonething that has caused me considerable distress - unnecessary distress. But I've slowly learned to accept that, sometimes, I'm simply not going to be able to tap into whatever it is that allows me to write freely and easily. When that happens, I've given myself permission to step away and disengage and it actually helps a lot. Of course, as with any learned behaviour - particularly those that have been learned over a long period of time - it's not easy to shake the anxiety and the tendency to be self critical. It takes effort to deprogram yourself and that can be pretty tiring. As I sit and I type this however, I'm okay...

...I think.

To contrast this with something completely opposite, something ratrathgroynd shaking has happened with The Recipient in the past couple of weeks. Back at the beginning of this month, my publisher wrote to advise me that The Recipient had been accepted for a Goodreads promotion that would see it be featured prominently at Goodreads as well as being included in a subscriber email mail-out.



Well, as the result of this promotion, The Recipient embarked on a rapid climb up the Amazon charts, peaking at a ranking of 735 a couple of weeks ago (out of several million titles) and it entered in the Top 100 across several fiction categories. It's since settled back into the mid 10,000 range as I write this but, it's selling at least a half dozen copies daily rather than say one or two copies a week. It's safe to say that I've never experienced anything like this and I'm kind of unsure how to see this. Further, I've just been informed that Amazon itself has selected The Recipient for its Kindle Monthly Deal mailout for November which has the potential to continue this run of high sales through its high visibility promotion. This includes prominent placement across the Amazon site as well as its social network.

In a word, I'm flabbergasted.

In the six years since my first novel, The Hambledown Dream, was published, I haven't had this level of exposure nor sales and it's a little hard to believe it's actually happening.

It's all a little bit of yin and yang today (is that right?)

Have you experienced something similar this past week? Let me know in the comments section below.

DFA.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Writer's Emotional Investment.

I've somehow worked myself up into an emotional state this afternoon. 

In my continuing development of my latest work in progress, I've been working on the back story of my central character, Hayden Luschcombe, that involves a falling out with his father Russell that remains unresolved at the beginning of the story. 

See, Hayden's mother Lavinia died around four years before the events in the story, having suffered from ovarian cancer. His father Russell, who devoted himself to being her sole carer, died about a year later - ostensibly from a broken heart. During his mother's illness, Hayden made many trips over to Walhalla from Adelaide but often had difficulties in getting away from his demanding job in a hospital's emergency department to be with his parents and help with his mother's care.



When Lavinia's illness took a turn for the worse and Russell warned Hayden that there was much time left, Hayden tried to get a flight over but, due to circumstances at work and, possibly, some intransigence from his unsympathetic wife, he didn't make it in time. Lavinia died before Hayden got to her bedside.



Russell, in his grief, turned on Hayden and, I guess, blamed him for not being there at the last moments of his mother's life. This developed into a rift between father and son that went unresolved. When Russell died a year later, father and son never reconciled and so Hayden is left to live with guilt and regret. This is part of the reason why Hayden appears as something of an introvert at the beginning of the story and doesn't find it easy to mix with others.



Family dynamics can be really complex when cancer visits a loved one and relationships are often strained. Sometimes they can break. I was reminded of this, this afternoon as I sat trying to flesh out this aspect of the story and I couldn't help but feeling an overwhelming sadness as I considered how I am going to incorporate this back story into the main story. Part of Hayden's journey will involve him 'reconciling' with his father in a posthumous sense and I have an idea about how that will play out but getting to that point requires a bit of work. And it's not easy. 

When considering weighty issues such as these, it's inevitable that I become emotionally invested in these characters and these situations. It's a little surprising just how invested one can become. I'm not gonna lie, it's more affecting than I anticipated.

Do you find the same thing happens to you? Do you find yourself being affected by the situations you place you characters in? Tell me in the comments section below.

DFA.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Tangential Author.

I go off on tangents.

A lot. 

Having the kind of mind that just won't quit is both a blessing and a curse. This past week, it has been a blessing. 

I think.

I began the week strong, in a writing sense, and I found myself advancing the tendrils of my current work in progress forward. It was really satisfying. I tend to work in a linear fashion but often I'll get bursts of inspiration that will have me going back in the time line of a given story in order to add nuance to earlier scenes or help me to clarify things that I was struggling with in those earlier parts of the story. Or, I'll go off on tangents. 

Big tangents.

So, I arrived at a scene in which my protagonist, Hayden Luschcombe, had identified a problem with a motor vehicle owned by my other protagonist, Isabelle Sampi - simply by hearing the sound of the engine. Let's just say that Hayden has savant qualities. He declares that the problem with Isabelle's van (she's a Baker/small business owner by the way) is a blocked fuel line and he offers to help her fix the problem until she can get it properly appraised by a qualified mechanic. They live in the mountains of Victoria, Australia in a town that is far from a mechanic.


(I'm shipping these two.)

This presented two problems for me. One - I am not a mechanic. I know a little bit about cars that will help me out of a jam but that's about it. Two - what homespun, ridiculous-but-effective method could I come up with to unblock a fuel line of a 2011 Holden Combo commercial van.

Here's where the tangents kick off. I started by researching the basics of modern motor vehicle fuel systems. What they comprise of, how they pass fuel from the tank to the engine, what the ingredient of modern fuels contain and what scenarios contribute to the blocking of a fuel system. I learned quite a bit from this exploration although a lot of it went quite over my head.



Once I had the anatomy and physiology of a modern motor vehicle fuel system worked out, I progressed to coming up with a homemade method for unblocking a fuel line. Now, as I write this, I'm still trying to nut this one out. See, a fuel line is essentially, a metal reinforced rubber hose which is capable of getting clogged up with a number of impurities from motor fuel. And there are any number of solvents out there that are capable of unblocking said hose. But, for the purpose of my story, it has to be home made and it has to sound - on the surface at least - totally ridiculous. At the moment, I have three ingredients that could be employed, either singularly or perhaps in combination - bicarb soda, citric acid and vinegar. 

I probably need to sound out an actual mechanic as well but, given I still have major problems with my voice, I'm reluctant to introduce myself to people I've not met before. 

I'll work it out I'm sure but if you have any suggestions or know a motor mechanic who can offer up a suggestion, please do point them in this direction. 

#

On the subject of my voice - I know it's been a while since I've spoken about it here but things aren't really progressing in that regard. It's painful to attempt vocalization and when I do, I have this over sensitive gag reflex that kicks in. On a full stomach, it is not pretty. I've lost a few meals because of it, so I avoid it as much as possible. 

It's depressing. 

As someone who enjoys conversation, to not be able to engage in it is isolating. I recently attended a family party and it was a stark experience. I found myself sitting quietly in a corner, observing others rather than being in amongst them. I mean, contributing a handful of nods here and there isn't really very engaging. And the totally acceptable noise level at a party make broken speech impossible so...yeah...

It's still a work in progress but I fear, at this point, there isn't much work left that I can do.

Here's a lovely piece of irony for you though. 

I returned to work a while back and it has been good, even though I've been essentially mute.

One of the first patients I nursed on my return was a young woman who had a large, malignant brain tumor removed. In the immediate aftermath of her surgery, she was doing okay but she unexpectedly had a bleed that rendered her unconscious and she was in a coma for a long time. Gradually she recovered her consciousness but she was mute - really only able to communicate with her eyes and broken hand gestures. 

I was allocated to her and it became a great partnership because we both developed a method of communication with each other that transcended speech. She made it possible for me to nurse despite my impediment and that gave me a much appreciated boost in confidence.

She can speak now. She's actually doing very well and we now have a kind of running joke that she got her speech back faster than I did. 

It's heart warming you know. 

I can take *something* from this situation. 

DFA.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Walhalla - Immersing Myself into a Setting.

Back in September, I took a much needed trip back to my home town in Gippsland, Victoria to visit family and celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday. Nana has been a huge influence in my life and has been one of my biggest champions of my writing career, so I was really pleased to be able to share in her birthday celebration. 

While I was in Victoria, I took the opportunity to visit a place that is very special to me. It is also the setting for my new work in progress, a romantic fiction novel that carries the working title "Walhalla". 

Walhalla - the township - is a picturesque little mountain hamlet, situated roughly a 2 hour drive east of Melbourne. It's origins go back to the Victorian gold rush of the 1850's when, in 1862, prospectors exploring the mountains in that region happened upon a natural valley and creek flat that was, not only, suitable for settling, it was also the site of a rich gold deposit. So rich was this deposit that the resulting township became one of the richest mining towns in Australia. By the 1880's, Walhalla supported a population of thousands and was considered a regional center, rivaling that of Ballarat to the west of Melbourne and yielding gold hauls that were unprecedented.



(Walhalla c. 1897)

By the 1910's however, Walhalla's gold rush was in a stark decline and the narrow gauge railway the township had fought for decades to get, arrived just in time to hasten the exodus from the town. However the town itself refused to die, despite dire predictions for it's future. For decades it languished in obscurity, with a permanent population that fluctuated in the dozens. However in the 1990's, a group of locals came together with a dream to resurrect the town's narrow gauge railway in the hopes of kick-starting a tourism renaissance. Their efforts paid off and a section of the line was rebuilt, from Walhalla to the Thomson River a little over 4 kilometers away. 

Today, Walhalla is experiencing something of a tourist boom, with people visiting from all over the world to take in the gorgeous mountain town with its rich mining and railway history, its beautifully preserved architecture and its seductive romance. 



(Walhalla c. 2015)

For me, I have had a life long fascination with this little town which has refused to die and I'm really excited to be setting my next novel there. In the context of the story, Walhalla serves as a place of healing. A young doctor returns there in the aftermath of his wife's infidelity and reconnects with a cast of characters who influenced him during his childhood. At the same time a young mother, escaping a violent past, seeks to resurrect the township's long dormant Bakery in the hope of making a new life for herself and her daughter who is profoundly deaf. 

I spent a morning in Walhalla, taking a series of photographs and video footage as well as talking with some locals, to reacquaint myself with the "feel" of the township so I can translate that faithfully to the page, albeit in a fictional setting. I want to immerse myself, not only in the physical appearance of the township, but the smells of the place, the flora and fauna, the sounds of the mountains, the trickle of the creek that meanders its way through the township. And I also wanted to experience the people in-situ - to get a feel for their daily lives so that I can infuse some of that into the cast I have created for this new story. 

So here's a little sampling of my visit there.



Elliot's Bakery.


Walhalla Lodge Hotel.


Town Center with Post Office & Mechanics Institute Building.


Magnolias in bloom.


Spring in the Mountains.


Windsor House.


Mechanics Institute & Free Library.


Trembath's Corner Stores.


A working breakfast.


Trembath's Corner Stores.


Spring Blooms.


Spring Blooms.


Post Office in frame.

Feel free to hit me up in the comments if you'd like to know more about the specific buildings featured herein. Of course, I'm reluctant to divulge too much about the story I'm writing - for obvious reasons. Know this though - it will be a return to my romantic roots which fans of The Hambledown Dream will enjoy.

DFA.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Most Extraordinary School - A Look At Tompkin's School by Tabi Slick.

Tompkin's School (For The Extraordinarily Talented Book 1)Tompkin's School by Tabi Slick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Izara Torvik thought her life was over the moment that her father sent her and her twin brother to a boarding school in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. She soon discovers that the school is not as ordinary as she thought and finds herself thrown into a battle against her inner demons that only have one desire...the desire to kill.

Tabi Slick's first entry into her Tompkin's School series is an engaging YA adventure that evolves into a kinetic mystery with powerful paranormal elements. After a somewhat tentative start in which Slick devotes a lot to establishing her cast, the story picks up the pace becoming quite epic in its scope with plenty of action.

Her protagonist, Izara Torvik, is a young woman who is at once vulnerable and wide eyed, having been thrust from a cloistered and privileged New York existence into a totally unfamiliar Oklahoma environment. Along with her twin brother Kain, she has to find reserves of strength and resourcefulness fairly quickly in order to face the powerful and violent forces that reside within the Tompkin's School. Her growth, in particular, is appealing and satisfying to watch.

Slick's grasp of tension and mood is attractive and she is able to infuse an unpredictability into her narrative that keeps you guessing right up to the climax.

Tabi Slick's series crackles with potential and I'm really keen to see where it goes in subsequent entries. Tompkin's School For The Extraordinarily Talented is a gem.



Tabi Slick (image credit: Tabi Slick). 

Tabi Slick was born in Chanute, Kansas, and grew up in the country where she was homeschooled for the greater part of her childhood. In middle school, her family moved to Davis Oklahoma where she attended public school for several years. Here she began her writing adventure and soon the world of Tompkin's Academy came to life. After graduating from high school in 2008, she spent a few years in Puerto Rico and wound up in Texas where she graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Linguistics from the University of Texas at Arlington. She was born with an immense appreciation for literature and continues to dedicate her time to her passion of writing.

Purchase Tompkin's School here


Visit Tabi Slick here.


Connect with Tabi Slick here.


Tweet with Tabi Slick here.


View all my reviews


DFA.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Parent Rage - Seriously. Is This A Thing Now Adelaide?

There isn't a lot that shocks me in this world anymore. I've seen enough of human nature at its best and worst that I tend to sigh and regard it all with barely more than a 'meh...'

Apparently, I haven't yet seen it all.

So, yesterday afternoon; I'm waiting in my car across from my children's primary school. I often get there about 15 minutes before the bell to ensure I can park safely and scroll the news feeds on my smartphone - because that's always the best time to do that sort of thing guilt free. 

I've got my son with me, whose been home sick with vomiting and is only just starting to feel a little brighter. 

Without warning, I'm shocked out of my Twitter-feed reverie by a sudden pounding on the driver's side window. Jumping in my seat, I look up to see a man - face pressed against the glass - hurling abuse at me and gesticulating wildly, in the middle of the street, for everyone to see.


Apparently, he had taken issue with the fact that I had parked my car in such a way that it was impossible for anyone to slip in behind my car and the car further back. The space wasn't big enough. There was a car in front of me so my moving forward was out of the question. 

This, apparently, constitutes a perfect storm in some people, where they feel it is  their constitutional right to unleash the power of Grey Skull on a fellow parent. 

And unleash that power this father did.

Not content with my shocked and stunned look of disbelief at his salvo of window punches and verbal abuse, this genius, proceeded to grab the door handle of my car and yank it open. He ordered me to step out of the car. To fight it out. In front of a Primary School. In broad daylight. 

Now bear in mind here that my 11 year old son, is in the car with me. My sick-with-gastro 11 year old son who was cradling an ice cream container just in case he had cause to vomit for the 50th time today. 

Once I got my head around the shock of what was happening, I calmly stepped from my car and suggested we move off the street, lest we get run down by the steadily building after school traffic. All the while, crazy-father-guy was actually goading me to throw a punch, in between berating me for him not being able to park his cark behind mine. 

By this time the school bell has chimed and children and parents are passing by this shit show, watching on with bemusement. Never a good look to have an audience of kids at a potential dust up.

The situation was quickly spinning out of control.

Unwilling to listen to this rant anymore, I calmly stepped forward, into his face, and whispered - because that is all I can manage vocally right now - 'If you want me to throw down right here, I guarantee you, you will not get up.' It was kinda Liam Neeson-esque - minus the Liam Neeson.

Then I calmly turned and walked away, back to my car. 


The dad continued his tirade of abuse as he retreated from my car and across the street while I slowly motored down to the gate to collect my daughter. My 6 year old daughter. Who got to witness his continuing rage and vile langauge. As did any number of other children and parents and teachers.

This happened at a Primary School in Adelaide yesterday.

Seriously. Are we doing Parent Rage now? Is this a thing?

DFA.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Virtual Reality for Writers - One Of The Happiest Accidents I've Made.

Of the many tools available to writers, I reckon the advent and popularity of virtual reality (VR) applications may be one of the most powerful additions to our author tool boxes.

I'll go on the record here - I'm a hopeless tech geek. If there is a new smart-phone or computer product or application or game on the horizon that piques my interest - (and has some relationship to Star Wars) - you can bet that I'll be the first in line.

When consumer VR was touted in the past couple of years, I was excited by the prospect and the potential of it as a piece of entertainment. But I feared that it would be out of the reach of the average consumer. Then along came Google with its entry - Cardboard. For roughly $20 bucks, you could order a foldable VR headset that would suit a variety of Android based devices and you could experience the wonders of VR at a budget price.



Google's "Cardboard" (image credit: Slashgear)

Of course I jumped in and I did so at a fortuitous time. With the arrival of the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, last year there was a tie in VR app that I just had to try out. 

And it was so cool. Called "Jakku Spy" you got to immerse yourself in a bona fide Star Wars environment and interact with it through a series of scenarios that were meant to hint at plot lines and situations from the film. 



Jakku Spy in app screen shot
 (image credit: InsideTheMagic).

Fast forward to earlier this year, my phone contract was up for renewal and again, found myself in the right place at the right time. Samsung had just announced the release of its own VR headset - the Gear VR - and telcos were lining up to bundle this with the new Samsung Galaxy S7. So, I got mine and eagerly began playing with it. The Occulus Store had a few early release apps and games, all of which show off the capabailites of the Gear VR as an entertainment device.




Samsung's VR Headset in action. (image credit: Samsung).

But then I discovered something that really showed me just how powerful a creative tool this could be.

So, I'm working on a new novel and its set here in Australia. In fact, it's set in a little mountain town Victoria called Walhalla - a place where I spent a lot of my childhood. Now that I live in Adelaide - a good 12 hour drive away - it's not convenient for me to get up to Walhalla and walk around the town, making notes about the physical environment, the buildings, notable land marks - that sort of thing.


VISO places in-app screen shot of Walhalla, Victoria (image credit: Dean Mayes.)

Well, with the Gear VR, my Samsung S7 and an app called VISO Places (free within the Occulus Store) I am able to conduct my own "virtual walk" through the town, make notes about the landmarks there and even brain storm story ideas based upon what I'm able to see within the environment. It's been quite a revelation for me as a writer. I can add so much authenticity to my scenes because, within less than a couple of minutes, I can drop myself into the very environment I want to be.



The Colosseum - in-app screen shot. (image credit: VISO places).

Imagine being able to visit Rome, the Colosseum and "virtually" walk through it. You can sit by the Trevi Fountain and look at the people going by (in still life of course, but it's still cool!). You can drop yourself into Times Square, New York and interact with the streets there, see the lights of the billboards and wonder about the lives of the New Yorkers all around you. With access to Google's current library of environments, the entire world is pretty much available to you. Future updates of the app plan to include audio support which means you will be able to access sound recordings of different environments. Imagine being able to hear the lapping of the water against the buildings of Venice. 

I sound like I'm hard selling this and I don't mean to. It's just that the discovery of this has been one of the most accidental and delightful ones I have made. And I really do believe that it has helped me no-end with my current writing project.

Virtual Reality has been a boon for developers - allowing them to offer new and inventive interactive experiences for end users. For writers, VR opens up a world of creative possibilities, particularly those who can't just hop a flight and land in their favorite destination or setting for their latest novel. 

It has become a genius tool for me.

Check out VISO Places here.

Check out Samsung's Gear VR here

Check out Google Cardboard here.

DFA.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Paying Debts - A Review Of Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig.

Chuck Wendig's arrival among the pantheon of Star Wars authors has been, perhaps, the most significant one since the announcement of the new canonical timeline by Lucasfilm in 2012. Wendig has certainly divided opinion - as the reviews of his first entry Aftermath illustrated at the time of its release. 

Aftermath was a bold departure - both in style and substance - from previous Star Wars storiesand which many readers took issue with, but it was one that I really liked. Wendig laid the foundations for a wholly revised geopolitical environment in Aftermath that examined the fall out from the Empire's defeat at Endor - both from the Imperial and Alliance perspectives and his examination of both factions responses to the new paradigm was absorbing.

With Aftermath: Life Debt, Chuck Wendig pushes forward unapologetically, making Star Wars his own.



From the liner notes; 

The Emperor is dead, and the remnants of his former Empire are in retreat. As the New Republic fights to restore a lasting peace to the galaxy, some dare to imagine new beginnings and new destinies. For Han Solo, that means settling his last outstanding debt, by helping Chewbacca liberate the Wookiee s homeworld of Kashyyyk.

Meanwhile, Norra Wexley and her band of Imperial hunters pursue Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and the Empire s remaining leadership across the galaxy. Even as more and more officers are brought to justice, Sloane continues to elude the New Republic, and Norra fears Sloane may be searching for a means to save the crumbling Empire from oblivion. But the hunt for Sloane is cut short when Norra receives an urgent request from Princess Leia Organa. The attempt to liberate Kashyyyk has carried Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a band of smugglers into an ambush resulting in Chewie s capture and Han s disappearance.


Breaking away from their official mission and racing toward the "Millennium Falcon" s last known location, Norra and her crew prepare for any challenge that stands between them and their missing comrades. But they can t anticipate the true depth of the danger that awaits them or the ruthlessness of the enemy drawing them into his crosshairs.


Life Debt builds on those Aftermath foundations and kicks the action into high gear. The team we were introduced to in Aftermath, led by Norra Wexley and Sinjir Rath Velus, hit the ground running as a galactic equivalent of Nazi hunters, contracted by the nascent New Republic to collar and bring high value Imperial targets. Their cohesion as team remains appealing and I like how Wendig undertakes a deeper study of them as individuals and the internal conflicts they are grappling with. I have a particular fondness for the Zabrakian Bounty Hunter Jas Emari whose desire to remain a lone wolf hunter clashes with the burgeoning loyalty she has to the group and she has an extensive internal narrative surrounding that that I liked a lot.

The main game however, is the team's secondment by Princess Leia Organa - making a welcome return to form - to find her missing husband Han Solo and his loyal friend Chewbacca, both of whom have gone missing in the region of the Wookiee homeworld Kashyyyk. The team's reverence for Leia and the legendary smuggling duo makes the decision a relatively easy one - though Wexley does have to prick some of their consciences - and soon they are propelled head long into a conflict that represents a significant last stand for both sides. 

On the Imperial side, Grand Admiral Sloane continues to navigate her way through a veritable hornets nest of treacherous Imperial colleagues who are floundering in the aftermath of their defeats at Endor and Akiva and thus they spend a lot of time bickering amongst one another rather than unite towards a common goal. The introduction of a new, even more calculating antagonist in Gallius Rax (*cough* Benedict Cumberbatch *cough*) is a welcome one and the chess game that goes on between Rax and Sloane proves to be one of the highlights of Life Debt. 

When the focus shifts to Kashyyyk, Life Debt really comes into its own. For the longest time, I have wanted to see the liberation of the Wookiee homeworld done in a really compelling way but previous efforts to portray it have fallen flat. Wendig's approach is gut wrenching. 

He shows us the devastation the Empire has wrought upon this planet and the cruelty it has metted out to the Wookiees themselves. There are moments of real anguish and emotion here. Their plight is visceral. The Empire's evil is absolute and I became emotional reading these scenes. The subsequent battle for the planet is one that, I think, outshines the Battle for Endor. The Wookiees, as portrayed by Wendig, are a more complex species than they have ever been. 

Wendig's bringing together of his own cast with classic identities from Star Wars is seamless. He retains the cinematic qualities of those we have known and loved for 40 years and adds to nuance to them. Leia is fascinating to watch as a figure head in the New Republic and she is much more dynamic than she was in the old EU. Han and Chewbacca are like a well worn jacket with the Ford/Mayhew influence easy to access. Wendig gives unexpected gravitas to Han Solo that sees him truly evolve into a more considered human being. Without spoiling it, the Life Debt we have always known is actually kind of turned on its head. And I found Wedge Antilles presence in Life Debt to be a really strong one. Wendig does things with his character that I don't think has ever been done previously and Wedge comes off as being perhaps one of the most interesting characters in the story.



(art by blindroosevelts: DeviantArt).

The mainline narrative moves at varying speeds, but it is easy to follow and it doesn't labor. Scenes of action, both in the stars and on the ground, are kinetic and easy to access visually. And they're as entertaining as hell. The interludes - a kind of Wendig signature - remain as  enjoyable additions to Life Debt. I spent a lot of time thinking about them between reading, wondering if some of them hint at future story points and characters in the sequel saga. Others serve as mood pieces, giving the reader more of an insight into the feel of events and the emotions of the characters in Life Debt even if they aren't directly specific to those characters.

Life Debt is a thrilling, fully formed sequel to Aftermath and one that students of the new Star Wars canon era should add to their shelves. 

I loved it.

DFA.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

State Of Play.

So it's been six weeks.

Six weeks since the surgery that turned my life sideways. I was going to say upside down, but that sorta seems overly dramatic and not altogether justified. 

Or maybe it's just me being uncomfortable with the significance of all of this. 

So where am I at?

I still can't talk with any decent quality. I'm good for a few rasping sentences but I'm stuffed after about an hour a day and then I just can't make it work. Which presents a problem because, before all of this surgery, I committed to an author talk at a suburban library here in Adelaide later this month. I still want to do it so I've been resting my voice as much as is humanly possible and I've been working on my exercises three and four times a day in order to stretch the muscles in my throat because I really want to do it. I feel as though I need to do it. 



(Week 3. Would you wanna kiss this??)

My throat hurts like a mother f***er - all the time. 

I saw my surgeon earlier this week and he passed his camera down into the area where he operated. While it's healing, it's become inflamed and hyper sensitive due to some reflux I've developed. I'm now popping Somac daily (a protein pump inhibitor) to address the reflux and I'm swallowing Gaviscon four times a day. The Gaviscon is a thick cement like liquid - that tastes awful - which coats my throat and protects it against acids my natural desire to actually fucking speak.

It's ironic that the exercises I'm supposed to be doing are actually contributing to all of this. 

Oh - and I think I'm addicted to coedine.

I'm popping Panadiene like a junkie - well it feels that way - even though I'm actually sticking to the requisite recommended dosing of 6 hourly. The pain has localized itself to my throat, in the vicinity of my voice box - what's left of it and it feels like razor blades everytime I so much as swallow my own saliva. You would be amazed just how active the tissues and muscles of the throat are, even when you aren't doing anything. It's nigh on impossible to get any respite from it. And, of course, as all knowledgeable persons would know, Panadiene plays havoc with one's bowels. I am so constipated that I've added several classifications to the Bristol Stool Scale. Our toilet has become the equivalent of a missile testing range when I'm in there. It's hazardous.

I hate eating. 

I don't enjoy food at all right now. Between the pain from my still healing palate and my throat, meals are just a chore. It all tastes like metal and flesh. I approach the act of swallowing solid food with dread so much so that I'm starting to avoid them altogether. 

But it has done wonders for my waist line. I've dropped 5kgs in the past month and I'm still shedding.

Suck on that Michelle Bridges!!

I'm back at work. 

Because I do night duty, I can avoid talking for the most part outside of handover and introductions to my patients. They have been very understanding and have kinda dug having a largely mute ICU Nurse caring for them. My colleagues have been hugely supportive and somehow make it work so that I can work. 



(Walhalla - where I want to set my new novel.)

But I'm sinking into a state of functioning depression. 

I want my life back. Beyond waking and doing what I have to do to make it through each day, I'm not motivated. I am trying to write. I've largely mapped out a new novel but it all feels like a chore right now and I don't enjoy it and that's dangerous for a writer. I don't get out much. I clock watch a lot, waiting for the next time where I can pop some pills or drink some cement to ease my dysfunctional throat. It all weighs heavily on my mental well being. At the moment, life consists of just getting through and I want to do more than just fucking get through...

You know...?

DFA.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Dying For It - A Preview Of Eat, Pray, Die by Chelsea Field.

Eat, Pray, Die (An Eat, Pray, Die Humorous Mystery, #1)Eat, Pray, Die by Chelsea Field

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Being an undercover poison taster for the rich and famous might sound glamorous, but for Isobel Avery it means stomaching bad clients and even worse coffee.

The one side of the job that lives up to expectations is the money. Which is just as
well for Izzy, since she needs an awful lot of it. Who knew when she made a lifelong commitment to a man that it would be one year living with him and the rest of her life paying for it.

But even her scoundrel ex-husband doesn’t look so bad compared to her new client. He’s competent, condescending, and annoyingly attractive, and Izzy doesn’t know whether to sleep with him or poison him herself. Throw in a loan-shark, a nosy neighbor, and a murder attempt, and Izzy will have her work cut out for her


Eat, Pray, Die is a sexy and stylish mystery/thriller with no shortage of smart dialogue and taut action scenes combined with an engaging and involving mystery from the get go.

Chelsea Field's protagonist, Isobel Avery, is a classic fish out of water heroine - an attractive and plucky young Australian who navigates her way through the highly polished chintz of LA's celebrity obsessed culture in the role of a poison taster to the rich and famous. Working for a shadowy agency, Isobel is hired as a "Shade" by wealthy clients who are targeted by enemies by way of poisoning and it is her job to neutralise any threats by tasting their food.

When one of her colleagues falls victim to a particularly dangerous poison, Isobel is paired with the enigmatic - and decidedly "rugged" - operative Connor and together they embark on a desperate race against the clock to uncover an enemy who is determined to foil them. Isobel Avery is appealing wide eyed and, perhaps overwhelmed by the responsibilities she has taken on, but she is also resourceful, with a keen eye and an analytical mind and it doesn't take long for her to embrace her role of investigator with gusto.

Paired with her foil in Connor, I couldn't help but imagine Mad Men's John Ham in the role. There's a satisfying tension between the two and I found their story trajectory really engaging.
Field's writing style is highly polished and she posits some really clever ideas - particularly around the whole celebrity poisons industry. The need to have an agency dedicated to the protection of high profile figures from competitors is fascinating and it offers a unique insight into a world that I found utterly convincing and more than just a little scary. Her grasp of the mystery elements kept me guessing and problem solving which is the mark of a really great piece of genre fiction.

Field visualises the high gloss world of L.A. brilliantly, making the scenes immediately accessible and she finesses her narrative with sensory detail that drew me into the world and kept me there. Her supporting cast are all well drawn and I never knew, from one page to the next just which of them might be the prime antagonist.

Above all, Eat, Pray, Die moves fast. It's an entertaining ride from beginning to end and I enjoyed the heck out of it.


(image credit: Chelsea Field).

Adelaide based author Chelsea Field has lived an exciting life for an introvert.

She’s fallen off a galloping racehorse, faced down dozens of Australia’s most dangerous animals (including vicious roosters, for those of you who’ve read
EAT, PRAY, DIE), and while she’s never sold buns or coffee for a living like her protagonist, she’s consumed plenty of both.

Yes, all of those points are about animals or food. I told you she’s an introvert.

After writing a romantic comedy (no, you can’t read it) where the hero was a photographer from Burnside and then meeting and marrying a photographer from Burnside a few years later, she’s a little worried her writing has weird prophetic fate-like powers. So she makes sure nothing too bad ever happens to her characters, just in case life decides to imitate fiction again.


Purchase Eat, Pray, Die here.

Connect with Chelsea Field here.

Chelsea Field on Amazon here.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

DFA.