"No Man an Island" review

I'd like to thank Robert Rodgers for his initial review of "No Man an Island." I've already thanked Robert by email, as I'm already a fan of his "Last Skull" and his work on Jim Zoetewey's "Legion of Nothing," and the three of us have been working with other writers on collaborative work that is slow going but someday might end up epic.

But I wanted to publically thank him as well, in the spirit of continuing to encourage the community in its efforts. The more we all get involved and review, the more we get out of the experience. I was glad he took a look at my completed work, because completed stories often don't have the same momentum as ongoing series and it's nice to have new feedback.

I would like to point out, however, that his review is a "work in progress," and based on chapter 14, which is close to five percent of the completed novel. I look forward to his thoughts towards the end of the book. With ongoing series, it is obviously necessary to do a "work in progress" review because ongoing series are unfinished, and some serials may never finish but go on for years.

With a completed novel, the whole can be assessed, and so I'm here stating officially my own intent to look through my past reviews and finish all the completed novels with a more comprehensive review, in case I left any with "work in progress" summations.

And I would encourage anyone who reads "No Man an Island" to read the whole thing. Unlike my other project, "The Surprising Life and Death of Diggory Franklin," it was never meant for online consumption originally. I learned in the process of posting it that "the medium is the message" as Marshall McLuhan famously said. Written for traditional publication, "NMAI" starts slow as Robert rightfully points out because in the old paradigm of paper fiction, one could sit all afternoon with a book and slowly become immersed in its world. Online, people sometimes read one post a day, and so each post needs energy and a hook. I wrote it so the pieces came together in a rich, textured tapestry over time -- leisurely.

"Diggory" is faster paced and lighter. "NMAI" is much more literary, despite action scenes, and was meant to be digested differently. To fully grasp its content, the whole meal needs to be eaten -- no individual part was designed with brevity in mind. However, for anyone who enjoys deeper content, it is full of characterization, symbolism, and rich plot.

To use an analogy, most online fiction is in quick, small bites and each one is meant to be tasty -- but you can grab it on the run like a sandwich or fast food. "NMAI" isn't just a sit-down dinner, it's a banquet --- it might take longer but I hope that you will be enriched by the experience.

I've worked hard to format it so people enjoy it online -- and many do -- but I recommend that anyone who wants a fast-paced story should check out Diggory or one of the highly rated stories on WFG -- because "No Man an Island" requires a time investment. It pays off, but it's worth warning you about and I thank Robert for pointing that out.

I didn't remember any dragons....

There's a vision near the beginning of a dragon burning up the world while chasing a hawk and a dove -- symbolic of later in the story -- and Azazel, remember that guy?

Ah, bit part for a symbolic dragon.

Angels and demons, I remember those.

"I would like to point out, however, that his review is a "work in progress," and based on chapter 14, which is close to five percent of the completed novel. ... With ongoing series, it is obviously necessary to do a "work in progress" review because ongoing series are unfinished, and some serials may never finish but go on for years."

I mean no offense, but my review is not a 'work in progress'. You asked me to review your story, so I did. I'm done. If I picked this up in a library, got 14 chapters in, started to put it down, and heard someone tell me 'go 50 more chapters, that's when it gets good', I'd shrug and shelve it.

I don't wait for stories to get good--and my reviews reflect that. If you're not engaging me from chapter 1, I'm probably not going to bother for long. I hope you don't take this response as an insult; I just don't think I'm your target audience.

In that kind of situation it's good to be able to analyze what's not engaging you- simply saying 'I didn't like it' is not a review, it's a more personal reaction. To make it a better review, you have to go beyond 'this is not where I am' and go find what the work actually is- whatever it is- and understand to some extent why it's that way.

I keep a Tom Clancy book, 'Rainbow Six', around, specifically because I hate it so passionately that it's interesting to me. It's a vile, manichean stroke-fest about being so caught up in your own frame of reference that you get off on blowing people's heads to pulp because they're evil subhumans without redeeming qualities, and it was very popular. It shows me that there's a lot of people out there who want to vicariously feel no doubt in their own godlike superiority- sort of 'yeah, I just choose not to blow evil terrorist heads to pulp, but if I wanted to I would. I, too, know them when I see them. Life needs more double tap.'

Gavin seems not anything like that, he's like a non-twisted Joss Whedon: very good at a sort of immersive slice-of-life thing as long as the people aren't too broken. I see well-adjusted people (the horror!). He might want to look at that, because it's very definitely what's losing you. I'm skipping ahead to the more lively bits of No Man an Island (will not review it without reading it in sequence) and seeing the same problem- I see well-adjusted people, and some kind of monster, but I don't have any idea why he/it wants what it wants, it's just saying scarey things. You could say the earlier chapters that lost you are just as good- there's an ease and comfort when Gavin writes the well-adjusted people. The HARD COREZ stuff isn't where his heart's at, clearly.

It's no wonder he probably hates everything I write, pretty much all of my lead characters should be lobotomized for their own and others' safety XD I suspect that's a smaller but more rabid market segment. Gavin's worlds are a lot less toxic, or to be precise their _foundation_ is thoroughly nontoxic. His only trouble seems to be that you can't get good villains unless you really understand their style of toxic, and if you only have placeholder villains, you just can't get the kind of plot traction you (Robert) seem to be looking for.

I say plot traction rather than plot momentum, because it's not that events hurl a plot in a direction that must then be stopped- it's that needs and wants of characters produce a force in which you can feel the plot charging off towards bad things, and you then need to have equal passion charging the other direction- a tug-of-war where the outcome isn't clear, but there's two obvious visions of the world that can't coexist.

It's possible that the ending of Island reveals why it can't have plausible villains or complex heroes- the work really is not, shall we say, about antiheroes. There's a reason it is the way it is.

Oh dear God Jinx, if you think I'm non-toxic wait until you meet Donovan Reza.

(and for the record I don't hate anything you write -- I just felt your narrator's internal monologue was disconnected from the events around him to such a degree that what was happening in the story world and in his internal world seemed like different stories. By contrast, I move the characters in NMAI from a very ordinary world into a fantastic one by degrees, like going into a pool one step at a time until you're in over your head -- I HIGHLY recommend reading it in order not bouncing around because it was designed in a specific way, and it totally loses it's effect if you don't immerse yourself in it -- you can't understand a labryinth one piece at a time and skipping to the end will tell you literally nothing about the experience.)

No no- my point is that Reza isn't you. He isn't anything I recognize, and you don't understand him- I did see him. And I'm not a bit sorry I skipped to the end of NMAI- define 'loses its effect', okay? I'm trying to tread carefully here and am not at all sure it's worth being coy.

You describe it like it's a trap that must be sprung, and skipping to the end reveals the trap? Your very ordinary world is nothing like the one I experienced in real life, and the fantastic one is- I'd really like you to define the effect this whole experience is meant to have. Just among us writers, okay? Consider that the audience is not here listening to us talk, and that the trap will remain unsprung for them.

I'm trying to remember if you're the one who was getting into Charles Williams- I've almost never seen anyone mention him, and that would follow- but remember Williams' great power was his complexity, that he had faith and yet was continually a doubter. He was a really strange, complicated guy, but it seems like his power to inspire people was enormous, especially in person. That's not an accident.

Quit trying to witness us writers and let us help you learn to do it to others better. You could be doing it a lot better than you do it in Island. Look into what CS Lewis did with the Screwtape Letters- upfront you know what it's about but it's interesting and compelling and you read even if you aren't sympathetic. Your secret is that you intend to slowly evolve a reader's experience until they're reading the lead character narrate "I began to speak, letting my faith flow through me, fed by the Holy Spirit. Words from scripture came to my lips" and it'll seem totally natural and not unusual at all.

You can't do it that way! You can't simply tell us we haven't immersed ourselves enough and not to reveal the ending. I have no problem with your intentions at all, but a big problem with your assumption that you're doing it so well that the failing is in the reader. One of my favorite bloggers is Fred Clark of 'Slacktivist', who's an evangelical worth emulating- I'm not calling you out on your basic agenda here, there's no reason you shouldn't have it.

I'm saying, above all, this is a writer's forum and we have to be able to talk about the mechanics of what you are trying to do, which means talking frankly about what you are trying to do, or it'll just be frustrating for everybody. This is a thread about a review of probably your first novel, the characters page basically gives the game away to anybody smart enough to read English, and the review says it's not doing (for that reader) what you intend it to do. I agree with him, and it's worth considering that we ARE your target audience as well as writers.

You're still writing (I am too). I'm learning from the ways you didn't connect with _my_ first book, though there's no reason to assume my fifth will be more to your liking- but it WILL be better at being itself because of the criticism you've shared. Let us talk the nuts and bolts of what you're trying to do, and how better to do it. Just because you're sincere (and not practicing 'deconstruction') doesn't mean that gives you the mechanics of it, and it seems as if being effective at this might matter to you.

I *like* well-adjusted heroes--almost as much as I like heroes raging against the night, on the verge of psychological and physical collapse. The reason I stopped reading this is really, honestly just because it's not the sort of story I enjoy. I don't like 'literary work'--I wouldn't read through _Catcher in the Rye_ again even if you paid me.

For thoroughness' sake, the whole 'work in progress' thing above was a complete misunderstanding on my part. Gavin thought my review was a work in progress because he had asked me to review the *whole* book, not just a portion; so when I posted my review, he naturally assumed I'd get around to reading the rest later and update it.

Thank you Robert for clarifying that, I was just about to :) I totally understand where Robert is coming from -- it's like I invited him over to dinner and put down a food he's allergic to. He tried to be polite, took a a few bites, and said "It's really not for me." I can't argue with taste, and I appreciated him taking a look. But the issues he raises ARE a matter of taste, and other people enjoy it.

As for whether my writing accomplishes its goals as to the "meaning" of the text, see my next comment addressed to Jinx.


Well, there was at least one mechanical nit--you have a habit of capitalizing your dialogue tags inappropriately ("Hello," He said -- it's actually "Hello," he said -- as 'he' is part of the same sentence). Every time I saw that, it was like a lemon-drenched spike in my eye, but so many people make that mistake that I feel silly mentioning it (I also didn't think it would have been relevant to mention in a review).

My wife hates almost all fiction but loves Faulkner; I've started reading _As I Lay Dying_ on her recommendation and I'm actually very impressed with how good he is at being simultaneously entertaining *and* reflective. One of the reasons is because Faulkner doesn't seem to write a word unless it either reveals character or moves plot (preferably both). Faulkner moves slow, but I buy it because it's both revealing *and* entertaining.

If more 'literary' work was like Faulkner, I think I'd enjoy it a lot more--he can turn a scene about a guy buying a sandwich from another guy into a revelation, and probably manage to make me snicker at the same time.

(Thanks Robert, I thought I caught most of those miscapitalizations but sometimes my eye goes right past them.) I haven't read much Faulkner because I started "The Sound and The Fury" and while I appreciated how creative the idea was, I couldn't follow the disabled narrator's narration because it was too much like the noise in my own head that I have to filter every day.

I'd better read the entire thing, then, even if it's a slog, because it's worth discussing.

Sure, "No Man an Island" is a novel worth discussing, but no more so than any other story rated 4.5 or 5 stars by WFG editors. Editors who, after reading the entire novel, say it's "intricately crafted," "makes readers think," and "'epic doesn't begin to cover it." Reading the whole thing and examining the story for a discussion will lead you to the conclusion that you more-or-less agree with them or it's slow so it's not your taste.

It's a "slog" if you go in expecting fast-paced online story action, thrusting you into the fray with hooks in every episode. But it's not fast-paced -- last time I checked it's over 200 000 words. It's a marathon, not a sprint. It's literary, so it's dense. It has action and adventure, but they're part of a whole, not the main course.

The people who enjoyed it like that it's complex and long. People who don't like it have different taste. Editors rightfully point out that it's not for "casual reading" and Robert is right when he says it can be slow and requires a "time investment". That's not to his personal taste, but he acknowledges it might appeal to others who enjoy slow developing stories.

Robert doesn't like "Catcher in the Rye," whereas I loved it -- people are different. "Slogging" through a story you don't enjoy isn't a good use of time, and it doesn't do the author or other readers any favours when they've already got reviews that warn them that it requires time, but that there's also something worthwhile for those who can invest it. That "discussion" of its mechanics has already taken place.

Nobody here is clamouring for a discussion on the merits of a completed novel finished four years ago. It was reviewed recently because of communication between myself and Robert, where I asked him to check out any one of my three stories for different purposes in each case. He picked NMAI and misunderstood that I was hoping for a complete review if he had time for it. Otherwise, it would be sitting on the shelf because it's already been reviewed, it's already had an audience that enjoyed it, and its author has moved on to other projects.

Those who want to discuss my book are welcome to come to my site, same as any other writer, and leave comments or hang out in the forums. "NMAI" fans have done that already. There are new blog posts up about it because this discussion made me think about it enough that I needed it out of my head on a page. But discussing whether it achieves its purpose isn't a conversation I need to have -- I learned what I wanted in the process of writing it, and I learned it works for some people based on their reaction. To change it to suit another taste would change it entirely, and then it wouldn't be the same book. And no work of art ever has completely universal appeal.

I couldn't write it again if I tried, because I'm not the same person I was when I wrote it. I'm not going to rewrite it, and the things I learned about audience reaction have informed the rest of my writing. The experience changed me as a person -- going back over it won't because I'm not the person who wrote it anymore.

So, "slogging" through it to have a discussion -- who is that going to benefit? You're either going to hate the experience, making it an adversarial discussion, or you'll be apologizing for jumping to a conclusion. Either one doesn't seem to have much to do with benefiting the writer community on WFG. It seems personal, and if it's personal it could stay confined to email instead of being public.

Because the sense I get is that you think I'm trying to "witness" to other writers about how to write from my own writing experiences, as if I think I'm an expert who does it better. I've never claimed to be an expert writer nor that I do it better than anyone else. I review stories from the perspective of a life-long READER who has studied the nitty-gritty of literature and the way its mechanics express cognitive processes as well as creative writing. All of my reviews are based on whether I enjoyed reading the story, none of them are based on whether I think I could have written it better.

From other comments in this forum, where you state things like "no wonder Gavin hates all my fiction" -- this seems personal to me and this is not the venue for it. For the record, it would be impossible for me to hate "all" your fiction when I've read only one, not all. And I didn't hate that book, I rated it three stars. I was disappointed that the internal monologue seemed disconnected from the physical events, and the juxtaposition was disorienting because of my personal perspective and mental processes. Had the rambling narrative been in "Catcher in the Rye" it would have worked for me, and then the physical elements would have been a fair fantasy story. That's not a personal attack, that's me recognizing it wasn't to my taste. No tastes are the same, so why take them personally?

Hm. "it could stay confined to email instead of being public" sounds like "please don't go off on this book because I wrote it how I wanted the first time and it's not up for debate", and "it's complex, long, intricately crafted, five star, and everybody loves it unless they're not qualified to love it" rather invalidates what I do. I hoped to not get too meta about this but it's now necessary.

You hating (or dismissing, half-hating?) my work is _allowed_. What's valuable is when you can deconstruct that reaction, without apology, from your own perspective, and express that viewpoint. I think you've done that and you've done it well. It's what I'd call a good bad review, and this is assuredly the venue for it. The farther your viewpoint is from the author, the more difficult it is to work out what their intentions were, and get a sense of whether they're accomplishing what they wanted, but it's always worth thinking about what an author is trying to do. If you have to work really, really hard at that, it's going to be slogging, and it's something you'd do only if you consider the artist worth that effort- if not to communicate to them, not to make them change, then to serve as a translator for others like yourself- an explainer to those whose taste balks at the prospect.

I absolutely don't buy that a full reading of your first novel will compel me to either react as some of the other reviewers have, or disqualify me to have an opinion on the things they said- just as five-star reviews _I've_ had (not here, and some years ago on Miavir's story archive) does not change the fact that your insights were valid. If you like, you can say that there's no accounting for taste and it's permissible for people to like my first book even though there are major problems with its mix of elements: you're not wrong that internal and external narratives don't go together, that was always part of the character study and it's a big limiting factor as far as reaching an audience. You're NOT wrong in your perceptions and don't have to be coy about them.

But you can't say that and simultaneously say that _your_ first book is objectively epic and masterful, and that a complete experiencing of it will compel anyone to either agree or stick to "not my taste", much less suggest that any disparaging of the work is tantamount to personal vendetta. If you're going to stick to that, you'll never be able to take my critique in the spirit I take yours, and while that doesn't at all mean it's not worth doing, it's a level of personal conflict I don't need.

This thread is about the concept of reviewing a specific book, that you wrote, so this discussion isn't tangential.

Are you sure you don't want to hear about what wasn't working, the first time you tried to write an epic, complex tale? The difference between being professionally offended and personally offended, is that the professionally offended don't exercise their craft for free just to make a point and show up the offender. I'll spend my time how I please, but it is better spent persuading people that my notion of 'five star' is worth their attention, too.

"You'd better be open to this, and you'd best enjoy spending your reading time walking through that, and then this'll be five star for you" is just not that high a priority unless there's some other motivation. You being interested in a look inside the head of somebody you're NOT reaching, especially given the nature of the work, would be such a motivation. I don't mean the nature of you as a writer, I mean the nature of the work. Why on earth are you not looking to reach people that turn away? I still am, and I have waaaaay less excuse :D

To be fair, when I say 'I don't like _Catcher in the Rye_', I should clarify--I think _Catcher in the Rye_ is a pretentious, self-indulgent hootenanny that's only popular because of teenage angst.

EDIT: Also, if someone doesn't want analysis on previous work, more power to them. If someone dug up my old fanfiction and started analyzing it, I'd be forced to seclude myself for months in a distant monastery so I could learn how to kill them with my mind.

For my part, I'd just as soon you guys take this conversation to email. It's not really of general interest to the folks here, and, to be honest, I've got better things to do than to keep moderating the essay-length responses in this thread. ;-)