Friday, November 16, 2007

INTO THIS MIND -- Opening Chapters

I've never reviewed a POD book before, mostly because I don't hear about many of them, and because I have not yet been intrigued by the blurb. Until now.

I am still reading Auralia's Colors, but for reasons I'd rather not get into online, I'm going to try to read INTO THIS MIND by Lisa Nevin over the weekend. It's a short book and so far, it looks like it will be a quick read.

But first, I wanted to share some interesting things that I've noted about this book, the author's website and the publisher. I will place links to everything that I found. The author knows that I am doing this, and she says that she thinks I will be honest in my observations.

First of all, Preditors and Editors lists this publisher, Unlimited Publishing as "Not Recommended". I do not know if P&E had given it this designation at the time the author approached the publisher. The author's book page on the website states, "This is a limited advance release, not yet available from bookstores. It is available exclusively at this location, for a limited time only!" This makes it seem like the novel is only available in ARC form, yet there are links at the bottom of the page to Lulu, where one can order a copy for 14.99.

Traditionally, reviewers do not have to pay for ARCs. Therefore, I decided to try to get an ARC from the publisher. However, my efforts only elicited a PDF file. I regularly get unsolicited books from publishers like Tor and Bantam and because of my situation at home, it would take me months to read a book at the computer. In the end, the author rushed me a copy when I asked her for one. (She also sent scads of bookmarks!)

Curiosity drove me onward, so I looked at the author's website. After following a link deeper in the site, I found a list of fourteen independent bookstores that stock her book. She's also managed to schedule a number of book signings. Since I know it could not have been easy to get bookstores to stock a POD book, I became curiouser. I scrolled down and found an About the Cover Painting heading, so I read it. There, I discovered that the author had used a painting by her sister for her cover art.

Obviously, the author has done quite a lot of work in getting her novel out there.

After all this research, I emailed the author and asked her to have a copy sent to me. You already know that story.

And now, for the review.

The book itself is a narrow volume of 199 pages. The cover has the painting mentioned above, and on the front it doesn't look bad. However, on the back I wish the publisher had faded the image behind the text, as it is quite difficult to read. However, that's my only complaint with the book itself. The pages are crisp and thick, and the text highly readable. Unlike certain low-quality paperbacks I've read recently, the ink left no smudge marks on my fingers.

The story so far is about a young woman who explores an abandoned house and apparently slips back in time to the night of a ball. There, she watches as the newlywed May, her brother August and her sister April have a tense but unknown situation brewing, where May's husband Jeffrey is apparently at its center. Just when we are getting caught up in this story from the past, Jena, the point of view character, is yanked back to the present.

The book itself is not without its flaws, but despite them it is still highly readable. I'll go ahead and get what I perceive as flaws over with. One is that it is written in present tense. I don't believe I've ever read a novel in the present tense before, and I'm damned well-read. I went to my bookshelf and took out some of my more literary titles -- ones with unusual points of view -- to see if any of them were present tense. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce? Past Tense. Candide by Voltaire? Past tense. Moby Dick by Melville? Past tense. Allegory of the Cave by Plato (actually a dialog)? Past tense.

The closest my bookshelf comes to present tense are plays. Does anyone know of a present-tense novel, classic or otherwise?

Anyway, it actually didn't turn out to be too off-putting. And it turned out to be an advantage when she would have otherwise had to use the awkward past participle tense for relating dialog that had taken place previously. Still, I think that if she had used past tense, she would have had a much more solid book.

My other quibble is dialog. Her characters tend to speechify. It's not really bad -- I wouldn't have been able to read it if it were -- but simply somewhat stilted. I read once that a character should not say more than three sentences together unless he has a very good reason. A patient editor might have been able to help her here.

It is written in first person with a chatty, often humorous style. I had several laugh-out-loud moments. While the character walked through the abandoned house, I almost felt like I was in a role-playing game, listening to a game master describe the house, room by room. She even gave the dimensions of several rooms. This was unnecessary, in my opinion. However, it didn't interfere with my enjoyment of the story.

Nevin's biggest strength is her ability to build up suspense. She's doling out the mystery bit by bit, and when I thought I reached a good stopping point to go ahead and write this review, I decided to read just a bit more. This is always a good thing. Her characters are likable and I got a kick out of the "Calendar family". I was especially concerned for May, who apparently invades Jena's consciousness whenever Jena enters the house. I'm afraid that something terrible is going to happen to May (or, I suppose, has already happened) or her family.

So far, INTO THIS MIND is turning out to be an entertaining fantasy mystery.


Livia Llewellyn said...

"Bright Lights, Big City" by Jay McInerney is probably one of the most famous novels to be written in present tense (and in second person at that). He's written a number of novels in present tense.

Bret Easton Ellis's "American Psycho" is also present tense, as is "Less Than Zero" and "The Rules of Attraction".

Caitlin R. Kiernan writes almost everything in present tense, including her novels "Threshold", "Silk", and "Low Red Moon".

So yes, there are a few contemporary authors who use present tense (and use it very well) in novels. However, it's not a popular form - readers either love it or loathe it - and I think you need to be a writer with a very strong and assured sense of style to your prose in order to pull it off.

Tia Nevitt said...

Wow; that's more than I expected. Thanks!

CaroleMcDonnell said...

I think Bleak House by charles dickens was present tense. Also,
Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie.

I once tried to write a novel in present tense. What a mess that turned out to be. Too claustrophobic, too trapped in the present, too stuck in a kind of persistent unknowing. And I wandered around plotless ...going deeper and deeper into the main character's mind and not quite pushing the plot ahead. Anyone who can do a present tense novel! Hoping the book is worth your time. -C

Tia Nevitt said...

I just checked my copy of Bleak House -- past tense. (By the way, Bleak House is one Dickens novel that I never got through.)

I've never tried writing in the present tense, except for brief flashback scenes.

The plot in this novel has no trouble moving forward, but I often don't understand the tangents that the novel goes on until I've read until the end of a scene.

CaroleMcDonnell said...

Ah gee! Sorry about that. I remembered something odd about the narrative. Should've looked at it, uh? ::smile::

Seems like reading "into this mind" is gonna be an act of trust that each chapter's end will justify the present tense means.

I'll see what you say about it. -C

Tia Nevitt said...

No need to apologize! I don't remember much about my attempt to read it; it was in the 80s!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I've come across a bunch in first person, but drat if I can remember any titles right now. They tend to be more literary and introspective books -- not my cuppa, as the saying goes.

Tia Nevitt said...

Do you mean present tense?

That's why I was looking at authors like Joyce and Voltaire. I know I've read classical pieces in present tense before, but whatever it was, it's been years. Probably 12th grade British Lit.

Livia Llewellyn said...

Amusingly enough, I just picked up my copy of "The Overnight" by Ramsey Campbell (I'm halfway through), and realized that this is one more book to add to my list. Yes, it's present tense!

Tia Nevitt said...

Not as unusual as I thought, then . . . or you read unusual books? Or I'm unusual for never reading them?

Livia Llewellyn said...

I tend to read very unusual fiction - horror, dark fantasy, slipstream and "fabulist" or "New Weird", and anything that touches on gender, race and sexual issues. Those types of books can often get away with writing in present tense, because they're already pushing the envelope with their subject matter, so readers are less likely to be put off by the unusual tense choice.

I confess that I write a lot of my fiction in present tense, but I'll sometimes switch to past tense in the final draft, if I think that it doesn't add anything to the story. Present tense is a great tool for finding a story, and it can be a powerful tool for drawing a reader into the immediacy of the story, but weaker writers often substitute it for plot and characterization. I think that's why so many people hate it. :)

Sorry I ran on for so long!

Tia Nevitt said...

My tastes are more mainstream . . . at least as far as genre fiction goes. My family makes me look like I'm the strange one! Not a one of them reads genre fiction, except my father who reads very limited hard science fiction.

Lisa said...

I must admit, I won't be so quick to write in present tense again. I've been working on the next in the series. It moves more quickly and I've found the present tense to be cumbersome. I feel 'trapped' in that I must write the series in the same tense. Can I have permission to change it? I believe I've come up with a suitable excuse to switch.
If anyone reading this blog entry would like a complimentary copy, let me know! I'd be happy to send you one along with some bookmarks.

My foster kitten is trying to get my attention. He is JUST darling. (Or she)

Contact info is on my website:

Tia, thanks for the fantastic comments. You're awesome. I like how you narrow in on your point and provide supporting examples!

pussreboots said...

"Hotel World" by Ali Smith has a chapter or two in the present tense. I vaguely remember there being passages in the present tense in "The Man Who Folded Himself" by David Gerrold. Those are the only two I can think of from my recent reads.

Tia Nevitt said...

Lisa, you can do whatever you want, because it's your book! Thanks for stopping by and for your graceful comments!

Puss, that's been my experience. Present tense with flashback scenes or scenes that need to seem "out of body" for some reason.

Anonymous said...

Parts of Elizabeth Bear's Jenny Casey trilogy - Hammered, Scardown, and Worldwired - are written in present tense.

But, at least in the first book (haven't finished the rest of the trilogy as yet), only one character's POV is written in present tense (and that character is in every chapter, if I remember correctly). The first time I tried to read it, I put it down; I simply didn't like present tense.

I read a short story earlier this year in present tense, and it was quite good. I decided to try Hammered again. And this time, I got through the entire book.

No one in either family, hubby's or mine, reads fantasy. So far, my hubby has read exactly 3 fantasy stories, stopped reading a 4th.

::sigh:: It can get very lonely sometimes.

~Nancy (too lazy to log in)