BOOK REVIEW: FLYING THE LIFELINE

The actual title of the book is Flying the Lifeline:  Volume 1, Marine Helicopter Pilot.  It is written by Patrick R. Shaub and is the first part of a three part set.  This first book covers the main character’s life from childhood until the end of his career in the Marines.  It has 324 pages, including a helpful glossary of Marine and flying terminology.  The style of the novel is first person, written from the perspective of a man named Paul Stone, who is, I believe, closely associated with the persona of the author.  51FNiIKocvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

What I Liked:

I really liked the first chapter.  Without spoiling anything, it sets the reader in the life and death situation of the Vietnam War in general and helicopters in specific right away.  The rest of the book flows from the emotional center of that event even until the very last word.

I also liked that the book was written with the precision of military language and nomenclature, but at the same time it was careful to explain what was being described.  The author does a great job of helping non-military people like myself appreciate the book without having to learn a whole other language.

I enjoyed the details of the book.  Shaub is clearly an aviation expert, and this comes through.  There are times he reminds me of Tom Clancy–the way he can spend four or five pages describing the rotors on a helicopter, how it looks, why it is designed that way, what the upward thrust is, how it sounds and so forth.  Shaub is writing a different kind of book than a Clancy thriller, but the love affair with the technology and machinery is similar.

What Was Challenging:

Some readers might find the immersion into the Marine lifestyle a little daunting.  Although the author does not use strong profanity or imagery, there is still plenty of testosterone-filled boozing and bravado in the book that might not be comfortable for everyone.

A second challenge, that is actually a positive, is the MC’s flaw.  Every character needs a flaw in order to be sincere and genuine, and through the first half of this book I couldn’t spot the flaw. Then I realized, that since it is written in first person, the MC probably doesn’t know his own flaw, but by the last third of the book it was evident that the flaw was arrogance.

What was of Special Interest:

In my reading of the book, individual Marines seem like great people, but the Marine Corps as a whole looks like it is run by self-absorbed jerks.   Having never been in the military, I don’t know if that is accurate or not, but when I finished reading it I was mad at the Marines and wanted to go Google some of these people mentioned in the book and write them some nasty letters, then I remembered this was fiction.  Or is it?

Who Would Like It:

People interested in military, military history, The Vietnam War, flying, helicopters, The Marines, or biographical novels in general.  It is biographical fiction, so people who like that will really enjoy this book.  I also think that young people who are thinking about the military as a career would benefit from it, because it shows in very stark terms both the positives and the negatives of the military life.  I am anxiously waiting for Volume 2.

image from Amazon.com

CASTING SUGGESTIONS FOR THE SHACK

Who should play Papa?  That was the first question that hit me.Shackover

I saw yesterday that Willie Young’s publishers agreed to film rights through Lionsgate for the controversial bestseller The Shack.  For the record, I liked the book.  True, it has some flaws in terms of plot, conflict, and character development, but hey, don’t we all to some degree?  I mean, the last perfect novel I read was To Kill A Mockingbird.  The theology of The Shack didn’t bother me either.  Some people went crazy over the book’s portrayal of the all-to-human theophanies.  It’s fiction people, theologically informed fiction, but still fiction.  For dogma and doctrine, go to church for-crying-out-loud.

But I am not here to talk about the book.  I’m here to help cast it.  Early reports said Forest Whitaker was directing and staring in it (I presume as Mack) but now it looks like Stuart Hazeldine is the director.

There are really only four characters in the novel.  I apologize if my casting of these seems or feels racially motivated, because I don’t operate like that and it is not my intention.  However, Young is so specific in the novel about the ethnicity of the Godhead, that, well, it kind of has to be that way.

Mack–Need a thirty or forty something year old white man.  Maybe we could go with Ed Norton here.  If he could bring the edginess of his Fight Club character, that would give Mack the angry bite he needs.  If not Ed Norton, then Jeremy Renner.  It needs to be someone who broods.  If it is a no-go for Renner or Norton, then may I humbly suggest we go for insane instead of brooding, which leads us to Bradley Cooper.

Papa--Need a black motherly figure.  The obvious choice is Oprah Winfrey, but hey, that is too obvious.  It is apparent to me, and just about everyone, that Willie Young ripped his Papa character straight from The Oracle in the original The Matrix film, but she is dead.  Della Reese would work.  It would be almost the same role she had opposite Roma Downey in Touched By An Angel.  Her age might be a problem, though.  So how about Queen Latifah.  Yep.  I think we have a winner.

Jesus–Middle Eastern carpenter.  There can only be one answer.  Tony Shalhoub.

Sarayu–Asian female.  Again, pardon the type casting, but I think I got it.  We must cast Rosalind Chao in this role.  Think about it, she could almost do it the same way she played Robin William’s heavenly daughter in What Dreams May Come.  I know, brilliant, right!  Besides, Miles O’Brien would be so proud of her.  If she doesn’t want to do it, then, let’s keep the sci-fi jazz with this and go with Grace Park.

Okay, so those are my casting suggestions.  I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

CHALLENGES FOR WRITING FICTION

Man Typing on Laptop
The next scene is him throwing the laptop across the room.

I’ve spent lots of time this week trying to finish my new short story on the Deep Cove monster.  It will be the fourth installment behind Deep Cove, Deep Cove:  The Party Crasher, and The Deep Cove Lineage.  These sci-fi stories are written like a serial–a continuing story line.  It is almost finished and ready for others to proof.

As I’ve been working on this, and through the rollout of my new novel The Little Girl Waits, I’ve been pondering some of the greatest challenges for writing fiction.

1.  Deciding how much to leave out.  Fiction, because it exists entirely in the mind of the creator, can go as far as you want it to.  When I write about the woman being attacked by the monster, for instance, my mind sees the whole thing at once.  The problem is, the whole thing at once might bore the reader to tears.  I mean, seriously, does the reader really care what kind of shoes the old woman has on?  But at the same time I recognize these kinds of detail can give the story a rich, narrative depth.  It is always a struggle to know where to stop.

2.  Continuity in the story.  This is hard enough in a single novel, but it becomes increasingly difficult for me when the stories pile up, such as the Deep Cove series.  Many of the characters in The Little Girl Waits are from my first book or other short stories, and I had to really be careful that I didn’t change anything significant about their characters.  I almost did.  At one point I almost changed the gender and name of one of Butch Gregory’s kids.  Yikes.

3.  Continuity in the character.  I would like input from other writers on this one, because I find that maintaining a character’s voice is not the easiest thing in the world to do.  I’ve got a character, Colonel Crews, who in the Deep Cove Lineage has a certain demeanor and I am finding it hard to keep him ‘in character’ in the new story.  I don’t know why that is, because I wrote him the first time.  Why is it so hard to keep him in personality stasis?

4.  Fight scenes.  I love reading a good fight scene, and I think I understand the logistics of writing them and how they should work.  The problem I have is lack of experience in actual fighting.  The last fight I remember being in was in fourth grade.  A kid flicked my ear from the seat behind me on the bus and I lunged over the top of the seat, put him in a headlock, and pounded his nose with my left hand.  He never picked on me again.  However, not all fights can go like that.  I have to really work at writing these–even to the point of acting it out in the study to feel how the motion goes.  Oh I hope no one ever sees me fighting with myself through the window.  They will think I’m Edward Norton from Fight Club.

5.  Keeping the tension high.  Tension is the key to interest.  No one is interested if everyone is happy and the world is picture perfect.  Things have to go wrong and the threat of danger must be near.  I can do that fairly easily, but what I have a hard time is keeping it high.  As a human being, I want things to balance out cleanly before the next tension arises, but this linear mojo is not in keeping with life or good art.  It is far better when the tension swirls all over the place and never truly comes to resolution.  I find doing that to be a real challenge indeed.

There are many other challenges in writing fiction, but these are some that I’ve been mindful of on my most recent projects.  If you are a writer/artists, feel free to share what your major challenges are right now, or if you’re willing, share how you overcome some of these that I’ve mentioned.

 

 

image from Shutterstock

TOP THREE BOOKS: HONORABLE MENTIONS

It is time to wrap this up.  I’ve posted twelve different blogs covering a variety of genres with my top three books in each genre.  But before we leave it completely, I’d like to throw in one more category that I call “Honorable Mention.”  These are three books that didn’t make it into any of the top three, but which I can’t leave without saying something.

1776, David McCullough

1776, David McCullough imageSomeone mentioned McCullough’s biography of Truman earlier, and I promised them that he was on the list somewhere.  Well, this is it, but not for Truman.  I liked Truman, but I think 1776 is a superior work of history and analysis.  No one writes as clearly and to the point as McCullough.  He deals so much with primary sources in the work that we forget he is writing about events two-hundred and thirty years ago or more, which reminds us that he is not only a great communicator (His voice is awesome too–he narrates for PBS and narrated the great Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War) but a great historian.

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

This novel is the most subtly breathtaking novel I think I’ve ever read.  About a third of the way in you begin to think you love these characters, by half way in you think these people are your family, and then as you finish you identify that they are really you.

Someone in a comment thread mentioned this book in the contemporary fiction category.  It could have fit there, but it could have also fit in the theology category too.  Robinson is a committed Calvinist, and I love the book in spite of that.

The Book of Common Prayer

There might be no more important book in the English language than the Book of Common Prayer.  I could have included it in my opening list of influential books or in theology.  I think more Protestants, in public worship and in private devotions, would do very well to employ the BCP regularly.  The prayers are beautiful, the liturgy is moving, and the lectionary is pivotal to well-rounded Bible reading.  I simply can’t imagine my life without the BCP in it.  One of my particular favorites is this confession of sin:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

I will likely post a final document to this that is just a list with links later today or over the weekend, just to tidy things up.  I’ve enjoyed this little adventure, and I hope you have too, but that ‘s a wrap.

I’d love to hear what other books you think are important or lovable but somehow haven’t made our list, or anytime you want drop a reading recommendation.  I love those.