I’m excited to host J.P. Lantern today for his tour of In This Red Country. It sounds like a great read and one I can’t wait to get to! First, let’s check out the book, then we have a guest post about what makes a good book from the author!
In the frontier town of Trunkdown, Clay does his best to maintain the
grip on sanity that his mother and father both lost. Clay’s young wife,
Maggie, is pregnant, and on the frontier of Mars, that’s a death sentence. Even for a surgeon like
Clay, medication for a birth is inaccessible. Without medication, every pregnancy on Mars ends with
an abomination ripping out of the mother’s body.
Abandoning Clay’s surgeon practice, the two set out to the nearest city, hoping to find a solution.
There are no cars, no planes. They must walk through the land, but the land is littered with danger.
Rain storms attack the ground like artillery fire. Mutated beasts populate the nights. Natives—adult
versions of the inhumans that burst from unmedicated wombs—attack travelers at will.
The two decide the only way they can make the trip is with a guide named Abram. The bad news is
that Maggie and Abram used to be lovers. The worsenews is that Abram is a native himself.
When each traveler is unable to let the past stay past, old resentments
begin to boil among them, irrevocably pushing all three toward a shocking, violent conclusion
There are, as you may expect, a lot of things that go into making a good book. To be very specific, I think the average minimum for a novel is about 50,000 good things placed in a correct order. That’s all.
The book that I will be releasing on August 23rd, In This Red Country, is a novella, so it has more like 35,000 good things in the correct order (I hope).
So, that in mind, obviously every part of a book is important, but beginnings, as you might expect, are especially important. I don’t mean this just in the usual way—that you have to hook the audience’s interest. Of course you do. A good book needs fairly immediate stakes and immediate conflict in order to be successful, by and large.
But beginnings are also important because I feel like everything that a story deals with—any written story—needs to be present in the first five percent or so of that story. Every theme, every idea, every conflict has to be seeded in some form or another, direct or indirect, in that first five percent. If they aren’t, then I think you’re just doomed as an author for that particular piece of work.
One of my favorite books is Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. It’s a short book—maybe 150 or 160 pages, depending on the copy that you got. By today’s standards, it would probably be counted as a novella. The narrative starts with the main character, Robert Neville, trying to protect himself and the house he has holed up in. Every night he is attacked by a force he doesn’t understand (essentially, vampires), so every day he has to spend time to further protect himself and further try to understand this force. By the end of the book, we discover his view of the world is somewhat skewed given the new world order, and he is actually the force that is doing most of the attacking in the new society. He’s become what he always was to begin with, now he just knows it.
I feel like good books are always doing this—becoming what they were to begin with, and just trying to let the audience see it. A very good book can either let the audience know this is what’s happening, or it can obfuscate it somehow. But the fact remains—this must hapepn.
This is an example of something a bit broader that is also very important—a totality of vision. A good book is like a perpetual motion machine. It can begin again right where it ended. A good book ends and gives you the feeling that once you read it again, you would see the same mechanisms of theme and rhythm and inner conflict working in the beginning as you did in the end. The only difference is that now you’ll just know what those things were all there for.
A good book has no loose ends of purpose. Loose ends of plot, sure. Loose ends of characters, absolutely. But no loose ends of purpose—everything that was brought up had a specific reason for it, well thought-out and well crafted. Without this kind of totality of purpose, readers end up feeling lost, and only really chug through a book on good will toward an author (which only lasts for so long).
So all of this is enormously difficult to do, and it’s the most wonderful thing in the world, when you stop to think about it, that more often than not there is such a great volume of work that manages to do it. Its quite heartening to know that at any given time, you could very easily pick up a book with such a totality of vision, and know that when you’re reading it, you’re making that perpetual motion machine chug right along.
J.P. Lantern lives in the Midwestern US with his terrific wife and wonderful dog, though his
heart and probably some essential parts of his liver and pancreas and whatnot live metaphorically
in Texas. He writes science-fiction, which he has deemed “rugged,” though would also be fine
with “roughhewn” because that is a terrific and wonderfully apt word. The first novella in his
Red Country trilogy, *In This Red Country*, is due out on Amazon on August 23rd, 2013. He is
also publishing a collection of five short stories tangential to the novella, Around The Martian
Fringe also available on Amazon.