Book Review: “The Hunters” by James Salter

When Jets Were Young

It has been over sixty years since American pilots deployed to Korea to engage in aerial 174621combat at the dawn of the jet age. BBC aired a taped interview of author James Salter in memorial of his passing last month. During the interview, there was mention of the editorial review from “Washington Post Book World” about Mr. Salter’s prose, “The contemporary writer most admired and envied by other writers. . . . He can . . . break your heart with a sentence.” Having heard that and knowing that the author was himself a veteran pilot with a MIG kill to his credit, I had to read this book.

I discovered later there was a hollywood film of the same title loosely based on the story, so I watched it too. The movie was disappointing and I only mention it here in hopes that anyone who saw it might be more entertained by reading the novel.

To quote from another aviation novel, The Wild Blue, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” This is true of Salter’s prose offering up the touch, feel, and smell of being based in Korea. Salter brings the reader into the cockpit of a first generation jet fighter with extraordinary authenticity. He managed to recreate the tension and frustration that comes from the boredom every pilot experiences while waiting for the next combat mission – dangerous as they tend to be. The mood is nicely captured in the following 3rd person narration: “The worst part, he knew, was what lay ahead, the empty hours of melancholy that would not be filled until he flew again.” Then finally, “…it becomes, I don’t know, a refuge. The sky is the godlike place. If you fly it alone, it can be everything.”

From the mind and imagination of a deep thinker engaged in the solitary art of aerial combat, Salter’s reputation for putting strings of beauty together with words is indeed something to behold. As he narrates main character Cleve Connell’s view enroute to “Mig Alley” north along the Yalu River, he takes the reader along for the ride:

“Shreds of cirrus hung in the air, like icicles along the edge of a roof.” He goes on to describe the rush of the landscape, “Now he seemed to be crossing it with great speed, as if running with the current of time.”

Some passages that might tantalize perspective readers with the feel for the changing seasons on the Korean peninsula read as follows:

“The rain fell drearily from swollen skies. It seemed as everlasting as surf.”

This story is so packed with splendid writing. Here’s one more favorite:

“They crossed the Haeju Peninsula and then the edge of an unblemished sea that lay like a sheet of foil in the sunlight.”

No review of a piece of aviation writing would be complete without validating the credibility of the author. As a former military jet pilot, I really admired the author’s ability to put truth into the advice offered by the more experienced Connell, to one of the new replacement pilots who stated he was trying not to use the throttle so much. Cleve tells him to “use it all the way from the gear warning to the fire warning light if you have to. That’s what it’s there for. Only use it in time, not when it’s too late. Make the throttle your intention, not your reaction.” Though the technicality of the description (range of the throttle’s movement between gear warning and fire warning) may be different in modern fighters, the advice Cleve offered, reads well. It also evoked the kind of tension and anxiety a newbie might be experiencing before launching into the big adventure of combat for the first time.

I loved reading this book and will probably read it again, not for the story so much as for the beauty of the words the author used to describe every detail. Any reader who’s ever flown a plane should read it.

Posted in Novels, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fellow Author Support

One of my favorite activities as an independent author is corresponding with other like minded readers/writers.  Most of the independent authors I’ve established relations with have of late become expert in the art of social media networking.  Our mutual objective is to get our work in front of a reading audience.

After seeing how fellow author Jonathan Brookes is ramping into this brave new world of “indie authoring/marketing,” yes, “marketing”, I’ve become recharged.  Recharged to write the sequels I’ve committed to, and recharged with the energy necessary to promote good work.

Previously, I invested a little over a year experimenting with boutique publishers and shared royalties, along with all the baggage that goes with the agreements and contracts. Now I’m eager to return to what I’ve discovered works well – self publishing quality fiction. If it is good enough, it will be discovered.

Jonathan Brookes, best of luck with Relic II“!  Learn more about the captivating fiction of Mr. Brookes by following his blog here.

Posted in Blogging, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Recommendation/Author Profile: Bound for Distant Seas by James Baldwin

Thoughtful, Adventurous, and Articulate

I just finished reading Bound for Distant Seas, by fellow author and adventurer, James Baldwin (a full review can be found here). I’d read his first work, Across Islands and Oceans, and was captivated by the place descriptions and his genuine desire to experience the remote islands he’d hiked on foot (read the review here). Baldwin’s latest is even better, not only does he do a fantastic job of providing just enough detail of the challenges a solo sailor faces, he also writes of his serendipitous experiences, landing work when his money ran out and discovering the generosity of people with little to give yet still offering what they have.

ATOM on her second circumnavigation

ATOM on her second circumnavigation

Having read both of Mr. Baldwin’s works, I felt as if I were getting to know him. In the opening passage in this story the author is re-fitting ATOM, the vintage 28′ Pearson Triton he sailed solo on two circumnavigations several years earlier. While stripping through layers of paint the reader takes a journey back in time as the author recounts the experiences of his past voyages. The 55 year old sailor/author is the same age as his pocket yacht ATOM. Their relationship is one to be envied.

When I read Across Islands and Oceans, I learned that in his young adult years, James Baldwin worked in a steel foundry to earn enough money to finance his dream of sailing the world. Reading Bound for Distant Seas, gave me further insight into the mind of a person who could be described as a thoroughly self-educated adult. He’s proof positive that when one is equipped with tenacious desire and genuine curiosity, the world can indeed become their oyster. Years ago if you’d asked me who I’d enjoy spending a good meal and conversation with, I’d have probably rattled off a few names of prominent personalities ranging from the likes of JFK, Madeline Albright, Colin Powell, or Martin Luther King. Now I think spending an evening over a meal, or better yet, a cruise aboard the refit ATOM with James Baldwin, would be my answer to that question.

The author, James Baldwin, at the helm of refit ATOM

The author, James Baldwin, at the helm of refit ATOM

In my opinion, James Baldwin is an honest writer and true to his experiences. In a later passage he humbles himself to readers by confessing to what might have been a tragic end of his adventures while sailing in the shadow of high cliffs off of Taiwan. He found himself becalmed in a strong current driving ATOM toward a rocky and surf battered coast. With his companion, Mei asleep below deck, James and ATOM drifted into a zephyr that spirited them from the clutches of immanent disaster. Reading that passage, my heart rate increased as I allowed myself to experience the emotions that must have been running wild with James before a magical wind kissed ATOM’s sails rescuing him, Mei, and ATOM in the nick of time.

With Bound for Distant Seas, I found myself taking brief interludes from reading to leaf through my atlas. I even went so far as using “Google Earth” to view some of the places Mr. Baldwin described on his journey. When I found myself at the end of the Philippines, knowing there was a sailing trip home, I knew there would be another book in the offing by Mr. Baldwin. Since I couldn’t wait, I researched his story and discovered a multitude of articles he’d written for “Cruising World” magazine, as well as the Atom Voyages website.

Of the many things about James that I discovered while reading his works is that his genuine nature and his faith in his own hands-on “can do anything” approach to solving problems resulted in his ability to rely on the pure sailing arts. Of utmost importance is celestial navigation using a sextant, star charts, a nautical almanac, an accurate timepiece, and some mathematics, while most other cruising sailors rely on GPS technology to chart their course. Additionally, for practical reasons, James elected to remove ATOM’s troublesome engine to experience sailing as Slocum did with “Spray”.

Today, James runs a custom business re-fitting seagoing cruising sailboats. His website is definitely worth a look and the recent refit of ATOM will no doubt cause any sailor worth their salt to gasp with a big “Wow, that guy knows what he’s doing!” Furthermore, as one who’s sailed and flown his miles in and over the oceans, I would be willing to stand in line with my own pocket yacht for a custom James Baldwin refit and custom prep for my own dream cruise to Vava’u Tonga or another uncharted destination further east in the Philippines. James, you’re experiences still linger in my mind as perhaps they do in the minds of other like-minded cruisers and dreamers.

To discover more about author, James Baldwin, his wife Mei, and their custom yacht refitting business, visit the ATOM Voyages website at:  http://atomvoyages.com

Posted in Author Interviews, Blogging, Reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The origins of a good story: Tyler McMahon – author of Kilometer 99

Tyler McMahon - Author of "Kilometer 99"  pictured on the sand at Ocean Beach, CA

Tyler McMahon – Author of “Kilometer 99″
pictured on the sand at Ocean Beach, CA

I’m pleased to introduce some insights from fellow author Tyler McMahon, on what went into his latest novel, Kilometer 99.  Mr. McMahon teaches fiction writing at Hawaii Pacific University and is the editor of Hawaii Pacific Review.

Having recently read Kilometer 99, I was thoroughly impressed by Tyler’s ability to balance plot with character development (see my review here on this blog). I was curious why he elected to write the story from the point of view of a female protagonist. Tyler was very gracious and offered the following:

“As for writing from a female point-of-view in Kilometer 99, it wasn’t necessarily part of my design. I’d wanted to write about post-earthquake La Libertad for many years. I drafted stories and essays set there, but none of them quite worked. Malia sort of came to me one day, and immediately snapped the story into focus. As a Hawaiian woman, she had insights into tourism, development, and surfing that other narrators couldn’t. She also challenged Salvadoran assumptions about people from the United States. Right away, she snapped the story into focus.”

K99_smallcoverAs a fiction author, one of the aspects I study while reading a good novel is the balance between plot and character development. Readers will be pleased to discover that Kilometer 99 is rich with fast paced gripping plot elements, but what made this story work for me was the character development.  Mr. McMahon offered the following on this subject:

“For me, the great pleasure of writing novels is to step outside myself and dwell in another consciousness for a while. While I don’t think that I have any particular insight into the female psyche, I do enjoy working with a narrator who is fundamentally different from me. Right away, the challenge becomes a matter of making the character convincing–to make her (or him) into a real, believable person.”

I want to publicly thank Tyler McMahon for sharing his experiences and insights as a writer.  More importantly, I believe prospective readers should know that Kilometer 99 is likely to go down as the best novel with a surf theme that I’ve ever read.  Anyone with doubts should pick up a copy and read it for themselves.

Posted in Author Interviews, Blogging, Novels, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Kilometer 99 by Tyler McMahon

Get ready for a Five Star – Earth Shattering Adventure

I love novels with themes involving surfing. McMahon’s Kilometer 99 is a story that K99_smallcovershould be on the shelf of every surfer and anyone with a sense of adventure that appreciates quality writing. I’ll admit that the book’s plot description in the flyleaf is what got my attention. In fact, it was enough by itself to encourage me to buy a copy and drop what I was previously reading so I could plow right through it when I should have done a better job of savoring every passage. I felt transported by McMahon’s style and precise balances between plot and character development.

The title Kilometer 99, is a reference to a semi secret surf spot in El Salvador. According to the author’s note, the spot doesn’t actually exist, but is representative of the type of warm water point break with long hollow waves and make-able sections that every surfer dreams about.

The tumultuous world events at turn of the 21st century weave into the setting in La Libertad, El Salvador, where main character Malia,a recently minted engineering graduate from Hawaii, is a Peace Corps volunteer. The opening passage is a rail grabber written from Malia’s point of view, that takes the reader on an authentic ride-along in the green room of a fast right, witnessed by a fellow surfer paddling back out to the line up.

It is through surfing that Malia meets Ben, an agriculture specialist with realistic expectations about his role in supporting local development. Turns of fate play significant parts in how McMahon masterfully creates drama throughout the story. An earthquake sets off a chain of events that cause Malia and Ben to seek a different type of adventure. They meet up with Pelochuco, the North American opportunist who influences many of the decisions Ben and Malia are faced with.

I was not only impressed with McMahon’s ability to captivate my attention with his fast paced plot elements, but also his writing craft. The following quote is just one of many wonderful examples of this author’s artistic talents: “The long day’s last light clings like rust to the edges of a worn-out sky.” The colors and tranquility of the scene presented in that passage transported me and still linger as I reflect on this beautifully presented story.

The realism accompanying each string of events that Malia and Ben encounter as they take up with Pelochuco, are almost tragic but somehow laughable at the same time. In the wake of one of Pelochuco’s misbegotten adventures where each of the three were physically injured, Malia recounts their condition with her split lip, Ben’s torn ear and the mutilated eyebrow Pelochuco received surfing at K-99. “Our three wounds have us looking like the ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ monkeys.”

There is no doubt about McMahon’s credibility as a surfer and most definitely a writer. I’ve read all of Kem Nunn’s work and was thoroughly captivated by Tim Winton’s novel Breath, but Kilometer 99 tops my list of novels with a surf theme and ranks among the best of period pieces that appeal to my sense of adventure. This novel has so many wonderfully crafted passages that my best recommendation is to just read it.

Posted in Blogging, Novels, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: “The Former Hero” by indie author Jeffrey Allen Mays

Authentic and Gritty – Five Star Literature

Jeffrey Mays showed me what is in the art of the possible with his debut novel, The Former Hero.
I hadn’t read anything as good in the genre of experimental literature since the early ’70s when Ishmael Reed wow’ed me with The Last Days of Louisiana Red. My appetite for classy writing is once again fulfilled.

Mays’s work will transport readers with a strong sense of place and well-developed characters that bring authentic dialog to life.TFH

When Moira Flax rouses from a substance-enhanced stupor, only to find her daughter missing, she immediately assumes the worst.   Only luck would land her on the back of Angus’s Harley, but it would take more than luck to save her and her daughter Penny from the corrupt and filthy world led by Mayor Robert Knox.

Former “good cop,” Lt. McCarthy is hard wired to “do the right thing” and risks all, to rescue the city and its citizens from the depths of crime and violence controlled by Knox and his cohorts. The story takes place as the cold of a winter season casts a dark shadow over the decrepit city that could be anywhere USA. Mays created the perfect feel for readers who enjoy a “noir-esque” mystery.

The city has a history and Mays offers just enough awareness of the loose links that spring the city’s tragic past, generations forward to the state of affairs at the story’s clever conclusion.

The Former Hero is a novel that will provide readers with a lasting impression. I haven’t stopped thinking about the plot or the characters since immersing myself in the first chapters. Each of the character’s backstories is perfectly synchronized to keep any reader’s interest. I hope Jeffrey Mays can crank out another masterpiece like this one soon.

Posted in Blogging, Novels, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strings and Heartstrings

Broken Circle Breakdown- “An emotionally charged story”

Possibly the best film of the decade, Broken Circle Breakdown will evoke emotions you may never have experienced. In the words of young director/producer, Felix van Groenigen, “this film is an emotional roller coaster.” It is also one that brings the music that I love to the forefront where it belongs. The discerning viewer will more than likely “get” the concept of the circle of life. The term “Breakdown” comes from the bluegrass tradition where the instrumentalists take their turns with a “lead instrumental break” between verses. This is something that can’t be pigeon holed into a quartet or quintet. The genre typically consists of a Bass, Guitar, Fiddle, Mandolin, and Banjo plus 2 to even 4 part harmony vocals.

BCBDIn Groenigen’s film it becomes clear to the casual viewer that there are two prominent themes, and maybe more, but the themes that will transport you as you watch are the love story, and the music. Bluegrass music for those who aren’t among the initiated, tell stories that are deep in the history of culture. When a film can convey the gravity of how these stories are passed forward, you get a big fireworks show…or in my case tears…tears that flow from listening to the music and the lyrics that tell the tragic tale.

As a reader and writer, I’m a big fan of stories of triumph and tragedy. I searched my soul for the triumph from the story in this film but could only find solace in the sound and heart of the music.

When you’re ready to cry…a lot, then set aside some time to watch this movie. I guarantee you’ll be touched.

Posted in Blogging, Music and Musicians | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment