Book Review: Fire in the Dawn

fire in the dawn cover

Justin Fike contacted me in the summer of 2009. It had been a little while since he’d graduated from Brown University and he was trying to decide whether or not to commit to being a writer. He had a book in process, but the vision was huge. It might end up being a trilogy, he thought, and it seemed like a lot of work. Could he really make it as a writer?

I did five coaching sessions with Justin (he’s given me permission to share that publicly) and he did decide to push on. Some time later, he asked me if I’d write a letter of recommendation for the Master’s in Creative Writing program at Oxford University. I felt a little under-qualified, but I did it. Justin got in, graduated… time went on… he still hadn’t finished that book.

Justin and I have been in touch ever since. In 2016, we met again at a conference in Thailand, and decided to write a series of action-adventure/comedy books called the Stetson Jeff Adventures. Our main character is a cross between any Chuck Norris character (he really only plays one guy, right?) and Forrest Gump, three books have been published and several more are drafted as I write this.

But that story he was working on in 2009 still wasn’t done, until this weekend Justin finally published Fire in the Dawn, the first book in his Twin Skies Trilogy.

I give you all this background just to say that sometimes people with huge ideas and lots of talent can take a LONG time to get that book out. This in itself commands my respect.

I have learned a lot from Justin about story beats: the aspect of writing that involves keeping the reader engaged, tools and techniques to make you want to turn the page. Justin is whiz-bang at this, and I have a feeling that by the time we’re done with 9 Stetson Jeff books and he finishes the rest of his Trilogy, he’s going to be at a level we’d have to call masterful. So here is my review:

Fire in the Dawn is set in a fantasy world similar to Medieval Japan. Justin taps into a deep knowledge and understanding of cultures to construct a world that feels real, with a political landscape that has treachery on every side. There are social and racial themes throughout that keeps you guessing about how his main character will be able to accomplish his goals, and intriguing alliances. Like any good fantasy story, there’s a bit of magic thrown in that refers to the power of qi but some deeper magic too.

All told, if you’re a reader of lots of fantasy lit, you’re going to love what Fike has done with the genre. He’s gotten away from the trolls, orcs, dragons and wizards, and done something exceptional, fresh, and exciting.  And if you’re not into the fantasy genre, that’s okay– Fire in the Dawn has a literary quality that’s appealing to a broader-than-fantasy-readers audience in a way that’s similar to how I experienced George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Justin’s work isn’t as gory and doesn’t have the perverse sexual violence of Martin’s Game of Thrones, nor does it have the same immense complexity of a cast of characters of hundreds you have to track, so it’s definitely lighter reading in several ways. The comparison is being made strictly based on the fact that it’s literary. Fike’s world has plenty of depth and texture to explore, and a certain amount of intrigue. He keeps the action moving, so you never bog down with lengthy explanations of the world. The first few chapters you may find yourself wondering what is going on, and where you are, so it will be helpful to refer to the map!  I’m eager to read the second book in the trilogy.

Also, check out that sweet cover art. Top notch professional work!

Justin’s promoting Fire in the Dawn on Amazon for free at the moment, but the promotion ends today, so get it now!

Also, if you’d like to check out the work that Justin and I have done together, here’s the link to The Stetson Jeff Adventures, Volume 1, which includes “Beatdown in Bangkok”, “Mayhem in Marrakesh”, and “Pandemonium in Paradise” plus a bonus short story, “A Very Stetson Christmas”, available in paperback and as an e-book.

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New Release: Positive Cultural Impact

You’re leading a team: could be you and one child, or you and a sales team, or you and a massive corporation or nonprofit institution. In any case, you have a culture you want to build, values to instill. But how?

For the last few months I’ve been blogging less as I was working to refine a concept into a concise e-book which details my formula for making a positive cultural impact in the form of a cycle which I very creatively decided to call the Cultural Impact Cycle.

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Last Friday I published this e-book, reasonably priced at $2.99 USD. Here’s the link: How to Make a Positive Cultural Impact.

In a recent discussion with a random stranger, I told the stranger I am a life coach.

“What do you teach people?” he asked.

“Coaches don’t teach… but I’m also a writer,” I said, and proceeded to give him the elevator version of the cycle and the book.

“So, it’s the simple things,” he said.

Yes… it’s simple. The concepts here aren’t complicated. It’s implementation that may be difficult… perhaps even challenging enough you’ll want to work on them with a coach.

There’s more to come. Soon I’ll have a video course available for purchase that includes a workbook and an online forum. In the meantime, you can check out the book itself, it’s a short read at 8,300 words.

Enjoy!

–Adam G. Fleming

Stetson Jeff #3 is here!

Announcing the release of Pandemonium in Paradise, the Third in the Stetson Jeff series by Cha’am Cowboys Publishing (Justin Fike and Adam G. Fleming). Stetson Jeff goes to Amish country in pursuit of some banditos, and does his best not to buy the farm. Moon pies are his newest delight, and he has to learn how not to fight, to fight Amish-style. It’s available right here on Amazon! If you have not read Stetson Jeff #1 (Beatdown in Bangkok) it’s here. You’d probably also want to read Mayhem in Marrakesh (#2).

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Using your Non-Dominant Hand

Last night my writer’s group was talking about whether or not we, as novelists, were more comfortable writing by flying by the seat of our pants, unsure even where the plot is headed, or whether we preferred instead to structure our work with a tight outline, then fill in the gaps. The one we are comfortable with, Justin Fike said, is like our dominant hand. (A third way emerged, which is to write fiction by taking copious research notes.)

Justin Fike then urged us to set goals that would help us increase our ambidextrousness.

The image that came to mind was that of a baseball player learning to use a glove. My left is my dominant, so my right hand is my glove hand. I am one of those people who is extremely dominant on one side. My right hand is so bad that I have trouble typing the O and P keys on a keyboard (making matters worse, I damaged my right pinkie when I was 14 years old). But when I was only 4 or 5, I learned to put a baseball glove on the right hand and catch with it. I can’t throw for anything with that hand, but I can snap that glove shut on a ball. And for playing baseball, that’s the main thing I had to learn with the non-dominant hand.

Writers have to learn at least some competency with their non-dominant hand. Your dominant one is fun, easy and relaxing. For me, I can just get an idea and take off writing. Coming back to the structure part is work, takes concentration, and isn’t fun. At first, it’s awkward, just the way a kid feels when you first put that glove on their non-dominant hand and tell them to catch with it.

I suspect even if you’re not a writer, whatever job you have there are aspects that come more easily than others. Some people say to focus on your strengths, which probably has some value in certain seasons of life. But no baseball coach ever told a kid not to worry about catching and just focus on throwing. That would be stupid. You can’t really throw if you haven’t caught the ball.

Top three reasons coaches should read fiction

Self-reflection: Because literary fiction uses techniques that dislocates our minds and call our attention to strangeness in the world (called foregrounding) that may lead us to be unsettled and look at things differently (defamiliarization) which interacts with stillness which includes self-contemplation and appreciation of art (which I believe is a component of what I’ve called hedgerows) and causes self-reflection.

Empathy: Kidd and Castano: We propose that by prompting readers to take an active writerly role to form representations of characters’ subjective states, literary fiction recruits Theory of Mind. In other words, fiction may increase empathy – both accurately identifying peoples’ emotions cognitively, but also giving us the flexibility to place ourselves in their shoes (affective empathy). There is some indication that reading fiction helps us suspend judgement of others.

Goal Setting: This one surprised me. According to Oatley, narrative fiction constitutes simulation that runs our “planning processor” which is the part of our minds we use in daily life to plan actions in order to attain goals.

The academics have much more work to do, but the more studies they do, the more links they find between reading literary fiction and several of the major pieces we need to become really good motivational listeners.

A researcher named Oatley famously said that “fiction is twice as true as fact”. I believe that this idea is related to my concept of “absolute truth” that by extending our possible world views we broaden truth, rather than narrowing it.

All these papers have one major commonality: they all acknowledge that there isn’t definitive proof of cause. When it comes to encouraging the reading of literature for the sake of improving empathy, some major issues come up. Your personality type, how do you define “literature”, whether your empathic personality predisposes you to reading, or does reading really cause empathy? There are a lot of outstanding questions.

Here’s one more statement I found interesting:

Because fiction gives us a low-threat context, it gives us an optimal aesthetic distance for constructive content simulation.

I in 2011 and 2012 as I finished my first novel, our financial situation was treacherous. (What, you’ve never heard of a first-time novelist who’s broke?) There were days it seemed it would be easier to just ditch everything, get in my car and leave my family behind. It wasn’t that my wife and I were having problems, certainly not that we had fights or marital issues, in general, but perhaps the best way to put it was that I felt pretty strongly that I wasn’t helping our situation, and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t seem to shake that for a long time. The character in that novel named Arnold, who leaves his wife and young children and goes to Alaska, was, for me as a writer, constructive content simulation. I was able to enter the world of a man who leaves his wife (entertain a fantasy, one might say) from a safe aesthetic distance, which allowed me to engage my “planning processor” and think through the ramifications of such activity, experiencing it virtually, without doing something destructive. None of the research I’ve read says anything about writing fiction. But it seems to have done the same thing for me. The immersion for the writer is, in many ways, far deeper than it is for the reader. The writer has to read the work dozens of times over, correcting it for authenticity as much as possible, which means the planning processor mode works overtime.

Sometimes it feels as though that planning processor, like a microchip, is at risk of overheating. It occurs to me now that this sort of overheating may be one cause of writer’s block.

Note: I haven’t included links, but if you want to read some of the papers, just email me.