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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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).

stesonjeff3

 

Stetson Jeff Kicks around in Amish Country

The adventures of Stetson Jeff Stetson, co-written by Justin Fike and myself, are finally becoming available in paperback. After cruising to the top of Amazon’s list this summer in the Satire category, with 1000 downloads plus in under a week, jumping ahead of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for a while, the first Stetson Jeff Adventure, Beatdown in Bangkok, has garnered rave reviews. While the second book, Mayhem in Marrakesh, only has one review posted as I write this, we feel that Stetson Jeff’s saga really comes of age in Pandemonium in Paradise. Set in Pennsylvania Amish country, this last book escalates Stetson’s growing awareness of a crime syndicate called A.S.P. with hilarious results.

As the end of the year approaches, our writing team decided to run a Kickstarter campaign to do pre-sales for the roll-out of the paperback, which includes all three of the books above in one volume. You’re going to love it! Check out the Kickstarter here.

If you’re still not sure you want to support the Kickstarter project, and want a free sample first to see if this is your kinda thing, you can get Beatdown in Bangkok for free by signing up for our email list here.

 

Start Writing, don’t stop rolling.

You want to be a writer but… what are the five things a writer does?

Then,

Intimidated by the great ones,

Scared of vulnerability.

You must start to write!

The great ones started writing one day, and refused to stop.

They found their way to vulnerability perhaps by writing about stuff that mattered.

Seth Godin always talks about working on things that matter.

You know why I hardly ever write stuff specific to my industry? You would think that matters, but I rarely write about it.

(If I did, the titles would look something like “Five Ways a Life Coach Can Help Blah, Blah.”)

Actually, I do write about stuff that pertains to the industry:

I write about stuff that happens while I live my life, to the full extent of my ability to embrace the epic nature of each day I see before me, sitting on a counter top like a knife, ready for me to dissect and slice, not for the science of it, but to cook, to eat a satisfying meal. To be filled with the goodness of life.

A coach embodies and models living the life you’re made to live, so instead of writing “Five Reasons a Coach Writes Poetry Blah, Blah,” I just do it.

Want to be a writer? Write, and keep writing.

Want to be alive? Start living, stop explaining the five things alive people do. The five things they do don’t matter if you don’t do them.

That’s why my coaching blog is full of poems: I’m full of living. It’s awesome.

Join me. Start living.

 

Pickets

Marcella uses the hand shears rather than a power weed-eater

so the white pickets won’t stain green.

At dawn she is up watering the roses, red and white ones

in front of pink shutters.

Now, the sun rises in the late July sky

to wick the water from the soil,

drawing it up with an invisible straw.

You can only be so meticulous, then, once in a while you have to act and pull a weed, even if it uproots something nearby.

Her muscles tense, she bends, digs, tugs. She is strong today. The roots come clean.

She looks at the sun. “Scorcher,” she mutters, and drags out the hose for another round.

 

Then

 

Marcella gets on the bus and goes downtown

and stands and links arms with her neighbors:

African-Americans or girls dressed in rainbows.

She passes out bottles of water, reminds them to hydrate,

there is a chance of bloodshed so she is ready with a medical kit

in a fanny-pack, to keep the blood from staining

the streets. And even

when the sun goes down she stands erect, waves her carefully-lettered picket sign,

feels the burn on her shoulders, revels in the blisters on her heels

waits to go limp in the arms of an officer and (hopefully) a gentleman,

who will take her down to the station and book her. Meanwhile,

Marcella worries only about

the roses at home, red and white and

the people on the street, black, and blue, and LGBTQ.

She is strong today, but– did they get to the root?

Have they gotten enough water? Are they thirsty still for justice?

 

When your last one wasn’t good

“That last one I did wasn’t very good” is an easy thing to think. We can dwell on it, especially when critics rub our faces in it.

The antidote is to start working on the next one.

It’s not to go back and try to redo.

It’s not to listen to the critics.

The only way to really get away from the past dragging us down is forward motion.

If your last poem or blog or piece of furniture or customer service call or seminar or class wasn’t the best, do another one.

Horse riders have known for a long time that if you’ve fallen off, the best thing you can do is to get back on right away. It’s conventional wisdom, right?

What if doing it again isn’t possible (you’ve fallen off a horse and broken three bones, or you messed up again and got fired)? Are you doomed to sit and wish you could have another shot for the rest of your life? No! Now’s the time to try something different and new!

By the way, if you try something different and new, you can expect your first one to not be good… but then you can cycle back to the top of this blog and repeat the process.

PS- I love to share the photo(shopped image) above because my son is learning to use Photoshop, and I’m encouraging him to keep trying and playing with it! He’s particular and detail oriented. I’m sure someday he’s going to be a heck of an editor.

How to Tell Compelling Stories

Telling a compelling story isn’t easy, but it’s how everything gets sold. Do you need to get more donations for your nonprofit? Do you want to up-sell customers some accessory for your basic product? Do you want to entertain with a book or movie script? Children’s books that don’t do beats well but rely on children liking the pictures or something else drive parents crazy. There’s books I just don’t want to read my kids.

In my first novel I may have done things with beats instinctively, but I was fumbling around as a storyteller, learning how to write a novel by just writing a novel. I think this is a great way to write your first novel: don’t worry about what you don’t know, just write. I see writers all around me spending  way too much time studying beats and structure and so on, and not learning how to tell a story by telling a story. That was great, but not enough. My first book is pretty good, and if you like literary fiction you’ll enjoy it. There are some real positive reviews. But it’s not the best I can do.

As I began to think about a proposal I submitted to our county’s Community Foundation to teach storytelling to nonprofits for their fundraising, and at the same time began working with Justin Fike to co-write a comedy adventure series of short novels (check out Beatdown in Bangkok: A Stetson Jeff Adventure on Amazon this July 4th) it became clear that I’d need to understand story beats a lot better, moving from unconsciously incompetent to unconsciously competent.

Working with Justin, who has a Master’s from Oxford U in Creative Writing, and knows beats like a grizzly bear knows how to catch salmon, has really pushed me to the place where I realized, man, you have to learn this stuff. So I began reading up on it too. And it confused me for a while.

Here’s where I see an opportunity to clarify something for everyone, because I was really struggling with it as I read a bunch of blogs on this topic: No matter what titles you give to the beats there are some basic things that have to happen. At first I thought they just referred to the overall story arc in a macro sense, but my real eureka came when I saw that the beats could be repeated in miniature within a chapter, or paragraph, or even a sentence!

You have to show how things were. This is the Prologue, How it Was.

Then, something has to change. This is your Inciting Incident. If you’re running a nonprofit, this might be the day when you realized “This is wrong, something must be done.”

Someone has to make a choice. This is the Doorway of No Return. “I will do it.” It’s much more difficult to write a compelling story in which the main character says “I will not do it,” but there are some pretty darn good ones in Hebrew scriptures, such as the story of Jonah. Think of any major disaster or alien movie. When everyone else is running away, the Main Character runs toward. They are getting involved.

“Mastering this won’t be easy,” I said to myself. “It’s complicated when you begin to see that there are beats for the whole book, beats for a chapter, beats within a paragraph!” I still don’t know if I’ve got it all down. But that’s  the point in my story where victory isn’t assured. Someday I hope one of my books will really take off, but I’m going to have to put in some effort to learning this stuff. So I attacked it, and felt that the realization that you could do this on a macro or micro level meant I was entering upon another piece of a lifelong learning process. Bring it on. I’m up for the challenge.

Eventually there’s a Crisis, Showdown or Climax,

Then a Resolution of Dawn of a New day.

So this is the path I’m on, and I’m always practicing. In fact, I want to invite you to read this blog through again and see where the beats are. I told this as a personal story rather than just a how to, and I did that on purpose so I could practice putting the beats right in here. Can you see in my own story where I showed you:

How things Were

An Inciting Incident/ Doorway of No Return

Build-up

Crisis, Showdown or Climax

Resolution/ New Dawn.

I may not be great at it yet, but I’m definitely conscious of my incompetence and working on it.