Tom Horn vs. The Warlords of Krupp

front cover

I first started reading Tom Horn vs. The Warlords of Krupp some time in May, but between a trip to Spain, my own work on Prism World, and the bet I made with my step-dad to read The Help, I have only recently gotten around to finishing it.

The book is a small, 132-page steampunk/alternate history story written by my professor, mentor, and fellow writer Glen Robinson, so obviously I had to read it. It started out as something of an experimental project, as he had only recently begun to move from traditional publishing to try his hand at self-publishing. I must admit, it isn’t his best work. But as we do in our creative writing group, the Rough Writers, I would first like to discuss what it is I do like about the book.

The story centers around Tom Horn, a famous gunslinger in the dying years of the Wild West era. Through a series of events,Tom is recruited to act as a bodyguard for Eleanor Roosevelt, a key diplomatic and peace-keeping figure in a world on the verge of a global war thanks to a weapon-dealing family known as Krupp. Throughout the story, the main cast – including Tom, Eleanor, and Tom’s nephew Kid – run into a large array of historic figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, the Wright brothers, and even a young Adolf Hitler, all the while dodging bullets and steam-powered inventions sent after them by the illusive group referred to as the warlords of Krupp.

First off, and possibly the most compelling part of this book to me, is the action. The action scenes are well worth the read. They are clear, easy to imagine, and kept me on the edge of my seat. (Literally, I was sitting on the edge of my seat while reading it.) In my opinion, the action scenes were where the characters really came to life, as well as where their characterization seemed the most believable.

Along with the action scenes, Tom Horn vs. The Warlords of Krupp has generally well-done description. At most points, I found it very easy to imagine the scenes portrayed in the book and, being a naturally visual person, good description is always a plus.

Reading through the book, I found the addition of historic individuals from various eras to be a fascinating aspect. It’s always interesting to see modern portrayals of historic figures, and it is doubly interesting when those historic figures are taken out of their natural world and thrown into a steampunk story. Perhaps my favorite of these historical characters were the Wright brothers. In Tom Horn, these two ingenious characters get a life of their own and go from mere inventors to action-quality heroes, and perhaps of all the characters in the story, these two fit in with the steampunk atmosphere the best.

Of course, there were also some serious downsides to the story too, not the least of which being the long and rather odd title. One of the problems I initially noticed in the story was the huge assortment of editing errors that I found in it: changes in tense, misspellings, words missing, and various other typos. Of course, I also bought one of the first edition stories, back when Dr. Robinson was trying out writing under the pseudonym Jackson Paul, and I have since been informed that a large portion of those errors have been fixed, so the typos are something of a mute point.

Plot-wise, there isn’t a lot of new material here. It really is just a basic “war maniac wants to throw the world into chaos and get rich” sort of story. The characters, and one plot twist I actually, honestly didn’t expect, were what really made the story interesting, so it wasn’t all that bad, but if you’re looking for a particularly fresh idea, you won’t find it in this book.

I think the thing that bothered me the most in this book, though, was the extraordinary amount of inconsistencies. One minute, Tom is wielding dual revolvers, then they become pistols, then they become a single rifle. The revolver vs. pistol thing really isn’t that big of a deal to me, as most people don’t recognize that there is a difference between the two. I actually wouldn’t have recognized the difference if it weren’t for my brother, who pointed out that error when I read the first draft of Prism World to him. The rifle, though? That one was a bit of a stretch for my imagination.

However, it isn’t just the weaponry that tends to be inconsistent. The characters themselves seem to change frequently, particularly during the slow parts of the story but also occasionally in parts of the action as well. One instant, Eleanor is admitting to Tom that his method of handling difficult situations, namely fighting, is rather beneficial; the next, she is scolding him for knocking out a Krupp soldier who was trying to kill them. I recognize that she is supposed to be a naive character, but at some points she verges on the realm of just plain stupid.

Dialogue was another thing that remained rather inconsistent, and even stilted, throughout the story. At some points, Tom is using cowboy dialect; the next, he is speaking in proper English. Some of the characters’ choice of words in certain instances seemed to be out of place and, for that matter, out of character. Then there’s the simple fact that the description is decidedly gory in parts, while Tom, who technically should be a badass character, is still saying, “Dang it!” I would much rather have seen the character use the unveggified version of the word or, at least, to simply read something like, “He swore under his breath.” The use of a mild cuss word by a character who is anything but mild just cheapens him in the end.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to make of Tom Horn vs. The Warlords of Krupp when I first started reading it. It certainly has its slow, sometimes unnecessarily slow, moments, and then there are moments that could definitely have been expanded, (shown rather than told, as we put it in Rough Writers). Overall, though, the story was a good one, and turned out better in the end than I expected it to in the beginning. It’s an easy, fun read, so if you’re looking for something quick to pass the time, Tom Horn vs. The Warlords of Krupp is a good fit. However, if you’re looking for a serious, professional-quality story, this isn’t the book for you. It all depends on taste.

The Help

The Help book cover

I know it’s been out for a while, but recently I got around to reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett on a bet I made with my step-father and, having read some negative reviews of the book, decided I’d write down my own opinion.

For those of you who may not have heard of the book, The Help is a fictional story based in 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi during the height of the civil rights movement. The main character, Skeeter Phelan, is an aspiring writer who has just come back home from college. From the beginning, Skeeter is different from the other girls she grew up with. She’s single, with no marriage prospects, and unusually nice to the colored help in town. When the editor of a major publishing house challenges Skeeter to write a compelling book about something she actually cares about, the young woman begins working on a book containing a compilation of stories told by the colored help about their experiences working for white women. The story follows the naive Skeeter through her difficulties both at home and in the highly prejudiced, segregated community of Jackson, Mississippi.

I first heard about The Help when it became a movie in 2011. After it came out on DVD, my mom and step-dad sat me down and had me watch it with them. I started watching the movie thinking, “Civil rights…real life…chick-flick…boorring.”

Boy, was I wrong!

For starters, as a young, aspiring author myself, I was quickly able to identify with Skeeter. Between her social awkwardness, frizzy hair, and writing dreams, I almost felt as though Skeeter were a blond version of me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my writing, it’s that the best thing you can do for your story is to create characters who the audience can identify with.

The story itself is both compelling and hilarious, the main characters are loveable, and the historic accuracy is not so bad, either.

When I started reading the book in July, I went in expecting a drastic difference between the book and the movie. After all, that’s usually how it goes, right? What I found, however, was a very recognizable, loveable story.

The description in the book is fantastic. Most of the way through, I could easily picture the scenes in my head, even if those scenes weren’t actually in the movie.

The book is narrated by three different people – Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minnie – each telling their views of the situation as it unfolds. All three have a unique voice, with the narration written in each character’s own dialect, and it’s usually pretty easy to figure out who is talking.

Over all, the plot is a very serious one, but there are funny scenes in it, too. There were many times when I simply had to put the book down because I was laughing so hard.

One review I read claimed that the dialects used by the different characters were unrealistic. Possibly, but the difference wasn’t so drastic for me that it bothered me that much. I grew up in the south and around many different dialects, and the voices of The Help were accurate enough that I, personally, could easily hear them in my head, though reading was something of a challenge at first because of the bad grammar used by most of the characters. If you’ve ever read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, just imagine that heavy Southern dialect as the majority of the narration instead of just in the dialogue.

The only thing I didn’t like about it was the fact that the ending wasn’t an all-the-good-guys-win sort of ending. Granted, the ending isn’t bad. None of the characters die or are horribly harmed by their actions, contrary to what would probably have happened in real life during that time period, but the ending is still realistic enough to be bitter-sweet.

All in all, I really enjoyed the book. Actually, it’s probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. If you don’t like bitter-sweet at all, whatsoever, then The Help may not be for you, but if you’re interested in a historically based, comical story, I would highly recommend reading it.

Patience is a Virtue

Impatience

You’ve probably heard the old adage, “Patience is a virtue.” I grew up hearing it. And now, with Prism World so incredibly close to completion, it’s a saying that hardly ever leaves my mind.

Anyone who knows me will be quick to tell you that patience is a virtue I am lacking in. A common post on my Facebook page, for instance, might be something along the lines of, “I’ve been told patience is a virtue. I seem to have lost mine, so if you find it I’d really like it back.” Patience and I have never been friends, and that is doubly true when it comes to my books.

The great irony in all of this, however, is the fact that hardly anything is more important than patience in the publishing world. Recently, I had 2 articles published in a magazine. I wrote them summer of 2010. The issues are for August and September 2013.

I’ve had a long learning curve in the publishing world, professional and self-publishing alike, and most of my challenges have come from my impatience. Take the 5 books that I wrote and printed before Prism World, for instance. I was so eager to get them out that I failed to put the time and effort I needed into cleaning them up. The result? Horrible grammar mistakes, misspellings, and even entire paragraphs that ended up missing. But this time, with Prism World, I was determined to do it right. It’s been tough.

Writing the book was the easy part. I started writing Prism World in October of 2012. By May of 2013, the first draft, all 83,000+ words of it, was complete and ready for editing. Now, in the past I have been in the habit of hurriedly throwing together my own cover, going through the book once or twice to catch the big errors, and then throwing it up on the web for publication. My books were usually up for sale in the same month that I finished writing them. And unfortunately, that fact was painfully obvious in the quality of the books I produced.

Prism World Cover

My first step this time round was to get a good cover for my book. I located a fantastic artist on DeviantArt who charged a very reasonable price for the work and have spent the past couple months working with her to create the beautiful artwork I now have for the cover. She even offered to do the cover text for me, which was well appreciated.

While working with my artist, I also have spent the past several months reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading the book itself, correcting errors and rewriting scenes that didn’t quite fit. My mentor, Glen Robinson, also offered to help me proof it. But while I’ve put forth all this effort to make my book as good as possible, there is still this little issue with patience.

I ordered the print proof of Prism World the other day, and more than once I have caught myself staring aimlessly at the member dashboard of my CreateSpace account as though that was going to make the book arrive any faster or somehow magically generate royalties. And so I’ve had to teach myself to sit on my hands or do something else, anything to distract me from the long, grueling wait.

I honestly believe that the key (or, I should say, one of the keys) to being a successful, self-publishing author is to learn patience. Of course, saying this is easy, and obviously I’ve got a long way to go. But just because I’m impatient doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the reality. My writing is important to me, and I want my books to be the best that they can possibly be. And so while I wait not-so-patiently for the day (which will be very soon) when I can happily say, “Prism World is finally available!”, I will continue to distract myself with games, work, new story ideas (including a possible sequel to Prism World), and my own sort of mantra:

“Patience is a virtue. Just deal with it and wait.”