August was a roller coaster. In the outside world, both the Democratic and Republican conventions happened, as well as more protests, more COVID deaths, and an explosion in Beirut. But, to be honest, I could barely pay attention to such world-shaking events, as my own little apartment suffered its own little shake ups. Muggy heat caused swarms of mosquitos to nip at my skin, coyotes roamed near my apartment, power outages threatened our air conditioning, my roommate’s dog died, my roommate’s mom hit her head, my emotions swung from depressed to vulnerable to inspired, and through it all, I had to get my third novel, Company, ready for publication.
I have published 3 times before, but I’ve never done it as fast as this. Since the beginning of the year, I had the date September 5, 2020 (my sister’s birthday) in mind for when I wanted to publish Company. By July, I had just finished smoothing my writing into one readable manuscript. I had one month to edit Company, both for clarity and flow and for mechanics (spelling and grammar). I also had to format the novel, get it onto Amazon, make announcements, and run a marketing campaign. I had a lot to do, so, naturally, I spent the first week of August feeling depressed.
It did not help that, almost as soon as August began, my roommate Rita’s old dog, a German shepherd named Stitch, had to be put down. He’d been diagnosed with bone cancer a few weeks earlier, and it had escalated quickly. As Rita mourned her dog, I mourned my story. I wrote in my diary:
“When a story is done, it feels, to me, less like giving birth, and more like grieving something that is dead. It’s like casting off a piece of my soul, a snippet of my life, into the heartless world. Editing it is basically window dressing, putting the story in funeral clothes. It is leaving me, and I need to put on a song and dance for the world, but that is hard to do.”
Trying to edit in this state seemed like too much, so instead I spent that first week re-reading my entire manuscript, both to let it go and to get an idea of what needed to be fixed. Normally, I get critical when I re-read my work, but I tried to look at Company without judgement, and I ended up feeling good. I came up with a plan to read out loud and edit three chapters a day.
I was surprised to find that I had a free Sunday afternoon in August. But I did, so I went to Netflix and browsed my considerable “To Watch” list. The King caught my eye. The trailer evoked a sense of epic-ness, with politics and war and a character undergoing a personal transformation. The King came out in 2019, but I put off watching it, because it was the kind of movie I needed to be in the right mood to see. I was in the mood. I gave it a shot.
Prince Henry (Timothee Chalamet), known to his friends as Hal, does not want to be king. He despises war and despises his father, King Henry IV (Ben Mendelson), a man who sees enemies everywhere and has plunged England into civil unrest. Once his father dies, Hal takes up the crown, vowing to be a different sort of king than his father. However, his reign is quickly tested by a series of provocative gestures from France. With his loyal friend and military advisor Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton) and with the taunts of the French Dauphin (Robert Pattinson) in his ears, the young King Henry V advances to war, where his rule and his character will be put on display on the fateful field of Agincourt.
I have seen historical epics screwed up so many times. But this movie got it right. I loved The King. It was the kind of movie that seemed tailor-made for me. One of the things I most appreciated was that it didn’t attempt to women by throwing in a tedious romantic subplot. I like romance, don’t get me wrong, but Hollywood screws up it up so often that I’d rather they didn’t attempt it at all. The few women characters who did show up in The King were insightful and unique and treated with respect. Most of the movie dealt with a very masculine and male-orientated culture--and I was perfectly fine with that.
Prince Hal is initially portrayed as a drunken, debaucherous prince, the insinuation being that he is unfit to rule. The trailer asks how this foolish, immature prince can be transformed into a respectable king. However, once I started to watch the movie, I quickly understood that it was not Hal's character that was in question. Prince Hal’s revelries are portrayed as a reaction to the violence that permeates Medieval Society. In these times, lords and princes did not stay cloistered in their castles; they fought and killed, in the battlefield, in the most intimate sort of way--Hal, included. Hal’s drinking is a kind of protest against his father’s rule, against the pointless death and killing, and against society itself. The old king calls Hal sickly and weak, and yet he turns out to be a damn good fighter. The nobles think he is shirking his responsibilities, and yet Hal will intervene when he deems it important. The problem is not Hal’s character; the problem is society. Society not only perceives Hal wrongly, it is, in fact, sick. Pointless feuds and violence are destroying the souls of its men, Hal’s included.
As much as I was enjoyed Hal and his journey, my favorite character was, hands down, his loyal friend, Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff, more so than Hal, plays the role of a drunken fool, but he has an inner strength and wisdom born of hard-won experience. Falstaff has shades of Uncle Iroh, from Avatar: the Last Airbender, which I say with the highest respect, because Iroh is one of the few characters I not only love, but aspire to be. The beating heart of The King is the relationship between Hal and Falstaff, and I would absolutely take their friendship over any contrived and shallow romance.
The first half hour of The King is a lead-up to Hal becoming king, and it serves to inoculate the audience into Medieval society. Some people may find this slow, but I was fascinated by this glimpse into a very different culture; it reminded me of why I loved history. I did have a bit of trouble understanding dialogue, which could be due to the sound quality on my TV. I remedied this by turning on the subtitles. The dialogue, by the way, is peppered with modern curse words, but on the whole, I think it did a good job of giving us the flavor of the era while still being relatable. The King felt Shakespearean but translated for a modern audience.
Once Prince Hal becomes King Henry V, the plot builds to the Battle of Agincourt. Now, I don’t consider this a spoiler, because The King is historical fiction, and so it seems fairly obvious that the event that made a famous person famous is going to be addressed. But if you are sensitive to spoilers, I will make it now known that I will be discussing an event that takes place toward the end of the movie.
Note: This review was previously published on my previous blog on September 15, 2013.
Title: The Skinjacker Trilogy: Everlost, Everwild, Everfound
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: Supernatural, Urban Fantasy, YA
A white Toyota slams into a black Mercedes, and just like that, Nick and Allie are dead. But something happens on their way to the light. Their souls collide, and they spin into Everlost, a parallel dimension hovering on the border between life and death. Here, child ghosts wander through deadspots--destroyed places that have "crossed over" into Everlost--and Skinjackers possess humans to remember what it felt like to be alive.
To Mary Hightower, Everlost is the only eternal place, more real than the living world. It is her duty to gather and nurture new souls like Allie and Nick. But Allie doesn't trust Mary. Plunging headfirst into a world of monsters and secrets, Allie and Nick soon learn that all is not what it seems and sometimes those souls with the best intentions may be the ones to destroy the world.
Although Everlost exists parallel to the living world, it might as well be its own realm. Like any well-built fantasy, the protagonists must learn the rules of their new world, develop their powers, and confront villains who wish to dominate and destroy. Since I write epic fantasy, this is all in my wheelhouse and I have to say I found it greatly amusing. Though the point of view was third person omniscient, the author mostly kept inside the character's head, drifting away only to offer key bits of explanation to the audience. This allowed the book to run at a fast pace.
I, personally, judge an author by the quality of their villains, and Mr. Shusterman writes them just the way I like: full of empathy. The antagonists may do horrible things, but they never lose their humanity. In the end, they're tragic figures, presented with the choice of changing or clinging to what they think they desire. Some crossover to become heroes, while others lose themselves forever.
Allie and Nick both find love--but surprisingly not with each other. Their separate romantic arcs illustrate the power and limitations of love and its ability to change people. I'm picky with my love stories, but these two hit all my favorite buttons. The romance strengthened the characters rather than weakened them and did not take away from the plot. The emphasis was on emotional (and dare I say spiritual) connection rather than physical. A bittersweet edge ran through the romance, for as pure as the love might be, when your characters are ghosts, you know happily ever after is out.
The Skinjacker Trilogy hits all my preferences right on the nose, so how can I help but to recommend it? It's a weird, fun, and solid adventure series from Neal Shusterman, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I’m so pleased and proud to announce that my third novel, Company, will be published on September 5, 2020, available as an e-book on Amazon. Priced at $4.99, it’s less than a specialty coffee at Starbucks and will stay with you longer. A physical print version of the book will be coming out in October this year. If you don't mind, I’d like to tell you a little about what Company is and why I’m so proud of it.
Company tells the tale of an unlikely friendship between an amnesiac ghost and an abandoned imaginary friend. As a ghost, Curtis is trapped in Thornfield Manor, a beautiful, but isolated house in the California mountains. Bored and alone, his memories are slowly falling away, including the memory of his death. One day, a stranger arrives at Thornfield Manor. After her parents died, Charlotte created an imaginary friend and “sister” named Jenny to deal with her depression. But after Jenny develops a mind of her own, Charlotte is desperate to get rid of her. Charlotte dumps Jenny at Thornfield Manor. As the only two beings who can see and interact with each other, Curtis and Jenny strike up a quick friendship. Jenny is determined to solve the mystery of Curtis’s death and help him cross over. But Curtis worries: if he does cross over, what will become of Jenny?
I’m proud of Company, because I put my heart and soul into writing this beautiful and thought-provoking story. It has a little bit of mystery, a little bit of romance, and a little bit of philosophy. It’s an emotional book, and some scenes will leave you feeling choked up, but it has a sweet ending that I hope will make you smile. Company is the kind of book I’d imagine someone reading on a vacation in the mountains, sitting outside a log cabin in the cool of the morning, with a hot mug of coffee or tea or hot cocoa.
Believe it or not, I came up with the idea for a ghost and an imaginary friend back in 2012. At that time, I wasn’t sure if the idea was strong enough to be sustained for a whole novel. So, in 2013, I decided to write it for National Novel Writing Month, an event that challenges you to write 200 pages in 30 days. To my surprise, I completed an entire rough draft of Company in a month. But I got stalled on revision for many years. Then in 2018, a tumultuous and uncertain year for me, I looked at Company again and found new inspiration. For the next two years, I began revising it whole-heartedly, using all my skill as a writer to hone and polish my vision. I hope that when you read it, you’ll get swept up in the characters, the friendship they form, and the journey they make together.
Unlike most novels I’ve written in, Company takes place in the real world (California) and in modern times (2019), so it is more accessible to people who are less inclined toward traditional fantasy. It is best for teens and adults; younger children probably won’t be interested in it. Company has a few curse words and deals with death, and for those reasons, I’d put it at a PG-13 rating.
If you decide that you want to buy Company, it is available for pre-order right now--just click on the button below to reserve your copy. If you need more information, I have the first chapter available on my blog. Over the next few weeks, I hope to add a more sample chapters and bonus features that share my experience writing this novel. If, however, you decide this is not the book for you, that’s okay, too. I appreciate you listening to me with an open mind.
I know from experience that certain books can hit you in a way that stays with you for the way of your life. It’s my hope that, for some readers out there, Company may be that book. However, finding those readers is still a struggle for me. As an independent author, I don’t have a big marketing team, so I need all the help I can get in order to spread the word. If you think of anyone who might like this story, please send them this link. Or, if you have a social media account (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), please post there. Thank you again. I appreciate your love and support.
Sincerely, Rebecca Lang
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.