Reader Anastacia Zittel recently sent this review of From My Cold, Undead Hand to the Readers’ Favorite web site:
From My Cold Undead Hand (Where the Vampires Are, Volume 1) by Marie Marshall is the first book in what promises to be a thrilling, interesting take on vampire legend and lore. Chevonne Kusnetsov is a teenager living in the near-distant future, a world that you will recognize but it is subtly different from our own. Chevonne is like any other normal teenager – she goes to school, has friends, has a mother who worries about her, stays home alone after school reading books, but her ‘job’ is not the job of normal teenagers – she researches and kills vampires. This isn’t a Buffy the Vampire Slayer world, where the vampires are all beautiful, but our world where the vampires just want you dead. Chevonne is a Resistance fighter, and she’s out to save mankind.
Marshall does a fantastic job with creating an alternate world for us, where the action happens at a breakneck pace. From using technology that isn’t developed yet, to using weapons not designed yet, to using language and phrases not spoken yet, she creates a universe that is strangely familiar to us, yet it’s a place where you have to watch your back or you’ll be dead. Vampires aren’t glamorous, it isn’t romantic to meet a vampire in the alley behind the school, and they most certainly don’t sparkle. Marshall also does a remarkable job of tying in the classic vampire novel, Dracula, but makes you believe that it’s all real. This is a book that will leave you breathless for more!
The sequel, KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE – Volume 2 of Where the Vampires Are – should be published this year, so watch this space!
I am offering a few free copies of my three published (so far!) novels. The copies will be made available, in pdf or ePub form, to anyone who would like to read any or all of them, and who is prepared to write and publish a review. The review may be posted on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or anywhere else where the book is available on-line and where readers can offer reviews. Alternatively, if you have a lively blog with a decent number of followers/readers, I’ve no objection to your posting it there. Just let me know where and when. The novels are:
Lupa. This was my first novel. Someone suggested I should write a novel about a female gladiator. I sat down to do just that, and out came two parallel stories about young women in Imperial and 20c Rome. It has attracted a fair amount of interest since it was. One of my beta-readers said “I don’t do ‘Roman’, but I couldn’t put it down!” Find out more about it here.
The Everywhen Angels. This was my first novel for younger readers, and it was written in response to a challenge to set a fantasy story in a school or stop passing remarks about a certain fellow Scottish author. So I came up with this. There’s no D*mbled*re as a presiding deus ex machina, no Sn*pe or V*ldem*rt to hiss at, just a bunch of teenagers trying to make sense of the weird powers they have been given. This is the teenagers’ world, and adult interference is largely irrelevant to them. Read more about it here.
From My Cold, Undead Hand. Just when I thought I had time to work on a projected novel I had notes for, my publisher upped and asked me if I could write a teen-vampire novel. So I did just that. Someone told me it was ‘INSANELY good’ – think Buffy meets the Coen Brothers – but what will you make of it? Find out more about it here.
To get your fee copy, send an email to the email address below. Put Review: [title of your chosen book] as the subject of your email, and mention in the body of the email whether you would prefer a pdf or ePub version.
Thanks, and enjoy!
By now we all know the story of how To Kill A Mockingbird came to be written, and how Go Set A Watchman came to be published fifty-five years later. That half-century-and-a-bit has seen a lot of changes in sensibilities about race, particularly in the USA, the country where both novels are set and where their major readership is. The thesis of To Kill A Mockingbird seems to be that, by and large, people are decent, or strive to be decent, or can be reminded of their decency despite their prejudices, not simply about race but about other fears as well; this decency does not always win out against a tragic result, when such prejudices are deeply ingrained in a community’s culture, but that is life. Man, as the Bible says, is born to suffering, as the sparks fly upward. Nevertheless, keeping an eye to that glint of decency leads, step-by-step, to some kind of progress.
To an extent, we readers found it easy to accept this naivety, given that the first-person voice of the book was that of a child, and that Harper Lee was relaying to us how the world seemed to her, that child, the novel being semi-autobiographical. We excused the ingenuous nature of its basic philosophy – indeed, it seemed ideologically neutral to us, because it expressed how we like to feel about ourselves, that there is hope, progress, and betterment. Most of its first readers came to it during the optimism of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
Nowadays, in the era of ‘Check your privilege!’, it seems such an attitude won’t do. Racism is binary, it is either on or off, it is a thing without shade, hue, or nuance, it is a label hung as prominently around the neck of anyone who betrays a slight slip of attitude as it is round the neck of the most dyed-in-the-wool Klansman. I don’t say this is right or wrong. I do say it is as much cultural as was the liberal feelgood attitude that seems to be there in Mockingbird. Without the hardening of attitude since the date of writing and publication, perhaps a book like Mildred D Taylor’s Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry would not have been written fifteen years later. Certainly I could argue that her minor character Mr Jamison, the sympathetic white lawyer, would not have been created without the pre-existence of Atticus Finch. But Taylor’s work is much harder-edged, plainly didactic, aiming to show that African-American people must be the prime movers of their own change in circumstance. Thus Mr Jamison is largely ineffectual; whilst a lynching in Mockingbird is prevented by the stoical Atticus and ultimately by the ingenuous Scout, in Roll Of Thunder Jamison can’t swim against the tide, and a lynching is only prevented by a covert act of arson on the part of one of the adult black characters, as a result of which all the characters, irrespective of ethnicity, have to collaborate to save their livelihood. Taylor’s attempt to seize the story of racism in the South and depict it from the point of view of those on the receiving end was understandable. Despite Roll Of Thunder receiving the 1977 Newbery medal, I have always felt it failed as a book, because it never quite managed to give the child characters’ actions any appreciable impact or effect, compared to that of Scout in front of the gaol, and as it was principally a book written for children, that was a not inconsiderable failing.
Go Set A Watchman is already suffering on many counts in the few days since it was published. I almost feel cheated myself – I always wanted to be a writer, and Harper Lee was my idol for the simple reason she had come along out of nowhere, written one book which turned out to be a literary landmark, and then had written nothing else. I would have loved to have written the twenty-first century’s Scottish equivalent and similarly retired. Therefore I had mixed feelings when the coming of Go Set A Watchman was announced. I had long since given up my ambition of being a second Harper Lee – after all, I had had three novels published, and although I am glad to say they are read, I can’t claim that they have achieved the status of Mockingbird. I wondered whether the appearance of Go Set A Watchman would tarnish Lee’s reputation, rather than enhance it. I knew I would buy it, but frankly I would have waited with greater anticipation the appearance of a new Anne Tyler novel, she being acknowledged as prolific and a good story-teller.
How, then, to read Go Set A Watchman? We know that it is a largely unaltered first-draft of a novel that, with substantial revisions consisting of taking a minor passage and expanding it to novel length on its own, became To Kill A Mockingbird. We know that it is set in the 1950s, closer to the time when it was written. We have to be prepared for some major differences. The first and most obvious one is that we do not have Scout’s direct voice. There is no ‘Scout’ as such, no immediate trace of the overall-clad tomboy, except in a handful of flashbacks. The protagonist is Jean Louise Finch, somewhat of a feisty New York sophisticate in slacks, coming back to her Southern birthplace for a visit. The novel is written in ‘free indirect speech’, which means that although we do see things from Jean Louise’s viewpoint, the actual language is third-person. This holds us at a slight distance from the protagonist, it is not as easy to identify with her. The biggest surprise – well, by now it is, of course, no surprise at all – is to find Atticus Finch holding segregationist views. This troubles our binary view of racism. More to the point, it troubles our binary view of liberalism. Atticus Finch, as shown in Mockingbird and in the film adaptation of the novel, has inspired many people to take up the Law as a profession. He has a monument raised to him in Monroeville, Lee’s home town, which is fairly unusual for a fictional character. Good heavens, Gregory Peck, when I saw him in a TV re-run of the film, became my first and only guy-crush!
Yet, having read the book, I realised that his courtroom address in defense of wrongly-accused Tom Robinson, though thoroughly logical, read like a grocery list. It was flat and undramatic, lacking in rhetoric, as though the facts were enough to carry the day. He won the argument, sure, but lost the trial. He was not an advocate for any great social change, he was simply a man who demanded, plainly and without passion, that the law should be properly applied, and that you could not convict a black man contrary to the evidence. This is a major reason why later reviews of Mockingbird criticised both him and his creator for not being anti-racist enough, for not using the Tom Robinson case, Samson-like, to topple the Philistine edifice of Southern racism once and for all. But – for heaven’s sake! – did that happen in real life? Then why should it happen in fiction? Whilst no work of literature is ideologically neutral, Mockingbird is a realist novel, not a sermon.
If it really shocks you to find that a character who in one novel was, as a matter of principle, sure that a black man ought not to be convicted of a crime he did not commit, is in another novel, sure that the black and white races should develop separately, then do as follows. Do not regard Go Set A Watchman as To Kill A Mockingbird Part Two. It was never conceived as such. Regard it as a stand-alone novel with stand-alone characters that just happen to have the same names as characters in another novel that you have already read. More properly, regard it as you would regard a first draft that turned up in the posthumous papers of a departed novelist, and cherish it as a record of her creative thought processes. I grant that this will be difficult, but judge it without reference to the literary merit of To Kill A Mockingbird. To have that previous merit in mind will mar your reading. This, however, you should bear in mind: Go Set A Watchman is not a twenty-first-century novel. It is a mid-twentieth-century novel. It is a product of its time and of the culture that Harper Lee lived in and took as normative. L P Hartley said that ‘the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’, and this is something that I, as a person with very sharply defined political and literary principles, have had to learn to come to terms with as I read literature, and as I write creatively myself. I’ll not spoil the plot for you, but that is how to read Go Set A Watchman.
An overlooked end to 2014 came to my attention due to an early-2015 tweet – someone was about to start reading Lupa, my debut novel, following an unsolicited recommendation. A little detective work led me to a review by author Michal Wojcik.
In his list of favourite reads of 2014, Michal puts my novel alongside Nicola Griffith’s Nebula-nominated Hild, multi-award-winning Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book, and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. That’s what I call company! Recommending Lupa, Michal says:
The writing is subdued, sparse, often mesmerizing. It’s a brisk read at only 130 pages, but I found myself thinking about it a long time after I read it. Let’s just say that there’s nary a wasted word here… Lupa is easily overlooked. But it shouldn’t be.
This was such a nice New Year present, and it is very gratifying to hear that a reader -particularly a fellow author – has enjoyed a book of mine. In a comment in the thread below Michal’s article, someone has written “I’m running out to buy Lupa this very instant.” This kind of word-of-mouth is like gold-dust to an author. Well, I’m just away to read Michal’s short story ‘Mrs. Yaga’ here. I don’t know what to expect but I imagine that huts on chicken-legs will be involved…
I have had a re-think about what writing task to tackle in the spring. I think want to leave aside the element of fantasy – and that means any hint of steampunk, magic realism, or what have you – and engage in something which, though it might not exactly embrace the classical unities of time, place, and action, at least is based very much on ‘real world’ happenings. I am thinking of a setting that is historical, exotic (to me), and a story that is already familiar. However, my ongoing projects change like the direction of the wind. Oh, it can be fun being me!
Today’s big news is that I have finished writing KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE, the sequel to From My Cold, Undead Hand. So now I plan a period of leisure – no more novel-writing until well into Spring 2015.
But wait! Leisure? I have to read through and revise KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE, maybe making tweaks here and there. I have to find my trusted ‘beta reader’ and persuade her to read it. A busy writer herself, she may not be able to; but if she can, then I will be reading her new novel by way of exchange. I ought to try to find a second beta reader as well.
Then I have to attend to writing a macabre short story for Scotland’s Winter Words Festival – I have something in mind, but getting it from mind to paper is another matter.
Can I really leave novel-writing alone, though? I have two or three novels in plan form, some with test sections written, searching for the right ‘voice’. There’s my steampunk story of a young mountebank mentalist in Victorian London, a trail of bizarre murders, revenge, and detection – with a possible cameo appearance of Anna Lund! (Who? Read From My Cold, Undead Hand!). There’s my cynical wizard, working for the Chthonic Intelligence Agency. There’s a boy who finds he can work miracles. There’s a fictionalised life of Branwell Brontë. You see, if I wanted to immerse myself in novel-writing right now, I could.
If you would be interested in reading a short review I wrote recently about Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, you can find it here. on Angelique Jamail’s blog.
My last piece of news today is that I have just received the latest issue of Rubies in the Darkness, the magazine of ‘Traditional Romantic Lyrical and Spiritually Inspired Poetry and New Renaissance Writing’. On page 38 of this issue is a poem of mine from 2008. At that time I had restricted my poetry, by and large, to a formal style, in an effort to give my work discipline and technical power. It wasn’t just an exercise, however, as I greatly enjoyed using form, even in a light-hearted way, as in the poem below. It is called ‘We woke up to snow’:
Rubies in the Darkness is available from The Red Lantern Retreat, 41 Grantham Road, Manor Park, London E12 5LZ.
“Marie Marshall is a poet of substance. Relatively speaking, I would place her at the level of the late Sylvia Plath. I am an Australian poet/editor and for years, I’ve had the greatest respect for the depth of talent in poems by Marie. Do read her work again and again.”
Ron Wiseman, Sunshine Coast, Australia.
“An excellent writer whose style adjusts and flows with the genre and setting of her work. Her stories are deep and thought-provoking while never losing their swift forward motion; her poetry is poignant and of a rare beauty.”
Lyz Russo, South Africa.
BestChickLit.com is a review site mainly dedicated to reviewing literature by and for women readers. It also has a thriving ‘Young Adult’ section, where it has featured my previous YA novel The Everywhen Angels, and has now featured From My Cold, Undead Hand. Reviewer Nikki Mason called it ‘a great adventure book’, and appreciated the fact that the vampires are ‘unequivocally the bad guys’. Drop in at the site and check out the review. Many thanks, Nikki.
By the way, this is what BestChickLit.com has to say about Nikki:
(warning – this review contains plot spoilers)
Columbus Press, OH, pp.241
Samuel Snoek-Brown will possibly turn out to be one of the best storytellers of the 21c. There’s a modernist feel to his storytelling, very often his plots don’t resolve, but rather give the sense that a process – a life – is going on, and that we have witnessed a part of a greater whole. The psychology of his characters is seldom explained but always clearly displayed, as readers have already seen in Boxcutters, his slim book of short stories. Now we have his first published novel, Hagridden, to consider. According to Sam, Hagridden isn’t the first novel he has ever written, owning up to other attempts when he was much younger, saying “they were books I had to write in order to learn how to write this one”. Teethcutters, you might say!
Hagridden is the story of two women who eke out an existence in the Louisiana bayous towards the end of the American Civil War. One way they survive is to murder fleeing soldiers of both sides and sell their weapons and accoutrements to a corrupt storekeeper. When a neighbour, a comrade of the younger woman’s dead husband, returns to his hut having deserted from the Confederate army, their existence is thrown out of kilter. Aficionados of Japanese film will instantly recognise that Hagridden owes a huge debt to Kaneto Shindo’s movie Onibaba (1964). This debt has never been a secret, although it is not directly acknowledged in the book. However, this is not the first time that a tale from medieval Japan has been transferred to 19c America, and it is not simply an adaptation of Onibaba; not only has the tale moved in time and location, but it has also switched media. There are also differences in the plot beyond that, some subtle, some very obvious.
The Civil War is a very powerful element of the USA’s national myth as well as of that nation’s actual history. The stiffness of 1860s daguerreotypes from which uniformed, bearded men stare out was taken forward into film and TV – Gone with the Wind, North and South, Gettysburg – with gallant officers, plantation ladies, and stoical slaves. Largely forgotten in popular culture is the devastation to lives on the periphery. That is where Sam Snoek-Brown sets Hagridden. The two women have been brutalised by poverty, and their consequent violence is graphically described. Sam doesn’t pull any bayonet-thrusts in his descriptions, he doesn’t let the reader look away at any time, forcing a confrontation in which not every reader will feel comfortable. There were times as I read when I wanted to beg for mercy, not for myself and my own sensibilities, but for a character. In the end, it was almost a surprise to learn who did and who did not survive. Mercy, however, isn’t an option, as the book is driven along by the worst in humanity, in nature, and in superstition. There is only one act of kindness in the book, and that seems to be nothing more than a device to allow two of the central characters to survive a little longer.
Hagridden is almost an amoral book. In fact I would guess that this is deliberately so, making its amorality a moral stance in its own right. Characters are allowed their own morality, as when one of the women rationalises the sins of murder and lust:
I ain’t talking about killing nothing. They’s bad and then they’s bad. What we do we do to survive and they ain’t no sin in that. But lust? Whoo girl, you got to look out for that they lust. Worst sin they is. Sinners what lusted after the flesh in this world, they turn to animals in the next. Crawl round on all fours like dogs and the brimstone burning off they knees, the skin off they palms. Some say rougarous is lusters coughed up from Hell to walk the earth.
A ‘rougarou’ (Fr. loup garou, werewolf) is what gives Hagridden its superstitious, supernatural element, although there is a mundane explanation to this creature’s appearance in the story. However the appearance of the second (or is it third?) rougarou is almost too convenient, almost that of a deus ex machina, and not the novel’s most convincing episode.
From the quoted passage above, it can be seen that much of the dialogue is written with a distinct ‘eye-dialect’. There are also what I call ‘fixers’ – usages which establish a time and place in a story. In the case of Hagridden, the fixers are Cajun-isms, notably the way characters address each other casually as ‘sha’ (chère), ‘vieux’, ‘petites’, and ‘boo’ (beau). They don’t always work, as when ‘boo’, normally said to a man, is addressed to the older woman (p.14), or when the ungrammatical ‘ma petit fils’ is used(p.158). Such solecisms may exist in the vernacular of Louisiana – I speak a little Louisiana French but am no expert – yet they look wrong on the page. As a general point of style, direct speech is not marked by any form of quotation marks. This meant that I had to look consciously for where speech started and ended. But this wasn’t a chore, and in fact it concentrated my attention, making the text as a whole feel very taut. Some readers might find the use of the word ‘nigger’ unpalatable, but if it was there in the actual speech of that time and place then it has to be there in this novel.
Human-on-human is not the only brutality of the novel. Greater than the violence and murder done by the characters on each other, and than the supernatural terror of the werewolf stalking the bayou, is the force of nature. A hurricane and tidal surge threatens to wash away everyone and everything, including the story (pp.193-200). One of the most compelling passages of the book comes here, as two characters watch an oddly-juxtaposed procession of domestic objects, animals, and people float by them in the flood. It is surreal, almost nightmarish.
Sam Snoek-Brown has been praised for his meticulous research while writing this novel. Although I have queried some details, I could see as I read that he had indeed paid a great deal of attention to historical authenticity. This was obviously something he wanted to achieve, an integral part of the exercise of writing the novel. I don’t want to belittle that achievement, but to me it wasn’t over-ridingly important. What was more important was the novel’s plausibility, its power to make me suspend disbelief and follow the story to the end. He achieved that with an expertise that made it seem easy. That’s the mark of a craftsman-author. This novel may be read ignoring my quibbles, and on that basis I recommend it fully.