Monday, July 12, 2010

"Heroes of the Fallen" by David J West

I recently finished reading Heroes of the Fallen by David West. I'm not big on historical fiction, but after talking to David about it at the Storymakers Conference in May, I was intrigued.

First off, I'll talk about the setting. It takes place in the last days of the Nephite Kingdom in America. To Latter Day Saints (Mormons), this is toward the end of The Book of Mormon. David, though, weaves a lot more interesting stuff in with it to create a whole new and fascinating world. For instance, he expanded upon the Nephite world by bringing in Phoenician traders. At first glance that seems incongruous and impossible. However, I remember reading articles showing evidence that Phoenician traders did come to America. In this book, these traders brought other cultures with them from the old world, even a manuscript of Homer's Iliad.

Another thing that only was briefly in the book yet piqued my interest was the mention of a large man with six fingers on each hand. There have been rumors of hidden archeological digs in America with 7 foot tall skeletons with six fingers and toes.

Anyway, David did a remarkable job of bringing these disparate elements together and creating a colorful and rich world. Is it realistic? Probably not, but fun anyway. What would really be cool is if some Viking warriors showed up, too, but that would be about 500 years off.

Then there's the main character, Amaron. He is loyal, hard-working, spiritual, and can beat the holy crap out of the bad guys: what's not to love about him? I keep wanting to call him "Conan the Mormonian".

Even though there are some spiritual events depicted in the book, it didn't come across as preachy or religious. It felt more like a fantasy to me. In spite of this book expounding upon events from the Book of Mormon, I think fantasy lovers of all faiths would enjoy it.

I had a little problem keeping up with all the characters and story lines, but then I also have a lousy memory. I had to quit reading for a couple weeks when I was about half-way through, so when I came back I had problems remembering who was doing what.

I enjoyed this book, but will say that it has some violence and some mild swearing. It would be safe for teens that don't mind a little bloodshed. Overall, I found it exciting and fun. I hadn't read any good sword-wielding books in a while, so this one filled that need in me. After all, I cut my reading teeth on Conan the Barbarian and John Carter of Mars.

My biggest complaint about this book: it ended too soon. I guess I need to pull out some old Robert E. Howard stories until the sequel comes out.

100th post!

I can't believe this is the 100th posting here. I know I don't post often enough. Well, I think I have a good excuse for the last few months. I have been writing like crazy. I've finished a final draft of book 2, Scepter of the Ancients, and a draft of book 3 (currently titled Book 3 -- I know, creative). I even have part of book 4 done.

Meanwhile, I've started two other writing projects. I started a book where the main character is a shoulder angel. You know, those guys that sit on your shoulder and tell you not to give in to temptation. Only this one has a wonderful record of 0-21 so he has been delegated to a desk job. And his name is Larry. I ended up putting this book aside, though, because it was tending toward being for an older audience. I feel like I need to stick with middle grade/young adult right now. Plus, I need to do some research, like finish C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters.

So, I started another book and so far have 9 chapters of it. It's working title is Billy Versus the Time Gangsters. I know it's a super cheesy title and it will more than likely change. I am discovery writing it so I still don't know what's going to happen.

Okay, now for the good news/bad news. The good news is that Cedar Fort liked Scepter of the Ancients. The bad news, or at least the way I read between the lines, is that it's not yet financially feasible to publish a sequel. In other words, The Dragon War Relic needs more sales in order to warrant a sequel. This doesn't surprise me. The Dragon War Relic has been getting really good reviews, by the few people who have read it, but it still hasn't been widely read. It still seems to be plugging along at a slow pace, so we can always hope that word-of-mouth will get it to take off still.

The reason why I've temporarily left the Jared and Doug books is due to the advice Cedar Fort gave me. I need to get my name out there more. So, I'm working on the gangster book in hopes that it will get me some more name recognition. I hope that will help The Dragon War Relic get more sales. Then, with luck, Scepter of the Ancients will see the light of day. I also started a short story series that I want to get out into some of the e-publishing arenas.

So, in spite of my sporadic blogging, I have been busy. I sometimes wonder if I should hang up the writing towel, because it is not a very efficient way to make money. But once the writing bug gets in the blood, it's hard to stop. I'm learning so much and having a blast at the same time. I see it as a lot better than a lot of hobbies that only cost money. At least this one has a little bit of return for the effort, even if it is only about 30 cents an hour.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Precious Metal

Okay, typically when a concert review is done it's not by one of the members of the performing group. So what. Last night, June 30th, I performed with the Timpview Wind Ensemble at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo, Utah. I had a blast. I think that had to be the most fun I've had performing in a wind symphony. I've had other great experiences with wind symphonies, like touring Europe and Australia, but this was great because the music was fun and the musicians were fantastic to work with. Plus, it was only a little over two weeks from beginning of rehearsals to ending concert.

First off, the purpose of the concert was to perform the Utah premier of D.J. Sparr's Precious Metal: A Concerto for Flute and Winds. It featured local flutist Marianne Cutchins who played absolutely beautifully. I wish my flute-playing daughter could have been there, but she was at girl's camp. The piece itself was in three movements and represented the materials that flutes are made out of: silver, platinum, and gold. This was not your typical toe-tappin' type of piece. It's purpose was to evoke the idea of the different metals. Parts of it were aleatoric (for you non-musicians, it means either random or determined by the performer).

I enjoyed the piece at an emotional level. The effects were interesting and intriguing. My only complaint is that we didn't have a lot to do in the saxophone section (other than count rests). It would have been fun to pipe in with some multiphonics during the aleatoric parts of the second movement. It was one of those pieces, though, that a recording could never do justice. It has to be seen and experienced live in order to get the full impact of the effects.

As far as the other music, we played: Sound the Bells by John Williams, Suite Francaise by Darius Milhaud, Folk Dances by Dmitri Shostakovich, and Windriders by UVU professor Marden Pond. Dr. Pond's piece was in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Pony Express. It was a great piece with nice effects and had some toe-tappin' parts. A small ensemble also played a relatively unknown version of a piece for winds and percussion by Felix Mendelssohn called Overture for Winds, Op. 24.

Something I had not experienced before was being able to play in small group on a piece by William Walton called Facade. It was written for alto sax (played by yours truly), clarinet, flute, trumpet, cello, percussion, and narrator (done by Diane Dabczynski). We did four little character pieces that accompanied Diane reading the poetry of Dame Edith Sitwell. These were fun, quirky, and I got to let loose with my "schmaltz" gene. I love playing in that old 1920's style.

Kudos to Dr. David Fullmer for putting this fantastic concert together in such a short time. He pulled in some of us who teach at UVU and others from BYU, as well as several great local musicians. It's a blast to perform with professionals of their caliber.