BEYOND THESE WOODS | Mark Roger Bailey

It is a pleasure to announce the release of my new novel and an exciting new character: Beyond These Woods -- featuring epidemiologist and rogue scientific gadfly, Dr. Lotte Keene.

Beyond These Woods

Lotte has fought and won many virus battles, yet after witnessing the death of her closest friend, Charley, in a horrific Brazilian disease outbreak, she has put the Centers for Disease Control and her high stakes war against pathogens in dangerous hot zones behind her.

Her skeptical relationship with authority and inconvenient habit of being right have stunted her career and undermined her professional reputation. Now, as she struggles to come to terms with life without Charley, she glimpses a telltale repetition of the symptomology of Charley’s sudden death … this time in California’s High Sierra Thunder Peak Wilderness. This clue to the cause of her greatest loss ignites an obsessive need to eradicate the killer. She breaks protocol and goes to Longwood, CA on a mission to confront her darkest fear.

To the CDC, Lotte’s breach of protocol is insubordination. To the environmental activist, Gabriel Fox, she is a complication of his master plan. For America’s elite intelligence apparatus, she is a threat to the nation’s security. For Longwood doctor Ben McCandle, Lotte challenges everything he thinks he knows about medical science.

Lotte Keene must identify the killer in the Sierra old-growth forest, determine if the ‘Ahwahnee Stroke’, as locals call it, is a corruption of Natural Law or a criminal act, and she must stop it before it spreads beyond the Thunder Peak Wilderness. Local suspicions of her motives mount, calculating corporate interests grow more sinister, dark operatives from Washington move against her work… and time is running out.

Dr. Lotte Keene is about to rewrite the rules of biogenetic science and cross the thin red, white and blue line between American principle and power.

BEYOND THESE WOODS is currently available for the Amazon Kindle and desktops, laptops, tablets, iPhone, Android and all handheld devices with the Kindle App available free from your favorite App Store.

Amazon KINDLE

gadfly -- a person who upsets the status quo by posing upsetting or novel questions.

The term 'gadfly' was used by Plato in the Apology[2] to describe Socrates' relationship of uncomfortable goad to the Athenian political scene, which he compared to a slow and dimwitted horse. (source: Wikipedia)

 

 

Your Brain on Fiction

NeuroFiction

An article in the New York Times published on Saint Patrick’s Day caught my attention for its premise: fiction improves our minds. I believe this to be true, but haven’t looked too deeply into the science of it. Science author Annie Murphy Paul has. Her article confirms my personal experience of the effect of reading fiction on mental, social and life skills.

AMID the squawks and pings of our digital devices, the old-fashioned virtues of reading novels can seem faded, even futile. But new support for the value of fiction is arriving from an unexpected quarter: neuroscience.

This got my neural processors firing away in anticipation of a good intellectual workout. Paul makes a compelling case for the power of the novel to engage, exercise and improve the brain.

The brain, the article reminds us, does not distinguish between imagining an experience as we read about it and actually experiencing it in real life. To the brain, one is as real as the other. This is a key principle of achieving excellence in any endeavor, practicing it in our minds so thoroughly that our mind cannot accept less than the perfect execution.  High performance athletes understand this. Just as jet fighter pilots, high steel workers, leading corporate innovators, and neurosurgeons do. The fact that a good novel engages our mind and thrusts us into the heart of risk, danger, adventure, romance, achievement functions the way it does because our minds understand sensory details, evocative metaphors, and stimulating situations with such rich and complex experiences of reality that we discover and learn much as if we actually travelled, trained and risked as the novel’s characters do.

According to two scientific studies cited in the article, our experience of a novel hones our real-life social skills. The more we read fiction, the better we are able to understand other people, empathize with their challenges, and credibly see the world from their perspective.

Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.

Previously I held this truth to be self-evident. Now, I have proof that my preference for the novel literary form is pragmatic and has a basis in science.

Related Links

The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction by Annie Murphy Paul, NY Times, March 17, 2012

Annie Murphy Paul | Science Author  -  TED     Nov. 2011

 

 

 

WOLVES EAT DOGS | Martin Cruz Smith

In the shadow of the devastated Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Pripyat, Ukraine, nature is reclaiming the wreckage of humankind's worst nuclear accident. Outlaws and corrupt militia co-exist in the toxic detritus that is left in the wake of the government-ordered evacuation years earlier. Scientists come to conduct pure research. Surviving residents with nowhere to go wait for the end that never comes. Weary, they attempt to live with the terrible knowledge of their doom. One telling detail of their reduced circumstances: they cannot have pet dogs because the wolves in the surrounding forests eat dogs. This is not a cliché. It is a living Darwinian metaphor. Arkady Renko, the iconic detective from GORKY PARK, is challenged by his most baffling and enigmatic case yet: the death of an oligarch, by suicide perhaps, but Renko is certain it is the result of a murderous plot.

Smith's prose is deceptively elegant. It seems straightforward like Renko's description of action, yet it is always painted in shades of light, color, and tone. This and Renko's cynical, quietly subversive, brilliantly analytical, melancholy character keeps the mind turning - amused and utterly engaged.

Amazon - Wolves Eat Dogs

Wikipedia - Wolves Eat Dogs

 

Birds In Fall | Brad Kessler

Life is Fragile as Flight

This novel is one of those surprise discoveries. My wife brought it home for me on a whim with some journals. I read the opening sentence and sensed immediately that my priorities for the weekend had shifted.Birds In Fall by Brad Kessler

It’s true: a few of us slept through the entire ordeal, but others sensed something wrong right away.

I was hooked. Wished I’d written it. The voice possessed a sense of moment, a texture of imminent tragedy that gripped me and wouldn’t let me go. The first chapter transported me to far away Nova Scotia and continues to resonate in unexpected ways after the final page of the novel 238 pages later.

BIRDS IN FALL was a critical and popular success. An excerpt was published in The Kenyon Review in the spring of 2006. It won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. And the Los Angeles Times named it one of the ten best books of 2006.

A Novel for Novelists

The story begins aboard a transatlantic flight from New York City bound for Amsterdam. The style is contemporary, spare in setting, and emphasizes action.  It is told in the first person voice of Russell, Ana’s husband. The action is carefully and effectively modulated as he takes up conversation with the woman seated next to him, a concert cellist who is stressed by the airplane’s bumpy ride through increasingly violent stormy night skies.

For example, one of the most visually compelling moments is Russell’s presence of mind in writing his NY address on his forearm with the cellist’s Japanese Maple lipstick. He shows it to her and encourages her to do the same. Ironically, she encourages Russell to include his name in his message to his rescuers, yet he cannot bring himself to do so. This foreshadows his fate as another anonymous casualty of tragedy, vanished, forever lost at sea. Indeed, eighty minutes into its flight, the aircraft ‘enters the sea.’

From there we shift to a small community setting on Trachis Island off the coast of Nova Scotia and the events following the crash. The narrator’s voice changes to third person omniscient and never returns to Ana’s husband in any meaningful way. Despite several telling details set up in the first chapter, few are referenced later in the narrative in which bits and pieces of airplane, passengers, and luggage debris are recovered.

From chapter two onward we follow the innkeepers Kevin and Douglas on Trachis Island and Ana Gathreaux, Russell’s ornithologist wife, who travels from New York City to the inn to visit the site of the catastrophe and learn something more about Russell’s fate. Other victims’ families travel to the island from all over the world for the same purpose. Over time, they each experience punishing, withering grief, hope, frustration, abandonment, and transformation into new lives without their loved ones.

The writing improves in this second voice and occasionally soars like the migrating birds that serve as such an apt metaphor for the flight of time, events, and souls. On more than one occasion, I was reminded of Michael Ondaatje’s poetic prose. That's profound praise for how deft many of Brad Kessler’s passages are.

Recommended

Birds In Fall is remarkable. It is rich with masterful writing and compelling insights into the lives, drives, and lessons that shape us as our migrations intersect across time, place and circumstance.

 

Related Links

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brad_Kessler

 

 

A MATCH TO THE HEART | Gretel Ehrlich

In 1991, Gretel Ehrlich was struck by lightning while walking her dogs on her Wyoming ranch.

Before electricity carved its blue path toward me, before the negative charge shot down from cloud to ground, before "streamers" jumped the positive charge back up from ground to cloud, before air expanded and contracted producing loud pressure pulses I could not hear because I was already dead, I had been walking.

A Match to the Heart, page 5

She regains consciousness and with her dogs manages to get to the house.   She is in shock, singed, disoriented, lame, plagued by furiously burning pains, her throat is paralyzed, and her nervous system is seared, broken and fragmented. Somehow she dials 911. So begins her journey from blinding light through years of shadows.

Hospitalized and severely debilitated, she begins a battle that will take more than two years for her to regain her health and a sense of confidence and autonomy. As compelling as being struck dead by lightning may be, it is Ehrlich's narrative of her return to life that is extraordinary.

As in her other work, Ehrlich explores existence from all angles and perspectives.  Even she, the victim, is not spared the Nature writer's intense probing, research and exploration in search of understanding.  She studies thunder, lightning, and storms and discovers comfort in their fierce science. She seeks out other victims of lightning strikes and finds many others who have experienced the indescribable pains that are invisible to medical specialists, impossible-to-explain personal transformations, and isolation due to society's ignorance.

As she did in THE SOLACE OF OPEN SPACES (1985), and ISLANDS, THE UNIVERSE, HOME (1991), Ehrlich generously shares her unblinking observations along her uneven path to understanding with us.

I heard her read from MATCH and speak at the Los Angeles Public Library in December 1994.  Her humility, commitment to nature, and passion for expressing the often inexpressible were moving.

A MATCH TO THE HEART, One Woman's Story of Being Struck by Lightning. Pantheon, New York, 1994.

 

Related Links

Gretel Ehrlich site

Gretel Ehrlich (Park Central)

On Writing "The PACIFIC"

Bruce C. McKenna Goes to War

Recently, Bruce C. McKenna, co-executive producer and lead writer on the HBO television mini-series, "The Pacific," stopped by the Wesleyan University campus for an interview about his latest project. He provided valuable insights into the challenges of adapting history to television, the importance of persistence in getting any project to the screen, and the role of the writer in the process from research and design of story architecture to defending the vision during production and presenting the final product to audiences. Look here for a link soon.

On the same day, Bruce presented the fourth episode of "The Pacific" in the Powell Family Cinema in the Center for Film Studies at Wesleyan University. His answers to questions display the historian's deep knowledge of his material, the screenwriter's respect for storycraft, and openness to sharing his seven year experience. Here are his remarks.

ABNA: One Way to Break Through

First prize in the 3rd Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) Contest for previously unpublished works is a publishing contract with Penguin and a $15,000 cash advance.  Almost any opportunity to get your work before interested readers, share a good story, gather some feedback, and connect with other writing professionals is good. ABNA is such an opportunity, yet its modest profile ensures that many writers will miss this chance to break through.  The contest's low profile is surprising – ABNA's sponsors are three of publishing's leaders: Amazon, Penguin Group (USA), and Publishers Weekly

Here's how the contest works: 

During the submission time window, ABNA accepts up 5,000 submissions in each of two categories: General Fiction and Young Adult. They specify 'up to 5,000' because ABNA closes submissions upon receiving 5,000 or after two weeks, whichever comes first. 

Initial Round: Amazon editors read 300-word pitches and select 1,000 from each category. 

Quarter-Finals: Expert Amazon reviewers read 3,000-5,000 word excerpts from entries and select 250 from each category. 

Semi-Finals: Publishers Weekly reviewers read and rate complete manuscripts, and select 50 from each category. 

Finals: Penguin editors evaluate the final 50 manuscripts in General Fiction, the final 50 in Young Adult, and select three finalists in each category. 

Amazon customer voting: Amazon customers have seven days to vote for their favorites in each category. 

Grand Prize Winners will be announced in Seattle on June 14, 2010.  Each will receive a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance. 

For every writer but the winner, the benefit is feedback.  Novel writing can be a solitary enterprise and feedback about work-in-progress can become the difference between good and great writing. 

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UPDATES

25 Feb 2010:  Initial Round - Pitches  

23 Mar 2010:   Quarter-Finals 

27 Apr 2010: Semi-Finals 

25 May 2010: Finalists 

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2009 ABNA Winner:  Bill Warrington's Last Chance by Jack King 

2008 ABNA Winner:  Fresh Kills by Bill Loehfelm