Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Kristin Shoemaker: Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis is published by the author, Kristin Shoemaker, through, and Kristin makes no bones about it.

What does that imply, if anything? Well, in this day and age I suggest that it does not mean that you're automatically going to read something second rate. Far from it. But the odds are that a book is not going to be something that would excite a New York editor. Because the likelihood is that the author will have tried agents and editors before going to Lulu.

Actually I don't know whether Kristin Shoemaker did that or not. But I think it's fair to say that Aurora Borealis is not a book that would excite a New York editor. In and of itself. What I think it does do is constitute a very respectable example of what is called, in TV circles, a calling-card script. That is to say, it is a piece of work which demonstrates rather well that the author can produce work of a professional standard.

The author now has a novel which is nicely printed out in book format -- and that is always so much more impressive than a heap of manuscript -- and she can hand copies out to professionals and say, look this is an example of what I can do. Viewed in that way, I regard Aurora Borealis as an impressive and valuable piece of work. If I were an editor in a leading fiction house (or even a small one), I wouldn't actually have published this book. But if I were shown it, and spent a few minutes reading it, I would certainly say, and mean it, please let me see anything else that you write.

Told in the first person, Aurora Borealis tells how Alice Pendleton, an aspiring writer, comes to suffer endless (metaphorical) torture at the hands of her sister from hell -- a sister who is named Aurora. The tension and antagonism are steadily increased to the point where Alice decides that there is nothing for it -- she is just going to have to bump her sister off.

The main virtues of this book are:
It's short: maybe 55,000 words.
It's well written: the author can spell and punctuate.
It has a clearly defined plot: this is not 225 pages of anguished introspection.
It's amusing -- not laugh out loud funny, but I certainly view it as a black comedy.
These are not negligible accomplishments. As for shortcomings: well, the plot is a little creaky here and there. But these things improve with practice, and after a few more books Kristin will be as competent as anyone.

Judging by this initial book, Kristin is more naturally inclined to the commercial market than to literary world, and that, in my opinion, is an entirely healthy state of affairs. If I were her agent I would encourage her to do a few books in a strictly commercial format -- the more tightly formulaic the better -- in order to gain experience. Using another name wouldn't do any harm. Then, when she finds her feet, she can do books which have a more personal stamp on them.

If you want to read another, and rather harsher, review of this book, you can find one by Kate Trout. Though in my view Ms Trout takes the whole thing rather more seriously than is necessary. Aurora Borealis is, as I say, a black comedy, and black comedies are not designed to give us a template for living right.

It was, incidentally, Kristin Shoemaker's blog which led me to the Trout review. And, as you will realise when you see that the blog is called Linux Librarian, Kristin has more than one pair of shoes in her wardrobe.


Armand said...

I've read a lot about self-publishing over the years and much of it has been negative, in fact in the circles that I come from, it's generally stigmatized ("you self publish because nobody wants to pay you for your stuff").

However, these days I've been thinking about DJ Dangermouse from the UK who pressed and gave away about 2,000 copies of his now famous Grey Album and was soon offered a recording contract.

Apples and oranges? Yes, it's true, but they're still both fruit.

- Armand

Kitty said...

I wonder how many comments were left at Kate Trout's book review. She hasn't posted any, and there should be at least one -- mine. I thought she took the book too seriously and thought her quoting Anton LaVey (!!) and others was hilarious. In fact, I think people who read her review, with those quotes, might be inclined to buy the book, even though she doesn't recommend it.

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Cialis Online said...

Auroras Boreales are an amazing phenomenon, I hope that before I leave this planet I can watch it with my own eyes.