Saturday, March 26, 2011

First Review of Thom Powell's 'Shady Neighbors'

"Bombs away!"

     No, it's not what the reviewers are saying about Thom Powell's new book Shady least not to my face. But it did seem like a cute way to introduce the subject of critcal review.  The real reason for this photo of antique war birds will be explained a few paragraphs further down.
    But first, in just over a week since Shady Neighbors was released, Joe Beelart, author, editor, and literary critic from West Linn, Oregon has already managed to read it and write the first review.  So, if you are still on the fence about whether to invest your hard-earned cash on this book, maybe Joe's review will be of some use. If any other readers out there want to write a review, I will be happy to post it. So will Amazon. Meanwhile, this is what Joe Beelart has to say:

     "The boys of summer come big, hairy, and silent in Thom Powell’s new novel about baseball, Bigfoot, and life on the edge of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.  Thrown into the mix of edge-of-the-forest characters is a beady-eyed land developer who will stop at nothing to carve a mountain resort out of a pristine field of dreams … oh the heartless greedy scum!  Riding hard to the rescue is our hero, Sam, a mild mannered science school teacher with genes drained straight from Genghis Kahn, and his son, major-league-pitcher-to-be-someday, Jack.

A cosmic grade conservation battle begins when young ball player turned herpetologist Jack serendipitously pockets an uncooperative snake we later find may be unknown to science!  Enter the university troglodytes’ intent on slapping their names on the new species.  But, the women graduate students sent to inquire into the new beastie turn out to be not such bad folk, what with their Porche, vans,  youthful bodies, propensity toward excessive intakes of wine around a campfire, and Elvis, an erstwhile heroic dog with a inclination to chase things that walk silently in the night.

So, just how do Our Barefoot Friends work into the mix?  Based largely on true events now novelized, from his forest hiding place, one hairy, never-to-be seen fan tosses a long lost baseball back into Jack’s practice field.  Jack thinks it fun and begins a regular hit-in, toss-out practice, much to his father Sam’s chagrin when he discovers what’s going on.  Then, back to our supple graduate students studying things wild up the hill … they are well-noticed by one of The Locals.  Oh, so much fun … girls, baseball, Bigfoots, and a nefarious businessman.  What better summer reading?

Shady Neighbors is available through and a few quality local bookstores.  For a signed copy, please contact the author through his e-mail: ."   

     Of course, Joe is being kind.  He sidesteps every opportunity to be as scathing as reviewers are expected to be. He could have, for example, said that the characters could use more development.  While this could be said for most novels written by inexperienced writers like me, lots of character development, a la Charles Dickens, adds greatly to the volume of reading.   I made a conscious decision to keep the story 'plot driven' rather than 'character-driven.' This keeps the story moving, and it keep the total number of words below a hundred thousand (I came in at 98,600).  I'm told the story reads like a movie. I'll take that.
     As a bigfoot enthusiast himself, 'Joe the Reviewer' could have also objected to the fact that bigfoot didn't get many lines nor a lot of on-screen action. One might ask, "Where's the violent confrontation between the bigfoot and the big game hunter that's a staple in every bigfoot novel ever written? C'mon, Thom!  It's just words on a page. It doesn't cost any more to write in a clan of avenging sasquatches who maraud the landscape, eventually pulling the arms off the story's villian." 
     Instead, the author in question (moi) decided to make the sasquatch a more low-key, keep-to-the-shadows character that's only one of several plot elements.  The idea here is to make a story that will hopefully find a wider audience that just us bigfoot devotees.  Face it folks, the market for bigfoot books is pretty saturated, and the number of bigfoot enthusiasts who also have fifteen bucks to spare for yet another book is not huge.
       This book, whatever it is, has to appeal to a wider audience, not only for the sake of sales, but to 'get the word out'.  Many of us who follow the bigfoot topic do not want to see the creatures themselves bothered by prying human eyes, but we would like to see a wider public recognition of the fact that humanity does indeed share the planet with a race of beings that are as potentially powerful as they are poorly understood.  I see the bigfoot mystery as Nature's biggest secret.  I created a story that tries to advance the credibility of this mystery in the mind of the public by working in dimensions that might resonate with folks outside the small circle of folks who already know that the creatures exist. 
     And so, 'Bigfoot the Monster' was not invited to this plot. Instead, an image of bigfoot is concocted that serves as a role model for the kind of planetary stewardship that we ourselves should aspire to. The Shady Neighbors sasquatch forces us to be introspective. It also embodies the idea that one can accomplish anything if you don't care who gets the credit.  Bigfoot pulls the strings in this story but prefers to do it from behind the scenes, serving as an example to us all who would pursue goals, or the creatures themselves, in pursuit of personal glory or vindication. Bigfoot is the role model in this story and the human 'hero' by comparison, is a self-absorbed idiot who begins to sees the light only around the end of the story. Like I said, the characters could stand to develop a bit more. 
     Like the sasquatch in this story who wants none of the credit for all its' accomplishments, Joe Beelart donated an enormous chunk of his time to sharpening and improving the Shady Neighbors story.  Several other kind souls also edited, corrected, and improved what I attempted to write.  Sally Sheppard, Autumn Williams' mom, was scathingly brutal and fantastically helpful in sharpening my unfocused literary style. I shudder to think what I would have ended up with if she had not donated her time and intellect to this project. The list doesn't end there. Christopher Munch, Tom Yamarone, Kirk Sigurdsen, Toby Johnson, Alicia Bateman, Sarah Ross, Randy Schimmel, and Guy Edwards all contributed their considerable editing and artisitc skills to the Shady Neighbors project. I will be forever grateful to all of them.  
     Writing is such an isolating, introverted experience that one can easily forget to reach out for help from the talented linguists that surround all of us. Reaching out to these people for editorial help was the best move I made. I'm still not sure how good the Shady Neighbors product is, but I know it is vastly better than it would have been if I had not been helped by these generous and articulate souls. 
     If you buy the book you will see that it is dedicated to' Lucky'. With so much editing help to acknowledge, who, people ask, is Lucky? 
     Lucky was a bomber pilot in World War II. He flew B-24 Liberators as shown above. Lucky has to be the best nickname you could possibly have in a war, and Lucky earned that name because he was always really lucky.  In thirty-five missions over hostile territory, with planes dropping out of the sky all around him, Lucky somehow always managed drop his load of bombs and then make a perfect landing back at the base. No one ever bled on Lucky's plane. That alone is a remarkable statistic in light of the gruesome carnage that was a constant presence on those flying deathtraps. Lucky was the first one on his particular  base in England to complete thirty-five mission and qualify to go home alive and uninjured. That's what I call really lucky.
     Lucky isn't alive anymore, but if it wasn't for Lucky, I wouldn't be alive now. Lucky was my dad. Thanks, Lucky. This book's for you.

1 comment:

  1. I read this book twice. I have now come to the conclusion that everyone should read it. It's both funny and informative in ways that will be appreciated by younger as well as older audiences.
    Bigfoot plays a part in this book. I didn’t know anything about bigfoot before I read this book but I always assumed the whole idea was imaginary. Now, I’m not so sure. This book was more convincing than anything else I have ever seen on this subject on TV or in the news. If you aren't a bigfoot fan, it doesn't matter. This is also a book about preservation of wild places and discovering your place within our physical world, our social circles, and our families.
    The way Thom Powell includes small, poignant details causes you to recollect passages from this book at the wierdest of times. Shady Neighbors is a must-read.