The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison – Fiction Book Review

If you’re searching for A-1 fiction to read in the New Year, begin with award-winning author Jonathan Evison’s 2012 release, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” a story of love, loss and hope.

Trevor Conklin, 19, lives with his mother, Elsa, on a small farm in Washington State; and suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative disease requiring a wheel chair and round-the-clock care. His father, Bob, left when he was 3, two months after Trevor’s diagnosis.

Ben Benjamin, 39, is estranged from his wife Janet, after a horrific accident claimed the lives of their two children, Piper and Jodi, over two years ago.

Ben blames himself for the tragedy and it’s forever changed his perspective on life: “Who wants to live in a world where suffering is the only thing that lasts, a place where every single thing that ever meant the world to you can be stripped away in an instant?”

Struggling to regain direction in his life, Ben enrolls in, and graduates from a 28-hour caregiver night course at the Abundant Life Foursquare Church.

Trevor and Ben bond when Ben applies to be Trevor’s daytime caregiver, allowing his mother to work the farm.

Ben aspires to help Trevor transcend his life routine, which includes flaxseed waffles, three daily hours of the Weather Channel, and a Thursday matinee at the mall.

A super-enlarged Triple A map, inspired by an “American Back Roads” travel channel show, dons a wall in the Conklin living room. There, Ben places push pins on North American roadside attractions Trevor can only dream of experiencing.

Bob Conklin sporadically travels from Salt Lake City, Utah to see his son; and his un-announced visits upset Elsa and Trevor. Although, deep down, Trevor still loves his father: “Trevor will hoard his advantage until the very end, withholding the one piece of evidence that might ever absolve his father, namely that he still loves him.”

Driving in the desert, Bob crashes, typical of his misfortunate life. Ironically, he temporarily becomes wheelchair-dependent; and Trevor can’t help but gloat.

Trevor and Ben convince Elsa to allow them to travel to check in on Bob; and thus their southwestern USA trip begins.

Vicariously enjoy the duo’s excursion as they visit popular landmarks, including Yellowstone National Park.

Along their journey, Ben and Trevor meet some interesting people, including Dot.

Dot too is a teenager, who’s hitching her way to Denver; and her free-spirited, sassy ways allure Trevor. Despite Trevor’s physical limitations, Dot too finds him attractive. Dot joins Ben and Trevor as they continue their travels.

The newfound trio spots a beatnik Isuzu on the shoulder while traveling through a downpour. There, they befriend a very pregnant young lady named Peaches who’s changing a tire, while her loser boyfriend, Elton, is sitting in the passenger seat smoking a cigarette.

“Elton’s got a bad back,” she explains. “That’s why I’m changing the tire.”

Meeting the young adults en route, Ben naturally wonders what might have been had his children survived.

Adding mystery to the entourage’s journey is a beat-up, brown Skylark with crooked plates, conspicuously trailing their van.

Throughout the story, Evison deftly captures bittersweet moments we’ve all experienced in life.

The phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” applies to “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving.” Look beyond its busy, psychedelic sleeve to discover a rich narrative, sure to complement your reading in 2013.

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Critiquing Fiction: The 10-Point Review

A critique is an appraisal of your story with accompanying suggestions for improvement. In some ways, it’s like an annual review with your boss or a report card from school: you’re told a bit about what you’re doing well and offered some suggestions on how you could do better.

It’s an excellent method to learn if your story is sound, before you submit it to an editor. A good critique can mean the difference between publication and rejection.

Want someone to read your work and tell you how to improve? Trade critiques with someone else. Not only do you get the opinion of another writer, you improve your own skill set. By critically reviewing the work of others you learn what works and what doesn’t, and can apply it to your own writing.

Here are ten things to look for when assessing the work of others:

1 – Hook

The hook is the first line or paragraph of the story: the opening. Is it sufficient to interest the reader? Is there a balance between dialogue, action and narrative to set the hook? What does or doesn’t work? How can it be made better?

2 – Character

Discuss the believability of the characters. Are they well-rounded or only two dimensional? Are they caricatures or stereotypes? Are the characters actions’ consistent? Are their motives understandable? Are the plot and the characters’ motives in sync? Provide solid examples to demonstrate your point of view.

3 – Setting

Creating a believable world is crucial. It also needs to help set the mood. Discuss whether the setting is right or not for the story, and give examples of what works and what doesn’t. Is the description of locale too much or too little? Did it enhance the mood? Can you visualize the setting? Can you picture what the characters are seeing, hearing, tasting and smelling?

4 – Plot

Does the plot make sense? Did events happen in a logical order? Did the story start in the right place? (Maybe not, if there’s no apparent hook, or the story feels as though the author didn’t get to the point right away.) Discuss any rough spots. Did the story have a beginning, middle and an end? If in a particular genre, did it work? Is it appropriate for the chosen audience? Does the pacing work throughout the manuscript?

5 – Theme

Not every author writes a story with an intentional theme in mind. Nonetheless, one usually develops by the end of the story. While critiquing, consider whether the story has an overt theme and what it is. If a theme emerges, does it work? Can you restate the theme in a single sentence? Is the plot of the story or storyline appropriate for this theme?

6 – Conflict and Resolution

Is there enough conflict in the story to create adequate tension? If not, what is stopping the tension from building? What could be changed to increase it? Does the story resolve too easily? If so, is that a reflection on the characters or the plot?

7 – Dialogue

Is the dialogue realistic? Does it forward the plot? Is it obvious who is speaking? Are sufficient dialogue attribution tags used? Are too many tags used? Cross out said bookisms-dialogue attribution which is impossible (he smiled, she hissed, he sniffed) or those which explain the conversation (he demanded, she insisted, etc.).

8 – Viewpoint

Review the characters and their roles in the story. Are there jarring shifts of viewpoint characters within a scene? If a scene isn’t working, is it possible that another character should have the viewpoint to carry the plot forward?

9 – Grammar/Language/Overall Writing

This is a detailed examination of grammar, language and writing. On the manuscript, mark awkward passages, spelling errors, trite or over-used phrases, incorrect grammar, poor transitions, etc. Point out passive verbs and cross out unnecessary adverbs. Look for places the author may have told more than he showed. Were there any metaphors or analogies? Did they work? Was there a balance of narrative and action? Was the sentence pattern varied? Has the author made any Freudian slips or written in any anachronisms?

10 – Summary

Sum up overall impressions of the manuscript. Did you like the story? Why or why not? Did it work as a whole? Did it feel cohesive? What about the title? Does it work for the story? Why or why not? Point out whether you believe the story is marketable or not and provide solid reasoning for the belief, especially if you don’t believe the piece is marketable. If you think it will sell, suggest a market or two for which the manuscript may be relevant.

Even if you’re meeting face-to-face to discuss the stories, always provide the author with a written copy of your remarks. He should do the same for you. It’s helpful in providing a detailed observation for the write and it can be useful in furnishing a cohesive, articulate oral review.

Book in Review: Alien Hunter, Star Trooper by David K Scholes

When I was a kid, I read my fair share of science-fiction. As an adult, I still ingest a decent amount of sci-fi in other media, but when it comes to the written word, I tend to lean more towards what can best be called “non-genre fiction”, political diatribes and biographies of musicians. Comic books aside, I don’t read an awful lot of sci-fi (and most of the comics I read aren’t really sci-fi, either, unless you consider super-hero stories a subset of science-fiction). With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I was drawn in by “Alien Hunter, Star Trooper”.

This book, by Australian author David K. Scholes, follows an alien known only as Earle (previous appearances of the character sometimes use the spelling Urrle, suggesting that the rather Earthly name is probably just the best translation available to us) after he is mysteriously deposited on Earth by an arbitrary universal force known as the Hand of God effect. Having read previous short stories featuring the character, most notably in the “Essential Reading in Science Fiction” compilation, I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with Scholes’ work, or with Earle. This novella, however, collected from a 12-part serial that ran in Golden Visions Science Fiction magazine, gave a more complete and compelling look at the character and his adventures.

In this book, Earle is transported to Earth from a distant corner of the Universe by a random universal effect known as the Hand of God. We learn a bit about his past accomplishments and the hardships he’s endured. A hard man, renowned throughout the universe as the best of the best amongst Alien Hunters and Starship Troopers, Earle has also been subject to terrible tragedy. It is outside of his considerable powers to return from whence he came until such time as the Hand of God decides to take him back. So, what does an incredibly formidable warrior from an advanced civilization do when he finds himself trapped on a backwater world like ours for an indefinite period of time? Earle decides to get involved and take a proactive role in the affairs of his temporary home. What that means exactly, I’ll leave for you to discover for yourself, as I recommend picking up a copy of this book.

Along the way, you’ll meet or learn about a lot of the alien forces in our universe, some benevolent, some benign. The Tolden, the Brell, Shifters, Super-Shifters, the Drealth and others complicate Earle’s life and that of the Earth. Most importantly, Earle will meet Chris McInnes, a remarkable earth woman who works as a Detective for the Chicago Police Department. Chris, too, has recently endured terrible personal tragedy, but like Earle she is strong and has an uncommon well of determination to draw from. As we learn more about Chris, she turns out to be full of surprises and secrets. Her role on her home world and her growing relationship with Earle turn out to be things that even the mysterious forces that run the cosmos will respect.

There’s a lot to enjoy here. The main characters are interesting and enigmatic, there is a credible element of romance mixed in with the action and suspense. If I had any criticisms, the first would be fairly pedestrian. A more thorough editing, or rather proofreading, job would be helpful as there are a few grammatical errors and such along the way that don’t detract from the experience much and are likely to occur during the writing process but which should be caught by a good proofreader. The second would be that many of Earle’s fights sometimes go a tad too easily, though in some cases it’s to be expected considering who he is and who some of his foes are. Which is not to say that he is never challenged. In fact – oh, but that would be telling. At any rate, these are relatively minor quibbles. The story itself is extremely engrossing, the characters are compelling and make you want to learn more about them, and the universe Mr. Scholes creates is a rich and complex one, full of mighty star faring races, mysterious cosmic forces and, at the eye of the storm, two people trying to make some kind of difference, Earle and Chris.

If I read more science-fiction books that were this much fun, I might spend more of my reading hours with the genre again. It reminds me of the feel some classic sci-fi had, such as Bradbury or Heinlein, in the sense that you tend to lose yourself in the world Scholes has created. Isn’t that what sci-fi is supposed to do?