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Review of Terry Bisson’s “Fire on the Mountain”
by Joyce Frohn
How does history work? What if history had been different?
Alternative history can be such fun. The greatest master of that
genre, Terry Bisson, is back in print, (PM Press 2009, ISBN
978-1-60486-087-0) with “Fire On the Mountain”. This story manages to
weave two stories one hundred years apart into one fast, exciting
read. The question at the heart of both stories? What if John Brown’s
raid had succeeded? The Civil War is fought not between North and
South but between Nova Africa and well; you’ll find out. And who in
Europe comes in on which side? This idea works because Terry knows
history so well.
The personal stories entwine completely as a young slave who
discovers his family is not what it seems. He must take sides in a
gathering war that threatens not just his world but also his best
friend. He discovers ambition and adventure and a hundred years later
a girl must reconcile with her mother to recover from her father’s
death. The truths he finds out are the ones that will heal her heart.
In one story deception and trickery are at the heart of survival and
in the other truth is what cures pain.
And the spooky thing is that the history is totally believable.
The Mars landing is delayed by a sandstorm. And its 1959? With cars
that go hundreds of miles an hour? It’s a wild ride in both stories.
Which leads to another question raised by this book. What if we
are the alternative history?
P.S. Elvis is in here.
Joyce Frohn has been a professional writer for years. She has been published in “ClarkesWorld”, “Tales of the Unanticipated”, and”Goblin Fruit”. She is married with and eight-year-old daughter who thinks Mom hogs the computer.
I recently discovered the very first author I worked with when starting the podcast, Ann Hite, will be releasing her book, Ghost on Black Mountain later this year. She sent me the book trailer earlier this week. The first story I ever released on the podcast, Quell the Voices, was a part of this book. Then in February of 2010 she sent me another story titled the same as her book, Ghost on Black Mountain. Amy Tapia did a great job on the reading and it remains one of my favorites. Take a look at the trailer, have a listen to the story, then go check out Ann’s site. Ghost On Black Mountain will release from Gallery Books (imprint of Simon & Schuster) September 13, 2011.
This week I’ve got a real treat for you. I recently discovered a great new writer, (well I didn’t discover him, but you know what I mean.) After I read his second novel Fated I immediately went and picked up Breathers his first. Ever since then, when people ask me about him I say, “this guy is somewhere between Christopher Moore and Douglas Adams, but in some ways, he might be better than both.” That may seem like a daring statement, but his characters feel so real, they make the story something I really care about, and not just something I’m reading to pass the time. Some of you may have seen my review of Fated on my site, it’s also up at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The companion to it (the review of Breathers) is coming, but first I asked him if he’d like to do an interview, and after months of procrastinating on my part, I’ve finally sat him down with a list of questions.
J.W. – Hey S.G. Thanks for not giving up on me. The world wants to know, what are you working on now?
S.G. – I’m heading into the editing process on my third novel, Lucky Bastard – a dark comedy and social satire with mystery/noir elements. Like Breathers and Fated, it’s narrated in first person by someone who isn’t quite like the rest of us. But rather than a zombie or the immortal personification of Fate, the narrator of Lucky Bastard is a private detective who has the ability to steal luck.
J.W. – How long does it typically take for you to go from the idea stage of writing to completion? What’s the hardest part for you?
S.G. – I don’t tend to have a typical time frame. The idea for Breathers came about in 2001, when I wrote a short story titled “A Zombie’s Lament.” Two years later I got the idea to turn the short story into a novel and that took more than two years to finish. With Fated, the idea came to me in two parts from 2003-2004, but I didn’t sit down to write the book until December 2006 and finished it a little over a year later. Lucky Bastard is based on the concept of a short story I wrote seven years ago. The novel took less than a year to finish. So as you can see, I’m kind of all over the place.
The hardest part of writing a novel? That would be the third act. Tying everything up. Making the set-up and the plot development coalesce in a resolution that is satisfying both to me as the writer and as the reader. The last thing I want is a disappointing finish. I get enough of that being a Minnesota Vikings fan.
J.W. – What’s the one thing you’re most proud of when it comes to your writing?
S.G. – I guess I’d say that I’m proud I continued to submit my writing for twenty years in spite of the fact that my percentage of acceptances to rejections was about 2%. Not exactly the type of numbers that encourage delusions of grandeur. But mostly I get a lot of pleasure out of being able to share my stories with others. And, hopefully, making them laugh.
J.W. – I read on your website that Breathers was actually the fourth novel you’ve written. Where are the others? And will we ever see them?
S.G. – The other three novels are in the metaphorical box under my bed. While they all have redeeming qualities, they’re also flawed (especially the first two) and more representative of the straight supernatural horror I used to write rather than what I write now. So it’s doubtful they’ll ever get published. Unless I become Stephen-King-famous and people clamor for everything I’ve ever written. Or if I get desperate for money.
J.W. – Besides not having a day job, what’s the best thing about being a full time writer?
S.G. – Afternoon naps. It’s like a little half hour of luxury. There’s a reason they’re part of the kindergarten curriculum. Naps should be a mandatory part of everyone’s life.
J.W. – Your sense of humor is… unique. While reading both Fated and Breathers I found myself at several points laughing my ass off, but at the same time feeling bad about it. Is that something you consciously shoot for? Or are you just one of those people that involuntarily laugh at funerals?
S.G. – I wouldn’t say it’s something I consciously shoot for, it’s just the way I’m wired. Which is probably why I love films like The Big Lebowski and Being John Malkovich. I laugh at inappropriate things and I frequently find humor in awkward moments. I also enjoy bringing up taboo subjects in mixed company. It makes conversation much more entertaining.
J.W. – Will we ever see Andy from Breathers or Fabio from Fated again?
S.G. – I have an idea for a sequel to Fated, though at this point it’s just an idea. I haven’t really sat down to see how I would flesh it out, but the seeds are there. How’s that for some mixed metaphors? As for Breathers, if I could come up with something fresh, something that wasn’t just going over the same ideas, then sure. But at the moment, I’ve got nothing. Plus I never intended the story to continue past where the novel ends. But there’s always the possibility of resurrecting other characters from Breathers in a novella prequel.
J.W. – If you could only have one book to read, what would it be?
S.G. – The Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Still my favorite novel of all time. I’ve got the conch!
J.W. – What do you consider to be your strongest areas as a writer, and where would you like to improve?
S.G. – I think I’ve always done dialogue well. I have a lot of fun with it. Plus I get to have my characters say all of the things I wish I could say. I’ve also been told that my prose is visual, that people can see the scenes in their head. So that’s good to know.
As for where I’d like to improve? I’m always looking to get better in every area, but if I had to pick just one, I’d say my female characters. I’d like to write a story from the POV of a woman but don’t feel like I could make the voice work well enough to make it fly.
J.W. – Lastly, any advice to writers just getting started with regard to self-publishing their novel vs. traditional publishing?
S.G. – The publishing landscape has changed to the point where there are so many options available today for self-publishing that it seems a much more viable option. And in a few cases, authors who have gone that route have landed lucrative contracts from New York publishers.
I still believe the traditional publishing route was the right path for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right path for everyone. Nor is it an easy one. It took me nearly twenty years to get my first novel published. However, if you’re going to self-publish, I’d recommend paying the money to have it professionally edited. You want to put your best work out there, whether it’s a $2.99 e-book or a $24.99 hardcover novel.
Thanks for stopping by Scott, I, and likely many others will be waiting impatiently for your next release.
ShadowCast Audio Presents:
Story of the Month
February’s Story of the month “OverExposed“
by Josh Wagner
Narrated by Marty Perrett
March’s Story of the Month “Stitches “
by A. J. Madden
Narrated by Kate Sherrod
Music featured on this episode is courtesy of