In the Aftermath: 9/11 Through a Volunteer’s Eyes

by Beth SK Morris
Poetica Publishing
book review by Nicole Yurcaba

“Subway destroyed, they fled east
on foot, heads covered with ash,
some wearing masks, some still
bleeding from the debris”

This cathartic, eye-opening account of the tragedy that 9/11 bestowed upon the United States transports readers to Ground Zero, where ash and debris fall, where loved ones disappear, and where for years to come, the day’s physical, emotional, and psychological scarrings refuse to disappear, let alone fade. In this haunting collection, the poem “By the Numbers, 6000” reduces humanity to “body parts recovered, sorted / into segments small enough / to fit in a test tube.” Readers find themselves face-to-face with a wife who “buries her face in her workbook, lowers her eyes” as she confesses the potential loss of her husband and the consequences his disappearance bestows upon her and her daughter’s future in the poem “The Lesson.” Meanwhile, toxic xenophobia permeates American society and shocks readers to their cores as they experience it for themselves in the poem “The Physics of Ripples.”

This collection’s power lies in its exploration of the often unmentioned—the lives and experiences of countless volunteers who risked life and limb to transform Ground Zero from a place of debris and rubble to one of pristine streets and reconstruction. As recollections and memories combine, their release onto the page and full disclosure to readers who may or may not remember that infamous day act as a great reckoning. The author’s experimentations with form and spacing create the sensations of reliving and then releasing the experiences depicted in the book, actively engaging the readers in the narrator’s catharsis. In “At the Doctor’s Office” and poems like it, readers learn of the health crises volunteers and emergency workers face. Nostalgic and poignant, honorary and honest, with a voice raw and uniquely its own, this collection captures the immediate and distant aftermath of a tragedy still prominent in American minds.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

The Devil’s Bookkeepers: Book 3: The Noose Closes

by Mark H Newhouse
NCG Key
book review by Mihir Shah

“‘There is an emptiness inside all of us. Even you, my most logical friend, must someday find something that fills that void inside you.'”

In this final volume of Newhouse’s trilogy on the Lodz Ghetto in Poland, the Jewish community’s harrowing existence continues to be tested at astronomical levels, systematically breaking down their humanity until emptiness remains. That said, the author’s attempt to honor his upbringing and parents that were one of fewer than 5,000 survivors at Lodz by shedding light on the atrocities and persecution there is wildly successful. The phrase, “the truth shall set you free,” is tailor-made for this work of historical fiction that is authentic and fearless in simply writing what is.

As the Nazi noose closes, the Lodz Ghetto residents are reduced to living in three primary states of being: hunger, mourning, and working. Focusing on the main character from the previous books, Benny Ostrowski, Newhouse wastes no time delving into the gaping void left by the deportation of Ostrowski’s infant daughter, Regina, and wife, Miriam. Those that were spared deportation were in equally dire straits. While this third book is just as character-driven as the previous two, the heightened focus on existential themes is captured seamlessly by the empty work chairs of vanished coworkers Dr. Oskar Rosenfeld and Julian Cukier as Ostrowski grabs onto Rosenfeld’s pipe bowl he lifted from Oskar’s apartment.

Now with Jozef as his roommate, Benny’s denial toward the entire situation—the loss of his wife, child, friends—is on full display in this one moment. Almost mechanically, he and everyone remaining thrust themselves into their work because that is all that remains between them and insanity. Making matters worse, the Nazis are hell-bent on stripping away any semblance of the Jewish identity, even canceling Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. The irony, of course, is not lost on readers that Yom Kippur commemorates sincere repentance and forgiveness, though there is zero intent to redeem and repent from the Nazi side.

Whether it is the outright burning down of hospitals or the gradual deportation of everyone but the most able-bodied workers, the industrial value of Lodz is a double-edged sword, leaving residents “in an envelope made of barbed wire, trigger happy, Nazi sentries.” Many questions can be posed, but the one central to this text would be how one can find purpose amid such darkness. Ostrowski’s commitment to his wife and child is admirable, and it is his reason for survival. If Elie Wiesel and Viktor Frankl still graced the earth, there is little doubt that Newhouse’s work would resonate with them as it embodies their same fierce spirit of survival and purpose with an uncompromising eye toward the unfolding of events. In the same vein, the introduction of Pola, the only woman in Benny’s office, leads the author to explore the need for companionship. For the longest time, Benny sees Miriam’s face in every woman. But is it betrayal to crave intimacy when one is in the eye of a seemingly never-ending storm, and uncertainty is all-encompassing?

Sometimes, hope alone is a weapon strong enough to withstand darkness. However, throughout the novel, there are unshakable graphics that will leave audiences understanding the full scope of the evil and despair in Lodz. Specifically, the desensitization to death is downright shocking. For example, twenty gallows from a public execution remain for all to see as a sign from the Nazis. Conversely, the relief that sweeps over Benny upon learning that millions of toys made from paper and trash have been delivered is heartbreaking as he holds onto the faintest hope that his baby girl might still be alive.

Nevertheless, the one moment from the many the author portrays that is especially spine-chilling and will forever be etched into memories is a truck full of residents being deported out of Lodz—likely on their way to their deaths—singing the Hatikvah in jubilation and hope. Whether Mordechai Chaim (M.C.) Rumkowski, Chairman of the Judenrat and anointed Eldest of the Jews, is the devil or the shield prolonging the inevitable fate of the Jewish residents of Lodz is up for debate, but what is undeniable is Newhouse’s ability to take one of the darkest moments of suffering in human history and portray it with a grace and clarity that returns the dignity of these myriad souls sacrificed by the doings of man.

Winner of the 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award Historical Fiction Categoryda Vinci Eye Finalist, and Montaigne Medal Finalist

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Credit the Crocodile: A Tale of Political Intrigue and International Adventure Involving Wildlife

by Godfrey Harris
The Americas Group
book review by Mihir Shah

“I want them to know what it’s like to live constantly on guard for enemies, constantly on the lookout for your next meal.”

Paul Martin and Tyler Williams are determined to give purpose to their gap year. At just eighteen years of age, the newly minted high school graduates immediately gravitate to Animal Welfare Enterprises’ mission. What ensues is a trip to the South African countryside town of Happy Hollow with the intent of awakening the community to animal mistreatment on the Stewart farm and “to free the crocodiles” from any barriers that keep them from their natural habitat. It doesn’t take long for this seemingly innocent freedom of expression by the boys to snowball into endless sequences of chaos and repercussions by a community and authorities determined to make an example of the duo.

Harris shifts the point of view routinely from the boys and their encounter with the people of Happy Hollow to Credit the Crocodile’s journey and observations on the entire fiasco. To add further intrigue, Credit is incredibly observant and thinks critically about everything that happens around him, even if it is just musing on how parrots communicate on where to set their nests for mating season. The author effectively uses Credit’s character in the novel to shed light upon the atrocities against other wildlife, primarily the ruthless slaughter of elephants in Kenya for their ivory and rhinos being killed in South Africa for their horns. There are numerous examples, but the more one thinks, the more one is forced to wonder whether humans aren’t truly the “mindless beasts” in this entire cycle of predator and prey.

With the debate raging and teetering on outrage, Mrs. Nabala simply, yet vehemently, insists that wild animals cannot be respected if restrained within enclosures like zoos, as is largely the case in the United States. Ironically, the boys are so engrossed in their own perspective and words that they fail to see the resentment building up with every speech they make. While the mayhem only builds up for Paul and Tyler, the author provides a refreshing backstory of how Credit’s desire to learn the meaning of individual sounds through rhythm and tone from the Stewart’s son, Stephen, helped him evolve into an Obi Wan-esque character, the seemingly omniscient wiseman of the entire reptilian clan. When their paths inevitably intersect, Paul and Tyler are direct recipients of Credit’s generosity and knowledge of the English language. Their lives unquestionably depend on their understanding and trust in him.

When Andy Mitchell, police chief of Happy Hollow, becomes privy to this gathering, he, along with Tom, the owner of Stewart Farm, immediately sets out to make an example of the boys. In unraveling the gravity of Paul and Tyler’s predicament, the author seamlessly integrates several critical ideas that should not be overlooked. Chiefly, his characters are emphatically against the idea of outsiders coming to fix what isn’t broken in the name of humanitarianism that dates back to colonial rule. Whereas Andy and Tom are steadfast in bringing the boys down, Stephen and Credit want to help the boys out of their predicament while simultaneously ingraining in their minds that preconceived notions prevent them from seeing just how beneficial the farm is to the crocodiles’ existence and, on a grander scale, the existence and employment of a large portion of the Happy Hollow community.

The plot reaches a breakneck pace when Paul and Tyler are sentenced to two weeks of living in the bush. With the help of other crocodiles like Cynthia and Cecil, Credit is determined to make a breakthrough with the boys, both in helping them survive the two weeks from all the wild animals as well as showing them the difficulty life would present to the crocodiles if they were forced to live that “on-edge-all-the-time” lifestyle in their version of the wild. In particular, the comparison between the bush of Happy Hollow and the San Diego Wild Animal Park paints a stark contrast between the two and helps Credit make his point with far greater intensity.

As the boys’ interact with Credit, their journey to a greater understanding of freedom and captivity begins. Though the political angle is referenced consistently throughout the novel, Harris uses Credit to send a far greater message to the boys, the animal welfare organization, and society as a whole: understand what a nation’s realities are (in this case, South Africa and Happy Hollow) and communicate with those that they think may be oppressed so they can get a complete, assumption-free snapshot of the entire situation. Despite Paul and Tyler coming across as naive and almost robotic in their regurgitation of AWE manuals, Harris does a commendable job of showing their character arc and propelling them further into their purpose with the help of Credit. With fluid prose and thoughtful content, the novel engages and challenges the glamorization of “doing good,” making for a meaningful read.

Tara’s Treasures

by Betty Elza
Archway Publishing
book review by Michael Radon

“Tara smiled. Everything was all right. Tara went home. At bedtime Tara said to her mother, ‘We are silent friends, we are givers.'”

When young Tara moves to a new neighborhood with her mother, she quickly wants to make friends and settle in. Spotting a woman working in a garden full of flowers, she goes into her yard to introduce herself and make friends, only to be ignored. Trying again the next day, Tara greets her neighbor only to be snubbed again. Undeterred, she returns to the garden, and this time taps her neighbor on the arm, startling her. The woman introduces herself as Zura, and soon the pair are working together on Zura’s garden, swapping stories and becoming fast friends. Zura begins to give small trinkets from various places to Tara to thank her for her friendship, but this puts Tara in a bind: how can she reciprocate Zura’s friendship when she has no treasures of her own?

Paired with vibrant, full-page illustrations in soothing pastels, the mellow, friendly tone of this book is perfect for pre-nap reading or just a relaxing afternoon. Children either reading this book or having it read to them will be treated with a story about how friendships are made and kept as well as understanding what life is like with someone who is hearing impaired. A story like this is perfect for young children of all manner of sensibilities, as it is non-confrontational and generally upbeat. Even as she wonders why Zura won’t pay attention to her, and before she understands that she cannot hear her, Tara’s frustrations are palpable but manifest in a positive direction. With a wholesome, direct message and plenty of learning opportunities, this is a wonderful book to share with any young reader.

The Future of Buildings, Transportation and Power


by Roger Duncan and Michael E. Webber
DW Books
book review by Kate Robinson
“Moreover, we believe that the increasing interconnections of energy and information in these sectors present a fascinating story about our future.”

 

As the title aptly indicates, this volume explores the possibilities and probabilities of future technologies in building, transportation, and power infrastructure. The topics focus upon the increasing exchange of power and information among these systems and the energy requirements necessary to manufacture and sustain these networks. Authors Duncan and Webber are well equipped to lead this discussion as academics engaged in university research and education concerning energy resources, energy efficiency, energy policy, and environmental sustainability. They are also involved outside academia in various activities related to energy and the environment.

The book is organized into five parts containing ten chapters. Part 1 eases readers into the authors’ vision of energy efficiency, delineating how the three sectors of building, transportation, and power will converge in the future and will likely function with “less material, less motion, and in less time.” Well noted is the primary problem of energy conversion that results in pollution, waste heat, and wasted motion: “The abundance of waste is the starting point for improving the global energy system, and is one of our motivations for writing this book.”

Part 2 investigates the future of building trends, sustainable construction, and sentient-appearing, “smart” buildings. “As creepy as it may sound, in the future we will be living, working, and moving about inside robots.” Part 3 discusses the future of transportation, the energy requirements involved, and sentient-appearing transportation. Both practical forms of transportation by conventional vehicles and the impractical and ethereal forms such as energetic teleportation are covered. Part 4 discusses the critical subject of our evolving power industry, clean energy solutions, and the nature of advanced power systems. “If the story of humanity is a long history of harnessing energy and moving from one fuel source to another, the subtext is an inexorable shift from high-carbon fuels to ever lower ones.” Part 5 concludes with the authors’ speculation on future technologies and whether these are attainable and sustainable. “Nanotechnology will continue to be the driver in material technology, creating new materials… while improving quality and reducing manufacturing waste.”

Relevant historical material throughout each section offers deeper insight into the previous and current evolution of technology in the building, transportation, and energy sectors. Highlighted are some key historical thinkers and inventors who have contributed to these fields, such as Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Buckminster Fuller, and some influential contemporary figures, such as Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Ray Kurzweil, and others who currently advance building, transportation, and energy trends.

The narrative’s beauty is not only in the condensed but highly informative overviews of each topic but in the accessible prose, making what could be a dry, technical discussion accessible, lively, and interesting to lay readers. The summaries at each chapter ending help to focus upon and clarify the chapter topics, while the entertaining prologues at the beginning of Parts 2-5 provide a human experiential element that aptly illustrates how future trends in “smart” building technology and transportation may affect our daily lives. The book’s information is well-cited, and, in addition to extensive endnotes, a nicely organized index makes the book handy for classroom use and student research. As the book went to press, the coronavirus pandemic emerged, so the authors added a relevant note and some pertinent updates to address that potential influence. Ultimately, despite many pressing issues and obstacles, Duncan and Webber are positive about the future of energy: “There is no doubt that we can achieve sustainable, emissions-free operations of our buildings, transportation, and power. This book has shown the many ways we are moving toward that sustainable future.”

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

The Book Killers: Weak Point of View

The Book Killers: Poor Revisions – Executing the Process

In this ongoing series, Christopher Klim, author and senior editor of the US Review of Books, takes a look at common errors that undermine books.

All fine writing is the result of rewriting. I don’t know who coined that phrase, but it is certainly a fact. The first draft is the art of writing. The revision process exists to recognize mistakes and mop up the mess, and readers never witness the accident. Readers seek the ease of flawlessness.

EXECUTING REVISIONS

The four level revision process in Write to Publish a top down approach. Work the levels in iterations. Be comfortable with the work at one level, before moving onto the next. This builds the structure of the story before fixing the mess wrought by the construction. It also saves time. Why perfect a scene or paragraph that might not remain in the finished version? Upon passing from level two to three, a solid story stands in place. All scenes will remain on the story line and in their current position. It is now a matter of making them resonate in the reader’s mind.

A story is a unique creation, requiring a special effort to complete. During the draft process, pause to make note of ideas, weaknesses, and potential areas of research. I record story ideas and research information in a composition book. I also number revision concerns from the last page toward the front. I fill six to ten pages of notes on grammar, theme, tone, research requirements, and other specific story concerns. These are concrete problems, and I won’t slow the momentum of the draft to solve them. I might use too many passive verbs or fudge the details of an unfamiliar profession. Bad habits and the assumption of guesswork as fact are two comfortably dangerous behaviors, but the back of my composition book saves me, detailing my story’s shortcomings. It holds a checklist of needed revisions.

While good draft work is often brave and ground-breaking, the revision process requires another kind of courage. It is akin to self-surgery, knowing when to amputate one of your limbs. Be ruthless with your prose. If a word, sentence, scene, or chapter doesn’t serve the story, lop it off. It might contain the most brilliant prose of the piece, but it is cancer to the story, driving it off course and killing reader interest. Save it for another day. It might form the centerpiece of a new story. Trust your ability to think of even better words down the line.

SOLICITING FEEDBACK

There comes a point when a writer desires objectivity. Cultivate a trusted reader. I have a target reader in mind when I write, someone who appreciates the same aspects of storytelling. She knows when I miss the mark, and she is not afraid to tell me. I argue. I curse and moan, but in the end, I know she is right. She is not a writer. She is a reader. She doesn’t stay up at night considering character flaws or lifestyle element. She knows a good story. She laughs. She cries. She is entertained, and if I cannot do this for her, I have missed my objective.

Beyond that, build a reading circle. This is also com-posed of readers. Writers are a dangerous group to critique a work in progress. Each writer has a personal vision of a story, and it is often not yours. Good members of a reading circle are well read. They are just as happy with a biography of FDR, as the latest Robert Stone. They pick up TV Guide and The Economist in the same shopping trip. They love the written word. They are authorities to give the thumbs up or down on your work. They are a mere sample of the reading public. Try to remove your emotion and listen to them.

WHEN IS A STORY FINISHED?

Who knows? There comes a time when a writer must put the work down and move on. Writers often get a brain-storm and return to a particular piece with ideas to elevate the story, but overall, a point arrives when the writer can go no further and must let it rest on its laurels.

For my first published novel, I accepted countless pieces of advice from editors and agents, tweaking each nuance of the story. I reached a point where I was changing sentences because I was tired of reading the same lines over and over. I’d clearly spent too long with the story. I finally threw my hands up and told my writing mentor that I was finished accepting the often inane feedback leveled on my novel. An amazing thing happened. It was a moment out of a grainy kung fu movie. “Son,” my mentor said. “You’re ready to go to the next level.”

When the work is as good as it can be, move on. Begin another story. Hope for enlightenment, but learn when to quit spinning your wheels. If Michelangelo sought perfection – and he was darn near perfect in his art – he’d have chipped away at the statue of David, until it was small enough to clip on a key chain.

Finally, be patient with your talent at its current level. If you aspire to improve, you will sacrifice and work every day. You will get better. You will tell the stories you want to tell. Great artists learn to work in a vacuum, producing ideal works of art that hold a mirror to humanity, society, and themselves. Be brave.

EXERCISES

Outline your revision process. What do your talents require? Are you concentrating on your weaknesses? Can the ordinary be elevated?

Resurrect your old writing and run it through the aforementioned revision process. If the work is old enough, certain flaws will immediately stand out. See if the process doesn’t improve the story structure and prose.

Transpose a favorite writer’s passage to paper. Observe the sentence structure, pacing, and word selection.

Christopher Klim is the author of several books including the novel, Idiot!, and the short collection, True Surrealism. He is currently working on a novel trilogy about the space program past, present, and future.

Previously in The Book Killers series: Poor Revisions – Level Four, Presentation

Genealogy Lesson for the Laity

by Cathryn Shea
Unsolicited Press
book review by Michael Radon

“Use your head.
Imagination is a peculiar clay,
infinity captured
in the dark matter we don’t understand.”

One of the most alluring and powerful things about poetry is that it offers the poet the opportunity to say things indirectly, using the simple selection of words to make the ordinary magical. For example, there is the attention to detail in poems like “Drano Didn’t Work,” which chronicles the hiring of a drainage company to service the author’s home. The same care is given to poems about bad hospital food and the dread of an unpleasant diagnosis or a dying friend. This collection of poems broaches these big and small eventualities of life with the same gravity, processing them with the same levity. It illustrates how the same coping tools can tackle any problem, and how a sardonic but compassionate view will find the silver lining in any challenge.

The smallest adjustments in meter or vocabulary allow these poems to work flexibly through the eye of the reader. Each of the selections in this book can land a gut punch as heavy as a brick or flit about tragic events almost playfully. Such a duality is only possible through meticulous and precise writing. The author weaves her way through overseas atrocities, small-town Americana, and references to Scooby Doo with the same deftness. Every word is a receptacle for however much meaning the reader decides to fill it with. There still manages to be a voice and a message and meaning to these poems, giving the poet a platform to speak her mind and share her experiences. That razor’s edge of difference between ambiguity and clarity breathes immense power into these poems and absolutely makes them a worthwhile read.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Murder in the Atchafalaya

by Jim Riley

book review by Joe Kilgore
“Trixie’s unblinking gaze fixed onto whatever follows death as her last breath left her body.”

A lot of things can kill you in the Louisiana swamps, not the least of which are water moccasins, alligators, and maybe even something unworldly called a Rougarou. But as the body count rises in this jambalaya mystery, it becomes apparent that the increasing death toll is mostly due to some very bad villains and some very tough law enforcers.

Kristi is a young college graduate from West Texas recently hired and trained by the Treasury Department. While on the hunt for two of her colleagues, she manages to get herself assaulted and lost in the Atchafalaya Basin. Hawk is an ex-military combat vet now working for the United States Ranger Services. He’s asked by his old friend, the Parish Sheriff, to try to find Kristi. What he finds is not only the woman he’s looking for but also a hell of a lot of trouble. Together, Hawke and Kristi wind up in the middle of ruffians, counterfeiters, financial scalawags, and murderers. As they try to figure out what’s happening and why, while continually staying one step ahead of assassins, they begin to form a bond of respect, friendship, and perhaps even more.

Author Riley does a first-rate job of steeping the reader in the milieu of South Louisiana and Cajun mores. From murders at mudbug fests to menacing mosquito swarms to monumentally malevolent snake pits, he puts the heat and humidly on every page. He’s also adept at weaving a spider-webbed plot that is both intricate and credible. There’s action, suspense, humor, and even a dash of romance in this gumbo of a novel that promises to start a series of adventures for Kristi and Hawke.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

The Book Killers: Weak Point of View

The Book Killers: Poor Revisions – Level Three, Style

In this ongoing series, Christopher Klim, author and senior editor of the US Review of Books, takes a look at common errors that undermine books.

All fine writing is the result of rewriting. I don’t know who coined that phrase, but it is certainly a fact. The first draft is the art of writing. The revision process exists to recognize mistakes and mop up the mess, and readers never witness the accident. Readers seek the ease of flawlessness.

LEVEL THREE: STYLE

When the story line is set and the character and setting details are brought into focus, concentrate on prose. A writer’s style of storytelling is evident from the beginning of the tale’s construction. It is an extension of his brain and the way he absorbs and interprets the world around him. With the arc of the story set, it is time to clarify the prose, as only he can do it.

Establish Consistent Tone

Tone refers to the quality and pitch of the prose. It is the emotional resonance of the story, albeit humorous, horrifying, or dramatic. Whatever the tone, search for inconsistent passages that sabotage the integrity of the story.

Simplify Sentence Structure

Always look to prune and clarify sentences. Be concise. One powerful phrase might replace a few fuzzier statements. At times, writers struggle for an exact description, circling the point with a collection of words. Take a moment to uncover the precise description in one brief phrase.

Vary Sentence Structure

The length and construction of sentences serve different purposes. Action scenes require crisp short sentences to maintain the pace. Long sentences serve panoramic scenes or deep introspection. Poetic phrases work for romance and comedy. See what works for your scenes. Play with the sentence structure.

Vary Paragraph, Scene, and Chapter Length

Changes keep readers attentive. Blocks of paragraphs of equal length create a visual monotony. I am getting sleepy just thinking about it. The same goes for scene and chapter lengths. Try a scene that is only one paragraph long or a chapter of just two pages. Search for variety.

Examine Word Choice

Root out vagueness. Replace words like something, anything, and everything with concrete nouns.

The thing about dessert is the calories.

The problem with dessert is the calories.

Select strong verbs. Replace verbs like was, is, would, should, and could with powerful and engaging verbs.

He was at the top of the corporate ladder, but he would rather be home with his family.

He fought his way to the top of the corporate ladder, but he missed his family at home.

Too many adjectives? Change noun and adjective combinations into one strong noun.

Tom drove the thin nail into the orange-yellow skin of the fruit.

Tom drove the brad into the ocher skin of the fruit.

Too many adverbs? Change verb and adverb combi-nations into one strong verb.

She slowly walked into the boardroom.

She sauntered into the boardroom.

Reduce compound descriptions. Use discrete words that relay the point. Observe the following passage:

A small, deep purple 3×5 note arrived in the mail. Joe recognized his former wife’s handwriting. She wanted him to return their children. She was coming to visit in a few days.

The passage might sound better as:

Joe’s ex-wife dropped him a maroon postcard: ‘I want the kids back. See you soon.’

Find the right word. Employ a thesaurus and dictionary. The appropriate word is out there for the taking.

Remove ‘said’ and ‘thought’

The person thinking or speaking in a story is often implied by his position in the text. Be creative. Use action or narration alongside the thought or dialogue to identify its owner. In the following example, use of  the words ‘said’ and ‘thought’ are unnecessary to identify Jane as the person doing the speaking and thinking.

Jane took the horse by the reins. “Git!” She dug in her spurs. I hope this old mare’s got enough left to make it.

Remove Instances of “Fine Writing”

Track down instances of fine writing and remove them. Fine writing occurs during wonderfully unnatural stretches of prose. It might be the flowery description of the chipped table in the office or the overblown insight to the human condition. When the writer pens these lines at 3 A.M., they often appear brilliant, but when they hit daylight, they are exposed like a pink bowtie. They are funny and overdone, when they intend otherwise. Readers will roll their eyes because the writer is trying too hard to impress.

Read Aloud

Reading the prose aloud identifies errant and clumsy passages. The writer stumbles over poor words, phrases, and sentences. Unnatural dialogue hits the ear like a spitball. Read your work aloud within the safe confines of your working space before exposing your errors to the public.

Christopher Klim is the author of several books including the novel, Idiot!, and the short collection, True Surrealism. He is currently working on a novel trilogy about the space program past, present, and future.

Next in the Book Killers series: Poor Revisions – Level Four, Presentation

Previous on the Book Killers series: Poor Revisions – Level Two, Struture/Content

The Perfection of Fish

by J.S. Morrison
Black Rose Writing
book review by Gabriella Tutino

“Maybe there’s something in the water.”

In the small town of Assurance, North Carolina, agoraphobe Nadia Holman is the last remaining resident. Nadia relies on Berky Benson, a former student and resident, to take care of her while she attempts to document and preserve Assurance’s history. What Nadia doesn’t realize is that her genes are being used and manipulated by Berky, who believes that society is trying to eradicate masculinity, and who funds a genetic manipulation research project in the hopes of creating subservient women. Diana, Nadia’s twin sister, stops by Assurance for a visit and realizes both her sister and her sister’s love for their hometown are being exploited. Diana joins a ragtag team of rebels who work together to uncover and undo the dangerous experiments helmed by Berky’s laboratory team, Xanadu. What ensues is a clash of cultures, beliefs, science, and manpower with the future of humanity at stake.

The author imagines the United States about 20 years or so into the future. Men of this time can take a drug known as Testrial to make them less aggressive. Technology is also integrated into society in the form of almost constant surveillance. The town of Assurance plays a huge role in this novel, in part because it is “off the map,” but also because the town’s own mythology and roots drive much of the story. Assurance is believed to be a blessed place, founded at the center of intersecting ley lines and their power. It is home to a new species of fish in the nearby river, which is believed to possess some form of immortality power. These two beliefs have been passed down to residents of the town, mainly Nadia and Berky. Their conviction in the mysticism of Assurance and in Ichthy’s fish bones drive their motivations. Nadia’s beliefs about Assurance, Ichthy, and saving the town make her susceptible to exploitation. Meanwhile, Berky’s beliefs about Ichthy’s bones make him power-hungry.

Genetic manipulation and bioengineering are common tropes in science fiction, and the author ties them into gender and control, much like in the novel Viral War by Josephine DeBois. In this book, however, it seems the author borrows an idea from the Jurassic Park franchise—splicing different DNA together to create a more perfect specimen. Whereas the scientists in Jurassic Park used multiple animal DNA to build the ultimate dinosaur, Berky and his lab have used fish genetics from the beloved Ichthy to test out genetic manipulation. Transhumanism is a big theme in this novel, and it is something that Berky and his team use to inspire people to join his cause. But while transhumanism is something to aspire to in the eyes of Berky’s cohorts, it is also a lie used to sell their purpose and bypass the law for genetic experimentation. The author plays around with this idea, questioning what it means to be human on a moral scale when actions seem to be inspired and twisted into acts of malevolence. A sci-fi novel that satirizes social norms and conspiracy theories, this story is a wild tale from start to finish. This book was a Maxy Award Sci-Fi/Fantasy finalist.