Beauty and Hope Delivered by Disaster and Monsters

jasonlatshaw

A Book Review of The Threat Below, by Jason Latshaw

Find it on Amazon HERE.

Mountaintop. Humanity’s last stand, after near obliteration from the Threat Below, by which Jason Latshaw’s epic book is titled. The humbled hundred or so inhabitants of Mountaintop, called the Kith, rely on legend mixed with history of the Apriori, their ancestors who once ruled the earth. The Kith are walled into their home in the sky by fear and the persistent Cloudline that obscures vision of Down Below. Their world is meager and desperate, their society stratified and rigid. In the first few pages, a hard line is drawn between main character Icelyn, the prissy, intelligent Cognate daughter of the Kith’s leader, and Adorane, her Veritas best friend and possible brave, brawny love interest. Segregation and prejudice are accepted here as the way for a fragile existence to survive.

Not thrive. Imagine the peak of a mountain at the top of the world, after civilization has fled a deadly, mysterious plague and the planet has probably been flooded by rising oceans. The air is thin. Scrubby trees are more like bushes. Acorn cakes are a staple. Later in the book, Icelyn finds a comb Down Below and she marvels at it. Has she never brushed her hair? You’ll be amazed when you find out what ultrabears and ultralions are. Yes, Mountaintop is the kind of place that, should humanity survive, what’s the point? It’s clear this place is only half of the story. Almost immediately, Icelyn and Adorane wander beyond a rotting, three-hundred-year-old barrier between the apparent safety of Mountaintop and the rumored certain death of Down Below, and there is no doubt about where our heroine and her beau will end up.

But Latshaw keeps his readers guessing right along with the sheltered, pampered Icelyn. The mystery is compelling, even darn right frightening, and each revelation along the way is worth it, not rushed or predictable. In fact, every time I thought I’d figured it out—what the Threatbelows are, or how humanity met its fate, or even who Icelyn herself is—I was surprised by Latshaw’s imagination. He speaks through his vivid characters, some that I adored and others I’d like to choke, and the action happens in their choices, dialogue, and thoughts. Whether the cowardly Kith leader is squirming, the devoted and fearless Eveshone is rescuing Icelyn again, or the constantly shifting morals of Torrain are playing out, this world is revealed by those living in it.

My favorite part, however, is that Latshaw isn’t afraid to delve deeper than his own story. Though fantastical and unique, his world bears enough resemblance to ours to stoke fear and tickle conscience. Gun violence in Mountaintop mirrors the debate over our right to bear arms, especially when these fictitious leaders are using guns to proliferate fear and violence as a means to control the population. One of them has found an ancient text and quotes Jenny Holzer, “Fear is the most elegant weapon. Your hands are never messy. Threatening bodily harm is crude. Work instead on minds & beliefs, play insecurities like a piano.” Latshaw is good at turning a phrase to grab attention, and we find essential truths in gentle statements as well: “So much of life is lived looking away from each other, afraid to face a person as they really are, deflecting feelings and ignoring vital moments.” Or, not so gentle: “They live in a world of magic, but take it all as a matter of course. They didn’t realize it, but they were Gods.” This last is spoken of the extinct Apriori, when Icelyn sees their cellphones and flat screens in a memory. Gods who invented their own demise? Nervous laugher from the crowd…

The Threat Below would be equally enjoyed by both genders, with a strong, admirable heroine (feminine and regal, with very little whining) and plenty of action and violence (gruesome, though not gratuitous). Latshaw’s writing is top-notch, and teens ready to move onto more adult literature should be able to handle the language and the length of this book. Adults will love it just as much, because there are many layers of understanding in The Threat Below, sort of like a Disney movie that is fun for kids but only truly understood by their parents. Not that this book is an easy fairytale read, and don’t be looking for a sweet ending tied up in a pretty package. The journey is worth it, though, and you’ll love every step. Latshaw delivers beauty and hope in a way you’d never expect.

This review was written for YA Books Central. Check it out HERE to find out more about the book and the author.

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How To Get Writer’s Block

It’s the subject at the center of all writing subjects, the unholy nucleus of storytelling: writer’s block.  You see it come up in articles, blogs, books, conferences, and even in the occasional forward of a novel, and more often than not the question is some variation of “How to get over writer’s block?”

That’s backwards thinking.

Writer’s block is not this actual block that falls out of the sky, hits an author on the head, and leaves he or she unable to write for days or weeks at a time.  It is not a germ that passes from writer to writer like some storyteller’s Flu.  And it is not an unavoidable and malignant sentient force preying on the writing community.

What writer’s block actually is is mental constipation, and asking how to get over it, how to deal with it, how to get rid of it, etc. is the equivalent of searching the supermarket for a laxative once you’re already plugged up.  If you have writer’s block, chances are you earned it by feeding your brain the wrong foods.

So, in the effort to create a healthy mental diet, let’s first build an unhealthy one with a Writer’s Block Recipe (measurements vary from teaspoons to heaping cups):

1) Dwell on negative reviews of your past works, because nothing feeds inspiration like feelings of inadequacy.

2) Dwell on positive reviews of your past works. You’re feeling confident?  Awesome.  Now make sure you live up to yourself.  Is that sentence you’re writing right now up to the quality of the writing in your last book?  Are you sure? Are you absolutely positive?

Which brings us to . . .

3) Expectation.

  • Expect to write a certain amount each time you sit down.  Hit that word count goal every day, or else.  A day will come when you fall short, and you want to make sure you hold onto that feeling of failure the next time you sit down at the computer.
  • Expect, or attempt, to write something brilliant or important. You either will or you won’t. Throwing your ego into the equation only makes putting words down more difficult, so do exactly that.
  • Expect success.  Success, in its most widespread definition, is out of your control.  And things that are out of your control are what you want to be expending energy on when you try to connect with your story.  (Taking a break from the sarcasm for a moment, JA Konrath has written several great posts on the difference between goals and dreams. You can read his latest HERE).

4) Set no schedule for writing. God forbid you have a well-ingrained habit to fall back on the day your motivation wanes.

5) Allow yourself no days off to recharge.  Exhausted?  Feeling like a black-and-white character from an old movie in a color film?  Perfect.  Now, stay in your room and ignore the outside world until the sun goes down.

6) Make no time to read, or refuse to out of the fear that other stories and styles will somehow interfere with “your voice.”

7) Live a physically unhealthy lifestyle.  Run your body down.  It’s the vehicle that drives your brain, so bog it up with booze, junk food, and make sure to never, ever exercise. You don’t want any extra energy.

8) Spend more time on the internet. As much time as possible.

9) Read about Writer’s Block, or think about Writer’s Block.

And finally, based on my own personal and constantly changing experience, my recipe for avoiding writer’s block in three simple ingredients:

1) Think about the story and only the story every time you sit down to write—let everything else go.

2) Forgive yourself for the slow days.

3) Read.  We are all products of what we take in; it is what we take in and how we digest it, shape it, that makes us unique.  There’s no point in trying to be an individual.  You already are one, and your voice is already your own. How many authors out there ever wanted to write something without first reading something?  Going on a book fast is the same as starving yourself of exactly what inspired you to tell stories in the first place.  You are what you eat, so eat what you love.  Devour it.

Feel free to comment on, add to, disagree with any of the above ingredients, and/or make a recipe of your own.  How do YOU get writer’s block?  And, more importantly, how do you prevent it?

Thank you, Sarah, for inviting me over and huge congratulations on your launch of The Tramp. My own first full-length release, The Safe, can be gandered at HERE, and anyone interested in reading more of my stories or getting in contact with me can visit me at danielbarnettfiction.com.

–Daniel Barnett, guest author

TheSafe_coverGreat big thank you to Daniel for being my guest! Read my full review of The Safe HERE.

This beautifully horrific novel is set in an asylum for the criminally insane, the dirty secret of small-town New England where “the dark was greedier…than the city, more over bearing, fattening itself on every unguarded inch of mud and bark and stone.” You’ll find plenty more quotes from The Safe in my review, because Daniel Barnett weaves poetry through the darkness at every turn. Eloquent language is the only brightness at Harbrook Hill and the contrast makes the asylum seem even more bleak and tragic, suspense lurking in every chapter. The building is an ancient, stinking, live thing, an anteroom described as the passageway between the skin and the meat. Even the air around Harbrook Hill is menacing: “The morning wind had claws.” Continue reading...