You know, I always thought of Scott as a temperate zone kind of guy; a Californian sun lover, even. And yet here he is, talking about the icy desolation of the Great North. And shivering, likely. I know I am, but that’s the Great British summer for you: hot sun one day, November-like rain the next.
Anyhow, I’m delighted about Scott’s visit here today. Scroll down for a thinky post on the rewards of writing from Scott, and for a review of The Great North from me.
Dwyn is a young man in the small, isolated town of Manicouga, son of the Minstor, who is betrothed to marry Kessa in a few weeks’ time.
Mael is shepherding the remains of his own village from the north, chased out by a terrible storm that destroyed Land’s End.
Both are trying to find their way in a post-apocalyptic world. When the two meet, their love and attraction may change the course of history.
Author: J. Scott Coatsworth
Publisher: Mischief Corner Books
Cover Artist: Freddy MacKay
Release Date: 6/14/17
Genre: MM, Sci Fi, Fantasy, Romance, Myths, Legends, Gods, Post-Apocalyptic
The Great North was inspired by St. Dwynwen’s Day, also known as Welsh Valentines Day.
Mischief Corner Books | Amazon | Kobo | iBooks | B&N | Smashwords.
Is This Thing On?
As writers, we have two main jobs. Tell interesting stories about fascinating people in cool places, and then promo the shit out of those same stories in the hopes that someone will actually read them.
It can be a thankless job. Each novel represents hundreds of hours spent in solitude in our writer caves, and is just as likely to be greeted by a collective “ho hum” or a torrent of abuse as it is to be welcomed with flowers and songs of praise.
But there is one thing worse than being told your novel is boring, or derivative, or full of obvious plot holes.
It’s when you are ignored entirely.
For the release of “The Great North,” I am writing ten guest posts to entice readers to give me and the story a try. I am witty, and gregarious in these posts—your best writer friend. I spend hours coming up with the perfect topics, the best presentation, the ideal meter to make them sound sharp and polished.
Does anyone read these posts? I hope so. But there’s just no way to know.
It’s the same with our books. Yes, we get the occasional Goodreads or Amazon review. There are some signs of life out there in the reading world, but still, many folks read our work and never say a peep about it.
Sometimes, though, you get lucky.
I was at GayRomLit last year, and was approached for the first time ever by someone who absolutely loved one of my stories. It made my heart sing, and fueled my yearning to write for months.
Then a couple weeks ago, a friend told me my stories had given him the courage to finally propose to his boyfriend. I’m still floating on cloud nine after that one.
And finally, someone at Sac Pride this last weekend told me they read and loved my serial story, River City.
So you see, sometimes the mic is on. Sometimes our words reach out into the world and change things in ways we may never know or see.
For me, that’s good enough.
“We celebrate Dwyn’s Day as a testament to true love and sacrifice. It’s a remembrance of the way things were and the way they’ve come to be. In the end, let it be a reminder that every one of us has the power to change the course of events through love.”
—Dillon Cooper, New Gods and Monsters, Twenty years After Dwyn
The gray clouds scudded by overhead, blowing in quickly from the east.
Dwyn shivered and pulled on his woolen cap. It was cold out, unusual for so early in the fall. The rains had been heavy this season, the wettest in a generation, and Circle Lake was close to overflowing its banks. If he stretched to look over the rows of corn plants, he could see the waters lapping at the shore far below, as if hungry to consume his village of Manicouga.
His father had consulted the elders, some of whom had seen more than fifty summers, and everyone agreed things were changing. Whether that augured good or ill was anyone’s guess.
He shrugged and moved along the row of plants, breaking off ears of corn and throwing them into the jute sack that hung from his shoulder.
Ahead of him, two of his age-mates, Declan and Baia, were working their way down the next two rows.
Dwyn frowned. He got distracted easily, and he’d let the two of them get a jump on him. That wouldn’t do.
He redoubled his pace. He moved with focus and purpose, and soon he was closing the gap with his friends.
“Someone’s being chased by a lion,” Baia said with a laugh.
“Or a tiger.” Declan grinned, his nice smile only missing one tooth, lost to a fight with one of the Beckham brothers the year before.
Dwyn grinned. “Or a bear?” Dwyn only knew lions and tigers from the fairy tale his mother used to tell them, “The Girl and the Aus.” He had no idea what an Aus was, either.
Bears he knew. The hunters occasionally brought one home, and old Alesser had a five-line scar across his wrinkled face that he claimed came from one of the beasts.
A shout went up from ahead of them. Dwyn craned his neck to see what the ruckus was, but he couldn’t make out anything. “What’s going on?”
Declan, who was half a head taller, looked toward the commotion. “Hard to tell. Something down by the road.”
Dwyn laid down his sack carefully and ran up the hill to one of the old elms that dotted the field. He climbed into the tree, scurrying up through the leaves and branches until he had a clear view of the Old Road. It ran from up north to somewhere down south, maybe near the ruins of old Quebec if the merchant tales held any truth. Hardly anyone from Manicouga ever followed it, but occasionally traders would follow it to town, bringing exotic wares and news from the other villages that were scattered up and down its length.
They swore it went all the way down to the Heat, the great desert that had consumed much of the world after the Reckoning.
“What’s going on down there?” Baia called from below.
Dwyn tried to make sense of it. “There are three wagons coming down the pass. They’re loaded up with all sorts of things. They don’t look like traders though.”
The first of the horse-drawn wagons had just reached the field above the main township. It stopped, and someone hopped off to talk with the villagers who had gathered from the fields.
“We need to get down there,” Dwyn said, scrambling down the tree trunk. “Something’s happening.” Nothing new ever happened in Manicouga, and he wasn’t going to miss it.
He grabbed his sack and sprinted toward the Old Road, not waiting to see if Declan and Baia followed.
I’ve always thought that in a post-apocalyptic Earth the likelihood of large, relatively well-organised societies a la Hunger Games is rather remote. We’re far more likely to devolve into small, enclosed communities almost mediaeval in their feudal isolationism and—because man is always looking for proof that he isn’t to blame but someone else must be, and religion is always handy to provide good targets—tending to fundamentalist beliefs. J Scott Coatsworth evidently agrees and I found his set up of insular, almost chokingly-small communities to be both realistic and well portrayed. Scott is always stellar at world-building. It’s one of his strengths and it plays out well here.
I enjoyed the principal story of Dwyn and Mael, young men from two such communities forced into contact by the onset of Ice-Age level bad weather. The narrative is excellent: two intense, concentrated cultures clashing. Their attraction to each other is doomed from the start, really, and they have some challenges to face. This is where the conflict lies and could have been richly mined. But this is a novella, not a full length novel, and I don’t think their personalities and characters had quite enough room to expand and grow, or the situation to be fully exploited. When the author does write something longer, his characters have that room and his plots are richer. Read his Skythane to show that.
I also liked the parallel story from hundreds of years earlier, where it’s clear Dwyn’s settlement was founded by the family of a gay couple. Given the later homophobia of Dwyn’s society, the irony is delicious and I grinned when that strand ended with the arrival of a minister of the Tripartite God. That was nicely written and nicely done. Neat.
Where I did part company with the tale was the deus-ex-machina climax. I’m still wrapping my head around the sudden intervention of old gods made manifest. And as the old gods have a tendency to do, they interfere directly in the lives of Dwyn and Mael. I’m a classicist. I wrote countless essays at Uni on the Greek dramatists and their portrayal of a time when mortals and gods shared the same world (a situation usually to the detriment of mortals, by the way), and much as I adore Euripides, this aspect of the story did not work for me. We’ve moved on from the more simplistic view of life that the ancients had, where everything had to be explained in terms of the anger or favour of the gods. We’re in a place now where mankind should be taking responsibility for itself, and (I stress this is a personal reaction) the gods stepping in felt like a regressive step, pulling us even further back out of enlightenment into something darker and primeval. I guess that what I’d hoped for was a tale of humans overcoming challenges and conflict because of their own inner strengths (and weaknesses!) and what I ended up with was something only possible because the gods bent the rules. In that aspect of the tale, I’m a little disappointed, and I do think that story would have been stronger and richer without it.
Scott spends his time between the here and now and the what could be. Enticed into fantasy and sci fi by his mom at the tender age of nine, he devoured her Science Fiction Book Club library. But as he grew up, he wondered where all the people like him were in the books he was reading.
He decided that it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at his local bookstore. If there weren’t gay characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.
His friends say Scott’s mind works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He loves to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.
He runs both Queer Sci Fi and QueerRomance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction that reflects their own lives.
Facebook (personal): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworth
Facebook (author page): https://www.facebook.com/jscottcoatsworthauthor/
QueeRomance Ink: https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/j-scott-coatsworth/