It all began a short time ago when I had a brilliant idea for some free advertising. Fellow indie author and friend Guy Harrison had recently released The Scorpion Nest and I had recently released my novella. The idea was simple, I review yours, you review mine, we each answer a couple of questions and there you have it. There was one key factor: it had to be an honest review, no phony five-stars.
And so shall the review begin. Anyone who says they don’t judge a book (or ebook) by the cover is lying. As an independent author myself, I know that it is imperative that the cover art be well done. A shoddy cover suggests one thing: the author didn’t care enough to bother. This is definitely not a shoddy cover – it’s fantastic. Cover art is an investment, there is no doubt about that, and since The Scorpion Nest is a free download via Smashwords in a number of formats, and on Amazon for Kindle for $0.99 (Amazon is slow on the price-matching), it is an investment that may never be returned. That shows professionalism and dedication to the craft.
On to the story itself. Guy has done what many authors (including myself) have done: include an excerpt from another work. But the excerpt came before the short story I wanted to read. I’m not a fan of flipping through virtual pages to get to the ‘meat and potatoes’, and this was a lot of flips. I prefer to see the excerpts and “Coming Soons” at the end of the book.
Once we make it to The Scorpion Nest, it opens with a “you had me at hello” moment, set in 1962 Arizona. I love the 50’s and early 60’s – the music, the (likely idealized view of) courtship, the fashions – and so having the story begin with a young couple listening to Buddy Holly in the car, while the male party attempts to court his lady friend made me a happy reader. But of course, the semi-idyllic beginning doesn’t last long thanks to a meteor crashing into the ground not far from where they were parked. In typical horror movie fashion, the young man decides to exercise his right to bravado and approaches the impact site.
The story skips ahead to 2012 and a new couple, Joel and Sonnet (love the name). After our first scorpion, we learn that the couple have recently built their dream home in Arizona. Guy does a great job of building the suspense slowly and showing the terror that Sonnet feels at having scorpions in her home as well as Joel’s somewhat feigned lack of concern. I felt for Joel and Sonnet. There are luckily no scorpions in Canada… at least not that I know of. Creepy little buggers.
Guy has clearly done his research into scorpions. And from the interview questions below you’ll be treated to the reasoning as to why. Let’s just say it wasn’t all for this story. We are treated to an education into scorpion physiology and behaviour without ever feeling like it is being forced upon the reader. Too often writers hone in on a topic and it turns into a Bubba moment, fifteen pages talking about shrimp. Guy’s factoids are spaced out, slipped into the dialogue and subtle. And creepy. (I retain the right to overuse the word ‘creepy’.)
I found myself on Wikipedia after finishing the story to fact check, hoping that certain things weren’t true. But alas, scorpions really do flouresce under a UV light. And as the tension builds, both between Sonnet and Joel, and between the two of them and the scorpions, Guy drops what I felt was the creepiest scene by far. It involves an empty room in the house, Sonnet’s UV flashlight and… well, the room isn’t exactly empty.
This is not your standard ‘creature-feature’. With some science fiction elements woven through the story, things definitely aren’t always what they seem. As the suspense is reaching the boiling point, the issues between Sonnet and Joel coming to a head, and the scorpions still doing their creepy thing, the story takes a major turn. And it’s a turn that I’m really not sure what to think of. I found that the twist came very quickly, so quickly that I had to do the reading equivalent of a double-take. I backed up a page and reread the part to make sure I hadn’t missed something. I hadn’t.
I like twists. A lot. I’m probably one of the few people who loved M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. I like getting to the end of a movie or book and saying, “what the bleep just happened?”, then rereading or rewatching it to see if I can pick out the little hints along the way. But I wasn’t a fan of this twist. We’re then taken to the attic of the house where we’re treated to a big surprise and the chance to see Joel’s athletic prowess in action.
The ‘epilogue’ to the story (not labelled as such) is brilliant and wraps up the subplot between Joel and Sonnet, and just makes for a fabulous ending. Joel’s last line of dialogue made me laugh diabolically (inside, of course).
Overall, Guy’s writing is solid and descriptive. When the suspense builds, the sentences shorten and become sharper. When the pace is slower, the descriptions are longer and more detailed, the dialogue restful with an omnipresent tinge of suspense. And the dialogue shines. Guy is a talented writer and it shows. The dialogue is realistic, written as it would be spoken and changing given the situation. The characters are well-developed as is the dynamic between Joel and Sonnet. To achieve this in the span of only a few thousand words takes skill.
Guy did an excellent job with this story, making me think twice about going anywhere with scorpions or at least taking a UV flashlight with me. And that is, I would say, what Guy was trying to achieve. I would have liked to see the final pre-‘epilogue’ scene fleshed out a little more. It wouldn’t have detracted from the suspense and it would have made what was an unusual and out-of-the-blue twist a little easier to read and accept. The 1962 prologue set the stage for the sci-fi elements, but by the time the twist came Guy had done such a good job getting me wrapped up in the scorpions that what happened in the 60’s wasn’t fresh in my mind. I believe that if Guy had slowed the pace just a bit before the twist, threw in a few more lines to remind the reader of the opening scene (without forcefeeding), the transition from ‘creature-feature’ to ‘oh-my-gawd’ would have been smoother.
1. The first question that will likely be on the minds of readers of The Scorpion Nest (and for me as someone who has never seen a scorpion that wasn’t in a cage or encased in resin as a paperweight)… why scorpions?
Well, my wife and I moved to Arizona a little over two years ago. Me being from the east coast and her being from the midwest, neither of us had ever seen a scorpion until we bought our house (this, after spending an entire year in an Arizona apartment and never seeing one). If I’m being honest, the little critters give me the creeps. For my wife, it’s even worse. And there are so many things you have to remember when living in Arizona, such as never leaving your shoes on the floor, that I feel like scorpions are a phenomena in and of themselves.
That said, I got the idea last summer to write a story about scorpions. I knew I didn’t want it to be a full-fledged novel, nor did I want it to be a screenplay. But I thought the idea of writing a story about scorpions would be fun and, perhaps, unique. Unfortunately, it’s the one story I’ve written that my wife won’t read.
2. As a screenwriter as well, have you considered adapting The Scorpion Nest for the screen? Perhaps you could do for scorpions what Arachnophobia did for spiders.
That thought had crossed my mind and perhaps I will somewhere down the road. But I think that if I were to adapt anything for the screen, it would be my Agents of Change series as I feel that it is the deeper story of the two.
3. The Scorpion Nest isn’t the standard ‘creature feature’, instead you’ve woven in threads of science fiction. Along with your debut novel, Agents of Change, and it’s forthcoming sequel, Agents of Chaos, what is it about the science fiction genre that appeals to you?
I’ve always been a fan of sci-fi, I think. Even when I don’t mean to write sci-fi, my stories always kind of gravitate towards that. I think the greatest thing about the sci-fi genre is that, it’s the writer’s world and he or she can use science (or advanced technology) to explain how things work in that world. It’s funny because I was never a science guy in school, I was more of an English and history kid, but I guess my imagination is filled with all kinds of technological advances.
4. What’s next for you after Agents of Chaos?
After Chaos comes the third and final installment in the Agents of Change series. After that, I have a couple ideas I’d like to explore.
One would be a bit of a modern take on an old English literature classic (which shall remain nameless for the time being). It will be more along the lines of what we consider to be dystopian fiction and, (and you may find this particularly interesting) it would take place solely in Canada. The second thing I’d like to do is bring my action/suspense style to the young adult genre. This, of course, will probably require a pseudonym, as I wouldn’t dare mix teenagers in with the more adult audience of my current books. Then again, as we now know, the young adult genre has evolved and is voraciously consumed by teens and adults alike.