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Friday, November 03, 2006

Reader's Diary #182- Shannon Patrick Sullivan: The Dying Days (up to Chapter 8)


I had lived in St. John's for several years before I got around to taking one of Dale Jarvis' infamous "Haunted Hikes". Every city needs a Dale Jarvis. Basically, what he did was take patrons around to various dark alleys and side streets in the downtown core and entertain them with local ghost stories and folklore. I had even lived in the downtown part, yet I had no idea some of these stories (or even places, in the case of some alleys) existed.

After 7 years of getting to know Memorial University, I thought I knew the place pretty well. But in my final year, I had a student job that gained me access to service tunnels I didn't know existed. Everyone familiar with MUN knows about the MUNnel system, a system of underground tunnels that provides access to each school, the residences, the library and student centre. What most don't realize is that these tunnels pale in comparison to the extensive service tunnels that run parallel and adjacent (crossing underneath the MUNnels in several areas) and even to a greater number of buildings.

These two experiences proved to my paranoid self that yes, indeed there is more going on around me than I am at first aware.

Shannon Patrick Sullivan seems to have had this inkling as well, for it is a definite theme in The Dying Days. It's the revelations that keep the book compelling.

Certainly, Sullivan isn't the first to explore this theme. In fact, he even acknowledges the Harry Potter books in the story. And yes, there is a similar feel, but with the muggles of course, being from St. John's. For that difference alone, it would be enough to keep me interested. Luckily, that isn't the only difference.

I mentioned earlier that I don't read a lot of fantasy books. I also mentioned that I liked the pacing. Now, I'm finding the pacing a little too rushed. While Christopher finds himself deeper and deeper into this alternate version of St. John's, I'm finding I'm losing a little bit of the initial attraction to the plot. I would like to have had a little more character development and have the storyline slowed down slightly, giving him time to realistically adjust to the fantastic events unfolding around him. However, as I say, I don't read a lot of fantasy books, but from those that I have, I gather that the story is the most important part.

A while back I remember Rj blogging about Newfoundland's Fantasy Books. I hadn't read any of those he had mentioned, but was looking forward to checking out some of his suggestions. While The Dying Days wasn't mentioned (I don't think it was published at that point), I'm glad I started with it. It is quickly selling me on the genre.

9 comments:

John Mutford said...

I should note as well that while I suspect the main reason Sullivan picked St. John's was to follow the old adage "write what you know", it is the perfect choice for a setting. As the oldest city in North America, it definitely holds a lot of secrets.

And to Shannon, if you're reading this, there were people here before the Beothuks- the Maritime Archaic people.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Oddly enough I have heard of the haunted hikes of St John's. That's something I would love to do sometime. Shall add it to my ever increasing list.

John Mutford said...

Any plans on visiting Newfoundland? (Assuming that you haven't already)

Barbara Bruederlin said...

To my great shame I have never been east of Montreal (and that was only the airport, so I guess we should really say Ottawa).

A trip to the east coast is very high on my wish list, but nothing in the works at this time.

John Mutford said...

Canada is just too big to feel shamed about missing a part. Yet we all do. I'm ashamed that I haven't yet seen the Labrador portion of my home province, the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan (both just airport experiences- like your Montreal), and the Yukon. Someday...

Shannon Patrick Sullivan said...

At the risk of not sticking to my pledge to avoid commenting too much on The Dying Days before you finish reading it...

My familiarity with St John's is certainly part of the reason the story is set there, but its standing as the oldest city in North America is indeed another part of the reason. It is a place bequeathed with a very palpable atmosphere, one I'm not sure you find in many other cities, and as you suggest, I think that makes it ideal for the kind of story I'm trying to tell.

It's funny that you mention the Haunted Hike, actually, because part of the inspiration for the way I portray the setting came from my memories of going on the Hike a couple of years before. And after I wrote the first draft of The Dying Days, I went on the Hike again to help motivate me for the editing process!

Oh, and fear not, I'm well aware of the Maritime Archaic. That particular line was meant to be interpreted in several possible ways: that Emma isn't familiar with them herself; that she knows of them but isn't certain that the Five Clans date to their era; or that she believes the Maritime Archaic people may have been members of the Five Clans...

(There's a lot about the Five Clans that's kept intentionally vague in The Dying Days... which may relate to your concern about Christopher not being given time to adjust to the strange culture in which he's suddenly become immersed, so maybe my efforts weren't as successful as I'd hoped! But I'll say more about that when you've got the whole thing finished.)

John Mutford said...

Shannon,
I understand why you'd not want to comment too much until I'm finished. However, I hope you continue to do so- it's pretty cool for a reader to be able to talk with the author, you know!

As for the "Haunted Hike" being part of your inspiration, I guess that came across- it might explain why I suddenly found myself thinking about it.

Your logic about Emma not mentioning the Maritime Archaic makes sense. (This is one of the reasons why chatting with the author is so great.) However, I would caution that fellow history buffs reading your book, might take the same interpretation as me- that you were not aware of them.

In terms of the Five Clans being kept a little vague, I like that part. It's adds to the mysteriousness and intrigue. Plus, if you ever write a second installment, you'll have some things left to reveal. As for my concern that Christopher is not being given enough time to adjust, it's nothing major. I come from a background of reading mostly character driven novels, with somewhat slower moving plots. I'm not implying that that your characters are not interesting, because they are. I was just caught up with the whole emotional part at the beginning (especially his break-up), and found it dropped that part once he discovered the Five Clans. However, I'm aware that I'm only 8 chapters in, and that might change...

And besides, plenty of readers would love the story's pace. Hey, much of the appeal of CSI is that it isn't heavily bogged down with character development. Furthermore, as I read more and adjust to the different genre, I'm not finding it a problem.

John Mutford said...

Hope the booksigning went great today, btw.

Shannon Patrick Sullivan said...

Well, in that case, I'll say a bit more and do my best not to give anything away about the rest of the book...

I entirely agree with you that some readers might interpret Emma's (apparent) lack of knowledge about the Maritime Archaic peoples as an indication that I, as the author, am equally unaware of them. But I think that's a risk you take whenever you paint a character as having a different breadth of knowledge as the author -- which, let's face it, they often should do!

The Dying Days is certainly driven strongly by the plot. As you suggested earlier, plot is usually the predominant element of much fantasy writing, and I didn't make any particular effort to buck that trend here. But that being said, I definitely wanted the characters' emotional journeys -- particularly Christopher's -- to be an important ingredient of the novel, and his break-up doesn't get forgotten. (Mostly, it sometimes goes unmentioned for a few chapters because I didn't want to feel like I was flogging a dead horse!)

Fantasy is such a niche genre, and a lot of people tend to go running in the other direction as soon as they see the slightest mention of magic or monsters. With The Dying Days, I wanted to write a story which was true to the genre, but which also had a strong human story at its heart, in the hope that it would appeal to those who don't normally enjoy fantasy fare. Hopefully I've succeeded...

Oh, and the book signing went pretty well; thanks for asking! A few copies were signed and sold, plenty of bookmarks were handed out, and hopefully a lot of visibility was gained for the book. I'm still developing a feel for exactly what constitutes a success in this kind of endeavour, but I felt pretty good by the end of it.