I’m happy to say that not only are the reviews starting to roll in for High Desert Barbecue, but they’ve all concluded, so far, that the book is worth reading. That’s not to say that I’m getting unalloyed praise, Two of the reviews, in particular, have pointed out what the authors perceive as flaws in the story, analyzed the pluses and minuses, and ultimately concluded that High Desert Barbecue is still worth buying and reading.
The reviews so far:
“[B]reezy tone and brisk pacing carry the reader along a novel that combines action and satire the whole way through.”
–Scott Stein, author of Mean Martin Manning, in When Falls the Coliseum
“[A] very polished novel. The plot rolls smoothly forward, propelled by multiple shifts of perspective, and by a careful balance between narrative and libertarian preaching.”
— Sean Gabb, author of The Churchill Memorandum and (as Richard Blake) the excellent Aelric historical-novel series, at the UK Libertarian Alliance blog
“I found the way his protagonists dealt with their dilemma quite easy to follow, and the story delightful.”
— Joel Simon, author of Walt’s Gulch and Songs of Bad Men and Good
“This is a fun read. It’s lively. It’s funny. The protagonists are likeable, believable characters.”
— Claire Wolfe, author of Hardyville Tales, in Backwoods Home Magazine
I like praise as much as the next guy. Well, I probably like it more, actually. So my thanks to all of the reviewers for taking the time to read High Desert Barbecue, and then putting aside even more time to think about what they read and to write down their reactions. Extra special thanks because they all liked the book and recommended its purchase.
Sean Gabb raised an interesting point in his review when he wrote “the state socialists have had popular culture as their transmission mechanism, and our movement is filled with people who think that novel writing is somehow letting the side down. Of course, if we are to get anywhere at all, we need our Hoppes and we need our L. Neil Smiths. And we need Jerome Tuccille.” Needless to say, I agree with Dr. Gabb on this point (you need me, people!). Libertarians and conservatives often complain about the saturation of popular media with anti-freedom ideas, including hostility to private enterprise and excessive deference to the state. I think those complaints are often justified. But since the control freaks of the world show no inclination to give up movie-making or writing songs and novels, the burden falls to us to counter ideas we dislike with work of our own that (this is important) stands on its own artistic merits while incorporating an appreciation for freedom, small government, individual initiative and the like. And the DIY revolution has made the creation and marketing of music and books, in particular, easier than ever before.
Those contributions to the culture have to be good, though, not just “correct.”
Claire Wolfe and Joel Simon (who wrote his review based on a book he bought, may I add!) were tougher on Higher Desert Barbecue than were Stein or Gabb, but I think their reviews are very thoughtful and fair. In both cases, their criticisms may come from the style to which I aspired, and which I, perhaps, did not execute with complete success.
Wolfe wrote, “Tuccille stuffed this book with such a huge crew of villains I only began to be able to tell them apart halfway through the story, and some remained vague blurs all the way to the end.” Simon similarly criticized my bad guys as “almost uniformly one-dimensional and whose actions often descend into slapstick.”
Well … I admit it. I had fun with the villains in the book, but I liked the protagonists. Rollo, Scott and Lani are constructed as real people (yes, I knew a guy like Rollo, and he lived for a while in a tent I loaned him after he was cut off from his campsite by a wildfire), while Jason, Van Kamp, Greenfield and company are types, drawn from people I have met, but pushed to extremes. Although, to be honest, some people can seem awfully cartoonish even in real life — because, I think, they themselves aspire to be more types than to be fully developed people. That’s especially true of “followers” who … Never mind; this takes me in a more psychological direction than I ever intended with High Desert Barbecue.
Wolfe also wrote, “it mostly lacks a feeling of peril (until near the end) … [a]nd the ending is just too pat; no way would things have come together so neatly.” This squares with Simon’s point that “[t]he ending is rather pat, and smacks of deus ex machina in a way I wish Tuccille had been able to find a way around but honestly I can’t think of a way to improve it …”
Simon also wrote, “Because HDB treats its subject matter lightly but it is really not a light subject, the book sometimes veers rather unevenly between drama and comedy.”
As I said above, I think the criticisms of both Claire Wolfe and Joel Simon stem from my effort to write a farce that’s both absurd and a bit dark. Tom Sharpe handled that balancing act well, I think, in The Throwback and, especially in his South Africa novels, such as Riotous Assembly. There’s quite a bit of that to Harry Crews’s writing as well. I’m thinking “grenade” in the book Body.
But I don’t want to argue “they didn’t get what I was doing” because it’s up to the author to clearly transmit what he’s doing. Intending to write dark comedy isn’t the same thing as doing it well. I don’t think I blew it, but I think it’s quite likely, on this first outing into fiction, that I didn’t handle the story and the style quite as deftly as I would have liked. It is very likely true that, as Claire Wolfe says, High Desert Barbecue is “very much a first novel, with all the imperfections of that breed.”
In the end, I’m very pleased that, even after dissecting the flaws in the novel both Claire Wolfe and Joel Simon agreed with Gabb and Stein that High Desert Barbecue is worth buying, reading and keeping in your library. Wolfe writes, “Its very unseriousness, its wackiness, its ‘gang that couldn’t shoot straight’ bad guys, even its over-simplification, would make it a terrific movie,” while Simon says, simply, “[y]ou should buy it.”
I’m quite proud of what I accomplished with the book, and I’m pleased that the people reading it seem to be enjoying it so far.
And, of course, I’m going to take Claire Wolfe’s and Joel Simon’s criticisms into account — along with others to come — so that my future work is that much better.