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Note: Tracy is my friend and we worked together on Rise of the Europan; I was excited to read and review her book. I’ve done my best to keep this review unbiased, but I’m only human.

A stolen car, a briefcase, and a body. Someone knows the story behind all of it, and the Bee Keeper is the man to find that story. He’s a legend, the kind of figure that people whisper about and get a chill whenever they hear his name. No one knows who he is, but lots of people have heard the stories. No one ever comes back from the Bee Keeper. When a young woman finds a luxury car and takes it on a joyride, she has no idea what kind of people she’s gotten herself involved with, or how deep their secrets go. She’s about to find out that she stole the wrong car at the wrong time.

The Bee Keeper by Tracy Vincent is a novel flush with intriguing characters and a suspenseful plot that doesn’t let go of its secrets until the very end. It’s sure to offend some readers for whom its intimate characterization and unblinking approach to violence might be too much to handle. The city of Hartford is home to a wide variety of mobsters, small-time criminals, thugs, miscreants, manipulators, and politicians–and The Bee Keeper does a wonderful job of bringing the reader into the world of these elements. It’s not a book for the squeamish or easily disturbed, but it’s a treasure for anyone that’s not afraid of a little blood and sex in their books. If you’re willing to delve into the minds of these characters, there’s a depth and substance to every part of the book that helps instill a sense of immediacy. If this book captures you early, you will be compelled to read and find exactly what happens next.

I have to say, I was initially a little skeptical about the book, because it’s written in the first-person present. I rarely read fiction written in the present tense. It’s a difficult style, and many authors fail to tell their story well without tripping over the details of maintaining this particular point-of-view. Fortunately, my concern was unwarranted in this case, since The Bee Keeper does what few first-person present narratives manage to do so well: it leverages the immediate and in-your-face quality of a story that’s told in the language of the present. Things aren’t being relayed from a passive narrator telling us what a character once said. No, the character is telling you each time. I never felt like the use of present tense distracted from the flow of the story, which has happened to me with other novels, and the pacing throughout the whole matched the diction. A few of the middle chapters slowed the action in favor of some obvious backstory, but that was a minor speed bump on the road to this novel’s scorching conclusion.

Characters are the defining feature of this book, specifically the six main characters whose stories form the different parts of the novel. There’s never any doubt that we’re strapped in for the ride with these people as they narrate from one moment to the next. The reader is connected to the thoughts of whomever is telling their part, and the details of each player’s role in the larger plot emerge from organic moments in the story in such a way that we begin to put together the mystery at its center the more closely we read. This is a clear example of how character-driven storytelling doesn’t need to eschew a good, complex plot in order to succeed. There’s an astounding plot in The Bee Keeper, though some of it is hidden under layers of character that demand the reader’s attention to detail. There are a few moments in the book that less careful readers might miss out on, where entire facets of characters are revealed in a “blink and you missed it” span of words. I feel like I might have missed a couple in my own reading.

Although the novel has six different narrators, I never felt like they blended together or made the story more confusing. Sometimes a book can be overwhelming with multiple characters each telling their part of the story, but this wasn’t one of those times for me. Each narrator has a distinctive voice of their own, and each one is essential to the book. There are no wasted characters here, no excess chapters that detract from the plot, and characters don’t waste words rambling about nonsense.

One of my favorite things about The Bee Keeper is that it’s loaded with stories inside of stories. When characters find themselves in compromising positions, they’re forced to recount some past event in order to answer questions. These moments stand out as some of the best in the whole book, because, like everything else, they’re given to us by the characters directly. We get to go back in time with the characters, to see where they fucked up or where something went wrong. The many stories told within the confines of the book add a certain quality to the narrative that I think book nerds (guilty here) will enjoy.

In spite of its frequently dark and cynical look at human nature, The Bee Keeper is a fun book. I found myself racing through the final chapters, thinking that I’d found every last twist, only to discover that a couple of late surprises managed to sneak past me right up to their reveal in the story. Keeping up with all the twists and turns that unfold might be a challenge for some readers, but that’s no fault of the author’s. There’s just a lot to take in when you’re reading. Personally, I found the details fascinating; trying to figure out who is connected to this character, or how, adds another layer to the experience. Most importantly, there aren’t any unsolved mysteries or hanging plot threads by the end of the book, so you won’t be left wondering what the hell happened to so-and-so.

The Bee Keeper is a thrilling ride, and it takes the reader on a tour of some of humanity’s darker avenues. It’s probably the sort of book that requires trigger warnings for many a reader, but I won’t get into that here. Just know that it doesn’t coddle the reader. I never wanted it to, though, and I think that’s part of why I got pulled into its story so easily. The words contained in these pages will make you feel all sorts of conflicting emotions without giving you enough time to stop and mull them over before continuing. Tracy Vincent doesn’t hold back in her debut novel, and if you’re like me, you’ll be glad she didn’t spare any details.

A novel by Tracy Vincent

The Bee Keeper is now available on Amazon and you can follow Tracy:

–On her website

http://www.tracydvincent.com/

–On her Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/TracyVincentauthor

–On Wattpad, where the first part of The Bee Keeper is available to read for free

https://www.wattpad.com/user/TracyVincentAuthor

P.S. I’ll have an interview with Tracy coming to this blog soon, so keep an eye out for that.

I’ve just finished putting “Specimen 25” on Wattpad (link here), where it’s now available for all to read for free. This story was originally published in 2014, but I’m now republishing it on a new platform.

I will have “Catch and Release” ready to go soon, and then I’m going to explore my options with regard to my other projects. I have no idea how this will be received, having no experience with Wattpad, but I’m willing to experiment and maybe gain some new readers in the process.

I’m also open to recommendations, if anyone has read anything good on Wattpad or has a story of their own to recommend.

Updates on some of my projects, as promised.

Let’s start with my two self-published short stories. The quick version: I’m re-publishing those stories on Wattpad, because it’s a simple way for me to share them at no cost to the reader. I’ll have at least the first story online by the start of next week, if not sooner.

Last September, I pulled “Specimen 25” and “Catch and Release” off Amazon. I don’t know if I made a good decision then, but I held to it. I took the stories offline for a few different reasons.

Keeping my work on Amazon meant that I had to charge a minimum of 99 cents, or else have my stories published on another online retailer for free and then use that to convince Amazon to make them free. I don’t appreciate the way Amazon handles this particular situation; I understand that they’re mostly in it to make money, but I am not. I wanted to put my stories out there for free, dammit, and I didn’t want to be forced to game the system.

Now, the obvious solution would have been to put the stories on Smashwords or a similar site where I could set my own price. Plenty of people publish their work for free using alternatives to Amazon. I didn’t have the desire to learn a new platform with complicated rules for formatting, and I didn’t have the money to hire someone with the experience needed to do it for me. (I haven’t completely given up on learning to do the formatting on my own, but that’s not a priority for me now.) Around that time, I started to consider using Wattpad; it looked like a much simpler way to publish, albeit with some significant differences/limitations compared to using Kindle Direct Publishing. I did what I’m so prone to doing: I procrastinated and didn’t move to re-publish the stories at the time.

Apart from the practical concerns I had about how and where my stories were distributed, I had another force pushing me to shelve the stories. I realized last year that I’d been ignoring my own misgivings about The Aldirnföld Cycle. The series stalled when I began encountering problems with plotting and maintaining the consistency of the fictional world I was building. I didn’t know what to do next, and I felt disconnected from my work. With not even a notion of when the next story in the series would be coming out, I felt like a fraud. I’d started something, and I fell victim to my fear of being unable to finish it. Why should I leave those stories hanging out there, when I couldn’t even guarantee that more would follow?

I worked hard on those short stories, put hundreds of hours into drafting them and polishing each one before sending it out into the world. But both times, even as I sat with my finger hovering over the last button between me and a published story, I was denying the feeling I had in my gut. Something didn’t feel right about those stories; I convinced myself that these feelings were a symptom of my perfectionist attitude, pushing the doubt aside.

I should have paid more attention to the doubts, because sometimes our instincts feel the truth of a situation in ways that our rational mind can’t. The idea to build off “Specimen 25” and create a series of stories from that initial seed, was never examined enough. I hadn’t planned enough to see the mistakes I was already making, because I had no real plan. I don’t regret publishing the stories when I did, because I learned a ton from it, but I would take a different approach if I had a chance to do it over.

For the immediate future, I’m re-publishing both stories in their original form, with no alterations to the text. The status of that series is sort of an unknown for now. A part of me wants to continue it, but another part knows that this might require serious revisions to the existing stories. Yet another part of me, louder than the rest, is begging me to take more time and consider my options before I commit to anything. I’m listening to that last voice, because the amount of stress that I’ve inflicted on my psyche over The Aldirnföld Cycle (and my inability to move forward with it), has been too toxic to justify working on it more at present.

My guess is, I’ll return to it in time, but not until I have a real plan for how to do so. In the meantime, I’m putting the first two stories on Wattpad and leaving them there for people to read. Whether they’ll stay on Wattpad is another question, but I plan to revisit that in about six months…

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And for anyone who’s still reading this post (thanks, by the way), I have one more update. I’ve decided to dust off one of my old stories that never matured past its first draft. I’m going to rewrite and expand “Seeing Things,” my story about a man who questions his sanity after he starts seeing disturbing doppelgangers of himself in the mirror. I don’t want to say anything else about that yet, because I still have some decisions to make regarding the process of rewriting and I plan on making a separate post about it once I do. But I am actively working on a project, despite my decision to press pause on another.

The room where I go to write and be alone with my creations is a dire mess, and it’s a very real, tangible piece of what’s been holding me back. The chaos of my writing space has been mirroring the chaos inside of me. One of my recent goals has been to fix this mess and restore some order outwardly, in the hope of helping to restore some inwardly. I’ve never been the neatest person, but when I let the mess reach critical mass like this, it starts to have an effect on my mental and emotional state. Writing can be challenging, and at times that’s useful, but I shouldn’t have to feel smothered by my surroundings when I sit down to write.

Here, take a look.

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Now, I know there’s not much here in terms of perspective. Trust me when I say, it was worse a couple of weeks ago. Just outside the frame of this picture, there’s a large pile of other assorted belongings that I’ve sorted through and need to remove from the room. And you can’t see any evidence of it here, but I also recycled about a hundred pounds worth of old school notebooks and photocopies. I threw away stuff that I didn’t even remember owning, that’s how much crap we’re dealing with here.

This is a small room that we’re talking about, and the area in the left side of that picture is behind my desk (which you can see a little bit of, toward the far right). It’s not clear from this view, but the desk itself is going to be a project all on its own.

See those bins, the big trash bag in the middle of the floor, and that bookcase that’s missing some shelves? Yeah, none of those belong there. I’ve been shoving everything into this room and making piles on top of piles for months, just ignoring how much of a mess it’s been the whole time. The madness needs to stop.

I will continue to sort and toss, rearrange and remove, and eventually give the room a good dusting/vacuuming. Once all of that is done, I shall return to this post and update it. Until then, I’m going to curse the room every time I walk into or out of it.

For now, I have to keep repeating these words in my head like a crazed mantra: Think of how great it will feel once you can sit down at that desk knowing that everything is in its place, imagine how free you’ll feel!

Today I’m doing something that terrifies me, something I’ve almost done so many times before. There are a few things I need to say, and I need to say them where anyone can see. For a little over a year now, I’ve let anger and depression dictate how I live my life. Maybe even longer than that, depending on how you look at it. Even worse, I’ve been so afraid to talk or write about it that I haven’t done much other than stay quiet and isolated. I’m very good at cutting myself off from the world at large and falling into safe, familiar ways of living. If I could only pick one lesson that I’ve learned during that time, it would be this: keeping my darkest thoughts locked up and pushing people away when I need them most will only make the problem worse.

It’s not enough to make the same excuses over and over again, finding new ways to push my problems under life’s proverbial rug. Besides, the dust under there already

I’ve stopped short of writing about this in the past for different reasons, but I can only hold back so long when I feel something in my gut telling me, ‘You need to say this, for you.’

I’ve been afraid that others might judge me for using this space to talk about my struggles with my mental health. After all, this is a website that’s supposedly here to present my views as a writer, a place to talk about stories, and it wouldn’t it be a bit strange to get on here to talk about my personal problems? But that doesn’t matter; it’s my blog, so I need to stop worrying about that. I’ve been afraid that people would see this as a cry for help or some attempt to draw attention to me. I know that it’s not either of those things, and that’s what matters. If no one ever reads this post, that’s fine with me–I’m here to write this out, because I’m tired of swallowing this poison.

I struggle with depression on a day-to-day basis, but that doesn’t mean I have to devote half of my energy to hiding it all the time. Some days I can almost completely forget about the demons I carry around in my head, which is more than some people can say. I’m not trying to say that my life is bad, because I know I have many things to be grateful for, even on my worst days. I’m engaged to a beautiful, caring woman who knows me better than anyone on Earth, and I’ve had the support of friends and family for as long as I can remember. I know how lucky I am. I haven’t been the best version of me lately, and I know I can do better.

I already feel relieved, just knowing that I was able to sit here and type these thoughts I’ve had roaming through my consciousness. And I don’t intend to make posts like this a regular occurrence on my blog; quite the opposite, I intend to start devoting more time to this site and begin filling it with worthwhile content. I’m sure it won’t be as easy as I would like, but that’s always true when it comes to my writing. I seem to always find new ways to challenge myself, but I keep running into the same problem. I have a hard time letting go of setbacks and failures, and I readily assign blame to myself at the first sign of struggle. The new challenge has to be to push myself and be ready to forgive.

On a similar note, I’ve decided that I need to stop filtering so much of what I say and worrying about how I say it. It’s too much work to re-read every little thing a dozen times and second-guess every word I write. That kind of self-censorship isn’t benefiting anyone. I have more than enough material that’s waiting to be mined, but it’s up to me to write in a way that’s true to who I am. No one else can make me, and no one should have to.

Before I wrap this up, I want to apologize to all of the people that I’ve been pushing away. Whether I had a reason or not, it wasn’t the correct way to handle the situation. I can’t say that I won’t make the same mistakes again, and I can’t say I’ll always be the kind of person that I want to be. I can be more open and honest, though. I owe it to all of you, whether you’re reading this now or you’ve long since given up on me. I know this won’t erase any of what I’ve done, or what I’ve failed to do. I know that I need to say it anyway. I am sorry for all the lost time, for all the promises I’ve made and not kept, and for failing to give back the love and support I’ve received.

Life is full of opportunities, and I hope I’ll have a chance to repair some of the damage that’s been done. As always, thank you to everyone, whether you’ve stumbled upon this post or you’ve visited here before.

(And, I swear, I’ll be posting on here soon about the status of my stories and give some idea of what I’m planning to do next. I have a few different ideas, and I’ll be discussing them with an eye toward getting some feedback about what people might like to see here, what they would read, and what sort of content they’re just not interested in.)

The problem in question: much of the writing process has lost its appeal for me. There are several causes that I can point to, but perhaps the biggest one is that I stopped having fun. I can’t continue to use that as an excuse to shy away from writing, to put in the work that creating quality stories demands, or to throw up my arms at the frustration of it all.

My best option, as I see it, is to return to the aspects of writing that I enjoy, as well as search for new and engaging ways to experiment with my craft. I know my mind, and I know it well enough to unequivocally state the following. I will never make progress as a writer if I cannot find a reasonable balance between the work required and the enjoyment I find in said work. I suspect this balance is different for everyone. For me it’s a matter of motivation, because the work itself is not enough motivation on its own.

I want to write, despite the nasty voice of doubt that always seems to lurk behind every thought I have. The characters, words, and worlds that insist on populating my consciousness are evidence of my will to create. It’s my job, my duty to myself, to push back against my doubt and find the spark to set me on my way again.

With that in mind, I intend to post more of my WIP-related content here. I don’t want to make predictions about when or what, yet. Some of it will be fragmentary, like a few older posts I’ve done in the past, while some will have a more polished feel. I don’t know how much interest they’ll generate here, or anywhere else, but I’m hoping that I can use this space to present some of my concept art and notes for a number of fictional settings I’m developing. I’m still debating whether I’d like to create dedicated pages here on the site for different projects; that might depend on how much material I decide to publish.

Of course, I have unfinished stories waiting for me. (And the question of how I’m going to use my social media accounts going forward, but that’s a topic for another post.) I’ll return to them when I’m ready, and until then I’ll work on whatever keeps me writing. Worldbuilding and sketching aren’t the most important parts of my process, but they’re like fuel for my stories, without them I’m not going anywhere.

A number of weird and confusing posts might begin to appear on this blog in the near future. I expect they’ll be very hit or miss, but who knows, right?

 

This past week featured a free promotion for Rise of the Europan on Kindle, during which we moved almost 250 copies!

Thank you to everyone that helped to support this promotion, whether you’re someone that reads this blog, heard about it on Facebook, or found the book whilst browsing on Amazon. Because of all these downloads, our book climbed the rankings for a few days and peaked at #2 under the category of Science Fiction Anthologies and Short Stories. Even if only a fraction of those people read the book, it’s a great boon for Dryden and all the authors involved. So, again, many thanks to everyone that downloaded a copy, shared posts, and helped spread the word.

This is a huge accomplishment for everyone involved in the project, but I’d like to take a second to acknowledge my co-author Tracy Vincent. Since the work started on RotE, Tracy has worked harder than anyone else to make it a success. Her contributions as an author, editor, and tireless champion of the book are worth more than I can express here. The work she’s put into this project was and continues to be essential.

I encourage everyone to check out her blog Textual Love, where she discusses some of the many books she reads, and give her Facebook page a “like” if you’re on there. She’s a great author, and an even better person.

 

(PS)

I’ve had a lot of different subjects competing for space in my thoughts lately, but it’s my hope that I’ll soon be able to sort through them enough to have some actual content on this blog. I have ideas I’d like to express, opinions that I want to share, and more. It’s partially about reclaiming some of the confidence I’ve lost, but it’s also a challenge to myself: I have to break through my crushing apathy and find a way to keep writing even when it all seems pointless. The truth is that this won’t get any easier for me, so I need to find my own fuel. I’m not there yet, but (maybe) I’m getting closer…