On Violence – Originally Published December 02, 2010

The PodPeople Blogspot © Cheryl Anne Gardner, All Rights Reserved

When people say there is too much violence in my books, what they are saying is there is too much reality in life. — Joyce Carol Oates

I can remember my Grandmother saying to me a year or so ago, “I couldn’t finish it. So many horrible things were happening to that poor woman.” when I asked her about my first novella The Kissing Room.Let’s just say, I am not shy about writing the darkness:

The story also fluctuates frequently between gentle, romantic, or bittersweet moments and truly ugly, stomach-churning scenes of violence and despair. When it is all said and done, Cheryl Anne Gardner’s The Kissing Room is a deeply touching love story; you just won’t know it til it’s over. — Suspense-books.com

I suppose I enjoy writing from the abyss. Most of the literature I read when I was younger would be considered very dark stuff. Humanity’s duality has always just intrigued me for some reason, and the darker bits make things all that much more interesting. Could you imagine The Bible without all the fire, brimstone, and violence??? That’s right; it just wouldn’t have the same impact, now would it? That is what literary fiction is all about — Impact. That’s what makes us think. It’s what forces us to put our worldview into perspective. Being exposed to the darkness allows us to flex our immune system, adapt, fine-tune our coping skills. If we only ever received praise, adoration, and fists full of daisies in our childhood, imagine how unprepared we would be to reconcile criticism, rejection, hatred, jealousy, and death. All very much a form of violence in their own way.

We always hear from the daisy-throwing fear monger zealots that exposure to violence desensitizes us, but I don’t think that’s actually true. Maybe for sociopaths, but for most people, exposure allows us to put the scenarios into perspective through our awareness of it so we can safely work through how we would react emotionally to such circumstances. Shit, Disney has been doing violence and death forever and you hear barely a complaint about it in so far as accusing Disney of desensitizing our children. How many orphaned children appear in Disney movies? How many parents have died horrible deaths? What about kidnapping, domestic abuse, etc. Disney has always been very successful at balancing the light and the darkness in its stories. They are touching and horrific at the same time. They allow children a means to cope with the evil in the world and yet retain a sense of hope despite the brutality. The same can be said for my novella The Kissing Room, which is about an emotionally distraught woman who finds herself in a physically abusive relationship after the death of her husband. I confront a lot of emotionally disturbing issues in this rather short novella: suicide, depression, self-mutilation, and domestic abuse, but I never stray too far away from the light at the end of the tunnel, which is hope.

Sure, some people prefer to read only escapist fiction, meaning everything works out all neat and tidy complete with a big red happy ending bow. And while I agree that, on occasion, it’s nice to read and experience a perfect world I can readily admit is a complete fake, I would much rather read literary horror because it helps me meditate on the realities of life from a safe distance. And sure, we get bombarded with horrific abuses on the news every day. There are rapists and serial killers out there, truly evil people, but unless we have direct contact, they are nothing more than abstractions, and that’s where art comes in. Art attempts to give depth to the abstract concept of evil we find ourselves exposed to by proxy every day.

Most of the fiction I like, as well as my own work, tends to centre around the same themes: sex, death, love, and faith, specifically faith as it relates to spirituality and God, and I am sorry to tint the windows here with a bit of faecal spooge, but every single one of those thematic subjects has a dark side — a nasty one at that. If duality weren’t necessary, the Devil would not exist. And the Devil often has top billing when it comes to art and literature. For instance:Dragon Tattoo, while brutally evil in it’s thematic nature, has got nothing on Ellis’ American Psycho. Patrick Bateman was all Id and Ego, a satirical portrait of the 80s overindulgent successful male. The book is brutal to read because it’s frightening to come face to face with someone who is so self-actualized. Bateman recognized the apathy around him, hated it, acted upon it with a vengeance. I think that everyone fantasizes about experiencing for themselves that sort of emotive response from time to time, so most readers were able to sympathize with a killer on some level, even if they didn’t want to admit it.

I am a huge Jung fan. Carl Jung that is, and that should be no surprise: most writers who write about the human condition tend to dabble a bit in Psychology and Philosophy, and Jung speaks often of the Shadow self when describing the five main archetypes: Self, Shadow, Anima, Animus, and Persona. The Shadow is the repressed negative aspect our self.

“Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” Jung also believed that “in spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness—or perhaps because of this—the shadow is the seat of creativity.” Jung believed that for a person to be whole he must reconcile with his shadow aspect. “Beneath the surface a person is suffering from a deadly boredom that makes everything seem meaningless and empty…as if the initial encounter with the Self casts a dark shadow ahead of time. The more consciousness gains in clarity, the more monarchic becomes its content…the king constantly needs the renewal that begins with a descent into his own darkness.”

In essence, in order to reach totality, or rather, enlightenment, one needs to do a meet and greet with one’s own shadow. I think the same can be said for all things dark and disturbing. You gain no perspective with avoidance.

People with phobias are often treated with what is called Systematic Desensitization or graduated exposure therapy, which is a cognitive behavioural process. The same process takes place when we expose ourselves through art to the dark side of life and the human psyche. We are allowing our minds, in this case, to process the violence in our world and consciously sort out our rational from our irrational feelings about such things.

We all know the old adage: Art mimics life, including the blackest parts of it, but I don’t necessarily think mimicking is the point of the exercise when Art chooses to portray the darkest depths. The real point of Art is to create impact by attempting to understand life, not mimic it, at its deepest most subconscious levels. Nietzsche once said that when you stare into the abyss it stares back into you, and maybe that reflection is what we seek so we can better understand ourselves and the world around us, including its violence. Introspection is what we are after. Art just gives us a proper mirror, that’s all. Sometimes the mirror reflects the blue of the sky or a field of daisies, and sometimes it doesn’t.

On Offensive Content – Originally Published September 16, 2010

The PodPeople Blogspot © Cheryl Anne Gardner, All Rights Reserved

The atmosphere of orthodoxy is always damaging to prose, and above all, it is completely ruinous to the novel, the most anarchical of all forms of literature. — George Orwell

In the case of apparent offensive content, all a writer can do is be honest, be true to the story and the characters. A writer has no other choice. What other people take away from a story, or rather how they interpret it or misinterpret it, is nothing more than a projection of their own inner self and is of no concern to you, as a writer — unless you want to use them as a character in your next book. In the moment of writing, all that matters is the story.

Now this is not just my personal take on the issue, many other literary authors have made their stance known: Zoe Heller, author of Notes on a Scandal, said that it is not a writer’s job to offer up moral avatars; if you want friends, go to a cocktail party. In the Gospel of Mark it is said that John came to “agitate the comfortable and comfort the agitated.” Now that was used in a religious context, meaning the people were spiritually asleep, and it was the prophet’s job to wake them, but “art” does this as well. It awakens people, challenges people and their ideals. I am not saying that the readers’ opinions don’t matter, I am saying that “all” reader opinions only matter to a certain degree. That’s how art works, and writers have been dealing with this sort of shit since people figured out how to put pen to paper. Artists, including writers, have been commenting on society’s indiscretions since the dawn of time, i.e. The Bible, which is full of some god-awful violent and disturbing stuff.

The fact of the matter is that there is someone out there who is bound to be offended by something you write, say, or do. In this world, being offended is like a hobby. And like any other truly egocentric pursuit, the offended’s opinion is the only one of value. Not to mention, those who love to engage in this sort of thing have a huge fan base. But I digress. All this is really irrelevant to the writer. It’s all just static, and it means nothing in the greater scheme of things. If you have got yourself a controversial book, you have done yourself a favour as an artist, so bask in the glory despite your detractors.

Writers are like explorers, and the human psyche is like the greatest fucking adventure land that ever existed — yes, even Disney sucks ass by comparison — and many serious writers feel compelled to explore difficult, challenging, and often controversial subjects and ideas. Some writers have a point to make, and they make it, and some writers take the objective approach and simply tell a story. Some parts of that story might be objectionable to some readers; hell, the author might even find them objectionable for that matter. Just because an author writes about something does not necessarily mean that they advocate said thing. I wish more readers understood this, because it’s a painful process, and it takes a lot of time for an author to build up some sort of resistance to being affected by this … this purely subjective criticism that some feel the need to level not only at the work but at the author personally. I’ll share a story that set me into a tailspin of personal doubt for about a year. I haven’t shared this with too many people, but maybe it’s time.

When I wrote the book The Thin Wall, my idea was to explore the dangers of the co-dependent relationship. When the story and the characters came to me, the main coupling just happened to be between two fortyish single people who shared certain sexual proclivities. The fact that they were a BDSM couple was relevant to the theme of unconventional love that I had in mind for the story. While the story is not graphic by any means — I just don’t write graphic sex — there is a scene in the beginning of the book which illustrates that the relationship between these two people had reached a level most compassionate human beings would find abusive. Anyway … along comes this internet person, who had not even read the book, who decided in her infinite wisdom to take it upon herself to vocalize her opinion that my story could not be a romance and how dare I call it one while she proceeded to have herself a love-in at my expense over on her own website. Basically, she declared, that to write such a thing and call it a romance made me some sort of pervert. Yes, all this was said while ignoring the fact that the story is about a confused woman in the middle of her midlife crisis who is trying to sort out her feelings after discovering that the man she has spent the last twenty years with isn’t really right or healthy for her at this stage of her life. The happy ever after comes when she winds up with the man that is at the end of the book. But this blogger didn’t even have the courtesy to read the book before commenting on something she knew nothing about, so the fact that it actually fits the exact definition of a romance was rendered a moot point by her ignorance of the facts.

Now I look back at the incident and laugh because I have come to understand how irrelevant and biased the comments were, and that it was really nothing but a self-projection and had nothing to do with my story specifically, or my art, or me personally as a writer. At the time though, it really dug in deep. I began worrying about what other people might think of me or that people might think I was advocating such sexual activity. The whole thing made me so sick down to my core that I actually pulled the book from print after it had been out only a few weeks. I actually took all my books out print. I completely shut down. I knew that in order for me to resolve my feelings about my own artistic freedom, I had to shut everything out for a bit, which I did. I took a year off to pull my boot straps up. I needed to step back, away from readers, away from the net, and spend some time with my writerly person — do some self-affirmations. While I had the time and all the books out of print, I decided to take a long hard editorial look at them, and what I found was that I liked what I had written, I had been objective in my explorations, so I revised some and then sent my deviant thoughts back out into the world.

It took a year, but I have reached a level of Zen about this sort of thing. If I am going to be honest and true to the human condition, which is ugly at best, I can’t be worried about offending someone. It takes too damn much energy away from the writing.

Now my thoughts here are based on my own personal struggle. I can’t really give authors any advice on how to deal with this sort of situation, other than: NEVER EVER EVER RESPOND TO IT DIRECTLY. That is an exercise in futility, because in this situation, you cannot change someone’s mind, so it’s best to ignore it, lest it consume you with negativity.

Getting Zen with this takes courage and confidence, and you can’t really combat that sort of emotional attack until you are faced with it and have taken the time to reflect upon it. You will question everything you have ever written. You will question your motivations. You will question your own ideals and your personal dogma, and you will question not only the words but the integrity of your writing, as well. I think, for a serious writer, the exercise is good for the art in the end. But that’s just me. I practice “write what you want, how you want to write it.” Some writers will not be able to endure it and will bow to the censors. It’s a personal choice every writer must make on their own, and I wish you the best and all the good energy I can send your way.

On Taking a Break – Originally Published August 12, 2010

The PodPeople Blogspot © Cheryl Anne Gardner, All Rights Reserved

If God hadn’t rested on Sunday, He wouldn’t have had the time to finish the world. — Gabriel Garcia Marquez

He wouldn’t have had the energy, the patience, or the perspective either.

We all need to rest. Writers need to rest, and manuscripts need to rest, just like wine, and cheese, and flowers, and trees, well, like most good things in life. For a writer, the daunting tasks of self-editing and revision become an exercise in futility if we don’t step back and step away from the work for a period of time.

This isn’t anything new. Most who teach the craft advise that a manuscript, after the first draft is finished, should be shelved for a time — a few weeks to a few months — so the author can detach themselves from the words and from story. Without that detachment, we can’t see the forest for the trees, if you will pardon the cliché. Admittedly, I didn’t do this with the first editions of my early novellas, and sadly, they were lacking. My readers didn’t think they were, but when I looked back on them during the reformatting process — when I switched distributors/printers — I noticed the err of my ways. I saw areas that could be improved dramatically. Improvements that could only strengthen the work. I am not talking about a proofreading here; I did numerous revisions before releasing the first editions. I am talking about structural improvements that dig down deep. Subtle things I hadn’t noticed in the thousand times I read through the manuscripts.

This happens to every writer — the blindness — and the only effective remedy is rest. I rest a manuscript for a few months between the first draft and the start of revisions. I also take a rest during the time the work is out for Beta, which can also take several weeks, and I rest it again for a week or two before the final proofread. I also rest myself. I don’t write anything but blog posts and articles while I am resting a manuscript simply because I have to rest it out of my brain as well.

Rome wasn’t built in a day; Eden certainly wasn’t either, so how can we expect to create a fully three dimensional world full of vigour and emotion if we’ve lost our objectivity because we have been desensitized by our own words?

Often self-published authors can get overwhelmed. Multi-tasking is great and all that, but it does affect our ability to focus. Scientists are doing a lot of studies on this right now because we are crippling our brains on the net. The craft of writing is all about focusing. We feel pressure to get the books out as fast as we can. We feel pressure to be a brand with presence, to market and sell ourselves on the virtual street corner, and we feel pressure to keep up with all the latest and greatest industry news. It’s exhausting to have your brain hyper-focused on a thousand things all the time. And soon all this becomes distraction. We cannot concentrate to write quietly without interruption, and the writing suffers.

So rest, my dear authors. Rejuvenate your senses. Breathe deeply of life, and reconnect to the world. Our imaginary worlds will grow stagnant if we don’t feed our own souls from time to time. While you are resting, read. Nothing puts words into perspective more so than reading someone else’s. I go offline at weekends. I also set time aside to read and write each weekday in solitude. If I didn’t, I’d have been carted off to the booby-hatch by now. And speaking of rest, I will be on vacation next week to work on the final proof of my novella Logos among other fiddly garden and house things that need to be done.

On Success and Failure – Originally Published July 29, 2010

The PodPeople Blogspot © Cheryl Anne Gardner, All Rights Reserved

Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers. — T.S. Eliot

Meh! What’s failed? That’s what I want to know. If you are writing and you love what you write and you love the process, then you are not a failed writer. A failed writer to me is the writer who gives up their dream. Self-published writers, if anything, can be said to have zealously embraced the dream.

My idea of success is exactly MY IDEA, and it’s not how many books I sell in a week or a day or a year or in a lifetime or my Amazon ranking. It’s about being happy with what I have written. It’s all about the art for me, and so validation generally comes from my own internal sense of artistic self-worth. For others, validation comes in many different ways: sales for some, reviews for others, or maybe it’s an award or a traditional publishing contract … and sometimes it comes in the form of recognition one might not be expecting. I had this happen over the weekend. An Amazon reviewer/author who had reviewed my novellaThe Thin Wall contacted me to tell me that a NY Arts Foundation wanted permission to cross-post their review to a new Literary Fiction site they were launching. They had said yes, but they wanted to notify me. In the mean time, I had gotten a Google alert on the posting. I did some research on the site and found it to be legit, and I didn’t specifically know anyone involved with the project. Of course, I was thrilled to death that an Arts Foundation would find literary merit in my work. That is the sort of validation those who write for the art of it hope to get. The only thing nagging at me was the question of how they found my work and why they selected that particular review of it. So I emailed the foundation… Yes, I am bold that way.

Dactyl Review is a new Literary Endeavour funded by The Dactyl Foundation for the Arts and Humanities in NYC, founded in 1996. Ms. Alexander, one of the founding members, is an author herself and has some strong opinions about the current state of the publishing industry, specifically when it comes to Literary Fiction. By Literary they mean: that the author pays attention to, for example, the sounds, double meanings, etymologies, allusiveness, or rhythms of language. Literary novels are prose poetry, at the sentence level and also at a larger level where themes, characters and events should also relate poetically. The subject of the work is engaged with something that might be called weighty, questioning, for example, how we think, how we make meaning, why things happen the way they do, how we decide what’s right or wrong, or musing over what might have been.

Dactyl’s stance on literary fiction in today’s publishing climate is as follows from their website: For a number of years, publishing has been dominated by commercial fiction. Literary fiction novels and short story collections by small presses or independent authors have little chance of being noticed by reviewers or placed on bookstore shelves. Even the literary fiction written by relatively well-known writers published by big houses has been pushed to the side by pseudo-literary fiction — written and reviewed by those who don’t know the difference between thought and sentimentality, poetry and the use of adjectives — such that the meaning of “literary” is lost. Moreover, with the way the publishing system is currently organized books aren’t given much time in front of judges and audiences. Those that don’t make it immediately are tossed in the remaindered bin. A deep pity, as literary fiction is slow-growing and takes time to find its audience.

So how did Dactyl find me? According to Ms. Alexander, they are attempting to seed the site while they look for qualified reviewers. That effort included a search of all Amazon Reviewers who use the tags Literary and Literary Fiction and who are published authors themselves. From that list of reviewers, they selected specific books and reviews for inclusion on the site. Books must meet their definition of “literary” as listed above.

Flattering — yes. To have an arts foundation award you by finding literary merit in your work, enough to profile your book alongside Cormac McCarthy, is definitely something. I am still basking in the glow, but now I have to wipe the shine off and get down to business.

On Rules – Originally Published July 15, 2010

The PodPeople Blogspot © Cheryl Anne Gardner, All Rights Reserved

Individualism has really the higher aim. Modern morality consists in accepting the standards of one’s age. I consider that for any man of culture to accept the standard of his age is a form of the grossest immorality. – Lord Henry, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

My last article on the Bullshit Arbitrary Writing Rules generated some healthy debate; however, sometimes I feel that my position on such matters is often misinterpreted, so since I am in one of those peculiar moods at the moment, I would like to take a second or two to explain my position with regards to writing rules and writing conventions, which are not to be confused.

Those who know me understand that while I am an advocate of Artistic Anarchy, I am also a staunch supporter of the rules. I would never suggest that a novice author ignore the rules, and by rules, I mean true literary theory. Barring any innate gift, the vast majority of us writers must actually learn to write. We do that by thoroughly grasping the grammatical rules and by exposing ourselves to and discussing at length the techniques developed over time by other great writers. Those storytelling techniques are the foundation for what is known as literary theory. Those are the real rules, and every writer needs to know them before they can even dream of developing their own style and voice. Where the confusion lies for most new writers is that it is difficult to distinguish sometimes between real practical theory and what we call the writing “conventions” of the time.

Writing conventions change over time and they have nothing to do with art. Writing conventions, though sometimes grounded in actual theory, are really just fad and fashion. Writing conventions are about creating a consistent product that falls in line with the current trends. If the current publishing trend is for minimalistic writing, then the vast majority of mainstream writing guides will lean heavily towards those conventions and will often label them as guidelines or rules. Rules they are not, and without a proper understanding of real theory, conventions can cripple the artist by placing unnecessary and arbitrary restraints on the words. Not to mention that the conventions of the day do not guarantee success. If that were true then these writing guides, touting nothing but the current conventions, would be producing best-selling authors every second.

Understanding the conventions of the time is helpful if you are deliberately trying to write to sales trends or specific genre trends, but learning the conventions is no substitute for learning the actual craft. Stripping your work of all adverbs and passive voice will not save a manuscript that has failed in theory. And that is why these conventions are so arbitrary. Taken out of context and then subsequently taken too literally, they can destroy a burgeoning new voice. Authorial voice and style must be free of conventional limitations in order to grow. If everyone listened to the conventions of their day, we would not have modern poetry or modern art or new narrative styles like those that came out of the beat era.

Some might argue that the “conventions” are a good start for novice writers, often likening them to training wheels, but here is the problem with that logic: Training wheels might give you confidence, but it is a false sense of confidence, because in reality, you have not mastered the mechanics of riding a two-wheeled bike. Riding a four-wheeled bike is not the same, and the only way you can master the two-wheeled bike is to discard the training wheels and learn the real mechanics of a two-wheeled ride. Novice authors need to learn the theory so they don’t become overly dependent on conventions that could fall out of favour at any moment, or even worse, misinterpret the convention thus creating a lifeless, flawed, and grammatically unsound manuscript. I have seen authors misguidedly conjugate every verb in their manuscript using simple past tense because they didn’t understand the theory behind the “consistent tense” convention, and what they wound up with was a grammatical minefield. Or those authors who do a seek and destroy, cutting all words that end in “ly” without really understanding the grammatical difference between an adverb and an adjective, not to mention that all adverbs do not end in “ly.” Or when was the last time you heard the term Show don’t Tell followed by an in-depth explanation of what that actually means. Story telling is about showing “and” telling, and not all exposition is telling.

So the point I am trying to make when I get all assholes and elbows about the current writing conventions is simply: If you blindly follow the writing conventions without a thorough understanding of the literary theory behind them, then you do so at your own peril. My advice to all novice authors is to learn the grammar rules, learn the craft, learn the theory, and then later, once you have a firm grasp of the real rules, you can then, if you choose, modify your manuscript to fit the current conventions with some degree of confidence. There is a lot more to POV than First and Third person. There is a lot more to everything. Knowing the practical theory is the difference between an average writer and a great writer. We all want to be great writers, and that takes patience and stamina and the will to understand the craft beyond the trendy conventions of the time. Those are the books I want to review: the books authored by writers who understood the theory and risked moving beyond it.

On Difficult Points of View – Originally Published June 10, 2010

The PodPeople Blogspot © Cheryl Anne Gardner, All Rights Reserved

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. — Marcel Proust

Isn’t that what storytelling is all about when you come right down to it. We’ve all heard the theory that there are no new stories. The fact that Freytag’s Pyramid exists just proves that theory true, and while that might render pretty much every story out there predictable to some degree, it doesn’t stop people wanting to read them. So if most plots are predictable, most characters archetypes or caricatures, and all stories more or less cliché then why do we bother writing them and why do readers bother reading them? To answer that question we need to look to Proust because it’s all about the Point of View, or rather, having new eyes.

We read stories to experience a point of view different than our own, sometimes it’s a point of view we can sympathize with and sometimes it’s not. I like my POV to be challenged, so often I read stories with characters that I deliberately cannot sympathize with. Writers do the same thing. We feel passionate about something, and that passion generally becomes the underlying thesis or the moral of the story, if you will — even if we don’t know it at the time — and so basically we create a parable, of a sort, based on our own point of view, and in doing so, we are able to not only present that point of view to others in a pleasing and safe fictional way, but we are also given the opportunity through the writing process to challenge our own POV and refocus our own eyes.

As writers, each time we refocus our eyes we discover new ways to see, or rather, interpret the world. Every setting, every character, every scenario is basically our subjective interpretation of it. The successful writer has the second sight, and we are always refocusing our eyes so that we don’t miss anything in the periphery. That’s the power in the Point of View. It’s not just about what the writer sees, it’s about what the writer understands and how they choose to express it. It’s our idiosyncratic vision the reader is after: our tainted point of view, which affects every single aspect of our writing. If we let it, that is.

We often hear talk of “the authorial voice” and how one finds one’s voice? In my opinion, to find one’s voice, one has to be quiet and find one’s eyes. One has to see clearly, which basically means, you have to find your point of view and not be afraid to express it. I am not talking about character POV with respect to technically narrating the story, I am talking about the Author’s OWN POV, which determines the thematic approach and defines the author’s writing style. Most of the books I have reviewed highly all have that one thing in common. The author had found their point of view, and they allowed it to hit the page without regret.

Since it’s novella month, the cover art today is The Story of The Eye by Georges Bataille a 20th century philosopher and a brilliant writer whose authorial voice was not appreciated in his time due to the transgressive nature of his point of view. Story of the Eye is a psycho-drama of pure genius and reveals considerable psychological and philosophical depth despite the original claim that it was pornography, and while Story of The Eye chronicles the deviant sexual escapades of two young lovers, this is not what I would consider a pornographic novel. Yes, the erotic scenes are quite intense — intense enough to make the faint of heart put the book down. But the erotica nature of the story is not the point of the story. The deep emotional, psychological, and pathological attachment between the two main characters is what drives this story. Their disdain for the banal is apparent in everything they do. The narration is surreal, slipping in an out of conscious thought and action so fluidly that it’s difficult to distance yourself from the story. A word of warning though, the metaphors are quite disturbing and the sexualized violence might be a bit much for some readers. However, if you are not bothered by such things, then this little book is definitely worth the read. Bataille himself might not have fully understood where the imagery came from as he was writing it, but he had a command of his point of view, and that is what makes this story such a compelling read.