Lake of Spirits review by Piers Anthony
Posted on November 7, 2011
A little while ago I sent Lake of Spirits to Piers Anthony, who some of you will know as a hugely successful fantasy author and New York Times bestseller a couple of dozen times over. He enjoyed the first three books in the series and I hoped he'd like the fourth installment. His review popped up at the top of his November newsletter, and I can't help feeling a surge of pride at his words. I don't mean to brag, honest I don't, but I'm going to anyway...
I read Lake of Spirits by Keith Robinson. The is the fourth novel in the author's Island of Fog series, intended for young readers; the nine major characters are twelve years old. Don't let that fool you; as with the others, this is a hard-hitting story that may actually be more suitable for adults than children. This time the children are joined by a shape changer who is one of the miengu water spirits, Jolie. She is seventeen and absolutely gorgeous; all the boys are instantly in her thrall. So far so good. But as the cover summary says, "This is a tale of paranoia, betrayal, and impending doom." Yes it is. Jolie leads them into a series of misadventures which are not necessarily innocent. For example, she gets one shy boy to read his not-very-good poetry aloud to villagers, who promptly laugh him offstage, as it were. He is humiliated. Was it an accident, or is there a broad mean streak in Jolie? The girls see her as ugly and don't like her at all. Then one critical girl disappears. Jolie pretends innocence, but they suspect her, as it turns out with good reason. I don't think it is giving away anything to say that Jolie is not at all what she appears. But what she is, is the point of the novel. It's tense, ugly, and makes absolute sense. You won't completely enjoy reading it, but this is another good one, well worth your attention. If I may lapse into a broader discussion (and who can stop me?) I suggest that this whole series is the kind of thing traditional publishers have foolishly shut out. Thank fate for new options, such as self publishing and electronic publishing, notably Kindle, that enables some excellent writers to bypass the closed shop that is Parnassus and reach their readers directly. There's a revolution occurring in publishing, and I'm glad to see it.
This review can also be read on Piers' website here.
I appreciate the notion that my series is one that publishers have foolishly shut out, but the truth is that it's only been seen by a handful to date. The lure of self-publishing was too great back in 2009! Since then, I've obtained an agent, Whitt Brantley (who is back on board and representing the series after a short hiatus); he's submitted the first book to a few major publishers, who have rejected it after a full review, but there are plenty of publishers who haven't seen it yet, so I think there's hope.
One problem might lie in the length of the books, which are each 100,000 words. For MG (middle grade), the books should ideally be more like 60,000 words. This wouldn't be a problem for established authors, but for newbies it seems to be an automatic turn-off as far as some publishers are concerned. And if it's not the length that's putting them off, then maybe it's simply that my writing isn't good enough for them, or that the series is just not what they're looking for. There are a ton of reasons for rejection.
Back in May 2011, Whitt sent the first book to Trident Media Group, who replied:
Thanks so much for the chance to consider Island of Fog. This is such an inventive concept, and Mr. Robinson clearly has a formidable franchise, but I regret that ultimately I didn't connect with the writing in quite the way I'd need to in order to pursue this. I also worry that the length is a bit on the longer side for the current MG and YA market, but then again, I'm not the biggest sci-fi reader, and I'm sure you'll find the perfect co-partner for the project. Thanks again for reaching out to me, and I hope you'll think to do so again if more projects in this genre come your way.
I've since decided to work on shorter books of 60,000 words and try my luck with those, in the hope that getting my foot in the door with something that "follows the basic guidelines" will eventually open another door as far as Island of Fog is concerned.
I've not been posting as much on this blog lately, and to be honest I haven't been writing a whole lot either. But that's about to change. Time to get back in the saddle! I'm nearly finished with edits to Caleb's World (formerly The Impossible World) and then I'm going to start on something completely new and fresh. Meanwhile, Book 5 of the Fog series is screaming to be written and I can't stifle it for much longer...
Congrats on the review. Why not break up the existing IOF series into smaller books with cliffhanger endings? ;-p
Nice idea, Brian, and trust me, I've actually considered something like that! Out of interest, if I cut off Island of Fog at the 60,000-word point, it would be where all the kids are at the lighthouse and Fenton is staring down at them from above. Not exactly a good stopping point for a novel. It would be better if I went through and cut numerous "non-important" scenes, but it would take a LOT of work and I'm not sure how I could cut out a full third without butchering the story.
I know you were joking, but I mean it — I've been there already! And it ain't happening. :-)
Another triumph for you!
I found your site oh so many years ago thanks to Piers' review of ISLAND OF FOG. I'm reading it to my class yet again this year. They love it. One student has already read book 2, is halfway through book 3 and I haven't even finished book 1 with my class. He got ahold of one of the extra copies of book 1 and read ahead. He read book 2 in only two days. He asked me to bring in book 4 tomorrow as he intends to blaze through book 3 tonight.
Way to captivate the youngsters, Keith.
Look for lots of letters and fan art sometime in February from a new wave of fans at Jones Dairy Elementary.
I love it! :-)
This sort of thing always spurs me on. I haven't posted much here lately but plan to soon. Thanks for continuing to support me in your classroom!