Fantasy Book Review and Author Interview: A Drowned Kingdom (The Drowned Kingdom Saga Book 1) by P.L. Stuart

Fantasy Book Review


Title: A Drowned Kingdom (The Drowned Kingdom Saga Book 1)
Author:  P.L. Stuart
Publisher: FriesenPress
Released: February 2, 2021
Pages: 404
ASIN: B08VS15WTR
Book Reviewer: Christine Bode
Stars:  4

Othrun, son of King Atalan the Falcon, the Second Prince, and estranged half-brother to Erthal, the First Prince (sons of the pear-shaped island kingdom of Atalantyx), narrates this epic tale of a people who believe in “the one, true, Single God.”

Othrun is jealous of his brother and incensed when during a spy reconnaissance mission to the island of Acremia, in the Kingdom of Norsoon, in the lands of the Sanaavians, its ruler, King Mag gifts Erthal with his youngest daughter, the beautiful, tall, raven-haired heathen, Dira. It doesn’t take long for Erthal to forsake his knightly vows, and he spends the entire trip “rutting with” Dira and subsequently falling in love, while Erthal carries out their father’s mission for the trip to discover its troop sizes and defences of fortifications only to find no glory as the Second Prince upon their return to Atalantyx. They had been sent to Acremia to determine how they could conquer its pagan people, steal their land (although it was essentially only a massive pile of dirt occupied by pig farmers) and make them succumb to their belief in the one, true, Single God.

Erthal and Dira are bound to each other in a pagan handfasting ceremony, and he takes her back to Atalantyx and hides her in its main, western port city of Havenshur. This drives the chivalrous pragmatic knight, Othrun, mad, and he becomes more determined than ever to find a way to undermine the First Prince and claim the High-Chair and the Tri-Crown for himself. Having been all too aware that King Atalan has always favoured Erthal over Othrun even though both of their mothers died giving birth to them, Othrun, Second Prince, and Lord of Surtyx allows envy to get the best of him while vowing to become a warlord.

This is just the beginning of this epic tale about the destruction of a continent, through what was believed to be the wrath of the Single God for the pagans’ sacrifices of many human citizens of Atalantyx. Othrun and his 1,800 exiled followers are the last of the Atalanteans. They sail to Eltnia on the continent of Acremia, where Othrun begins what he believes is his life’s purpose, to eradicate paganism and rule all Acremia.

I am always in awe of writers who create fully realized unique worlds in which to tell their tales. P.L. Stuart has achieved this with his debut novel, A Drowned Kingdom. He made an interesting choice by making his protagonist a deeply flawed human who must evolve to survive. I had a hard time liking Othrun. He was arrogant, vain, self-righteous, and sanctimonious and at only nineteen years old thought he knew everything about what was best for his people.

I also found that the old-fashioned language Stuart used to narrate parts of the story was often tedious, but I am not a fan of thou, thee, and thus, and I certainly understand the intention behind its use.

Stuart describes in detail the world he has created, including Othrun’s favourite part of it, the Circle City, which would remind us Game of Thrones fans of the capital of Westeros.

Without giving too much of the story away, Othrun and the last of the Atalanteans embark on a tumultuous, dangerous journey with King Wely, King of Lynchun, and Hert, Crown Prince of Carthlughe, to lead their people to their new home in the Golden Valley of South Lynchun in Eltnia. Fraught with deceit and betrayal, they are bound together to form the strength needed to defeat their enemies as they are embroiled in battles for leadership and land ownership. This story ends with a cliff-hanger that will ensure that readers return for Book 2 in the series, The Last of The Atalanteans, which P.L. Stuart is currently writing.

In A Drowned Kingdom, Stuart has written a fantastical page-turner that includes some remarkable battle scenes interspersed with a lot of discussion about and planning for how the characters are going to get out of the predicament they find themselves in. It also recounts the history of the royal lineage of the main characters and sets the stage for what is undoubtedly more drama and adventure to come.

My only complaint was that there wasn’t enough sex or romance in this book to light my fire. However, I did love the character of Lysi, the Crown Princess of Nyrimia. A beautiful red-haired, powerful mage, and feared warrior, Lysi is the strong female character I was hoping for. She steals every scene she’s in and ads enough sexual tension between her and Othrun (who is married to his cousin Aliaz whom he loves) to make me want to know what’s going to happen between them next.

Fantasy fiction fans will want to take note of author P.L. Stuart whose work is bound to not only dazzle us but make us think about some of the most serious issues faced by humans throughout the ages in this book and his future work. As bestselling British author, Bernard Cornwell added A Drowned Kingdom to the Reading Club page on his website, you can be guaranteed that P.L. Stuart is a force to be reckoned with.

Interview With Author P.L. Stuart

What inspired you to write A Drowned Kingdom?

Three things inspired me to write A Drowned Kingdom.

First, I wanted to write an epic high fantasy, reminiscent of some of my favourite fantasy authors: J.R.R. Tolkien, G.R.R. Martin, T.H. White, Bernard Cornwell, N.K. Jemisin, John Gwynne, and others. That’s the kind of fantasy I love to read, and that’s what I always wanted to write.

Second, I wanted to write a book that had its origin story as my version of the legend of Atlantis.

Third, and perhaps most important, I wanted to write a book that examined various important and timely themes, like racism, misogyny, colonialism, and more. I wanted that kind of book centred around a person who came from privilege and prejudice and to examine how (if) such a person could change. To use the vernacular, “woke”. I wanted to explore the journey of someone becoming “woke”—that is to say, aware, alert, and engaged in social justice issues like racism, after being the opposite. What better context to look at this, than having the potentially “woke” person as a spoiled, privileged, obstinate nobleman, at the very pinnacle of society? Such a transformation would be engrossing to read about, in my opinion.  

I look at my book kind of like a hard-boiled egg. The shell is your very traditional epic high fantasy book, with all the trappings one has become used to when reading that type of book. The white of the egg, the big part of the egg, is the tale itself, which I think is an entertaining, engaging, and highly detailed story, including my version of the Atlantis myth. The yolk is about the difficult themes I spoke of. That’s the heart of the egg and the heart of why I wrote A Drowned Kingdom. Many of the bigoted, homophobic, sexist things Othrun says are things I have heard with my own ears. Those things have been angering, troubling, and hurtful. They have also been inspiring and motivating, and an opportunity for dialogue, and driving hope for change in the world.

So when you read any book in The Drowned Kingdom Saga, realize you’re not just reading a typical high fantasy book about queens, kings, princes, knights, mages, political intrigue, and battles. You can read it like that, and still enjoy it if you like. The book is yours, once you purchase it, and everyone’s interpretation and aspects that they enjoy will be subjective.

However, I would ask that you at least consider looking at my books as more than about my version of the Atlantis legend, cunning mages, or a flawed prince. There’s lots of deeper meaning there, for those who want to see it. So, I would request that, as the reader, you consider not just writing Othrun off as someone you can’t like, so therefore you can’t appreciate my book. I understand it may be hard to like a book if you don’t enjoy the flawed voice that narrates the book. The choice will always be yours, but I believe that if you give my series – and Othrun – a chance, in time, you may be pleased that you did. Othrun, and my books, I think, both have lots of redeeming qualities.   

Were you a big fantasy fiction fan before you decided to write this book?

Fantasy fiction was my first love in terms of preferred genre, and I pretty well read exclusively fantasy and science fiction at this point in my life. I went through a stage where I read predominantly thriller and police procedural fare. But I always kept coming back to fantasy as my go-to read. Now, being a fantasy author myself, it thrills me to read the incredible work of my fellow creatives. There are so many fabulous fantasy authors out there, both self and traditionally published. My “to-be-read” list is way too long because of this!! So many amazing books to read.

Did you have a fascination with the legend of Atlantis?

I am utterly fascinated by the legend of Atlantis. Obviously, I am far from the only one. I have written about that in one of my blogs, on my website, here:

https://www.plstuart.com/blog/is-a-drowned-kingdom-about-the-legend-of-atlantis

The original legend, created by Plato, has so many compelling elements. Former glorious empire, supreme military, and navy, that has become the metaphor for the ultimate Utopian society, eventually destroyed, sunk beneath the ocean, perhaps by its hubris, or the gods, or both? It’s a timeless story, and how many people might be out there, right now, believing Atlantis existed and trying to find out its location? Atlantis can become a bit of an obsession, and I completely understand it! I always loved reading books about Atlantis and planned one day to write one myself. Well, I’ve done it! 

Are you someone who played or plays games involving fictitious worlds?

When I was far younger I played a little Dungeons and Dragons. I had a family early in life and with a busy career, there wasn’t much time for that sort of thing. Maybe I will take up gaming in retirement! I know it can be lots of fun, and completely immersive!

Can you tell us a little bit about your life before you became a writer? What did you do for a living?

I currently work in Federal Law Enforcement. I am honoured and humbled to have the opportunity to protect Canada and know that I am blessed, every day I put on the uniform. My colleagues are a group of extremely dedicated, selfless people. The job is so intriguing—something different every day. I love my job, but I am winding down that career, and my writing career is now beginning. I would love to retire early from law enforcement and be able to write full-time. I’m working on it!

How did you go about creating the world in which the story is set?

My world-building is kind of backwards compared to many other writers. I build the world from the inside-out, rather than the outside-in. That is to say, I created a main character first. Then, because my narrative is first-person, and all about Othrun, I built the world he inhabits, the history of that world, the other characters, outward from Othrun. Because that is how it works in real life. Everyone’s perception of reality is individualized. So we see, hear, smell, touch what Othrun touches. We perceive what history is, based on his knowledge. We see others, based on his assessments of them. It’s limited, but it also fits the story for the purposes of which I wrote it. Since, consistently, readers have told me they find my world-building really inventive and absorbing, I guess I must be doing something right!

What kind of research did you do?

To be honest with you, minimal research was required to write A Drowned Kingdom. Most of my research involved ancient warfare, which I already felt I had a fairly good grasp of from many years of reading about it, and my educational background, which included history, and medieval literature. That’s the beauty of writing fantasy! It’s all made up! I have so much respect and admiration especially for my fellow authors who write in genres like historical fiction. So much research, and an emphasis on accuracy. Kudos to them!

Did you storyboard the settings?

I didn’t storyboard the settings except in my head. Certain chapters play out like movie scenes in my brain, and I write those scenes down on paper, as soon as they come to me. I tend to write the most difficult part of the books first—things like the ending, or big battle sequences.

Then I write the easier, more fun (for me) chapters. Again, out of order, but I’ve spoken to some fellow authors and apparently, I’m not alone in doing things this way! Some others do the same!

Did you create maps of the world before you wrote the story?

I created my maps of the world concurrently as I wrote the story. As I noted when asked about creating the world in which the story is set, I created the world around Othrun, rather than the other way around.

I am certainly not a great artist, but the professional artist more enhanced my original maps, rather than change them too dramatically. 

Did you write a series of characters and keep track of all their names and descriptions separately as you were writing?

Most of my characters had different names when I started writing A Drowned Kingdom. As I reflected on some of the names, sometimes there was that feeling that some of the names did not suit the characters. So I changed them accordingly.

I do have a system for creating names. I won’t get into it in detail, but suffice to say, i.e., the Atalanteans and Anibians have the posh-sounding, longer names, and the Acremians have the simpler names. After compiling all the names of the major and minor players, eventually, I came up with the list of names you see in the Appendix of the book. I have a much larger, more comprehensive appendix for my use, with all the characters that will appear in all seven books in the series.

I don’t have descriptions of them, because frankly, I have them all in my head. I know what they look like, how they talk, walk, what their tastes are, etc. That may sound daunting, but I have a crazy imagination and a fairly good memory for all that.

You wrote a wonderful fight scene in Chapter 18 between Othrun and Hor the Horrific. How did you prepare to create something both believable and exciting? I love the last sentence in the chapter: “Fools fall for tricks. Fools then fall.”

Thank you! A lot of readers seem to love that confrontation!

It’s weird, I never aspired or thought I would be praised for my battle scenes, but that seems to be consistent feedback from readers and reviewers. Everything I have read about fighting and ancient battle, and everything I have experienced in my law enforcement training, and my use of force encounters on the job, comes into play when I write battle scenes.

Fights are quick, brutal, messy. Seldom are the combatants able to sustain a fight for more than a minute, with all the exertion. A minute is an eternity in a fight. That would exhaust even the best-conditioned fighters, weighed down by armour and wielding heavy weapons. There are seldom many blows struck. Someone typically wins, and swiftly.

I have the fight scenes all mapped out in my head, and then I normally experiment a bit, live, where possible. For example, I enlisted my lovely wife for the fight scene between Hor and Othrun. I got to play “the good guy” (writer’s prerogative)! My wife played Hor (she certainly is NOT horrific, but she drew the short straw). We choreographed the fight moves as they would have happened, to ensure realism and accuracy. 

As for that last sentence, it’s very insightful you picked up on that one. That’s very much Othrun’s game. He’s a bit of a daredevil, can be cocky, and likes to thinks he’s smarter than others. He enjoys the feeling of outsmarting other people. He sees himself as a bit of a trickster. He doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does, but he is quite clever and skilled.  

Can you speak to the themes of religion, religious intolerance, and religious persecution throughout the story?

I consider myself spiritual first and foremost, rather than formally religious. My beloved mother is very religious, highly devout, and I was raised Anglican. I feel more confident in my faith than ever before in my life. But it’s so much more about my relationship with God, rather than attending mass, for me. One of the things that I am particularly sensitive to, through that relationship with God, and all my life experiences, is the need for acceptance of others. I have never been more sure that all of us in humankind need to be far more embracing and respectful of people who practice different faiths—or non-faiths—from our own.

Organized religion has been such a force for morality, charity, and hope in the world, throughout the ages. Humankind may not have survived and evolved to this point in the absence of organized religion. Conjointly, because religion is the human-made construct around faith, it can be subject to human flaws. Brutality, subjugation, persecution, torture, war, and many more atrocities have all been done in the name of organized religion. Being a religious person does not necessarily mean one is a morally upright person, nor does it provide a license to disdain the beliefs of others.

One of the most terrible things, I believe, we as humans can do, is condemn non-religious people, or people of different religions. Therefore, I wanted to send a message about this in The Drowned Kingdom Saga. I wanted to highlight that we need to look carefully at how we think about the religions (or denominations/sects) of others. Othrun believes his religion is the only correct one, and that has given him, and historically his society, free rein to be contemptuous of other faiths. Othrun thinks that forced conversion of those not of his faith is the greater good. This attitude is typical of most colonial imperialists, throughout history, pick your empire. Atalantyx was certainly one of those empires. Such civilizations always believe they have the right answers, and everyone who doesn’t agree with them is wrong and needs to be set right.

This is perhaps one of the most dangerous attitudes that can be encountered in the world today. Does such an attitude bring us closer to Godliness? Are we so confident in what we believe in, that our beliefs must necessarily invalidate the beliefs of others? Are we “doing good” by trying to convert others to our religion? Those are some of the questions I pose in the novel.     

What do you think Othrun’s greatest lesson is in Book 1?

Othrun’s greatest lesson in Book 1 is that the world he thought existed, based on his privileged upbringing and narrow-minded viewpoint, may be a fallacy. Othrun was raised to believe Atalantyx was essentially the centre of the known world, and that its culture, sophistication, religion, military, etc., were unmatched. He believed no one could be nobler, more intelligent, more powerful than the Atalanteans. His beliefs have been begun to be challenged in Book 1, by the people he meets in Acremia, and this will continue in Book 2, and throughout the series.

What will his greatest challenge involve in Book 2?

Othrun’s biggest challenge will be simply to survive in Book 2. He’s placed himself in grave danger. Those who’ve read Book 1, I’m sure, will agree. And since he’s the best hope for the Last of the Atalanteans to survive, he’s risking a lot when he risks his safety. It’s one of his more admirable traits, his courage, but so much is riding on Othrun for his people. If he fails, it might not be only his death, but the death of all he holds dear that may be the result. 

Is there anything you want readers to know that I haven’t asked you?

I hope my readers can appreciate that my protagonist, Othrun, will undergo a journey where he’ll evolve, and change. He’s not always likeable. He’s a snob, a bigot, patriarchal, etc. Overall, he’s flawed. But even ordinary flawed people can change. We’re all redeemable. I want that message to shine through my work. More than that, I want people to understand that all the speculation, fascination—even angst and horror, about Othrun and his prejudiced ways is by design, and integral to the story. Through creating such a character, I wanted to stimulate discussion about things like racism, homophobia, violence against women, sexism, classism, privilege, religious intolerance. We see all this, by looking at someone like Othrun.

Other than the global pandemic, we are in the middle of one of perhaps the most turbulent times in terms of these issues we have ever faced. Movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter did not arise out of nowhere. We confront systemic issues in society that we are confounded on how to address, and continually shocked and appalled at the depths of these issues. The one thing I have noted as both participant and observer in these unprecedented times is that we still struggle to even discuss these issues with any level of candour or clarity. Books like mine can potentially help, in that regard.

We are challenged to admit just how many Othruns live among us, how pervasive some of these attitudes and behaviours are, and that these Othruns are sometimes people who are close to us and that we care about: friends or even family. At the least, they are people who live right alongside us in the world. Do we simply write such people off? How do we communicate effectively with them about these concerns, attempt to influence them to open up their thinking, perhaps inspire them to think differently? Those are questions posed by my books. I don’t claim to have all the answers, yet I think the discussion is important, relevant, and timely.

Readers have commented on Othrun’s ability to reason and potentially be very open-minded and accepting, as the novel progresses. He doesn’t always consistently exhibit those positive traits, and it’s never a complete about-face from his core beliefs. That in itself is realistic. People typically don’t just change overnight. To paraphrase what one reader said to me about Othrun, “I don’t like him, but I have potential to like him because he has potential to be better. He has to do better before I can like him.”  But if there is a chance for someone like Othrun to change—even just a little bit—people in our modern era can change too.

Because, if we can’t move the needle on such change, we’ll still be plagued by the same problems in centuries to come. If Martin Luther King Jr., one of my icons, were alive today, I believe he would be troubled that, despite substantial progression made since his lifetime, many things have sadly stayed the same, about five decades later.

Where can readers find your book?

FriesenPress, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop.org, Chapters.Indigo, Amazon Kindle, Google Play, Nook, Apple Books, and Kobo, to name a few.

When do you plan to release Book 2?

The Last of the Atalanteans is scheduled for release in Spring 2022! All the books in The Drowned Kingdom Saga should be released approximately a year apart. With seven books planned in the saga, that will bring us to 2027 for the conclusion of the series!

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Book Cover for The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One

Book Review
Title: The Name of the Wind
Author:  Patrick Rothfuss
Publisher: Daw Books, Inc.
Released: April 1, 2008
Pages: 736
ISBN-10: 0756404746
ISBN-13: 978-0756404741
Stars:  4.0

The synopsis for The Name of the Wind on Amazon reads: “The riveting first-person narrative of a young man who grows to be the most notorious magician his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that transports readers into the body and mind of a wizard. It is a high-action novel written with a poet’s hand, a powerful coming-of-age story of a magically gifted young man, told through his eyes: to read this book is to be the hero.”

The journey begins on an evening in a small village at the Waystone Inn on Felling Night where locals gather to listen to Old Cob’s stories about the most famous wizard ever known, Taborlin the Great, who had been locked in a tower and stripped of his tools by a mysterious group of seven supernatural beings known as The Chandrian. The young innkeeper is a quiet man with flame-red hair and dark green eyes who listens without comment to the tale. We learn that the locals not only believe in demons but that they appear to be lurking in their midst when a man named Carter walks in, smeared with blood, and tells them that his horse has been killed by a monstrous spider-like creature known as a Scrael, that is only one of many that threaten the townspeople. Thus begins our initiation into the fully realized medieval world of Rothfuss’ creation, known as the Four Corners of Civilization, in which something wicked this way comes, magic is not only possible but practiced, and iron kills demons.

The Name of the Wind is narrated by the protagonist, Kote, (a man who is known by many different names) as he tells the story of his life to a scribe called Chronicler, while his servant, apprentice, and friend, Bast, a dark, charming ladies man who calls Kote by the name Reshi, listens. Kote revisits his adventurous and often tragic past when he was known by his real name, Kvothe, and how as a teenager of 15, the poor but brilliant orphan that he was managed to get accepted into the University (the aforementioned legendary school of magic), to study to become a Master Arcanist.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully written epic fantasy story by Patrick Rothfuss – which won a Quill Award and became a New York Times Bestseller – I thought it would be more “high-action” than it actually is. One must be patient with this slow burn of a tale, as this book is the first in a trilogy that has not yet been completed, even though The Name of the Wind was published in 2007. I will definitely read volume two of The Kingkiller Chronicles, The Wise Man’s Fear, this year.

For me, this book is about the art of storytelling, the love of knowledge and music, as well as one man’s quest to find his way back to who he once was. The fact that the main character, Kvothe, does not initiate the quest, but rather his Fae friend Bast does, is something the reader doesn’t know until the end. Bast is my favourite character and I look forward to anything else that Rothfuss has to share with readers about him. He should have his own book if you ask me, but as fans of these books have already been waiting for 14 years for the last book in the trilogy, I won’t hold my breath.

I am truly intrigued and invested in the story of Kvothe, who I adore, although I was hoping for more magic, and at least some sex in this book. However, one of the things I love most about The Name of the Wind is the fact that Kvothe respects women and that there are no less than four significant women in his life, so far: Denna, Devi, Fela, and Auri, who are all interesting and complex characters. Auri even earned her own story in The Slow Regard of Silent Things. His story begins when he is a young boy, but the romance of this tale is both palpable and restrained and Kvothe’s restraint was as excruciating for me as it was for him.

That being said, it is Bast’s words that deeply moved me, in this part on page 716:

“No, listen. I’ve got it now. You meet a girl: shy, unassuming. If you tell her she’s beautiful, she’ll think you’re sweet, but she won’t believe you. She knows that beauty lies in your beholding.” Bast gave a grudging shrug. “And sometimes that’s enough.”

His eyes brightened. “But there’s a better way. You show her she is beautiful. You make mirrors of your eyes, prayers of your hands against her body. It is hard, very hard, but when she truly believes you…” Bast gestured excitedly. “Suddenly the story she tells herself in her own head changes. She transforms. She isn’t seen as beautiful. She is beautiful, seen.”

I think the reason that I love this passage so much is that I experienced that very thing only once in my life, and it has remained one of the most profound experiences of it. Kvothe states that there are seven words that will make a woman fall in love, and there are many possibilities within these pages but no definitive declaration. For me, they are, “I love you for who you are.”

Like it is written on the back cover jacket of this book, this “is a tale of sorrow, a tale of survival, a tale of one man’s search for meaning in his universe, and how that search, and the indomitable will that drove it, gave birth to a legend.” It’s a story that contains adventure, magic, monsters, friendship, a nemesis, romance, heroism, and heartbreak, and for me, all the best stories do.

I can’t wait to find out what happens next. 

Raise Your Vibration and Transform Your Life with Dawn James

Title: Raise Your Vibration, Transform Your Life: A Practical Guide for Attaining Better Health, Vitality and Inner Peace
Author: Dawn James
Publisher: Lotus Moon Press
Released: 2010
Pages: 158
ISBN: 978-0-9865378-1-3
Stars: 4

Title: How to Raise The Vibration Around You: Volume 1 – Working with the 4 Elements to Create Healthy and Harmonious Living Spaces
Author: Dawn James
Publisher: Lotus Moon Press
Released: 2014
Pages: 171
ISBN: 978-0-9865378-0-6
Stars: 4

Title: Raise The Vibration Between Us: Forgiveness, Karma, and Freedom
Author: Dawn James
Publisher: Publish and Promote
Released: 2018
Pages: 66
ISBN: 978-0-9916715-8-8
Stars: 5

I don’t know if you feel the same way, but for me, 2020 has been an incredibly challenging year. For the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic I found myself in disbelief, experiencing powerful emotions, the most prominent being that of anger. I started doing something I don’t usually do because I’m an empath. I read and watched the news. And I didn’t just read or listen to the mainstream news, I read alternative news sources, sources that were claimed to be from the alt-right, radical left, sources by people who have been claimed to be disgraced or discredited, you name it. I wanted to get everyone’s side of the story so that I can make up my own mind about what I believe and I respect everyone’s right to do the same without calling them out for spreading ‘misinformation.’ I have worked in social media marketing for 12 years and I have never experienced the level of censorship by the media, the government, Big Tech and Big Pharma, that I do right now. I found myself so far down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories about what is really going on during this pandemic that I ended up with the worst bout of anxiety I have ever experienced in my life. I still don’t know who I should trust for information about the Coronavirus, but I decided that enough was enough and I needed to do something to raise my vibration and fast!

I have been both an associate and friend of author, sound healer, and Conscious Living Teacher, Dawn James, for ten years. I am the senior editor for her company, Publish and Promote, so I know that she is a very intelligent woman of the utmost integrity and I have watched her create more than one successful business for herself with her knowledge, determination, perseverance, and hard work. I have also experienced her sound healing workshop in which she practices therapeutic healing with Tibetan and crystal singing bowls and it is divine. I wish I could attend one every day. Although I have never been one to totally immerse myself in “woo-woo land,” I do believe that we, as human beings, are made of energy and that we do have the power to create the reality that we want to live in. But how do we do that? How can we change our perception of the world at a time when it is an exceedingly difficult place to live in?

After reading Dawn’s ‘Raise Your Vibration’ trilogy, beginning with Raise Your Vibration, Transform Your Life: A Practical Guide for Attaining Better Health, Vitality and Inner PeaceHow to Raise The Vibration Around You: Volume 1 – Working with the 4 Elements to Create Healthy and Harmonious Living Spaces, and Raise The Vibration Between Us: Forgiveness, Karma, and Freedom, I feel more calm, grounded and positive than I have felt in months. However, I am also just a little overwhelmed by how much work I must do to change my life so that I am living in a much more conscious and positive state of being. I have started to make some changes, but I know I have a long way to go, starting with my own self-talk.

In the first book in Dawn James’ trilogy (which I read ten years ago for the first time), Raise Your Vibration, Transform Your Life: A Practical Guide for Attaining Better Health, Vitality and Inner Peace, Dawn tells us how we can raise our vibration within ourselves by making conscious choices about what we eat, drink, breathe, and where and with whom we spend our time. She gives us examples of and exercises for how we can do these things and leaves us with key messages from each chapter. She talks about breath work, essential oils, crystals and gemstones, sound and colour, time spent in nature (which has been my saviour) and in silence and meditation, as well as with positive people. She also reminds us to practice gratitude and forgiveness, and provides the reader with a glossary and references. 

After reading this book again, I was inspired to purchase my own Tibetan singing bowl, a pottery dish in which to put the crystals and gemstones that I have (and I made a list of new ones to purchase) and I placed them on my desk. I also started keeping a gratitude journal again. I usually just give gratitude to God and the Universe out loud every night before I go to bed but now, I am writing it down, and I’m meditating more often and concentrating on my breathing.

In Dawn’s second book, How to Raise The Vibration Around You: Volume 1 – Working with the 4 Elements to Create Healthy and Harmonious Living Spaces, Dawn teaches us how to raise the vibration in our homes through working with the elements of Air, Light, Water and Earth. She covers smell and the olfactory system, air quality, sound and the auditory cortex of the brain, the vibration of water and how to improve water quality at home, as well as eco-friendly ways of cleaning our homes and ourselves. Dawn also explores Earth’s gifts including Himalayan Salt lamps, crystal grids, flowers, and gardening, and presents the reader with some wonderful charts and recipes. 

While reading this book, I was inspired to create a Pinterest board called Raise Your Vibration which you can find on Pinterest and have pinned images/articles that speak to everything that Dawn covers in her books. I may yet organize them into collections when time permits. I also smudged my apartment with white sage, bought some aromatherapy candles, new air-purifying house plants, and am looking into purchasing an Alkaline Spring water system. For me, changing my eating habits and sticking to those changes has always been the most challenging hurdle in my life but I am inspired to try harder. 

Raise The Vibration Between Us: Forgiveness, Karma, and Freedom is a short book that took me less than 24 hours to read. While it may be short, it is perhaps the most important book in this trilogy as Dawn speaks to the significance of forgiveness and what we gain from it, karma and how it affects us as well as how to clear it, and how to create space in our lives for freedom. I have yet to do the homework laid out in this book but I vow to because I know that it is the most powerful work of all that we can do to raise our vibration and transform our lives. 

I am paying it forward by telling you how profoundly life-changing the information in these books could be for you if you read them and then consciously choose to employ at least some of the teachings within them. I am aware that true change doesn’t occur overnight and will not be earth-shattering simply because we purchase some new objects for our home but if those objects can serve to remind us to stay conscious and to keep trying our best to raise our vibration, then I believe they are worth every penny.

There has never been a time on this planet more pertinent than NOW for making a decision to raise our vibration and transform our lives so if you want to purchase these books for yourself or learn more about Dawn James, visit her website at www.dawnjames.ca. I’m proud to have edited Dawn’s autobiography, Unveiled: Autobiography of An Awakened One which will be released in 2021 and I can tell you that it is a fascinating story.

Book Review: Burt Reynolds on Screen by Wayne Byrne (Featuring Q&A with Author)


BOOK REVIEW

Title: Burt Reynolds on Screen
Author:  Wayne Byrne
Publisher: McFarland & Company Inc.
Released: December 19, 2019
Pages: 314
ISBN: 978-1476674988
Stars: 5

In 1972, Burt Reynolds became famous with his breakthrough role in Deliverance. The actor also posed as Cosmopolitan’s first-ever nude male centerfold in 1972, “marking a milestone in the sexual revolution.” From 1977 to 1982, Reynolds was Hollywood’s top box office-grossing movie star, appearing in the hits Smokey and the Bandit, The End, Hooper, The Cannonball Run, Sharky’s Machine, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas among other notable films that made him a household name. Anyone who was watching movies in the 70s and early 80s knew who Burt Reynolds was and they were reminded again in the 90s through his hit television series Evening Shade and 1997 comeback film, Boogie Nights.

Burt Reynolds on Screen by Wayne Byrne is the definitive work of film criticism and long-form tribute to one of Hollywood’s most enduring and well-liked actors. It discusses, in-depth, “many films which haven’t been previously covered in critical, historical or aesthetic contexts of any great scope or consideration” and covers his most popular films as well as some of his “most interesting works which have been grossly overlooked or forgotten.” The book “analyzes Reynolds’ films and television series in chronological order, relating behind-the-scenes production information and discussing their respective places in history, while making sub textual allusions between the man and the characters he played.” It also features exclusive behind-the-scenes photos and many films’ stills in black and white.

Its Foreword was written by American cinematographer Nick McLean, Sr. who worked with Reynolds as his camera operator and director of photography on several movies as well as his television series B.L. Stryker and Evening Shade and went on to be DOP on the television series Cybill, Friends, and Joey among other well-known shows. Byrne has since written a book about him, too, entitled Nick McLean, Sr. Behind the Camera.

Cinematographer Nick McLean and author Wayne Byrne in Naas, Co. Kildare, March 2019


Burt Reynolds on Screen
features an Afterword by C. James Lewis, who, as well as being an actor who graduated from the Burt Reynolds Institute of Theater Training (BRITT), also worked as Burt’s stand-in, photo double and stunt double for many years. It’s this kind of insider knowledge as well as the author’s remarkable attention to detail that establishes the validity of this book.

Although you’re probably aware that Burton Leon Reynolds Jr. was best known for being an action star, you might not know that Reynolds was originally typecast as a Native American in many of his early films or that he gave successful performances in almost every genre of film from romantic comedy to satire to film noir.

Film historian Joe Baltake was quoted in the Introduction for his “astute estimation of the actor’s appeal”:

Burt Reynolds, in a nutshell, is the movie star who’s a pal…but there’s something else, something deeper, something sad that makes Reynolds’ playfulness and flippancy wrenching…In his eyes, we see Reynolds’ integrity. They’re what make him original in a business full of clones. We look at Reynolds and we see a man who’s believed in old movies, the American Dream and loyalty; we look in his eyes and we see how difficult it’s been. Today’s devoted film aficionados and even our critics can’t fully appreciate what Burt Reynolds represents. Yes, he’s out of joint. He may be too good for today’s movies. His secret with audiences is that he’s one of us.

Wayne Byrne grew up a child of the 80s and first saw Burt Reynolds in a trailer for the film Heat in 1988 when he was “roughly six years old.” He spoke to numerous friends and collaborators of Burt Reynolds for this book, and one word recurred more than most: generous. Many of them recall with wonder the actor’s resolutely giving nature – giving of his time, talent and experience; giving financially, emotionally and morally. These interviews are absolute gems for Reynolds’ fans, and one which particularly surprised and delighted me was with actress Rachel Ward, Burt’s co-star in Sharky’s Machine and the made-for-TV movie Johnson County War. I became a fan of Rachel’s when I saw her in Against All Odds and The Thorn Birds in the 80s. Rachel’s career might have never taken off without the influence of Reynolds who cast her in Sharky’s Machine which he also directed. Byrne also interviewed Bobby Goldsboro, Bill Bennett and Adam Rifkin, among other Hollywood producers and directors.

Reading this book completely reinforces what kind of man Reynolds was. Throughout his career as an actor and a director, he often worked with friends (Jerry Reed, Dom DeLuise, Charles Durning, stuntman turned director, Hal Needham, Nick McLean, Sr.) and was loyal, kind, good-natured and unfailingly generous which is something one doesn’t hear much these days about the movie stars of the 21st Century.

I considered myself to be a fan of Burt Reynolds to a moderate degree, but after reading this book, I fully understand his appeal as an actor and how very talented he really was. I find myself wanting to make a trip to our local video store to rent some of his most distinguished, memorable films and watch them (some for the first time) to experience the genius that Wayne Byrne has so reverently and respectfully reviewed in this exceptionally well-written book. However, if you are a big fan of Burt Reynolds, this book is a must-read, must-own treasure for your collection.

Nick McLean and Wayne Byrne

Q&A with Wayne Byrne


Wayne, why did you choose to write a book about Burt Reynolds for your second book?

My first book, The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out, was written out of absolute necessity. Tom is my favourite director and I really wanted a book on his career. I couldn’t buy one, so I wrote one. I never set out on a path to become a writer of books but working on that book and seeing it be published was the greatest thing to me. So, I wanted to write more, but the question was ‘what do I want to write about?’ I couldn’t ever imagine writing about a filmmaker, a film, or any art or artist, which I don’t adore. I’ve experienced that in shorter form when writing for magazines and newspapers and you are profiling someone you aren’t particularly interested in, or they aren’t particularly interesting, and it’s a drag; I definitely couldn’t imagine writing something in book-length on something or someone you aren’t in awe of. So, I thought, ‘okay, that’s my favourite director taken care of, how about my favourite actor?’

And I’m not really a “film star” kind of guy, as in I’m not usually overawed at film stars, I am usually much more interested in the people behind the scenes – directors, cinematographers, editors – those guys are the heroes of cinema, they craft what we experience. Which is all to say I have a very short list of ‘favourite’ actors, and in that I would include Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Dennis Hopper, Steve Buscemi, Groucho Marx, and maybe a few more. But at the very top of that list is Burt Reynolds. I guess I had more of an emotional connection to Burt. While Eastwood and Wayne can make you excited and rouse the senses with their heroic feats, they would rarely make you laugh or cry. Burt can rouse excitement and make you laugh and cry, sometimes all in the same film. I’ve been aware of Burt’s presence since I was very young, he has always been there, even when I wasn’t fully paying attention, and then when I began to pay attention I just fell in love with this absolutely compelling performer whose mere presence commands your attention.

I understand how you feel about not being able to write about someone or something that you’re not in awe of as it is very difficult! As a big fan of Tom DiCillo as well, I thank you again for writing such a fantastic book about his films! One can certainly tell from reading this book that you truly love Burt Reynolds. 

How hard was it to write a film synopsis for every film?

Plot synopses are always a grind, and there are a hundred-plus films covered in this book. They are the most laborious thing about writing on film, whether you are reviewing for a magazine, speaking on the radio, or writing in a book. I mean all you are doing is hammering out the plot and trying not to reveal too much or to simply explain the film to people. And that inevitably ends up happening, because in the case of a book like this, you know most of your readers have not seen every film in there, so you do have to offer a lot more than a brief overview; you want them to feel that they have a substantive enough idea of the film so that they can appreciate the author’s commentary and criticism. Although, admittedly, some of the films only needed a cursory account of the plot.

Did you watch every single movie and television series that Burt starred in? 

You could say I re-watched 99% of them all. I had already seen and owned them before the book began. There weren’t that many films that I had to track down specifically for this book. There were a small handful of films he did in the last few years of his life, in which he mainly provided a cameo, and I literally couldn’t get my hands on them to see them. In most cases, they hadn’t yet received official releases in theatres or on DVD. So those few are the only films with Burt that I haven’t watched. And for the TV shows, I went back and watched the ones he was the star or co-star of, which are the ones which have chapters devoted to them – Riverboat, Gunsmoke, Hawk, Dan August, B.L. Stryker, Evening Shade. But for my own sense of completion, I also watched the shows where he is in one episode, such as Route 66, M Squad, The Lawless Years, The Twilight Zone, The Lawless Years, Naked City.

Wow, that is truly impressive and a major commitment on your part, as well!

How long did it take you to write the book?

From signing the contract to publication, I would say that was a little less than two years. The writing took around fourteen months. It was a very intense time. I was working two jobs – librarian and journalist – and halfway through the Burt Reynolds book, I signed a contract for another book, which I began work on during this period. Then I went on a nationwide tour of Ireland with my subject, Nick McLean, appearing at events all over the country celebrating his career. Nick has a lot to do with Burt’s career as well, so it tied in nicely. So, I had all of this going on, plus interviews with directors, actors and friends of Burt’s, and re-watching every film and TV show again, sometimes repeatedly. They were the busiest two years I’ve ever experienced, and I loved it. I came out of it with two books and some wonderful friends.

How did you choose which quotes to use from Reynolds’ characters in each specific film?

They had to tickle me somehow, if they were funny or if they encapsulated some intrinsic characteristic of the film. One of my favourite quotes is from The Last Movie Star, “You were the one who loved me before anybody even knew my name,” because it is loaded with a sense of history and a lifetime of regret, tinged with the melancholy and wisdom of someone who experienced the zenith of fame, fortune, and adoration, that which came at the price of losing people who cared for them long before the stardom and stature. I also love the quote from A Bunch of Amateurs – “Richard III it is! – What’s that about again?” – because it speaks to the absurdity and irony of Burt’s humour. He was so playful. I don’t know anybody in today’s Hollywood who has such a mixture of beauty, humour, grace, volatility, masculinity, and humility all in one package.

You interviewed some very interesting people for this book. How did the interview with actress Rachel Ward come about?

I was lucky to get Rachel because she was hard enough to find. She didn’t have any social media, so I couldn’t make direct contact with her, and none of my Hollywood friends or acquaintances knew her personally anymore, so it seemed like a dead end. But then I remembered that she is now a producer and director, which means she must have a company listing. So, I found out the name of her production company and approached them. My letter eventually found its way to Rachel through that avenue and we arranged some Skype chats, which were fun. These things can be a little surreal at times, and one instance of that with Rachel was when we were chatting it was breakfast time over in Australia and at one stage in our conversation her husband came into view bringing her a cup of coffee. I’m just sitting there thinking, “That’s Bryan Brown from that movie F/X!” She is gorgeous and graceful and all the things you would expect of her. I know many people fell in love with her in Sharky’s Machine, and it’s very hard not to, though I think she was even more beautiful and brilliant in Johnson County War twenty years after Sharky’s Machine.

Your interview with Tempted director, Bill Bennett, was also quite fascinating because of his unusual method of filmmaking and what he asks his actors to do. Can you tell us a bit about that? 

Bill was a very intriguing guy to talk to. He made some really interesting Australian films throughout the eighties and nineties and then he made a Hollywood rom-com with Denis Leary and Sandra Bullock called Stolen Hearts (which is titled Two if by Sea in North America) which seems entirely random in the middle of his filmography, and then made another cool Aussie film called Kiss or Kill before doing Tempted. Anyway, he is the kind of filmmaker I love to talk to. Someone who has experienced both sides of the industry: the indie hustle and the studio system, and he has ideas on doing things differently, and one of those was to shoot his film using only improvisation. His “script” laid out scenarios and had a structure, but he wanted his actors to create their own dialogue based on the relationships which they built early in rehearsals. Given that he was working with a star of the old studio system in Burt, and with some hot, young up-and-comers, it was interesting to hear how they reacted to this method and how Bill made it all work. Tempted is a fiercely underrated film in the Burt canon, a very well-made contemporary noir.

Was Charles Durning, Reynolds’ most frequent co-star? Were they close friends in real life? 

Charles was certainly one of Burt’s most frequent co-stars. Then again, there were a few people who worked with Burt just as often. Burt and Charles had immense love and affection for each other, and I think you can see that throughout the work. It took on a bittersweet note in the later films when you see them as older men; you could see Charles wasn’t in the best of health in some of the films, but they still have an immense spark between them, amazing chemistry. My favourite story of their friendship was one Burt told about Charles being a brilliant dancer and dance teacher – which not a lot of people knew about – and one night at Burt’s house, during one of his famous shindigs, Fred Astaire and Charles Durning danced the night away. The way Burt described it; it was magical. They sounded like good nights at Burt’s place.

Many people may not know that Reynolds taught acting for many years. Can you tell us about what you know about that?

A lot of people that I spoke to for the book told me that, first and foremost, Burt was a teacher. At the height of his fame, in the midst of him being one of the world’s most famous film stars, he opened an acting institute in Florida and a dinner theatre. It became an apprenticeship program for many people who would go on to have great careers, and many established stars and Hollywood legends would grace his theatre stage or go and coach the students. Burt was hands-on in the early days, he would nurture and develop the talent, offer them a chance at acting in his films if they succeeded at the audition, of course, it wasn’t just handed to them. They had to work hard, and when they did, Burt offered them a chance at something great. I think Jim Lewis, who wrote my afterword is a great example; while he was at the acting program he ended up with roles in The Cannonball Run and Sharky’s Machine, which meant he got his union card, but Burt insisted he still go back and finish his apprenticeship. Jim then became Burt’s stunt man and stand-in, was offered even more substantial roles, and later became a camera assistant. And they remained close friends until Burt passed away. That’s an amazing career, and amazing life, all because of Burt. But Burt really gave himself to people, both onscreen and off.

What did you find out about Reynolds during your research that you didn’t already know as a fan of his work? 

The extent of his teaching work, and the sheer scope of his generosity. And that he made a really lovely album in 1973 called Ask Me What I Am. It’s now one of my favourite records, but I had never been able to find a copy of it until halfway through writing the book, and I ended up interviewing its producer, the legendary Bobby Goldsboro because of it. It went from something I had only ever heard about, to something I was digging deep into with Bobby.

I found Ask Me What I Am on Spotify so I’m happy to have a chance to listen to it. 

Reynolds died before your book was published. What do you wish you could have asked him if you’d had the chance?

I would have asked him if I could shake his hand.

What do you think Reynolds was most proud of in his career?

His students. I would imagine that seeing his students become successful actors and writers and directors was a great source of joy to him.

What do you think he regretted most? 

He has famously regretted several things publicly, such as his failed relationships with Dinah Shore and Sally Field, and he has also regretted not taking roles in big movies such as Star Wars and Terms of Endearment, but I think – and this is only me speculating – that his biggest regret may have been not having had the chance to enjoy a solid life with a family of his own, a life that he clearly yearned for. It is there all through his films, it is in his books, and it is on his musical album. Just when it looked like he had found that life with Loni and their adoptive son, Quinton, it was ruptured through the divorce; it is unfortunate that it ended the way it did and that all the upheaval was documented in a very messy and very public way. I think he must have been heartbroken to see it all come apart. But that’s only my observation; he may have said that he regretted something else entirely different. Perhaps not having had the chance to become the professional football player that he seemed destined to become. To have that taken away after an injury hurt him immensely. But then again, without that injury and his subsequent embrace of acting, he never would have become the greatest movie star in the world. 

What are your Top 5 favourite Burt Reynolds films?

I’m terrible at this question, which is one most interviewers ask of me. It depends on what day of the week it is, but today is Monday, so here goes, in no particular order…

Stick – Objectively speaking, it’s not exactly a classic film, but I’m not being objective, and I love it dearly. I think some of Nick McLean’s best cinematography is in there; I love the score; Burt nails the image of Elmore Leonard’s character of Ernest Stickley, and the villain Moke (played by Dar Robinson) is so menacing. Just a great 1980s action film. Candice Bergen and Burt make for a hot on-screen pairing.

White Lightning – Burt just as he was taking off into the stratosphere. He could be effortlessly charming and loveable while being mean and uncouth, as he is here as the iconic Gator McClusky. I love both this and its sequel Gator, which is a completely different film, it’s loud, brash, and big whereas White Lightning is taut, lean, gritty, and suspenseful. And Ned Beatty is a beast in it. I just gave you a two-for-one there: White Lightning and Gator. I’m feeling generous today.

Hustle – Now this is what you call a classic neo-noir. Directed by Robert Aldrich, who he worked with on the brilliant The Longest Yard, but this is a serious film, a great murder mystery with political intrigue and a sleazy journey into the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. Aldrich’s visual style is superb, and Burt gives a brilliant performance as the fatalist, cynical, morally questionable anti-hero detective. As a neo-noir film, I much prefer this to the likes of The Long Goodbye and Body Heat, both of which tend to be much more lauded than this. Hustle needs to be rediscovered.

Stroker Ace – Most people, including Burt, didn’t think too fondly of this, but for me, it encapsulates that period where Burt had this great Saturday matinee thing going that I recall fondly and nostalgically, where it was all about silly gags, fast cars, wild stunts, and some beautiful women. It is totally lowbrow stuff, but it helps when you have Burt being Burt, Loni looking gorgeous, Hal Needham directing, and Nick McLean shooting it.

Starting Over – For when I’m feeling a little bit more sophisticated, I put away Stroker Ace and reach for Starting Over, which is a classy melodramatic comedy featuring Burt as a down-on-his-luck loser-in-love, cast aside by Candice Bergen and embraced by Jill Clayburgh. Burt is playing against type here, a comfortably middle-class and urbane writer, shorn of moustache and masculine virility, and he really fought to get this role, because nobody would believe that he could play such a churlish loner who couldn’t find love. Alan J. Pakula directed it, and erstwhile Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen cinematographer Sven Niekvist shot it, which means it looks stunning. A beautiful, warm, funny, and tender work, featuring some of Burt’s finest acting.

And a bonus sixth film – Sharky’s Machine – because it’s Sharky’s Machine and needs no other reason.