Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Okay (gulp), here goes ...!

For various reasons, it really, really scares me to do this.

There are two very prominent sides of my nature that are really at war over me making this post. On the one hand, there is a very strong part of me that likes to be heard (read). Otherwise, why on earth would I be a book editor and writer, let alone own a blog? On the other hand, being exposed to the world frightens me in ways I can hardly explain. That's a big reason why I write under pseudonyms (pen names) and blog anonymously: Other people may love the idea of getting public attention, but I really don't like attention, unless it's on my own terms. I really, really don't.

So, why am I posting about this novel? Hell, I dunno. I think it's a way to kick myself in the butt to try to get the next novel finished. I've been sitting on a half-finished sequel for several years now. There's no excuse for it, really.

Anyway, for anyone who's interested, here's the COVER:

AND for anyone who wants some nice, long reviews that AREN'T from (though there are certainly a few of those as well), here you go:

From Kirkus Reviews:
A lifelong student of classical mythology, Houck writes in the author’s note following this fictional autobiography of one of the most human-oriented gods: “Anyone who’s studied Greek mythology knows one of the most fascinating and frustrating things about it is that, for the most part, it isn’t linear.” Likewise, many rousing tales of gods and monsters have come down through the ages in complicated verse. Houck tackles these epic structural challenges head on in this accessible prose narrative of Hermes, messenger of the gods. Though widely known as the god of merchants, Houck brings Hermes’ raft of personal traits and supernatural talents to the fore, making him at once exceptionally human-like and divine. The son of Zeus and Maia, practically from birth Hermes demonstrates his wily and worldly nature in executing whatever feats Zeus asks as he comes to realize his gifts of flight, invisibility and, most uniquely, the ability to sense ghosts. This last attribute leads Hades to dub him Hermes Psychopompos, or herald of the Underworld, giving him the all-important mission of guiding souls to the land of the dead, a responsibility he assumes with gratitude and pride. Hermes’ compassion as a guide wins him devotion among the living, and his telling of his role in the grand adventures of Perseus, the rescue of Dionysus, the birth of Athena, and the conception of Eros, Priapos, Hermaphroditos and Pan, makes him an affable, sympathetic protagonist. The author doesn’t hesitate to take liberties with various storylines and genealogies to drive home, at times, heavy-handed themes of requited love and forgiveness, but in the end he produces a mythic story that coheres.
Three parts autobiography, two parts Greek primer and an engaging read for all ages.

(NOTE: I don't agree with the "for all ages" part. I'm not letting Mighty Mite read it until she's at least 13 years old! Of course, other parents are allowed to make their own judgments.)

From Foreword Magazine:
Adventure, sex, power, drama, and the whole gamut of human emotions – has Hollywood ever fully exploited the richness of Greek mythology? N.F. Houck, a nonfiction book editor and a lover of classical myth, has done so with Herald, an entertaining and instructive fictional autobiography, the first of a planned trilogy.

Houck’s narrator is the Olympian god Hermes, who most recall as almighty Zeus’s bastard son and messenger. Zeus often summoned Hermes to help hide his extra-marital shenanigans from his ever-jealous wife, Hera. Hermes begins this memoir by recalling how he lulled Hera’s spy, Argus, into a sleep so complete that every one of Argus’s many eyes closed, thus killing him. In the book’s final episode, Hermes details what he calls his “greatest accomplishment” at the behest of Zeus. He had long ago saved a fetus, a half-brother who later became known as Dionysos, from the burning body of the princess Semele, another of Zeus’s lovers who was victimized by Hera. With Athena and Apollo, Hermes is asked by Zeus to bring Dionysos, who has grown to become the much-adored patron of wine and unreason, into the council of Olympian gods. Dionysos, having little reason to trust in the family of Zeus and Hera, greets Zeus’s emissaries with the taunt, “So, Wisdom, Wit, and Reason have come to temper the hands of Madness, have they?”

Readers will understand that Hermes was more than a gofer for the God of Thunder. He was a clever and amiable god, a trickster and a mischief-maker. And with an ability to fly, and to see the bodiless souls who wandered the earth, Hermes was the psychopomp, or soul guide, for the dead who did not know their way to the Underworld. In this volume Hermes recalls many of his excursions below, including those involving the goddess Persephone, the lover Orpheus and his ill-fated bride, and the reunion of Dionysos and his mother. Hermes was an independent spirit who spread his seed among goddesses, nymphs, and dryads. Hermes documents his awkward and painful affair with Aphrodite, as he comes to understand why this off-and-on relationship with the goddess of Beauty could not work. And although Hermes swore off love when it came to humans, he tells of his enchantment with the Athenian maiden Herse. This is the most touching part of the memoir, as Hermes reveals the depths of his love as well as his capacity for despair.

Houck illustrates that, as Hermes tells Perseus, “gods and humans are the same except for magic and mortality.” Given his super-human powers and the fact that ichor, not blood, flows in his veins, Hermes is not all that unlike us. By showing a sometimes flawed and suffering being who must discover his place in his world, Houck pulls in and holds readers. At the same time he adds color but stays true to the details of classical mythology.

From Bookwire:
The gods of the Ancient Greeks hurled thunderbolts, flew [through] the sky, and changed their appearance at will, but they also displayed all-too-human foibles. They had their power struggles, love affairs, and vendettas just like humans, although on a far grander scale. In Herald, author N.F. Houck offers a fictional autobiography of Hermes, the messenger of the gods and a god himself. The result is an engaging adventure that reveals just how human the Greek gods were.

Hermes is a particularly good choice as a subject. His myths are perhaps not as well known as Zeus’s myriad love affairs or Athena and Poseidon’s struggle for Athens, but Hermes plays starring or supporting roles in a great many stories. More importantly, Hermes is easier to relate to than some of the other Olympians. The god of thieves, tricksters, sailors, and messengers, Hermes was known, too, as the god of wit. The wings forged for him by Hephaestos allowed him to travel swiftly on his errands as the gods’ herald.

Houck has strung together and cleaned up a host of often contradictory myths to deliver a sharp, rollicking tale of the life and times of Hermes. Born from Zeus’s liaison with the Titaness Maia, Hermes gets up from his birthing bed and heads out to experience life. He tricks and thieves his way across the world, but his adventures reflect a sense of mischief rather than malice. Of all the gods, Hermes is one who particularly delights [in] the company of people. He is one of the few of the Olympians who can see the shades of the dead, and he takes on the role of psychopomp, leading the confused dead to the underworld.

Greek myths can be confusing to the uninitiated, but Houck does a wonderful job of making them accessible, retelling them in Hermes’s own humorous and mischievous voice. Hermes is an engaging narrator, and while his humor colors most of the book, an occasional episode reminds readers of his mercurial nature. Aphrodite seduces and leaves him in order to have a child, then snares him against his will to have others. His anger and hatred are palpable. His interactions with the dead leave him fearful of becoming involved with a mortal lover, yet his fascination with the mortal priestess Herse is one of the most tender episodes here.

If it is the underlying humanity of the Greek myths that has caused them to resonate so well over thousands of years, then surely Herald will attain its own immortality.

From Reader’s Connection, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library:
Are you in the market for a good psychopomp? I’ll assume that literally speaking, the answer is no. According to Wikipedia (and who would know better?) a psychopomp is a soul-guide, a “spirit, angel, or deity whose responsibility is to escort newly-deceased souls to the afterlife,” and I’m guessing that you’re not reading this blog on your deathbed. I mean, if you are, more power to you; but I’ll assume you’re not.

If you want to read a great psychopomp story, though, N. F. Houck’s novel, Herald, is told from the point of view of Greek god Hermes, who is one of the very few gods who can enter and leave the Underworld at will, and whose uncle, Hades, gives him the job of escorting confused souls to their new home.

From the first event described, the killing of the many-eyed giant Argus, the mischievous god’s version of events differs from others you may have encountered. In Hesiod’s Works and Days, Hermes is identified as the “slayer of Argos,” and Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, describes how Mercury (Hermes’s Roman name) made the slumber deeper:

With movements of the wand, and then he struck
The nodding head just where it joins the shoulder,
Severed it with the curving blade, and sent it
Bloody and rolling over the rocks. So Argus
Lay low, and all the light in all those eyes
Went out forever, a hundred eyes, one darkness.

That’s not how it goes down, when Hermes tells the tale. Yes, he’s responsible for the giant’s death. But there’s no curved blade involved, and he groans whenever he hears himself described as a giant-slayer.

If you read the hymn to Hermes in The Homeric Hymns, by whoever it was who wrote those, you’ll learn that the recently born god of theft and mischief stole Apollo’s cattle. In N. F. Houck’s novel, Hermes admits to the theft. But he has an unexpected (and very practical) motive. He’s not just being driven by his thieving nature.

I’m 200 pages into Herald. I think Houck has done something wonderful, and I hope he delivers on the other two parts of the trilogy that are announced on the book’s back cover. Yes, he’s a local author and an I.U. grad, but that’s not why I’m saying these things.

If you’re uncomfortable with the liberties Houck has taken with Greek myths, you need to remember that every version of this material we have is somebody’s treatment of pre-existent oral tales. In his introduction to his translation, Tales from Ovid, Ted Hughes writes:

Why the world should have so clasped Ovid’s versions of these myths and tales to its bosom is a mystery. As a guide to the historic, original forms of the myths, Ovid is of little use. His attitude to his material is like that of the many later poets who have adapted what he presents. He, too, is an adaptor; he takes up only those tales which catch his fancy, and engages with each one no further than it liberates his own creative zest.

It’s great fun to read Houck’s retelling of stories – Orpheus and Eurydice, for example – and then go back and read, or reread, a version by Ovid or another earlier teller. By sticking to Hermes’s point of view, Houck has created a great new story. My favorite portions so far have to do with our narrator’s relationships with departed souls, his journeys to the underworld, and his relationship (if we can call it that) with its stay-at-home ruler, Hades.
“This book was written because, in all honesty, I couldn’t help myself.” So says Houck in his closing notes:

After thirty-one years of reading everything I could find on Greek mythology– numerous censored and uncensored translations, a myriad of academic notes, and countless psychoanalytical, historical, astrological and astronimical dissections–the ancient tales about Hermes fell into a story pattern in my head that refused to go away until I wrote it down.

I hope that Houck’s creative zest is sustained for years to come.

Yeah -- me, too!


MetFanMac said...

I'm sure it's a good book, but the subject matter doesn't interest me. Sorry!

On a related note, a book I illustrated was recently published as well, "Hate You Forever". It's available on Lulu and Amazon.

Richard said...

I went ahead and ordered a paper copy, now that I knew what book to get. Hey, how could a reader ignore glowing reviews like these? But I'll also download an e-copy. Not only because it's you, but also because this is one of my very favorite types of story and I'd have snapped it up in a heartbeat if I came across it in a store.

Another good thing about using an online pseudonym is that it makes it harder for people you owe money to find you via Google. But then I went and blabbed my real name in my blog, so now that pops up right away when people search for my name. Still, I get relatively few people tracking down my old published prose or comics, which spares me some embarrassment.

Also, it sounds like you might appreciate this as much as I do.

Saranga said...

ooh this sounds right up my street! love greek myths and the whole concept of psychopomps - bizzarely, this is a word ihave been trying to recall for about 3 days now! -anyway i will download the e book and order a paper copy. looking forward to it!

i knew i'd be interested in your fiction!

SallyP said...

Great Googally Moogally! I'm off to the Bookstore! A book about Greek Mythology is right up my alley.

I do love how the critics all assume that you are a man. Sheesh.

Sea-of-Green said...

HOLD ON, people! The eBook is better edited -- plus it's free! I really do appreciate your enthusiasm, but you might want to hold off on buying those paper copies until AFTER you've read the eBook. After all, the economy is lousy, and you might not like the book! Hold onto your money!

And, of course, it's okay if people don't like the book. I know the subject matter isn't everyone's cup of tea -- let alone my treatment of it. :-)

LissBirds said...

This is so exciting, Sea! Interest in Greek mythology seems to be up these days, so I hope your book really catches on. And look at all those positive reviews! :D Congrats!

Saranga said...

but paper copies are so much better than ebooks!
erm, it's rather expensive in the UK.. i might badger the library for a copy instead :o

but i'm sure we'll like it. we like your bloggy writing so that's a good start :)

I like the cover too.

Richard said...

Of course, Sea. And if I don't like the book, I'll blame you for having tricked me into reading it. And I'll head straight to Indiana in order to register my displeasure in person. Keep an eye out for the guy who looks exactly like John Barrowman, scowling and with his arms folded in stern disapproval, standing at your front door.

(That won't actually be me, but I figure you'd rather keep an eye out for him.)

Richard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas Fummo said...

Oh wow. Being a fellow student of all things classical this is just what I've been looking for.
I can't add to what others ahve said, other than saying well done and I cannot wait to read it!

Sea-of-Green said...

If you guys hate reading ebooks onscreen, it's okay for you to print the pages if you can -- though that's over 300 pages!

Why, Rab! You look like John Barrowman? How very COOL. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, how wonderful! I can't wait to read it.

Siskoid said...

You'll get a reader in Moncton NB too!

When you say better edited, what do you mean? What flaws does the physical edition have?

Sea-of-Green said...

Well, you know, there's no such thing as a perfect novel -- authors always find things they want to change or fix -- word here, a sentence there, wunky punctuation, typos that sneak through the first edition, etc. THOSE sorts of things. That's what I went through and changed. The overall structures of the content and story, though, are untouched -- but I STILL see things I wanna chance. Arggh!

Sea-of-Green said...

-- oops, almost forgot: The BIGGEST change is that I went through the book's files and deleted ALL of the blank pages that were in the printed book for layout effect. So, the ebook contains no blank pages. The ebook pages were also renumbered accordingly.

Siskoid said...

Got it.

I wonder, in the 21st century, need books ever be "finished"?

Matt said...

Hey congrats finishing and publishing this novel. I know how nerve racking it is to show your creative endeavors to the world, that uneasy feeling that they might see the flaws in it that you see, but rarely does the audience see those works the way the creator does.

It sounds like a really interesting idea and I can't wait to sit down to give it a read. I hope that this is the first of many novels from you.

Pyschopen said...

A friend of mine chanced upon your book at the library and he hasn't read a book in 4 years, except that your book really grabbed him. I like to consider myself an amateur writer after all I'm only 16, but I 'd like to write novels in the future anyway. I'm sorry to bother you but is there any advise you could give me on how to write an engaging book such as "Herald"?

Pyschopen said...

Sorry about the typo in that last post. As I said before I'd really appreciate any advice you could give me. I love to write but I'm often not satisfied with my work and often times I'll begin writing a story only to run out of creative steam a few chapters later. Well thanks for reading. Also I can't wait to get a chance to read Herald for myself that is if my friend doesn't ruin it by telling me the entire story. One last thing...Could you please make your book available on the Amazon Kindle Market? Thanks.