Book Jacket

 

rank  Editors Pick
word count 16557
date submitted 30.10.2010
date updated 10.08.2011
genres: Fiction, Travel
classification: adult
incomplete

Aralen Dreams

Charles Thompson

John Dillon stepped off the plane to become a better man. He didn't know love, loss, and revenge waited for him.

 

When John Dillon abandons an unfulfilling job on Wall Street, the Peace Corps sends him to a muddy mountain village in Panama where flesh-eating disease, homegrown dope, and a balding dog become his closest companions. Before long, however, John falls for Elena – a starry-eyed idealist with a strict Mormon upbringing and a startling past. John and Elena travel long distances in handmade canoes and rusted-out buses to share a precious night in the capital. And just as they adapt to their new life, their love is jeopardized by savage violence.

The Peace Corps celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. ABC News recently reported that 1,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have been raped or sexually assaulted in the last ten years and the Peace Corps' response has been woefully inadequate. In May 2011, the United States Congress held hearings to investigate this matter. My book addresses this issue, albeit in a novel.

Please read the articles and watch the video in the links below.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/us/11corps.html?_r=1&hp

www.abcnews.go.com/Blotter/peace-corps-gang-rape-volunteer-jess-smochek-us/story?id=12599341

www.abc.go.com/watch/2020/SH559026/VD55106741/2020-114-scandal-inside-the-peace-corps

ARALEN DREAMS is a work of mainstream fiction inspired by personal experiences.

Complete at 71,000 words.

 
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americans, central america, cocaine, development work, dogs, dope, drugs, ecstasy, farming, friendship, gastroenteritis, indigenous, international, le...

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241 comments

 

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HarperCollins Wrote

‘Aralen Dreams’ is a well written and entertaining manuscript. John Dillion, the central character, volunteers as a member of the Peace Corps. He is assigned to Panama and after some training and a blossoming romance with the beautiful Elena, he embarks on a mission to help the mountain village of Los Altos.
His struggles with the locals, the language and the customs are set in juxtaposition with friendliness and open welcomes John encounters. John is bewildered and not least with Elena and just as he seems to figure everything out. Things change...

I enjoyed reading the episodic and well-honed experiences of John Dillion. The author alludes throughout to the naturalism of Steinbeck and in using the phonetics of Southy, ‘the fawty faw’, and the Spanish formalist structure he nods towards Hemmingway’s ‘For whom the bell tolls’. I think his vernacular usage is judicious and not patronising, which is skilful. In terms of the exotica it reminded me of Alec Garland’s ‘The Beach’. John’s voice and the use of the first-person helps the journal come alive, and give the narrative a sense of propulsion: a hint of what is to come.

I thought the friendship with Nelson was both humourous and endearing. John’s self assured sexuality is physical, almost tangible and distinctly masculine. The author writes the passages and vignettes of John’s sexuality without any tawdriness and yet they are still vivid and revealing. It never feels overly voyeuristic and you are given an insight to John as a character.

These points aside, the submission does need work. My main contention with Aralen Dreams is that the description is very thin, especially in the beginning when we really want to hear John’s feelings and first impressions. At times, I felt like I was reading the skeleton draft of a novel rather than the full novel - just like Bonito, the novel needs to be fed up a bit. George Orwell wrote that ‘it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.’ ‘Aralen Dreams’ does have a political purpose and just the right balance of imagery and narrative. It has not been betrayed by purple passages, it just needs more passages. They don’t have to be long, flowery sentences, keep them short and journalistic like the rest of the novel. However, the author does need to address problems such as the sense of fast-forwarding from the plane to the hotel room, without any real feeling of arrival. We also know very little of John’s background; his reasons for joining the Peace Corps are summed up into one line and he doesn’t appear to ever contact his family. It may not be necessary for the story but it would help ease the reader into the novel and the setting.

Additionally, the plot flow is occasionally interrupted to provide a lengthy context - the history of Panama, for example. The information is important for the novel, yet it was not presented in a compelling manner and I myself felt tempted to skip much of it. The author needs to find a way to incorporate it without it being too dry or artificial; perhaps via dialogue rather than ‘lecture’.

The motif placed at the centre of the book of aralen dreams also doesn’t quite work at present. The dreams are too portentous and veer towards allegory. I think when Tolkein described the ‘difference between application and allegory as the dominion of the author’, he encapsulated this authors own dilemma. Thompson needs to show development and move the plot on, but the dream motif seems overtly a case of ‘deus ex machina’, which could jar with a modern readership. I think this slight flaw is echoed in the drug use. It becomes too symbolic, an easy cipher for mood and sometimes irrelevant. The explanatory chapter titled ‘Malaria condoms’ is awkward and seems almost spliced in.

However, this manuscript is a well-written and entertaining page-turner, and I feel the topic and the author are commercially viable. The vibrancy and likeability of both emanate from the writing. I think with some more editing – because the manuscript is mostly well edited – the manuscript could be reconsidered. Unfortunately, at the moment, it isn’t quite there.

On a personal level, I would make a few additional suggestions, which the author may use freely or not. I think where the current manuscript ends a cut to life prior to Panama of either John or Elena might be a method to increase the tension. We could learn more of John’s previous career and what led him to Panama. Why does he want to become a better man? That question should help to formulate what comes next for John and Elena, of which I hope to read in the future.

Bill Carrigan wrote 1187 days ago



Thirty chapters into "Aralen Dreams," I'm searching for a word to sum up my impressions. The most apt might be "authentic." The flowing style, the way the characters come to life, the realistic sex, the clarity of the back story--all combine to make an informative, convincing narrative. I feel that I've been to Panama, explored its byways, met its people. Moreover, I'm greatly impressed with your craft, the fundamentals of writing. As an editor by trade, I rarely read a manuscript that I'm glad to leave as it is. Well, with one exception. I didn't understand why John felt dirty after having sex with Lauren. Could you add a line to explain that? Anyway, "Aralen Dreams" will be the next book on my virtual shelf, and I have high hopes for its future.

Bill Carrigan
"The Doctor of Summitville"

rosiemac wrote 1106 days ago

I cannot wait until I get to hold this as a real book in my hands. Beautifully written, utterly page-turning and a real pleasure. If this doesn't get published then nothing ever should. I don't have the time to read all of it right now, but I will be back later to finish it off. I thought I'd only got time to read a couple of chapters, but seven chapters in I am absolutely hooked. Wish I didn't have to go to work!

mvw888 wrote 1129 days ago

It's easy to see why this has risen in the rankings. The care that you have given here...the countless hours of editing and attention to detail, well this is obvious. This reads in every respect like a published work. It reminded me a bit of Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, a westerner immersed in another culture, but you are a much better writer with a novelist's gifts--brilliant characterizations and descriptions, a way of addressing bigger themes--and you have expert pacing here. Immensely, entertainingly readable. Chapters endings that dare the reader to turn away from the story (I couldn't!). Sometimes I'm wary of first person narrative, because I think it's hard to maintain, but it seemed like the right choice here and your narrator's voice has just the right amount of inner dialogue and observation and he comes across as interesting and likable. I read four chapters and was disappointed to have to leave the story. Modern and relevant and without a doubt, worthy of print. Well done.

---Mary

briantodd wrote 1160 days ago

Just looked in on this again after a while. Charles has polished this story to perfection now. For those who work to the authonomy crib sheet as far as comments go:
Does it tell an interesting and well paced story? - Absolutely riveting.
Are the characters complex, compelling and realistic? - As good as any on the site.
Does the author tell the story in an engaging and unique style? - By heck he does.
Charles posted the final 15000 words for a few days two months back. I read them. Its been on my shelf ever since.

Marita A. Hansen wrote 1233 days ago

I can easily say this: This is one of the best books I have read on this site. There aren’t too many books on Authonomy that I would buy, but your book is one that I would part money for. The topic, the Peace Corps, your characters, and the way your chapters flowed effortlessly definitely drew me in. Your main character is absolutely lovely. As the chapters progressed I got more enamoured with him. The way he treats everyone is really lovely. His narrative voice was also highly entertaining. I loved this line: “I smiled at her and tried to be handsome.”

But you don’t just have a great MC, you have a well-rounded cast of characters. Kyle is also wonderful. I like how you give us his background, giving the reader a deeper understanding of his character. I also like how he speaks; the dialogue is natural. He does amusing things as well, making me smile, eg. His cavalier approach to downing the Malaria pills, his comment on John’s explaining what it was like to make eye contact with Elena, his superstitious reactions, and his comments to John after Elena went to bed at the end of chapter 9.

Elena’s character is also nice, and what she tells John in chapter 9 sheds a whole new light on her, making her even more interesting. I would never have picked that she had striped.

I found chapter 8 particularly amusing with Jack’s character, his revelation about what had happened with the German couple. John’s narrative right after Jack’s question made me laugh. “I didn’t know what to make of him, but it was damn funny.” I agree with John. The only thing you need to be careful in regards to Jack was his dialogue. At times it was a little hard to decipher. Eg. “...we can do beh’er ‘an ‘at.” I had to re-read this a few times to get it.

Minor editing points: The line: 1) “You’re a rock star!” She started to laugh. *The started to laugh bit needs to be on the next line with Elena’s dialogue. 2) A few missing commas in relation to names in dialogue. Eg.”Goodnight Rita.” “Buena noches Rita.” “Goodnight boys...” There needs to be a comma after the 3 “goodnights.”

I thought your pace and structure of the book was spot on. The chapters just disappeared before I knew the time. Other areas that I liked (from memory): In chapter four when John walks into the bar, it reminded me of one of those old films when the gringo/stranger walks into the bar. I also liked Rita ballooning with pride over being called a “coochie.” John’s narrative was funny in regards to this: “I assumed, and hoped, she didn’t know what they meant.”

Dialogue: The use of faulty English to convey John’s faulty Spanish was clever. In regards to the scene in chapter 6 when John finds out about the age of the girl and that she has a young child was funny.
“Jesus.” “No. Miguelito.” You have a good sense of humour.

I better stop gushing. I’ll leave more comments after I read some more. 6 stars and backed. I will be recommending and plugging this on the Forum. All the best, Marita.

Rosalind Barden wrote 924 days ago

Unique, involving. particularly since it is inspired by fact. Well done! Rosalind Barden, American Witch

healthpolicymaven wrote 1082 days ago

I am so glad you made it to the desk. You are a wonderful writer!
Roberta

StaKC wrote 1088 days ago

Though it isn't something I would pick for myself as an almost purely sci-fi/fantasy girl, it's a beautifully crafted piece. Description, dialogue, plot, it's all there and all done very well. Congrats on making it to the editor's desk and good luck.

PD Casteel wrote 1090 days ago

Well written. I am really enjoying this. The only comment I have is that the chapters are a little thin. There is some richness of the location, the thoughts of the protagonist, and the dialogue that can be brought in to beef up each chapter. It's very easy to read. I'm only 7chapters in, but you have me hooked.
Thanks for sharing your work.

PD Casteel wrote 1090 days ago

Well written. I am really enjoying this. The only comment I have is that the chapters are a little thin. There is some richness of the location, the thoughts of the protagonist, and the dialogue that can be brought in to beef up each chapter. It's very easy to read. I'm only 7chapters in, but you have me hooked.
Thanks for sharing your work.

Arnold D Glenpole wrote 1091 days ago

liked your book and backed it not on this web site much but try and back the books i like cheers arnold

Cecilia Williams wrote 1100 days ago

This book gripped me from the off - I wish you well with it.

rosiemac wrote 1106 days ago

I cannot wait until I get to hold this as a real book in my hands. Beautifully written, utterly page-turning and a real pleasure. If this doesn't get published then nothing ever should. I don't have the time to read all of it right now, but I will be back later to finish it off. I thought I'd only got time to read a couple of chapters, but seven chapters in I am absolutely hooked. Wish I didn't have to go to work!

Emily Rebecca wrote 1107 days ago

Just read the first 2 chapters. I like the story and I'm wondering exactly where it's going.

You had asked for comments on Kyle. I'm originally from RI, but we get mistaken for Bostonians all the time, don't ask me why. :-p The dropped 'R' is very characteristic of our speech pattern, as is dropping the 'g' at the end of 'ing' words. We also have a tendency to add 'Rs' where there aren't any. I suppose it's to make up for dropping the other ones. I'd say Kyle passes. ;-)

Kevin O'Donnell wrote 1109 days ago

Reads well and you easily get carried along into the story. Unusual setting and gang of characters in the Peace Corps. Well done.
Kevin

Naomi Dathan wrote 1111 days ago

Hey Rob,

Here's a review of the new chapter 1. It so happens that I just read the first chapter last week (I was reading later in books when I first started). Good, because I can really see that it’s smoother now, although I can’t spot exactly what changed.

You’re a really clear writer and your dialogue falls naturally. I guess if I were to pick one thing to change, I’d say, there are places where you could develop your setting more.

Your character steps off the plan into a terminal filled with commotion, but he’s in a new world. Seems like he’d notice the differences between the terminals at home and the one here. Here’s where you incorporate the five senses: hearing people babble in foreign language, the smells of unfamiliar foods (or the shocking sight and smell of a McDonalds) the different clothing. Maybe the floor is gritty with dirt (making assumptions) or people stand closer or father away. When my brother came back from Egypt I ended up almost chasing him clear out of the room before I realized how big his personal bubble had become and gave him more space. Pick a couple of distinct details to show the commotion.

“with the joke she played on me” – the reader will get it without you explaining.

Your description of the scene outside is good (printable good, imo), but you could make it immediate instead of ongoing (progressive). Instead of men yelling, have one man yell from a specific cab, startling the narrator. Instead of drivers slamming on breaks, have a driver slam the breaks right in front of him, so he thinks he’s about to see a wreck, but no one else even looks impressed. And because we’re looking around through John’s eyes, seeing the traffic, etc, I don’t think you can wait until that line of dialogue to reveal that it’s night – headlights streaking past, etc.

Tropical Darkness doesn’t tell us what he’s seeing, hearing, smelling etc unless we’ve been there, so details here as well.

In the sentence, “Don’t worry about . . .” I don’t like the word “announced.” It hit me that way the last time I read, but I couldn’t define exactly why. I just think that “said” is a better choice.

Love the description of the bay through the window, although you should probably omit “impressive” since you show it. You should probably give us a rudimentary description of the conf room as well. With all of this, I’m not suggesting passages of description, but short, colorful phrases inserted in.

“As though” is sprinkled through your writing, and I think it distances the reader. We’re in John’s point of view, so you can describe with certainty from his viewpoint. You could leave out “as though reading my thoughts,” since she’s responding to his thoughts, or have him look and see her reading his face. “as though the expression didn’t come naturally” is really captured in the description, but you could also say “the expression didn’t come naturally” or “Maybe she only smiled once a month, when the latest batch of volunteers arrived.”
Grace’s speech is a little on the long side – maybe interrupt it with some beats of action or reaction from John?

Also, to avoid dropping John’s backstory in a chunk of narrative, you could have him interacting with another volunteer, maybe Kyle, trading cracks and comments in the car and throughout. Then you could just insert a few more details in John’s thoughts as reactions to the interplay.

“Less-polished” is another descriptor you can omit, since you show it, and this is another area when you can engage the reader more deeply by throwing in some interplay between the characters.

Spelling out dialect is usually a bad choice. Maybe spell it out the first time, give John a beat or two to realize what he said, then write it normally and remind the reader he’s talking with the Boston accent by inserting reminders -- Carlos hesitated. “Beg pardon?” “He’s saying bar. The airline lost his “r’s” in transit.” However, just to contradict myself, I would definitely spell out, “To group fawty-fuckin’-faw!” Great chapter ending.

Take what you like and leave the rest. :-)

carysglyndwr wrote 1112 days ago

I just picked out three chapters at random, and while I would normally read a little more than that before backing a book, since I have a free spot, you're getting lucky! Well, not lucky really. You've earned it. I enjoyed what I have read. It's very well done. I will be back for more! No insightful comments from me, I'm afraid. Suffice to say it was a good read, flows well, no typos or mistakes to interrupt, and the story has that something about it that makes me want to come back for more.

Billy Young wrote 1112 days ago

I feel this story would benifit with slowing down to give the reader more background. I think that though the chapters are short that this hurts the story because I felt it was rushing along but left me with questions to why John had made the descision to join the Peace Corp and others. Maybe these are answered further in the story. All the best. :~)

PD Casteel wrote 1112 days ago

well written. Shelved until I finish reading. Thanks.

Red2u wrote 1114 days ago

An exceptional riveting two chapters. The characters are so true to life. Have added this to my watchlist and rated well for a pleasure read in the near future. Congratulations on a well written book!
Sincerely Michelle

K A Smith wrote 1114 days ago

Aralen Dreams by I N Cognito.

This is clearly written, with no typos to speak of and few infelicitous words so I can concentrate on the journey, rather than keep watching out for potholes. If I came across this in a library, I would carry on reading and would probably take it out if I had made it to about chapter 8 before something else caught my eye. It isn't my normal reading matter, so I doubt I would actually buy it. This is not a reflection on the quality of the writing, but rather my taste in books.

Characterisation is light, but nothing offended, the pacing suits me down to the ground, not overly frenetic and enough time to absorb what is happening without having to check back. As to plot, well, nothing seems out of place, and things keep happening, so it's all good, as far as it goes, but it feels very episodic. If there were some strands (pineapples, heat, smells, dogs, sounds, whatever) that could be picked out to run through the narrative, to give a feel of continuity, it will help pull the reader along.

The dialogue is unforced and nothing stuck out as too 'wrong', which is quite unusual (though I would suggest that you do not characterise the cheeky London chappy as a cockney). It helps to establish place, character, and keeps things moving, so you are using it well.

When he is recognised at the airport I would like to have seen the disorientation from his point of view, or some chagrin at being thus recognised, it seems a little flat, and is a good opportunity for a bit of dynamics.

The writing is a little light on involving the senses, I appreciate that it can be a fine line to tread, but an evocation of the noises, the heat, the newness, so that I feel immersed in his story, would be much more gripping. It feels as if you assume we'll 'get' Panama, because he says he is there, but we want to be taken there by the writing. If you pick aspects of the experience that are distinctly not NY and lay it on with a trowel early on, just now and again, it will bring an intensity to the text overall, we'll be doing it in our own heads unassisted once you give us the cue, then we only need the occasional reminder. The opportunity is there when they travel a 'web of litter strewn streets', I think you could punch it home quite a bit harder.

The way the senses report in the narrative is part of the character, but readers have a wide difference in the way that they weight sensory input, so to appeal to as many people as possible as strongly as possible it is a good idea to work all the senses (pot and kettle here, I know).

At times the writer seems to intrude, which feels a litle awkward, as we are following the character and this distances the reader (thoughts on difficulty being gay in a catholic culture, history of Panama - they feel at one remove from the narrative around them).


CH 4
The foreshadowing with the seco herrera seemed unnecessary, and is a bit of a spoiler for when he does come to drink it.
CH 5
I'm not sure that the line 'played business and studied rugby' works, but my sense of humour is, as you know, defective.
Mafalda & Rita & going home from the bar is nice.
CH 6
'My Panamanian mom had come to my rescue.'
Hmm.
I would prefer it as 'Mom had come to my rescue.' It is of a piece with the feeling of distance I still feel from the narrative. I don't know if this is deliberate, but I think you will have a stronger work if the reader is swept along rather than observing.
CH 8
Londoners are rarely Cockneys.

Iberian Bird wrote 1114 days ago

Absolute natural story teller. This one's a winner, for sure!
Backed, with pleasure.
Best wishes
Suzy Turner
Raven

PMG wrote 1114 days ago

Fluid prose and a pleasant narrative voice with just enough humor. Shelved.

PMG (Letters to the Editor)

GingerAle wrote 1114 days ago

Excellent stuff. Backed until you reach the desk, which you almost certainly will with this!

Paul T. wrote 1115 days ago

Back on my shelf to try and keep you on the desk this month.

QuiteTheSmoothOperator wrote 1115 days ago

Hey! This is a good book. I read chapter 1 and most of 2 so far. I worked all day, so I didn't read more but I will. You're in the top, so you'll go to the editor's desk, right? I bet they'll publish this one.

Jedda wrote 1116 days ago

Good luck with your book. I have only read 4 chaps but am impressed by the pace and flow of your story. I have read other comments and can see that as I read more I shall become hooked. Backed , Regards, Anne

Becca wrote 1117 days ago

All starred up!!! I didn't realize you were on the desk this month! Congrats! I'll try to make some shelf space before the month is out :)

ReneeM wrote 1118 days ago

I've had this on my watch list for about a week after reading the first chapter. I'm glad I finally got back to it today. Although I think there are a few areas that could use some tightening (bits of passive voice here and there mostly) I read through four chapters, pausing only when my dogs insisted I take them outside. I see why this is up at the top of "The List". Well done. You're right, backing this makes me happy. I just have to make some space on this tiny shelf they give us.

Winston Chad Emerson wrote 1119 days ago

Somebody's about to be on the desk! Oh yeah!

Terry Murphy wrote 1119 days ago

Not as good as Rodney's books .... ;-)

DerekMurphy wrote 1119 days ago

Great writing, interesting topic!

Sue50 wrote 1121 days ago

This is going to the editor's desk! Wow! Happy to BACK your work.
Sue50

Jillian Godsil wrote 1121 days ago

nice opening chapter, I can see trouble ahead and I enjoyed the fast pace at which the story moves. I hope to be back for more soon. cheers Jillian

Rheagan wrote 1122 days ago

Hi Charles,
I enjoyed this. Your scene setting is good and I liked the characterisation. I gather from some of the other comments that you’re still editing (aren’t we all) and so to add to your list, I found the use of ‘cut’ in two of chapter 1's consecutive early paragraphs grated with me. But that could be an Anglicised opinion of language rather than American, and I’m unpublished anyway, so maybe I’m not qualified to comment.
But the bottom line for me (having done a lot of charity work in S.E. Asia) is that this is a great read and should do well. Good luck with it. Backed.
Rheagan Greene – Unwelcome Consequences (2/3) Please have a look at it when you have time, thanks.

SareyFairy wrote 1123 days ago

Hi Robert

Well written, well described, well paced and even more important a bloody good read.
A definite one to watch in my opinion.
Backed.
Sarah. T-cup and the Dream Team Fairies

Red2u wrote 1123 days ago

your first chapter drew me in right in ...excellent! I have put on watchlist and rated, plan on going back and reading more

jlbwye wrote 1125 days ago

You asked me to comment some time ago...

Ch.1. A pleasing, matter-of-fact, no-nonsense, authentic start. And you know how to write: clean sentences, and a brisk style which makes for easy reading.
Do the Peace Corps really give theirfirst briefings in the middle of the night? I know from experience that VSO let you have some sleep first.
I've come across a superfluous adjective: 'a new exciting world welcomed me.'

Ch.2. The first paragraph says it all. Ahhhh... so that's what Aralen is. You have a subtle sense of humour. I learned to take mine in the mornings.

3. The word 'front' is repeated in the third paragraph - jars a bit. 'Husking' a mountain of beans. Havent heard that word before - Ohhh... I thought you meant eating beans! Now I realise that I do know the meaningof the word.
You clearly portray the feeling of helplessness which comes from not understanding a language, and cleverly remind the reader's with Meliza's gestures.

I like your book very much, and it's going on my crowded w/list for further. I'm not surprised you're near the ED. I dont often maxi-star, but this is one.
Good luck.
Jane (Breath of Africa)

Barbara Jurgensen wrote 1125 days ago

I like this. You've done a good job of getting us into the scene, of helping us sense what it must have been like to suddenly be dropped into such a different culture. I'm putting it on my bookshelf and giving it a bunch of stars. Could I ask you to take a look at TO CATCH A SPECKLED TROUT and make comments? Best wishes.

nuknuk wrote 1126 days ago

You got my attention from the start and kept it, way to go! Definately a great read for romance enthusiasts.

Leslie Gervais
"Love Has No Borders"

will add to my BS a.s.a.p.

laurenbabb wrote 1127 days ago

Very accessible, familiar writing style from a friendly, likable narrator. I read the first eight chapters and it was both fun, and intense. Its nice that the narrator always seems capable of understanding and diffusing situations-- he comes into the story as a mediator and helper of others. You might want to describe in more detail the surroundings where the story takes place-- South America has such vivid imagery. I'm staying in Brazil myself right now and its the most beautiful place Ive been. Anyway, a promising story! Watchlisted to be backed.

mvw888 wrote 1129 days ago

It's easy to see why this has risen in the rankings. The care that you have given here...the countless hours of editing and attention to detail, well this is obvious. This reads in every respect like a published work. It reminded me a bit of Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, a westerner immersed in another culture, but you are a much better writer with a novelist's gifts--brilliant characterizations and descriptions, a way of addressing bigger themes--and you have expert pacing here. Immensely, entertainingly readable. Chapters endings that dare the reader to turn away from the story (I couldn't!). Sometimes I'm wary of first person narrative, because I think it's hard to maintain, but it seemed like the right choice here and your narrator's voice has just the right amount of inner dialogue and observation and he comes across as interesting and likable. I read four chapters and was disappointed to have to leave the story. Modern and relevant and without a doubt, worthy of print. Well done.

---Mary

Nia Ryan wrote 1129 days ago

First of all, I love your book list. I have read almost all of them as well, including Confederacy of Dunces. Now of course I have to wonder if you have ever read "Wise Blood" by Flannery O'Conner. Okay, all for now.

Good luck,
Nia Ryan
Final Arrangements

yellowdog wrote 1131 days ago


I read through to chapter 14. It is an interesting read so far. The preparation of the volunteers and the insights into Panama and South America provided a great backgound - though obviously implemental to the story as well. The narrative voice I thought was excellent, natural and unassuming - with a good degree of honesty. I was waiting for him to get to location to begin his `duties' - though I apprecate the background and the development of characters necessary. I particularly liked your portrayal of the natives John comes on contact with. Obviously a warm people.

I can see the elements of a romance emerging with Elena, and I appreciate that this theme has been in context with the rest of the story and hasn't dominated.

All in all, good work. It is well written. I haven't room on my shelf at the moment, but I have included your book on my watchlist.

All the best

Brian

dee farrell wrote 1131 days ago

The specific details that reveal authenticity and the author's experience with the setting compelled me to keep reading. His expertise sells this story.

Dee Farrell
Warrior Heart

Dwayne Kavanagh wrote 1131 days ago

Hey Robert, good first chapter. Like the style of writing...it's clear and in the back ground like a good conversation. I like that you've given me insight into your characters right away and it was easy to picture Christine and John and Kyle. You're building the tension niclely (talking about what could happen to them while they're alone in the villages was perfect)

I would only change a couple of things (remember this just my feedback...it may mean nothing)

"Men like that didn't guard office buildings back home" This took me out of the story and seemed awkward in the paragraph I would kill it or re-write it.

Although you write the dilalect (Boston) perfectly...again I'm thinking about how you contruclted the sound in my head and not concentrating on the story...I wouldn't do it.

That's it man...all the rest of it...strong prose!

Good luck!
Backed!!!
Dwayne Kavanagh
"A Killer's Kind"

Walt Alexander wrote 1132 days ago

Hi Robert, Your story is very unusual. I didn't know about the peace corp, and it didn't really have a role in your story, which I found surprising! I was also surprised at the interesting bits of history you quoted. I didn't know about the particular treatment of the locals mentioned altho' I've read of other diabolical atrocities by the Spanish against other ethnic groups; the Astecs for instance. I find I rather liked the idea of Captain Sir Henry Morgan putting the skids under a few of them! Elena certainly told her Father where to get off in no uncertain terms. It seems that the alleged declaration of war by Noriega was rather uncertain. Bush may have acted illegally as he was wont to do. You write very well alth' I expected more of a theme. The ending was unexpected and pretty awful for Elena and left me in mid air!!!
I'v backed your story & it's on my WL & will be shelved when there's room. Good luck with it.
Best Walt.

LeClerc wrote 1132 days ago

Hi Bob,

I am half way through 'Aralen Dreams and I must say that I find it very intriguing. Its a bit like sneeking a peek into someones private journal. The authenticity of the piece drips from every page, so much so that you worry about catching malaria or yellow fever whilst reading.
I like the pace and the precise descriptive style of your MS. Thank you for asking me to read this, so far it has been a pleasure and I've no reason to believe that the rest will not be equally pleasurable.

Phil.

Danny Murphy

Kathleen Lee wrote 1132 days ago

A good read - no doubt about it. Pacy, short paragraphs, nice line in similies and exotic locations. I have read the first 3 chapters and have popped it on my w/l for later. It's what I'd call an airport read. Very easy to imagine it on a prominent display in an airport book store next to Robert Pattison (sorry if I spelled that wrong). Bound to make it to the top 5, if not this month then next month.

Moses.H wrote 1132 days ago

Pretty good, it got wrapped into the story through the start. I'd definitely would read more when I get the chance.

Leslie Rocker wrote 1133 days ago

Robert: Thanks for your comments on Rook, which are helpful as always, although I am not too bothered at this stage about spaces before question marks and the relative positions of commas.
Commenting on Aralen, I would like to repeat my comments about the quality of your writing and the basic interest of your story, but as I read further into the book I began to have one or two reservations as a reader, which you may or may not find constructive.
As an Englishman I realised in my ignorance that I knew nothing about the Peace Corps and found myself wondering why it sent people to Panama and what your characters were doing there. Perhaps there needs to be something at the beginning to clarify this and also what drives your protagonist to go there.
It seems to me that writing a novel in the first person based so strongly on personal experience creates the danger that it will develop aspects of a memoir, intrinsically interesting , but losing narrative drive at times.
I am sure, however, that this does not detract from the overall quality of the work and I wish you luck with it.
Leslie Rocker

Pat Black wrote 1134 days ago

A rebacking for a terrific book - I hope the desk beckons for us both shortly

P

Margaret Woodward wrote 1135 days ago

Hi Robert, me again. Yesterday I finished Aralen Dreams (>37) and upped the star rating - and found my comment blocked off because you were working on the script. Hope you are in bed right now. I shelved it after the first chapters and marked it for a complete read on my off-line list of specials - which includes very few books indeed. No way had I lost interest, just caught flu.

I now understand why you wanted me to read on (I would have anyway, eventually) as your writing took a jump shift when you got your lead character into his placement. This is the core of your book, isn't it? Where you heart is? I had the faint feeling that the first chapters were... preparatory, maybe, not quite full throttle. Something I can't quite put my finger on. That disappeared as soon as John became Juan in his new community. The story of his see-saw relationships within the community was absorbing and highly plausible, and must have been drawn to a considerable extent from your own experiences.

I like, too, the strong love story. Romance like this is rarely addressed by male writers, which might well draw in an unexpected extra tranche of readers. You do need to be careful, though, not to unbalance the story with too much intimate detail. While the sex obsessed young male is all too true to life, overdoing the erotic element could turn female writers off, and also older readers of both genders who grew up stopping at the bedroom door.

Another danger is that, if the erotic element becomes too vivid or lengthy, you could find your book on the wrong shelf in the bookshop. That would be a crying shame because this is a work with real and significant depth, an excellent presentation of how exposure to harsh cultural realism forces a group of young people to dig far below their initial nervous and somewhat brash idealism for the qualities they really need, sensitivity to others, compassion, courage and hard work like they have never known before.

You said you were not interested in restructuring. Fair enough. What I would suggest is this. Imagine a weary editor at 4 pm on a miserable Friday and a pile of scripts at her elbow. (Usually her) She will read no more than a few pages, maybe only one. Bearing this in mind, how can you persuade her to take your script home for the weekend? I leave it with you - and wish you every possible success with this story.

By the way, how did John sort out his disagreement with the family over the US Panama invasion? It seemed to be brushed under the carpet? Maybe that is what happened, is it?
Margaret Woodward

La Marmonie wrote 1136 days ago

Robert,

I promised to read it. Sorry it took so long ...was caught up in my own stuff. I really like this. You write very smoothly, pacey and flows well too. I like the tempo. Only just read 2 chapters, but will read more, as I feel there's some interest to come. I like the setting. Foreign and exotic.

Don't know about the spelling of diarrhea though? I thought it was diarrhoea, but it could be the US version.

Good luck with it. I shall keep it on my shelf for some time! As I said, I'm not a flighty sort.

Wouldn't mind if you could check out my new book, Deep in the Cocoa. It is the middle of the trilogy, but will stand alone. Or, God of the Cocoa. It's the first of the trilogy.

Thanks, and best wishes
Marilyn x

vista133 wrote 1136 days ago

Great start - I want to read more. Shelving this one.

Please have a look at “What Lies Within” if you get a chance.

Good Luck

Audrey