I intended to write about my writing and publishing plans for my own books this year, but that can wait until next week. I’ve just returned from a camping trip up in Monroe County. I am still energized with having spent a delightful time with forty-one other unique and inspiring women campers, walking, talking, sharing knowledge and wisdom, dreams and daring. Sandwiched in with all of that, I had the opportunity to read an obscure but thoroughly engrossing novel–Too Far South by Sylvia Thomson.
The book, Too Far South, was an immense surprise. A dear camper girl lent it to me, and I stayed up late into the night reading, something which I haven’t done in a long time. I had to find out what happened!
A historical novel, the book is set in south Alabama, mainly Baldwin County and the city of Mobile, during the Civil War. It is the story of three women and their families and their survival during the desperate times the War brings. The author tells the times, the area, and the people as they were, uncolored by blame or excuses or apologies, without sentimentality but with compassion and vast knowledge of the politics and battles of the area. The story is one of sweeping action that grabbed me and kept me reading as fast as possible. The characters are revealed by their behavior and dialogue. Internal thought and emotion is told succinctly in few sentences. The women are strong but real, doing their best in hard times. Perhaps I know enough from my own love and study of history, or from my family, but I felt as if I were there.
Sylvia Thomson’s bio on the book says that she has lived in Virginia and North Carolina and now calls Mobile, Alabama, home. I have been told that “Miss Sylvia” was in her eighties when she wrote this book, published in 2014. This means that as a girl growing up in the 1930s and ’40s there would have been plenty of elderly around her to tell her the stories from the tumultuous times of the Civil War. It would have been all around her, stories passed down from generation to generation and absorbed by osmosis, in the way we all absorb our family histories. Add to that her keen interest in the Civil War, and she knows her subject well and in a way that those of us born later would have trouble imagining.
Admiring the story and knowing the work the author put into it, I am dismayed by the publishing company’s poor work on the book. While the exterior of the book is beautifully done, the interior format is an example of shoddy neglect, even disrespect. It appears the publishing company–Archway Publishing–did little more than turn a Word document into print, complete with line spacing between paragraphs. There are glaring mistakes in names and jarring transitions in setting, time, and character point of view, as if the book did not receive the attention of a competent editor. I would blink and try to figure out where I was, who was speaking, what day it was. These transitions could have been, and should have been, easily handled by formatting with correct spacing breaks to indicate these changes to the reader, all things widely known and done in correct publishing.
I did a quick internet search and discovered a number of complaints about Archway Publishing, which is, quite surprisingly, connected to the traditional publisher Simon and Schuster. Archway is not a traditional publisher. The author pays for their services for designing and formatting a book. What I say to Archway Publishing is that they should be ashamed. Too Far South deserved much better.
Too Far South is a fine novel that gives a window into history and I heartily recommend it. You can find the book on Amazon here.