A Trip to the South Coast

You may have never heard of Nathan Lowell. He, like many podcasters, exists in kind of relative obscurity. Relative, that is, to “accomplished” writers, ones that “made it” in the big leagues. However, relative to his fellow story tellers in this digital age he has garnered quite a reputation. His science fiction podcast has become quite successful as podcasts go and he did it without breaking much of a sweat in the way of self promotion. There’s a reason for that. They’re really excellent tales, well told. As such I expect, not hope but expect, that he will indeed “make it” one day.

But I’m not here to talk about those today. No, today I want to bring to your attention South Coast: A Shaman’s Tale. It takes place in the same universe as the Share series so if you do intend to listen to it, it wouldn’t hurt for you to listen to those as well if you haven’t already. It’s by no means required, but it may help with a few things setting wise. Because it shares a world with those tales, in a sense South Coast is science fiction. The thing about it is though, none of these stories adhere to any particular genre so make sure that you check your baggage at the door.

That’s actually kind of the maddening thing about Mr. Lowell’s work. And for those in the peanut gallery, that’s maddening in a good way. The temptation as a writer, my temptation any way if not yours, is to think about what sort of genre you write in and stick to it. By all accounts it certainly makes getting published a bit easier. Trouble with that is though, it’s kind of a stupid game. You end up putting yourself in a box. South Coast, and really everything Lowell’s written so far, can’t be put in a box. It’s got elements of science fiction, fantasy, and literary fiction. What it boils down to is, it’s just a darn good story.

Here’s the gist of it from the Podiobooks page where it resides:

Otto is Richard Krugg’s only son and heir to the Shaman’s gift. The only problem is Otto doesn’t want it. He wants to be a fisherman. When company policies force unwelcome changes onto his life and threaten even the security of the village, Otto discovers that being a shaman isn’t optional.Jimmy Pirano is caught between the devil and the deep green sea when new production quotas are handed down from corporate headquarters. Locked into a century of existing practice, Jimmy is forced to find new ways to fish and new places to do it in or face the very real possibility that Pirano Fisheries will lose the St. Cloud franchise.Join Otto, Richard, and Rachel Krugg as they struggle with what it means to be the son of a shaman. Cast off with Jimmy, Tony, and Casey as they navigate the shoals and shallows of corporate fishery along the South Coast.

That’s it in a nutshell I suppose, though it is, as most flyleaf’s are, inadequate to the task. If that alone isn’t enough to make you run out and get it then stick around and let me give you a couple.

When I told him via Twitter that I’d be listening to it he said “I’ll be interested to hear your take on it. It’s *real* different.” As a side note that’s one thing I love about Twitter. If you like a podcast and he or she’s on Twitter, follow them. Talk to them. If you’re a writer yourself then I highly recommend using it to connect with your audience. That’s the writerly PSA for the day. So is South Coast “different” than the Share series? Yes and no.

It’s not different in a few ways. It gives the characters some problem to solve. Much like the Share series the problem involves economics, and through a combination of luck, hard work, and smarts, the problem gets solved. At least, I assume the particular problem here gets solved. I confess I’m only up to episode seventeen. Giving that away gives nothing away since the problem, while it provides some conflict, is never the best part about Lowell’s stories. It’s a good part and that’s a tribute to him since I find anything related to economics dreadfully boring. I suspect that’s the good teacher in him shining through. A good teacher can make any subject shine. It’s never the best part though. Like its cousins there is a lot of focus on building relationships and there’s character growth and development. Those are all good things to be sure and in my mind those are the best things about both series (I’m trusting we’ll see more of South Coast).

So what’s different?

Well for one thing, and perhaps the biggest thing at that, South Coast involves two separate story lines. For those who haven’t listened to the Share series it pretty much follows Ishmael Wang. We get to see him and how he advances through the ranks. With South Coast though, Lowell weaves together a much broader tapestry of characters and situations, snugging each thread in place before adding the next. This takes place mostly in two main plot lines that eventually twine together, the whole resulting in a much richer story. As a writer I gotta respect that. Too often I have trouble enough with just the one plot line and taking it where it needs to go.

Another thing that I like about South Coast is getting to know the world. That, perhaps, is another way in which it is different. Back to the genre for a second. In fantasy versus science fiction I think that world building is often different, at least the primary focus. In most sci-fi the focus is usually on the technology/aliens/future forecasting. Fantasy on the other hand tends toward the local. How will the different races interact? What will the government be like and how will that affect the characters’ lives? Sure you need to decide on the magic system and critters, but interpersonal dynamics take a larger place. So, to me, SC feels more like a fantasy setting.

Perhaps that’s not a difference between the two genres so much as it is, where mediocre writing stops and good writing begins? In any case it feels like much thought and or focus was given here to the groups of people and the setting. Come to really think about it, there was a good deal of thought put into the Share series in those areas as well or so it seems to me, so maybe that’s another way in which it’s similar. What I can say for sure, as someone who grew up in a fishing community not entirely unlike the one described in South Coast, is that Lowell nailed it to the wall.

Well I’m running a bit long on this review, so here’s a good place to stop. I wanted to do a full review here (somewhat like the awesome ones Odin does at his place) and I also wanted pluck out some story writing elements so that we could talk about them. I’ll likely do more of them down the road. So let’s talk about South Coast, world building, and twining together plot lines!

11 thoughts on “A Trip to the South Coast”

  1. Hi Scott. You've got some great insights here into what makes Nathan such a great read. Yes read. I don't know why, but during and after one of Nathan's story's it always has more of a “I'm reading this” quailty that I really can't describe. That is one the reasons I adore his books. I do know he is one of only three that I would buy in hardback without hesitation. Great review of South Coast. It seemed like a very personal story to me. I am still hoping for more of these stories too. Thumbs up!

  2. Thanks so much for such a warm and supportive review! I'm blushing.Why do I think this is different? Well, there are a few things. 1. The threading, as you pointed out, makes it different. I wanted to explore the world of the South Coast and to discover more of the backstory of the whelkies. To do that, I chose to smash the economic story against the spiritual one. The challenge here was to come up with a story that actually required two plot lines to come together. I've read a lot of books with multiple threads that were only tangentially related, but I wanted to do a story where they were actually required to come together in order to complete the strands. Kinda like a piece of rope with a splice in the end. 2. The spiritual story itself makes it different. Ishmael is rather a dim bulb at times and, while he has a spiritual side, it's not overt. Half Share is a story of faith and, while Ishmael gets that in Half Share, I wanted to explore the roots of faith in South Coast in a way that I couldn't in a Share book.3. The POV is different. All the Share novels are first person point of view. South Coast is third person and we swap back and forth between the two. This gives the story more of a cinematic feel than the Share books. In Ishmael's stories, he's sitting across a table from you and telling you his tales. In South Coast, I wanted to give the perspective of the reader being outside and watching the story unfold in front of them. (Peter Jackson could direct. I'd be ok with that and we could film in New Zealand. Did I say that out loud?)4. The character development process itself makes it different. It takes a weird twist in the shaman plot line as we watch character development in two different people and not in directions that were telegraphed early. 5. Last is the ambiguity. In the Share books, there's ambiguity caused by Ishmael's ignorance of the world he's entered. He reports what he sees to you as he's telling his story, but his interpretations are sometimes less than accurate. In South Coast, I did not want the Shaman's gift to be … for lack of a better term … spoiled. Because of that, I needed to keep the actual nature of the gift ambiguous. Is there really magic? Or is something else happening? I could write a lot about shamanism, but this construct is a straight translation out of Earthbound traditions. And I've purposely left this ambiguous. So, from my perspective .. sitting at the keyboard and looking at the stories I've constructed from behind the curtain .. I think this one is very different from the others. Of course, they all have my rather warped view to bind them so that gives them a lot in common.Thanks, again, Scott. And I hope you still like it when you get to the ending.

  3. I think part of that “reading” quality may be because of it being a straight read? Full voice podcasts feel more like a play. Straight reads are like a book on tape.

  4. Yeah the spiritual element is actually very nice. I may write something up for that on that other blog I do. And again yeah given what you said there are several more differences I didn't touch on. Thanks again for what you wrote and what you continue to write!

  5. Hi Scott. You’ve got some great insights here into what makes Nathan such a great read. Yes read. I don’t know why, but during and after one of Nathan’s story’s it always has more of a “I’m reading this” quailty that I really can’t describe. That is one the reasons I adore his books. I do know he is one of only three that I would buy in hardback without hesitation. Great review of South Coast. It seemed like a very personal story to me. I am still hoping for more of these stories too. Thumbs up!

    1. I think part of that “reading” quality may be because of it being a straight read? Full voice podcasts feel more like a play. Straight reads are like a book on tape.

  6. Thanks so much for such a warm and supportive review! I'm blushing.Why do I think this is different? Well, there are a few things. 1. The threading, as you pointed out, makes it different. I wanted to explore the world of the South Coast and to discover more of the backstory of the whelkies. To do that, I chose to smash the economic story against the spiritual one. The challenge here was to come up with a story that actually required two plot lines to come together. I've read a lot of books with multiple threads that were only tangentially related, but I wanted to do a story where they were actually required to come together in order to complete the strands. Kinda like a piece of rope with a splice in the end. 2. The spiritual story itself makes it different. Ishmael is rather a dim bulb at times and, while he has a spiritual side, it's not overt. Half Share is a story of faith and, while Ishmael gets that in Half Share, I wanted to explore the roots of faith in South Coast in a way that I couldn't in a Share book.3. The POV is different. All the Share novels are first person point of view. South Coast is third person and we swap back and forth between the two. This gives the story more of a cinematic feel than the Share books. In Ishmael's stories, he's sitting across a table from you and telling you his tales. In South Coast, I wanted to give the perspective of the reader being outside and watching the story unfold in front of them. (Peter Jackson could direct. I'd be ok with that and we could film in New Zealand. Did I say that out loud?)4. The character development process itself makes it different. It takes a weird twist in the shaman plot line as we watch character development in two different people and not in directions that were telegraphed early. 5. Last is the ambiguity. In the Share books, there's ambiguity caused by Ishmael's ignorance of the world he's entered. He reports what he sees to you as he's telling his story, but his interpretations are sometimes less than accurate. In South Coast, I did not want the Shaman's gift to be … for lack of a better term … spoiled. Because of that, I needed to keep the actual nature of the gift ambiguous. Is there really magic? Or is something else happening? I could write a lot about shamanism, but this construct is a straight translation out of Earthbound traditions. And I've purposely left this ambiguous. So, from my perspective .. sitting at the keyboard and looking at the stories I've constructed from behind the curtain .. I think this one is very different from the others. Of course, they all have my rather warped view to bind them so that gives them a lot in common.Thanks, again, Scott. And I hope you still like it when you get to the ending.

  7. I think part of that “reading” quality may be because of it being a straight read? Full voice podcasts feel more like a play. Straight reads are like a book on tape.

  8. Yeah the spiritual element is actually very nice. I may write something up for that on that other blog I do. And again yeah given what you said there are several more differences I didn't touch on. Thanks again for what you wrote and what you continue to write!

  9. Thanks so much for such a warm and supportive review! I’m blushing.

    Why do I think this is different? Well, there are a few things.

    1. The threading, as you pointed out, makes it different. I wanted to explore the world of the South Coast and to discover more of the backstory of the whelkies. To do that, I chose to smash the economic story against the spiritual one. The challenge here was to come up with a story that actually required two plot lines to come together. I’ve read a lot of books with multiple threads that were only tangentially related, but I wanted to do a story where they were actually required to come together in order to complete the strands. Kinda like a piece of rope with a splice in the end.

    2. The spiritual story itself makes it different. Ishmael is rather a dim bulb at times and, while he has a spiritual side, it’s not overt. Half Share is a story of faith and, while Ishmael gets that in Half Share, I wanted to explore the roots of faith in South Coast in a way that I couldn’t in a Share book.

    3. The POV is different. All the Share novels are first person point of view. South Coast is third person and we swap back and forth between the two. This gives the story more of a cinematic feel than the Share books. In Ishmael’s stories, he’s sitting across a table from you and telling you his tales. In South Coast, I wanted to give the perspective of the reader being outside and watching the story unfold in front of them. (Peter Jackson could direct. I’d be ok with that and we could film in New Zealand. Did I say that out loud?)

    4. The character development process itself makes it different. It takes a weird twist in the shaman plot line as we watch character development in two different people and not in directions that were telegraphed early.

    5. Last is the ambiguity. In the Share books, there’s ambiguity caused by Ishmael’s ignorance of the world he’s entered. He reports what he sees to you as he’s telling his story, but his interpretations are sometimes less than accurate. In South Coast, I did not want the Shaman’s gift to be … for lack of a better term … spoiled. Because of that, I needed to keep the actual nature of the gift ambiguous. Is there really magic? Or is something else happening? I could write a lot about shamanism, but this construct is a straight translation out of Earthbound traditions. And I’ve purposely left this ambiguous.

    So, from my perspective .. sitting at the keyboard and looking at the stories I’ve constructed from behind the curtain .. I think this one is very different from the others.

    Of course, they all have my rather warped view to bind them so that gives them a lot in common.

    Thanks, again, Scott. And I hope you still like it when you get to the ending.

    1. Yeah the spiritual element is actually very nice. I may write something up for that on that other blog I do. And again yeah given what you said there are several more differences I didn’t touch on. Thanks again for what you wrote and what you continue to write!

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