Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy for boys

At the heart of The Exile, a clean fantasy aimed at middle-school boys, is four boys coming of age and a community tradition. When Buffington focuses on the boys, I found myself drawn into his imagined world of Denall. Intertwined is a plot involving a corrupt magician named Lord Mordyar who is searching for the stones of power. Unfortunately, especially when it comes to the latter, The Exile has some outstanding stylistic flaws.

The Exile contains two intriguing elements. First, there is the tradition whereby when a boy reaches the age of seventeen, he must leave the village for a year (or four seasons) to prove his manhood. Although families often break the rule, no advice is to be given on the day of departure, nor are the boys to stash food outside of the village to find on their journey. One of my favorite scenes is where Bendar buries three piles of supplies, the first with the idea not only that it would be found and removed but that it also would trick his parents into not searching for further stashes. His parents instead left the stockpile untouched, figuring now Bendar would have to determine what loot he should carry with him and what he should leave behind.

Second, there are the powers which every individual has. Some have developed keener sense of sight than normal, others hearing, some knowledge, and still others strength. All of these can be used to their advantage to help them survive, but when combined with a stone of power can result in magical capabilities. In the case of our characters, Kaz is the one who receives the stone of sight. It enables him to shoot arrows at distances far greater than any other man. How he finds the stone makes for a memorable scene. He almost discards it, because it comes in the form of a woman’s necklace.

Intriguing as those elements are, it’s the four boys which give heart to The Exile. The journey which the four boys take together has different effects on them. For example, Garin will leave behind a girl, and so is eager to just be done with the whole ordeal. His brother, in contrast, has no allegiances and is your typical teen who can’t wait to leave home and never return. As for the other two boys, one is well-liked by all while the other is more of an outcast, and I enjoyed how Buffington used their exile adventures to develop them into complex characters. Kaz might seem like the traditional popular boy, but has quirks such as knowing how to knit. Bendar might seem like the traditional nerd, but when his calculated plans fail he makes sacrifices for the group.

Unfortunately, The Exile has some stylistic flaws which are impossible to ignore. One of them, that of telling the story from multiple points of view, is most annoying at the start. While introducing the main characters, Buffington not only delineates their feelings about their upcoming journey but that of each of their set of parents. Further on, Buffington thankfully only switches viewpoints with new chapters and new scenes. Another flaw mostly arises during the scenes not involving our main characters. Here, he often summarizes events, which has the effect of distancing me from the story. Sometimes as Buffington writes about the delivery or discovery of the stones, I even feel confused.

The flaws effect enough of The Exile that I found the opening scene to be slow and occasional subsequent chapters to be dull. At times, I felt tempted to discontinue reading The Exile. The four boys save the story, however. Eventually, I also found myself enjoying the story of the thieving P, a female who comes into Kaz’s life. On these latter merits, I’m recommending The Exile.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?


EricBuffingtonI often tell my students that they can write, even if they struggle with spelling and grammar. Author Eric Buffington would probably back me up on that statement. Buffington himself almost failed his English classes, to this day doesn’t know how to use commas, and was told by his teachers that he just isn’t an English person.

Born in Canada, Eric Buffington lived there until he was eighteen. After that he traveled with a Canadian government program, before moving to California to serve a two-year mission working with the Laotian people. Shortly after returning home he met the love of his life, moved to Pennsylvania and married her. He also completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in education, which enables him to work as a High School math teacher in an online cyber school. You can watch his math lessons on his Youtube channel.

Buffington loves to tell stories, which is how he got his start as an author. He’s been writing now for about three years and has one trilogy, Stones of Power, pretty much written. The first volume of it, The Exile, I’ll review here tomorrow. Save the date: August 28!

For The Exile, Buffington just started writing it. According to The Candlelight, about thirty pages in he realized he needed an outline. He stopped for several months to make character outlines and restructure the entire trilogy. Through this experience, he learned that he works best with an outline. At the same time, Buffington has learned to make the outline as basic as possible because characters tend to change things as they develop.

Buffington contacted me about reviewing Stones of Power, because one audience which I try to feature books for are boys. These are our most reluctant readers. I also enjoyed learning that Buffington is a fellow-Canadian, and through my interview with him, other interesting aspects of his life.


ALLISON: If you were to write a memoir about your childhood, what highlights would need to be included?

ERIC: One of my early childhood memories was a great playroom we had in our first home. My brother and I used to go up there and play for hours. We had stuffed toys that became cool characters, and Legos that became everything we wanted them to be. That was a room of imagination coming to life. Then when the weather was nice we would race down the steep hill next to our house on ‘big wheels’ type vehicles and we even tried driving my parents car down that hill. The neighbor’s car was not too happy about that…. neither was my mom.

ALLISON: English wasn’t your top subject at school? How has that been a disadvantage? What was your best subject? How has it helped you?

ERIC: For years I was told that I was just not an, ‘English person’ and unfortunately I believed the people who told me. Not thinking I was ‘good’ at English resulted in me not putting forth the effort I should have and now I greatly regret not taking advantage of all that I could have learned in school. One of my greatest weaknesses is punctuation. I have very little grasp on how to correctly use a comma. Some of the minor rules of grammar still escape me and it has been a very steep learning curve trying to catch up. My editors have been very helpful.

My best subjects were math and science, they came to me easily. That helped because I was able to earn money in college as a calculus tutor, and now I work as a math teacher, and I have a youtube channel with several math videos.

ALLISON: How does life in the United States compare to that in Canada? What do you miss about Ontario? What do you love about Pennsylvania?

ERIC: Living in the United States vs. Canada wasn’t too hard a transition. I think things in the States are more fast paced, and sometimes stressful, but overall it’s pretty similar. One thing I miss about Ontario is being able to go skating on a frozen pond. I used to do outdoor skating every year in Canada, and in Pennsylvania it gets cold, then thaws, then cold again, and so the outdoor ponds and rinks are not very smooth.

What I love about Pennsylvania is the rolling hills, and the fact that my wife is here. She’s what brought me to Pennsylvania. We live out in the country where we have space for a garden and some fun landscaping projects. Although the soil here seems to be more rocks than anything else, we do love getting out and working on yard projects.

ALLISON: What was it like to serve on the two-year mission working with Laotian people?

ERIC: Easily one of the best experiences of my life. I loved meeting people from Laos, they are so polite, kind and humble. They were able to teach me so much, while I was there working with them. It was also one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but that’s how life goes. If you face difficult challenges you grow and looking back see what benefits came from struggling through the challenges. Every day of my life I use what I learned during that two-year mission.

ALLISON: What does it look like to teach math in an online cyber school?

ERIC: I guess it looks like a bunch of people sitting at home on their computers all over Pennsylvania. As a teacher, I use technology to teach live lessons, grade papers, contact students and parents. As a student, everyone has a schedule of classes they need to attend and a list of work to do each day. It sounds like it would be something so different from a regular school, and in some ways it is, but in a lot of ways it looks just like school.

ALLISON: You didn’t take courses but learned on your own to write novels. What have you learned about the writing process?

ERIC: I spent almost a year working on my book and thought it was something so special, then every time I gave it to someone else they came back telling me all the things that were wrong with it. That is not an easy thing to deal with, but it has been a great growing experience. I have learned that criticism is good. People give feedback not to be mean but because they believe in what your book can become and they want it to be the best it can be. I guess we can relate that to life sometimes too.


ALLISON: Have you done any oral storytelling?

ERIC:When my daughter was born I used to put her to bed every night with a story about a young princess in the Kingdom of Buff. The princess was, of course named EmmaLeigh, after my daughter, and she had red hair just like my girl. Each night she insisted that I came up with a different story. It was a challenge but also very fun and I guess that was the beginning of me needing to make up stories and tell them to another person.

ALLISON: How much research fed into your world-building?

ERIC: While finishing up my Master’s degree I was doing a 5-10 page research paper every week. I really don’t like research! That’s when I started writing The Stones of Power. I enjoyed writing, but not doing research. Then I realized that making a fantasy world did require some work on my part. I have several pages of bullet point notes outlining the different regions of Denall, the people who live there and all sorts of other things that never show up in the books. I wanted to create a realistic world that had real people in it and that took time.

As far as preparation for writing a book, I have been researching on how to write a fun fantasy novel since the time I was in ninth grade. I remember when I first read Piers Anthony’s Ogre, Ogre. It was fantastic and I was hooked. Since that time I have read many fantasy books, and played far too many video games. These influences helped me know what I did and did not like in books so I could write something that was engaging.

ALLISON: Given that your series is set in the past, why did you choose to write fantasy instead of historical novels?

ERIC: The primary reason for making the trilogy fantasy was so that I could have magic, I very much enjoyed setting up a magic system. I also made the choice to avoid an actual historical location because I couldn’t find one that fit what I wanted to do. I wanted a medieval world where most people were taught how to read. I also wanted to avoid setting up any internal political or religious tension, which seemed to always be present in medieval times. Basically I wanted a united, peaceful kingdom that had a good economic system, decent education and was located on a fairly large island. What I wanted was so specific that it was better for me to just make up a new location and create a world.

ALLISON: What was your favorite moment while writing Stones of Power? Most frustrating moment?

ERIC: My favorite moment was when I sat down and wrote the archery tournament. That part of The Exile may seem small, but it is so pivotal that it is again told, from a different perspective, in The Invasion. It was a challenge to write because I had so many small things happening that needed to be exactly right so that it would connect with the second book. For me this was a really fun challenge.

ERIC: The most frustrating moment was when I had the book finished and I had to start the process of looking for a publisher. It’s not easy, and after getting your book polished it is sometimes hard sending out letters to publishers and agents and not hearing back. I’m not a huge fan of waiting around, but I have learned that it is important to be patient and wait for a company that is a good fit for you.

ALLISON: If you could pick a moment in your novel to experience, what would it be? Did you draw any real life moments to write it?

ERIC: This is a tough question! I think it would be easier to pick things I would not like to experience. I don’t think I’d like to get attacked by drams, starved, kidnapped, or shot with an arrow. I think I’d like to experience the training that Kaz had. The archery training by Boon or the sight training with Kire were both great experiences for him. I also think it would be cool to have an enhanced ability like the people in Denall have.

ALLISON: You credit your wife with changing the direction of your novel. What are the highs and lows of having your spouse as your best critic?

ERIC: The best part of having my wife as a critic for the novels I’ve written is that I know she wants what is best for me and for the books. I needed to learn how to take criticism and having it come from her first was a great way for me to start realizing that a criticism on my book is not an attack on me personally. Another great asset is that I know she reads romance novels. When I was writing Book 3 in this series, there is a more developed romance with two of the characters. When I got to that part I didn’t even try to write it the first time through, I just wrote, “talk with MaryBeth.” I knew that I could put off writing that part until after I discussed it with her and it would be much better. It’s great to have someone who can strengthen my weaknesses.

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