Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Crossing Downs / Andy Meinen

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Historical Fiction

Approximate word count: 100-105,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
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A graduate of Auburn University with a degree in journalism, Andy Meinen has worked as a reporter for several Florida newspapers. This is his first novel.


“In the late 1920s, a terrible accident sends Curtis Lowe – a black teenager, who works on his parent’s cotton farm – through the nightmarish world of Alabama’s convict-lease system, which takes him from a convict farm on the coastal plains inhabited by starving inmates to the massive prison mining complexes outside Birmingham; along the way he survives whippings, torturous guards, and unspeakable violations in the hopes of finding his freedom and bringing the whole system to a halt.”


Crossing Downs is an example of a book that falls well short of passable due to technical deficiencies and a lack of polish, yet I learned something from it and it inspired me to dig deeper. So, in at least one regard, I think the author met his goal.

I’ll detail some examples of the problems first. To start, there were numerous things that should have been caught during proofreading and copyediting including homonym issues, missing words, typos, and grammar problems (outside of intentional bad grammar in dialogue). Next were issues with repetition which took two forms. The first is overuse of the same word in a short sequence. Among the most flagrant was this paragraph where the name of one character was overused. Pronouns can be an author’s friend:

“Pleasant.” Thoughts of the night Curtis found Pleasant beaten to a bloody mess on the cell floor came back. “Pleasant, wake your sorry butt up.” Pleasant opened his eyes and looked about. Pleasant pulled his hand away and his eyes widened. “Pleasant, it’s Curtis.” Blinks and stares from Pleasant. “Pleasant, I wondered where you went off to.”

If you read closely or over and over to try and understand the sentence, you might also wonder what Pleasant pulled his hand away from and question the meaning of the sentence about blinks and stares. I missed those on my initial reading because all that registered for me was “Pleasant, Pleasant, PLEASANT.”

The other problem with repetition was telling the reader the same thing twice. In one instance we’re told “Pleasant then managed to get Tillman into a headlock” and a few paragraphs later reminded again that, “Pleasant had Tillman in a vicious headlock.” Another time we’re told that the owner of a mine that used convict labor had “cut off communication between the prisoners and the outside world” which was a point already made several chapters before. I’m never certain when I see this happening whether the author is repeating back story in error (indicative of a failure in editing) or did it on purpose to make sure the reader knows. With few exceptions, have faith in the reader remembering what’s happened or they’ve been told previously.

Then we’ve got things like this:

He placed his forehead against the pane of glass next to the front door. His posture was that of a man who looked to be utterly defeated.

There is an author’s maxim that says, “tell, don’t show.” Telling was a problem although I’d call this example “show and tell.” The first sentence is a reasonable start in showing us the character felt defeated. The second sentence is pure tell. Maybe something like, “He slumped and sighed, leaning his forehead against the pane of glass next to the front door.” Let the reader figure out how he feels, don’t tell them.

Rather than continue in this vein, I’ll get to the positive. There’s a good story here and I learned a lot about a piece of history I wasn’t aware of before. The convict lease system was, in essence, a means in some of the former Confederate States to replace the cheap labor provided by slaves prior to the US Civil War. The Wikipedia article on the subject confirms many of the details in Crossing Downs about how this worked including timing (this book takes place in the late 1920s in Alabama, the last state to outlaw the practice in 1928) and the abuses of the system. Reading this story, despite its many technical faults, drove home those facts in a way that no Wikipedia article is capable of doing.


Some adult language.

Format/Typo Issues:

Many proofing and copyediting misses.

Rating: ** Two stars

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