Thursday, July 22, 2010

We Never Forget Our First

We never forget our first, and Jessica Chapnik was mine. And although you're filled with anticipation and excitement at what might happen as a result, your first can be a frightening experience ... terrifying, even painful ... forever etched in your memory.

But it can also be exhilarating beyond description. In fact, it's the element of venturing into the unknown that makes it so alluring.

Actress and musician, Jessica Chapnik. Photo courtesy The Daily Telegraph.

Jessica has gone on to greater things. Aussies will remember her as "Sam Holden" on the hit television show, Home and Away. In 2008, she recorded the Ben Lee soundtrack for the Joel and Nash Edgerton film, The Square. The song was nominated for an Australian Film Institute Award for "Best Original Music Score," as well as an ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Association) Fine Arts Award for "Best Original Soundtrack". A singer of exceptional talent and beauty, Jessie has toured internationally with musicians Sarah Blasko, Ben Lee, the Kahn Brothers, and Old Man River. Her 2010 Appleonia Music video, It's Not So Precious, exemplifies the gentle, inspirational quality to her voice. Which surprised me since she is such a raging soccer fanatic (go Argentina!) who loves espionage thrillers and vegetarian pizzas (go pizza!).

So while most of you may know Jessica as an exceptional actress and musician, to me she will always be "the first" ... my first ... book critic to review The Second Thirteen, when it was originally published in Australia in 1999.

At the time, Jessy was writing for Who magazine (the Australian version of People magazine), to whom I had sent a copy of my novel for review consideration.

A first review can play with your mind. It did mine. For one thing, I had no idea Who magazine would even look at my novel. Who was, after all, one of the premier celebrity magazines in Australia, and I was this unknown author whose book had been published by a micro-press no one had ever heard of. And if by some miracle they did review it, would they like it? Would they trash it? Was this going to be a painful experience? Fears collided with possibilities (and a wild imagination) to produce a tornado of emotional turbulence. I could hardly stand it. But, as I said before, it was the element of venturing into the unknown that was, in fact, its allure.

We need book critics. We rely on their seasoned judgment to sift the wheat from the chaff. Sure, some critics like to find something wrong with everything: "no turn unstoned," as the old saying goes. Some are snotty, uppity elitists who are downright arrogant and rude.

So are some writers.

Most critics, however, are decent people who devote a lot of hours to their craft. They're not in it for the big bucks. They're in it for the love of reading. Critics and writers (and publishers) have one thing in common: the desire to present a good book to the public. These days, with shrinking budgets and cutbacks, there are fewer critics writing for fewer publications, so the challenge of getting reviewed in a major publication is harder than ever. But in today's world, a good review -- or a bad one -- can spread "virally" like wildfire via twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and a host of other social networking sites and blogs, not to forget the customer review sites hosted by online giants like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Like never before, the reader has become the critic with a voice.

Which keeps a writer like me on his proverbial toes, especially since I have updated The Second Thirteen into what I hope is a sizzling thriller that will yank you in by the lapels and not let you go until the final page. Whether I succeed or not will be -- gulp -- up to you.

As for Jessica, with whom I stay in touch ... well, my "first" had this to say: "The Second Thirteen, by Kansas-born, Adelaide-based James Houston Turner ... will delight aficionados of the genre with its punchy pace, intricate plot, compelling structure and, best of all, goose-bump-raising-climax."

Stay tuned for updates on when the new edition of The Second Thirteen will be available.

A self-confessed pizza fanatic, James Houston Turner writes thrillers and invents new topping combinations from his home in Adelaide, South Australia. You may visit him at