June 6, 2014

Random Acts… “Talker 25” more than a dragon’s tale

Posted in Books, Politics, Women at 2:42 am by dinaheng

There aren’t a lot of successful male writers in the Young Adult genre of book publishing, and Joshua McCune aims to break that gender ceiling.

McCune, formerly a telemarketer, SAT instructor and robotics engineer before taking pen to paper, says he’s always been a writer at heart. His first story, written in third grade, was about World War II, “complete with pictures,” he notes.

His first YA novel, “Talker 25” (Greenwillow Books, $17.99), is also about war, only this time it’s humans vs. dragons. The first of a planned trilogy, the book tells the story of Melissa Callahan, a military brat who becomes entangled in humanity’s fight against dragons who’ve come to Earth from an unknown realm.Dinah Eng

The first half of the book reads like a standard fantasy of girl in danger, girl meets boy, girl meets dragons who aren’t as bad as she imagined, and… well, the standard fantasy ends there.

When Melissa is captured by humans who want to kill the dragons, she must learn to survive a culture where people like her (who can “talk” to dragons) are forced to help find “the enemy” and kill them. In telling a nightmare of torture and a reflection of Big Brother’s worst deeds, McCune clearly steps out of the conventional tale into a dark story that not everyone is going to enjoy.

“I grew up reading epic fantasies, and it was always the farm boy who became the hero,” McCune says. “I turned that on its head, and made the farm girl the hero.”

While that idea isn’t new, being a male author writing a female protagonist isn’t the usual, and McCune turned to his wife and other female readers for feedback on his work.

“Girls are able to have a greater emotional arc than boys,” McCune says. “Melissa’s a flawed character, like a young Sarah Connor from the early ‘Terminator’ movies. She has to be strong, and becomes a little crazy in the process. Trying to get the emotions right, especially with the romantic point of view, was hard.”

Photo courtesy of Greenwillow Books

Photo courtesy of Greenwillow Books

While McCune makes a valiant effort, emotional connections fall by the wayside in the second half of the book, which reveals that “Talker 25” is really a book about war and the loss of innocence in young people who are caught in its grasp.

Male readers love it, the author says, while the reaction among female readers has been mixed. “A lot of readers go into it thinking it’s a dragon book, and when they come to the second half of the book with darker elements and torture, they’re surprised,” McCune explains.

Is that a good thing? Each reader will have to decide for himself or herself. Personally, I found the message a good and thoughtful one. War is never black and white, and there is good and bad in everyone (dragons, too).

Did I enjoy finding that in this tale? No. The message gets lost in the overly dark tone and mechanics of war. By the end of book, I was mildly curious as to what happens to Melissa, but felt no emotional connection to her. From a female’s perspective, I have no burning desire to read the sequel.

But in a world where men don’t always get what really matters to women, kudos to McCune for tackling a genre that requires that kind of understanding.