As someone who's tried his hand at writing a novel or two, I can tell you this: it's no easy feat. I barely have the patience (or the brain power) at this point to hammer out a couple nonsensical paragraphs for the blog, let alone 300-500 pages worth. More than that, being able to keep a plot rolling for that long, or characters worth the trouble, is a task so Herculean I can scarcely understand how authors like Stephen King or James Patterson or (heaven forbid) Stephenie Meyer are able to do so on a regular basis. It takes tremendous talent and effort to do what these people do, yet ultimately what binds us together boils down to one simple thing: our obsession with the written word.
Born in Oaka Tamuning, Guam (where her father worked as an art teacher), Ruth "R.J" Craddock has every excuse never to attempt the Next Great American Novel - marriage, kids, housework (and all the exhaustion that entails), not enough hours in the day, you name it. Yet she also suffers from a disability only 17% of the population can claim to share: dyslexia, diagnosed at a very young age. Determined to never let it get the best of her, or define her in any way, Ruth was able to maintain a 4.0 GPA by her sophomore year in high school, and at 29, published her first novel, The Forsaken, Book One in her proposed Children Of Cain series. Now just a year later comes its sequel, The Offspring, a sure sign that her dyslexia has no chance of holding her back. (She joins a select group of dyslexic authors throughout history, including Agatha Christie, Hans Christian Anderson and William Butler Yeats.)
Having edited both books, I can also tell you Craddock's skills as a storyteller have improved by leaps and bounds since her first outing. At times, The Forsaken - which introduced our (then) preteen protagonist, Gwenevere, whose sarcastic sense of humor masks a dark and elusive past - felt too much like a Harry Potter/Twilight clone, with its plethora of werewolves, witches and magical spells. Ask her about it (which I have, on several occasions), and she'll deny any connection, of course - claiming The Children Of Cain comes solely from the recesses of her imagination. But while there's nothing inherently wrong with riding the coattails of such literary successes (it's hard to look at the billions of dollars reaped by J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins and not want a piece of that), The Offspring is very much its own thing, despite the introduction of vampires, ogres, even the occasional dwarf into the mix. The plotting is less unwieldy, the characters more defined, and there's a real sense of danger and foreboding here - as creepy as anything since Anne Rice. (Call it the Second Chapter Syndrome, in which the follow-up adventure is sleeker and more seductive than the origin story that preceded it.)
Nice, too, to see Gwen come into her own as a complex, capable young woman - though, like any hero worth his/her salt, she has to go through hell to get there. Stripped of everything she holds dear, including Raven, her childhood b.f.f., and forced to commit cold-blooded murder (if only to protect the foster family that adopted her), Gwen spent the last pages of The Forsaken exiled to the wintry Pocono Mountains, alone against the bitter cold. When we pick up with her again, she's been whisked away to the fortress Bec LaNuff, where she's soon caught in the clutches of the evil Lord Legion, vampire master, and his loyal minions. Craddock keeps the screws tightening for so long - giving Gwen the faintest hope of escape, only to yank it away at regular intervals - readers may feel every bit as punished as she does (and, Reader, beware: the story indeed takes some very dark turns). Respite comes in the form of a centuries-old Adonis named Angelo, who's sure to give Edward Cullen a run for his money, and a no- nonsense fairy named Morna, who seems to know more about Gwen's mystery upbringing than she probably lets on.
The novel's obligatory action climax, in which separate vampire, witch and werewolf factions battle for Gwen's soul, goes a long way towards redeeming the gratuitousness of the earlier chapters, particularly the way Bec LaNuff's most nefarious villains get their comeuppance. (Note: the preview copy available to me neglected to mention the fate of several key characters. I've been told this has been corrected in subsequent drafts.) And while the bulk of both books are written in the present tense - i.e., "Gwen thinks" or "Gwen says," rather than the typical "Gwen thought" or "Gwen said" - I'm not sure it lends her prose the kind of poetry Craddock probably intended. (I've always felt the present tense was better suited for screenplays, but that's probably more of a personal preference than anything else.)
Still, with two books under her belt, plus four in the series to come, Craddock could well be on her way to becoming a Fantasy Fiction force to be reckoned with. I bring up her dyslexia not to make her out to be some sort of specialty case (Run, Forrest, run!) or to drum up sympathy for her cause. Just that, though you may have every excuse in the book, you should never let it keep you from accomplishing your dreams.