Review: “Heart Of Desire – 11.11.11 Redux” by Kate Robinson (Novel)

First of all, full disclosure. As anyone who has read this old interview will know, the author of the book I’ll be reviewing today is a friend of mine from when I was at university.

Back in 2014, she sent me a first edition copy of “Heart Of Desire”. Although we had discussed the novel before it was published and I was eager to read it, I unfortunately only ended up reading about half of it at the time (probably because it was during my “watch DVDs instead of reading books” phase).

However, shortly after finishing the previous book I reviewed, I suddenly remembered this book. And, since I seem to be more interested in reading than I was a couple of years ago, I thought that I’d give this book another try. After all, I was curious to see how the story would finish (and, wow, I’ve just noticed that I’m mentioned in the acknowledgments at the end of the book 🙂 )

So, let’s take a look at “Heart Of Desire”. Needless to say, this review will contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2014 Tootie-Do Press (US) paperback edition of “Heart Of Desire” that I read.

“Heart Of Desire” is a 1990s-style, new age-themed sci-fi/thriller/alternate history novel that takes place in America. The story begins during the early-mid 2000s with a character called Teresa Vaughn, whose infant daughter Mikka mysteriously disappears and then reappears a few minutes later.

Then we flash forward to August 2009. The 44th US President – Harris Cantrell Henry – is travelling to Air Force One, when he receives an alarming report from NIHSA (an amalgamation of several US agencies).

Once the plane is in the air, President Henry is in the middle of a meeting with his staff when he suddenly has a disturbing vision of mysterious telepathic beings called “reviewers” who warn him not to interfere with their plans to alter Earth….

One of the first things that I will say about “Heart Of Desire” is that it is a brilliantly eccentric mixture of “X-Files”-style conspiracy paranoia, 1960s-style new age mysticism and something like a low-mid budget 1990s-style thriller movie. It’s different to pretty much any other novel that I’ve read and, although it probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly grew on me as I kept reading it.

My reactions to reading “Heart Of Desire” were surprisingly varied. Initially, it just seemed like a reasonably slow-paced sci-fi/political thriller novel, then it went in a much more suspenseful and paranoid direction, then it was gloriously cheesy (in the way that the best “so bad that it’s good” movies are) and then, during the final third or so, the story turns into a darker and more gripping thriller story. Plus, although “Heart Of Desire” doesn’t contain that many horror elements, there are at least a couple of disturbing moments that will catch you by surprise too.

If you’ve ever watched a few seasons of “The X-Files”, watched “Twin Peaks” and/or read a few new age books, then you’ll probably love the fact that this novel references pretty much every “classic” conspiracy theory and/or new age thing under the sun.

There are references to: ancient aliens, CIA plots, Bible codes, morgellons, akashic records, Route 666, MKULTRA, UFOs, 2012, reptilians, Operation Paperclip, astral projection, the Age Of Aquarius, Area 51 etc.. The sheer number of references gives this story a gloriously over-the-top quality that really brought a smile to my face.

This also helps to add to the story’s endearingly nostalgic 1990s-style atmosphere too – since it evokes a more innocent time when conspiracy theories were hilariously bizarre things – rather than grim political reality (eg: the Snowden revelations, Trump’s tweeting, Brexit etc..).

Although this story is set in the early 2010s, it is a very 1990s novel. As mentioned in the author interview, the first draft of the story was written in 1999 and later updated. Everything from the story’s optimistic “The West Wing”-style depiction of the US presidency to the occasional 90s cultural reference and the “X-Files” style focus on conspiracy theories is wonderfully ’90s 🙂 Seriously, if you want some 1990s nostalgia, then this story is worth taking a look at.

In terms of the narration, the novel uses a mixture of slightly informal narration, more “matter of fact” thriller novel narration and more descriptive “literary” narration. Although this style takes a little while to get used to, it works really well for the most part. Likewise, aside from the occasional lecture or info dump, the dialogue in this story is reasonably well-written too. It’s kind of a like a mixture of more realistic dialogue and more stylised movie/TV-style dialogue.

This story is a fairly political one that leans fairly heavily to the left (in a slightly 1960s-style way) with themes including the environment, Buddhism, corporate manipulation, right-wing hypocrisy etc.. Although a lot of this stuff works really well in the context of the story, the novel does include the occasional lecture or moment of unintentional comedy. But, fairly often, the political elements are handled in a more understated way (eg: by just leading by example with regard to the characters, the descriptions, the story itself etc..).

Plus, the more earnestly idealistic elements of the story help to add to the 1960s-90s style atmosphere of the story, whilst also adding some originality too. Seriously, at least a couple of the main characters are hippies (New Age ministers to be precise) – how often do you see this in a thriller novel?

As for the story’s characters, they’re reasonably good. The novel contains a mixture of more “realistic” characters, such as Teresa (a former journalist) and President Henry (a vaguely Obama/ Bill Clinton-like character), several mysteriously otherworldly characters, a chilling villain or two and a few 1960s-style New Age/Hippie characters too. As hinted at earlier, the fact that the novel’s protagonists aren’t really typical thriller novel protagonists also helps to add some originality to the story too.

In terms of pacing, this story is fairly ok. Whilst the novel starts off fairly slow-paced, it gradually becomes faster and more gripping as the story progresses. Even so, there are occasional moments of description or backstory when you’d expect the story to move forward in a more focused way. But, for the most part, the pacing is reasonably good. Likewise, this story is a fairly standard length (363 pages) for a modern novel and it doesn’t seem too long.

All in all, this story isn’t your typical thriller novel. If you’re a fan of the 1990s, a fan of cheesy sci-fi, interested in the 1960s and/or are Fox Mulder from “The X-Files”, then you’ll probably have fun with this novel. Yes, it’s a little bit slow to start and there’s the occasional lecture etc.. but this is the kind of story that brought a warm smile to my face in the way that the best movies and TV shows from the 1980s/90s do. As I said, it isn’t for everyone, but if you want a thriller novel that is a little bit different, then this one is well worth checking out.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

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Interview: Kate Robinson – Author of “Heart Of Desire – 11.11.11 Redux”

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Well, I am very proud to present an interview with Kate Robinson – a published writer and freelance editor born in Iowa and residing the past few decades in Arizona and California. She runs the “Jellyfish Day” blog (of which I was lucky enough to post a guest post on there last year) and who has recently published an alternate history /sci-fi/thriller novel called “Heart Of Desire – 11. 11.11 Redux“.

We studied writing together in Aberystwyth in 2009/10 and, whilst I haven’t really written that much fiction since then, Kate has worked on a lot of different fiction and nonfiction writing and editing projects – including a short story collection collaboration with another Arizona writer, Joe DiBuduo (a more comprehensive list of stories which Kate and Joe have worked on can also be found here).

So, without any further ado, let’s get started:

– So, you’ve got a new novel out – can you give us a brief summary of what it’s about?

The plot basically revolves around an investigative reporter, Tess Vaughn, who literally jogs into the arms of a married presidential candidate, Senator Harris Henry. They have a campaign trail affair that brings her trouble galore. As Henry nears his successful bid for the presidency, he confides strange things to Tess about a UFO disclosure and a dark political agenda by a shadow government.

When she breaks off the relationship, she finds herself pregnant, and flees to a small community in rural Arizona where she secretly bears President Henry’s lovechild, Mikka. Tess soon discovers that Mikka has talents that both delight and scare her. She fears Mikka will be exploited and realizes that someone is interested in Mikka for their own ends.

As she flees her home and seeks the help of a pair of New Age ministers, Marshall and Savannah Updike, and a Native American healer, Carson Hodges, she comes to understand that Mikka’s fate is linked with President Henry’s, and in a spiritual sense, to the cosmos.

-The 11.11.11 thing is certainly an interesting subject for a story, can you explain it to our readers?

In the novel, I refer to the date of 11 November 2011 as “the window of positive opportunity” that is a precursor to 21 December, 2012, the “end” of the Mayan calendar. 11.11.11 is significant to the plot as a point “where cosmic transformation began.” New Age thinkers attributed this date with a powerful shift in human awareness.

– How did you come up with the title of the novel, since “Heart Of Desire” doesn’t immediately sound like a sci-fi/thriller novel?

While Heart of Desire isn’t a genre romance, it does have strong romantic elements as told through the POV of the protagonist, Tess and also through the viewpoints of the two men she’s attracted to who are 180 degrees apart in their lifestyles and viewpoints. But there are two layers to the story.

Thematically, the story explores the concept of desire as an emotion or force that often brings us suffering no matter the positive intention. One premise of Buddhism is that our desires, no matter how positive, often bring us more than we bargain for. Be careful what you wish for, as the saying goes. Every character in the novel has a particular desire or set of desires that drive their lives to cross in a dramatic conclusion.

– Although I understand that “Heart Of Desire” is an updated version of an older story that you wrote, I absolutely love the optimistic 1980s/1990s-style atmosphere of what I’ve read of it so far. I was wondering if classic TV shows like “The X-Files” had any influence on you when you originally wrote the story?

Actually, I saw only an episode or two of The X-Files during the years it aired because when I started the story in 1999, I lived in a high desert valley in Arizona where television reception was sometimes sketchy without cable TV. It wasn’t until the winter of 2009-10 when I worked on a draft in the UK that I sat down down with the entire DVD collection of The X-Files episodes and watched them all – great fun!

I’ve had a long interest in reading accounts about UFOs and alleged extraterrestrial abductions because of some strange experiences I had in my childhood, and later on, when my kids were small. So my fiction was influenced very much by personal experience and by writers like Whitley Strieber, who had some rather strange experiences with UFOs and ETs and who writes both nonfiction and fiction based on his personal experiences.

I also read many other accounts relayed by abductees or witnesses of UFOs to ghostwriters or therapists who worked with them. For many years I also subscribed to a newsletter called Cosmic Awareness Communications that consisted of readings relayed through a trance interpreter, a channel very similar to the Edgar Cayce readings. All this information is now archived on a CAC website and there is still a current interpreter of Cosmic Awareness who does general and personal trance readings.

While CAC readings covered many topics, the readings about various ET groups who visit Earth always captured my imagination and seeded many scenes in the novel. I’m probably also influenced by other more fanciful sci-fi books and films I’ve absorbed over the years, like Stranger in a Strange Land, The Martian Chronicles, ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Independence Day, Men in Black, War of the Worlds, and many others. My novel focuses on the gray and reptilian ETs that humans encounter around the globe.

– For a novel that was originally written in the late 1990s, it’s remarkably forward-looking. There’s a multiracial president and a mysterious unaccountable US Government agency called the NIHSA.

As the years passed, I incorporated current events, as well as creating some alternate history scenarios that could have plausibly happened. As they say, the future is never fixed and we can follow many threads to estimate what might happen next.

– Although you include a brief reference to 9/11 when describing the NIHSA and the president comes across as being vaguely Bill Clinton-like, I was wondering how much of this stuff was in the original story and how much was added when you updated it before publication?

When I started the story in 1999, I based the goings-on in Washington, D.C upon the Clinton administration. By the time 2008 came around, it seemed natural to upgrade the story with a more multiracial cast of characters based on the Obama administration.

– “Heart Of Desire” deals with a lot of environmental topics and I was wondering how you were able to turn what some might consider a “long-term” issue into something more immediate and compelling?

Thank you – I’m pleased that you found this aspect of the novel interesting. Our current environmental woes began to physically emerge in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, if not before, on a less tangible level. At least this was noticeable in various places I lived around Arizona. We had clockwork summer and winter rainy (or snow) seasons in the 1970s, a long-term pattern that gradually morphed into serious drought.

The varied desert environments at different elevations in Arizona always had their peculiarities like a wide range between daytime and nighttime temperatures, but that became more pronounced when high summer temps became higher and the nighttime and winter lows became lower. I began to notice that wildlife was disappearing when I went on some camping trips during the ‘90s into semi-remote places and saw few birds or critters, a strangely silent world. Later, the unusual and fierce storms started.

Of course California may be even more impacted by drought now than Arizona. The city where I live now is implementing a one-day a week lawn watering restriction, along with carwashing and hose use restrictions on October 1, 2014. People here are used to having green manicured lawns that are watered at least every other day, if not daily, in some cases. Of course, southern California has the warm Santa Ana winds that happen along with particular ocean currents, and that often results in fires in the wooded hills and canyons in and around our cities, and we’re in more in danger than ever from those. And from the mudslides that happen after large rainstorms – we’re not having much rain but climate chaos does bring flooding rather than normal rainstorms.

Earthquakes seem to be coming at a faster rate than ever all over the world, and California has many faultlines and is famous for quakes. Over the course of writing and revising, and then formatting Heart of Desire for publication, the emerging long-term environmental issues here and all over our planet have certainly became more immediate and compelling! My natural concern about this issue was easy to include in the story.

– As someone who is a bit of a “loner” when it comes to creating things, can you tell me a bit about what it’s like to work collaboratively?

Writers who collaborate have many different styles. I’ve seen some do novels together by writing alternating chapters. I suppose some have actual physical meetings to discuss and critique each others’ work, as writers do in critique groups or in the entertainment biz. In our case, Joe wrote drafts of stories and developed and polished them to the best of his ability.

When he hit the wall with them, I received the collection via e-mail and further developed them, adding my own touches. Joe has the vivid, soaring imagination and I have the wordwhacking toolkit and don’t mind the nuts and bolts of submission to publishers and agents. So I never had to sacrifice my reclusive ways. So many writers are introverts and charge their batteries in solitude, but I think we’re all connected at the level of mind and spirit anyway.

– Finally, do you have any advice that you can give to new writers?

While I don’t necessarily think that doing what you love will always make money follow, I feel if writing is your passion, then jump into it wholeheartedly. Creativity is both a joy and a solace in a reality where pain of various sorts is also a constant. So live the writing life with every heartbeat and every breath.

Set aside a little (or a lot!) of time each day or write as regularly as possible. Read more than you write and in many genres and styles. Read books and articles and blog posts by authors and editors about the mechanics of the writing craft and about the writing life. Don’t be afraid to experiment and never give up – it’s only through trial and error and constant practice that you’ll progress from the level of emerging writer to seasoned, professional writer.

I’ve seen a few writers stand in their own way early on because they can’t accept criticism and guidance from more experienced writers. Others give up in despair prematurely when they’re just a step or two away from the final polish of a novel or memoir or children’s book because they couldn’t handle rejection by agents and publishers. “Overnight success” in this business means fifteen years or longer. Those who succeed quickly were probably writers in previous lifetimes! : }

Build your platform, your social media contacts, and network with other writers as you learn the craft – this business is built upon these connections and interactions. And if you don’t succeed as a published author, then at least you’ve had a heckuva run doing something you love.

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Thanks 🙂 If anyone is interested, more info about “Heart Of Desire” can be found here.