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An Introductory Essay to "The Dash"

The Dash
Front cover of Volume I (of II)

Author: C.J. Duarte
Country: Canada
Language: English
Genre: General Fiction/Experimental
Publisher: Baico
Publication date: Oct. 24, 2011 (Vol. I, print); Oct. 1, 2013 (Vol. I, e-book); Oct. 24, 2014 (Vol. II, print; e-book TBA)
Media type: Print/Digital
Pages: (Volume I) 716, (Volume II), 791
ISBN: (Volume I) ISBN 978-1-926-945-35-4 (paperback edition), (Volume II) ISBN 978-1-926945-66-8 (paperback edition)

The Dash is the award-winning debut novel of author C.J. Duarte. Previously he had published “This Time Around” (2003), a flash-fiction piece anthologized that same year in the paperback A Harvest of Tales.

            Because of its long length as a single novel—approximately 1,500 pages—The Dash was serialized into two equal volumes, though still with the intention of being viewed as a single, continuous work. Volume I was released in print on October 24, 2011 and in e-format on October 1, 2013, both dates having been announced under a month in advance. Volume II's release date in print and e-format was announced, six months in advance, as October 24, 2014 (the e-format release status has since been changed to TBA); at the same time as this announcement, Duarte confirmed plans to take an "indefinite hiatus" from new material after Volume II's release period.

1. Summary
2. Composition
3. Release and Reaction
4. Awards and Honours
5. Notes
6. References
7. External links

1. Summary
Claire Bead, a young aspiring writer, wakes up one morning in her apartment to realize she is late for work. At the same time, her apartment is raided by several armed, hyperaggressive men who represent her place of employment. She jumps out of her apartment window which is several stories up, in a last-second act of pure helplessness, and expects to die at once. Instead she vanishes in mid-fall without explanation, and is seemingly transported into an alternate dimension—the colourless town of Cloak Valley, Monochrome—which appears to be an intermissive form of her afterlife. Following her arrival into this world, she befriends Art Rukin, a burly middle-aged man who takes her into his home and acts as both her guardian and companion. From there, she struggles on the long journey of piecing her lost memories together; figuring out her relationships to countless other characters, situations and symbols; and ultimately discovering what has really happened to her and where her life will end.

2. Composition
The Dash was written sporadically over a period of six years, before a draft was finished in late 2009. Less than a year later, Duarte came into contact with Baico, an independent Canadian publisher that, within a few months, agreed to release the novel. In the meantime, several promotional items for The Dash were produced by the author, including multimedia advertisements, accessories, clothing and more. Despite the surplus of creative tie-ins, however, he has insisted on letting the material speak for itself.

3. Release and Reaction
            Promotion of The Dash's first-volume release was severely restricted due to budget limitations, scattered interest, and the reluctance of many media outlets to promote such an unusual work by a small-press, unknown author. It was also largely due to Duarte's insistence on not overexposing the book's contents and ruining its pace and impact. For the first few years following Volume I's release, virtually all its promotion and distribution stemmed from the novel's official website, and from private transactions among family and friends. On March 9, 2012, Duarte made a brief private appearance at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada to promote Volume I, answer related questions from audience members and give out free, autographed copies of the book. To date, this has been his only notable public appearance to promote The Dash, and despite its smooth operation, Duarte is reluctant to keep making such appearances regularly.
            The Dash's release has so far generated diverse reactions, with some readers admiring the book for its ambitious range, unfettered pace and striking imagery, and other readers disparaging it for the same reasons. To attract further interest in the novel, Duarte wrote a short, self-proclaimed "fictitious review" of the overall (unabridged) novel;1 this moderately favourable, tongue-in-cheek article is purported to be written by a journalist from Cloak Valley, the invented world in which The Dash is primarily set. Kirkus Reviews--the first of several unbiased review services Duarte tried out for his book--had a mixed-to-negative response to Volume I, criticizing its "obsessive detail, excessive exposition, metaphor mashups, malapropisms and general misusage,"2 while admitting that the book had "a manic sense of imagination" and "inspired ideas."2 Readers' Favorite praised the novel and awarded it five out of five stars, with writer Alice DiNizo describing it as "unique," "bizarre," and "filled with people never encountered before."3

            San Francisco Book Review was highly complimentary of The Dash's "excellent cast of characters" but suggested that the novel's deliberately "inexact" style and long length were a major distraction.4 (Despite this 2-out-of-5-star critique, SFBR's capsule of The Dash was chosen out of countless others to be featured in their official magazine shortly thereafter.) Meanwhile, Barbara Scott of ForeWord Clarion Reviews gave the book four out of five stars and described its subplots as "both intellectually ticklish and psychologically emotive."5 BlueInk Review suggested that because of the "[mostly] superfluous descriptions" and "exhausting" story--even for a first volume--readers would "find the prospect of tackling a continuation too daunting to consider."6 It did, however, acknowledge the novel's exceptional creativity and effort.6

            Similarly, Catherine Tosko of Self-Publishing Review quipped, "This is no dash. And this is only the first volume."7 Tosko lamented, "Duarte is loathe to jump ahead for any moment, insisting he should fill in every detail for the reader," but she was also greatly appreciative of its "powerful atmosphere,"7 and was insistent in describing the novel as "a considerable effort" on both the author's part and--"unfortunately," she opined--the reader's.7 Caleb Shadis of Luxury Reading also largely panned the book and its perceived lack of editorial discipline, but again made reference to the author's "very interesting ideas"8 and conceded to being "really impressed" by certain elements of the book's presentation, such as its depth of black-and-white references and imagery.8 In another more positive review (3 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com), Tania Staley of Hollywood Book Reviews declared that in spite of The Dash being a "dense and sometimes difficult read" that required a "suspension of disbelief [for] optimal enjoyment," it nevertheless had "much for a reader to enjoy."9 Finally, Krista Schnee of Pacific Book Review summarized the reaction of many in calling the book "an imaginative and often frightening world [that] can certainly be compelling"10 and speaking of Duarte as "unique among authors...a new voice in modern fiction."10

            On October 24, 2016--exactly five years after its initial serial release in print--Duarte re-published The Dash himself as a special unabridged edition. This new version includes many minor editorial changes and character illustrations, among other new designs, and has been made available indefinitely as a free download on his official website.

4. Awards and Honours
            On October 1, 2013, to coincide with its long-delayed e-book release, The Dash's first volume was announced as the winner of the 2013 Readers' Favorite Silver Medal, in the General Fiction category.11

5. Notes
1 Duarte, C.J. (as Jewel Monkstone), “A different kind of fiction".
http://thedashnovel.blogspot.ca/p/reviews-different-kind-of-fiction.html, September 27, 2011.
2 A Kirkus Review of Volume I.
https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/cj-duarte/dash/, July 24, 2012.
3 DiNizo, Alice, A Readers' Favorite Review of Volume I.
http://readersfavorite.com/book-review/7138, August 29, 2012.
4 A San Francisco Book Review of Volume I.
http://citybookreview.com/2012/11/the-dash-volume-i/, Autumn 2012.
5 Scott, Barbara, A ForeWord Clarion Review of Volume I
https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/the-dash/, October 12, 2012.
6 A BlueInk Review of Volume I
http://www.blueinkreview.com/reviews/view/3329/srch:the%20dash, March 19, 2013.
7 Tosko, Catherine, A Self-Publishing Review of Volume I
http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/blog/2013/04/review-the-dash-by-c-j-duarte/, April 9, 2013.
8 Shadis, Caleb. A Luxury Reading Review of Volume Ihttp://luxuryreading.com/thedash/, May 8, 2013.
9 Staley, Tania. A Hollywood Book Review of Volume I. http://www.prlog.org/12294036-new-book-titled-the-dash-by-duarte.html, March 11, 2014.
10 Schnee, Krista. A Pacific Book Review of Volume I. http://www.pacificbookreview.com/dash-volume/, March 27, 2014.
11 Readers' Favorite 2013 Award Contest Winners Page. http://readersfavorite.com/2013-award-contest-winners.htm, October 1, 2013.

6. References
Duarte, C.J. The Dash (Baico, 2011): Volume I of II.
Duarte, C.J. The Dash: A Primer (Self-published, 2011): Promotional pamphlet.

7. External Links
http://www.blueinkreview.com/: Official website of BlueInk Review
http://thedashnovel.blogspot.ca/: Official website of C.J. Duarte
https://www.forewordreviews.com/: Official website of ForeWord Clarion Reviews
http://www.hollywoodbookreviews.com/: Official website of Hollywood Book Reviews
https://www.kirkusreviews.com/: Official website of Kirkus Reviews
http://luxuryreading.com/: Official website of Luxury Reading
http://www.pacificbookreview.com/: Official website of Pacific Book Review
http://readersfavorite.com/: Official website of Readers' Favorite
http://sanfranciscobookreview.com/: Official website of San Francisco Book Review
http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/: Official website of Self-Publishing Review