Road Trip Day 4 and 5

IMG_2006These two days are the days we spent in the San Francisco area. On Sunday morning we got up early, picked up our daughter Emily, and took off for downtown San Francisco. After some confusion, (if you take the bus sightseeing tour – the bus stops are NOT clearly marked) we got onto a double-decker tour bus. The bus took us around a loop that included Fisherman’s Wharf, China town, Little Italy, The Ferry Building, etc. Leo, our tour guide was great fun. Mr. Dickens seemed most impressed.

After getting an overview of the city, we got off and walked down Fisherman’s Wharf.  Our first order of business was lunch. We stopped at Lou’s Cafe and sat street-side.  The fare for the day was crab bisque and clam chowder in a San Francisco sourdough bowl. YUM! We found out that even if you take sourdough starter home from here, the yeast that gives it that distinctive flavor, will not survive. It can only live in San Francisco.DSC00076a

After our lunch, we wandered amongst a plethora of shops, artisans, and street performers. Not to mention a pier full of sea lions!

The day was ended with a pizza dinner with Emily and her friends.

The next morning we got up bright and early to catch a boat out to Alcatraz.  It was a windy crossing. Luckily Mr. Dickens is not prone to seasickness.

The buildings, stories, and history are amazing. Some of the buildings are mere ruins, but the prison cell block stands as strong as ever. A guide was kind enough to close us into a solitary cell,alcatraz which was effectively creepy. We were able to see the cells where prisoners had carved away at an air vent with spoons to escape. We also saw bullet holes and grenade damage from where other prisoners attempted escape, but were caught. In the history of Alcatraz only three prisoners were unaccounted for, but it is assumed that they drowned in the rough, icy waters of San Francisco Bay.DSC00116b

The other fascinating story behind Alcatraz is of the 70 workers and their families that lived on the small island. Besides the warden’s house, there were apartments where the families raised their children. The children played in the shadow of the imposing high security prison. There were even extensive gardens planted there.  Alcatraz means “Pelican” and it was named that because of the vast amounts of birds on the island when it was first discovered. Today Alcatraz has again become a sanctuary for birds. It was good that we took Mr. Dickens along as he has always had a fascination with visiting prisons as well as wildlife. We even met some fellow Dickens fans along the way. Charles didn’t even mind being locked in a cell for a short time.Dickens in jail2

After returning on the ferry, we had lunch in one of the many restaurants along Fisherman’s Wharf. Did you know that there are so many restaurants in San Francisco that you can eat breakfast, lunch. and dinner at a different restaurant for three years, and never have to eat at the same place twice?Dickens Maritime

Our next stop was the Maritime Museum where we learned that during the Gold Rush, over 700 sailing vessels came into the harbor. The crews abandoned the ships to find gold. Now those hundreds of ships and their cargo, are the fill under the financial district.  Where else could you dig a hole, and almost certainly find buried treasure?

From there we went to Ghiradelli Square, where of course we had to buy chocolate and eat chocolate sundaes. DOUBLE YUM!IMG_2045

From downtown San Francisco we drove down scenic Route 1. The cliffs, the trees, and the beaches, were beautiful. We stopped a few times to get out and walk a bit. Our final destination was Moss Beach, which was lovely. The area is dotted with cottages. There are tons of imposing cypress trees, draped in bright green moss. Rocky cliffs lead down to the beach.DSC00147bmossbeach

We ate at the Moss Beach Distillery which was the best dining experience so far. The Moss Beach Distillery gets it’s name from the days in which it was a speakeasy during Prohibition. It is also, reportedly haunted by the Blue Lady.  There is a patio that overlooks the ocean where many come to view the sunset. The restaurant provides blankets and chairs huddled around large fire pits, where you can take food or a hot chocolate on cool nights. Unfortunately it was raining, and the fog obscured any chance of seeing the sunset, but it gives us something to look forward to the next time we visit.

After a tear filled good-bye it was time to call it a day, and the end of our time in San Francisco.

Road Trip Day 3

Today was certainly the best day so far. First of all, this leg didn’t need to be one of those 10 – 12 hour days on the road. We did start off with a little hitch – a flat tire.

Luckily there was a Tires Plus right down the road from our hotel in Reno, but it did cost us some time.

We left Nevada, and entered California. DSC00045The landscape improved drastically, and although the mountain driving is a bit rougher for the driver (a big thank-you to John), the beauty makes the long hours stuffed in a car a million times more pleasurable. Sierra Nevada

We only had one stopped planned, and that was to the Donner Memorial. I would think most people have heard of the Donner party which was a group of families who left from Springfield, Illinois and crossed the country, making their way to California. The name comes from George Donner, who eventually led the group. Most people will only remember one thing –  that the group of early settlers to the west were reduced to cannibalism to survive being trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The story of what these people went through, what theyachieved in a time of covered wagons, and the hardship they endured, is much more interesting than just what they had for dinner. I think Mr. Dickens was impressed with the tale.

I will not give the full story here, if you’d like more details click here: Donner

Dickens DonnerThe sight of the Donner encampment is now the sight of a memorial park. The camps of the families were actually spaced pretty far apart as by the time they had gotten to this point, after seven months of a long and arduous journey, already weak and hungry, they weren’t on the best of terms. The memorial itself sits at the site where the Breen and Murphy families camped. The group had come across some old cabins left from mountain men that had been there before. A short distance away is the site of the Graves/Reed cabin, and even farther way is where the Donner family set up camp in tents. The site rests on the edge of Donner Lake. Donner Memorial

The memorial has a statue on a large stone plinth. The height of the plinth represents the height of the snow that winter in 1846/47.  This statue also stands at the sight of the Breen cabin.  There is a path that leads around the monument, and I have to say, we didn’t want to step off of the path, knowing that many of those people perished on that soil.

After a walk through the museum, and a short film about the Donner Party, we took a walk down a nature trail to where the Murphy cabin stood. There is still the remnants of the fireplace standing there.  Not only were we standing on Murphy Fireplacea historic site, but the site of a mass grave. We were actually standing on the grave itself. The survivors had been rescued in a series of three relief efforts. After the last survivor was rescued, a mass grave was dug in the floor of the Murphy cabin and most of the bodies were buried there. There were also some bodies buried at the other cabin sites.

The experience was interesting, awe inspiring, goose bump inducing, and a bit sad. Out of 81 people trapped on that mountain, only 45 survived.

After our exploration of the Donner Memorial, we drove around Donner Lake, pulled off to the side of the road, and hiked to a rock outcropping above a valley. It was a beautiful place to have a picnic lunch. picnic spot

From there we drove all the way through the Tahoe National Forest, through Sacramento, and San Francisco, to Daly City where we were reunited with our daughter, Emily.DSC00075

Road Trip Day 2

The same disclaimer goes for today. I’ve gotten a little over four hours of sleep after being on the road for 14 hours. Any errors are completely out of my control. I’m lucky I remember how to transfer pictures onto my computer at this point.

As we drove out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, we found ourselves surrounded by rolling landscape, dotted with buttes and  framed by mountains.

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Although not as spectacular as the Alps which has fascinated Charles Dickens in the past. I think he found the view as interesting as we did.

Utah, was even lovelier, with the  snow capped peaks of the Wasatch Range. We could see reminders of the 2002 Winter Olympics. The US Olympic team training center is here as well. The ski jump near Summit Park was awe inspiring and fear inducing.  YIKES!

From there we descended from approximately 7000 ft. in elevation, to only 4000 ft. in Salt Lake City. Here we made a stop at the Great Salt Lake.

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As we drove through the Great Salt Desert, it’s amazing to think of those early pioneers crossing such a vast, uninhabitable place. As I mentioned yesterday, our path is close, and sometimes the same as the Oregon, Mormon and California trails.  This was part of the Hastings cut-off that the doomed Donner Party took.

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There is salt stretching as far as the eye can see. Animal nor plant can survive here. There was no food or water for the animals. The waterholes were  brackish and poisonous. Although the salt desert seems like it would be a nice hard surface for the wagons, there are places when the surface crust is thin and the horses, oxen and wagons would break through the crust and sink into the mud below.Bonneville

We stopped at the Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway, where many a land speed record has been broken. Lunch was at the Salt Flats Cafe. The walls were covered by photos of racers with their rocket cars, and souped up motorcycles, many autographedDSC00035

 

Besides the Ruby Mountains,  there was not much beauty to behold. The remainder of Nevada was long and desolate, and made our journey less than thrilling. We were relieved when we finally pulled into Reno, Nevada.

I’m not too sure what Mr. Dickens thought of the bright lights and cacophony of sound from the slot machines, but we came out with a few more dollars in our pocket than we started with.

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We are looking forward to more scenic mountain views tomorrow, along with a reunion with our daughter in San Francisco.

Road trip Day 1

I will first apologize for any typos and grammar errors. It’s 2:00am after a very long, sleep deprived day yesterday. On Thursday. we got off to a rough start. Thanks to a poorly set alarm, o-dark-hundred started a little later than anticipated. We wanted to be up by 2:00 am, but it ended up being 3:38am. Regardless, we got on the road (without forgetting anything that 2013-05-23_13-26-33_218we can think of right now), without too much commotion.

The van was already packed. Thankfully Mr. Dickens is a small fellow – there really wasn’t any spaces or cubbyholes left unfilled. So the four of us, my husband Jim, our friends John and Sue, and I crammed ourselves into our allotted spaces and we hit the road.  This will be the most boring part of our trip. It’s our intention to get to San Francisco as quickly as possible, then slow down and do some sightseeing.  Not to say that our trip was boring. Oh no, the reason the four of us travel together so well, is that we can find humor in almost anything. There were many times that we were laughing so hard we were in tears. I’m very glad that, for a Victorian fellow, Charles Dickens was a bit of a wild guy. I’d hate to think we made him too uncomfortable! Even so, I’m pretty sure the ladies of his day were a bit more reserved than Sue and I are, and the gentlemen were a little more “gentlemanly” than Jim or John. I am certain he never heard song lyrics like the ones we were coming up with.

We left Wisconsin and drove south into Illinois, then west across the Mississippi River into Iowa.  The only sights we saw in Iowa were from the car window as we zoomed by, which consisted of the worlds largest truck stop, and newly sprouted corn fields.

Lunch was a picnic lunch eaten at a truck stop somewhere between Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska. We took turns at driving, except for Mr. Dickens of course.  Each of us tried to nap at different times, but without the ability to stretch our legs out, none of us got any really useful rest.  We did learn a little bit about the Oregon and Mormon trails which both parallel I-80, one to the north, and one to the south. I-8o is the second longest transcontinental highway, which runs all the way from New York City, to San Francisco, California. It is also the highway that most approximates the Lincoln Highway – the first road across America. Dickens Nebraska

 

 

 

It was exciting to a small degree when we finally crossed the state line from Nebraska into Wyoming. Nebraska can feel like the longest state in the country. If you have never been in this part of the country it is desolate. There is nothing but scrub, tumbleweeds,2013-05-23_20-21-10_970 and cattle ranches – lots and lots of cattle. Our rule of thumb is to always eat whatever is the local specialty, and that would be steak.  So after a very scrumptious steak dinner at Little Bear Inn, although as you can see by this picture, their bear wasn’t all that little!  We finally hunkered down at a La Quinta hotel at 9:00pm (which, since we crossed time zones would be 10:00pm Wisconsin time).

I would like to say I got a good nights rest, but as I said in the beginning, it’s only 2:00am and I’m awake typing this. In just two hours we will be up and back on the road. Today we aim for Reno, Nevada. Yesterday we traveled just over 1000 miles. today will be almost the same. At least we will be leaving the Great Plains and entering the Rocky Mountains.  I know Mr. Dickens was not too fond of America in his past visits, but he’s never been to this part of the country. I have visited this beautiful mountain range before, and I think he may be in for a treat.

A Road Trip with Charles Dickens

As some of you already know, I seemed to have developed an obsession…no… fascination…umm…let’s say a fondness for Charles Dickens. It started with an idea about a Christmas story and ended up with months of research.  Although my Christmas story is finished and published, the man just won’t leave me alone. There may even be a full-length novel in the future, because Mr. Dickens doesn’t seem content with just a novella.

In the process of all this research, I started a Facebook page called “The Charles Dickens Project.”  http://www.facebook.com/TheCharlesDickensProject

Every week I post summaries on the Dickens book I’m currently reading (I’ve decided to read all of his books, in order), biographical facts, Dickensian term definitions, quotes, and other fun facts about the author.  I also share links with other pages dedicated to Dickens including the Charles Dickens Museum in London.

Totally unrelated to this, my daughter, Emily moved to California. Well she flew to California to stay, the moving she left with us. So on Thursday morning, at 936028_520125411367979_1224355279_no-dark-hundred, as we like to call the wee hours of the morning. my husband, another couple and I are embarking on a road trip from Wisconsin to California in van filled with my all my daughters possessions. We decided that if we have to drive, we might as well make the best of it, so our plans include stopping to see as many sites as we can in two weeks.

A couple of days ago, the Charles Dickens Museum posted a link on Facebook about a fun event they were hosting. It’s called Dickens On Tour, and it’s similar to Flat Stanley. They posted a picture of Charles Dickens and asked followers to print it. The idea is to take Charles Dickens with you to interesting places and snap a picture to post online. Could this be more perfect?

So now we have an additional passenger with us for our trip across America!  I will post pictures along the way of Mr. Dickens enjoying the sights. To kick off this adventure, I took Mr. Dickens to work with me on my last day before we start our vacation. It is well known that Mr. Dickens loves animals. He had many pets over the years including several dogs, cats, two ravens (including the raven that inspired Barnaby Rudge as well as Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Raven’), a canary, and a pony.  Lucky for him, my day job is in a veterinary clinic.  As you can see, he looked happy to be there with me, and was thrilled to meet Gibson, the dog of one of our doctors.

If you’d like to follow us on our cross country adventure, you can find us on Facebook or keep checking here! I will keep you up to date on the things we see and the places we visit.

 

Mr. Dickens - YOU ARE HERE.
Mr. Dickens – YOU ARE HERE.

 

 

Where to Go When You Have a Screw Loose

Last week I opened my laptop –  something I do multiple times per day. On this particular occasion, the lid lifted with a shimmy, while my ears were met by a clunking sound. Those are things you never want to experience in reference to a computer. While still open, I placed my finger against each hinge, one at a time, and wiggled the lid. The hinge on the right side shifted ominously. I’ve had a laptop with a cracked hing1197107206400036309metalmarious_Laptop.svg.mede in the past. It’s a bad thing because not only does it affect the way it opens and closes, but very delicate wires run through those hinges to power the screen.

I was preparing to send my laptop in for service, knowing it would be weeks that I would be computer-less. I live on my computer – it’s where all my writing is done, my promoting, my correspondence with event organizers …  everything! My writing career hinges (pun most definitely intended) on my laptop. I was facing a crisis of major proportions! I was seriously frightened of losing the two books I’m working on, plus files and files of notes for other possible novels, not to mention the amount of time that would go by with no e-mail, facebook or pinterest! To avoid putting any stress on the hinge, I left my laptop open until I had everything backed up in more than one place.

After doing everything I could to get ready for the upcoming ordeal,  I finally decided it was time to close the lid and pack up the laptop to take it in to those service techs who send shivers up my spine. Do they really know what they’re doing? Do they play around on my computer when I’m not looking? What if they send it away, and it never returns? The last time I took my laptop in for the same problem they returned it with a new hard drive – thankfully I’d backed everything up that time! I never did get a good explanation of why they felt they needed to replace the hard drive.

As I carefully closed the lid, I just happened to have my index finger resting along the right side of the keyboard. My finger was promptly pinched by the case as a gap opened, then closed along the edge.  Surprised, I turned the computer over and walla! The problem wasn’t a bad hinge, but a missing screw on the bottom corner right next to the hinge.

My first course of action was to see if I could find the screw online – thank goodness I still had a computer to look it up with. I found that loose screws are a common issue with this model laptop. The originals are defective, the threads were machined too loose/open, and they will fall right out. It turns out the computer maker is more than happy to send me an improved set of replacement screws, in which the threads are much tighter, for $33.00!

I have to say that I have an issue with the company charging me anything to replace something that was defective to begin with, much less $33.00 for some screws! Since my laptop is still under warranty, I called the store where I bought it.  Sure they could repair the laptop, but it would take 10 -14 days! FOR A SCREW!

I found the best solution of all. It turns out the screw is actually a stock,  run of the mill screw. One new screw from True Value Hardware – 25 cents and the nice gentleman who worked there tightened all the rest for free! I decided to splurge and spend $3.99 for my own screwdriver so that I can tighten them as needed.

I haven’t had a” true value” like that in a long time, and it was certainly better than getting “screwed” by the computer company!

 

 

Who was Charles Dickens?

Christmas Carole Cover Design kindle

Who was Charles Dickens: the man, the husband, the father? It’s a controversy that will never end. After doing extensive research, I’ve come to my own conclusions which I talk about in the forward to my novella “Christmas Carole.” I believe that Charles Dickens loved his family. It seems that his and Catherine’s personalities were very different, and they were not a good match for each other. I think Mr. Dickens didn’t always handle the pressures of fame, work, worries, and family well and he certainly had flaws, but who doesn’t? I also think, just like today, the things the public think about celebrities are only half-truths. One thing I can tell you with certainty was that Charles Dickens often devoted his time, his craft, and his money to many charitable causes. And no one can deny that he provided the world with quality literature.

Here is the forward to “Christmas Carole.”

There have been many books written about Charles Dickens and just as many opinions as to the type of man he was. There is also much speculation as to the nature of his relationship with his wife, Catherine. They range from a loving relationship between two emotionally damaged individuals, to one of deceit and heartbreak. Given that the accounts written are about someone who was, and still is, a public figure, I can only assume that the truth lies somewhere in between. Since I haven’t lived in his home, I can only speculate. I have come to my own conclusions based on all the research I’ve done, and use that as my basis for the Charles portrayed in this story.

Some things are less debated, and seem fairly clear. Charles Dickens was a brilliant, creative, driven, hardworking man. He was haunted by his experiences as a child, and the time he spent in a boot blacking factory to support his family while his father was in debtor’s prison. He used those experiences in his quest to enlighten the public about the plight of the poor and underprivileged. Those experiences also drove him to succeed, always fearful of living in poverty once again.

Regardless of little education, Dickens was a man of wisdom and great talent. I can only hope I have done the great author justice.

Happy Valentine's Day!

In celebration of Valentine’s day, I share with you a short romantic comedy I wrote. I hope it makes you smile!

free vintage retro valentine_ice cream

For The Love of Ice Cream

by D.L. Marriott ©2009

 

Janie couldn’t believe it had come to this again. Here she was, drowning her sorrows, alone, in an ice cream parlor, the monstrosity in front of her bringing her comfort. Each time she dipped her spoon into the sundae and brought it to her lips she gently sucked the dessert off, savoring every moment of it.

She set the cherry aside, saving it for last. Swirling her spoon through the whipped cream, Janie sampled the light, fluffy topping with a flick of her tongue. Closing her eyes for a moment, the young woman imagined reaching into the sky and taking a scoop out of a billowy cloud. She held the sweetened cream in her mouth until it melted.

From then on, all the spoonfuls were the same. A piece of dark chocolate brownie from the bottom, a bit of banana, a healthy dollop of ice cream coated in hot fudge, toasted coconut, and pecans. She loved the contradiction in texture and flavors. The frosty ice cream mixed with the soothing warmth of the hot fudge. The crunchy coconut together with the chewy brownie. The salty taste of the pecans battling the sweetness of the banana. She didn’t just enjoy eating her sundae, this was more like a romantic rendezvous with food.

Despite her heavenly treat, she was still feeling frustrated that another guy she barely knew could drive her to this state of overindulgence. But then, maybe getting dumped was her excuse to feed her ice cream addiction. Maybe she was subconsciously sabotaging her relationships, giving herself a excuse to splurge. That thought was almost enough to make her laugh, until she remembered that she was eating a sundae large enough for four. I’m as pathetic as a drunk sitting alone in a bar, she thought to herself. Keeping her gaze down, the dejected girl avoided looking at anyone else. She was convinced they could tell how pitiful she was. If only she wasn’t a slave to her emotions. If only she didn’t let her heart rule her. Her head knew better.

It’d happened after only two dates with Jeremy. She barely knew him really. They were set up by some friends who were, no doubt, tired of her being the third wheel on all their outings. All of her friends were couples, but Janie found herself to be perpetually single. Not that she didn’t date. Her boyfriends just never stuck around long. She wondered if there was something fundamentally wrong with her. Maybe she was too desperate. No, she was just a hopeless romantic. Unfortunately the speed in which she fell head over heels, generally scared any potential boyfriends away. She attacked love like she attacked ice cream and chocolate.

Janie couldn’t help but wonder if there were other people like her. Was she really all that different? Maybe it’s a therapist she needed, or a dietitian, instead of another boyfriend. Maybe she just needed to swear off guys for a while, take a break, stop trying so hard. That’s it. She would chill out and avoid men. Maybe then this obsession she had with finding Mr. Right would dissipate. Eventually she would try to date casually. Try not to put so much pressure on any potential relationship. Yep, it was a plan. Janie sighed with relief now that she had a solution.

Feeling more self assured, Janie sat up straight. She purposely looked around at the other patrons around her. Not all of them were in groups or pairs. There were a few other lonely souls out there. Maybe they were here to find comfort in their frozen concoctions too. But not anymore for Janie. She was determined. She could rise above it all. No more wallowing for her. Her eyes scanned the room, as she dug her spoon back into her sundae. No sense letting all the creamy goodness go to waste, after all.

Before Janie could take another bite she paused. There, across the room from her sat a vision of beauty, if a man can be called beautiful. He was all by himself, eating a sundae just as large as hers. She wondered what his story was. Was he getting over someone too? No, no, she had to stop this, this wasn’t the plan. Janie let out a strangled gasp as he looked up and his eyes fell on hers. He had the most intense blue eyes she’d ever seen. They were like tidal pools in a tropical sea. His dark hair was slightly mussed, like he had just come in out of the wind. How she would love to run her hands through that hair. There was just a bit of stubble on his chin. She always loved her guys a little scruffy.

He smiled. Could he really be smiling at her? Janie was finding it difficult to draw in air. Her heart felt like it was going to gallop right out of her chest. She followed his gaze. He wasn’t looking at her face, he was looking lower. She slowly looked down and noticed that she had been holding her spoon halfway to her mouth for quite a while now. The hot fudge had melted the ice cream and the resulting mess was dripping into a puddle on the table. She set her spoon down, and tried to wipe up her mess as gracefully as she could. She used all her napkins to soak up the melted ice cream. The result was a mountain of sticky wet napkins sitting in front of her. How embarrassing! It was evident that she really needed to take a break from dating or anything having to do with guys. She needed to rein in her emotions.

Janie took a deep breath and tried to banish any thoughts of handsome men from her mind. That’s it, she needed to just concentrate on finishing her sundae. It wouldn’t take long, she was almost done. Janie picked up the cherry she had set aside and swirled it through the remnants of melted ice cream and fudge. She lifted the dripping fruit to her lips and popped it in whole. As she bit into the overly sweet confection it burst, flooding her mouth with sugary fluid. A drip escaped her lips and dribbled down her chin. She reached for a napkin but then realized she had used them all. She looked around hoping for a spare on a neighboring table. There were none.

She closed her eyes in frustration for just a moment. As soon as her eyes flickered open, there was an outstretched hand holding a napkin right in front of her. Janie looked up. She couldn’t believe it. Of all the people who might have noticed the juice dripping down her face, it had to be him. As she accepted the napkin, the corners of his mouth turned up in a sweet smile.

One single thought crossed her mind. “Oh God, I’m in love!”

 

Pinterest – The New Writer's Tool

2013-01-15_06-09-10_304I don’t know if you have had the opportunity, or perhaps the misfortune of discovering  Pinterest yet, but anyone who has can testify to how addicting it is. For those of you who haven’t, Pinterest is an idea sharing website. You build virtual bulletin boards to which you “pin” pictures which link back to recipes, craft ideas, decorating tips, clothing, jewelry, books, music, just about anything you might have an “interest” in.

Recently I was looking for a better way to develop my characters for a new book. I Googled “character development tools” and got loads of long worksheets filled with questions about a character. Questions like: What is their favorite food? What music do they listen to? What is their favorite book? The problem with using one of these time tested lists for me is that I have problems with memory and simply answering these questions wouldn’t be enough. I would need to refer back to my characters’ lists often. I already have stacks of notes I refer to while writing. Adding pages and pages of more notes felt overwhelming, and I could see myself frantically searching for some little piece of information I needed to make sure my character was staying in character.

So one day I was playing on Pinterest, lamenting the fact that I was wasting time when I should have been writing, when it came to me. Why not build boards for my characters? I can pin foods they like, music, books, clothing styles, hair styles, just about anything. It gives me a visual representation of my characters. I’ve also downloaded a tool so I can pin items from anywhere on the internet, not just from the Pinterest site. So far, I find this is working wonderfully. I just glance at a page of pictures and my character and all their quirks are there for me instantly. Not only does this help me to better develop my characters, but now I can stop feeling guilty when Pinterest has sucked me in again – at least a little.

Reviews – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

amazon-5-star-review-2Reviews good and bad, are something every author is familiar with.  We beg for reviews because they help to sell our books. We cringe at the bad ones. We cheer at the good ones. If only all of them could be good…or maybe not.

Any author can relate with the bad review that makes no sense. It’s frustrating when the reviewer complains that the story is short when it was published as a short story. Hopefully other readers will be smart enough to see through those. But false good reviews can be just as damaging. Often when a bad book gets good reviews, we have to wonder if all the good reviews came from friends or family.

I recently came across a book for Kindle that caught my interest. First the cover attracted me, and although vague, the description grabbed me enough to look at it closer. It had 45 reviews with an average of 4 stars. I started reading the reviews, both good and bad. I rarely give much weight to reviews that don’t give enough information. I’m not convinced by comments like ” I didn’t like it.”  Books are subjective, so I need to know why the reader didn’t like it. In this instance, in the one star reviews the book received, I was seeing comments about punctuation, format, and story structure that gave me pause. So I clicked on the “Look Inside” link.

What I read was absolutely terrible.  The first page was enough to convince me that I didn’t want this free book to take up space on my Kindle.  The first thing that smacked me in the face was purple prose by the wheelbarrow full. What is purple prose? It’s when you use too many descriptive words. For example – “The glossy bird, black as midnight, soared like a jet across the cerulean blue sky dotted with opaque clouds, wispy and ethereal, as they drifted by.”  My daughter calls this word salad. When an author spends too much time with a thesaurus and dictionary and tosses in every word they can find, some words so obscure, the reader will need to keep a dictionary on hand to understand what they’re reading. There’s a fine line between quality descriptive narrative and overkill. To be honest – I have skirted on the edge of using purple prose, not to that extent thank goodness, but it’s something I try to keep an eye on.

The second issue that jumped out at me was punctuation. I’m not talking about a few typos. The only punctuation the author uses is periods and maybe a few commas. Even at the end of questions, he uses periods, not a question mark to be seen. There are no quotation marks for dialog.  Some of this author’s long, run on sentences are paragraphs. I can’t claim to be an expert at punctuation either.  My nemesis is comma usage, I either use too many, or not enough. But the absence of any other punctuation becomes confusing, and when the reader is confused it pulls them out of the story.

The third problem that I noticed were tense changes. The author switches from present tense to past tense and back again, sometimes within the same paragraph. This is something most authors have done at some point in an early draft, or early in their writing life.  I certainly have. But it’s something I have learned to be conscious of. Yes, I still slip up from time to time. That’s why I have my manuscript read by as many people as possible before the final draft.

I didn’t download the book, and I won’t leave a review. I feel bad for this author. These problems are not subjective. I ‘m not criticizing style, story line, or whether or not I like the ending. These are fundamental issues that this author will need to work on, if they are serious about being an author. I don’t think this is a terrible author. Perhaps he has some interesting ideas and creativity.

So which reviews are the bad ones? The painful one star,  negative reviews? No, it’s the glowing five star reviews left by well meaning friends and family.  It’s hard to tell a friend that you don’t like something that means a lot to them. Unfortunately, if we aren’t honest, and give wonderful reviews just because we don’t want to disappoint, we do more harm than good. It sets the author up for a painful fall. They believe the good reviews which make the bad reviews unexpected and painful.

I’m not saying all good reviews are bad, or all bad reviews are constructive, it can go either way. What authors need are honest reviews.  Why didn’t I leave a review, even though I think it would be an honest review? Because at this point, the author will use those good reviews as a shield. They are his reason to dismiss the bad reviews. Which in the end will hurt him, not just because they will be a dagger to his heart emotionally,  but because he may dismiss what they are trying to tell him.

What I’d like to do, is send this author a personal message. One with praise for the bravery to put himself out there, but also with the gentle advice that there are issues in his writing that need improvement. In the end all writers improve with every word written. It never ends, at least it shouldn’t.  However, it’s not my place to do so. It was the place of those who let him down, whether that was their intention or not.  He thought they loved his book. I shouldn’t make assumptions, maybe they did, but I don’t even want to go there.

So what do I want to say about all this? Be honest with those you care about. Do I think if you hate a friends book, you should plaster it on Amazon? No. Tell them before they get to that point, or if you don’t have that option, in private. Do it gently, and be specific. Balance it with what you did like.  For example, ” I love the dialog, but don’t understand why this character was introduced in the last chapter,” or, “This story is fascinating, but on page 48 I wasn’t sure who was speaking.”  If there are specific areas where there were problems, mark them and point them out, sometimes it’s just an oversight and the author is happy to know it was caught, and want to fix it. This type of critique is important and will help them to be what they really want to be, a good author.

Authors, if you don’t have the money to hire an editor, have as many people you trust to give you an honest opinion read your book before you publish. Not just close friends, but other authors who have been in your place at one time. Perhaps, like me, you have some friends or family members who have experience editing.

Read books about writing, read books in general, lots of books. In Stephen King’s book “On Writing,” he says if you don’t have the  time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Join writer’s groups, take writing classes and seminars. Surround yourself with as many people as you can who will not feel obligated to praise you. Try not to be defensive. I know it’s hard. This is your baby, and no one wants to hear that their baby has an unsightly wart on its nose. Sometimes when we see something everyday, we stop seeing it altogether. By the time we’ve finished a book, we’ve seen those words so many times, we aren’t really reading them anymore, and we can miss things that are glaringly obvious to others.

As for myself I find I have a knee-jerk defensive reaction, (I probably owe my editors an apology or two.) but if the criticism is good constructive criticism, I go back and take it to heart, and it inevitably improves my writing. I watch that my descriptions are well worded and not over-the-top purple prose, because someone, who did so in my best interest, told me.  I have editors that correct my punctuation when I mess up., and trust me, I mess up plenty. They also let me know if there are passages they don’t understand, or continuity errors. I don’t always have to agree with everything they suggest, but it makes me take a second look and ask myself if my readers will understand what I’m trying to get across.  Does this make me a good writer? It depends on each persons opinion, some reviews say I’m the next best thing out there, and some say I’m crap. What it does is make me a better writer. I will use everything I learn over time to continue to get better, for that’s all I can really strive for.

Addendum: While searching for an image to go with this post, I accidentally came upon a website that offers 5 star, compelling reviews for any kindle book for the price of $5.00.  Maybe I was wrong about the author above. I hope not, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. All I can say is, if an author feels the need to buy positive reviews for their book, they aren’t really an author at all.