I Triple Dog Dare You!

The hustle and bustle of the holidays is through and the new year has begun, full of resolutions for the future. I’m not sure why this is the time we stop to think about what we want to change about how we live our lives. Is it because we see a new year as a good place for a new beginning? Or is it because in the deafening silence that follows in the wake of the holiday season, we actually have time to sit and think about what we want for ourselves? Maybe it’s a little of both.

What I do know is that New Year’s Resolutions rarely stick. Life gets busy and any plans we had to: eat better, exercise more, call our family, etcetera, etcetera, get derailed. I decided that first, anything I promise I will do differently this year, can’t be so radically different from my normal routine that it becomes impossible to uphold. Secondly, the best way to stay on track is to take someone along with me on the ride.

So when I saw a 2015 reading challenge on Popsugar.com, I thought this was just the thing!

 

 

I already read, but I used to read much, much more. Not only do I miss escaping into a good book but according to Stephen King, and I have to agree with him, reading is fundamental to my writing. In his book “On Writing,” which I would highly recommend all writers read, he says,

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

So part of my plan to work the day job less, and write more, must include the goal to read more. As much as I enjoy reading, I know that life will get busy. The dishes need to be done, the dog needs to be walked, the chicken coop needs cleaning… If all I tell myself is I want to read more, then I know I will fall into the trap of saying to myself – I will! Just as soon as I have the time.

I came up with a plan. I printed three copies of the challenge, and went to my two adult children and dared them to take it with me. We’ll all work on our own lists. Whoever completes their list first, wins. The two losers each cough up $25 to buy the winner a $50 gift card of their choice. And the race is on!

It was fun to watch them search for books that would fit the categories. The only rules are that we cannot use a book we’ve read before (unless the challenge category requires it), and one book cannot count more than once. So my first book I finished was “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. It could count as: a Pulitzer Prize winner, a book that was turned into a movie, or a book that made me cry. I must choose which category it will be used for, it cannot count for all three.

 

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Not only is this a good thing for me, it’s a good thing for my kids. Can I count that as being a better parent for the new year? Why don’t you try this with your kids? If this list isn’t appropriate for their age range, make one up. How about categories such as: read a Caldecott Award winner, read a book about an animal, read a book in which a girl is the hero…I’m sure you can come up with some great ideas of your own!

In conjunction with this, I plan on reviewing the books I read. I will post each review here, as well as on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, Booklikes, and Librarything. I’ll post it on Facebook, Twitter, and Google +, as well. I encourage everyone to do that. Reviews are essential to authors. Do you want to take the challenge? If you do let me know. If not, but you just love reading, or happen to read a book you just love (or hate), tell me about it. Word of mouth is also essential to authors! I can’t wait to hear what you’re reading. Go on – pick up a book, READ – I triple dog dare ya!

 

No Moment Wasted

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This post was actually written on 5/13/14 – I just wasn’t in the frame of mind to post it.

 

Today’s been emotional.

It was the first day I’ve had free in longer than I can remember. I started the day with a to-do list, that never got done. The first thing that happened was that I opened my computer to check my facebook page. I was intending to get back on top of my Charles Dickens Project, which has been woefully neglected while we were busy renovation the mill house (not that we will ever be done renovating).

I came upon a link to a blog written by a mother, who right now is sitting next to her little boy, Ben, waiting for his last breath. She’s struggling with how to help her other children (including Ben’s identical twin brother) cope, when she’s not sure how she will cope. The words brought every memory and emotion back like it was only yesterday when I was doing the same thing.

The logical part of me screamed to turn the computer off. I had no delusions that I could read her blog and not bawl my eyes out. I read every post, from his diagnosis until today. Today, when all that was left was pain medications, holding hands, and waiting.

But that wasn’t all. I lost all ambition to do anything I had planned for today and stayed glued to my computer and read more stories.

One was of a 13 year old girl in Illinois, who carried her twin sister on her back for 370 meters after her sibling collapsed during a track meet. Helping her sister to finish the race meant ending any chances of finishing with a medal for herself. More tears for me.

I watched a video in which a sportscaster expressed his disgust for the uproar over Michael Sam. It was nice to see the support for a nice young man, who simply shared his joy of getting drafted into the NFL with the person he loves most. Best of luck to you, Michael. For every negative comment I saw, I read many more positive ones. The video showed a clip of Michael in tears. I joined him.

I watched an episode of Dancing With The Stars in which Paralympian Amy Purdy danced better than I could ever dream of dancing. Amy lost both her legs from the knee down after nearly losing her life to meningitis at the age of 19. She received a standing ovation.Yep, I cried.

I even teared up over Clydesdales. Yes, the horses, the ones made famous by Budweiser. I watched a video in which the Budweiser team was involved in an accident where the harness apparatus broke while the team was moving in a tight circle. It resulted in several of the horses falling down. Being extremely well trained, the rest of the horses stayed calm. The ones on the ground stayed down, keeping still, instead of struggling to get up. All of them were still tethered together. Had any of the horses panicked, the ones that were down would have been trampled. The handlers ran out and carefully untangled the mess. When the last horse stood back up, unharmed, they too received a standing ovation.

I made sure to dry my tears, and clean up a bit before my husband got home. I could hear him in my mind saying “Why read those stories if they make you cry?” and “You’re just wasting your time when you could be getting something done.” What he doesn’t realize is that I was getting something done. I was experiencing a range of emotions that inspired me to do some writing. Nothing big, just a couple of pages. Maybe they will grow into something, and maybe they won’t. Even if they only stay a couple of pages stored on my hard drive, the feelings I went through today: heart break, pride, joy, relief, will all come into play one day. I will draw on those feelings when I need to have a character face a loss, or watch a child do something extraordinary, or overcome a challenge.

All of these stories had happiness and sadness in them. The mother who was losing her son, took joy in her other children and in her faith. The girl who helped her sister may have lost her race, but she won so much more. The young athlete, who is facing bigotry and hate, is also being surrounded by love and support. The woman who has lost both her legs has proven that grace comes from within. What looked to be a horrific accident, showed what even animals can do when they trust the people who have cared for them.

This is how I learn to write better. I take in all I can, even if it’s painful. I let myself laugh, and yes, cry. I learn by living and also by observing other’s lives. And despite what my husband might think, or that long list of jobs that has to wait for another day –  I didn’t waste my time. Without even getting out of my pajamas, I had a very productive day. When you’re a writer, no moment is wasted.

Update: Little Ben passed away only a few days later, at home, surrounded by those who love him. Rest in peace, Ben, and all the best wishes for peace and strength to your family.

Still Writing

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As you know, things have been quiet when it comes to my writing. Some days it makes my stomach clench so hard, I feel nauseous. I wish I had time to write, but at the moment renovating our old house has to be the priority. I keep trying to hold on to the image of my soon-to-be office, complete with antique fireplace, where I can finally settle in and get back to the thing that makes me happiest. When people ask me how my writing’s going, it feels like I have to admit to a horrible crime. I don’t even like to admit to myself that I haven’t written anything in months, much less to anyone else. It’s not like I’m not writing because I’ve lost inspiration, I just don’t have the time right now.

Today, I made the realization, that although, on the outside, it seems as though I’m not writing, I am actually writing – everyday.

When I first started writing, I read every book I could find on how to write. Most books on writing are little more than those motivational speakers that corporate CEO’s hire to try to increase productivity in their employees. They say things like “just write,” and “anyone with a pen can write.” And then there’s the practical advice like “show don’t tell.” While all of these statements are true, it’s too abstract to someone who has never written before. I   remember wondering what the heck “show don’t tell” meant. I had no clue how to do that. Aren’t you supposed to “tell” a story? I didn’t need a cheerleader, I needed a tutor.

Every once in a while, I’d find a small nugget of information that would actually help me. One such nugget was the suggestion that the prospective writer, sit in a room and, in their head, describe their surroundings. Of course I started out with green curtains and beige walls, but that was pretty boring. Over time my descriptions became more detailed and creative until I was trying to describe how the sunlight shining through the window was like a stage light on tiny dust dancers as they pirouetted through the air. It was great practice, and I did it every chance I could.

Driving to work on a foggy day, I’d see the fog as a cold dark creature, clawing at the earth, trying to hold on and fend off the approaching sunrise. I saw the rain as tears washing away the sorrow of loss.

At first I would rush to write down my thoughts, but this broke the spell, and everything that had been on the tip of my tongue one moment, would vanish. Now I realize that Allen Ginsberg’s motto “first thought, best thought” is accurate. The thought is good, but not necessarily the exact words. So now I just let the words flow through my mind. When the time comes that I need to describe fog, or rain in a story, I can think back to that moment and the feelings that the event evoked, and come up with even better words. Perhaps my character would see the fog with a sense of security, as a place to hide from terror, instead of a horrible creature.

It was just this morning, when I was reading a story that brought tears to my eyes, that I realized I still do this without even consciously thinking about it. I was fighting the tears, with that familiar burn in my eyes and lump in my throat. But that’s how everyone describes the feeling of struggling not to cry. So in my mind, I wrote. I wrote what I felt. It took a moment for me to recognize what I was doing. It made me smile. It turns out I never stopped writing after all.

Have you seen the Muffin Man?

 

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The number one rule of writing is, write what you know. Since the first novella I published is told from the point of view of a male retired cop, I guess I must be a rule breaker. I’m a curious person by nature, which is probably why I love the research that goes with writing something I don’t know. It makes telling the story more interesting when I can share some little nugget I learn with my readers.

I’m so curious that any mundane activity has the ability to get me to run to my computer to look something up. I do love the internet.

One morning I was making myself breakfast. I was just popping an English muffin into the toaster, when I started to wonder about the hole-filled breakfast food. Is the English muffin really English? Is it related to the crumpet? How did it come about? As soon as I could lick my fingers clean, I was on my laptop giving Google a work out.

The first article I found said the English muffin was indeed English. In Victorian times it was a food created from leftover bread and biscuit dough scraps along with mashed potatoes. The batter was poured on a hot griddle, creating light, crusty muffins for the servants. When the well-to-do upstairs discovered the tasty treat, it became a popular pastry, especially during tea time. It became so popular, that English muffin factories began to pop-up and men carrying the baked good to sell on wooden trays could be seen walking the streets. This is what the song “Do you know the muffin man…” refers to.

So I was slightly confused when the next link I clicked on claimed that the English muffin was not English, but an American invention. It turns out that the credit is given to Samuel Bath Thomas who immigrated from England in 1874. Thomas, who worked in a bread bakery, opened his own bakery in 1880, It was there that he took his knowledge and created the modern day, Americanized English muffin. It is a Thomas brand English muffin that started me on this quest. Thomas English muffins have since made their way back across the pond to Britain. Talk about full circle!

So, although the English muffin you buy in the store today was technically invented in America, it was done so by an Englishman who brought with him the knowledge and history of the muffin of Victorian England as well as the crumpet.

As for the crumpet, it is a very similar type biscuit credited to the Anglo Saxons, only it’s holes are on the outside, not the inside, so a crumpet is not split. Both are a griddle cake but unlike the English muffin the crumpet holes come from adding baking soda. Crumpets are made with milk, English muffins are not. The texture of a crumpet is spongier than the English muffin.

So here’s my conclusions based on what I learned. Crumpets were around forever. The British upper class favored them. The poor servants were hungry and invented their own version out of the bread dough scraps they could get from the kitchen. The aristocrats, not wanting the servants to have something they didn’t, started eating their “muffins.” Mr. Thomas, a baker from England, came over to America. He saw that we didn’t have anything similar, so he decided to take what he knew about making crumpets and muffins and invented the modern day English muffin that can be heated in a toaster.

I say the English muffin is indeed English. Just because I may put slightly different ingredients in my version of spaghetti sauce doesn’t mean that spaghetti sauce is American and not Italian. When we say a food is Italian, or Mexican, or English, we are talking about it’s origin, not just of a particular recipe, but of the food itself. It seems to me that what we call an English muffin today is just the progression any recipe goes through. Thomas did name his product an English muffin for a reason after all. Regardless of how it came to be, I can’t deny that those crags and crevices filled with melted butter and jam taste terrific!

Now for the french fry…not French at all. The french fry originated in Belgium, but that’s for another day.

 

Having a Drink with Hemingway

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Last night I went to Shaker’s Cigar Bar in Milwaukee. The bar, once a speakeasy and brothel, built over the site of a cemetery, is said to be haunted. They have discovered quite a few spirits. There is eleven year old Elizabeth, thought to be pictured below, who broke her neck in a fall from a tree when it was a cemetery in the 1800’s  (ladies, be careful – she’s known to haunt the woman’s restroom).

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There are two ghosts of unnamed women who worked the brothel and committed suicide on the property, and one of Molly Brennan, a woman of the night who was murdered by her lover. With two murder victims buried in the basement, and an unknown number of bodies that were not moved when the building was constructed over the cemetery, there are plenty of restless spirits roaming the property.

The building was also once owned by Al Capone. He even left behind a safe. The current owner has elected not to break into said safe. Probably a good idea, just ask Geraldo Rivera.

 

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Any of you who know me, know this is right up my alley. Just check out my other blog posts “Spiritual Journey” and “Life Imitates Art, Art Imitates Life, Life After Death“. I am not a skeptic when it comes to ghosts and the spirit world. Despite my desire to meet someone from the other side, we did not have any supernatural experiences while on the tour. As the tour guide will tell you, ghosts don’t perform on command. The history and architecture alone were interesting and worth the ticket price.

Another attraction of the bar are their cocktails featuring, the once illegal, absinthe.  For those of you who don’t know what absinthe is, it’s a liquor made from anise, fennel, and wormwood. Once called the “Green Fairy,” it was first produced in Switzerland in the late 18th century.  It became very popular in Switzerland, France and the United States, especially in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately for absinthe, it got a bad rap. There is a chemical in wormwood called thujone, that is not only poisonous, but thought (at the time) to be a hallucinogen. It’s no wonder that J.K. Rowling made one of the main ingredients in her Draught of the Living Death potion.

Of course, serving hallucinogenic alcohol to the customers, has nothing to do with anyone possibly seeing ghosts on the tour!

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During it’s heyday, absinthe became the drink of the creative crowd; the writers and the artists. French poets Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud were absinthe drinkers. So were artists  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, and Vincent Van Gogh. The authors that favored the licorice flavored beverage included Oscar Wilde, Alfred Jarry, and Ernest Hemingway. These are just a few of the artistic minded that preferred to partake in absinthe.

Hemingway loved absinthe and even created his own cocktail. He mixed absinthe with champagne and called it “Death in the Afternoon” after his book of the same name.

I have to admit, I have yet to  read Hemingway. I know…  his books are Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning classics, but I was initially turned off by the idea of over 100 pages of an old man sitting in a boat. That being said, his books are on my list of books to read, but I have a lot on that list, and I’m still in the midst of the entire works of Charles Dickens. Sometimes I feel like Henry Bemis in the Twilight Episode Time Enough at Last.”

“Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock”

I can understand Mr. Bemis – so many books, so little time! So Hemingway, along with many other greats, are on the ever increasing, impossible to complete, “to read” list.

Regardless of the fact that I cannot call myself a fan of Hemingway, as an author, the man is an icon. So I raised a silent toast to his creativity and success (and secretly hoped his spirit would bestow just a bit of it on me) as I sipped on a glass of the cocktail he created. I do hope I enjoy his books more than I did his cocktail.  Just a note, I did try a sip of absinthe served the more traditional way, with water and a sugar cube. I found that to be much more palatable than Hemingway’s drink.

Unfortunately Hemingway, along with absinthe, met a tragic demise. Hemingway committed suicide, and absinthe was made illegal. It was blamed for crimes, immoral behavior, and murder.

Here is a quote from Oscar Wilde on the effects of absinthe.

“After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world. I mean disassociated. Take a top hat. You think you see it as it really is. But you don’t because you associate it with other things and ideas.If you had never heard of one before, and suddenly saw it alone, you’d be frightened, or you’d laugh. That is the effect absinthe has, and that is why it drives men mad. Three nights I sat up all night drinking absinthe, and thinking that I was singularly clear-headed and sane. The waiter came in and began watering the sawdust.The most wonderful flowers, tulips, lilies and roses, sprang up, and made a garden in the cafe. “Don’t you see them?” I said to him. “Mais non, monsieur, il n’y a rien.”

Now absinthe is back. Yes, thujone is poisonous, but you cannot consume enough absinthe to reach toxic levels without first dying of alcohol poisoning and the new liquor contains less thujone than the early versions. As to it’s hallucinogenic properties –  despite Van Gogh and Hemingway’s known mental instability, and regardless of Oscar Wilde’s tulips, it is not proven that it has any hallucinogenic effects at all.  I certainly didn’t see any ghosts after imbibing  my “Death in the Afternoon” cocktail.

Absinthe is not all innocent though. It has a very high alcohol content (110 to 144 proof) which may have enhanced  the genius and creativity of those who used it , but also, most certainly, aided in their eventual deaths.  Besides Hemingway and Van Gogh’s suicides; Wilde, Lautrec, and the other artists I listed, (with the exception of  Rimbaud who died fairly young of bone cancer) all suffered from poor health that was attributed at least in part, if not completely, on drug and alcohol addiction. So although absinthe is  not the creator of visions that drove men to kill, it still had the ability to kill. To be honest it still does, but only as much as any other alcoholic beverage. One only needs to practice moderation, as with anything else to avoid it’s curse. At Shaker’s there is a three absinthe drink limit for any customer on any given evening.

As for me, I’m glad I tried it, but I think I’ll just have to find my creativity on my own. I may not win a Pulitzer, or recreate the magic of a starry night, but I may live long enough to enjoy the things I do create.

Besides, I want to remember, in vivid detail, any ghost sightings I may have, and not wonder if it was just a hallucination! And if the ghost of Hemingway himself ever visits me? I will thank him for a pleasant evening, sharing his drink, even if it wasn’t to my taste.

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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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.

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.

 

 

Now in Paperback!!!!

Christmas Carole is now available in paperback for just $5.95! Just in time for Christmas!


Just click on book cover below to purchase.


“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
-Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Carole is a modern day, career-driven woman who has little time for love and even less time for Christmas. While escaping the flirtation of a co-worker and the trappings of an office Christmas party, she meets a mysterious stranger. With this man, she travels back in time to 1843 London. There, she becomes a guest in the home of Charles Dickens, as he writes “A Christmas Carol.” People and events that inspire Mr. Dickens become part of Carole’s life. The secrets she learns about the man, his life, and his writing affect her in ways she could never have imagined.

This novella is a story about love, life, the Christmas spirit, and redemption.