Category Archives: Reading and reviewing

Thanks to those who go beyond

Who will tell you what to read?

WHAT YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF YOU CAN’T EVER READ

Seems such an obvious statement, but being invisible is a big problem for authors – getting the title of your book out there is a constant pressure, and you become very fond of those who make the effort on your blog, their blog, a writing site, a reading site, or any place where readers who would like YOUR books congregate.

And then something has to persuade them to read enough words to get to a ‘Call to Action,’ which can be as simple as a recommendation followed by a link.

The problem of recommendations

If the subject of what you’re reading comes up naturally, I don’t find it too difficult to ask a few questions about what someone new to me likes to read.

I rattle off a couple of favorites of mine – say Jane Eyre and the Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries and maybe Dune – and watch to see if the listener’s reaction is fight or flight.

No one likes pushy authors, those who insist their books are ‘for everyone.’ Because it’s not a very believable statement in general, though people who are glad they read Jane Eyre have the most flexible mindset (which is why it gets so much attention). The enjoyment, or even that the story was self-chosen, are the keys – such a reader probably plowed (or ploughed) through similar long-lasting books.

I tried reading A Confederacy of Dunces – an award winner with a good author story (John Kennedy Toole committed suicide when he couldn’t find a publisher, his mother persuaded a legendary literary agent to champion the book, and it won the Pulitzer Prize), but had to force myself to finish Chapter 1. Because it may be brilliant, but it made my gorge rise and choke me. ‘Icky’ is the best I can remember about that long-ago attempt I have no desire to repeat. I don’t get very far into Lolita, either, for similar reasons. Or The Catcher in the Rye.

I can’t imagine their authors spending time with those characters, however good the writing may be.

So I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, and am glad I don’t have to assign either book to, say, a class of high school juniors (assuming teachers still get to make those choices), and then have to talk about it in class.

It’s personal for the author

And books can become a personal crusade favorite for readers who then recommend, gift, or lend something they loved.

So, if you LIKED a book, take a moment and do SOMETHING to encourage the author to keep it up:

  • Rate the book
  • Review and rate it
  • Blog about it
  • Recommend it to a friend
  • Leave nice words on the author’s websites
  • Buy an extra copy to lend
  • Send a copy to a friend or family member
  • Use as gifts
  • Ask your library to order the book(s)
  • Write a guide
  • Mention your favorite parts
  • Tell people you can’t wait for the next book in the trilogy
  • Hire a band to parade in DC in costume
  • Anything you would like if YOU had written the book.
  • Be your most creative.
  • Give a copy to any medical personnel who have no empathy for diseases like ME/CFS – this will allow them to live the life of one – without actually having to get it, or Long Covid, or Post-polio Syndrome, or Lyme disease – or any one of a bunch of post-viral syndromes and similar misunderstood ‘invisible’ diseases.

Crusade for indie books in principle by doing something a little beyond your normal response – the author will be delighted.

It’s not the money (though adequate royalties of around $6 per any version I have are about three times larger than many traditional authors make per book) – I crave the readers. Thanks!

**********

Don’t forget – the Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD ebook is IN KU, and

The NETHERWORLD ebook goes on sale (Kindle Countdown Deal) for a week starting October 19 – lowest price you will find it.

**********

NETHERWORLD ebook is live – prideschildren (dot) com

And the print version is ‘In review’ at Amazon

If you are interested in my fiction, and haven’t signed up at its site, click on Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD‘s announcement post for the ebook – but the print version is already up, cover and all, and Amazon has notified me it may take 3 days.

The ebook took ONE HOUR to be approved, late last night – I guess no one else was up!

Details at the link – not everyone who comes here is interested in fiction.

Check there, too, for the details of the two Kindle Countdown Deals that are set up – one for PURGATORY, Sep. 21, and one for NETHERWORLD, Oct. 19. Best way to pick up a copy of either.

**********

Should blogging identities be kept separate?

You can’t help but be connected!

SHOULD YOU MIX YOUR AUDIENCES?

I’m an acquired taste.

This blog has 967 followers as of today – and I’ve been at it since 2012.

I’m two posts away from 700 – and no, that’s not why I’m blogging today.

Many blogs I follow have posts every day. I don’t necessarily want to do that, even if I could.

The blog I really care about is the one for the Pride’s Children books, prideschildren.com (I did have the sense to buy the domain way back in the early years, along with this one and a couple of others I keep just in case, such as the one with my full name).

But PridesChildren.com has 40 followers, and this blog has 732, and I’m wondering if I’m somehow neglecting to get readers who come HERE to continue on to the PC blog – assuming some of them read mainstream fiction, or, Oh, Joy!, have read some of my short fiction and want something more.

With limited energy, a staple of my life, I have to choose every day that isn’t too severely brainfogged, where to do some writing:

Where does the (writing) time go?

When one of the volumes of Pride’s Children is being written, that’s where the efforts mostly go, unless I physically can’t accomplish much because the time is short.

When I have something specific to say or to record for posterity (which often includes my own odd brand of writing advice), I blog at Liebjabberings (here). I’m actually considering writing a book of advice for writers – if there is any interest in my coping mechanisms.

And when I want to look polished and professional (even though I usually write in PJs) and am reminding myself that I have one chance to make a good impression with the fiction I care the most about, I blog at Pride’s Children. Or when I have something to say about a launch, or a sale, or an award.

And there’s always something on both sites that needs updating or polishing – feel free to weigh in.

Do I already have some crossovers?

Yes, but not as many as I expected.

So I’m making an open invitation: try out my short fiction here, go follow me there (or on Amazon at my author page), and you’ll know when I have a publishing event you might be interested in.

Other things to do

Contact me (See the About page) – ask me anything, or suggest a topic for a post. I love questions, and would be happy to write about something (assuming I have anything to contribute).

Comment on a post – I look at them as conversation starters, not articles of truth. Love chatting.

Recommend me to a friend, as a blogger or fictioneer.

Read something – try out the short fiction. Or a favorite post of mine. Or dig into the old ones with the strange titles.

Why now? Because NETHERWORLD is so close, and I’d love to give it a good party sendoff. And because sales are short-term events, and I’m figuring out timing that would be most beneficial – for more people to acquire ‘the taste.’

**********

It’s that time: typo hunting time

THE PERFECT IS THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD

In the publishing of the next book, every self-published author has to face the fact that typos exist, are blamed on the author (who has ultimate responsibility), and are as hard to eliminate completely as cockroaches.

What is a practical limit for the number of typos?

A little checking provides a couple of rough guidelines:

  1. A typo per thousand words is too many.
  2. Three typos in ten thousand words is proofing to a professional standard.

That standard means that, in a novel of 187,000 words, one could discover 56 typos – a huge number – and still be within professional quality. But it’s a twenty-chapter book, and that is only 2-3 typos per chapter, which doesn’t sound quite so bad.

The kind of errors matters

Using the wrong word isn’t a typo – it’s a mistake. It often comes from not knowing a word well enough, and not looking up the correct usage if you’re not certain.

There are a number of these anthills to die on, and experienced writers will know the difference between may and might, principal and principle, and verb affect/effect and noun affect/effect.

No one but beginners should have problems with its and it’s, or their/they’re/there. A professional writer needs to be certain about the basics, and have a cheat sheet for the ones which cause them trouble personally.

And it never hurts to check again, reinforcing what you know, challenging what you think you know. I am getting very humble in that department, as my damaged brain keeps throwing me the almost right word, I find it slightly odd – and have the sense to check. The bigger your vocabulary, the more chances for this to trip you up.

Leaving out a short word is a typo – a good friend just caught me leaving out ‘to’ from the infinitive ‘to commit’ – thank you!

The little shorties which are the wrong word, but are an actual word, are one of my peccadilloes: it, if, is, in – it is so easy to type the wrong consonant!

Transposing a couple of letters or leaving off a final letter – happen frequently to all typists, and can be very hard to catch. Sometimes the best way is to have the robot voice of your computer or program read you your own deathless prose – and make you giggle. My current typo-in-hiding is leaving the final ‘r’ off ‘your,’ which sounds funny when read back to me – YMMV.

Paying for professional proofing

does not guarantee perfection, unfortunately. It may be worth it but I think it doesn’t teach you anything. You’ll still make mistakes and typos, and have to figure out how to make the corrections stick in your writer’s mind, if they’re the kind you can learn from such as using a word incorrectly.

If you accept the corrections made by a pro too quickly, you may not move the problems into long-term memory properly – and so will continue to make that kind of flub. It’s worth taking some time to ask yourself why they happened, and whether you can make a permanent self-fix.

And you’re still the one with your name on the book.

So wish me well on what is the final proofing:

Sending out ARCs I think are perfect, and getting back the little niggly (and wonderfully welcome), “I liked it – but on page #n, you have a typo…”

Embarrassing – but I am grateful for every catch.

And vow to learn from them.

Can’t be perfect – but I can always become better.

**********

Having trouble writing a promised review?

SAY THANK YOU! TO A FAVORITE AUTHOR

And they cost the reader nothing but a few minutes.

If you’ve never done it before, or it’s been a while, that first one seems, uh, hard.

Often the best time to write one is when you have just finished a book, and can’t wait to share.

But many people are shy, tell themselves they’ll write one later, and never end up doing it.

So: to make it easier, save either the link to this post, or to Rosie’s, and be ready the next time you’re bursting to say something, to extend your time in the book’s universe just a little bit longer.

Rosie Amber’s Review Templates

Rosie Amber has a lovely set of templates that will get you going on your review. Fill in whichever of the prompts you like (not necessary to write more than about twenty words), and voilà, review!

Want to write something longer? Keep typing and wax eloquent. Tell other potential readers why you like a book.

Create in your wordprocessor of choice and copy/paste, OR write directly into Amazon’s prompts for a review. The templates are SO much more encouraging and helpful than facing a blank page or review form. Thanks, Rosie!

While at Rosie‘s, check around – there are so many wonderful reviews. There’s an easy sign-up to have the blog come to your inbox.

**********

Can you tell I’m getting ready to ask you to read and review a book?

Authors positively LOVE reviews.

**********

Where have all the bloggers gone?

Inspired by Where have all the flowers gone? Popular folk song

WANTED: INTERESTING BLOG POSTS ABOUT LIFE AND WRITING

If you’re of a certain age, or ever went to Scout camp, you may already been humming along.

I’m having to sign up to follow and receive via email more and more blogs, because the bloggers I’ve been following for years are publishing fewer and fewer posts, and I need reading material to keep myself centered in the writer-support blogosphere I inhabit.

I write fewer posts because most of my posts have had something to do with the skills I acquired while learning to write – and I’m not actively working on those right now unless I find something I need to learn to get through a current scene.

Because I’m getting to the end of Netherworld – and know exactly where I’m going.

And there aren’t any tricky or new scenes – just the kind of wrapping up I’m hoping will put smiles on readers’ faces, followed by worried frowns about the implications!

I use writers’ blogs to stay up-to-date

I haven’t done marketing in a while (and it shows) because I have two brain cells, and one is needed for breathing, while the other takes an occasional turn at writing a few more words.

But one of these days someone will post something which will trigger something else, and I’ll be off and running.

There are lots of beginner ‘How to’ posts, fewer post on marketing, and almost none on marketing a very small output. At least not successfully.

So I take on new blogs

when I find one which has something a little less basic to say, or is in an area I probably won’t write – hoping to steal the genesis of an idea I can tweak into the book-selling campaign of the century.

I’d appreciate suggestions of blogs to follow, especially if you wouldn’t mind telling me what you like about them.

New platforms may be the problem

I don’t think I’m going to try Instagram or Tik Tok or Book Tok or even Twitter – mostly because I don’t think that’s where my kind of writer finds readers and followers.

Certainly not Youtube – not now! The competition must be fierce.

Trying a Patreon was a waste of time for me (this time) because you have to bring your own followers – and then generate extra material for them. The latter I like – I have lots of words about process and writing – but I don’t have yet the critical mass of followers, and, with very little energy, can’t afford to try.

But a lot of people ARE moving to the new platforms – the young ‘uns don’t use FB much any more.

Where are the readers?

To be more specific for me, where are the readers of mainstream/literary/contemporary fiction, but only those who are not hiding behind the wall of ‘I only read traditionally published and vetted fiction.’

And that, my dear readers, I have not solved yet.

But then I spend most of my time writing lately, and ultimately that will have to yield the answer.

So I try each new blog I find through blogs I already read or people who somehow find me, and participate for a while to see if we are a good fit. There are tens of thousands of my words out there contributing to these fun conversations.

Eventually we will reach critical mass, right?

I’d hate to think the indie experiment is doomed.

**********

Send me your recommended blogs.

**********

What to do with a negative review

Can ‘Good’ come from ‘Evil’?

WHAT TO DO WHEN A READER DISLIKES YOUR WORK?

The traditional answer to this is, believe it or not, NOTHING.

Because a reader’s review is as much their opinion as your book is yours.

And you are grateful to have a reader who was moved to take up keyboard and leave you feedback.

And because you cannot please everyone.

And, most importantly, because have negative reviews is a rite of passage for writers, and now you’ve had yours.

Phew.

And here you thought having all 5* reviews was a mark of a good writer, and now your stellar reputation is trampled forever.

Is acceptance your only option, then?

Well, no.

The first instinct may be to send out destroyer missiles, but that may not actually remove the stain on your reputation.

The review stays.

But I came across a very creative way to use and benefit from that bad review on a blog post of Tahani Nelson, a fantasy writer. She turned a negative review (a reader got almost to the end of the book quite happily until she realized, oh dear, the warrior princess was gay!) into a great ad for her book. I won’t spoil her thunder – she deserves people to go read her post. Or at least scroll down to her ad. It’s gorgeous. Go ahead – I’ll wait.

So, I thought – YOU have some 1* and 2* reviews

What creative use are you going to make of them?

First, two of the ads (maybe written by the same person?) have the same error: ‘It is 545 pages long.’ Um, no. The book is 485 pages long.

The reviewer accused me of writing tedious descriptions about everything. Um, no. If anything, I am extremely parsimonious in the description department for a peculiar reason: Pride’s Children is written in very deep close multiple third person point of view, and I only use descriptions a character would actually THINK at the moment, which eliminates most descriptions (characters don’t do more than noticing a detail or two most of the time). Whether they’re tedious or not, that I’ll leave up to the individual reader, but I try to think of something obvious but fresh or relevant.

One reviewer must have thought the first paragraph of the prologue – a short excerpt from a faux New Yorker article that is my link between books, and the ‘outside’ view of the story from a magazine writer’s perspective years later – was actually the first paragraph of the book – and called it a run-on sentence. The paragraph is 79 words, a complex sentence but not a run on. The prologue is labeled Prothalamion – in honor of Dorothy L. Sayers who used one brilliantly in Busman’s Honeymoon.

The actual first sentence in Chapter 1 is 11 short sentences in 93 words. With periods or ellipses between them – clearly delimited.

I was accused of needing to prove I have an immense vocabulary. Why, thanks, I do know a lot of words, but all I try to do is use the words the characters would use. Which sometimes is very constraining.

The missing clues to my bad reviews (so far)

Several pieces in the negative reviews clued me in to the problem, and it’s a different one than I originally thought.

“I read Pride’s Children because of my daughter’s suggestion. I am not a fan of romance novels”

and

“the book was much too long. It could have been easily condensed to 2/3 the length”

and

“The number of quotations before each chapter was overkill – for the most part they only made sense to me after the chapter had been read.

And these pieces from positive reviews give different clues:

“These relationships do include romantic attraction and love (and even have it as a central focus), but it’s not the sole focus; family relationships, friendships, working relationships, etc. -some healthy and some not– come under the lens as well. And the development of the central attraction isn’t a “romance,” except in the sense that a Jane Austen novel could be called one (and allowing for differences in setting and literary conventions between the early 19th and early 21st centuries, a comparison to Austen isn’t entirely inapt!)”

and

“I cannot recommend this book, this trilogy, highly enough – but not to everyone. This is a book for readers who appreciate literary fiction and a very deeply developed romance with a thoughtful debate on ethics. I believe the pace and the delayed gratification will frustrate many modern romance readers who look for fast-burning romance, titillation, and simple love stories. However, if you are a reader who will appreciate a modern ‘Jane Eyre’, this trilogy is for you.”

My problem?

There are MANY Romance readers and writers in the world – and they do extremely well by each other.

But they have styles and tropes and limitations and expectations, among others:

  • only two characters in the relationship (excepting the exceptions for subgenres)
  • a point of view that goes back and forth at certain times between the two lovers-to-be – in the same scene
  • relative short
  • a particular style of covers
  • a happy ending (HEA – happily ever after) or (HFN – happy for now)

And somehow or other, even when the cover, description, and ad copy try to convey that Pride’s Children is NOT a Romance which follows what the readers expect, some readers picked it up, read, noticed things were not what they expected – but kept going all the way to the end (skimming, I’m assuming, in some places) – and still decided they were not happy, and left a review. An unhappy one. A 1* or 2* review.

I think that may mean I need to work on my ad copy. I don’t know how to say ‘mainstream love story’ as opposed to ‘Romance’ – because it sounds horribly condescending somehow, but wouldn’t you want to know there were supernatural beings or zombies in a book before you chose it to read, given your preferences either way?

**********

Suggestions welcome.

**********

If you read, or even prefer, mainstream love stories, and haven’t signed up to be notified about mine, please hop over to the Pride’s Children blog, and follow so you will be informed when they come out. Not frequently – I’m dreadfully slow – but they’re big fat complicated stories when they do.

**********

Is labeling mainstream novels literary counterproductive?

A REVOLUTION HAPPENED AND NOBODY NOTICED

Amazon tries; it really does.

To satisfy its customers, to make searching for what they want easy (easier), to supply it efficiently.

By revolution I mean both also that things turned around – 180° – from where they were, sort of, before.

Because before this all happened, ‘literary’ was a separate category in bookstores.

And literary meant a number of things:

  • Difficult to read, requiring great attention
  • Small in scope – One DAY in the life of Ivan Denisovich
  • Elitist
  • Using difficult flowery language
  • Very detailed – a navel closely observed and described
  • Slow and languid
  • Somehow not for everyone
  • Requiring a large SAT vocabulary
  • For people with an MA in English or Literature
  • Suitable proof for a doctorate
  • A credential for teaching English or Literature
  • With a limited audience
  • Special
  • Art
  • Cliched
  • Maybe French or translated from Italian or Russian
  • Not commercial
  • Often not ending anywhere near happily

Add or subtract from my list what comes into your head when you hear ‘literary novel.’ Please feel free to mention them in a comment.

What’s the revolution, you ask?

That ‘literary’ now means ‘traditionally published good stuff’ on Amazon, and is seen as almost the exclusive purview of, you guessed it, the traditional publishers large and small.

The books that are vetted by agents and editors at publishing companies (excluding the celebrity stuff), and are therefore both ‘better’ and ‘not for the hoi polloi.’

The other similar term is ‘historical,’ which is a little fuzzier and often about WWII, sometimes about WWI or the American Civil War.

Because the term ‘mainstream’ disappeared, and is not the same as ‘contemporary,’ which can be attached to, say, a Romance and a worldview: ‘Contemporary Christian Romance’ is a searchable thing.

It is considered presumptuous to label your own work ‘classic.’

And ‘General Fiction’ is not a category, but a garbage can.

‘Psychological’ is filling the empty slot somewhat – almost all novels for grownups are psychological, but is confounded by ‘thriller,’ ‘horror’, and ‘women’s fiction.’ With, of course, nothing actually labeled ‘fiction for men.’

It used to be possible to find mainstream fiction by looking for ‘a novel’ on the cover. No more. It now means only ‘book of at least 50 pages.’

It doesn’t matter for mainstream because

I’m convinced readers of mainstream fiction who use Amazon come there to find a good price on something they’ve already decided to buy.

I don’t think they search on Amazon. Not beyond maybe being attracted by something similar being offered by the ‘also read’ bots. There is just too much stuff.

They get their recommendations elsewhere – book critics (who rarely do SPAs*), reviews in the few places which still have book sections (print journalism has taken a lot of hits lately, too), and the publicity material put out for their best-selling authors by the traditional publishers (other authors get bupkis from traditional publishers – return on investment isn’t worth it).

So the market is saturated and sopped up by the same few titles which keep those offices in Manhattan open for the publishers (and their unpaid interns).

I’m hoping for virality. It can make the huge difference to a start – and then the writing must maintain the quality so that future books, even if widely spaces, are eagerly awaited.

Feel free to help kick that off – if you like mainstream fiction.

Don’t let ‘the system’ keep producing same old, same old – and then complain you can’t find anything you like to read.

**********

Thank you for listening to the daily rant. Now, if I could just manage to do it daily! 🙂

Oh, and the answer to the title question is yes: ‘Literary’ has too many negative and restrictive connotations in the minds of too many readers.

‘Literary’ is not a good substitute for such terms as mainstream, ‘big book’, epic, blockbuster, or commercial novel. It isn’t the same. Even when the intent is to make it a synonym with ‘well written.’

IMNVHO (In my not very humble opinion,)

**********

Final note: Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is taking part today and for the next few days at a promotion at HelloBooks – which has many other wonderful bargains for serious readers of General Fiction (its category) and many other genres.

**********

*SPAs = self-published authors, sometimes known as indies or independent authors

One way to encourage a writer

When you are reaching the end of writing a novel, it looks as if you’ll never finish.

Encouragement comes in odd places:

  • a reader wanting to know when the next one is out
  • sales you didn’t expect, didn’t advertise for
  • the writing going particularly well
  • a tough section written
  • and a review that blows your metaphorical socks off (one gets so jaded).

This morning, my inbox contained a link to that kind of review, and I encourage those who are here for the fiction to take a quick look at the books’ sister site, Pride’s Children . com, and sign up there if they haven’t – because NETHERWORLD will be here early next year, and that encouragement keeps me focused.

An encouraged and supported writer (thanks to all my visitors and commenters and fellow bloggers and friends from FB and GR – you know who you are, and I hope you know how important you are) is a happy writer, and is probably writing much better than a discouraged one.

I don’t buy the drugs-and-alcohol motivated writer narrative (one reason being because my body doesn’t process alcohol fast enough and I don’t tolerate most meds), so I have to go on HAPPINESS, the universal salve.

**********

Sleep and lowered stress would be nice, too, and research to treat and cure this dratted disease (ME/CFS). I’m doing the best that I can.

Reduced brain fog would be ideal.

I’m doing the best that I can.

**********

Do self-published authors owe other SPAs?

IS SAYING ANYTHING THE HEIGHT OF ARROGANCE?

On this blog – and in comments – and on Facebook…, I am constrained by the available options for text and emphasis and images.

I live quite happily between the limits imposed by the constraints, find my own way of doing what I need to do (most of the time) so I can write the way I prefer.

And, as a member of various online groups, come into contact with other authors.

On occasion, we will exchange or list our book titles with/for each other, and I will see what choices someone slowly becoming a friend has made in self-publishing, from cover to content to interior book design.

And then the hard part comes: if I see potential that is not realized fully because of relatively small, benign problems, I am, mother-hen-like, pulled strongly toward saying something, making a small suggestion that would improve, IMNVHO (in my not very humble opinion) their work.

Their PUBLISHED work.

Who am I to make recommendations?

Someone who has read an enormous number of books – and has self-published exactly ONE so far.

Someone who went into excruciating detail in preparing Pride’s Children PURGATORY to look as good as the best traditionally published work (limited by Amazon and their paperback POD (publish on demand) capabilities), and, of course, my own learned-in-time skills, and spent months getting the ‘look and feel’ of the paperback, and the look of the ebook, to my own standards.

Someone who took a lot of advice from people who would give it.

And who rejected gobs more from people I didn’t end up respecting for their opinions.

Traditional publishing is not mine to condemn

Because, although every one of my opinions had been informed by what I’ve had to deal with in READING those books, I have no control over their choices, nor do I crave any.

Things such as tiny text on the page, double-spaced, surrounded by huge amounts of white space, and with a gutter so narrow you have to break the spine to read the words that edge it.

Or as pale gray text.

Or as fonts (leave that one alone).

Or… (insert here the things you hate the most about traditionally-published books that seemed deliberately designed to make it hard to read).

But self-publishing has an image problem

We are accused – and all SPAs are tarred with the same brush – of being, well, crap.

We are assumed to not be able to find a traditional publisher who will takes us on, regardless of the small to non-existent advances, predatory contracts, miserly royalties, accounting mysteries, and complete lack of control that we are pretty sure we’d have to live with if we tried.

And, unfortunately, I have to agree with a lot of the complaints (again, regardless of the fact that much traditionally-published material is of poor quality itself).

So what should I DO?

The question crops up almost every time I read an SPA’s work (and buy, usually because I’d like to find out how the story ended, and the price is usually quite reasonable (<$10) if you buy an ebook, compared to the ridiculous prices for traditional ebooks): do I say anything?

To the author, directly, in an individual and gently-worded email which he or she can peruse – or not – in PRIVACY.

Should I couch it in ‘best practices’ language?

Should I include a copy of something with some of their particular awkwardnesses minimized (including, but not limited to, a piece of their own work)?

Should I point to an example that I consider ‘correct’ and make a comparison?

Because what I DO do, is to never buy a book from them again.

And never (okay, once so far) recommend their book.

IOW, leave them in their happy ignorance of my elevated standards and practices, happy in their own devices, which probably include… what?

Intelligent authors make unintended or misguided choices

There are basically three explanations:

  • they don’t know
  • they know and don’t care
  • they know – but have no clue how to fix the problems

And may or may not appreciate a busy-body telling them.

But lack of quality affects many things down the chute from just writing the damn thing: read-through, recommendations, reviews, and ultimately the ability to write fiction profitably.

I have kept my mouth shut – so far

Figuring nobody appointed me standard-bearer.

Figuring that as long as I monitor my own work, I’m doing the most that I should.

Except that that niggling perception among many readers that self-published work is crap affects ME. And I have to work very hard to distance myself from the crowd when trying to persuade a reviewer to read MY stuff.

So I’m throwing this out there to see what my readers think:

  • Should I try to improve the breed? Or
  • Should I try to make sure the readers I want think of me as a good outlier?

And should I ever use my own pretty work as an example when interfering in other writer’s God-given right to make their own choices?

**********

Is deep research a writer’s peril?

RESEARCH IS GOOD, RIGHT?

Writers like me spend a LOT of time doing research to set a novel in time and place, to select the best time of day for a scene, to subtly (we hope) slip a reader into an alternate reality where we are going to tell a story that should keep the reader turning pages far into the night.

To create a world that the characters and the reader can explore for a certain distance off the main story path, we have to know a LOT more than the reader, or the shallowness of the setting will show through the words somewhere, and the lack of fit among all the pieces set down as background will leak through into the reader’s subconscious, taking the reader out of the story to wonder ‘if that could even happen.’

NETHERWORLD has several movies in it, and my current section is the shooting of a movie based on certain parts and unanswered questions in the life of the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, author of what is commonly known as ‘the Alice books’:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.

The amount of ‘information’ out there on this popular author (and mathematics teacher at Christ College, Oxford) is staggering.

There are entire societies dedicated to his books, his life, his work.

He is a well-known historical character, and many others have staked their reputations on writing about him.

What’s my motivation?

Even non-actors have seen an actor in a movie ask the director, What’s my motivation?

Because HOW you say something, in fact, how you use your whole body to say something, depends on WHY you say it, the motivation that gives the lines written by the scriptwriter a connection to the whole world of the movie.

Good actors go much deeper than that to create their own version of a character, to use their time on screen to make us believe the character so deeply that it’s a shock to see that actor – in a different role! “But he was so good at…” is a common reaction.

A good movie has more

The motivation for making that movie at all, for expending what can be millions of dollars on a particular story, for bringing that story to a fully-realized version that may some day be an immersive 3-D experience for viewers who participate in the movie as a character (we’re getting close with virtual reality – it’s only a matter of sufficient processing power in computers), depends on whether the investment can be justified, made to pay because there are so many people, worldwide, who want to watch (and later, to be).

Go on about how the good stories are distillations of an internally consistent process that requires knowing all the possibilities – and choosing the ‘best’ for the gut of the movie. And the actors work hard at figuring out why.

Which brings me full circle to research

And a character of mine, an actor, doing the research for a role he will play, but deep research, research that goes beyond reading the materials handed to him, or discovered in the easy-to-get-to online sources such as Wikipedia (a huge resource I support every year).

But the characters all come from me, so if they need to do research, guess who’s doing it for them?

It takes time.

It takes time away from the writing. That’s the dangerous part.

It is real research, research into primary sources such as biographies, sometimes histories.

And it is research that has to be stored, savored, coordinated (all those sources don’t agree with each other), until it is used to produce action in the character in the novel – and writing of that action by the author of the character in the novel.

Well, I have been down the rabbit hole again. Found all kinds of fascinating things, some of which I did not dig deep enough to find when I set this section of NETHERWORLD up, years ago. The slow brain makes it even slower.

And now, darn it, I have to figure out how to use all that research to give the character his motivation, and the readers something that keeps them turning pages late into the night.

My kind of author works hard for the readers she craves.

We aim to please.

***********

Creating and maintaining tension below the surface

BOOKS ARE NOT WRITTEN FOR THE WRITER

You’d think by now this would be obvious: the writer is the FIRST reader, but not the INTENDED reader.

Because writing is a split-brain activity, it is easy to forget that what bothers the writer may not bother the READER, by design.

And you don’t want to go to where things bother the reader.

Annoy, make uncomfortable, show up, irritate – all good words of what the writer should do to the reader – which is SHAKE THE READER UP.

Get under the reader’s skin. Make the reader think. Create a discombobulated feeling in the reader that can only be fixed by the reader changing.

All those are good – but bothering the reader means the writer did something wrong.

And this is where the split personality is required:

I have just written the final two scenes in a chapter.

They were hard to write. There is a lot going on sub rosa. By the end of the book, these two characters will loathe each other.

And right now they are thrown together in an unexpected way, with no warning to either.

But the rules of polite society apply, and they must be civil, even cordial, to each other for a period of time that may be up to two days long.

And one would very much like to get something the other has.

So the scenes are currently driving me a little batty

because the surface must be unruffled – at this point in the story there is no basis for which one person can truly dislike the other.

Which bring me back to the title of this post: Creating and maintaining tension BELOW THE SURFACE.

And the words I put on the graphic:

Books are written

for the READER

To remind myself that, when it’s all over, I have to do better than the street repair team in my previous township. I need the surface to look like the original street, not the repaired street.

A repaired street has a visible patch of asphalt or concrete – of a different color.

A repaired street patch may create a dip in the road as the subsoil settles.

A repaired street show where the damage was.

But a book can’t show where the choices were made

A novel must be seamless.

The scenes must flow.

The reader must be able to know a great deal of why the scene is happening now – as she reads it.

And the writer is not allowed (not by my standards) to stuff description and exposition into a scene just because there is space.

It is work to get it right – it would be much easier to just relax the standards and throw something the reader might need later into the present scene.

But here’s the rub: readers know. And when they run into chunks of exposition, they skip or skim.

And then they don’t find out what the writer was supposedly trying to tell them anyway.

I really, really hope I didn’t do that

I’ll find out when my first reader lets me know; I’ll find out when reviewers speak their minds.

I think I managed it.


 

Lockdown with food delivery CCRC style

OTHERS ARE KEEPING US SAFE

When we moved here, it was for life.

A Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) is the last place you will live. Once you buy in, you are promising, like some medieval monks, to stay in one place, one community – for literally the rest of your life.

This is the first serious test of the concept that we’ve dealt with: we have put our health and welfare into the hands of management – and they are doing everything in their power to keep us safe.

Even our tiny folksinging group – fewer than 10 people – was canceled.

And fed

We are now on total lockdown in our apartments. There will be no community events, no gatherings of people, no groups coming from outside, no family or friend visits (except for the terminal).

And the food – one of the good things about a place like this with several venues for dinner or lunch and a fair number of choices about what you may choose for those meals – is about to get very different.

We have been given a tiny number of choices (so you can tell them you’re vegetarian or don’t eat fish or dairy), and they will decide what to bring you – and deposit on the ledge outside your door!

Choice seems a minor casualty

I’m sure they will be trying to keep it as interesting as possible, and we will make do, and we have things in our freezer and pantry to supplement or replace.

We will have ways of continuing to get staples from local grocery stores.

But the ability to choose from different entrees, sides, and desserts – a big part of gracious living at a CCRC that justifies the entry and monthly fees – will be gone. For MONTHS.

We’ve never bought the 5* restaurant boast (though occasional meals are superb, the ordinary is not), but we’re about to find out what happens when they decide what we eat. And how much.

Meal TIME and TEMPERATURE will compensate a bit

We don’t have to eat dinner between 4:45 and 7pm if we choose to set the delivery aside and eat at a more normal 8-9 PM; and we DO have a microwave oven and a regular over to heat buffet food that is usually not all that hot by the time we get it to the dining room table and eat it (for me, because I bring my plates to the table on my walker’s seat, and prefer to make only one trip, cold dinner entrees are the norm).

It’s going to be institutional. It’s going to be weird.

And it’s going to be a struggle for me, the picky eater who doesn’t eat many carbohydrates.

We’ll survive – and this is the only way staff time can be used to both deal with food and  the safety precautions, too.

We will continue to be fed, like the passengers on the cruise ships, and it will be someone else’s problem as long as they are handling it.

We are lucky – it could be far worse

As it is going to be far worse for so many people out there.

We don’t have an easy way to make a change in our living arrangements – the house in New Jersey is long gone, and this is our home.

And we’re all grownups here, and will adjust, and keep the proverbial stiff upper lip.

Please note: I’m documenting and commenting, not complaining.


Meanwhile, some lovely person is reading Pride’s Children PURGATORY from Kindle Unlimited, and I’m delighted to watch their progress through the author tools we have.

If it’s you, please consider leaving a review on Amazon!


 

The jump cut in writing fiction

TRUST YOUR READERS

This one is sort of new to me. New to my consciousness.

Because a reviewer pointed out something, and I hadn’t realized I do this all the time, and I like to make things clear to myself.

“…Too much seemed to be going on and I was having difficulty following the plot….”

Thing is, I must have picked it up from all the stuff I read in my life, and I have my own preferences which have developed out of all that reading, and which I expressed in my own fiction.

Baffled?

I will now proceed to make that clearer.

Novelists manipulate time.

Again: NOVELISTS MANIPULATE TIME.

We decide for you what the interesting and important parts of a story are, and how we will present those to you, and especially, in what order we will tell you the story.

And you may disagree with our decisions – and perforce not read our stories – but you can’t really change the story (skipping for the moment ‘choose your own adventure’ stories).

I am rarely intrigued or persuaded by novels which bounce back and forth in time, mix two or more storylines together, or switch focus from characters I have invested in to some place else. So I won’t write them. There are plenty of writers who will do that for you.

I even warn you.

If you saw the calendars and spreadsheets and lists I carry for Pride’s Children, you’d wonder when the invasion was.

I have to know when every child is conceived.

How long someone took to get out of high school.

What day of the week someone died.

When the Memorial Day celebration fireworks are set off the Friday night before the actual holiday.

I very clearly label each and every scene I write, and that’s right there in the book.

DATE; TIME OF DAY; PLACE.

But the reader doesn’t need to know all of this.

The reader just has to know it somehow ‘feels right.’ That there is a hand on the tiller. That there is, somewhere, a reason for how the story is fed into the brain.

And, more importantly, that the emotional journey will be always forward (okay, the kind of emotional journey I write).

Modern writers save you time.

Older movies and TV shows sometimes showed actual clocks with spinning hands and calendars with days/months/years being ripped off one by one.

Now there probably isn’t a viewer on the planet who isn’t comfortable with the jump cut: you are there in one scene with a set of actors doing something, and, literally one frame later, are somewhere completely different with different actors doing something else.

I even tried to stop the process, to see if I could catch the jumps, and I kept getting pulled back into the story.

My job is to write YOUR emotional journey.

And that journey is going to have some very intense days when a lot happens – with long or short periods in between where all that happens is dinner and laundry. If I waste your time with laundry, you can be sure something very important is buried in there somewhere, and the purpose is NOT to confuse you, but to plant a seed that will give you the pleasure of discovery – some planned time in the future.

Why? Because I write long, and I edit intensely, and I take out everything that I possibly can – and the books are still going to be goat-gaggers.

Because I trust my readers to be the kind of people who can handle it.

Want to handle it. Choose to handle it.

My favorite reviews state things like:

I cannot recommend this book, this trilogy, highly enough – but not to everyone. This is a book for readers who appreciate literary fiction and a very deeply developed romance with a thoughtful debate on ethics. I believe the pace and the delayed gratification will frustrate many modern romance readers who look for fast-burning romance, titillation, and simple love stories. However, if you are a reader who will appreciate a modern ‘Jane Eyre’, this trilogy is for you.

If you like insta-love romances this is not for you – however if you love detailed, meticulously crafted sentences, strong realistic characters, and an intricate story telling style you are going to love this.

My own pet peeve – with novels and with the world – is the new trope that men and women approach intimacy and love the same way, by hopping into bed. As soon as possible after they meet, and before any of that boring talking.

I just don’t believe it – it leads to reams of pretending. And there has to be something written that is for the readers who don’t believe it, either. Because there’s plenty of the other.

So trust me…

If it’s in there, if you don’t understand it quite the instant you read it, that okay because you are going to get it just in time.

And the jump cuts? That’s because I really don’t want to bore you with anything that doesn’t relate directly to your emotional journey.

There won’t be any explaining. You are smart – you don’t need it.

And you’d pillory me if I wrote it in.

What say you?

PS I’m not sure what’s going on with comments, so copy yours before you submit them, and if they don’t post, send them along to me in an email to abehrhardt@gmail.com, and I’ll post them for you.


Thanks to Stencil for the free account to create images with (the words are mine, the pictures theirs). If you use a lot of images, check them out.


Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD is coming along nicely, and the brain is working every day again, but it’s still a lot of slow, careful work. I know where I’m going. And I think my kind of readers will like where it ends. The joy of writing has returned.

Meanwhile, the Pride’s Children PURGATORY – BOOK 1 – ebook is available on Amazon, as is the print book which is currently showing about 99% of the pages in the Look Inside feature; they tell me it will be fixed ‘soon.’


 

Live readers are rare for hermit writers

Hiker on beautiful mountaintop, looking toward a far horizon. Test: For perspective, talk to one of your readers. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THERE’S A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING

And over the last week, I’ve had an experience you would have thought had happened many times before: I had a conversation with a live reader. In person.

Two, in fact. Both at my new abode.

One woman, one man.

The fun part? They’re in the same walking group here (no, I am not in it), and have been talking about me. Or my book, which is highly correlated. I wish I could listen in!

Different perspectives from each of them

One liked it, and has no clue where it’s going, but has decided what cannot be allowed to happen. Huh.

The other liked it, and seemed to connect – and asked me how I made Andrew’s Irishness work. I told her: hours of listening to radio from County Galway, and piles of notes – and a very light hand.

That last bit, a light hand, is critical for so many things in writing.

Yes, there is a lot of research in a novel like mine.

Yes, there is an entire version of 2005/2006 where you’d swear (I hope) that this actually happened.

Yes, like many writers I’m writing about things I haven’t experienced in person, and places I may not have been.

But that’s my job, and my other job is not letting the reader see it.

It can’t be in the story. Readers can’t find themselves in the middle of exposition: the info dump.

That last part is important to me. I want a reader to acquire the story without having to work at it – and I seem to have succeeded reasonably well: I could tell by the questions of both that there were no rough edges they had cut themselves on. Phew!

As I explained, I have not allowed myself the luxury of having a character conveniently think – at a time he or she would never do it – some piece of information that the reader needs. You won’t necessarily get, while reading, what some of those pieces of thought  are for, but you should understand what triggered the thought, and file it away automatically, because. I will connect the dots for you later.

Structure

And I got to say a few words to my new friends about a subject dear to my heart: plotting.

Because fiction is not real life. Even in memoir writing, the memoirist has to be highly selective – space limitations. And pity for the boredom of a reader if given everything.

And fiction has a purpose – which real life has, but not in neat chunks.

I used my skyscraper metaphor: if you aim to build high, and expect people to be able to live in an aerie with a gorgeous view, you have to plan the plumbing from the ground up to the very top: water and waste management cannot be added where convenient, as you go. Those pipes gotta connect.

And how having a solid structure in place – knowing characters, plot, setting, and timeframe, and especially why – allows me, an extreme plotter, the freedom of figuring out how. And the fun.

Conclusion: my notes are useless

I thought I’d get a pile of reactions and write them down for pondering later – so I brought a notebook and four pens (believe it or not, the first three didn’t work).

And scribbled as we went.

And found out later that I had written nothing of value.

Because the interaction itself, the pleasure of being allowed to talk about my work (while being very conscious of what I looked for when homeschooling my kids: the glazed-over eyes), the pleasure of letting someone else talk about my work interfered with coherent note-taking.

As, on reflection, it should.

The hard parts

Not talking too much.

Not correcting a reader’s perception.

Not letting out clues about where a topic will lead.

Not telling what I’m eventually going to show.

Stopping.

And still not having the right to use my own mental energy to get back into the fray, because I have to be patient a bit longer, and get the basics of life tidied up (and new things keep coming along – that’s not going to stop)…

Soon. Very soon.


A nice extra: explaining in person how important review are.


And… it’s time for our wonderful organizer to be here.

Peace out.

Question for discussion: the in-person connection between writer and reader. It is rarer than you think. Have you had it?


PS The ebook of Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is on sale for $0.99 until I’m solidly back to writing. Encourage the writer.