The Last Book I Wasn’t Crazy For But Read Anyway

Welcome to the fourth week of March, everyone. Finally, spring is upon us! I have been ‘snow done’ for a while now; I was definitely done with polar cold before it started, but temps in my area are supposed to hover just above or below freezing all week 😦  ). Give me the dog days of summer anytime over the chilly weather.

Nabby 03-2015 My pretty li’l Mauer McNabb always keeps me company when I’m working in the kitchen.  

Last time, I was inspired to write by suspense/thriller author Carrie Rubin, who was inspired by the ever-awesome Kristen Lamb. The discussion: Should an author publish book reviews?

In my previous post, I referred to a story I had just finished. Because I prefer to keep my ‘thoughts’ on books positive—I don’t refer to them as ‘reviews’ anymore. My ideas and/or issues are pretty subjective, thus making them MHO. One is welcome to take what s/he likes and leave the rest. 😉

Back to MHO on my most recent read. The author’s declared mainstay occupation is NOT writing, but another creative outlet, in which she is reportedly well-established. The story is inspired and built around her ‘day job.’ It pubbed traditionally by a Big-Five publisher in 2010. As an ‘author,’ my snarky side keeps asking, “Why?”

Not sure if the external plot (a.k.a., the ‘story’) or the characters kept me holding on, but something did.

The writing? Eh. Obviously, GCP thought more of it than I did.

I thought about emailing the author my issues. I’ve done so before re: other books—always as gently and kindly as I know how. I’ve never received a response from any author whenever I went there—most recently from someone who offered a book in exchange for a review. I really tried, but I couldn’t finish the book. I wrote the author’s rep and stated my reasons why—exactly what the rep asked me to do if I ran into ‘problems’ that would impact my review. Not even a ‘thank you.’

I realized most authors are not interested in my take on what their book(s) should be.

Guess what? That. Is. Okay. Saves me a lot of time writing emails loaded with editing notes and constructive criticism no one asked for in the first place. 😉

Back to Book-on-the-‘Hot Spot’:

What I liked:

(1) High-energy and fast-paced. With the exception of a back-story/flashback dump (or two), the plot held my interest and moved forward at a decent pace.

(2) Likable, interesting, well-flawed, relatable and highly human characters.

What turned me off to the point I WON’T write a ‘review’:

(1)  The author used a plethora of foreign-language words and didn’t italicize any of them. A minor issue, true, but ‘dems da rules,” right? IDK, it just turned me off, especially for a trad-pubbed, Big-Five novel.

(2) The author’s loose use of point of view (POV). Head-hopping, POVs assigned to whomever was reacting to the goings-on in a given scene, rather than sticking to the three lead characters. At times the author waxed omniscient. (That’s pretty much the exact opposite of deep POV, which I happen to love. The awesome Virginia Kantra has some great articles on POV at her website. Check them out—just scroll down the page.)

(2) The author infused a contemporary story with her love of movies. She referenced them in EACH character’s point of view (POV). Why is that an issue? I’m a product of the era of those movies, and I’m thinking the author is too. Her characters were far too young to think of themselves relative to the comparisons she used. Also would every one of them think in terms of movies? Far as I’ve learned, POV is supposed to distinguish one character’s voice from another.

(3) The author used the movie references repeatedly, typically as one “like” simile after another. Either I got more sensitive to it or she added more and more of them as the story progressed. Not only did it get old and gimmicky and sounded like “telling”, it got to the point where the similes felt random and not connected to the story. (NCIS’s “Tony DiNozzo,”—played by Michael Weatherly who looks the part of a classic movie star—is a movie buff. Tony is rarely sans a ready movie reference, but it always connects to his character AND the episode’s plot.)

(4) Lastly, I think I started paying less attention towards the end of the book, but I believe the author started introducing quotes, characters and themes at the “finale.” Forgive my snobbish attitude, but I’ve learned (via Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering) that adding new information after the second plot point and/or climax is a bit of a no-no.

Do I sound resentful b/c this writer got a big opportunity from a big-name publisher? I suppose I do, but considering I haven’t submitted anything in several years makes me think that’s not the case. (I like the indie idea better anyway.) IDK, but all the things that turned me off make me wonder why a Big-Five pubbed novel wasn’t held to a much higher standard. Just sayin’.

Have I become a reading snob? Maybe, but I’m older. My attention span and tolerance ain’t what they were eleven years ago, when I started on my writer’s journey. I’ve read a lot—I still read quite a bit. I am also more educated and experienced in writing and editing, which kills my tolerance for this kind of stuff that much more.  Sad that a really good—but not necessarily established—indie writer might not get the chance the author/celebrity of nameless book got.

So what’s my point in these long-winded pages? Maybe sharing what makes me crazy in a book can help someone else refine their skills on their authors’ journeys. Maybe I just felt like complaining about the book without bashing the author and making her or myself look bad. IDK—what say you?

Enjoy the week!

Joanna

This Reader’s Pet Peeves

Welcome to November, folks. How does every year seem to go faster and faster?

Hope those who celebrate enjoyed a fun Halloween. ‘Trunk or Treat’ delayed our candy-seekers, but we wound up with a good turnout nonetheless. I was also thrilled when a former co-worker rang the bell; she wound up informing me she and a neighbor—a widower whose wife unexpectedly passed of an undetected aneurysm late last year—were ‘together.’ I’ve been praying for that man since September, 2013. So grateful and happy for him and his very young boys, and for her. Far as I know, he’s a great guy, a firefighter who writes–or has written–on the sly. That’s got to be good, right? 😉

To everyone taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge, I applaud you and wish you all the best. As much as I can churn out a report or a blog post under pressure, I can’t seem to generate the heart that kind of undertaking warrants. You’re an amazing group who inspire me.

NaNoWriMo--persistandwin

Image credit: From CommuniCATE Resources For Writers 

Lately, I feel my attention span is more and more compromised. Even reading, a life-long passion that helped spur me into the writer-world, has been suffering. Maybe it’s age, too much to do, life, internet-spawned attention deficit—all of the above. My tolerance isn’t what it was, either. Having learned first-hand some of the tricks of this trade messed with my reader side. I can rarely push myself to swallow content that doesn’t grab me right away or gets my pet peeves coming out in full force.

I’m not pointing at only indie works either. A few years ago, a well-established author released a long-awaited new work. I’d read at least two of her previous compositions and thoroughly loved them. The Big-Five publisher that backed her put out a LOT of fan-fare (and $$$) to promote her book.

Hate to admit it, but I never downloaded more than the sample. The style of writing was dated. Exposition went on and on. (Very 80s, I guess?) Don’t think I made it past page 20. So there’s pet peeve #1.

#2: A poorly-developed, contrite or dragged-out story. I’m not implying every story should have block-buster style action pouring off every page. Readers who’ve been around a while know every story has been done. PLEASE, authors! Give me a story I want to believe, and move it along at a forward pace that feels like it’s on some kind of continuum.

#3: Repetition: I’m forcing myself to read a romance that somehow found its way onto my Nook app. It’s okay, but if one more person ‘snorts’ I might decide how the author got to the HEA isn’t worth knowing.

#4: Crappy editing: Good service is pricey. I’ve looked into it (and hoping this post, or a future release, doesn’t haunt me one day). Heck, I’ve heard authors mention their editor this, or their editor that.

I hate when a book starts out decently edited, then slides down a steady decline. (Kind of dealing in that with those ‘snorting’ characters, among other complaints.)  I once read a supposedly edited book where love scenes were repeated for 5-page stretches every time they occurred. IDK, but that’s overkill and cause to skip the scenes or even give up on the story. And don’t get me started on head-hopping. (BTW, I have no problem with POV shifts within a scene and use them myself. But those authors whose books sell simply b/c their names grace the covers, while POVs shift from head to head within the same paragraph??? Nah, I’ll read someone else’s stories, thank you very much.)

There are beta readers, critique groups, online and in-person workshops. Translation: We shouldn’t be lacking for a way—via use of cash, barter or someone’s kind-hearted donation of services—that any book should be lacking in quality.

Any thoughts on this? How patient are (or were) you as reader? Do you have pet peeves about the stories that come your way? I’d love to read about them. Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

Residents of the USA, if you can, get out there and vote. (MHO: it’s become far too important to do so.)

Have a great day,

Joanna

Letting Go: They’re Growing Up (Part 1)

Letting ‘Em Go: They’re Growing Up—Part 1

Since I’m still developing the posts I had hoped to get to this week—based on two written by Kristen Lamb at her awesome blog—I’ll allow myself to get sidetracked a bit. Hope you get something out of the next two weeks.

Really loving and relating to fellow blogger and fiction author Stacey Wilkes’ Life Lessons of a Mom posts. One of her most recent touched on her self-imposed role as overprotective mother (a.k.a. chaperone) on her 8th grade daughter’s upcoming trip to Washington, DC.

Stacey and I are both Italian mammas. My mom is off-the-boat, and her family of origin is one of the most loving crowds one could get to know. Unfortunately, anxiety—and hence the need to control their world—runs rampant. (I’m blessed enough to take after my dad’s side. Counseling in my younger days helped too—a lot.)

Not sure how much of this stuff is in-bred, lol. I consider myself a pretty laid-back parent—not to be confused with permissive. I work very hard at giving my kids their space while hovering near enough in the vicinity to be ‘hands-on’ if/when needed (or wanted).

Letting go when it comes to ‘big things’ is another story. Not saying I don’t, but that deep-seated Italian (?) anxiety, upbringing—whatever you want to call it—shows up. Every time Older Son (in particular) wants to do that next thing my mom would have NEVER allowed, I turn into a sobbing fool.

One quick example: In 7th grade, Older Son won a raffled snowboard. Of course I didn’t allow him to attend the ski club’s day trip that year! The thought of a 14-year-old on the slopes with who-knew-what-kind-of-supervision (if any) freaked me out. The next year, the moderator of the club begged me to let him go. She called, left me her cell number, etc. I finally acquiesced. (Hubby might have taken him to a local ski resort in the meantime, so we had a sense of what the kid was like up there in the fine, cold powdery stuff.)

Trip day arrived (a Saturday). Dropped the kid off at the bus in the winter-dark at 6:30 AM and waited a while. Since I was the only parent fool enough to hang out in the parking lot, I decided to go home and save Older Son the embarrassment.

Sat outside my house and sobbed like a fool. Every generation of Italian ladies that came before me channeled themselves through me that morning. Settled for texting Older Son at intervals throughout the day. Thank goodness the boy is kind enough to return his ma’s messages.

We’ll discuss the day said kid got the dreaded DL another time.

So: How do you let go? Are you naturally good at it, or is it a practiced skill? Are you an “Italian” mamma?

Have a great week, folks!

Joanna

Keeping It Quick While Circling the Seasons

Hi all. School is back in session, making this a shorter, much busier week. All our snow days threw off the report card schedule, so things have to be done a li’l bit faster. (Annoying when you have to use the district’s network to get some work done. I’m not a fan of bringing the day job home, but I could have paced some stuff out. Just sayin’.)

Anyway, I’m a huge fan of spring and have been wanting to rerun my second-ever blog post for a while now.  Back in that day  I was ridiculously green and afraid to hit PUBLISH. Now you lovely, loyal faithful, who are kind enough to show up post after post, are subject to anything that comes through the fingers. Bless you. Bless you.

Rather than subject you to the whole post from May 2009, I decided to include here only the part that connects to writing, as well as to many things in life in general. I think of this often:

Several years ago my husband and I purchased a cottage about three hours away from my home. Built on an old Christian campground situated in the woods, we have access to it year round, but really use it only six months because the pipes supplying water are too superficial to not freeze during the winter months. This translates into having running water from mid-April through mid-October, which means during our travels we get to watch nature as it moves through three seasons.

Summer is always gorgeous but pretty consistent in its green. Fall is positively glorious in its array of golds, oranges, browns, reds, maroons, yellows and even some shades of purple. Spring is traditionally known for its pinks, lilacs and paler greens. What caught my attention, however, on one of our spring trips out there, were the very, very early spring colors. I was surprised at how many paler versions of fall colors I saw.

That took my thoughts in a totally different direction, to a workshop given by Jane Porter. She opened her talk by stating that the beginning of a book should always point to the ending. Some books are absolutely blatant in that. Peruse the opening of Phillippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl as an excellent example of such. And everywhere in nature I happen to look, I see other ready illustrations, ranging from as relatively simple as the life cycle of a leaf to as complex as the stages of a human life.

Okay. ‘Nuf said on that. Thank you for indulging me.

Just for fun, here are links to two great photos I came across this week:

Love this one!  (Cat and/or animal lovers will too. Too cute!)

For the tennis fans. (It’s not Rafa. But it’s a great photo just the same, lol.)

A final aside: I’m excited to be presenting on point-of-view to a teacher-friend’s fifth graders this Friday. Wish me luck!

Have a great one, folks.

Joanna

God, a Keurig and Working My Way Back

Hi all! So glad to be back (and having a little fun with the blog-theme, in honor of Halloween later this week)! So sorry for going off radar since July of this year. Hope all is well with all of you. Special thanks to my newest follower, the awesome PJ Reece, whose rockin-insightful writing-related posts never fail to inspire me. I am humbled. If you are so inclined, please check out his wonderful website and blog! His Story Structure to Die For is an EXCELLENT reference and a quick, fun and enlightening read, too.

Geez! One paragraph in and off-topic already. Please indulge me in the thoughts that follow.  Please note, I enjoy sharing stories of moments in life that inspire me. What you take from that is entirely up to you! 🙂

Having said that…

I do not consider myself religious, at least not anymore. I was raised in the Catholic church; my firm belief in its tenets at that time was among the reasons I managed to make choices that helped keep me out of trouble as a teen and as a young adult. By my mid-twenties, however, I began more of a spiritual journey.

Today I consider myself more spiritual than religious. I choose to name the guiding force in my life God. My faith is stronger than it has ever been, but not necessarily tied to the teachings of any particular religion. (“The closer I get to God, the further I get from religion,” Bono of U2 fame has said on more than one occasion. That statement has stuck with me since the first time I heard my birthday buddy say it, well over a decade ago. Yep, U2 and I, we’ve been around a while, lol. And Bono and I just happen to have been born the same day, same year–you know ;).)

Anyway, I had one heck of summer, friends. First one ever I didn’t mind seeing come to an end, even with the return to the school day on a weekly basis. For once, I looked forward to the routine a regular schedule would bring.

As I stated in another post, a family matter took up a slew of my time and energy. For too many days and then weeks in a row, I woke up feeling depressed, overwhelmed and wondering how to handle a situation and somehow maintain balance in my—and my family’s—day to day.

One Saturday morning in particular, I was feeling pretty blue. Hubby came up to let me know he’d had to brew a second pot of coffee; for some reason, the coffee seeped out somewhere from the bottom of the coffee maker and all over the counter. Since that’s pretty much what happened with the last one (same brand, different model), I figured it might be time to break down and get the Keurig, a move I’d been avoiding. (I’m not crazy for the single cup coffee maker, not to mention the price for one is typically in the triple digits, or at the higher end of the double digits.)

That morning’s weather happened to be perfect. I went out for my walk and met up with some friends. I shared my main concerns and put out a general request for help relative to the family situation, willing to take any suggestions and/or offers. Two ladies approached me with very viable possibilities. Another told me she was living a similar situation. She gave me her phone number, to call or text any time, “just to talk” should I feel the need.

My walk home had me feeling deeply grateful, humbled and in awe of how I believe God had shown up, proof that He was working in my life that day. My older son was calling me, too, wanting to know when I’d be home. He had a “surprise” he was convinced I was going to love.

My thoughts shifted to my boys and how blessed I feel with how they’re turning out so far. At just about 17 and 15, I can’t ask for better. (Well, maybe the younger one—sometimes—but overall he’s much improved, lol.) More proof that God was present, and that all would work out with my family situation.

Soon as I got home I was hit hard with another reminder of God’s action. Funny how, on some days, divine intervention shows a direct line.

On my counter sat a boxed Keurig coffee maker.

Huh????

My older son had just bought it a yard sale, at the low double-digit price I’d paid for the coffee maker that leaked earlier that morning.

If that ain’t divine intervention folks, I don’t know what is. (Just sayin’. )

photo (46) (Here they rest, side by side. The kid was so excited, hubby and I didn’t have the heart to tell him he wasn’t keeping a second coffee maker on the counter. At least he uses it daily–sometimes more. :))

Anything like that ever happen to you? Do you see it as coincidence, or something bigger than you or me stepping in? Take a moment and inspire me some more, please.

And just sayin’, have a great day!

Thanks for stopping in, and for your time and support.

Hugs,

Joanna

Are We Giving It Away? (Part 3)

Welcome back, you brave souls! Personal matters have been eating up most of my time, so please accept my apologies for having gone missing two weeks or so now.

For those of you catching up, I’ve been spouting off about TV ads running in languages other than English. If you dare, feel free to read those thoughts here and here. (Wonder of wonders, fingers are crossed you’ll return after that! :D)

And back to what annoys me most in all this: responsibility.

Have you any idea how many times I’ll walk into a store—especially in the town where I grew up—and am greeted in non-English? I doubt that happened in my parents’ day. Nor can I tell you how often my mom gets mail; the envelope is stuffed so that the recipient opens it to non-English. On a good day, the same note is printed in English on the reverse side.

As Americans, we’re giving our country away by allowing subtle, seemingly harmless things like advertising and foreign language mailings slip by without a complaint. It’s like we’re too many generations in—the rich kids who inherited the fat of our forefathers (and foremothers) quest for freedom, which we just always assume we’ll have. We don’t appreciate it because we didn’t earn it. We take it for granted and assume it will always be there.

Final case in point then I’ll leave this alone. (Of course we’re open it up to comments.) Hubby worked for a company that was built from the ground up. Senior CEO founded it and grew it into a formidable force in the industry of its type. People worked there for years and retired from it, many satisfied with the work they did and the pensions they earned. (Yes, I realize the economic climate was significantly different ten to twenty years ago.)

Senior’s son, Junior, inherited the company. Hubby often came home with stories that strongly suggested Junior didn’t value the company. He was born into and grew up in wealth already there. I’ll assume that was all he knew.

Long story short, through a set and/or series of not-so-great financial moves, Junior put the company up for sale. (Sounds like he used the inherited conglomerate as collateral and eventually killed the company’s credit rating.) That was almost ten years ago. Those who took over, didn’t do so in a very nice way. And those who might have still been around since Senior’s reign had little choice but to watch and shake their heads in disbelief, each who stayed put in a position to do the work of three people and stories of stress like I’d never heard from hubby before. About six months in, hubby’s department—of which he was supervisor and very happy in his position—was eliminated. He was one of the last to get a good severance package. Those got cut in half starting a few months after he was dismissed.

Some sixth sense tells me Americans aren’t necessarily valuing our homeland. Makes me very sad, to say the least. Scared too, when I see news articles related to key political figures telling college students to not celebrate our country’s birthday; supporting apparently archaic laws towards women, and proposing the notion of imposing fines on companies who hire an American-born citizen over someone who immigrated here illegally, among others.

Anyway, I’m not going there. The purpose of this post wasn’t to point fingers. It was to vent and throw out some awareness of how important it is to protect the America our foreparents fought to create.

Have a great day, friends!

Joanna 

Are We Giving It Away? (Part 2)

Hi all,

Hope today is a good day! Just getting back from a couple of days at my li’l cottage in the woods. Not wishing my life away–or the kids’ teen years for that matter–but looking forward to being able to go and STAY there for a while. Love my internet but I like being able to focus on fiction when the availability of the world wide web is highly limited.

Love. It. Here.
Love. It. Here.

Thanks for coming back for more thoughts from moi on my previous discussion. I should have just run this three-part piece last week and gotten it done. (Will do that this week. Then we’ll get back to easy recipes or something a bit lighter.) Sorry folks, I can’t  let this one go. (I appreciated your patience and tolerance. Besides, it’s written already. ;))

We left off here:

Shakes head @_____. Little by little this country is giving itself away. One day, you might wake up and not have a clue what language is coming at you. Sad. Go to other countries. You’ll find everything written in THEIR language first, usually English second. (And BTW, plenty of people from around the world speak better English than many Americans. What’s up with that?) Here, we don’t care. Just cater to the masses, who aren’t being put into a position to learn the language of the country they came to. Again, just sayin’.

See the first boldface part of the comment? You notice that reflected at airports, hotels—heck, go to the French Open Tennis Championships. Announcements AND the live scores are said FIRST in French THEN in English. Same is true at any Olympics: language of the host country first, English second, French (official language of any Olympics) third.

Other countries get it! Sports venues get it! What’s wrong with the United States?????

Second section in bold letters makes me think of my parents and so many immigrants who came before them. My mom went to night school to learn English. Mom had more opportunity (a.k.a. necessity) to speak it in her work settings, so she’s pretty darned functional. (Hearing loss impacts her ability to understand more than does the language barrier. She also reads English better than she realizes.)

My dad was a tailor and either worked alone or with other Italians. His hearing was worse than my mom’s, but even his limited, conversational English had a certain degree of functionality to it. And once, when he found himself in the middle of some kind of misunderstanding at his job, he went off on whomever he spoke to in English. Broken as it was, it was fluent enough to communicate his situation. I just remember washing dishes while Dad was on the phone, going on and on and never hesitating to come up with words. I kept wondering, “Wow. Dad’s English is a lot better than I thought.”

And perhaps that’s what is annoying me most: responsibility. At the risk of sounding petty and lacking for compassion (which I am not), I feel our country is not necessarily challenging its newcomers to learn what should be its primary language.

Again, IMHO, I’m just sayin’.  (Teach every kid and adult as many languages as you want after that. I swear I whizzed medical vocabulary in college b/c of the Italian and Spanish I was already highly familiar with. A second language (or more) under one’s belt is rarely a hindrance.)

For the sake of staying-shorter winded I’ll continue this next time. (Then I’ll be done. Pinky swear.)

Once more, I invite your thoughts and/or opinions on this topic. Or, if you’d rather list what you’re making for dinner tonight, if/where you plan on going on vacation, etc, go for it! All family-friendly interaction welcome here!

Have a great day,

Joanna