Conundrum: Should Authors Wear the ‘Reviewer’ Hat? (Part 2)

Hello again, and thank you for stopping in a second time this week. Here is where we left off (should you be a blog-post behind and want to catch up 🙂 ).

I’ve posted plenty of ‘thoughts on books’ at this blogsite. (They’re categorized under ‘Reviews’ and ‘Thoughts on Books”, but I no longer consider them formal ‘reviews.’ Perhaps I don’t feel qualified to ‘review’ someone else’s work. MHO maintains that critiquing someone else’s story implies I know something more and maybe that just ain’t so. )

Aside: Remembering to post my thoughts at bookseller sites is a whole ‘nother ball-of-wax. Kind of messes with the reasons why one writes them in the first place. 🙂

Like Carrie Rubin, if I do blog about a specific book, I’m going to keep it positive. Most authors invest a lot of time, effort and heart into their works. It’s no fun to feel all that input trashed by someone who didn’t like it.

I know first-hand how it feels to be on the receiving end of some really nice reviews. I’ve also had lower-number-star reviews. These were generally kind, but suggested my debut novel was just okay. (I appreciated the kindness and took the positive out of the reviewer’s thoughts.)

So how do I handle it when my (Ahem!) constructive feedback outweighs the encouraging thoughts?

One: If the book just doesn’t do it for me—even if I promised a review in exchange for a copy of the book—I’ve gone one of two ways. If I can get through it, I’ll keep it positive and hone in on the good stuff. Recently though, I emailed an author with my concerns and why I couldn’t FINISH his/her particular book. (Not that I received a response. Shoulder shrug.)

Two: I will voice my issues with a story in a blog post. I plan on doing so next time—namelessly. Not to trash the author or the book, but to offer suggestions to other writers about tactics, etc, that put me off as a reader, but as a reader-turned-writer too.

And this is where things get mucked up for those of us who wear the author/writer/reader hat. Is it a conflict of interest to consume the very product I produce? I’ve yet to meet a writer who wasn’t an avid reader. (I imagine most of us remain the latter.) My problem: my increasingly critical writer/editor side has messed with my willingness to slog through work that isn’t up to the standards I’ve learned—or have been told—should exist.

Finally, if the reader/writer ‘reviewers’ take that step back and don’t offer their opinions on fellow authors’ works, I think we’d be losing a host of highly insightful thoughts into what makes a book palatable. After all, I’m thinking we be the toughest nuts to crack when it comes to deeming a story a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ read.

Should we post constructive thoughts, or just the glowing positive thoughts—at our blogs, review and/or bookseller sites?

If the constructive feedback is not terribly discouraging, disparaging and not necessarily overriding the good in the story, sure. I.e.,  ‘this worked for me, but I might have preferred if the author had…”

Hain’t ya glad I didn’t dump all this into a comment on your blog, Carrie?

Your turn, friends. Can’t imagine we’re lacking for thoughts on this. Let ’em ride! 😀

Happy rest of the week and weekend,

Joanna

 

 

 

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Inspired

Happy Monday, folks. Between the two blogs and the normal day-to-day (with the extra life throws in as one goes), I’ll most likely be alternating my posting schedule. Thank you for your continued kind support.

These past few weeks, I’ve had varied reasons to reflect on drive: that inner something that propels one through the challenges life brings; keeping one’s focus on the prize despite obstacles (external and internal). For some reason, my mind jet-setted to a lady patient I had in my first, in-patient rehab setting.

This lovely lady will go by Margaret (not her real name). Margaret was about 65 when she came to me. She was much disfigured and disabled by a long-standing history of rheumatoid arthritis. Diabetes had also taken its typical (associated) toll on her vision and circulation: she was legally blind and had been admitted to rehab due to a below-the-knee amputation of one of her legs.

Margaret couldn’t really turn her head b/c of the arthritic changes. Her fingers were thick little sausages that couldn’t open wide enough to really hold on to a walker. And her hips and knees were already fairly contracted into flexed positions.

Little by little, Margaret shared pieces of her story. Sometimes, more than I wanted to know, on a highly-detailed and personal level. She had many a reason to be bitter and resentful of her past, but was one of the kindest, quietest patients ever.

Because of her multiple deformities and weakened state, no one expected much of this tiny, hunched lady. She was fitted with a prosthesis anyway. The physical therapist most likely adapted her walker so she could hold on to it, and Margaret found a way. She was able to walk short distances with her very-devoted daughter nearby, enough to manage in her living space.

For some reason, she wasn’t able to return home right away and wound up on an ‘alternate level of care’ at our sister facility. Unfortunately, ‘alternate level’ wasn’t good. Long story short, Margaret wound up with an amputation of the other leg, ABOVE the knee.

Anyone who has worked with prosthetic patients knows that walking with two below-the-knee prostheses takes less energy than getting around with one above-the-knee.

To this day I don’t know how she did it, but Margaret pulled it off. There was no way she should have accomplished what she did, but I’m thinking her drive, spirit and motivation made the difference. So did her daughter’s support.

Who am I to make excuses when I remember that?

Goals, Resolutions and Organization–Oh My!

Welcome to the second full week of the new year! Hope all is well with all of you. 🙂 As you can see, the holiday decor is down and all looks bare–kind of like my home. (I’m really missing the Christmas decor, more so than in other years, I guess.)

At the end of last week’s post, I alluded to some aspirations for this year. Since I didn’t do a New Year’s “resolutions” and/or “goals” post, I thought the comment below might apply. I left it in response to a recent post on staying organized at Jami Gold’s excellent blog. She is so dedicated to her followers. I’ve yet to fathom how she has the time to work a day job, stay on top of her many projects and write the detailed, ridiculously informative articles she posts for writers at her site. (Just scroll down the right sidebar. I promise you’ll find something that speaks to you.)

When I have the time and some structure, I can do very well in the organization dept, but mostly of ‘things’ or ‘duties’ (i.e., household papers, closets, notes for school, etc).

Re: writing and projects: I’d gotten insanely overwhelmed with trying to do too many other ‘writing-related’ tasks while working on developing some workshops I plan to teach. (Last year) I wrote some specific goals re: the workshops, and made a conscious decision to put the fiction writing to the side for a while. (Story ideas weren’t getting me anywhere either.) That helped big-time. Although one piece is missing (publishing the digital and paperback companion booklets), it won’t hold me back from starting the contact phase.

Goals: I jotted a few down last January. They’re on a word-doc somewhere. I revisited them once and found I’d made more progress than expected.

Every step forward gets me closer to my goal(s). I can slow myself up by judging the pace, or just keep on feet-forwarding it.

I also came across this: “The first and most important step toward success is that we can succeed.” Nelson Boswell, as quoted by Don Charisma at his awesome and highly inspiring blog.

Do I have the organization part handled? Eh, never so much as I’d like. Daily life keeps me very busy w/o the avoidance tactics I manage to throw in there on a regular basis.

Allow me to own this too: I think my biggest issue is the fear of failure/fear of success thing, so my newest goal is to hit SEND and initiate the contact needed to set up speaking gigs—with a spreadsheet to keep track of who I contacted and follow up via phone or email.

Here’s the irony: Whenever I do a workshop, I start out exactly the way I sing: a touch tentative up front, but get into the groove fast. I always come out energized and excited b/c my inner performer LOVES being at the front of the room. Just sayin’.

So what is the ultimate outcome behind resolutions and/or goals for you? Is it to forward your career or to self-improve? In the final analysis, I don’t see how one can truly be separated from another.

Awareness of one’s motivation, however, can make all the difference.

What drives you toward achievement?

Have a wonderful week,

Joanna

Tribute to “Special”: A Gem

Welcome everyone! Happy fourth (?) day of Christmas–assuming you observe and/or celebrate, and depending on when you start counting ;). I was blessed to share another wonderful Eve and Day with Hubby (Christmas #21–who woulda thunk it?); our boys; our moms, family and friends. Can I ask for better?

It’s so important to hold on to joy, folks, and to make memories when we can. We never know when we’ll do that ‘last’ thing. Here’s one reason why:

“Special” means so many things, especially when one works in an educational setting.

When it comes to ‘Jewel’ it takes on more than one.

‘Jewel’ (not her real name) was truly a gem. In school, both as a child as an adult, she was often referred to as ‘special,’ perhaps minus the higher IQ that society uses to classify someone as ‘not special.’ A kind spirit, a simpler soul: soaring in goodness and the understanding of function. Did I mention she could play some beautiful pieces on the piano and had no problem kicking out a song too? And how she reportedly devised clever ways around eating the fun foods relative to celebrations her religion restricts?

Jewel didn’t drive. She walked, took the bus or got the occasional ride from staff member(s) or her senior mother—with whom she lived and with whom she is said to be the best of friends.

We go back, Jewel and I. Twenty-two years, if I remember correctly; personal aide for the one of my first six students in the district that now employs me. She never lacked for dedication.

Some other things that made Jewel special:

She was rarely without her smile. Her hearty laugh was always at the ready. Jewel joked and teased without ever hurting a feeling. If a piano was nearby and the timing was right, she played and often sang, too. More times than I can count, our conversations morphed seamlessly into songs with related lyrics. At the end of last school year she auditioned for our school’s first (?) talent show, fretting for a few weeks on whether or not Gladys Night and the Pips’ Midnight Train to Georgia was an appropriate choice for elementary school-aged kids.

She shied away from technology, but learned enough of the basics to help her students make use of it when necessary. Despite that, she knew how to foster function and independence in her charges, often the most physically challenged kids. She cared for them with her strength and with her heart.

Pairing Jewel with her current student—a very physically-challenged child—was the logical choice. They got along well and had a lot of fun. (We all did. You couldn’t help having fun when Jewel was around.) Chances are, Jewel’s heart led her to attend her that student’s holiday concert just ten days before Christmas. After the performance, she took off for home, a mere few blocks from the school.

It was to be the last thing she did.

She never made it home. Jewel was struck by a truck while crossing the street and died of her injuries en route to the trauma center. Reports we heard or read suggest that poor timing ultimately caused the accident.

I’m not quite sure how to wrap this one up, so I’ll share what I told Jewel’s mother at the wake: “Your daughter made people happy.” And in my sadness, I still feel happy, because all my memories of her make me smile.  Jewel is one of those folks whose spirit will be consciously with me more often than not. I will miss her terribly, in many ways like the friend I wrote about several weeks ago.

Thank you for taking the time to read about my special friend. If you are so inclined, please pray for her mother, whose new reality leaves her without daughter, roommate and best friend in the day-to-day we tend to take for granted.

Hug, hold and love those with whom you make your memories.

Happy New Year,

Joanna

All the Best and The Greatest Gift of All

Hi everyone.

It’s been a BUSY (past) week and weekend. The Christmas shopping is pretty much done (except for food). Now begins the food buying and prepping since we’ll be hosting a small gathering (10 or so?) on Christmas Day. (It’s all good.)

Liv room--Christmas 2014 ©2014 Joanna Aislinn

Of course, I was keeping this one shorter, and wishing all of you a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah and/or Kwanzaa. Here’s to feeling blessed and sharing time, joy and love with all those who matter most to you.

I’m also praying big-time for peace on earth and good will to men (and women, of course), the greatest gift of all.

Funny. I’m certain I’ve heard, read, said or sung those phrases since I’ve been old enough to talk. I was singing it the other day (along with Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, to the The Greatest Gift of All,  off their Christmas CD–one of my top-five favorites). It struck me, in this world of horror, terror-filled news, how incredible a gift it would be for people to want good for each other. For the first time, I feel as though I owned those words. I sang them with intent that was new, real and heartfelt in a way I hadn’t fully understood before. (Maybe that’s just part of growing older?)

Anyway, that is what I’m wishing all of you, during the holiday(s) you celebrate. Peace in your hearts and good will toward all those who impact your days. And if you are inclined to do so, please consider praying for those who suffer and for those who wreak evil too. At the very least, the hearts, minds and spirits of the latter are most likely in one heck of a place to do what they do.

On an up note, I’d love to read about how you’ll be spending the holidays. Feel free to list your favorite music too. I linked you too, to my favorite tracks from my top five Christmas CDs. Enjoy!

1. Steven Curtis Chapman–The Magic of Christmas (my #1 favorite song of all time is from this one)

2. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton–Once Upon a Christmas (A Christmas to Remember)

3. Donny Osmond–Christmas at Home (A Soldier’s Christmas)

4. Garth Brooks–Magic of Christmas: Songs from Call Me Claus (Baby Jesus is Born)

5. A Very Special Christmas (Red label–Baby Please Come Home–U2)

sofa--dressed up My sofa, all dressed up (to hide the cat damage, lol). © Joanna Aislinn 2014

Thanks to all of you for your support, your time, and for sharing your thoughts. You are tremendously appreciated.

Peace,

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

Even I Lose It Here and There

Happy Monday all! Here’s to hoping you’re feeling refreshed after the weekend. With any luck, yours was extended, as was mine due to Rosh Hashanah.

Last week, fellow author and blogger-friend Carrie Rubin inspired me to share a few of the memorable moments from my days working with grown-up inpatient physical rehabilitation crowd. That spurred recall of my least shining moment—IMHO anyway. Just for fun, I figured I’d throw that one up too.

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License: CC0 Public Domain / FAQ. Free for commercial use / No attribution required.

My hospital-based career started in inpatient rehab. About three years in I took a position in a facility nearby, where I worked with outpatients and those requiring acute care. Both places brought me a fair share of absolutely wonderful folks. I’m sure many of them are long gone, but they remain a part of me, as each truly touched my heart with his/her spirit and ability to face the rough challenges life dealt. I was—and am—blessed to have been a part of their journey. It’s quite humbling to think about.

Humbled: That’s what I was—and remain—to this day about this episode. Let’s toss in chagrined, as I’m probably turning red-faced as I write this.

We’ll refer to this gentleman as Joe Doe. I originally met Joe as a patient at my first facility; he too had lost part of his leg to diabetes. On the surface he was nice enough, but over time his passive-aggressive tendencies came through. (Please be assured I’m not judging him, nor have I ever lived his health situation. He was a repeat-patient, too, which gave us a history with him. In the long haul, he didn’t make it easy to work with him, nor was did he do all that much to help himself.)

Joe wound up an inpatient at my second hospital. During one of our sessions he asked to use the bathroom. Part of occupational therapy involves helping folks learn to transfer from one surface to another, so this presented a perfect opportunity to incorporate that part of his treatment.

I wheeled him to the accessible patient bathroom in our department and prepped the wheelchair and him for the transfer. Joe was definitely weaker than the last time we’d worked together. He didn’t have his prosthetic leg on either. That meant I had to bear the bulk of his weight while he stood on his remaining leg.

We had a decent enough rapport, so I felt comfortable enough chatting with him the way I always had. I also had him just about up and onto the toilet when he stopped short and gave up helping me with the transfer. (That probably meant I almost dropped him, and I’m not 100% sure he didn’t start yelling at me.)

I was frustrated, knowing the history we had with him. “Joe! You were almost there! Why did you stop like that?” (I wasn’t berating him. Guess I was venting my frustration at him not trusting me enough to help him, especially since I’d transferred him before.)

His smile dropped and his face darkened. “Boy, you’re nasty.”

I’m pretty sure I answered him when I shouldn’t have. We ended up in an argument over me trying to help him and him not doing his part. He most likely got under my skin, which is what the passive-aggressive crowd is wont to do. My last words during that exchange: “It’s a shame how much insurance money is being wasted!”

Joe didn’t have time to answer. Guess it got loud in that bathroom and our voices carried. The door flew open. My good friend/coworker grabbed me by the arm and hauled me out of there fast.

Good thing she took over from there.

Have you ever totally lost it at the worksite? If so, what happened? Don’t worry, no one on the World Wide Web will tell!

Enjoy the week, folks.

Be well,

Joanna