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

 

 

 

Conundrum: Should Authors Wear the ‘Reviewer’ Hat? (Part 1)

And should they do so at their author blogs?

Welcome, friends! Warmer temperatures are hinting at spring–Yay!–and we’ve sprung our clocks forward. (I’ll get over the loss of an hour’s sleep. More sun and light, please!)

So the other day fellow author and online friend Carrie Rubin referenced a blog post by social media guru Kristen Lamb. The question: should authors write reviews for books they’ve read and/or publish them on their blogs?

Of course, both articles got me thinking, enough to get into one of my long-winded comments. (The kind that has blog-post-of-my-own potential—all as I happened to be trudging through a book whose characters caught my interest, but had me tangling big-time with issues relative to the prose.)

As per Carrie Rubin’s post: “One of the things (Kristen Lamb) recommends is never writing a bad book review. In fact, Kristen suggests writers should not publish book reviews on their blogs at all: ‘“Our BRAND is AUTHOR, not ‘book reviewer.’ My opinion is we can’t do both.”’

Carrie tends to agree and ponders the notion that an author writing reviews could be a conflict of interest. She also supplied valid arguments for both sides of doing so—more so for NOT writing a bad review—with support noted for the benefit and/or need for reviews by indie authors.

I don’t disagree with Kristen Lamb on “Our BRAND is AUTHOR, not ‘book reviewer.’” At the risk of sounding full of myself (which I pray I am not), and as a reader—a.k.a., consumer-of-books—AND writer/author, I hope I bring an expanded (?) set of skills to the ‘review’ table.

In the interest of brevity, I’ll get into those a little later this week. What are your thoughts so far?

Have a great day,

Joanna

Linking Up and a Blog-Reveal Too

Hi everyone! Hope you enjoyed the weekend and the NFL championship games. All due credit and congratulations to the Seahawks, for pulling off the improbable, but what a heartbreaker for those of us rooting for the Packers. 😦

Australian Open Tennis Championships are underway! Yay!

The reveal: I’ve been working at developing speaker workshops for the past year or so, the mainstay of which will be parenting-related. To go with it, I started a new blog/website, where I will be posting all future parenting posts (among other related topics). Promise I won’t turn down any of the love or support any of you care to show by following it and/or sharing about it. (Just sayin’! 😉 )

Linking up: Figured I’d take the opportunity to hook y’all up with some of my most loyal supporters. Check their blogs out. Bet you’ll find something you like!

Carrie Rubin: The Write Transition–today she’s got a list of books you might be interested in reading. She also blogs on many different topics, typically infusing each with her unique style of humor.

At How the Cookie Crumbles, Tess is currently taking us on a virtual trip to China via a series of posts based on her current trip. She’s also awesome at 100-word shorts.

Young adult fiction author Stacey Wilk offers her take on parenting, growing up Italian and other topics.

Accent the positive and be inspired at Lewar’s blog–my latest find.

Have a wonderful day!

Joanna

 

 

 

 

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

When Your Gift Says “Love”

Hi all,

Hope the middle of the week finds all of you well, and that you’re not overwhelmed keeping up with all the extra to-do’s the holiday season brings. Hubby had surgery to his other shoulder last week. He’s hanging in there and dealing with the pain and discomfort like a champ. His wife-the-occupational-therapist-by-day gets to treat him with some stretching (and frequent reminders to put the cold pack on). So far, he’s been a pretty good patient.

Younger Son put the decorating-the-house wheels in motion; he’s got Christmas handled both indoors and out. At 16, he’s really into it, and getting better every year at making our home look (almost) better than I can. 😉 As long as he helps pack it up after Little Christmas…

silver tinsel tree

So this past Sunday, Hubby and I met up with my mom. We did our annual trek to purchase grave covers and the Charlie Brown tree we always put up at the cemetery. (You can read about how that tradition started here.)

Because the day before had blessed us with at least three inches of rain, I decided boots—fashion of course 😉 –would be the best choice of footwear. As I slid on and tied my knee-high, lace-up pair, I remembered that these were ‘special’.

Why? Well, I’ve got a small foot and a calf that’s larger than the average person with small feet probably has.

Translation: knee-high boots and I don’t see eye-to-eye on where the zipper should stop closing. 😦

A few years back, I’d come across the pair I wore Sunday at a large retailer. The zip-and-lace-up design accommodated my legs well. Of course, they were out of the half-size-up I prefer when I buy boots. Guess I mentioned to Hubby I would have liked them as a Christmas present.

I got them. He made his way to a branch of that store about 40 minutes away in one of the worst downpours that year to insure I got what I wanted for Christmas.

That says, “I love you,” in my book anyway.

How about you and/or yours? How have you shown—or been shown—love when it comes to gift giving? Do you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa? Do you have a favorite? What makes it so?

Okay, folks. I’m supposed to be doing paperwork and trying to figure out why I’m having technical issues elsewhere that need attention.

Enjoy your day,

Joanna

And Into the Holiday Season We Go!

Happy Monday after Thanksgiving, friends! Hope all of you who celebrate and/or acknowledge this wonderful holiday got to do so in the way you enjoy most. Between family and friends, we hosted about 20 folks total. We lacked for space and maybe some order, but not for food, and we always have a wonderful time. I am truly blessed with a wonderful crew.

Keeping life simple today and making sure to check in. Last week got away from me. Between the finale of Dancing with the Stars and preparing for the big meal–well, you know.

The weekend wasn’t any less busy–two birthdays too, Younger Son’s among them. (My “baby” turned 16! Another one looking to get behind the driver’s wheel soon. Help…). He asked to have a few friends over, so his ma made pizzas and a cake. Throw in a couple of reports–no Black Friday or Thanksgiving weekend shopping for this writer-girl. No. Way.

So, how did you and yours spend the holiday? Did you host or cook? Are you a Black Friday shopper? Are you a Cyber Monday-er instead? Have you started your gift-shopping?

Have a wonderful day and week, friends,

Joanna

 

Post-A-Day Inspired–Handmade Gifts

Happy Wednesday and week before Thanksgiving, reader-friends. This year, the holiday is so late, the season will be right up our heels in no time at all.

Very special thanks to my new followers–I am humbled, grateful and truly appreciative of all of you! And to those of you who have been around a while and always faithful and kind enough to leave those comments–well, you know. (Hugs.)

This post is in response to WordPress editor Ben Huberman’s Post-A-Day.

The prompt: What’s the best present you’ve ever received that was handmade by the giver, not store bought?

Coincidentally enough, this prompt originally aired on November 14, which just happens to be the EIGHTEENTH anniversary of Older Son’s birth, and ties into the homemade gift referred to here.

Long story short: At the baby shower my mom hosted when Older Son had yet to make his debut, I received a blue-and-white crocheted, zigzag pattern blanket. (Hubby, who somehow had managed to keep from me the results of my ultrasound, shared his knowledge with everyone else he knew. That, however, is beside the point.)

The blanket, given to me by Hubby’s stepmother, gave away that “secret.”

About ten (?) years later, Hubby’s stepmom asked us to pick up something from her cousin, a shut-in who lived alone less than a mile from my home, in a senior housing building.

At that time, we were busy working, caring for two young boys, keeping up with their sports schedules—you know: typical parent stuff. We didn’t mind doing Hubby’s stepmother a favor, but Hubby voiced some initial concerns about ‘getting involved’ and ‘winding up’ caregivers to this woman. Due to a horrid car (?) accident that had occurred a long while before we met, she was blind in one eye and lived with a colostomy. She also had fairly severe arthritis. Her support system consisted of a few friends and a brother she often complained about. She couldn’t drive, and her ability to walk was limited to her tiny, two-room apartment, and only with a walker for support.

Over the next few years, this lovely lady and I developed a strong friendship. She, who had every reason to be depressed, angry and/or bitter about how life had treated her and the confinement of her days, was always upbeat. Physically impaired as she was, she often cared for her health-aide’s 10-year-old daughter, with whom she shared a very strong bond. This woman offered to sit with my boys so that I could have time to myself. And when I felt down, or overwhelmed or frustrated beyond reason, I called her. She never failed to put things in perspective and remind me how “the good Lord this” or “the good Lord that.” I always hung up the phone inspired.

Among the ways she kept herself busy, she crocheted, mostly zigzag-pattern afghans of varied sizes. Gifts of love she gave to those who asked, or to whom she offered. She offered to make each of my boys one for their beds. She made a green-and-white lap-sized/crib-sized one, which I treasure.

afghan--Barb G

For some reason, I remembered the blue-and-white one I received at my baby shower. (It’s in the garage, in a container of baby things.) The connections came together in my head, and I realized she had crafted that one too, for Hubby’s stepmom to give as her gift.

That wonderful woman wound up with a severe infection that took her life about five years ago. I still miss her and wish I could call her. I’m teary-eyed as I draft this post. But I am ridiculously grateful to know that her handmade gifts will be part of us always, and that my sons have a connection to her too through those blankets. (Younger Son gets the green-and-white one someday.)

So…I now ask you Ben Huberman’s question: What’s the best present you’ve ever received that was handmade by the giver, not store bought?

Thanks to all of you for your time! Have a great day.

Joanna

Keeping It Simple–Kid Memories

Hi all. My weekend was busy; good thing it was long! It included a trip to the ER with my mom, two shorter reports for work and a wake on Sunday afternoon. And….the November paperwork from school keeps piling up. (Bleh. I HATE paperwork.)

All this also means the blog will be VERY simple this week.

Fall at Lenape pond 2014 Took this on Columbus Day–gives me a quick serenity fix in a pinch. 

One huge shout-out: Heartfelt gratitude goes out to our veterans. I could thank you to the limits of the Milky Way and back and still not thank each of you enough for your sacrifice. And active-duty military personnel? Ditto.

Okay: Favorite kid memory (or when you knew your child was a genius—every parent thinks so, right? 😉 ):

Older Son was about 12 months and sitting in his high chair. With a water-based marker, I drew a smiley-face on the chair’s tray, figuring I’d do the eyes, ears, mouth, etc thing. I was capping the marker when he looked at my sketch and said, “Hi.” What are the odds he was way ahead of me, lol?

Doodle by Nic or Kev I’m pretty sure Older Son is the artist. I referred to this a few posts ago: the kid-art on the louver door in the bathroom I will NEVER paint over. If this sketch is an inch big, I’m overestimating, lol.  

Of course I could go on and on, but I’ll share one episode that really had me flumgubbered. Same kid was anywhere from three to four years old. I was getting him into his car seat and noticed the container of wipes I normally kept in the car was face down, flip-lid open and flat on the carpet. I picked it up and was pleased to note (and comment) that the wipes hadn’t dried out.

Older Son didn’t miss a beat. “That’s because no air got under there.”

What???

Somehow, he’s always gotten how things relate to one another.

Your turn, and yes, you may share about any child (niece, neighbor, student, etc) who has left you slack-jawed with their ability to infer!

Have a great day, everyone!

Joanna

Name Your Poison!

Happy last days of October, friends! Halloween is upon us. Scary how fast a year goes–yes?

Nic 1st Halloween (Elvis) 1997 Older Son as Elvis (first Halloween 1996)

Nic n Kevin Halloween 2000 “Da boys” (Halloween 2000)

Addictions.

Some are not the kind one makes public knowledge.

Some are illegal and, in the long haul, can impact quality of life or worse, life itself.

That’s serious stuff. (If you believe yourself to have that kind, please, seek help.)

BTW, we all have them. (Does blogging count? This is my 361st post! :D)

Disclaimer: By choosing this topic, I am by no means making light of the types of addictions that need true attention, twelve-step program(s) or other type of intervention(s).

Truth is, we’re all hooked on something. Try wrestling my cup of coffee—half-caffed as it may be—from my eager li’l hands every morning. My brew-baby is set to go on timer; happiness is hearing the triple-beep that tells me java is ready before I make my way down the stairs daily. Then there is tennis. Makes me crazy. I always lose—and frequently wind up MAD and FRUSTRATED on the court, yet I keep going back. I can’t not watch, and I can’t not play.

(Check out my favorite tennis image of the week.  Diehard fans know what preceded this, too. 😉 Please try to remember to come back, lol.)

Back to addictions. Years ago I attended a New Year’s Eve party and stayed overnight. Until that night, I had heard the term, but never internalized ‘chain smoking.’ I watched a guy pull a cigarette out of the pack just in time to light it with the end of the one hanging from his mouth. He spent the next five hours doing that over and over, to the tune of five packs or more. (At some point, I went to sleep. Chances are, he lit the next cigarette.)

That’s how I feel when I’m watching my go-to channel, USA. (Come on, ‘Characters Welcome’ is the ultimate writer’s by-line! 😉 ) At least twice a week, Law & Order SVU and NCIS run marathon-style, often until the late hours. (That’s when Modern Family kicks in, 2-4-episode line-ups.)

TV powers-that-be did away with commercials between the end of one show and the beginning of the next for a reason, people. That’s one way they get your eyeballs on the show that’s new to the scene. And for an SVU/NCIS junkie like me, that’s all it takes to get roped into that next episode—even if I have watched it twelve times. As soon as those credits roll, you’ll hear me begging hubby for the remote. “Quick! Go to black before I’m sucked into the next one!”

So what’s your poison?

Here’s to a happy and safe Halloween to all who celebrate. Residents of the USA, don’t forget to turn back your clocks.

Have a great weekend,

Joanna