All It’s Cracked Up to Be

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “All It’s Cracked Up to Be.”

Recently I taught a workshop/professional development to the pre-k teachers with whom I work (or have worked) directly for many years. As someone who is looking to get into public speaking on a regular basis, I welcome–and seek–opportunities such as this.

At first I felt overwhelmed while drafting the workshop, especially since I had only a small window in which to prepare. I took a step back, trusted what I know and started putting down ideas. Once those were down, organizing them into a PowerPoint was easy.

I presented simple, practical, very easy-to-incorporate strategies to support the theories. I used my experience in a no-nonsense, try-not-to-overthink-this manner, so that teachers wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by all the info I shared. They were kindly responsive and seemed to get what I was showing them. Not only did all go VERY well, they were pleased with getting out almost 45 minutes early om a Friday afternoon.

Thanks for this prompt, Michelle W! 🙂

Unorthodox Passover 2015

Hope everyone enjoyed a peaceful and fun holiday weekend. We celebrated Easter at my brother’s. Had I known about the interesting mix at Stacey’s house, I might have invited myself. 😉 Her post was just too fun NOT to share so…enjoy!

Stacey Wilk - Author

Passover 2015

I don’t like people telling me what to do. Often times, I’ll do the opposite just to prove a point. Probably not one of my better features, but hey, we can’t all be perfect. Since we’re an Interfaith family we like to make up the rules on how to observe our faiths as we go along. The Coffee King doesn’t like to be told what to do either. We’re a good match.

One of the things I’m most proud of is our Unorthodox Passover. That simply means, I serve whatever suits me, usually the catered Passover meal from Wegmans and whatever appetizers and desserts I want. You bet I’m making chocolate cake with flour. No offense, to my Jewish friends out there, but your food is plain old yukky and I say that with love. But who really eats gefilte fish? Have you seen that stuff? When our guests ask what…

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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

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