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

Fancy or Plain? Which Would You Choose?

Happy New Year, friends and followers! Welcome back! Here’s to the first post of 2015. (#370 since I started this blogging gig!) May the new year be peaceful, blessed and prosperous for us all. (FYI, I’m keeping my ‘Christmas décor’ up here a little longer, just like I’m doing at home.)

Not sure where I wanted to start this year, but I did just finish a little gem of a book during the Christmas break from school. This sweet, switched-at-birth story by author Cynthia Keller touched me, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on it with all of you. (Disclaimer: I borrowed the book from my church’s library. In no way was I compensated for this write up.)

A+Plain+&+Fancy+Christmas

The title, A Plain and Fancy Christmas, was a bit of a misnomer. The story doesn’t revolve around Christmas at all, which makes it a perfect weekend read at any time of the year.

The title does, however, suggest the backgrounds and backstories of its lead characters, 30-year-olds Ellie Lawrence and Rachel King Yoder. (I’m always good for stories involving an Amish backdrop.)

Ellie holds an executive position in a high-profile, New York City public relations corporate firm. Despite underlying dissatisfaction with her job and and her sort-of romantic relationship with Jason, she has slipped into a content-enough routine with the family she believes to be hers and the overall trappings of her life. (If I had to choose a protagonist, I’m thinking she’s Ellie.)

Rachel was raised Amish. Widowed three years ago and unable to manage the farm she and her husband owned, she and her 10-year-old daughter are back in her parents’ home. Although she often finds herself feeling at odds with her mother, this is the only life Rachel has ever known.

Respect, and the rules and ways that go along with having chosen to be baptized into the Amish faith and culture, keep Rachel from delving too deeply into her emotions. She has always felt dissatisfaction too, especially after having lived among “the English” during rumspringa, the period of exploration and/or rebellion Amish teens are allowed. Rachel returned to her faith, mostly because she’d fallen in love with Jacob Yoder, and couldn’t imagine her life without him.  

Long story short, Ellie and Rachel each receive a letter explaining the circumstances that led to the switch. Rachel buries hers in a drawer, but Ellie sets into play a series of events that will impact both these ladies’ futures. (Of course, y’all knew that, or there would be no story and nothing for me to write about! 😉 )

This story is nicely written, told from the points-of-view of its leading ladies, with one exception: a chapter told from the perspective of the nurse who was involved in the switch. I was readily transported to Rachel’s Amish farm in Pennsylvania and related easily to the go-go-go associated with life in NYC. My only beef is how the author provides backstory, in several-page-long flashbacks (?) of exposition. Mrs. Keller did this more often at the beginning, which made getting into the story a bit of a challenge–for me, anyway. Liking the premise, the Amish part of the setting–and the characters early on—kept me reading.)

I  to easily to Ellie’s intrigue with a simpler way of life; it reminded me how much I love spending time at my cottage. I could easily adopt—and adapt to—the choices she made as the story and her character’s journey developed. What Rachel learned about herself describes me too, but I don’t want to give anything away.

Finally, the story explored the themes of family, nature, nurture and what might have been had the switch not occurred. I kept wondering what kind of a resolution could possibly be reached–particularly for Rachel–as the tale approached its close.

I now turn the blog-mike over to you! Any books you’ve recently read you’d like to share about? How did you spend New Year’s Eve? (We wound up at a neighbor’s big family get together—unexpected and just a few houses down the street, so no driving necessary on a night I much prefer to NOT be in a motorized vehicle.)

I’m not big on resolutions but have a few (besides the standard lose-ten-pounds): to read books on a regular basis (and simultaneously redevelop my attention span); to launch a speaker business based on several workshops I’ve developed these past few years. Once the latter is in play, I hope to get back into writing fiction, which has really gone the wayside because of other projects. Do you have any resolutions? Would you rather live a plain (Amish) or a fancy (English) life? Could you find a balance between the two?

Have a wonderful day and 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