Fan-Fiction or Handbook to ‘Die For’? BOTH!!!

Hi everyone. I’m keeping busy and getting very excited about some upcoming stuff I’ve been looking forward to. Since I was raised with Italian superstitions, I’ll talk about them after the fact. Hope all of you are well.

SSXpedition FINAL

Those of you who are kind enough to follow and read all my posts are most likely sick of me discussing ‘reviews’ at authors’ blogs. When online author-pal PJ Reece asked me to give his (then pre-) released book a look-see prior to it going live at Amazon, I had to say yes.

Why? B/c I’d already read–and loved and internalized–this book’s predecessor, STORY STRUCTURE TO DIE FOR. I also enjoy PJ’s blog articles, so I had a very strong inkling I was going to get somethin’ real good out of PJ’s latest work.

STORY STRUCTURE EXPEDITION: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE STORY by author PJ Reece is (to me) a fan-fiction based on Joseph Conrad’s classic novel, HEART OF DARKNESS. The author sets himself up as protagonist while his writer takes him through his story journey (i.e., character arc) via a Congo River expedition, based on the events of Conrad’s novel.

I found PJ’s hundred-page essay (as he referred to it) VERY entertaining. Had I paid attention in high school and read Heart of Darkness, I might have related even better to PJ’s work. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed his excellent command of language and writing skills; his wit and humor, as well as the story journey. PJ also challenged and put me in a position to expand my vocabulary: I looked up many words via the electronic dictionary built into Kindle’s app.

This is what you’ll be reading: (from PJ’s protagonist’s “writer’s” ‘synopsis’): story fanatic commissions a tin-pot steamer to retrace Marlow’s journey up the Congo into terra incognita. Our protagonist imagines a series of instructive dispatches along the way, scenes that portray the river as a metaphor for every story’s journey to the story heart.

So: Author takes story structure, sets himself as narrator, and becomes the protagonist being thrust into the throws of story structure. He discusses how the writer’s job is to “love her protagonist to death”—death to the protagonist’s belief system and the inexplicable freedom from having “died” to one’s self. (On pp 50-51 you’ll find a lively “discourse” between author and his “writer.” Every now and again, he revisits their ‘relationship,’ typically to question what the heck she’s putting him through.)

Same story structure mechanics told a different way? Perhaps, but PJ puts a spin on it that I related to and seem to be digesting and/or internalizing readily.

IMHO, the brilliance of PJ’s essay is how he nestles simple and straightforward story mechanics into excellent, highly useful tips to writers during his metaphorical expedition. I took copious notes and highlighted like crazy as I read. I hear PJ’s words resonating as I work on my current WIP, nudging and guiding my protagonist toward his own awakening. (Trust me, my  guy has a LOT to learn.  😉

STORY STRUCTURE EXPEDITION: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE STORY is a refreshing companion/follow-up to its predecessor, STORY STRUCTURE TO DIE FOR. I can’t imagine any writer won’t be a better writer after having read either (or both) of these works.

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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

Thoughts on THE HUSBAND’S SECRET

Hi all. Hope all is well and that all the holiday ‘stuff’ crowding our already busy lives is getting done. Hubby and I knocked out about 60% of our gift-buying at the Walgreen’s gift card wall, lol. It’s a beautiful thing and (almost) zero stress.

tree 2014 My serenity space–when it’s uncluttered and clean, anyway. 😉

Feel as though I have been looking for my attention span for the better part of these past couple of years. Since I kind of gave up looking for it, I decided maybe I could cultivate a new one, especially when it comes to reading.

I’m sure I loved books prior to being able to read, and reading has been a passion since I learned how. IDK what’s happened these past years, but I have such a hard time getting into that next book, or even wanting to pick one up sometimes.

Lucky for me I have a friend who feeds me good fodder. She loaned me a copy of Liane Moriarty’s THE HUSBAND’S SECRET. I liked it enough to write about it.

This is an account of a happily married wife and mother of three girls who comes across a letter written by her husband. The script on the envelope instructs Cecilia to open it only in the event of her husband’s death.

Of course, Cecilia eventually opens the letter. (She held out, though. She really did.) Now she has to deal with what she’s learned. She also has to decide if she’s keeping her husband’s secret, and the ramifications of doing so as the story events unfold.

Of course, THE HUSBAND’S SECRET entails much more than I shared in that short paragraph. The writing is quite good, and the author kept me smiling with frequent parenthetical asides. She did well tying together the external and internal character journeys of her three point-of-view characters. I also feel the ending did the story justice overall.

I did find the opening chapters—which introduced each of the lead characters—a tad hard to follow at first. As the story progressed though, a definite rhythm kind of took over. I found it hard to not keep turning the pages, especially once the pace picked up. I could feel the author carrying me faster and faster to the climax.

Two things I liked:

(1)  The story’s ‘circular’ feel; it reminded me of the movie LOVE ACTUALLY, in which the seemingly separate sets of characters were all interrelated somehow, and the story brings it all together at the end. Having stated that, I’m still not completely sure that Tess’s story connected completely to the other lead characters’ external plots, nor do I fully get the metaphor of the Berlin Wall. (I did, however, look up images and information on the BW as a result. I love when fiction prompts me to do that, and that I have an internet that puts history in my hands.)

(2) The author’s take on marriage (relative to Tess, who had to decide whether or not to salvage hers): “Falling in love is easy. Anyone could fall. It was holding on that was tricky.”

Last thought: I don’t think the Epilogue added much. Where the story proper ended seemed pretty appropriate and fitting.

Have you read THE HUSBAND’S SECRET? If so, what did you think about it? Have you read any other of this author’s work? What are you reading now? Do you have to force yourself to read sometimes?

Have a wonderful week, folks. Don’t worry. It will all get done.

Joanna

And You Worried About THE FLU?!

Promised my great online friend and blog supporter Carrie Rubin I’d put to words my thoughts on her fast-paced and very-well written debut, The Seneca Scourge. Time (or lack of it) has gotten in the way of having done so before (but at least those powerless hours sans internet after Superstorm Sandy served me long enough to get this write-up back in motion and into the blogosphere–about flippin’ time too).

Disclaimer: I am not a formal book reviewer. I am a common reader and freely posted my thoughts on this book because I wanted to and can. I was not paid by anyone in any way for doing so.

Not quite sure how I originally happened on The Write Transition (Carrie’s website/blog) but I am so glad I did! This self-described introvert has the most offbeat sense of humor and ties that gift seamlessly into almost every article she posts. She’s been Freshly Pressed  by WordPress and very humbly offered a related post in which she shared her thoughts on how she’s been FP’d a second time—by her readers and supporters. Check it out if you can: I was very inspired!

For those of you unfamiliar with Freshly Pressed: it’s the tremendous honor of having one’s blog post showcased on the WordPress website landing page. (Try to imagine the multitude of blog posts that go up daily in the WordPress world and you’ll get how amazing it is to have one’s post among a revered ten, where one’s post is as visible as it can get!) And Carrie is one of the nicest people I know to get it.

Okay, this post was supposed to be about thoughts on The Seneca Scourge, right? Just to lend this newbie author more credibility, she is a pediatrician by trade and has also worked as a public health advocate. The rest of her bio is easily viewable at her website. (Not that it doesn’t have merit to share here, but I’m trying to get to the book already!)

seneca-scourge-1-3    Carrie Rubin

Here’s the back cover copy:

Dr. Sydney McKnight, a young physician battling the deadliest influenza pandemic of all time, joins forces with Dr. Casper Jones, an odd new research virologist whose arrival coincides with the virus’s advent, and whose presence raises more questions than answers.

As scientists around the world search for an explanation for the virus’s high mortality rate, Sydney’s distrust of Casper grows, especially after she discovers him injecting an unidentified substance into her patient. Despite a heavy patient load, rebuttals from her boss, and an increasingly strained relationship with her boyfriend, Sydney is determined to learn the truth.

But what she finds will plunge her into danger and change her life forever…

Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
Editor: Dave Field
Cover Artist: Harris Channing

 I’ve always been fascinated by medical ‘stuff.’ (At four I wanted to be a nurse and wound up an occupational therapist.) Medical drama has caught my interest since I was a little girl, starting with MedicalCenter, back in the day. (Yes, I seriously just dated myself, lol, but what can I say? The very handsome Chad Everett starred. ;)) I followed ER for 13 of its 14-year run. Private Practice grabbed me last year. Stands to reason I planned on enjoying Carrie Rubin’s debut just because the story is set against a hospital background. And just for fun she threw in a little sci-fi on the side to keep the mix from being well—typical, I guess might be a good word.

Sydney, the lead character, is a bit self-consumed and finds it hard to connect with others. She notices herself becoming more and more intrigued and suspicious of Casper, enough to start taking a closer look at what he’s doing while an influenza pandemic not-so-insidiously starts claiming the lives of an entire community.

The writing is fast-paced. Descriptions are fresh and show authentic medical knowledge. The sci-fi embellishment is positively brilliant! (Loved Casper’s BB—you’ll have to read to find out exactly what that is ;)) Sydney’s POV is deep and highly relatable, her self-centeredness captured through sarcasm and subtle, just-dry-enough awesome humor. The author’s voice comes through naturally, mostly through dialogue (internal and external) with nary a hint of intrusion. Exchanges between Sydney and the cast of characters become increasingly poignant—yet never melodramatic—as Sydney’s character journey unfolds and progresses, taking the reader to a bit of an offbeat ending, but one that definitely works with this story.

Enjoy the read! I know I’m looking forward to whatever this author has in store for her readers next! And if you’re itching to pick up The Seneca Scourge right now, here are some links to do so:

For Nook;

For Kindle (choice of digital or print)

Direct from the publisher!

Contact Carrie via her website (just scroll down the page a bit); follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook!

Wishing everyone a wonderful, safe and happy weekend and New Year,

Joanna