Friday, July 29, 2011

How To Write A Bad Review

In the past year, I've become active on both goodreads and Twitter. Each time I record my opinion of a book on goodreads, it gets sent out to hundreds of people via Twitter, sometimes even directly to the author. Earlier this year, I created a small dust storm when I made one slightly disparaging comment about a book I otherwise enjoyed. Since then, most of my reviews have been pretty darn positive. My husband asked me last night if I'd stopped being honest because I've been so nice in my reviews lately.

Dishonest? Me? Never!

To look at my list of books on goodreads, it must seem like I'm overly generous with those red stars. But my reviews are swayed by my choices. I rarely read a book that I don't think I'm going to like. No one else (book club, employer, evil librarian) is telling me what to read. That being said, I do have my opinions and they're not always nice.

When I was an art dealer, the local Arts reporter from the Des Moines Register gave my gallery a lot of press, including great photo spreads. Nearly all her reviews were extremely positive. I thanked her for that (she was really good for my business), and asked her what she did when she didn't like an exhibition. Her response was, "I simply don't put bad reviews in the paper. There are so many good shows, I don't have enough space to write about the bad ones, too." (Des Moines has a world-class art scene. Truly.) From this reporter, no review = bad review. Sometimes that works, sometimes not.

Critics are supposed to be critical, otherwise they'd be called cheerleaders. But the tiny brouhaha I found myself at the center of in March taught me one important thing. Authors are people too. Every single book (excluding the unworthy, self-published ebooks) got printed because somebody thought they had some redeeming elements. And every single person has a different set of likes, dislikes, taste, style and expectations. You can't please all the people all the time.

As we hacks write reviews of novels, it would serve the world well to remember: Be honest but fair. Be objective as well as subjective. Don't attack the author—they've put their hearts, souls and minds out there for your enjoyment, not to be desecrated. It's okay to criticize, but balance that by pointing out something positive.

We should all be so lucky as to be published. Don't you agree?

Monday, July 18, 2011

How To Align Your Own Stars

Recently I was talking to one of my sons about his future. (We talk Big Picture around here.) He's a bright child and has high aspirations. However, it seemed to me that he was waiting for it to all fall in place one day—a dream rather than a goal. In my most gentle, motherly voice I said, "You have to MAKE it happen."

I learned that from Twitter.

And Malcolm Gladwell, and my mother, and life in general, I suppose. I referenced Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Outliers, and my son casually pulled an unread copy from his bookshelf. So he's not clueless, he's just busy being a kid. I summarized it like this: "It takes 10,000 hours to be really good at something. Spend the first three hours reading the book."

"I began writing novels in 2007," she says with a sheepish smile. "Why am I not published yet?"

Every writerly blog I now read describes my story to a T on their What Not To Do blogs. It's laughable because I know that there is so much more to know, and I hope to keep learning until the day I die (another 30 or 40 years, please).  Years from now I'll re-read this post and laugh at my self-proclaimed wisdom on 7/18/11. But I am nothing if not persistent. Just today, for instance, I discovered ROW80, and in trying to add their badge to this blog, I discovered bunches of other cool stuff to add. I feel so professional! I'm sure somewhere out there is a blog about how to create blog, but I haven't found it yet. But today I am one step closer to being a professional writer.

When I was an art dealer, many of my artists asked me how to become rich and famous. My answer was, "The tools are easy; it's the details that'll kill ya." Here are the stars that must align to become successful in any career:

1. Talent: The more natural your aptitude, the less effort it will take, but fortunately talent can be learned. After an honest and concerted effort, consult multiple experts in your field and ask them for advice and if they think you have talent. Whether or not you listen to what they say depends on your passion for your chosen goal. Don't give up too soon!  However, there are some  instances where it's better to change your goals than kill yourself trying to be successful at a pipe dream; i.e. a wannabe basketball star might become a coach; a wannabe painter might try sculpture; a wannabe novelist might write non-fiction. Remember: There's a fine line between persistence and insanity—at some point, reality should prevail.
2. Time: Winning the lottery is the ubiquitous example of people looking for the shortcut. But even those who win the lottery have usually been playing for years and paying thousands of dollars along the way. Imagine if you spent all that time and money on education, training or buying books to read about making yourself successful instead of putting all your hope in randomness. 10,000 hours = 40 hr/week for 5 years. Or, if your doing this in your spare time, 10,000 hours = 20 hr/week for 10 years. READ. PRACTICE. BE PATIENT.
3. Luck: Ah, lady luck. Oprah doesn't believe in luck. Well, Oprah, I do. Yes, I believe we can make our own luck through preparation, but I was repeatedly amazed in the art world when the right collector stumbled upon the right piece by the right artist; bought the piece; showed it to other collectors and museum people; and the artist's career took off.

Success. Simple as that.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a few more hours to put in.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Are You Drawn To Danger?

Why do people go to scary movies and ride roller coasters?
Why do people read thrillers and watch crime dramas?
What is it about fear and adrenaline that people seek out for enjoyment? 

I find this very interesting. If I wrote articles for magazines, I'd be interviewing experts right now. (And hopefully getting paid for this stuff.) I imagine they'd say that humans are getting in touch with their fight-or-flight instincts. Since we no longer encounter lions, tigers and bears on a daily basis, no longer have to tap into that which proves we are survivors and heros, these modern day thrills are the closest many of us will ever get to testing our instincts of survival. That's important for some people, I suppose. It might even explain why the target audience for really scary movies (think the Halloween franchise), is young people, specifically young males. They are the perfect age for proving their virility. And where there are boys, there are girls. (Otherwise, what would be the point?) 

But what's so bad about calm? What's so bad about peace and serenity? Yogis are happy people. The elderly (when they're not worried about health or money issues) are generally happy people. They (we) no longer need to prove themselves this way. Hollywood must have figured this out long ago; I'm only just now analyzing it. The types of movies, books and thrills one seeks out says a lot about a person, if you think about it. Very interesting, indeed. Who needs Meyers-Briggs if you can just analyze a person's history of choices. 

As writers, we need to (we get to) decide what to include, what not to include in our work, and who our target audience is. You can't please all the people all the time, so you got to please yourself. (Song lyrics for 100, Alex.) That's the hardest part—what to include and what not to include. That's also the fun part. In fact, that's the point of fiction! 

Next question: Why do people do drugs and smoke cigarettes? Well, that's probably escapism... mixed with stupidity. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Could It Be True?

There's a first for everything. Is that true?

Yesterday I had to scrap 18,000+ words on my current novel due to information I learned when interviewing my experts. Yesterday was a taste of Hell: Square One. (Thankfully no fire or men in red suits carrying pitchforks).

I have just written a preliminary synopsis for my NEW novel. (It has been highly recommended by many to know how the book ends before you actually begin. Thank you Larry Brooks @storyfix for one.) I actually got to the end of the synopsis and NO ONE got murdered or hit by a car or even went to jail.

Am I slipping? Losing my nerve? I think not. This is crafty. I like it!

But I won't change my bio yet. You all know how these characters can surprise you before it's over.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

All Is Not Lost!

In my last post, Meet Me In Hell, I neglected to mention that I ditched The Blue-Eyed Twin because I had a better angle on the same storyline. All is not lost; I rescued the 3 main characters and moved them into a much better novel.

Just thought I'd let you know that. I didn't want you to feel badly for me. I'm excited and energized ~ even more than the last time I was excited and energized about my last new novel.

Meet me in Hell?

Okay, have you noticed a pattern here? About every 8 weeks, I declare: I WILL POST ON A REGULAR BASIS FROM NOW ON. And then I don't. Good thing I'm not signing away my First Born Son, or the 2nd Born, or the 3rd Born, or even the 4th Born with these promises. Then I'd be out of kids! Then I might get more blogging done... but my posts would be all sad and weepy, and you'd quit reading me anyway. So much for good intentions.

All right, no more promises, just more posts, as often as possible. So, here's today's Mind Blowing Story:

I'm officially ditching The Blue-Eyed Twin, all 18,000 words of it.

Monday I met with a doctor, a geneticist, and his genetic counselor to get some facts straight for the novel. They were extremely knowledgeable, helpful, friendly, and forthcoming. For 24 hours after my meeting I didn't speak much. I was processing what they told me. Suffice it to say that I learned the premise of my story was weak. So I changed it. Remember: We hold the lock, and we hold the key! (That's one great thing about fiction, but it also applies to real life.)

Today is back to square one. Have you ever done that? "Control, A, backspace" is what my son @Elliott_Krause calls it. (He's 3rd born, the Iowa MFA student.)(Yes, I'm proud.) It's defeating and liberating at the same time.

I owe a huge debt to Writer's Digest magazine. In the current issue, one column about interviewing experts for your novel suggests doing your interviews sooner rather than later... so you don't have to ditch 18,000+ words if your premise is flawed. What if I hadn't read that, hadn't interviewed the docs until much later? Thank you once again, WD.

So, I'd better get back to the drawing board, with my notecards, timelines, and character charts. Here we go again! Skippin' along the yellow brick road ~ the opposite direction of Hell.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Seven Things

Seven Things

Oh how do I get myself into messes like this? A dear, dear friend (i.e. An innocent Twitter acquaintance who I beat out in a live LitChat auction and have felt an obligation to ever since) tagged me for a chain mail list: Seven Things You Don't Already Know About Me. So here goes... in no particular order.

1. I love office supplies, specifically pens and pencils. It's an abnormal thing that goes back at least to 2nd grade when I used to steal the big, fat chalk from my school. Perhaps I should have known decades ago that I was meant to be a writer.

2. I say all the time that I hate TV, and yet I watch way too much of it. I deserve ridicule.

3. I would never admit to farting in public (please see the list of aforementioned dear friend Kelcey McKinley). If I were alone in a room, and let out a stinky one, then someone else walked in, I would try to describe the horrific decayed animal I had just found and disposed of the minute before they walked in.

4. When I was ten years old, I owned a horse named Brandy. The cowboy who worked on the ranch where I kept it used to sing the song "Brandy" to me, and I was in love with him.

5. Number 4 was about the same time that I used to eat every spec of an apple—core, seeds, stem—just to gain attention from other little girls who also had horses. And once, I carried a huge western saddle 6 blocks to school at lunch time. It weighed the same as me.

6. My motivation for becoming a famous writer is so that I can buy a house in Santa Barbara.

7. That whole Karma, what-goes-around-comes-around thing better be true now that I played along with this If You Don't Do This You Will Go To Hell list. Of course, this is the first one I've ever done; I usually delete them immediately. So maybe I hope it's not true...