Reviews: Giving Them

As an author, I spend a lot of time thinking about getting reviews. But today, I want to look at the other side of the coin.

I’ve been giving more book reviews lately. Why? Well, it’s a fun way to get out of my own head for a while, see what others are doing, and hopefully help other writers as well. We all want reviews.

Do I have guidelines for myself? You bet I do.

I  try to be both gentle and positive. Writing a book is hard work, and putting together an interesting and cohesive novel is a real accomplishment. I find it amazing how many people manage to do this every day. Who says our society is becoming illiterate? Some days I wonder if more people are writing books than are reading them.

So, kudos to all authors. This is not an easy thing you have done!

I don’t have much respect for reviewers who make rude remarks (or include insulting memes) to get a laugh from readers.  I have even less respect for them if they don’t write books themselves. I’m inclined to encourage all sincere attempts at creativity — be it musicians, fine artists, or writers.

Writers have a particular handicap, though. It takes far longer to read a book than to listen to a song or study a sketch. Our readers will be investing some serious time, even if they give up on the book. So, it is reasonable for a potential reader to want to know if this story is really worth the hours they will likely spend with it.

That means it is important for a review to be honest. I never like everything about a book and I’m sure you don’t either. Yet Amazon is full of reviews that make most books sold on the site sound perfect. Come on. We all know that isn’t true. Who writes these things?

The function of a review is to help another reader decide if they should read this particular novel. The most helpful thing a reviewer can do is point out what they enjoyed about the book and what gave them heartburn. There’s no reason not to do it with kindness, but it still needs to be done. A review entirely lacking in criticism isn’t a review, it’s an advertisement.

Disagree with any of the above? Feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to discuss it with you.

(A version of the above post was published on my general 46. Ascending blog as a preamble to re-posting all of my most recent reviews there. If you’d like to learn more about the seven books I’ve reviewed recently, all shown above, please check it out.)

Now for something different …

I thought I knew what I was going to do next. It was going to be a clever combination of crime novel and speculative fiction, with a main character sleuth who has been growing in my head for over a year. I  called the project “Next” and made folders for it on my computer and in real life. “Next” was about to happen.

Then I got a day at a spa for mother’s day.

It was six hours of relaxing with cucumber slices over my eyes while people massaged my feet and poured me champagne. Yes, it was as wonderful as it sounds.

It was also the longest I’ve gone in a long time without prodding my brain to do what I wanted it to do. (Wait. Aren’t I and my brain the same thing?)

The point is I, or some part of me, went ahead and used this wonderful time to make up a story. A rather good story, really. It didn’t surprise me because making up stories is what I’ve always done when I relax, and there was no doubt I was relaxing. I was kind of surprised at how complex the tale got, however.

By the time I’d driven home, I knew what I had to do. You see, the only time I struggle with writers block is when I (okay, some part of me, let’s call her the adult manager in charge of my head) insists I write whatever Ms. Manager has decided I must.

No matter how hard Ms. Manager insists, it doesn’t happen.

The little kid in my head who makes up the stories simply stops making them up until she is once again allowed to tell her stories, in her way. I’ve learned that if I want to be a writer, I let this little kid do as she damn well pleases. The editor in me (who I suspect is in cahoots with Ms. Manager) can clean up her mess later.

And this little kid really, really wants to tell the story she made up at the spa. So ….

I’ve drawn her a map of the imaginary realm where it will take place.  She named the characters during the full body massage, but I fleshed out several important secondary characters for her, provided a rough timeline, and created a few new words to describe concepts she came up with that don’t have a word in English.

My best friend and chief research associate (who also carries the title of “husband”) has agreed to watch a few old movies with me to provide background I know I need.

Three other people I’m close to have been nice enough to listen to a verbal version of my story. I find that telling it aloud helps me clarify it and hang on to it better, sort of the way describing a dream to someone else helps move it into the conscious mind.

Now, I’m ready to start the messy, emotional process of writing a raw draft. It generally involves yelling, crying and laughing aloud on my part, so I tend not to write first drafts in public places. It’s a scary process for me, yet it’s an exhilaration beyond any I know.

Later, all the adults in my brain will take over, and hopefully turn it into a book. We’ll see …

 

 

 

Sometimes I Fly

I’ve always wanted to be a bird. In eighth grade I took my first trip in a plane. I squirmed with joy during take-off when it was everything I had dreamt.

I was flying.

One of my most common reoccurring dreams has always been being airborne. I’m surprised to find myself aloft, then I remember. That’s right. I always knew how to do this. I just forgot I knew. Sometimes I get details of what works, like I have to hop twice on my left foot before I jump off, but those recipes for flight have never been the same twice and not one has worked the next morning.

I keep on flying in my dreams.

When I got drunk in college, it made the room spin and made me laugh but the best part was when it made me feel like I was soaring through the air. After I graduated, I talked a friend into sky diving with me and even though I was scared, I was exhilarated, too.

Once I got my first real job, it came with this new thing called discretionary income. I signed up for flying lessons. I did fake emergency landings in fields and got okayed to fly solo. Sunday mornings, I’d drive to the little airport and spend my drinking money on an hour of airplane rental instead.

And I flew.

Then I got older. I had babies. They cried at changing cabin pressure when it made their little ears fill with pain and vacationing by car was better. I dreamt about flying, but not as often. When the dreams came, I was alone, moving silently through the air over wilderness. Maybe it was because I traveled a lot for my job, through busy airports on crowded flights, in seats that kept getting smaller. Claustrophobia kicked in. I decided conference calls worked fine.

I didn’t fly often.

Time takes some things, and it gives others. I now travel to places I’ve always wanted to go. The planes are crowded, but they’ve shown me the Andes from thirty thousand feet, and the island of Madeira sparkling in the twilight of a frothy Atlantic.

These days I write. When a sentence comes out perfect, I suck in my breath knowing it’s the best it can be. The sensation feels like flying.

When I edit my work, sometimes my words reform themselves beyond the original, and the outcome makes me laugh or cheer or cry. I am flying, then, the way I’ve always known I could, the way I was meant to do. Sometimes the realization makes me cry even more.

It’s amazing. Sometimes I fly.

Designing your own book cover, part 4

My easiest cover by far came with c3. It was the most difficult of my books to write, so maybe some sort of universal balance was at work. I’d barely begun skimming through the Shutterstock collection when I found not one but two backgrounds I loved. Which to use? I decided I’d send them both on to Jen at Mother Spider and let her decide.

I knew I didn’t want the image of Teddie, my hero, to be a photo. This was a book about out of body experiences, and a clear likeness seemed too stark. I wanted something vague, more like a sketch. She had to be young, dark-haired, and there had to be green involved.  I didn’t expect a lot of results when I combined all these search parameters, and I didn’t get them. However, the one image I got had potential.

This drawing of a young woman possessed the ethereal quality I wanted, but didn’t fit the cuddly softness I felt was part of Teddie’s personality. I played with it a little, and was happier once she had a rounder face and the soft brown eyes I envisioned.

The next challenge was to find a way to show an out of body experience in a single image on a book cover. I thought of showing her face three times, each one more transparent than the last. Also, I wanted a white bird because, well, it was symbolism I liked. I took all that and came up with the two straw man versions below and sent them off to Jen.

Jen did three brilliant things. First, she layered one of my backgrounds over the other to create an orignal and beautiful backdrop. Second, she got rid of the bird. Third, she rearranged Teddie to look back upon herself, conveying the idea of out of body in a way my linear images never could.

When this cover came back, I loved it instantly. She humored me by adding in the crescent moon instead of the dove, and we dinked around trying to match the font of my two-character title to the previous three books, but otherwise not a single revision was made. There was no doubt in my mind this was the cover c3 was meant to have.

Recently, I did some light editing and clean-up on all of my books, mostly to remove the links from all versions as they have become impossible to maintain. I decided if I ever wanted to make a tiny modification to the cover, now was the time.

Was there anything I wanted to change? Anything at all?

Well, I’d never been entirely happy with Teddie’s porcelain doll white skin or her sensuous lips. I thought a faint pink blush would make her look more human, and thinner lips more age-appropriate. I tried a make-over and was pleased with the results.

The new Teddie, and her beautiful cover, are shown to the left. It’s a joy when something comes so easily and works out so well.

(For more on this topic see Designing your own book cover, part 1, part 2 and part 3.)

c3 is published!

Dalai 5This is the fourth time I’ve done it, and each time has been more fun than the last. Something about hitting that button to put your heart, soul and creative effort out where the world can see it  is more exciting than I ever would have expected.

C3 is my longest novel so far, and it was the most difficult to write. Some of the plot concerns the sex industry, and human trafficking. I learned more than I wanted to know about those topics while researching this book, but the seriousness of my subject matter seemed to warrant my going the extra mile to get my facts right. Other parts of the story, like climbing the world’s highest peaks, have always fascinated me. As to all the tidbits about animal sex in the book — what can I say?  It was kind of fun to research.

Now I start the necessary but far less fun task of marketing the book. It’s not my strength, but I believe in this story so firmly that I will do it anyway. Thanks to the Dalai Lama’s FB page for reminding me that there is magic and power in each new beginning.