Miscellaneous Thoughts On The Fountainhead by a Second-hander

Ayn Rand.jpgWell. Just finished The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and have a couple of observations. More than a couple actually. Note: The term “second-hander” refers to the villains, all those who support the suppression of individuality for the sake of the common good, or collectivism.

Ayn Rand is transparent about the physical appearance of her characters. The good guys are always rugged and they must be tall and thin, with “patrician” features, chiseled cheekbones and long straight noses. You know the type: oozing with testosterone. The woman who is deserving of such a man is nearly indescribable but you are left with a feeling of delicacy, and a beauty so refined that it is ethereal. Always thin, with a “sleek cap of light hair”. Today that might qualify as a bad hair day but back then sleek must have been the cat’s pyjamas. The bad guys are always described by the extent of their girth, or their extraordinary lack of masculinity. “Heavy-lipped”, with much attention paid to the size of jowls and stomachs. Take this description of one of the second-hand masses Ms. Rand so despises: “Her hips began at her ankles, bulging over the tight straps of her shoes…”.

There is controversy over the way in which our hero, Roark, and the woman who deserved him, Dominique, first became lovers. It’s rape, of course, and this is believed by some to perhaps be a result of Ms. Rand’s own sexual fantasies, that Dominique could only be satisfied by such a tower of masculinity who would take what he wanted, when he wanted. This being, of course, the one thing that could turn her on completely. But it’s still rape, and this was certainly not condoned back in the thirties and I can’t think why Ms. Rand didn’t stifle this bit of awkwardness for the sake of her novel. It is completely out of character for Roark to even think of doing such a thing.

Now we come to the plot. Dominique and Roark are both single, they have no encumbrances to their coupledom, so what happens? Dominique up and marries a second-hander for a rather vague reason, a clumsy method to drum up conflict. You be the judge. Here is Dominique’s rather lame excuse to Roark for why she married Peter Keating. “It would mean doing for you what I did for Peter Keating: lie, flatter, evade, compromise, pander to every ineptitude — in order to beg of them a chance for you, beg them to let you live, to let you function, to beg them, Roark, not to laugh at them, but to tremble because they hold the power to hurt you. Am I too weak because I can’t do this?” She isn’t able to stand by and see her man hurt because they won’t give him his fair chance (because of his rugged individualism and non-conformance of course). Actually, he doesn’t give a shit. But does he express that to her? Nah.

Next odd plot point. Dominique is “sold” to a newspaper guy, Gail Wynand, so Wynand will give Peter a coveted architectural commission. The message is, it’s okay to sleep with him, Dominique, so long as I get that work, which will make me even more famous. But, ha ha, Peter, even though Wynand is a compulsive womanizer and kind of a bad man, he is smitten with Dominique and marries her. Old Gail isn’t so bad after all, he had a real tough childhood, and got tired of people telling him he “didn’t run things” so he decided he would run things. You know the type. But still at the age of 51, he takes himself a wife, even though he’s had so many girlfriends (all beautiful of course) he can’t remember their names. But, again, there’s that ethereal-ness Dominique possesses.

The inevitable had-to-happen plot point. Roark and Wynand become the best of buds. To call it a “bro-mance” would not attach the importance it deserves. I don’t think men talk this way to each other – EVER! Not then and not now. Take this, Roark to Wybrand: “I think it hurts you to know that you’ve made me suffer. You wish you hadn’t. And yet there’s something that frightens you more. The knowledge that I haven’t suffered at all.” This relationship is even stranger because Wybrand does not know anything about Dominique and Roark’s past. They even become quite the threesome (not in a sexual sense, just hangin’ out good buddies) without ever mentioning: “So, Gail, did we ever tell you that…”

The climactic confusing plot point. Wynand tried to support his great friend, Roark, who is accused of being a horrible egotist and selfish. He did blow up a building and that’s another thing I thought was kind of an overreaction. Wynand is going against popular opinion of the second-handers but he can’t win. He loses everything, his newspaper empire and to top it all off, Dominique dumps him. Way to kick a guy when he’s down, Dominique. He really loved her too. So he’s lost everything, his business, his wife and his friend.

I noticed head-hopping. It might be the style called “third-person omniscient point-of-view.” I doubt Ms. Rand chose a style at all, but wrote the way she wanted. I prefer to think it’s that. I also think there’s a lot of telling versus showing, stilted dialogue and an overabundance of adverbs. She didn’t follow the three-act format, with story points at 25% and 75%. All these things are considered “no no” in today’s world of formulaic literature. Ms. Rand was lucky that she didn’t have to subject herself to it. No one followed rules back then and today, all the really great novelists don’t either.

And who am I to critique? I won’t have any books in print, seventy years after they were written.

Her descriptions and metaphors are brilliant, and while she is annoyingly repetitious and preachy about a philosophy that is pretty far out there, it’s an interesting concept. I like to read the reviews, but only the three or four-star reviews. The five-stars reviewers are mostly brain-washed by her ideas rather than her literature.

I’m glad I read it, and glad it’s over with too.

 

 Leonard Mccombe/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

 

 

Then We Came To The End

Then We Came To The EndWhat a great title. This novel was included in the reading list at the end of Stephan King’s On Writing. I decided to go through the list, one by one, throwing out those dealing too heavily with the supernatural, horror, etc. and try each one. It has not been a disappointing experience.

To the contrary, I have discovered many authors that I really admire who were previously unknown to me, and so now I’m going to drone on about this latest little wonder, Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris. By the looks of this author, he is on the lower side of middle age, and extremely hot. He’s got the kind of literary-genius look that is so appealing.Joshua FerrisMr. Ferris has come up with a unique concept. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this. The last two sentences are eerily excellent. To quote them here would render them out-of-context, but I couldn’t help but read them over and over, and get kind of goose-bumpy all over again.

First of all, it’s written in first person plural, which I wasn’t sure I would like. All about we. We did, we thought, we never believed it possible, so you never know whose POV it is. I guess you could say it is “omniscient POV”. I found I liked it, and hoped that at the end, I might have a clue as to which of the characters had told the story. I will not divulge the results.

It’s about work. The office. An advertising firm, going through the downturn (after 9/11). It captures office life at its most ridiculous and cynical. This is a something that interests me personally, because I have long been kind of a tongue-in-cheek eye-roller when it comes to office politics, office lingo and office behavior in general. It’s in my novel, Perigee Moon, (in case you’d like to take a peek) just how unreal it can be, and how sometimes we need to run away — screaming — from all of it.

This book has a scene in it about people scavenging office chairs after someone has “walked Spanish” which is a euphemism for being canned, that is hysterical. It’s about people switching chairs then being afraid of being found out by the “office coordinator” who keeps track of serial numbers and which office stuff belongs to which person, and who wields more power than is perhaps appropriate.

We all know how that goes.

This book may not be for everyone, but if you’ve ever been in an office atmosphere where doing honest work becomes obsolete, and instead red tape and seniority and office politics reign supreme, then you will likely appreciate this. It’s packed with humor and irony.

Highly recommended.

Others on Stephen King’s list follow. I apologize for not including links but that’s just the way I am sometimes. Lazy and doing a half-assed job.

These are all great writers. Most of the novels are suspense, and while I loved all of the writing, I found some of the stories to be a trifle unbelievable. But then — It’s Fiction!!

  • End of Story by Peter Abrahams
  • The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
  • One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
  • The Last Good Day by Peter Blauner
  • Peace Like a River by Leif Euger
  • A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley

You might notice, the list is organized alphabetically by author last name. The next two were Jonathan Franzen novels. I’ve already read them! So I am up to “G” with lots of goodies in store,Jane Eyre

In between, I read Jane Eyre. I had never read it before. It was quite remarkable, and Ms. Bronte had one hell of a vocabulary. I found some very interesting sections, ofttimes of soliloquy, and some very impassioned dialogue and inner thoughts. I thought I might choose a few passages that I found particularly delightful and perhaps offer an explanation or definition of sorts in today’s urban speak. This will occur in an upcoming post.

Won’t that be jolly? I hope you’ll stay tuned for it.

On Reading “On Writing”

On WritingStephen King’s “On Writing” has been recommended and suggested so often I finally decided to read it. As with most How To Write books, I bought the actual book. For some reason, I prefer the physical book because they are easier to reference in the future. Or maybe I just like seeing those books sitting on my book shelf, and by virtue of their being there, I feel more like an actual writer.

It was an engaging memoir on writing, of how he, Mr. King, got started and it’s not surprising that he was interested in Sci-fi and horror and the supernatural from the time he was a little kid. It’s filled with humor and a bit of history, but at its heart, it’s a book “On Writing”. Not the usual how-to but a more general discussion of the subject.  It was one of the best books I’ve read on the subject.

A few things I took from it:

Just start writing. Do it every day. Set a goal and Just. Do. It. This is the closed door part. The part where you don’t show anyone what you’ve written. Just get it down. Start with a couple of ideas about what it is to be about, and let the characters take you where they will. Stephen King is a “pantzer” as opposed to a “planner” I think. He didn’t mention making any outlines and seemed to indicate that the work will suffer from too much plotting.

When finished with this, the first draft, put it away for at least six weeks. Do something else. Work on a new project or go fishing. But don’t look at that manuscript once.

After six weeks, pull it out and read through it. Then comes the second draft. It should be at least 10% smaller than the first draft. Take out unneeded junk and fix the other stuff, repeated words and omitted words and any other problems you see.

Here’s the part where we have to take different forks in the road. At this point, Stephen King gives the manuscript to his Ideal Reader (his wife) who gives him her very honest opinion. He listens and mostly agrees and makes the appropriate changes before sending it on to his editor. After that it’s in the agent’s hands I guess, who sells it to a publishing company, or probably sends it on to the same company that published all his other work. They schedule it up for release, and then the money starts rolling in.

It doesn’t work that way for most of us, who are reading On Writing, but nevertheless, the book is very educational, and is also encouraging. It’s worth reading.

Some other information I found useful:

Writers can be grouped into something like the Four Food Group Pyramid. The bottom and largest group are the bad writers. They have no talent for it, their interests lie in other areas. Give them all the creative writing classes in the world and they will still suck.

Up a level and the next largest group are the competent writers, all those at the office who can compose emails with proper sentences and punctuation, and then the good writers, those who write and actually make money at it and then — Ta Da! —  the genius writers. Those in their own class, born not made, “divine accidents”. You know who they are, Shakespeare, Dickens, Faulkner. (My favorite author, Jonathan Franzen, comes to mind.)

Is it possible to move from one group to another? Sometimes. The bad writers usually remain in their own basement of horridness, unable to claw their way upwards to a more respectable level but the competent writers can evolve upward into the good writers’ group with the proper amount of practice. Not training, practice. Mr. King does not specifically say that education is not necessary. To the contrary, a degree in English is an excellent way to launch a successful career, and Creative Writing classes and workshops can be fun and interesting, but not required.

Whatcha gotta do then, is get a schedule and stick to it, and write your brains out for the allotted amount of words per day. Not time, words. If it takes three hours to crank out 2,000 words on Tuesday and seven on Wednesday, sobeit. Eventually you will get better. And better and better.

Another thing. When you aren’t writing, read. Read everything. It’s what I’ve been doing lately. There is a suggested reading list in the back of On Writing. I chose three at random, and one from my list of classics to read before the end of 2012 (that didn’t work out too well, replace with “2013”). I also chose a book by Stephen King, The Dead Zone, because it is one of his older ones, and less science fiction-y than some, since this and horror in general are not my usual genre.

He also suggests reading a really awful book. Reading bad books is as helpful as reading good ones. Reading something you consider a real eye-roller serves a couple of purposes. First, it enforces the idea that you can at least write as well as this author, and it is a powerful reminder of what NOT to do. I chose Valley of The Dolls, by Jacqueline Suzanne. In fact, this book is mentioned in On Writing as a good example of literature of questionable value.

Ms. Suzanne reaped in plenty of profits with her tome. I first read it back in the sixties, but want to read it again with a more finely-tuned writer’s eye. If nothing else, it will provide a funny blog post. It brings to mind, 50 Shades of Grey which I blogged about earlier this year. Books like this may have changed over the years, but the premise is still there. Bring on the smut and they’ll keep readin’.  Why read a novel that is filled with deep characters, thoughtful descriptions and believable dialogue when I can get a trip back into the Red Room of Pain?

Here’s my complete reading list for the next month (or so):

  • End of Story by Peter Abrahams
  • One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
  • The Last Good Day by Peter Blauner
  • The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Suzanne

Concerned about Alzheimer’s Disease? Read “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova.

HStill Aliceave you ever thought about Alzheimer’s disease as it relates to you? Do you have a relative, perhaps a parent who suffers from it? I did. My father. Many thoughts and worries have surfaced since he was diagnosed with “symptoms consistent with Alzheimer’s”. The only way to know for sure if it’s Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia is to perform an autopsy. At that point, it doesn’t seem to matter so much, what it was that caused the loss of memory and motor skills and finally, death.

I believe it was Alzheimer’s but I’m not sure it matters. What matters to me now is, is it hereditary? Will I get it too? Probably? Maybe? Every day I look for it. Am I forgetting too many things? Is it that I forget or that things just seem to skim the surface of my consciousness? I am preoccupied, I am not paying attention, I just don’t care enough about that particular fact. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know anything for sure.

My friend suggested I read a book called “Still Alice” and I did. I just finished it and it was wonderful and highly recommended for anyone, whether you have people close to you suffering from it or not. It was written by a woman who has a Ph.D in neuroscience from Harvard University and is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer’s Association. Combined with that knowledge, and a definite writing flair, she has crafted a fictional account of a woman besieged with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The woman is only fifty when she is diagnosed.

The novel is written from the POV of Alice, so the reader identifies with the confusion, the uncertainty, the despair she goes through as the disease progresses. Alice can only sit and watch her life fade away, as she struggles to hang on to memories of her husband and children. When she can’t remember their names, she still remembers them. She knows they are her son and her daughters, but fears she doesn’t know this through understanding, but because they keep telling her.

She struggles to understand as her family talks around her, as if she weren’t present. She wants to tell them things but can’t get her thoughts out fast enough and forgets them anyway. She hallucinates and believes there is a hole in the floor that she must go around. She tears the house apart looking for things but then can’t remember what those things are. She can’t recognize herself in the mirror, because she thinks she is a young girl. She confuses her dead sister with her daughter.

It’s powerful, the thoughts and fears that Alice experiences. And the writing is brilliant, very moving, and educational too. Add to all that, the development of some very fine characters and you have a novel well worth reading, not only for the knowledge it imparts but because it is a moving story. I hoarded this book. I didn’t want it to end.

I thought of my father, as I read it, and wondered how much of this he went through. No one knows for sure, because no one who is going through it can tell you what it’s like. We watch our parents suffer with it and yet, on some level, we think that won’t happen to me, or I’ll deal with that later. This novel brings it home, makes it real. If you aren’t comfortable with that knowledge then this novel may not be something you’d care to read.

I’m glad I read it, but up until now, I don’t think I was ready.

When Good Books Make Bad Movies

When I heard Atlas Shrugged would soon be released, I was elated. I had just read the book.

I wondered why I had waited so long to read it, when it was practically a cult classic. I was hooked from the beginning and the only hard part to get through was John Galt’s infamous 60-page speech. I wanted to say, Geez, John, be a little more concise, will ya’? As my high school English teacher used to preach: Concise! Pithy! Epigrammatic!

The book does tend to be a bit repetitious in its message, just in case you didn’t get it the first time, Ms Rand drills it in over and over. Capitalism = Free Markets = Good. Only when you reward the entrepreneurs, when you allow them to be individuals and succeed in business in whichever way they choose, can society survive. Communism doesn’t work, although it wasn’t exactly Communism as such, but more of an unselfish society where no one must rise above the rest, when all things must be divided equally and all persons share in the wealth.

The novel is over 1000 pages long. There are a lot of subplots, a lot of expounding, a lot of character-building. But it’s all good. The slovenly brother of Dagny, the greedy, clueless family of Hank, the various hanger-ons and leeches. The successful, disappearing businessmen, the scientists influenced by inept politicians. The three brave world-changers.

It was a very engaging, very deep, very complicated novel. Perhaps Ms. Rand could have skinnied this down some, but she chose not to, and if she is a bit verbose, that particular shortcoming is not one which was troublesome to me.

How are they ever going to make a movie of it, wondered I? How will they capture all that nuance into a movie? Then I learned that the new movie was actually Atlas Shrugged, Part II. Ah. So better Netflix Part I because this rather anal reader and watcher of movies must see Part I before Part II. It would be blasphemy to do otherwise. 1 before 2. A before B.

(After rereading the above paragraph, I note that “Netflix” has now become a verb. When did that happen?)

Herr Schneider and I watched Part I. Herr had read Atlas Shrugged when most people did — back when we were young and self-perceived intellectuals. It had been many decades so he barely remembered it, just the message, but not any of the characters or the story.

Part I wasted no time. Bang! Got a lot of ground to cover! Even in multiple movie parts, we need to get going here. Lots of action packed into those scenes. If I hadn’t just read the novel, I wouldn’t have had the first clue about what was going on. I struggled to keep up. 

This is Hank and Dagny as they discover John Galt’s wonderful motor. Picture the scene. They are in an abandoned manufacturing plant. Windows broken, birds flying around. Debris laying all over the place. The place is huge, yet Dagny goes directly to the secret door wherein lies the motor.

Dagny: Looks like they just walked away.

Hank: Not much here.

Dagny: Too bad, I’d really like to figure out what happened here.

(Music swells)

Hank: Dagny. This is it! This is where they made the engine!

Dagny: You think it’s here?

Hank: I can’t believe all this stuff. Some of this is incredibly sophisticated.

Dagny: Unbelievable.

(Pause, as it dawns on Hank and Dagny, they both see it for the first time, and  they move reverently toward the workbench whereupon sits the aforementioned engine,  here in the old, abandoned factory strewn with litter and broken glass and bird poop.)

Dagny: Hank?

(Meaningful pause. Music swells a bit louder now)

Dagny: Atmospheric vacuum.

Hank: What?

Dagny: It’s known as the Casimir effect. It’s a small particle accelerator.

Hank: And this… must be a secondary cooling system, probably designed to eliminate excess heat generated during the process.

Dagny: Ex-ACT-ly. And this creates a magnetic field — in place long enough for the collapsing vacuum pressure to be captured.

Hank: The engine uses atmospheric vacuum to create static electricity! Now does it say anywhere on this document who designed this thing?

Dagny: I don’t see any names. We could get a list of the building employees?

Hank: We go to the Town Hall records, we find the last owner of the factory, we track it back from there. My God Dagny… this could change the world!

This scene was a whole chapter in the book, but took less than seven minutes in the movie.

After watching Atlas Shrugged, Part I, I am not sure I will bother with Part II. The movie seemed cartoonish to me, and events happened so fast my brain couldn’t keep up.

Sometimes, great books don’t make great movies. This was one clear example of that fact. How can a movie, even one in multiple parts, capture what it too 1000+ pages to explain?

It’s clear, it can’t.

Agree? No? Tell me.

The Baby Boomer Reviewer?

I’ll drink to that!

This post started out as a whiney, complainy, bogged down piece of crap-writing that I started weeks ago and then decided never to publish. And I keep whittling it down, taking out the Poor Me stuff until this is what remains.

I’ve been on this marketing project for several months now, and not getting anywhere with it. As a matter of fact, it’s downright discouraging. Many of the new writers I have come to know are having a lot more success than I am. I am beginning to suspect that there are a lot of folks out there who have no interest in what I write, which is fine. Not everyone likes the same thing.

However! It might be time to ask, “Hold up a minute here! What’s the problem?”

So far I can’t figure out what the problem is. Whether I am not reaching my target audience or whether my target audience really would rather read the Twilight series or Fifty Shades of Grey.  

Photo by saratogajean

Where did everyone go?

Recently, I did a free giveaway of the Kindle version of Perigee Moon and got less than 200 downloads and no reviews out of it, the reviews being the main point of the giveaway. So what good did the whole exercise do? I went to all the book free day sites and made the announcement. I don’t see any positive results in doing any of it, although maybe it will take time for reviews to come in. The more good reviews a book has, the better it does. 

On a more positive note, I believe I have learned a lot about the writing craft in the last decade or so. I know what I perceive is good writing. I know whose voice I love and whose I don’t. I can recognize good writing, believable characters, and excellent stories. So I am thinking very seriously of becoming an “official” book reviewer.

I wrote a post recently about trying to find sites to get my own book reviewed, about the criteria I used to determine if a site would be a good fit. I wrote about the overabundance of people willing to review books about vampires and monsters and other foul creatures, but there were very few, make that none, that I could be absolutely positive would be a site that would want to review books about baby boomers finding their way at last, determining who they want to be later on in life, finding love.

One thing I have always believed, and still do, is that our generation is one of readers. We didn’t have video games and computers and other electronics to distract us when we were growing up, we had television and books. And while many of us have embraced the technology that makes our lives more connected and more interesting, we still basically love to read. As we start to retire, we have more time to read, and what better subject to read about than our own generation?

What if I become the Baby Boomer Reviewer? Books by and/or about that generation? They wouldn’t all have to be in my exact genre, but if they are written by baby boomer authors who just want to get reviewed then I’d be willing to do it. Hell, you don’t even have to be a baby boomer. Just a new author trying to get a start. And, of course, these reviews will be given with no currency exchanging hands.

If I can help to spread the word, help a new author, then why not?

Here’s the catch. I’d have a very hard time telling an author that I didn’t like his work. I’d have to be really honest and that will be hard for me, but a review isn’t worth anything unless it’s genuine. And who’s to say, I might not like it but someone else might love it? I’ve sure noticed that all people don’t like the same thing myself.

I’d be reluctant to give 5 star reviews. I have given them in the past, but really, I think 5 star reviews are reserved for truly great pieces of literature. Prose where I marvel at the beautiful sentences, and the exquisite phrasing. You all probably know by now how I feel about Scott Spencer and Jonathan Franzen. These men have both written books I would consider 5 star quality. But for the rest of us, well, we can’t all be authors of that caliber. We just can’t. It isn’t possible.

I’ve written quite a few reviews lately. Few of them were 5 star, but some of them were really, really good books. I’m including a link here to my Amazon reviews.

I’d post each review on a new My Reviews page as I do them, with a link to Amazon (or wherever the author would like the review directed). Here are some of the genres of books I would review:

  • General Fiction
  • Historical Fiction
  • Literary Fiction
  • Baby Boomer Fiction
  • Memoir
  • Mystery/Thrillers
  • Short Story Collections
  • Non-fiction (as long as I have some knowledge of the topic)

No genre romance, no inspiration, no erotica. No urban fantasy, no vampires, werewolves or drudges. No steampunk — and if anyone can explain to me exactly what this is, would you please comment? None of these interest me and I wouldn’t be able to give a satisfactory review of that material.

I’d love to hear if there are any new authors who would be interested in having me review their work.

Marketing Woes and Roasting Turkeys

What a trying time it has been around here. I went back yet again (I must have read this post twenty times) to Peggy Strack’s blog post about new authors paying for reviews. Ms. Strack decided to do it, so I looked into the links she provided. Before I could decide whether I would approach anyone for a review, I visited their websites, clicked on links to authors, links to books, links to blogs, trying to decide if it could be a match. Often I ended up not knowing how I landed on a particular site, completely confused and at a dead end, realizing that I had accomplished very little, if anything.

And was I sure I really wanted to do it anyway? Here was my thought process:

After much consternation (a feeling of anxiety, fear, dread or confusion), I decided to go for it. But which reviewer should I pick? After comparing, I came to the following conclusion. Readers Favorite will do free reviews, and only if you wish to have it expedited (one to two weeks) will they charge $59 for it. I am still uncertain as to how I feel about paying for reviews, unless the reviewer has a reputation for writing them honestly, whether they have been purchased or not. A paid-for “guaranteed 5-star review” isn’t an honest review, not to me as the author who genuinely wants to know what those “in the business” might think of my work, or to readers. I want to pick reviewers who will give me a negative review if my book deserves it. Readers Favorite will post 3, 4 or 5-star reviews on their site, but less than that warrants an email with constructive criticism.

I got the expedited review, though, because I was very curious and hope doing that did not influence the reviewer. It received a 5 star review! You may not be surprised to hear this because you, oh wise readers, know that I wouldn’t be telling you I got the review at all if it hadn’t turned out well. You can read it here.

5 Star Reviews Kick Ass!

I think I may now go for a Publishers Weekly review. This won’t be as immediately gratifying because they select the books they will review and typically only 25% of submissions make the cut. The reviews they do are done quarterly and will be published next in December. They do charge for it but is that countered by the fact that they discard 75% of submissions anyway? The fee is refunded in those cases. So it might not even get a review, and if it does, the opinion could be: This book sucks, but not as much as the ones we didn’t even deign to review at all. In order to gauge whether my book might have a shot, I looked at some of the books they had reviewed in my (sort of) genre.

To indicate that they found a novel particularly good, they star (*) it (just star / no star). I wondered if mine could compete with a starred book so I downloaded one: Jimmy Lagowski Saves the World. I read it and it’s good, very good. What an interesting concept, interrelated short stories but the more I read, the more I thought of it as a novel. It was well-written, and interesting and I enjoyed it very much. The only complaint I had was the amount of semicolons used. I am a firm believer in using this particular punctuation sparingly, and I became obsessed with noticing how many there were.

Based on the quality of this book (i.e. excellent), I haven’t quite made the decision as to whether to submit or not but am leaning toward it.

Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Clipart

I had a dream, one of those frustration things this morning, early. In the dream, I was roasting a turkey, actually two turkeys and I was in an unfamiliar kitchen and the work areas were all cluttered and I couldn’t find anything, including my wine glass. There were others in the kitchen, three people I think, but none of them would help me. In the next room there sat a midget man at a high table, the Turkey Help Desk. He told me to crush potato chips and press them into the turkey skin using an oreo cookie. Okay. This is the kind of crap I dream. I’m pretty sure potato chips would not be the way to go with this. But I did like the oreo cookie part, interesting. Wonder where that came from?

In the dream I went from task to task, in a circle of uncertainty. I need to do Task 1. Before I do Task 1, I should really do Task 2. Then I move to Task 2, and find I need to do Task 3 before I do Task 2. It’s been like that lately with marketing. Going around and around in the interweb (thanks to my new Roadrunner connection I am back in the 21st century), dashing here and there, and forgetting from whence I came.

I don’t do marketing well. It intimidates me. I want to do the right thing, but don’t always know what that is. I can’t seem to focus on it. Woe is me.

That’s why I dream crazy stuff about roasting turkeys.

 

New feature! News You Should Not Notice!

Spotted! Mila Kunis Without Makeup!

Photo courtesy of some papparazzi – so sue me!

Are we serious here? This is a news story? WTF (that’s “who”) gives a farthing of a shit about this? First of all, who is Mila Kunis? I didn’t even know. OH! She’s the Sexiest Woman Alive 2012! Every year we have a new Sexiest Woman? What happened to the Sexiest Woman 2011? Did she (shudder) gain six ounces or something?

And another OH! Mila is the “rumored” girlfriend of Ashton Kucher. Sorry, Ashton, but Charlie Sheen, you are not. And a rocket scientist you are not. And a nice person you are not. I remember that dalliance with the bimbo in the hotel room. You remember that? When you were married to Demi Moore and that girl tweeted about what y’all were doing? She gives new meaning to “dumb blonde”.

This is not news. No one should care about this. But the problem is, we do. We don’t care about what’s happening to our country. No. We care about what Mila Kunis looks like without makeup.

And you know what? She doesn’t look that good.

3D Man Photo courtesy of freedigitalprints.net

Laughing Lady on Porch Photo credit: abbyladybug / Foter / CC BY-NC

Should a Newbie Author Pay For a Review?

Speaking of reviews, Perigee Moon had a nice one here. Thanks to Carrie (AKA Connie) Rubin for including me in her list of books by fellow bloggers. I read her new book too and posted a review here. And no, it wasn’t a case of “you give me five stars and I’ll return the favor”, it was a genuinely fast-paced, exciting, well-written first novel. I recommend it, especially if you like medical thrillers with a little Sci Fi thrown in. Really, I recommend it to anyone.

Another blogger, Peggy Strack, in her post about Credible Reviews and the Debut Author, talked about how she decided to spring for a Kirkus review. Kirkus will review pre-released novels, which can be a great marketing tool, supposing that you get a good review, especially if you are self-publishing.

They (Kirkus) don’t make any promises, send them a crappy novel and you’ll get a crappy review.  If it happens that way, that the review is bad, the author has the option of not accepting it and it will never be seen by anyone. So, hmmm. Doesn’t that mean that all Kirkus reviews will be good ones? On the other hand, why not? If it’s good, it’s good, and if it’s bad, no one will be the wiser, except the author who can cry about it in private.

Kirkus charges between $400 and $500 for a review, which is pricey, and probably another example of an outlay of cash for my rather expensive hobby. My books aren’t selling well, and I am struggling with marketing them. So I’m considering it.

There is another more inexpensive option that I could try, $149 for a Publisher’s Weekly review. Authors submitting to them may or may not have their books accepted for a review. 25% are accepted, and the review still is not guaranteed to be good, which of course it shouldn’t be. These reviews get published on their website, bad or good. I’m considering that too.

I also consulted the Book Blogger Directory, which is a list of blogs/sites of book reviewers who will review for nothing. Normally they specify a genre that they prefer, but sometimes they’ll say “I’ll Review Anything!!” yet when you look at what they have reviewed you see (yet again) books about vampires and drudges and werewolves. So I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to be into character-driven novels about people who came of age in the sixties.

I delved into this huge list alphabetically, and went to each site and looked to see if it could be a fit. I got through the B’s which took days of endless searching. And it has to be on a Good Internet Day, which is another story, but the short version is I have a Verizon Mifi Hotspot which tends to suck, on and off, and provide me with less than optimum opportunities to surf.

Literally, I went through hundreds of sites, and found 3 which may be applicable but learned a lot about who I might approach for a review and who I would not. The following is a list of reasons I would bypass a particular review site:

  1. Your blog says “Grand Opening June 30th, 2012” and it’s already August.
  2. The dreaded “Error 404 No Page Found” comes up. This one is self-explanatory.
  3. Your blog is not in English. This wouldn’t be a problem for an author who speaks your language, but you know, it’s probably going to be a bit of a communication barrier for us.
  4. Your last post was one year ago. Got a problem with commitment?
  5. You say you are “not currently reviewing books”. Then what are you doing on this list of book review blogs?
  6. I see reviews for books about “faeries”. Or any of the above-mentioned stuff, for the above-mentioned reason.
  7. You deign not to review self-published books. Aren’t we fussy?
  8. You say you are “currently without internet access”. Well, I know all about that. It can be a real problem, but still, better get on that if you want to be a book reviewer.
  9. You apologize profusely for your absence and give an explanation of “where you have been”. I wonder how often that happens with you, Ms. Book Reviewer. Not sure I want to take the chance that you will go away again and I’ll think it’s because you can’t bear to give me bad news.
  10. Your site offers the possibility to “embrace my decadent desires” and there is a warning that it is a “Mature Site”. Pretty sure this isn’t a good fit.
  11. Your review policy is “Coming Soon”. Shouldn’t you have this figured out before you created your site and appeared on the list?
  12. Your website/blog color combo is such that it makes it impossible for my older eyes to read the text. An example: yellow lettering against a red background. This is obviously an age discrepancy, which probably makes us incompatible as reviewer/reviewee anyway.
  13. Your reviews are so chock full of bad English and misspellings that I don’t think you’d recognize good writing if it fell at your feet. (How do you spell misspelling? Is that right?)
  14. There’s a picture of a guy with a six-pack on your latest review, and it’s not the kind that comes in cans, it’s the abdominal thing.
  15. Your site is too pink. This is irrational, I know. Just  got a feeling about it.
  16. You review The Hunger Games and the latest Nora Roberts romance novel. These books don’t need your reviews, they have the New York Times, among others.
  17. Your latest post wishes me Happy New Year (2012). See #4 above for a question about commitment.

This brings me to question if I might do reviews myself. I already have my Review Policy worked out. I’d review books in my own genre, by new authors, of my particular age group. Is there a market for it? Would anyone be interested? Would I be able to give bad news to aspiring writers? Does anyone care what I have to say anyway?

Is there a future for baby boomer literature? Or matron-lit as it’s sometimes called, although I do hate that term. Don’t you think there must be a lot of retiring boomers out there with more time on their hands now? Wouldn’t they like to read stories about their own age group?

Or are they all living in Fifty Shades of Fantasy Land?

 

Book Review: Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

(I am probably back now. But having just arrived after four weeks, I likely won’t have time for blogging yet. Hope I had a good time! I’m sure I did.)

I read this probably fifty years ago when I was very young, and I never forgot it, just like there were movies from the fifties I couldn’t forget either. (I wrote a review of the 1950’s movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man.) I reread Anne of Green Gables recently, out of curiosity, to compare it to what I remembered.

This is a YA novel about a girl with a vivid imagination, an orphan who comes to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. They wanted to adopt a boy from the orphan asylum (doesn’t that sounds like a grim place, the orphan asylum?) to help out on the family farm. But there was a huge misunderstanding and a girl was delivered to the train station instead of the boy they expected.

Matthew and Marilla are not married, they are brother and sister, and they reside in the family homestead at Green Gables in Avonlea on St. Edward’s Island, Canada. I wondered why the author chose to have them be siblings as opposed to spouses, but in the end, I believe it was because of Matthew’s debilitating shyness. He never could have found his way to talk to a woman other than his sister. And Marilla wasn’t romantic enough to have ever found anyone.

Matthew went to the station to fetch the orphan home, and was aghast to discover it was a girl waiting for him there. A boy would have been bad enough to make conversation with on the way home, but a girl? Whatever would he say to her? It turned out not to be a problem because Anne did all the talking. Matthew was quite taken with her, but Marilla was a harder sell. It took her an additional day, before she decided they should keep Anne.

Marilla is sensible. Frugal and industrious with God-fearing ideas of what is and isn’t proper behavior. I remembered her as being much stricter, and much more dour than when I reread the book. I knew that Anne was an orphan and they had taken her in, but I thought they were related, as in aunt and uncle. But no, they were no relation.

The novel covers five years of Anne’s life, from eleven until she turns sixteen. It’s the Little Golden Book The Ugly Duckling all over again, which was maybe my favorite childhood story book of all. I always hoped I might be like the ugly duckling, and turn into a beautiful swan, I guess.

Anne bewitches everyone, the townspeople, the students in school, and most of all Matthew and Marilla with her enthusiasm, her imagination and her appreciation of life and all that is good in it. The descriptions of the countryside are breath-taking, which I probably didn’t appreciate back then when I first read it.

She finds her nemesis in Gilbert Blythe, and I remembered that as being more two-sided, but it really wasn’t. From the fateful day Gilbert called her “carrots” because of her red hair, Anne hated him, and Gilbert regretted those words, because he actually liked Anne a great deal, and wanted to be friends. But Anne held onto her grudge.

She’s a fair-skinned, freckle-faced, red head and these physical traits were not good ones to have back then, and she was thin too, and grew tall. The ugly duckling characteristics firmly in place, it’s so very heartwarming when she evolves into an attractive young woman, with freckles faded, and her hair turned auburn. She is never described as pretty, but the reader perceives her to be beautiful in a Cate Blanchett, or the very attractive actress in Brad Pitt’s new arty movie, The Tree of Life, Jessica Chastain, type of way.

One of the How-to-Write-Better books I read discussed the evils of telling vs. showing, but then went on to say in effect: But really, we can advise about show don’t tell all we want but talk to Jane Austen about that. In other words, develop your own style and do what comes naturally, like Ms. Austen did. Ms. Montgomery reminds me of Jane Austen, there’s a lot of telling instead of showing, but I think that’s what authors did back then, at least more so than now. They didn’t have the benefits of writing how-to’s so they just did the best they could, and the good ones were really, really good.

Here’s an example:

Here sat Marilla Cuthbert, when she sat at all, always slightly distrustful of sunshine, which seemed to her too dancing and irresponsible a thing for a world which was meant to be taken seriously.

I believe that could be construed as “telling” but so what? I like it.

What I remembered most was Anne’s desire to own a dress with “puffed sleeves”. Marilla considered puffed sleeves the ultimate in frivolity, and refused to make dresses for Anne that weren’t sensible. Who of us, at maybe, twelve years of age, can’t sympathize with Anne, and her desire to be fashionable, and to dress like all the other girls? I remember that. And when Matthew finally takes matters into his own hands, and Anne gets her puffed sleeves, it brought such a feeling of satisfaction to me, I felt like a kid again.

I am very glad I reread it. It was just as good as I remembered, even now when I’m older and more cynical. No one writes YA novels like it any longer. They weren’t even called Young Adult Fiction back then I don’t think. I also read the Cherry Ames Nurse series, and of course, Nancy Drew, in addition to the Anne books. I doubt any of the others can have the kind of appeal of Anne though, at this more advanced stage of my life.

Heartily recommended for all those who would like to recapture something they felt at a (much) younger age!

Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

(I must be in Rome now. Probably ready to be home again.)

I don’t remember how I heard about this novel. Maybe Goodreads or someone may have mentioned it in a blog or a comment to a blog. Whenever I see an opinion about a book, that it is “beautifully written”, I’m intrigued and if it’s even remotely within my genre comfort zone, I investigate.

The Sense of an Ending was short-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, which is awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe. It is a very prestigious award, and the winner can be assured of international success. It is a mark of distinction to be included in the shortlist, or even to be nominated for the longlist.

The novel takes place over a span of forty years, beginning in the sixties up to the present. Now I’m really intrigued, because that is exactly the time frame for my own novels. It’s written in first person POV, which is probably my favorite, and the main character is a very likable, if a somewhat dull, boy/man.

The first section is the backstory, in the sixties, and is a very amusing, frank account of coming-of-age as only men can do it. Men seem to be so forthright about that time in their lives when they write about it, I often wish I could enjoy the same candor.

The story takes place in London, so notwithstanding the subtle language differences as written by an English author, it is, in fact, “beautifully written”, and comedic and insightful, yet puzzling. Tony is constantly told that “he just doesn’t get it” and I must admit, I didn’t get it either, and still don’t and I think the author probably intended it that way. It’s one of those stories where, once you know how it ends, you figure out what probably happened to cause it to end the way it did.

Tony is involved with a girl, who is a PITA when she’s young, and after she comes back into his life forty years later, it’s clear she hasn’t improved, and in fact is worse than that, as if her life between then and now has been filled with sadness and hard times or both.

The book starts out with the sixties timeframe for less than half, then jumps to present day, with Tony narrating what has happened to him, as he remembers it. This is an important point because, memory, or lack of, or imperfect, is a big part of the story. How much of what we remember is true, and how much is what we have always told ourselves is true, and embellished and exaggerated as time goes on? How much of memory is what we wished had happened, so over time it morphs into being that way?

Here are some of Tony’s thoughts about memory:

  • Again, I must stress that this is my reading now of what happened then. Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.
  • What you fail to do is look ahead, and then imagine yourself looking back from that future point. Learning the new emotions that time brings. Discovering, for example, that as the witnesses to your life diminish, there is less corroboration, and therefore less certainty, as to what you are or have been.
  • We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn’t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent. But it’s not convenient — it’s not useful — to believe this: it doesn’t help us get on with our lives; so we ignore it.
  • How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but — mainly — to ourselves.

In the present day part, we discover that Tony had written a letter to a friend, which seemed out of character for him, in that it was cruel and unnecessary. This part bothered me, that he would do such a thing and I didn’t think it rang true. Also, did anyone use the term “control freak” during the sixties? I am always very careful of this, in my writing, did they really say this or that back then? Because, language has changed over the years and phrases we use commonly now weren’t necessarily used back then.

The letter was my main issue, I can forgive the control freak part, but it seemed like we should have been given more of the answers than we were. Everything was a bit of a puzzle. And the woman, Victoria, who kept saying he didn’t get it, I wanted to tell her, of course he didn’t get it! How could he? He wasn’t privy to the information.

But it was an enjoyable read, and once I had read it, I discovered that I needed to read it again, knowing what I now knew and when I did that, it seemed less puzzling but still, it’s clear it has been left to the reader to figure out what happened.

The observations made by Tony are priceless, and I’ve included some here that I marked while reading.

  • Most people didn’t experience “the sixties” until the seventies. Which meant, logically, that most people in the sixties were still experiencing the fifties— or, in my case, bits of both decades side by side. Which made things rather confusing.
  • There’s nothing wrong with being a genius who can fascinate the young. Rather, there’s something wrong with the young who can’t be fascinated by a genius.
  • It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.
  • What did I know of life, I who had lived so carefully? Who had neither won nor lost, but just let life happen to him? Who had the usual ambitions and settled all too quickly for them not being realised? Who avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival? Who paid the bills, stayed on good terms with everyone as far as possible, for whom ecstasy and despair soon became just words once read in novels? One whose self-rebukes never really inflicted pain? Well, there was all this to reflect upon, while I endured a special kind of remorse: a hurt inflicted at long last on one who always thought he knew how to avoid being hurt — and inflicted for precisely that reason.

I would recommend this book to anyone. It’s a short read, can be done in one sitting. It is an example of how an everyman, who pictures himself as uninteresting, boring even, is far from it. As if every life has had interest and drama along the way, even if you don’t remember that it did.