Baby Boomer Literature – A New Genre?

Last week, I read an article on Boomer Cafe called “Author Claude Nougat Knows the Next Trend in Publishing”.

Boomer Cafe.. it’s your place is a site that explores issues which affect people of the BB generation. You can find informative articles about financial management, health issues, trends, retirement topics and lots of other interesting subject matter, and they welcome contributions from readers too.

boomercafe_02

The article header says:

“Almost since we reached middle age, advertisers and marketers have sold us short. They said we no longer represented the demographic they were looking for. Well, we’ve got news for them: baby boomers are the biggest, richest demographic in the world today. Author Claude Nougat already knew that, and has begun to promote books written specifically for, and about, baby boomers. She says, it’s the next phenomenon in publishing.”

Coincidental. I had been thinking about pitching Boomer Cafe to do a guest post of my own. But I didn’t have to do that, because Ms. Nougat did it first. I have been talking about this for a long time myself, so I was very glad to read it and discover others were thinking the same way.

In the article, there is a link to a Goodreads Group specifically for BB authors which promotes nothing but BB Lit. YEAH! It took me eleven seconds to sign up for the group and comment. All you readers who are BB authors, you need to check this out! You are not alone. Help is on the way.

Here is the Goodreads group and this link is also in Claude’s article.

Since that article was published, it was picked up by the Passive Voice. It attracted some, shall we say, negative attention. Here are a sampling of some of those not-so-nice remarks:

”As for many baby boomer novels being published, last time I pitched one I can’t remember if the agent guffawed or gagged.”

“There are, Lord knows, some Baby Boomers out there who are so self-absorbed that they think the sole function of popular culture is to chronicle their every whim and eructation.”

“To come to such a conclusion does indeed require the assumption that whatever stage of life the Baby Boomers are going through at a given moment, the paramount purpose of popular culture is to record it.”

“The bottom line is: Old people just aren’t very interesting (I know, I am 65).”

And later, the article was picked up by Kindle Nation Daily. This site didn’t generate much negativity. Most of the commenters felt it was a great idea and many listed books they have written. Some interesting titles: “Bastard Husband: A Love Story”, “Sex, Lies & Hot Tubs” and “The Old Guy Rules”.

Naturally there are going to be a huge cross-section of people who don’t want to see this, especially those who have it in for our generation, that we are all a bunch of selfish, it’s-all-about-me, self-centered crybabies. If you don’t believe me, google “baby boomers suck” and see what you get. We are blamed for everything from the financial crisis to the current political situation to the high medical costs. We are responsible for taking younger people’s jobs because we won’t die off soon enough. We are aiding in the demise of the world and causing the earth to warm by our conspicuous consumerism.

This is disconcerting, that as a generation we are viewed that way. Personally, I have always been rather pleased to be part of a world-changing group of people. We were sought after, and marketed to when we were younger, but now, not so much. A while back I bitched about NBC taking Harry’s Law off the air. Their reasoning was, we’re old, we’re stuck in the past, we don’t switch brands, we don’t buy enough stuff. All crap, of course, but it appears we, as a generation, have outlived our appeal to advertisers.

Still, there is strength in our sheer numbers, 79 million being one of the more popular counts. It’s decreasing daily, of course, as we die off (although not fast enough for some). If only a portion of this group is interested in reading novels about people their own age, that is still a sizeable market.

The oldest of us are beginning to retire. I did. Gave up the Corporate Hell Life in order to do what I wanted to do. In the coming years, people will retire in great numbers, and with retirement comes leisure, and with leisure comes more time to read.

Baby Boomers Do Not Suck. We are still cool and we will rock our nursing homes. And we’ll still be reading.

It’s about time we had an official Baby Boomer Literature genre.

Rock 'n Read

Rock ‘n Read

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Clipart

 

 

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.

Are You A Twitter User? Check Your Tweets!

If you have decided to use Twitter as a marketing tool for your self-published novel (or for any other reason), check your tweets regularly. Because, if you don’t — You Might Miss Something!

Social media is the way to promote books, if you are an Indie author and/or publisher. That’s pretty much a given, but there are so many venues. Which one(s) to choose? I chose Facebook and Twitter. I have a Facebook fan page, where I post a link to a new blog article, and an autopost goes to Twitter whenever there is a new blog post published.

I checked Twitter faithfully for a long time and accumulated a few followers, and noticed that I would get this notification: “@xtrememarketing is now following you on Twitter!”. When I’d check out this particular Twitter user, often I wouldn’t know how s/he found me in the first place. Many of these strangers were following thousands of other people. I couldn’t figure out how they would ever see my particular tweets and anyway, why would they care about what I had to say?

Puzzling over this, I did a little research and found that what a lot of people do is check the list of followers for people they currently follow, and become followers of all those people. Twitter etiquette is more or less “you follow me, I’ll follow you” but what these mass marketers would do, is unfollow me as soon as I signed up to follow them. You don’t know when someone unfollows you, only when they begin to follow you. So now, you are following them but they don’t have to follow you.

Even if they don’t unfollow you, how can they ever find you, in the sea of tweets of thousands? There are lists that can be created, where you can follow the tweets of only the people you really care about. Again, what are my chances of being included on the A-list?

Bottom line, I forgot about Twitter. Didn’t check, didn’t have time, didn’t bother. Then one night I got the urge to tweet something so I downloaded Tweetdeck onto my phone and now started getting tweets again. This past weekend I got a notification (when someone tweets you directly) that I’d been nominated for a blogger award. But also on that list, was a tweet from one of my Boomers and Books buddies, that she had featured Perigee Moon on her Teaser Tuesday post! Great news, except it was back in June! I hadn’t even known about it.

Gah! I felt terrible.

I should have been on that post, replying to the people who left comments. But it’s too late now, it’s been four months.

Moral of the story: If you sign up for Twitter, people expect you are using it, and they assume you read your tweets. If you aren’t going to check them, disable your account. Otherwise, you won’t know what you are missing.

Many readers of The Tuesday Teaser post left comments. Most were positive, “sounds like a good read”, “will check it out”, etc. But here were three I found interesting:

Luke sounds a little bit spineless

Not sure if its for me though…I like stronger willed characters.

I think that Luke is going to be a character that I would like to shake really hard and tell him to get a life

Poor Luke has had this criticism before, that he can be pushed around, that he doesn’t think for himself, etc. I tried to portray him as a passive sort of guy, who keeps a lot of his thoughts inside and was able to be manipulated when he was younger. Sometimes it takes a little growth and maturity to become the person we were meant to be. It was so with Luke.

I know of a case where this Kate/Luke scenario actually happened. Not firsthand, but a friend of a friend kind of situation. Here’s how it went. The woman stalked him, sat outside his house and waited for him to come home at night, from outings with his friends and even dates with other girls. She wouldn’t go away. Finally, he caved and she got her man, and they’ve been married for decades. This is a happier ending than Luke and Kate but I found that story interesting and fictionalized their relationship on the idea that if one person wants it bad enough, sometimes she can convince the other to go along.

This is what happened to Luke. What do you think? Some of you baby boomers, don’t you think that was possible back then? I thought it was.

And now…

News You Should Not Notice!

“I have something, very, very big concerning the President of the United States.” Donald Trump, self-appointed highly respected political analyst, teased the Fox & Friends folks with this tidbit Monday during a phone interview. He is going to announce it sometime on Wednesday, he says, and “it’s going to be very big.”

DonkeyHotey / Foter / CC BY-SA

Just how big is that, Donald? When are we, as a nation who recognizes people such as this guy as somehow having something valuable to say (like “the job numbers are a lot of monkey business”), going to slap ourselves up side the head and recognize that maybe, uh, he’s a moron? Monkey business? That’s a phrase out of the fifties.

Remember, Donald, “The world rewards the appearance of merit oftener than merit itself.” (François de la Rochefoucauld) 

Appearance is the key word here. You only appear to be someone who matters. You really aren’t.

Distressed Lady Photo courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art.

3D Man Photo courtesy of freedigitalprints.net

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: 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.

Book Review: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

(I must be back in London from Paris by now. We wanted to take the Chunnel Train for that experience. I hope the French people were okay with my woeful French!)

Initially, I was interested in The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry because it’s the success story of a self-published author making it into the big time, and a two million dollar contract. In doing my research for this post to get the particulars, I came upon an NPR story that aired back in 2008. According to that piece, Ms. Barry and her husband thought they could publish the book themselves, since they had a company which published games, but found that the game experience, while helpful, wasn’t exactly the same. The book is set in Salem so they started locally there, and gained support from local book stores, who recommended The Lace Reader to book clubs nearby. The first two clubs got printed pages of the book in boxes, as none had been printed yet, and the book clubs were encouraged to respond with feedback.

Eventually they printed 2000 copies, word of mouth spread to book clubs all over the country and the local bookstores talked the book up and helped them make important contacts in the publishing world. This led them to a publicist who got the book to the influential Publishers Weekly, and the book got a good review.

Once that happened, a Ms. Rebecca Oliver happened on the scene, a literary agent with a somewhat snarky manner and a disgusting Valley Girl accent. “When one thinks of self-published, there’s a sort of a whole, UHHM, idea of what self-published means and that’s that the author has probably tried to sell the book previously to New York publishers and they’re selling it out of the trunk of their car now. And you assume there is a certain quality to the work.” I wonder if Ms. Oliver has changed her mind, as a few years have gone by since she said this and, as we know, the self-publishing world has evolved just a bit since then, and many agents are looking for other ways to make a living.

I wish there were a way to get that VG accent onto paper. The growly, twanginess and that cute little uplift at the end of the sentence, which makes it, like, a question?

Supposedly, the book has “the kind of plot twists that readers like to dissect”. Yes. That the book has a “very compelling ending”. No.

I beg to disagree. The ending has been described by some to rival The Sixth Sense. Remember that one, where Bruce Willis finally realizes he is dead and neither he (nor the audience) had known that before? It worked, but it was a stretch. Well, this novel’s ending is a real stretch and it doesn’t work. I am frankly amazed that it can be described as “compelling”. To me, it was contrived and unbelievable. Yes, I know. It’s fiction. But still.

I liked the book mostly, the editing was perfect. It started on a somewhat funny note, a nice hook, which I always appreciate. The characters were not perfect people, which I also liked, but the mystery surrounding the drowning death of one woman, and the disappearance of another, while compelling, was resolved in a ho-hum sort of way. The real clincher came very near the end, and I nearly threw the book away at that point.

There were pretty, almost poetic lines at the beginning of each chapter, about the lace and how it could be read, which I liked. There were characters who didn’t need to be in the story at all, which I didn’t like.

I’ll do the Page 99 test on this book and find something I liked and something I didn’t. This page happens to be the first page of Chapter 11. I like the blurb at the beginning of the chapter, it is well-written. The half page of text contains short, choppy sentences. I lot of “I did this and then I did that” – Hemingwayesque, without the distinctive writing style.

The book is written in first person present tense, very difficult for an inexperienced author to do, but I thought this was done well.

I liked it well enough, I had started it once, got halfway through and shelved it before taking it up again and starting over. It was a compelling enough read for the most part, but the ending blew it for me.

Book Review: The Art of Mending by Elizabeth Berg

By this time, I have spent one week in London. I hope it’s going well (these posts have been schedled in advance). Here’s a lovely Women’s Fiction Novel.

Elizabeth Berg writes women’s fiction, and she does it well. She was born around the time most of the people who read this blog were, and she mostly writes stories about that age group. Her books aren’t romance novels but are stories about friendship, families, divorce, even death. I really like Ms. Berg’s novels, I’ve read several of them and I will likely go on to read many more.

The Art of Mending is about a woman, Laura, who makes her living as a quilt artist, designing custom creations for clients. She was always the domestic type, hence the title and says the following about the art of mending:

You’ll always notice the fabric scar, of course, but there’s an art to mending: If you’re careful, the repair can actually add to the beauty of the thing, because it is testimony to its worth.

At a family reunion, her sister reveals some things, things that happened during their childhood, about their mother, things that Laura doesn’t believe, or maybe she half believes, or maybe she really knew all along, but didn’t want to believe. I was hooked, on the suspense of what it was Laura’s sister would tell her, and it kept me reading.

I liked this book, but it might not be my favorite. Some of the others were funnier. Ms. Berg has a distinctive voice, and some of her characters are unusual and quirky. She writes about everyday things, things that could happen to anyone, from breast cancer to broken marriages to high school reunions.

There were characters and revelations and situations and I wasn’t quite sure why they were in the story. An example: Laura decides to throw a small dinner party and the attendees promised to make an interesting mix and then it didn’t happen. Everyone cancelled and I wondered why it was brought up in the first place. I didn’t clearly understand the motivation behind a certain revelation from her husband, and occasionally I felt like some of the story was “filler”.

The author has a way of ending a chapter that is filled with meaning. There might be a name for it; Jodi Picoult does it to an even greater degree than Elizabeth Berg, a way of saying something and then twisting it around, so that it is more dramatic. Here’s an example:

My mother, smiling brightly, looking directly into your eyes before she embraced you tightly, would feel a million miles away. My father, averting his gaze before he took you into his arms, would be the one who felt close.

(If anyone knows the name for that particular technique, please comment!)

There is a section I particularly liked, as Laura described her life and the love she has for her husband. She married later in life, he had lost his first wife, and they are a genuinely happy couple. Laura talks about how nothing has changed for her, as far as her husband is concerned, that he still thrills her, and as a couple, they are as they always were. It was a very sweet internalization, and it made me think.

I would recommend this author to anyone who likes good women’s fiction.

Book Review: Man in the Woods by Scott Spencer

My first full day in London. Bet I’m still jet-lagged! Below is a review of a great novel. It could be called Women’s Fiction, but maybe General Fiction is a better category for it.

This is not the first book I have read by Scott Spencer, but I guess I’d have to say it’s the best I’ve read so far. But I might feel that way, because I’ve just read it. I probably felt the same way after all the others.

There’s just something about Mr. Spencer’s books, his judicious use of passive voice and present tense, that makes his writing lyrical and melancholy. That’s the feeling I got from this novel, an underlying sadness. Something happened, something that was never supposed to happen, that could have been avoided if only Paul, the main character, hadn’t been where he was at the time he was. And still the event could have been avoided even then, but it happened and it was just plain bad luck that it did. It was traumatic. Life changing.

Once the event has taken place, and everything has changed, Paul has to adjust to it. And not only does it change his life, but the life of Kate, the woman with whom he lives. Kate showed up earlier in A Ship Made of Paper and I liked her then too, but since that time, she’s become a recovering alcoholic and written a self-help book called Prays Well With Others. She feels she’s been helped by God, that she has seen the light, that her life is now guided and she shares it with her readers, and because she is a superb writer, she becomes very successful. She and Paul live with her daughter, Ruby, in a rural farmhouse in upstate New York.

The event involves a dog. The dog witnessed the event, and Paul takes the dog to live with him. And Mr. Spencer proves he can capture the essence of the dog, as well as he does his other characters. The dog has a personality, a quiet animal with good days and bad days. He’s predictably sweet and Paul, Kate and Ruby settle in with him, until they can’t remember when he wasn’t around.

Paul is the strong, handsome type, a carpenter, completely smitten with Kate, and Kate loves Paul with a love so all-encompassing, it matters little that there are differences and silences between them. It’s a beautiful love story, and Kate might be a little quicker-witted than Paul, and she makes the majority of the money that supports their household, but that doesn’t matter to her. To be trite, he “completes” her.

There are internalizations of Paul and Kate, which seem to be essays in themselves. No dialogue, just beautiful words, masterful sentences. One of my favorites was one of Kate’s. She is on a timetable, always plotting, planning time for she and Paul to be alone together. He’s a little more casual, he doesn’t seem to recognize that there might be a half hour here or there, when they could be “together” like Kate does. She hurries through life in order to get back to Paul while his path through life is less planned.

An example:

She doesn’t mind doing the work, because of the reward. The slow fill of him as he notches his hips inch by inch closer to her, she enjoys the anticipation of the bright delirium sex unleashes in her, an extremity of emotion and abandon that she has never before experienced and never actually believed other people experienced, either, and she enjoys moving things around in her schedule so there is more time for them to be together. It’s like clearing brush so the flowers can be seen. But there is no question in her mind that if Paul were in her position right now he would not be thinking of how to get out of the city in time to be home so that there was a chance to lie next to her.

Scott Spencer is one of those authors who says so much in a few words, it’s as if each word is carefully chosen. I like to think of his wonderful sentences rolling off the keyboard one after another, but they are so perfect, I doubt that’s how it happens.

He is also a master of adult love affairs, the positive and negative aspects and with obsessive love, evident in his earlier novel, Endless Love, which was made into a movie. I have yet to see it, and maybe I never will because I’ve heard it’s different from the book and a bit, well, cheesy.

Once in a while, a graphic detail might pop out at you, and it can be a little shocking. I saw it in a couple of his other books but not this one so much.

When I’m reading a Scott Spencer novel, I like to read a chapter and think about what I’ve read before starting another. I’m going to be very disappointed when there’s no Scott Spencer books I haven’t read. I like to wait a while between reading them, because I find myself thinking for weeks about what I’ve read.

I give this novel five stars. An enthusiastic five stars.

Will I Ever Be Freshly Pressed?

Will it ever happen? Will I ever be Freshly Pressed?

Alas. So far, it has not been so.

Being Freshly Pressed is a big deal to WordPress bloggers. And we all know that WordPress is the best blogging platform ever (!) with the best blogging tools ever (!!) and WordPress is, well, pretty awesome. (Will this help my chances, WordPress?)

If a blogger’s post ends up on the WordPress home page, he or she can expect high stats, lots of readers, lots of likes, lots of comments, lots of followers. In turn, if the blogger is a writer of books (like me), those readers will see my books, click on the images, buy from Amazon, and write five-star reviews. And I will live happily ever after.

I have never been, nor am I likely ever to be, Freshly Pressed. It just doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me. What am I doing wrong? Why can’t the WordPress gurus find me? Why do some bloggers become freshly pressed on their very first post?

And another thing. Occasionally (and I mean this literally – occasionally) I get a notification that a new reader is following my blog. These are so scarce that I nearly always look them up, see what they are up to. I see bloggers who have been at it for four months and have hundreds of followers already. How are they doing that? I have some piddling percentage of that number! Bah!

Enough whining.

I decided to look at each blog post that was Freshly Pressed as of Friday, July 20, to see if I could figure out what was good about it. What was it that caught the eyes of the choosers?

Here are a few of the FPd posts, and links, in case you are interested.

Can a Film Ever Truly Beat a Good Book? Basically no, says the post. If it is a really good book, one where you are drawn in by the characters and the story, a movie will usually come up a lot or a little short. Exception: The Help was almost as good in its film version as the book, but not quite. A very well-written post. 

Hey Rubiks Cube, EFF You! Okay. This is not good, not funny, filled with slight profanities which supposedly gets you bumped from the Freshly Pressed list. The formatting was strange. It had a nice picture of a Rubiks cube. I thought the original had a couple of typos but those have been corrected, if there were any. It was not long, thankfully.

Why Blogging Scares Me. OMG. This was good, the blogger is young (19) and that was apparent, which is fine. I like it a little better if you can’t discern the age or sex of the writer immediately. At least until they give away details so the reader can then figure it out. That’s just me though. The really pissable-off part is that this is the first post this individual has ever written! What?! How does it work that a first post such as this gets noticed and makes the list? I don’t get it. Not that it wasn’t good but… Really? Does this blogger know someone who is calling the Freshly Pressed shots?  It was well-written, despite a plethora of italics, bolded text and caps.

Shirley the Sheepish Feminist. This is pretty good, a post about feminism and why Jerry Seinfeld, in his new show Comedians Driving Around Getting Coffee, found  no women comics to drive around and chat with, only men. 

DIY Scratch Off Cards. Okay, who in their right mind wants to waste time making scratch-off cards?  I’m sure these cards work fine, and there were detailed instructions complete with pictures on how to make them. But why would anyone do this? In the event that I am completely missing the irony intended and also duly noting its originality (i.e. that anyone would have investigated this topic enough to write about it) I’d have to say this was very good.

Why I Watch The Newsroom. I have been told this is a very good series. I intend to watch it, so I was interested to read the review, which was good. From the comments, most think the show is excellent or were encouraged to watch by virtue of reading this post. It was a good review.

Follow the White Rabbit. I didn’t get much of this. It’s about artificial intelligence or something. I started yawning as soon as I realized this. Not into science fiction or fantasy or AI. Nice photos of billboards. Some would probably think this interesting. Alas, not me. But there’s nothing wrong with the post.

Dogs Married In $158,187.25 Wedding! Why Are You Still Single? Apparently a couple of dogs were wed and this pricey event took place in order to raise money for the Humane Society. It was just okay, not great. A picture of the bride and groom would have been funnier but this was not provided. The over-the-top craziness didn’t really work for me.

To My Son…..Finally The Phone Call. Wow. Poetry? I guess it is, short packed phrases which depict this mother’s trouble with her adult son. It was moving, yet I felt voyeuristic reading it, as if perhaps something so personal might be better left to a more private venue than the internet. And then it went FPd so even more people saw it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. 

My 15 Minutes. I suspect most of the calamities suffered during the 15 minutes before the film crew arrived might be a bit of an exaggeration in order to make this post funny. It didn’t work too well for me. Interesting concept: The writer of this blog is giving herself 1000 single days (no relationships, no dates, no sex) in order to “find herself”. That might work, but I guess if I told my husband I was going off for three years, he’d have some trouble with that.

DIY: Swimsuit Wrap. (Apparently “DIY” is big now.) Made with 1½ yards of fabric, four grommets and two chains. For some, I think this would be fine. Myself, I’m into “cover-ups” that are a little less revealing. My current cover-up is a burka. Nice post.

10 Non-fiction Books For the Novel Lover. I’ve read three, and this is a reminder that I always wanted to read Fast Food Nation. A good list.

None of these blogs rate an A+ in my opinion, although there have been FPd posts that I thought did merit that high grade. I have started following several blogs based on the post that was Freshly Pressed, and continue to enjoy every post from these fine writers. Here are three: The Write Transition, Life in the Boomer Lane, and The Byronic Man.

Photo courtesy of freedigitalprints.net