Category Archives: Criticiism

Marketing My Novel, Step 2


I hadn’t anticipated writing about this topic under marketing my novel. On reflection, I think it is where it belongs. It is about making mistakes and learning from them BEFORE the book goes on sale. I said I would share my mistakes, so you can avoid making the same ones. Here goes.

Today I had a discussion with one of my editors. He is a perfectionist, which is why I like him reading my stuff. He kicks my ass when I make mistakes. He makes me a better writer.

The conversation today went something like this:

“I have a couple of thoughts about the manuscript. First, I want to tell you it is difficult to keep track of the story when you send me only a chapter at a time. ”

“The re-write process is taking longer than I anticipated. I feel less guilty if I give you something.”

“Oh, you are re-writing before it gets to me?”

Oh-oh, I think. This sounds ominous.

“Yes, that’s why you aren’t finding a lot of mistakes. You aren’t returning pages to me with many marks. I’ve already edited the chapter during the re-write.”

“Like I said, it’s a long time between chapters, so I am having trouble retaining the story line between edits. I read so much in between your chapters. I want to mention a suggestion to you. I have to think about it in my own writing.  It’s how a writer introduces backstory. The chapter I just read has a lot of backstory. I can’t remember what happened in your earlier chapters.”

More discussion follows on the skill of integrating backstory into the actual plot.

“Yes, I understand what you are saying. I just read an article about Sue Grafton. The article described her mastery of mixing backstory directly into the storytelling. I will make a point to read one of her novels solely to study that technique, so I can improve my skill. I know of a different writer who warns authors who use “data dump” to tell the backstory that they are boring their readers. So I understand what you are telling me; I need to be careful about loads of background weighing down the pace of the story.”

“In my novel, chapter one starts the story. Chapter two goes to backstory. In chapter three, I go right back to the story line.”

“Are you telling me I’ve used too much backstory?”

“I am saying ‘maybe’ because I can’t remember the detail of your earlier chapters. I know this chapter had a lot of backstory.”

There are two lessons here for you and your work.

First, think about how you tell backstory. Don’t bury your reader in it. I’ll have to look at my manuscript, once all the editing is complete, for how I have handled the history of the characters. I may have to re-order chapters to avoid too much in one night’s reading. My nightmare would be having to re-write the story to fix the problem.

Second, give your editor the entire manuscript–or at least a big chunk of it–at once, not a chapter at a time as I did. It handicaps the person who is trying to help you improve your work. My editor reads so much other material between my chapters that he can’t recall the flow or detail of my work. He’s limited to remarking on each chapter as a stand-alone piece.

I was planning to finish another chapter this weekend to hand over to the editor. I will hold it now until I have several chapters ready to be edited. At least that way he will be better able to critique the flow of my story, whether I have loose ends dangling, and the like. The upside to handing over the whole thing is I get a better editorial commentary on the novel. The downside is there may be many more editorial notes about corrections I need to make.

But, wait, that’s an upside, too.

George Johnson and a Baseball Tale


Congratulations, George!

George Johnson is a member of Writers of the Desert Rose Cafe, the writers group to which I belong. He recently released his first novel Acre. I’ve excerpted part of a review from HuntingtonNews.Net. Let’s read it and see what WE can learn to improve our own writing:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Acre’: A Fable About a Baseball Player Who Seems Too Good to be True

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 – 18:10Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
 BOOK REVIEW: 'Acre': A Fable About a Baseball Player Who Seems Too Good to be True

George Johnson’s “Acre” (Acorn Book Services, trade paperback/available as a Kindle eBook, 288 pages, $15.00, available from Amazon.com, Powell’s books, Barnes and Noble and other online book sources) is about a baseball player who seems too good to be true, playing in a time when $35,000 a year was a good salary.

Growing up in Delaney, Utah in the 1940s and early 1950s, Acre Thomas Tulley knows he’s destined to play major league baseball, specifically for the Kansas City Royals. But since this is a fantasy — it has to be! — It’s an alternate universe Kansas City Royals. I didn’t think the Royals were around in the 1950s, when a $35,000 yearly salary was considered excellent. I turned to the trusty Google and Wikipedia — two wonders that didn’t exist when Acre was practicing hitting in the batting cage his father built for him — and learned that the K.C. Royals were a 1969 expansion team in the American League, along with the Seattle Pilots.

But since this is fiction, just let the words flow and enjoy this tale of a remarkable young man, who, after he joins the team on a year-to-year basis, decides he’s going to play for ten years, then marry Willa, his sweetheart, and attend Utah University. Does Acre Tulley keep to his plan, despite the Gold Gloves, the All-Star Game appearances as a second baseman, the adulation, and the money? Management at the Royals wishes Tulley would play forever: He’s a seat filler and fan favorite and a .400-plus hitter.

I’m not going to give away the plot points, other than to say to know Acre is to love him. He devotes time to visit terminally ill young people in hospitals, including an admirer named Homer Dweed (get used to weird names, the book is full of them!), a cancer patient at Children’s Hospital. Acre Tulley is paying for Homer’s treatment in an arrangement that Homer’s single mom doesn’t know about. Did I say he’s too good to be true! The scenes where Acre and Willa visit Homer are guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes.

If you’re a baseball fan, you’ll love this book, especially as the All-Star Game nears. If you’re not, you’re in luck because Johnson provides a glossary of terms. . .

Acre. . . may remind you of Bernard Malamud’s 1952 baseball novel (and the excellent Barry Levinson film version) “The Natural.”

About the Author
George Johnson is a retired elementary school teacher from Prince George’s County, Maryland. He thought about “Acre” for two years before he finally put it in writing. Then it took him three years, off and on, to complete it and put it in print. Being a late starter, George completed his second book of fiction called Timber. Acre and Timber are brother and sister. Timber took him two years to complete. At the present time he is putting together a collection of short stories he has compiled over the years. George lives in Hagerstown, Maryland with Sharon, his wife of fifty-four years.

Notice the criticisms:

First, the reviewer says George’s character Acre is too good to be true. I was privy to criticism George received from Acorn Book Services before the book was published.  The publisher made the same observation. The author chose to keep Acre as he is. That is the writer’s prerogative. That choice did not escape notice by the reviewer.

Second, the reviewer catches factual errors in George’s novel. The baseball team George writes about did not exist in the year George sets his story. Oopsie! The lesson for authors–check your facts. Do your research. Or get caught, as George did, with your pants down.

These lessons aside, the reviewer liked the characters and the story. That’s a tremendous achievement for an author’s first novel. George deserves a pat on the back. May I be as fortunate when my first novel hits the critic’s desk.

Guest Post from Lauren Carr on Grammar


Now, every editor has a thing or two or three or dozen, in which they will not trust their knowledge, but will look it up in their style manual every single time. For me, the question of a proper name ending in “s” and used in possessive is one of those things. The Chicago Style Manual called for this possessive to be “s’”, not “s’s”.

Lauren Carr photo

Well, the author said I was wrong and that it is supposed to be “s’s”.

So, I looked it up again, not just in the Chicago Style Manual, but several sites on the Internet. Not only did I discover that the answer varies in the Chicago Style Manual depending on which edition you use, but I also found a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States had gotten involved in this very argument while writing a decision on a case! Even the justices disagreed! Clarence Thomas (who should know since his name ends in an “s”) declared that it is “s’”.

I let the author have the last word and changed all of the possessive references for this character to “s’s”.

Then, upon proofing the book, the author brought in his daughter, a technical writer, who declared that it should be “s’”, without the extra “s”.

So I had to change it back.

Many people who are not in the business of writing, editing, or publishing fiction fail to realize that many of the grammar and punctuation rules that we were taught as being carved in stone really are not—especially when it comes to fiction.

Since working with new writers on their first books, I have been amazed by how many have friends who are grammar teachers, or professional technical writers, who suddenly come out of the woodwork when it comes to proofing (not editing) their buddy’s first book. These friends are more than ready to criticize how the book has been edited. Unfortunately, these friends, who are well meaning and probably have the apostrophe rules down pat, are not experienced editors of fiction, which is as specialized, and different, as technical editing.

If you needed a heart transplant, would you ask your neighbor, who happens to be a brain surgeon, to perform the operation or to stand by in the operating room to second guess your heart surgeon?

My point in this post is not to gripe (maybe it is), but it is also to educate new writers, and readers and reviewers, that when proofing, or reading fiction, what we would call “basic grammar and punctuation” is not really so basic when it comes to editing fiction.

Example: Can you imagine Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn written in the Queen’s English? Well, it isn’t. If a high school language arts teacher had gotten her hands on that novel …

Editors of fiction have to take the author’s voice, the character’s point of view, the reading audience, and how the general population reads novels into consideration when it comes to editing a novel.  YA audiences read present day erotica differently than readers with a more educated palate will read a sweeping historical epic. As a result, the editing needs to be adjusted accordingly. 

Sometimes, due to the character’s point of view and the circumstance—like a climactic scene—the passage will call for fragmented sentences that would make your eighth grade language arts teacher’s hair curl.  Or maybe another passage will call for long run-on sentences.

Now, this is not to say that when it comes to writing that we should toss out our high school grammar books and let anything go. No, that is not my point.

When reading fiction, I have found that I have grown to become more forgiving of what previously I would have viewed as blatant grammatical errors, because maybe in some style manual somewhere this error is not incorrect. Unless it is a glaring misuse of the words there, they’re, and their. That I cannot forgive—or is the Supreme Court of the United States arguing about that, too?

Things I’ve Learned as an Indie Author


Excepted from “Top Ten Things I’ve Learned as an Indie Author” by R. S. Guthrie

http://www.molly-greene.com/top-ten-things-ive-learned-as-an-indie-author/

I, Fay Moore, am an Indie Author. The easiest writing project I participated in was the Writers of the Desert Rose Cafe, An Anthology (e-book on Amazon & Barnes & Noble).

a. it’s success wasn’t all riding on me

b. its failure wasn’t all riding on me

c. the work was shared with others

d. I could write as little or as much as I wished (or as the group would allow)

The experience was like Nirvana–not based in reality.

Now I am working on my first murder mystery. Everything is riding on me!

So when I stumbled upon the “Molly Greene: Writer” blog with R. S. Guthrie’s article, I flew to it like a hummingbird to a bee balm patch. It was realistic information to help me adjust my expectations. Helpful? Yes!

Here is a partial excerpt:

4. You won’t succeed. Not at first. That’s a near absolute guarantee. It takes time, as do all good things. Patience in the book market is not a virtue, it’s a RAW NECESSITY.

3. You will question yourself again. Patience is tough. We are a society that needs instant gratification. Don’t. Need it, that is.

2. Sales do not equal success. Watched pots never boil. (Actually, they do, but by the time it happens you’ve already driven yourself insane and you’ll never know it.) Don’t watch your sales and rankings obsessively. Your success is not measured in such ways, no more than the worth of a castle is measured by the number of bricks you hold in your hand at one time.

1. You will succeed. You must believe in yourself, and that you’ll succeed; believe despite all other scary facts, poor advice, failures, faux successes, more failures, naysayers, friends who disappoint, talentless writers who miraculously succeed—focus on yourself and your own journey. If you have talent, and you work hard, and most importantly you persevere, you will succeed. No one knows when, least of all you.

Just do the work. Write, and write well.

About Rob Guthrie: R. S. Guthrie has been writing fiction for several years. Black Beast is the first in the series of Clan of MacAulay books featuring Denver detective Bobby Mac. L O S T is the second book in the popular Paranormal Mystery-Detective series and Guthrie is writing a third book that will close out the Clan of MacAulay trilogy (though it is not the final Detective Bobby Mac book).

The author finished his magnum opus—a Mystery/Thriller novel set against the backdrop of the contemporary West, entitled Dark Prairies. The story takes place in a fictional town in his home state of Wyoming and was published in 2012. A prerelease excerpt was featured in the June 2011 issue of New West magazine.

R.S. Guthrie currently lives in Colorado with his beautiful wife, Amy, three Australian Shepherds, and a Chihuahua who thinks she is a forty-pound Aussie. It is a widely known fact that the canines rule the Guthrie household.

She’s a Winner in My Book


When I saw this, I thought to myself, “This girl has the heart of a writer.”

Instead of doing nothing–or retaliating in kind–she chooses to use words and reason and the public forum to champion her cause. As any writer would do, she looks at the bigger picture framing the conflict. She thinks how the situation impacts others globally and why the problem she confronts is larger than just her own personal problem.

Then she acts. As a writer. She puts her thoughts into words for the purpose of creating change–in one human heart or in the world. She wishes for the larger change, but will be content with the smaller one. The goal is change.

Watch this young woman’s videographic solution to her own problem, and see if you don’t agree with me.

When the Criticism is Harsh


As creative types and authors, we know criticism is coming. Since we invite it, we steel ourselves. Yet the savagery with which some critics deliver their opinions can penetrate our defenses. It cuts to the quick of us.

On those occasions, bring the following sage words to mind.

From AP and Hello magazine, quoting Paul Emsley, award-winning artist and painter of Princess Kate’s first official portrait. His painting has been harshly criticized:

“At first the attacks were so vicious that there was a point where I myself doubted that the portrait of the duchess was any good,” Emsley, 75. “But now I’ve had time to reflect, I am still happy with it and am getting on with my life. There is nothing I would have changed.”

After devoting nearly four months of his life to the painting, Emsley says the criticisms that he describes as a “witch hunt” and a “circus” were “destructive” to him and his wife and two daughters.

“Some of the words written about it were so personal. I’d be inhuman if I said it didn’t affect me,” he said. “When you take on commissions like this it is hazardous and you expect a bit of flak, but I expected nothing like the criticism I have received. I didn’t expect it to go to the levels it did.”

“It really wasn’t pleasant and I stopped reading what had been written,” Emsley said of the conversation that exploded online and in the worldwide press. “I have coped with the criticism by going back into my studio and getting on with it.”

Or you could do what Taylor Swift does and write a song about it. 🙂