Tag Archives: critic

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.

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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. 🙂

Anthology Sales Update


Without any serious marketing as such,  Writers of the Desert Rose Cafe (Hmmmm. Is that singular or plural?) has sold 35 copies of the anthology to date.

And there are two reviews written and posted on Amazon.com. Reading the reviews was exciting. It gave insight and feedback to us on our work.

The sales break down like this:

Amazon.com 34 copies sold

Barnes & Noble 1 copy sold

Several copies have been purchased by the dining patrons of the Desert Rose Cafe. Owner Rose Harris reported there is a lively interest in the book and how the group came to publish it.

Perhaps, in the near future, there will be a “Meet the Writers” event, which may garner a bit of newspaper coverage. That event, or a complimentary newspaper article, may yield a couple of more sales.

What can be done now to sell books?

I have to buckle down and prepare press releases. All of the writers group members need to promote the book on their own social media, blog or web site. This year, I postponed sending out my Christmas letter. I want to write a New Year’s letter and include a promotional blurb in it about the book. Next, I need to put on my thinking cap to figure out other ways to exploit the “local writer” designation.

In sales, they teach you to sell first to family, then to friends or acquaintances, then to neighbors or the local market, then beyond. Until a writer has established himself, the likeliest buyer is someone who knows him or knows of him.

Finally, I need to utilize the “store” component here on WordPress. Obviously, visitors to this site should be able to buy the book.

The lesson in all of this?

Sales don’t magically happen for an author. To sell books, an author has to promote his or her books. That means getting creative so that whatever selling the writer does is effective and affordable.

Writers hate marketing. However, it is a necessary evil, especially for the new author.

Don’t overlook the sales that can be generated by friends or family. Word of mouth is always the best sales tool. A person who reads and likes your book is the most credible advertiser. Ask for help to promote your book.

I would love to hear from other independent authors about the success you’ve had selling your books. Please share the lessons you’ve learned, the mistakes you’ve made or the tactics that have succeeded. In what venue did you sell the majority of your books? Where did things fizzle? What was hard? What worked well?

Talk to me.  I am all ears.

As a Writer, What If I Am Just Average?


On WordPress, I continue to be amazed by the collection of talent. Sometimes an author’s writing floors me with its power, cleverness, raw emotion or beautiful use of language.

I am none of those things. I am a nerd who can correctly string together a series of words. As a writer–as a word artist–I am average.

How then do I expect to compete in the commercial marketplace? The same way an average employee competes in the workplace. By showing up. By giving my best effort. And like a tidal wave, by sheer volume. A dose of self-promotion is important, too. If I don’t market, I won’t sell. (Please don’t stop reading here. The best of this post is yet to come.)

I’ve said this before and I will say it again: throw enough at a wall and something will stick.

Part of succeeding as an average writer is finding my audience. I do that by writing in all the ways that appeal to me–short stories, haiku, flash fiction and novels. (In 2013, I hope to add internet content to the list.) Then I analyze. Of those things I like to write, what are people reading?

I need to look at my statistics. What do statistics tell me about what readers like in my work? Is it my true confessions? Is it self-improvement or how-to articles? Pop culture? Or factual pieces? Humorous stories? The off-the-wall?

Success is finding the match of my abilities with a need in the marketplace.

Ask the reader.

So I am asking you right now. What do you like best about this blog? Why do you stop by? Is there something which you’d like to see more often? Any answer is a helpful one. Silence hurts. So tell me something, anything, that will make this blog a better experience for you. Even if it is what you don’t like. Say, “Fay, dump this. Keep that.” Bring it on. Help me get better.

For me, that’s what it is all about. The best part is serving, helping, pleasing you, the reader.

The next best part is getting good enough to earn a paycheck! But that’s another post for another day.  🙂

When To Stop Writing


A few days ago, I finished rewriting on my contributions to The Writers of the Desert Rose Cafe Anthology. I sent my revisions to the members who collate the contributions into the final manuscript. The volume will be turned over to Acorn Book Services for formatting and uploading to the marketplace for e-books. (Hopefully in December.)

I received a couple of specific criticisms from the publisher on two of my pieces. However, I revised almost every story, including my biographical paragraph.

After re-reading the pieces multiple times, I wanted to yank out several of my entries because now I hate them. I don’t want them published under my name. They aren’t perfect. They aren’t mature. They bore me. Some are pablum.  Pablum suggests simplistic writing.

I tell myself. “This is a first effort, so the stench of the amateur shouldn’t surprise anyone.” That’s my scared self speaking.

I’m delighted that the editor suggested changes to improve stories. Consequently, there are two or three pieces I think deliver entertainment for the reader. Satisfactorily. Worth the price of admission. Maybe leaving the reader curious about what comes next from this author.

And I grew. As an author. As a wordsmith. As a human being. As an experimenter.

Striving to make something excellent is good, to a point.  Sometimes a writer rewrites and rewrites, seeking perfection in a piece. But there  does come a time to stop: stop reworking, stop criticizing, stop touching up. At that point, it’s time to publish and let the chips fall where they may. It’s time to face the music.

Am I ready for the commercial press? Book buyers will vote. Readers will tell me.

If my collection of work is a screw up,  I hope a reader is brave enough to spell out specifics for me, not just the critique “I don’t like it.”  It’s the “I don’t like it because. . .” that helps me improve the next time.

Point of View


Recently, I read C. J. Gorden’s post on the writing element called point of view. It was an eye-opener for me. In her post, C.J. talks about taking a manuscript that she believed was editor-ready to a panel for critiquing. She learned much from the comments of the professional readers.

You can read C. J. Gorden’s entire piece here. I recommend it:

http://cjgorden.wordpress.com/category/elements-of-writing/point-of-view-elements-of-writing/

Her experience made me realize how uninformed I am as an author. I shoot from the hip. I may be lucky enough to string words together coherently, but I don’t know the first thing about many of the elements that make good, even great, writing.

I think I will follow C. J. Gorden’s example when I think my novel is editor-ready. I will pay a professional to read and critique it.

 

FEAR OF FAILURE


Reading the comments over the past few days, I realize that many writers share a common malady: fear of failure.

Lee Warren, D.D. writes ” The most powerful forces known to man are not nuclear weapons, nor nature’s awesome wonders, such as the might of an earthquake, the power of the sun, or mastery of a hurricane, but the thoughts and ideas of the mind. ”

If the thoughts of the mind are fear driven, the power of the thoughts can be negative. For example, professional sports teams pay psychological specialists to work with athletes who are choking in the game because of fear.

Performance anxiety is common across a multitude of professions. Singers and stage actors often describe “butterflies” before a performance. However, when the fear grows, it becomes stage fright. It can stop the presentation in its tracks.

Writers fear reader rejection or critical censure. Self-doubt stymies creative process. A manuscript collects dust because the author is afraid to finish it. Fear incapacitates.

Buckminster Fuller wrote, “Whatever humans have learned had to be learned as a consequence of trial and error experience. Humans learn through mistakes.”

It is possible to move past fear. It helps to put fear in perspective. Try saying these positive statements out loud to yourself:

  • I know that everyone feels fear of failing from time to time. I can learn to control my fear.
  • Failing at something doesn’t make me a failure. I learn from my mistakes. Learning from mistakes is the sign of a successful person.
  • I am courageous for expressing myself.
  • I am entitled to my opinion.
  • If what I tried the first time didn’t work, I can fix it. Or I can try something different.

“There is no failure. Only feedback.” –Robert Allen

Feedback is non-threatening. It helps us key in on how well we are communicating. It is the gauge of how we are doing in our growth process as writers.

When my daughter was a teenager, she talked about her career dreams. As is typical of a child’s mind, she believed she would start out at the CEO level of performance.  I explained that life is a learning curve. We have to start somewhere and then work our way up through skill development, practice and perseverance. We have to pay our dues.

As authors, we have to start somewhere. We write. We let others read it. We listen to the feedback from critical readers. We take the information provided to hone our skills. We dare and extend ourselves to practice, practice, practice. We write something. We let others read it. And the circle goes round and round. Eventually, we get more positive feedback than we did before. We keep pushing forward, paying our dues.

That’s the way it gets done. One written page at a time.