Tag Archives: critique

Music To My Ears (Eyes)


A writer begs to be read and appreciated for his craft, his art. Today I was lifted from a groveling place on the ground to Cloud Nine by author Shelton Keys Dunning.

A while ago, Troy P invited me to write the ending to a short story called “The Reunion.” Three writers preceded me in contributing to the story line. The author that started the tale was Shelton Keys Dunning.

To make a long story short, in the comments on my post “Writing Changes,” Dunning wrote words that made me giddy. I have to share them here:

I saw your potential in storycrafting when you finished my The Reunion on such a perfect endnote. I’ve been a fan ever since. I’m truly looking forward to purchasing everything you do!

If you are a writer, you know the weightiness and import of those words to my soul. It means every agonizing hour spent trying to get it right is worth it.

Shelton Keys Dunning, I pray I never let you down. And know this, if I screw up once (or twice), I will drive myself to fix it the next time around. For you! For readers like you who make the writer’s agony all worth while.

I love you. Thank you for lifting me up!

And, Troy, thank you for inviting me to write in a different venue, allowing me to reach out to a broader readership than this blog affords me. I love you, too.

I look forward to the day I can pay it forward and help out another writer. Helping each other to grow and expand is what it is all about.

Advertisements

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.

The Value of a Sidekick


Thank you, Wretched Richard’s Almanac, (http://richarddaybell.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/wretched-richards-almanac-5-7-13/) for providing the inspiration for this post.

Authors are loners of sorts. We tend to write books in privacy.

Yet, to improve or validate our work, we need helpful others. The helpful other, like the sidekick in the old-time western film, provides a counter-point to our own perspective about our work. A sidekick will read our story and truthfully dissect it for us to make either the story or the author better.

A valuable sidekick is, above all, a truth-teller. It takes a brave person to tell a creator that his creation is flawed. A sidekick is also a diplomat; The truth-telling, to be effective, must be done tactfully. Finally, the sidekick must be knowledgeable. Effective criticism comes out of taste or expertise garnered through experience. If the sidekick is an avid reader in our genre–and has an artist’s soul of sorts–he discerns when a story works or doesn’t. Because our sidekick is intelligent, he can articulate  the “why” when the manuscript fails.

I feel fortunate to have three sidekicks to give me the necessary kick-in-the-pants I need to improve my work. Sometimes I am obstinate and ignore sage advice. It is to my own detriment when I do.

A valuable sidekick is trying to make my writing better. That, to an author, is a priceless gift.

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.