Not much news going on here. I finished my final step on A HERO TO COME HOME TO — the page proofs — and am now concentrating on the next Harlequin book. It’ll be out next Agust — that gives me books in April, June and August — and it just got titled last week: COPPER LAKE ENCOUNTER. I’m putting my words into the book, so I don’t have much to say here today. Instead I decided to share a picture from my last walk.
Last week, I blogged here about being a tad sensitive to comments I’d gotten from reader. In a nutshell, she not only hated my book but complained that it was full of grammar and punctuation errors. It didn’t bother me that she hated the book, but her criticism of my grammar and punctuation lit my hair on fire.
This week I’m sort of still talking about the same thing, only this time the focus is on the reader not liking my book. We authors all have two things in common: huge egos (otherwise, how could we honestly think something we’d written is worthy of being available to read — and for money — all over the world?) and huge insecurities (omg, what made me think that piece of disjointed crap should ever see the light of day?). We are (usually) our own biggest cheerleaders and our own toughest critics.
Writing a manuscript is intensely personal. No matter how hard we try, there’s not an author out there who doesn’t put some part of her self into each and every book, so when the criticism comes, it can feel personal. One of the first things newbies have to learn about the business is not to take it personally.
Writing and reading are subjective. Every person brings his/her own beliefs, education, abilities, understandings and preferences to every book they write/read. If we have a smidgen of talent, other people will eventually find our books and look forward to every one of them. If we have ginormous luck, it will be a whole lot of people and we’ll make bestseller lists and lots of money and live comfortably live after.
(Yeah, I just said that luck is more important than talent in selling, in making bestseller lists and in making a living from this business.)
Back before I sold my first book, I was a voracious reader. There were books I loved, books that weren’t anything special but filled a few hours for me, and books that made me do the proverbial toss-against-the-wall and say, “I can do better than that.” Back then I was reading strictly for character, plot, emotion — things that made me happy when I closed the book.
Then I sold my first book, and it became a brand-new ballgame. After going through line-edits and copy-edits and page proofs, I realized that there was a whole new job for me: learning what the editors were looking at. Why did they cut this scene? Why did they put a comma there and take out one there? Why did this work for them when that didn’t?
I not only studied my own manuscripts; I began to study the books I was reading for pleasure. After all, they were already published by a major publishers, many by my own.
And that was pretty much the end to my carefree life of reading for pleasure. It’s so hard for me to read a book now without wanting to grab a red pen and start correcting mistakes, writing notes in the margins, attaching Post-Its to the pages. I have to consciously turn off my internal editor and say, “I’m reading for fun; it’s not critique; it’s not work.”
After I reached that point, though, I was no longer satisifed with just any book I picked up. I was reading for technique, for craft, in addition to storytelling. And I found that a lot of big authors are strong in storytelling but weak in technique and craft.
I can list fifty bestselling authors today whose books I won’t read. Maybe it’s subject matter. (I hate vampires and demons.) Maybe it’s a craft problem. (I hate head-hopping, where you only spend a few paragraphs or pages in one character’s head and then, without warning, you’re in a different character’s head.) I hate kitchen-sink plotting (where the author throws in everything but the kitchen sink). I just don’t like the types of characters some big-name authors tend to write.
But, like I said, it’s all subjective. We’re different. We like different foods and clothes and music and cars and people, so it stands to reason that we’ll like different books. The reader who wrongly criticized my grammar and punctutation is entitled to dislike my book (and with the grammar/punctuation rules changing fairly regularly and from publisher to publisher, she’s entitled to think I did it wrong. I didn’t, but she’s allowed to think so.)
Seriously, I’ve received enough rejections, bad reviews and critical reader letters that they don’t bother me much. As another author pointed out to me long, long ago, all that negative stuff is just one person’s opinion.
And everyone’s entitled to their opinion.
Most writers are a bit sensitive . . . vulnerable . . . defensive . . . protective about their work. I can’t tell you how many people liken tough criticism of their writing to being told that their baby is ugly. I was that way for probably the first fifty or sixty books, but I pretty much got over it after that.
However . . . I got a complaint from a reader about one of my recent books. She didn’t like it, not one bit — not the hero, the heroine, the plot, the writing, nothing.
That part didn’t bother me, beyond making me stick out my tongue at the computer. Yes, I am so grown up.
The part that really did get to me was her comment that the “grammar and punctuation was real bad all thru the book.”
I pride myself on knowing proper grammar and punctuation. I should; when I was in school, they started teaching them in third grade and didn’t stop until eleventh. I may not remember all the proper names, but I know when it’s right (based on the rules that reigned back then) and I know when the rules can be broken for style or should be broken for clarity. I don’t easily accept correction in those areas of writing unless you’ve got a style manual to back you up. And to be criticized with bad grammar and misspelled words . . . I’m pretty sure my blood pressure redlined.
Then the eruption subsided and the reality of the situation set in: she told me my baby was ugly, and all that upset me was the addition that “oh, by the way, her clothes are ugly, too.”
Yep, I think I’m a tad sensitive.
I admit that most people consider my education to be somewhat, um, incomplete. On the lists of top 100 movies, I’ve probably seen fewer than ten. I never read Jane Eyre, didn’t like Gone With the Wind, don’t have a clue who most of today’s celebrities are.
Though I’ve never seen the Lord of the Rings movies, I decided I would read the book, since the books are usually better than the movies, anyway. Emphasis on usually.
The edition I bought on Kindle is the 50th anniversary version. There’s about a thousand pages at the beginning that cover corrections and changes in various editions that no casual reader could possibly care about. So Tolkien preferred to use “further” when “farther” was correct. Does it matter?
So I skipped pages of boring comparisons and started with what I thought was the beginning of the book. If it wasn’t, why in the world didn’t the editor cut it? It was more pages of boring, this time about Hobbits. Assuming such a well-loved book couldn’t possibly start with such tedious pages, I skipped ahead to what was presumably the real beginning. I’m sorry to say, so far it hasn’t been much more interesting than the history of corrections. I got to the point where Bilbo disappears at his birthday dinner and gave it up.
Maybe it gets better? Or maybe it’s the exception to the book-is-always-better rule. I’ll have to wait until I’m totally bored, out of reading material and miles from a wifi connection, then give it another try.
A guy goes to a doctor and says, “I keep having the same dreams. First I’m a teepee, then I’m a wigwam. What does it mean, doc?”
The doctor says, “You’re two tents.”
Yeah, I know. Groans everywhere. Especially since I’m writing about a whole different tense today.
Present tense. In fiction. It drives me nuts.
(It especially drives me nuts in a first-person narrative, but that’s a whole other blog. Last week’s, in fact.)
You’ve seen it:
He gets out of the car and looks around. No one’s out on the street–no cars, no pedestrians hurrying down the sidewalk. Except for the dog who’s trailing a scent into the alley, he’s alone. He walks into the store and the bell rings. It takes a while for the clerk to appear. “What can I help you with?” she asks.
I’ll tell stories in person in present tense, but it just strikes me as so, so wrong for books. I might just be old-fashioned or old-school or old-something, but to me, a story at its very base is a telling of something that happened. Happened, not happening as it’s told. And I want it told in past-tense. I’ve never read a present-tense book that I didn’t sincerely think suffered for the method of its telling.
Though, truth be told, I never finished a present-tense book.
Do you like it, hate it, don’t care as long as the story interests you?
I’ve always been a big fan of first-person point of view in romance novels. I like the voice that shines through in a way that’s impossible with third-person POV. I like the humor and the way we really get to slide inside the character’s skin with her.
Or, I should say, I liked those things.
After reading a slew of first-person POV books in a row, I’ve realized that a rule of life in general applies to books, too: not every thought a person has is worth voicing. It’s perfectly all right to keep some thoughts private. And not every comment has to be snarky.
Maybe I’m just on first-person overload right now. Or maybe it’s that these particular characters whose heads I’ve been living in, frankly, aren’t that interesting. Certainly in one case, she and I don’t share the same sense of humor. While she carries on at length with her hilarious-to-her internal monologue, I’m hitting page-forward button as fast as my callused thumb can move.
But I think what I’ve outgrown about first-person pov in romance novels is the one-sidedness of it. If the hero is truly a hero, I want to get to know him. I want to spend time with him. I want to see what he thinks and how he feels about his heroine and everything else in his life. I want balance and perspective and knowledge, and a first-person pov book just doesn’t give you that.
Now, I’m still fine with first-person in other genres. It works great in mystery and elsewhere, but we don’t have the same emotional stake in a mystery or adventure or horror that we have in a romance novel. But if you want me to fall in love with your hero and your heroine, give me both their points of view. I’ll be a happy camper.
Remember that commercial for Chiffon Margarine?
If you don’t, you’re way younger than me, but we won’t discuss that.
Lately, I’ve been seeing some really eye-catching caterpillars around here. I can’t recall ever seeing them before: no more than an inch long, bright lime green with some orange accents on them. I even took some pictures (but naturally, I haven’t uploaded them to the computer yet). I’ve pretty much left them alone, though. That’s my policy on most critters, except copperheads, brown recluse spiders and red wasps. (Hey, killing copperheads is just common sense, and the spiders and wasps started it. Removing them from my universe is self-defense.)
So last night we came home from a delicious and entertaining dinner with the kids and the grandkiddo, and an empty pot had blown over in the driveway. In the dark, I picked it up (too cool at night lately to worry about copperheads) and set it upright, and immediately my hand started stinging. Once I got inside the garage, I found one of those pretty little caterpillars on my hand . . . which kept burning . . . and burning. I flung him off, scrubbed my hand with dish soap, and the burning continued. It took a good cleansing with alcohol and about fifteen minutes for the stinging to stop, and now I have red welts on my palm.
As far as I can tell from the photos I Googled, the little bugger is a Nason’s slug (though their spots are supposed to be red, and these are very definitely orange — I am the queen of all things orange). (But apparently this guy didn’t know that.)
He’s a dead little bugger now.
It may not be nice to fool Mother Nature, but it’s dang sure not nice to fool with me. All stinging slugs, consider yourselves warned.