Thoughts on Book Reviewing

BooksI’m coming up on the year anniversary since I started doing the book reviews for my local NPR station. Soon my twentieth appearance will be on WKAR’s Current State. (You can check out links to them here). I really love doing them, and I look at each of them as not just as an opportunity to share my opinion on a book, but to also educate the listener of how to read a book or what to look for. I have even been known to throw in facts about literature and its vast history.

What can I say? I love the artform. Books are my passion.

I’ve written quite a few posts on this site about book reviews today. The good, the bad, what not to do, the questionable things, the author experience. I thought I would share the links to four of those writing posts below and give some updates as well since when I wrote them. Enjoy!

The Thin Muddy Line of Online Book Reviews. All the problems I discuss in this article still happen all the time. And I still get requests to “exchange” reviews. It makes me so uncomfortable and I am surprised how many writers are okay with it. As an NPR reviewer, I could never, ever consider such an enterprise since it would put all of my reviews into question. But I wouldn’t have considered it even before I started this great gig! Whatever the case, whenever I get an e-mail or a tweet asking me to do this I get a sick feeling in my stomach and a little angry.

The Troll Under the Bridge: How to Write a Good Bad Book Review. Trolls don’t go away. But you know, I think a lot of people don’t realize that is what they are doing, or the impact it has on other people. It reminds me of the time when I was a kid and with a friend we called a 1-800 number on a milk carton asking what color their cows are that give chocolate milk (we were 8). It’s like that mentality.

Charging the Melancholy Dragon. A lot of my heart as a writer is out there in this post. I really discuss in some spots on the difficulties of writing and dealing with reviews (good and bad).

goodreads-buttonLoving Goodreads (And Some Reviewing Suggestions).  This is my most recent post on the subject. I still love the site, but I don’t know how it could be improved without some reviewers hired to review the reviewing (say that five times fast), or to “star” certain reviewers as being more “legitimate” and their reviews given more girth in the grading.  That last point is definitely something to consider.

 

Talking About Miss Austen

From PersuasionThis week I had the pleasure of speaking to English classes at Aquinas College (Grand Rapids, MI) about my novel A Jane Austen Daydream. The classes were assigned to read my book… and after reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  So there is a tough act to follow and literary pressure for you!

It was a fun experience for me and I decided to capture one of my discussions as an audio recording. This is the first 20 minutes or so of the class.

In this recording you will hear me discussing the inspiration behind my novel and the experience of writing it (mostly fear).  Understandably, there are SPOILERS in the discussion if you have not read the book. Also, I am quite the fast talker.

Again, I would like to thank Aquinas College, the incredible Dr. Brent Chesley and his students. It was quite an honor! Thank you!

A Jane Austen DaydreamPublished by Madison Street Publishing, A Jane Austen Daydream can be purchased in print ($13.46) or as an eBook for the outrageously low price of $3.99 for Kindle. You can find it on Amazon here (http://amzn.com/B00CH3HQUU).

Loving Goodreads (And Some Reviewing Suggestions)

Good ReadsI am addicted to Goodreads.

I visit the site a few times a day and I can lose hours (hours!) just scrolling through the home page, looking at what readers are reading and saying about books that they had just finished. It’s almost like a sport as I moan and then cheer.

Yeah, I can get depressed by how few classics are being read by the population (I’ve never been one of those people who believe reading something is better than reading nothing), but it is always a thrill to see this immediate literary data. People always like to claim that literature is dying, but I see breath and heartbeats on this site everyday.

Right now, I have over 4,300 “friends” and over 80 fans. Some of this is related to my Twitter account, but I think it’s also because of my books, my blog (Hello!) and the book reviews I do on my local NPR station (you can check them out via links on this page).

The thing about book reviewing is that in many ways it is an art onto itself. Yet, ever since Amazon so long ago allowed customers to review products and books, that special door controlling whose voice is heard in the market has swung so far open that the hinges are broken. That door will never be fixed, and everyone is now welcomed in.

I know someone who will never give a book 5 stars. Never. Her reasoning, nothing is perfect. Case closed. I also had one person give my novel A Jane Austen Daydream only 4 stars with the comment that she would give it 5, but she wanted to encourage me to write more. I still don’t know how I feel about that. (Does that mean I am encouraged? I don’t feel encouraged, only a little confusedly sad.)

So yes, anyone can review on Goodreads, and, yes, anyone can review how they want. But I would love to give some suggestions for my fellow Goodreaders. Consider these my recommended new ground rules before you join this new literary sport.
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Scoring Garrison Keillor

GarrisonI am an English Major.

I can quote John Keats, I have good chunks of Hamlet memorized, and I once wrote a fictional book about Jane Austen (really I did, check it out). Seriously, they rarely get more English Majorally than me.

I get that there is little a person can do with such a degree. With my added MFA in Creative Writing, I live it. We teach (creating more English Majors and creative writers in the process) or we attempt to write or we edit the work of others, possibly those more successful. That’s pretty much it.  We are part of an ever-growing cycle that doesn’t fit in the business world at large. No one in a financial board room has ever shouted “Quick! Get me an English Major! This report is missing symbolism!”

Yet, each week, Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion brings forward the “lunacy” of the idea of being an English Major and mocks it. Just listen to the audience laugh each time Garrison steps forward to help someone in a skit or woo by saying he is an “English Major.” Laugh, audience, laugh.

Ever since he has started this running gag, I’ve had to use fake smiles when people bring it up to me (and they do all the time). Everyone is in on this “joke,” and we that love literature and books are the brunt of it. It is at our expense. So this would be my first negative for Garrison.

Why is it wrong or a joke for people to want to study and spend their lives around something that they love (books)? Yes, business major, for example, would have the best potential for success, but that is if you only define success in financial terms. Most of us that go into the arts don’t do that. Is this counter to the American dream of big houses and multiple cars and that is why people laugh at us as if we are foolish? Whatever the case, as a writer and lover of books, Garrison should be on our side. Not on the side of the other majors, presenting us as foolish.

Oh, and this also goes for librarians too. Since he seems to mock that field just as much and plays off of the stereotypes of them. Yeah, I’m going to give him a second negative for that. (So far he is at negative 2.)

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Poisoning the Genius

poison-symbol1I want to say this at the start and I want it be clear to all who read this that I had no intention of killing my professor.

However, I’m certain if things had turned out worse that fateful night, some of my fellow students would have sold me down the river. I can picture them even today, accusingly pointing their finger across the courtroom at me. “There he is! That is the man who did it! That is the monster!”

The funny thing is there is actually a precedence for poisoning teachers in my family. Back when my grandmother was a principal at monthly meetings one of the heavier set teachers used to eat all of the snacks before the other teachers had a chance. My grandmother, being my grandmother, decided that she was going to send a “subtle” message to that teacher.

At the next full staff meeting, my grandmother brought in “special” brownies. Oh, they were fine. Perfectly fine… except for the biggest piece which was filled to the brim with laxatives.

That teacher called in sick the next day.

“But that is my grandmother!” I would say to the judge. “She is not me! And I had no idea that I was technically poisoning the guy. I throw myself on the mercy of the court.” Continue reading

Celebrating Jane Austen’s birthday with My Jane Austen Book Club

Austen_vert_compl02I was thrilled to be asked to contribute to My Jane Austen Book Club‘s celebration of Jane Austen’s birthday! For those that are fans of Jane Austen and don’t know it, it is a great site and has been a good friend and supporter to my novel A Jane Austen Daydream since its publication.

Over the course of the day, authors and fans have been sharing their insights and feelings towards Ms. Austen with a new post each hour. And for those interested in inspiration, regency, or simply the power of the written word, these entries are a great read. Some are fun, some are very serious, and some are  quite moving. You should check them out by scrolling through the site. Truly, there is something for everyone there.

For me, my entry can be read via this direct linkand it includes a flying DeLorean.

A Jane Austen DaydreamMy own tribute novel to Ms. Austen, A Jane Austen Daydream, can be purchased in print ($13.46) or as an eBook for the outrageously low price of $3.99 for Kindle. You can find it on Amazon here (http://amzn.com/B00CH3HQUU).

A Jane Austen Daydream in the Best of 2013 Blog Hop Giveaway! Win a Signed Copy!

A Jane Austen DaydreamI was recently honored to have author and blogger Kathryn Chastain Treat pick my novel A Jane Austen Daydream as her selection for the Best of 2013 Blog Hop Giveaway!

So very cool!

Because of this selection, on her site she has shared an interview with me about the book and is giving away a signed copy of it to one lucky reader. You can read the interview and enter the contest here.

Here is a selection from the interview where I discuss my research into the writing of my little daydream:

I knew that if I was to do this book right, I couldn’t only dip my toe in. I had to do this fully, live in the deep end of the pool, underwater. Her books, a few biographies, her letters, her unpublished works, I even visited some locations back before I began the book looking for inspiration. Everything I could get my hands on plays a part in the work.

My goal was not just to write about her, but to have her be a part of it. So references and quotes from her classic works are sprinkled throughout it. The trick for me was though writing a book that could work for the casual fan as well as the obsessed reader. Again, it all comes down to planning, which means I had to find a narrator voice that was between Jane and my own. If I did this right, there is something for everyone in this book and it is readable even for those not used to reading regency novels.

A Jane Austen DaydreamYou can read the rest of the interview and enter the contest by visiting Kathryn Chastain Treat’s website hereGood luck!

A Jane Austen Daydream can be purchased in print ($13.46) or as an eBook for the outrageously low price of $3.99 for Kindle. You can find it on Amazon here (http://amzn.com/B00CH3HQUU).

Twitter-Free: My 24 Hours Without Twitter

The Fail WhaleI have over 30,000 Twitter followers. When I began this post I had tweeted exactly 10,400 times. No more, no less. Tweet #10,401 will be the first notice that I have written this post.

I am an author on Twitter and, honestly, I don’t think Twitter has led to many book sales really from the traffic. It does generate blog views, but never more than a third of what I get on a daily basis. The rest comes from subscribers and those who just seem to check me out from time to time. So what is this hold Twitter has on me that I keep returning and why do so many follow me?

For me, personally, Twitter is an ego trip. I admit that. Beyond the amount of followers, I get a huge kick out of sharing, retweets, and likes around my articles and books. And I especially love it when someone writes to me about my books usually to say they are reading one of them or enjoy it.

The fact is though I can’t imagine having a real friendship or relationship over Twitter. There almost needs to be a new word for the relationships built on this social network; somewhere below “acquaintance” but above “name recognition.” Yeah, it’s not like Facebook where a majority of my “friends” I have actually spoken to at one point. This is more like epic literary crowdsurfing for a writer. Like I am thrown to the sea of Twitter, riding my book like a boat. And there are thousands and thousands of other writers and readers like me on the rough sea in similar boats… and now and then we will see a Fail Whale. Making us at that moment the internet equivalent of Ahab.

Well, not this day.  For on this day, for the first time in two years, I have decided to take a break and document my withdraw… Continue reading

Discover A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM

A Jane Austen Daydream

“I consider this novel one of the best not only in regency era literature, but also in mainstream fiction.” -NovelTravelist.com

Need a book for this November? A future gift idea? Something new and different for those that feel they have read it all before?

A Jane Austen Daydream (published by Madison Street Publishing) is a book for the “Janeites” to the everyday reader. It reimagines a new adventure for Jane, something she might’ve wanted but never got… with a very surprising and daring new twist.

“…Lovely, thought-provoking novel. Fans of Austen will adore this book.” – Lori Nelson Spielman, author of The Life List.

You can discover about this fun book via links on this site!

  • There are two exclusive excerpts available (here and here). In one Jane discovers her destiny, and in the other she works to fight the fates.
  • There are a series of different articles on its creation from finding its inspiration (Visiting Austen), to the courage needed to attempt it (Braving Austen), the writing of it (Finding Jane’s Voice), and, finally, the gift behind its creation (Austen in Stealth).
  • There are also interviews and reviews by different literary sites, readers, and authors. You can learn more via the main page for the book here.

“…quick paced novel unlike any you can ever have read, which injects new ideas and possibilities into the world of Jane Austen.” -The Jane Austen Centre

A Jane Austen Daydream can be purchased in print ($13.46) or as an eBook for the outrageously low price of $3.99 for Kindle.

“A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM by Scott Southard, a fictionalized account of Jane’s life, is a book that should be placed on the shelf of every book-loving fan of Jane Austen because she’s absolutely “alive” on the pages of this book.” -Julie Valerie’s Book Blog

Looking for a Literary Agent…

Empty StageSometimes being a writer can feel like being a designer at a fashion show. (Well, that is what I imagine, I’ve never been a designer. Some would laugh at that idea. I’m slightly colorblind which wouldn’t help, that is for certain.)

You spend so much time preparing your “look” and then suddenly the model needs to take the walk in front of the crowds. And you wait, terrified, seeing what reactions you get.  Are there gasps or moans?  It’s all stressful, with highs and lows, but we all have to do it. It’s part of the gig.

In the next few months I’m going to start to query different literary agencies about my new novel Permanent Spring Showers. Yup, I’m pushing my new book onto the catwalk and I will stand backstage with my fingers crossed not daring to look.

Preparing my query letter, synopsis and excerpt has gotten me thinking of my experiences and also some of my writing posts about literary agencies. Below, after the jump, are links to some of those posts as well as new helpful insights on them. Some of these writing articles are the most popular things I have ever done on this site.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with literary agencies on other books and I hope that Permanent Spring Showers gets the same chance. I’m really proud of it. Permanent Spring Showers revolves around an artist named Vince who is about to create some of the most important and groundbreaking contemporary art.  Inspired by an affair, his creations will affect all around him in this multi-cast tale about relationships, academics, art, authors, and lies. You can learn more about the book on this page and read the first chapter exclusively here.

Now about those agency articles… Continue reading