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.

 

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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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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).

Hidden Away: The Marvel of Disappearing Writers

With the announcement on different entertainment and book sites (including this article on Entertainment Weekly- http://shelf-life.ew.com/2013/08/25/jd-salinger-new-books/), of possible new Salinger titles coming, it made me think of this book/author post I wrote earlier this year. To be honest, I’d be intrigued to know more about the possible new books. Between you and me, I was hoping that what he was working on all these years to be a little newer, more revolutionary, different than what is described here… so I guess that means I am speculating on the speculating.

The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

Covered in dustIt takes courage to be an artist.

Many people don’t realize this in that first moment they pick up a pen or paintbrush, but they are put on display with the creation the second of its completion.

My favorite example of what I mean comes from being married to a dancer and choreographer. See, when a dancer performs, especially in a piece that they have created, their audience is watching many things.

Yes, the hope is that the audience is focused on the artistic performance, expression and emotional message of the piece, but an audience does so much more than that. They also may compare the dancers in the piece (which are better, which are worse), they might try to find the artist’s personality in it, they may look for mistakes, they may even study the bodies of the dancers. Of all of the art forms, this is in my opinion the most exposed and bravest.

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New WKAR Book Review: The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman

Current StateI have a new book review on WKAR’s radio show Current State!

This time it is on The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman.

If you would like to learn more about this new novel, Spielman also gave an interview on the show, which you can hear by clicking this link (http://wkar.org/post/local-author-explores-relationships-dreams-and-goals-life-list), or you can find it on Amazon here.

My review of the novel can be heard via this link (http://wkar.org/post/book-review-lori-nelson-speilman-s-life-list) or read below after the jump.

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The Empty Theater: Writers on Twitter, Facebook and Good Reads

The Empty TheaterNever again. I promised myself never again.

A few years ago, my novel My Problem With Doors was published by iPublish Press, a publisher out of Canada. Being a new press and from a different country, it was quickly proven difficult to get the book on shelves in bookstores or to get the work any attention on Amazon and elsewhere.

I was (and still am) very proud of the novel, and began to make as many calls as I could to make my book a success, in the very least in the area I live. First, I met with the local arts council and garnered their support. Working with a popular bookstore in the area, a reading and event was planned around the book. The local newspaper reviewed this novel ahead of the event (gave it a great review!) and even my local NPR station promoted the reading as an event coming up.

Yet..

When the event took place only friends, co-workers, and family were there.

Not even members of the local arts council showed up!

While everyone there were very positive, bought all the books available (and I was grateful they showed up), I felt a little ashamed, like somehow I had failed my book and my dreams. I know that sounds a little dramatic, but, hey!, I am a writer and I get dramatic about a lot of things. It’s in my blood.

It was that evening that I promised myself I would never put myself in that position again. The next time I give a reading or an event I would be at a place in my writing career where I wouldn’t feel like I was standing in front of an empty theater.

Never again. Continue reading

The Writing Rule I Hate

Broken PencilI need to begin with Diane Rehm.

See, one of my little obsessions is The Diane Rehm Show and I listen to her about four to five hours a week. I even get the podcast, and when I am helping one of my children to fall asleep, usually I am listening to her take a caller on my phone’s headphones. And, to let you in on a secret, when I play “interview” in my mind she or Terry Gross are the ones asking the questions. I’m not the only person who does this, right? You are out someplace and suddenly an interview forms in your head. Before you know it, you are saying aloud: “Well, Diane, when I first came up with the idea…”

Okay, that might have been too much information. Moving on!

Anyway, a few years ago she had on a popular writer. I can’t remember who the author was, but this author’s ego was proudly on the march. You would’ve thought she had written the next Ulysses and to add to the size of her enlarging head a caller called her, praised her, talked about how much she loves her books and then asked her what her advice would be for a new writer.

The author replied that the golden rule of writing is “Write what you know.” She then went on to explain why this rule is so important and as I began to roll my eyes and prepared to finally turn off the episode, Diane did something utterly amazing.

The grand Mrs. Rehm interrupted the author and debated the author on that rule. She asked how could that be true. JK Rowling, for example, doesn’t know any wizards and has never been to Hogwarts or have magic (Yes, Diane referenced Harry Potter!). If Rowling only wrote what she knew we wouldn’t have that wonderful series, Diane argued.

If I was in the studio that day I would have given her a hug and a kiss. Continue reading

The Necessary Humbling of Editing

Dunce CapA lot of fantasies, daydreams, and rainbows cloud the world of writing. It’s not surprising; actually completely natural since we spend so much of our time making up stories as writers, why wouldn’t we have stories about the stories?

Have you ever seen that scene in a TV show or movie in which a writer finishes a book or script? The writer may raise his hands in triumph over an old typewriter or do a little dance; then we as viewers are then jumped forward in time to their inevitable success.

We don’t see the struggle over getting the book out, finding an audience, working with an agent or publisher or, more importantly, editing. And, let’s be honest, editing is not as exciting as the victory dance of a finished book or the sparks of coming up with ideas around a first draft.

Like I said, it’s a fantasy, people. I have even been known to say to writers that much of the art around true writing happens in the editing. It is there a work is “finetuned,” perfected into a final piece. This year, I worked with a series of different editors. First for, my novel A Jane Austen Daydream (which was published by Madison Street Publishing) and then for my novel  Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare.

So why do I love editing so much? Well, because I learned about its importance the hard way. Yes, I have an editing and writing horror story, and I am about to share it. Be prepared, this is about to haunt you like a poltergeist… a writing poltergeist. Continue reading

How to Walk the Equator on Planet Books

globeOn Friday night, with a few drinks and snacks nearby us, my wife and I were discussing the states of our artforms. (Yeah, this is what we do on weekend nights.) For my wife it is dance and she struggles between the world of dance you see on TV and the artistry and importance of modern dance (she writes a lot about this on her own blog- educatingdancers.com). For me, it is the state of writing and books.

My wife has heard these arguments before (and I love her more each time she doesn’t yawn) as I continue to wonder where my artform is going and why there seems to be such a thick and foreboding wall between the pop writing you see filling the stores and the more literary creations you see winning the acclaim.

See, for me it feels unnatural that some books are written solely for entertainment and others are considered more important, but can be an endeavor to read even for us educated readers. What many don’t know is that this line, this equator, wasn’t always around and there is a way to create novels that do both.

On this night, my wife laughed and said, “You know who you are? In your posts and on your site? All those articles about books and writing? You, hubby, are the Great Mediator.”

The Great Mediator? Yup, that’s me. And I guess that makes me the lamest member of the Justice League (I’m assuming my chest plate would be the image of a perfectly-balanced scale). I’ve also been probably known to say after a battle with bad guys, “Wait, dudes, let’s hear the Legion of Doom out on this one first before we jump to judgement.” I’m the action figure no kids wants to play with.

Whatever the case, as the world of books gets more and more fractured into different genres and accessibility, I want to bring everything back together.  Continue reading