Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

© 2006-2018 All rights reserved

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Crit Stuff

Warning: Educational stuff of a writing advice nature.
If you're not into writing, you might want to skip this post.

Lately, via e-mail, I’ve been critiquing chapters for four people. Two are young beginning writers; the other two aren’t so young. I’ve noticed that certain writing problems are common to all four. I suspect these problems are common to most beginning writers.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that I’m not qualified to be an editor. I lack certain creds. I’ve never taken a publishing course nor worked in publishing. The only things I’ve edited have been middle school lit magazines and an anthology from a writers group. Granted, I have a master’s degree in English, but it’s a Master of Arts in Teaching, not an MFA. So, I critique rather than edit.

These are the main problems I’ve found in the chapters I’ve recently critiqued:

  • Too much “began to” or “started to.” The character either did something or didn’t. If Fred “began to” write his name, did he only write the first letter? If Ethel “started to” get suspicious, did she not finish becoming suspicious?
  • Too much “turned and.” Or “turned and went.” Yeah, in real life, people turn and do something. But the reader doesn’t need to know about every turn. Every time I read a “turned and,” I picture the character spinning in place.
  • Use of similes. Similes are wonderful in poetry, but they bog down narrative. Plus, some similes didn’t quite fit. (See this post in the Flights of Fantasy blog.)
  • Too many adverbs. Especially “simply” and “just.” Most adverbs can be cut. How is “simply too tired” more (or less) tired than “too tired”? If a writer continually (Oops!—I used an adverb!) has to explain how a character did something, the writer needs to take another look at his/her nouns and verbs. If you have to use an adverb, odds are good that your verb is weak.
  • Too much description in general. When a writer takes time out to describe, the action screeches to a halt. (See #8 & #9 in Elmore Leonard’s “Easy on the Hooptedoodle” article.)
  • Too much explanation. In most cases, a writer doesn’t need to tell the reader how someone said something. What a character said is usually sufficient.
  • Creative dialogue tags. “Said” is the invisible word that doesn’t call attention to itself. But if a character giggles, mutters, hisses, snaps, recalls, retorts, cajoles, coughs, or rasps, I stop paying attention to what the character said and wonder how the character was able to express himself in that way. When I read “responded with an ache in his voice,” I was puzzled: Toothache? Heartache? Sore throat? (See #3 in “Easy on the Hooptedoodle.” )
  • Misplaced modifiers. If a character “sobbed on his knees,” I picture tearstained pant-legs. Here’s a misplaced participial phrase from the front page of the “Extra” section of today’s Roanoke Times: “While trying to carry a box of Christmas stuff out the front door, the door had swung open a bit too hard. . . .” (How did the door try to carry a box out of itself? Why doesn’t the RT editor catch this stuff?)
  • Clichés. Examples include at long last, take to heart, broke the silence, screeches to a halt (Oops! Used that one earlier, didn’t I?) etc. While some clichés can act as shorthand to get an idea across, most bog down writing.

Writing is rewriting. The first draft is what you need to know to tell the story. It’s OK to over-write the first draft as long as you realize that you’ll have to cut it to the essentials in later drafts. Subsequent drafts are what the reader needs to know to understand the story.

You are writing for a reader, aren’t you?
A whole bunch of good writing tips by author JA Konrath are here.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

Merry Christmas from rural America.
My neighbor's lawn decoration says it all!


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

You Better Watch Out!

Santa Claus cartoon
Santa Claus is coming tonight. I have my suspicions about this guy. I don’t think it’s a good idea to let him in. Here’s why:

  • He’s a male chauvinist. Mrs. Claus is stuck at home doing the household chores while he gallivants all over. He never takes her out. She apparently has never had her own career. What’s with that?
  • He exploits his workers. Those elves have to work around the clock in his sweatshop. Do they even get paid? What benefits do they get? Have you ever heard of a 401K for elves? I didn’t think so?
  • He encourages bullying. Take the case of Rudolph, for example. The other reindeer made fun of poor Rudy’s physical defect and Santa did nothing about it.
  • He’s an opportunist who thinks nothing of exploiting others for personal gain—Rudolph, for example. And the elves.
  • He’s manipulative (the naughty and nice list) and he doesn't want you to express your emotions ("You better not cry, you better not pout"). Could his jolly demeanor actually conceal a passive-aggressive personality?

Yeah, Santa looks harmless enough and he brings all that stuff. But when he comes down your chimney, how do you know he isn’t just casing the joint? Are those gloves part of his outfit, or is the real reason for wearing them so he won't leave fingerprints?

But, if you're the sort who welcomes strangers into your house—while you're sleeping, no less!—then go for it. If he leaves you some good stuff, you might just profit from his visit.

But, still, you better watch out!

Merry Christmas!

Free Santa clipart from the Toonworkshop.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holding On

A week ago last Friday, my husband mistakenly let Potter—the elusive cat—out. Consequently, Potter spent a week and a day outside again, but I grabbed him on Saturday. I was more prepared for the grab this time.

Since the weather was mostly rainy last week, Potter camped out on the settee on the front porch. He had a blanket to curl up in, and he could hide in the nearby boxwoods. I left food in the garage.

Whenever I visited the porch, Potter shot off the settee and hid under the bushes. I’d sit on the edge of the porch and talk to him. He’d answer. I brought him treats. He’d come out of his little nest to eat them. Sometimes he’d let me pet him.

Last Tuesday while he munched one of the expensive little cat crunchies he likes so much, I made a grab for him. Luckily I was wearing two sweatshirts, so he couldn’t claw me. I held on, one hand gripping the loose skin on the back of his neck, the other around his hind legs so he couldn’t kick. I’d forgotten to unlock the front door, so I had to carry him the long way. Potter screamed bloody murder, but I held on from the porch, down the sidewalk into the garage and all the way to the back door.

I had to let go of his legs to open the door. Seizing the opportunity, he squirmed loose and took off. I started over with visits and treats.

Saturday, I knew I’d have to grab him since colder weather was coming. This time I was prepared to hold onto him: I made sure the front door was open. I went out with he treats, he dived for the boxwoods, I talked to him, he came out, I petted him—the usual drill. Then I made the grab. This time I held on a little tighter. Potter fought the good fight, but we made it though the door together.

Potter lounges in the sun. He was inside when the temps dropped to the teens.

For a couple of weeks, my old mare Cupcake hadn’t been chewing her food well. Eating took her a long time. She used to wolf down her pellets in a few gulps. But lately, she wouldn’t come when called, was eating hay continually, and was dropping weight. Something was wrong, but I couldn’t figure what.

On Friday, my farrier noticed that Cupcake’s face was swollen on one side. Not a big swelling, but you could see it if you knew to look. She held her tongue to one side, too, as if she were taking pressure off that side of her mouth. I called the vet, but the office was closed until Monday. Meanwhile, I watered her pellets until they were of gruel-like consistency. She ate a little better, but I had to hand-feed her what stuck to the sides of her bucket. She couldn’t get it by herself.

Monday evening, the vet came. My old mare—the one I saw take her first step more than 27 years ago—has either had a stroke or else she has a tumor. Part of her face has atrophied; she’s deaf in one ear. But she still has her eyesight and she can move well.

The vet gave her an antibiotic—in case she had some infection—and some steroids. He left steroid powder for me to give her over the first week. If it’s a stroke, she should get about 50% better by spring. If it’s a tumor, she won’t get better. She probably won’t be here by spring.

Some things you can’t hold onto. And you prepare for that, too.

Cupcake (right) grazes in the front pasture today, where the grass is still green.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bits From the Blogosphere

Happy Winter Solstice!

Lately, I’ve cruised around the blogosphere, where I’ve found myself enlightened, amused, and entertained. Sometimes a combination of all three.

On the Editorial Anonymous blog, in which an editor gives an inside look at what editors do, I found some words of wisdom. In one particular post, the anonymous editor answers a reader’s question about writing under a pseudonym. But these two paragraphs from her answer could apply to a lot more situations than using a pen name:

We meet lots of people under the mistaken impression that they need to be bizarre to be seen as original. That being imaginative is an excuse for being impossible. That being an artist is a substitute for being honest.

No. The unbridled freedom of your creativity does not give you license to behave like a total weirdo. Feel free to wear your wolf suit when you go visiting the wild things. But if you expect any damn dinner, you'll put some pants on.

Something to think about on this Winter Solstice.

Something else to think about: what books should all women read? There’s a list of seventy-five books every woman should read posted on Jezebel. (OK, Jezebel isn't a blog. But heard about it from reading someone's blog.)

I’ve read twenty-one books on the list and own two others that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet.

Perhaps I’ll celebrate the solstice by reading. I doubt I’ll do house work because . . .

Maybe I’ll pop over to the Surrealist Compliment Generator and see what compliments await. When I tried it the other day, I generated these compliments:

Your wit, your teeth, your pasty reflection can but incorporate freely into the powerful surface of a disintegrating mirror set afloat upon a swarm of locusts.

I love your eyes, but only with ketchup.

Every time, you hit the reload button, you generate another compliment. Theoretically, you could compliment yourself—surreally—for hours.

Perhaps I’ll pop over to the Six Word Blog. Each day’s post never takes long to read. Friday’s post was “Child rearing: not for the weak.” Last Sunday’s was “Another day, another disaster, another depression.” The comments are each six words, too.

If I wanted to celebrate the Solstice in a Druidish fashion, perhaps I’d retake the “What Kind of Druid Animal Are You Quiz.” My results from last time:

Inspiring is what you are, Air Dragon, with insight and vitality to spare. You are a bolt of lightning to the psyche, a freshness for the intellect, and someone who needs to be treated with respect. Use your insight wisely, and you shall be rewarded, for you are the Messenger of the Sky God.

So much to do, so little daylight time. Especially if you're a Messenger of the Sky God.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Seizing the Moment

(or, Learning From Experience)

Two days ago, I’d meant to get a picture of a spectacular sunrise, but I waited a few minutes too long. I figured that if a little red sky is good, more would be even better. All I had to do was wait for the sun to rise just a little more.

By the time I went outside, the red sky—which promised so many fantastic photo opps—had turned gray. By waiting, I’d missed my chance.

This morning when I let the herd of cats out, I saw pink clouds and a strip of blood-red sky. I grabbed my camera and seized the moment.

I recorded the sunrise's progression:

Then, just as the sunrise was approaching its most spectacular, my batteries went dead.

Fortunately, my other camera was close by in the kitchen and still had some disk space left. So, I grabbed it and took these:

Not long after I’d taken the second round of pictures, the fiery sunrise gave way to ash-gray clouds.

Life’s lessons: (1) Waiting for things to get better—expecting things to get better—is sometimes a mistake. (2) Seize the moment. (3) Have a back-up plan.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pre-Drizzmal Day (With Fog, Irony & Surprise)

I was going to take a picture of this morning’s sunrise. Red sky peeped through strings of dark clouds. More clouds waffled across the sky to the south. But I needed more light. I waited fifteen minutes.

By then the sky was all-over gray. No red to be found. Later, as I sipped my first cup of coffee and read the Roanoke Times, fog enveloped my house. I couldn’t even see the gray sky.

So, instead of posting a picture of a new day dawning, I’ll write about the Roanoke Times again. While the RT doesn’t provide much to read, it does provide some blog ideas. Like the story I hoped to read about the latest wreck on I-81 (a road I avoid as much as possible) that tied up traffic for four and a half hours and backed up traffic for six miles. I figured this would be front page news, but it was on page 10 of the "Virginia" section. (Stories on the front page of the "Virginia" section were about how local police sell unclaimed seized goods on the Internet and about a kennel owner getting his seized dogs back.)

The best-written piece in this morning’s Roanoke Times was “The Irony of Evolution,” a commentary on the opinion page. Referring to a December 12th front page story about a high school student whose essay on evolution was censored from a high school lit mag and then to a December 16th front page story about how the student’s essay was found to be plagiarized, the writer weaves a reference to O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” into the tangled censorship/plagiarism conundrum.

One line I especially liked: “Irony and surprise are staples of good fiction, probably because they're so often staples of real life.”

Speaking of irony and surprise, I was surprised by the content of yesterday’s “Extra” section. The back page of each Wednesday’s “Extra” is “The Edge,” a page written by local high school students. The Wednesday Roanoke Times is—or at least was when I was Roanoke County’s 2006-07 writer-in-residence—distributed to Roanoke area high schools. Some teachers use it in the classes; students are able to pick up a free copy from the rack in the hall.

Yesterday’s main “Edge” story, “Young Band has Growing Talent” was well-written and interesting. I was delightfully surprised by the young writer's talent.

What I found a ironic was that the front page of “Extra”—and a full page inside—promoted alcohol consumption. The “Twelve Drinks of Christmas” went into detail about how to make these drinks and provided full-color photos of each drink. I’m sure many students will appreciate the how-to advice for their holiday drinking that the RT provided, but I suspect that educators using the “Extra” in class won’t be so thrilled.

Teen drinking is a big problem; why promote festive alcohol consumption in free newspapers for students?

I don’t get the editorial reasoning behind placing the “Twelve Drinks” story in the same issue as the teen page. In fact, I don’t get why a story about drinking should be printed in the newspaper at all. Alcohol-related accidents increase during the holidays. Why make holiday drinking sound like such fun?

Maybe my brain’s just too foggy to understand the RT’s reasoning.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Word of the Day: “Drizzmal”

“It is one of those drizzmal days you both dread and look forward to–womb-like and tomb-like at the same time.” —Fred First, November 30th entry on his Fragments From Floyd blog.

At first I thought Fred had coined the word, but a bit of Googling revealed that “drizzmal” had been around for a while—long enough, in fact, to make the Merriam-Webster online dictionary:

drizzmal (adjective) : relating to weather that is cloudy and raining slightly. The weather is drizzmal.

The weather here has indeed been drizzmal and is likely to be so all week. I love these silvery drizzmal days, though, so I don’t mind. Also, I’ve been a bit under the weather (no pun intended) the last couple of days and have little desire to be out and about.

Plus, my days are brightened in other ways.

The guy who cleans my carpets came yesterday, so the inside of my house looks considerably brighter. (Why the previous owner of my house wanted white carpet in a farmhouse is beyond me. I’m thinking that a red clay color would be so much more appropriate.) While he was here, Mitzi the foxhunter stopped by with cookies; her visit brightened my morning.

Outside, three stars brighten the night. Karen the animal communicator gave the stars to me the other day. She also gave some to Claudia, so her porch a mile “over yonder” is also brightened.

I used to say that days like these were perfect for doing housework, but I’ve found other things I’d rather do. Like blog—and read blogs of friends—both friends I know and friends I’m unlikely to ever meet in person.

Or read. I’m currently reading the dreadful book that Amy T gave me, as well as Clockwork Phoenix, a wonderful collection of speculative fiction stories that Mike Allen edited. I’m also reading Rita Will, the autobiography of Charlottesville author and Master of the Hounds, Rita Mae Brown. And—since I’m querying my middle-grade novel and working on a YA novel—I’m thumbing through the recently arrived 2009 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (I’m also a devout reader of editor Jane Pope’s blog).

And I have a bunch of other books in the queue—some I’ve been meaning to read for years.

Or critique. I’ve been critiquing fellow writer-buddy “Duke’s” mystery via e-mail and have about five chapters to go. Plus, two high school writers have e-mailed me about their work that I’ll soon critique. I’ll meet them in person during their winter break.

Or write. The current weather is perfect for working on that YA paranormal novel that I’m six chapters into. My desktop cats and I will have to get busy.

Camilla (above) and Eddie-Puss (below) are my usual desktop cats.

But housework? I dunno. In my bathroom is a framed bit of calligraphy: “Dull women have immaculate homes.” Outside may be drizzmal, but there’s no dullness in my house.

Perhaps there’s more to drizzmal than meets the eye. Like this:

I took this photo last week—the day a neighbor died. The orbs are probably raindrops.
I can't explain the red light on the brick wall or the horizontal shaft of light above.


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Monday, December 15, 2008

All the News That's Not

Remember the old riddle: What’s black and white and red (read) all over? Answer: the newspaper.

I’m old enough to remember when the Roanoke newspaper was indeed black and white. And, while I didn’t read The Roanoke World-News all over, I read most of it. Back in the day, stories were in-depth. Pictures usually didn’t take up half a page, and if they did, they were photos that helped explain the story. The stories started with a lead—the who, what, where, when, how. You knew from that first sentence what the story was about. The reporter didn’t tell how the news he was reporting made him feel. (Lest any readers think my previous sentence sexist, most reporters in the 60s were male.)

The afternoon World-News was absorbed by the morning Roanoke Times several years ago. Now the newspaper sports a coat—er, page— of many colors, and it's no longer "read all over" by me. I don’t read much of it because there’s not much to read anymore. The illustrations might take up a half page or more—and they’re often drawings, not photos. Much of the “news”—and I’m using the term loosely here—is watered down, warm-fuzzy stuff. Usually the front page and the front of the Virginia section have four or fewer stories. But they do have previews of what’s inside today (like I won’t open the section unless they tell me to?) or what will be in tomorrow’s paper.

The RT used to have a lot more items from the Associated Press. It still has some AP stuff, but it’s days old. Odds are good I’ve already read the items days earlier online.

Many of the warm-fuzzy stories are reprinted from Real Simple magazine or another newspaper, and they're geared to younger readers. However, and I’m sorry I can’t cite the source, I’ve read a survey that most newspaper readers were in their 50s or older. More than half of today’s Extra section—a story about cozying up your guest room—was reprinted from the Washington Post.

The RT used to have some excellent columnists, too. I miss local columnists Monty Leitch and Joe Kennedy. And I really miss Dave Barry’s humor and James J. Kilpatrick’s attention to language, but I guess syndicated columnists are a luxury the RT is unwilling to pay for. I miss local writer Beth Macy’s well-written in-depth reporting, but at least she still writes an occasional story.

Thank goodness the paper still has well-written columns by Liza Field (“Field Notes”) and commentaries by Ray Stubblefield. And well-written news stories by reporter Mike Allen.

The RT has increasingly numerous errors that grate upon my English teacher nerves—pronoun case errors, misplaced modifiers, lack of agreement between pronoun and antecedent, rambling unfocused sentences, passive verbs when an active one would work better (and with fewer words). Doesn’t anybody edit anymore?

This photo, on the front page of today’s RT, is captioned, “Patrick Henry High School students make their way to their cars in the parking lot Thursday afternoon.”

Photo taken from the Roanoke Times website, probably in violation of copyright. However, I'm using the photo for sort of an educational purpose and I lifted less than 10% of the page content and I'm citing the source, so I might be OK under educational use. If they object, I'll remove the picture.

Uh no, they’re making their way onto a main street in the area, The black PT Cruiser is actually exiting the parking lot, which would be to the right—out of the picture.

The front page used to be reserved for national news, or at least important news. Since the above picture and story uses over a third of the front page, are we to assume that it is the most important story in the entire paper? More important than the ice storm in the Northeast, more important than the economy or Obama’s plans?

The Virginia section used to be for stories of state and local importance. The cover story (over half the page) in today's Virginia section is about a guy proposing to his girlfriend at a ballet performance.

When I noticed the fire on Smith Mountain a couple of Saturdays ago, I thought the next day’s RT would have a story about it. Nope. Not a mention. Here's a picture I took of it (I can see it from my house!):

The recent fires that have killed people in Roanoke, Vinton, etc., have at least gotten a bit of press.

Sunday’s RT issued a call for volunteers to contribute to an up-coming “editorial page readers panel” on the opinion page. Essentially they’ll use unpaid volunteers to write opinion-content.

I recently received my invoice for my RT subscription. I’m trying to decide if it’s worth subscribing again. I’m paying more and getting less than I used to. What I’m getting isn’t much. Plus I don't even read all of it. For instance, here are two photos of the parts of the Sunday paper that I don’t read. The first was taken two weeks ago and the other last week.

I don’t read the classifieds (I’m not looking for a house or job). I read grocery ads and one or two other ads, but I don’t read most ads (I’m not looking to buy stuff). I don't read the sports sections because I’m not interested in reading about sports that I never played.

I’m not reading more than I am reading. Here are the parts of the Sunday RT that I did read two weeks ago:

Usually I subscribe for a year—or at least six months—in advance. Not this time. I’ll go with the three-month minimum and hope the RT doesn’t fold before my subscription is up.

Or maybe I should just write my own news.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Get It Right When You Write

I hate it when authors don’t get details right. One of my crit partners gave me a book by a popular author (whose books are found in grocery stores and Wal-Mart) because she thought the author had, er, borrowed heavily from Earl Hamner, Jr., and wanted me to see if I agreed.

The book contains two separate “back-list” novels reissued in a special Christmas edition. I haven’t yet read as far as the part about the elderly ladies and “the recipe” that my crit partner found suspicious. That’s in the second story.

However, I did read a description of a rodeo scene (page 15) in which a former bull rider, now married with two kids, signs up for a bull riding competition, even though it causes his doctor-wife considerable stress:

When Cal’s name was announced, Jane didn’t want to look but couldn’t stop herself. Cal was inside the pen, sitting astride the bull, one end of a rope wrapped around the saddle horn and the other around his hand.

Granted, my English-teacher self is bothered by the misplaced participial phrase, “sitting astride the bull” which most definitely doesn’t modify pen (although a pen sitting astride a bull is certainly an interesting image). Plus, I believe the author meant chute instead of pen. At all the rodeos I’ve attended, the rider mounted the bull inside a chute. The bulls were kept in a pen before they went into the chute and returned to a pen after the ride.

Little words mean a lot. As Mark Twain once wrote, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Those who write for publication, should use the right words. And they should do a bit of research. Bulls do not wear saddles during the bull-riding competitions at rodeos. There is no saddle horn because there is no saddle. (Perhaps the author was thinking of saddle bronc riding? But in saddle bronc riding, a rope still doesn’t go from the saddle horn.)

Those who edit books should be aware of correct terminology and basic grammar. Why did the editor let this error-laden passage slip by?

So, how would I rewrite the sentence? “In the chute, Cal straddled the bull and waited for the gate to open.” Since the scene is written from the wife’s viewpoint high in the stands, I probably wouldn’t describe how Cal’s hand was secured to the rigging. It’s unlikely that she could see it.

Will I ever buy any books from this popular author? I doubt it. I expect books—even fiction—to be accurate. Or at least believable.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

First Sign of Christmas

It just isn't Christmas until I hang this critter on the ficus. If you press his belly, he sings "We Three Kings of Orient Are."

OK, he doesn't actually sing. He neighs. He's a little hoarse—er, a little horse.

What? Not Christmas-y enough? How's this?

A "cartridge and a pear" tree!

The little horse isn't far from the pear.

No sense going out on a limb when it comes to decorations.

Keep it simple, I say.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Leaving Our Mark

When my husband and I bought Shady Rest (aka "the Brown Place") in the 70s, we carved our initials in a boundary tree. Thirty years later, they're still there:

I hadn't seen this tree for years—until yesterday.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

As Soon as You See the First Flake

When the first flake
Of the first snow of the season falls,
You grab your camera and record
The first flakes on the boxwood.

You notice the neighbor dog
Shivering on your porch.

You get her a blanket.

You put out seed for the birds.

You dust the snow off an old mare.

You play with a border collie
Who doesn’t care how cold it is;
She will fetch as long as you will throw.

You watch snow pile up on the gate.

You’re glad your horses
Have enough hay for the winter.

You watch the snow
Blanket your house.

And you wonder—
What the heck am I doing
Out in the cold
When I could be warm inside?

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Black Wednesday

Warning: Today’s blog is about publishing, so if you were expecting a post about my adorable pets, or something happening in my vicinity, this ain’t it.

This past Wednesday, dubbed Black Wednesday by Publisher’s Lunch, might just be the worst day in publishing to date. Many of the major publishing houses laid off, cut back, reorganized, froze pay, etc.

I first learned about the shake-ups from the e-mail newsletters I receive: Publisher’s Lunch and PW Daily. When each publisher announced its cost-cutting measures, within minutes the bad news resounded through the blogosphere.

Literary agent Janet Reid assured her readers that the sky wasn’t falling, and agent Kristen Nelson at Pub Rants offered a ray of light. But still. . . .

In case you missed all the hoopla, Moonrat at her Editorial Ass blog lists the publishing houses affected by Wednesday’s bad news, and agent Nathan Bransford has a good summary on his “This Week in Publishing” entry on his blog

In tough economic times, when folks struggle to afford necessities, books are a luxury. Indeed, many people don’t buy books even in good times. One in four Americans didn’t even read a book last year.

Newspaper publishers are also feeling the pinch. Already a few major newspapers have folded. Others have cut back and laid off. Thursday, the editor of the Smith Mountain Eagle called to inform me that “Peevish Advice” was being dropped as a cost-saving measure. The paper had printed my column since 2004; now they no longer have money for columnists.

Given the bleak publishing/reading scene, why do I write? Why do I submit my middle-grade novel to agents? (A week after receiving my fourth rejection, I submitted it to another agent I’d love to have represent me.) Why do I keep sending my folktale to publishers, only to have it rejected? Why am I well into my next book, a paranormal YA novel?

I wish I had good answers to those questions. Quick answer: I love to write. With the burden of cranking out the column lifted, I have more time to work on the YA. Middle-grade and YA literature is still selling. Some books will still be published. Why not mine? Maybe. . . .

Thursday, I received an e-mail from a local high school student, who told me “my sister and I are writing a book” and went on to ask if I could tell her how to get their “romantic vampire book” published.

I wish I had answers for her. The best I can do is offer suggestions.

And a suggestion to you blog-readers: Give books this Christmas. Every book you buy will help the industry.
If you really want an adorable pet picture,
here's Maggie when she was seven weeks old:


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Reviews of Certain Books

Lately, I’ve reviewed and/or given my opinions about some books I’ve read.

If your book has been published within the last two years and you’d like my review (or maybe just my opinion) posted on this humble blog, let me know. I am amenable to reviewing certain books. Under certain conditions. Namely, these:

I prefer a physical copy— either an ARC, bound galley, or the published book itself. I don’t do pdf-versions or documents or anything else that requires reading from a computer screen.

I’m picky. I prefer fiction—specifically Appalachian writing or Southern writing. If the book is about horses or dogs, that’s a plus. I want a definite plot and interesting characters. I don’t generally read fantasy/science fiction (unless you write like Ray Bradbury or Mike Allen), horror, romance, erotica, thrillers, poetry, or anything over 350 pages (unless you’re Jodi Picoult, John Irving, or Audrey Niffenegger). I don’t want books that are mired in misery or where everyone comes to bad ends (OK—maybe one character who really deserves it). I don’t want to read about animal abuse, child abuse, or spouse abuse. I also don’t want to read anything guaranteed to touch my heart. (Only cardiologists may touch my heart, and they’d better have a sound medical reason for doing so.) I’m especially interested in commercially-published middle-grade and YA novels.

I’m open to non-fiction that is local/regional history or memoir. However, I don’t want to read a memoir that’s a litany of how miserable your life was—even if it was. Memoirs that capture a specific time/place are fine. I’ll also review grammar books or books about how to improve your writing. Or books about horses.

Since I’m self-pubbed and POD-pubbed, I’m open to self-published or POD books, but I won’t read anything published by Writer Beware’s “Twenty Thumbs-Down Publishers.” Yeah, I may be missing out on some great reads, but I’ll take that risk. I will, however, stop reading a self-pubbed/POD book when I hit the 5th grammatical error, 10th misspelled word, or 20th typo—whichever comes first.

If you have paid someone to review your self-pubbed/POD book, I don’t want to read it. I will assume, rightly or wrongly, that—if you were desperate (or naive) enough to pay for a review—your book is not something I’d enjoy. If you’ve fallen for the paid book review scam, you have my sympathy—but not my review.

If your book has been out for more than two years, it’s old news now. Yeah, I occasionally comment on older books that I’ve just discovered, but those are usually books that everyone else has already discovered or someone I know has recommended the book to me as a “must read.”

If I can’t find anything good to say about your book, I won’t post a review but might e-mail you privately. (Odds are good I didn’t finish your book.)

And I don’t do “stars”—as in the “five-star reviews” that clog up And I don’t do reviews on I did one or two several years ago, but no more. I do not aspire to be Harriet Klausner.

Keep in mind that I’m not highly qualified to review. I don’t have a background in publishing. My master’s in English isn’t an MFA in creative writing; it’s an MAT in English education. I have published some reviews in local/regional publications—including two newspapers, but they’re a far cry from Publisher’s Weekly or NYT book reviews. Reviews I’ve done of self-pubbed books are here, here, here, here, and here.

However, I can generate a bit of blog-buzz, if that’s what you’re after.

If you’d like to send me a copy of your book (or ARC, etc.), query me via e-mail me (including a one-paragraph summary of your book) and I’ll get back to you. My contact info is on my website.

Marian Perera recently posted some good suggestions for book reviews on her Flights of Fantasy blog.

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