Peevish Pen

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

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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.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Book Spam

(Note: Whenever spam from strangers appears in my email, I sometimes respond, though not in the way the sender intended. Another note: In this post, some lines change to a different size other than "normal." I don't know why.)

This picture of Jim-Bob has nothing to do with this post.
It's a token cute kitty pic.

Back in mid-June, someone I didn't know tried to comment on my "Frugal Living" blog which I rarely update. This was the comment, with certain info redacted:
Hi I'm looking for your contact info for a book review/post?
Can you email me at [company name redacted] at gmail dot com
I was not impressed by the misuse of punctuation, especially since this email was from a "literary business" site. I was puzzled why anyone would comment on a blog that has nothing to do with book reviews. I responded thusly:

Hello [name],

I found your comment on my "Frugal Living" blog where I write about bargains I have purchased or furniture I have repurposed on that blog. I don't review books on that blog.

I do occasional book reviews on my "Peevish Pen" blog. However, the only books I usually consider for review are books by Appalachian authors, books set in the Appalachian region or the south, middle grade or YA novels, memoir, books about writing, and some regional history. I sometimes review self-pubbed books, but only if I have met the author and really like the book.

I didn't get a reply—until last week when this email (certain info has been blurred by me) hit my inbox: 

Now, the author of that book just happens to be the same person who commented on my blog and who  is also the head of the "literary business" that the Book Manager and Blog Tour Assistant work for. I poked around in the company website, which doesn't display well on my iMac's Safari browser but does on my iPad. (And one of the services this site offers—among a multitude of services that authors can purchase—is web design. Hmmm. You'd think they'd check the effectiveness of their designs on a variety of browsers. . . .)

I was, however, intrigued that the author had been a teller of fairy tales for years. According to her website, she "has spent the last decade captivating audiences of all ages with her novels and fairy tales." I'm a big fairy tale fan, so I wanted to take a look at hers. Alas, Amazon turned up no fairy tales she'd written, but her new book was already available on Amazon. But the "look inside the book" feature wasn't activated, and I couldn't find an excerpt until a Google search turned up a page on the self-publishing site Smashwords. According to what the author wrote (Note: I am providing links to attribute her stuff to the author because, in her book's intro, she says it's OK to use brief passages in reviews as long as she gets credit for them):
I started writing this book when I was fifteen, but didn’t get it published until in my thirties. It’s been a long epic journey that has built my character as I have built the characters. Many of the people and events in The [Title Redacted] Series are based on real people and events that have come into my life. I’ve obviously changed the names to protect identity and used many symbolisms. . .  .
I read the first chapter here. It wasn't a genre I usually read, but I went ahead and read the next two chapters that the Smashwords sample allowed (there are 28 total). Here's my synopsis of these first three chapters (with comments that my inner English teacher could not suppress):

The setting is an unidentified village "less than a league from London" in 1270 AD—but the residents spoke modern English, though, and used terms that you wouldn't think villagers would use back then. (Well, they're based on real people, so I guess this is how the real people talked.) The story begins with a cottage fire that traps three children inside and takes three pages to burn down. (The word cottage entered the English language in the late 13th century so this was a brand new concept when the book took place! However, back then cottage meant all the property attached to a cote and not the small residence that seems to take a long time to burn.) People try to put out the fire with buckets (another new concept back then!) of water from the brook. Anyhow, flames spewed, screams pierced, a man swallowed hard and his Adam's apple (a term first used in 1731, so we've got an anachronism there) bobbed, the protagonist suppressed a groan, fear surgedheavy footfalls pounded, wind danced through hairthe sound of silence is broken, and numerous other cliches ensue. 

 Anyhow, the protagonist (a red-haired girl whose name is so hard to pronounce that the author has to tell you how to say it in the book blurb—and in the email I received) doesn't get burned and, while lying on the wet grass and looking at the stars, realizes she's never ever been burned before. Finally, one of the onlookers wonders if she's alive, and—of course!—she is and her "skin still glowed like pure ivory," though one wonders how these villagers ever saw ivory. A nobleman, who's really some magical kind of dude, appears and accuses her of being a witch, but she kicks up some hot embers at him and runs away toward the haunting Forbidden Forest, which is populated (or maybe haunted?) by all kinds of scary things. But it's so dark she doesn't see them and goes deeper into the forest. How she finds her way in the dark is anybody's guess, but this is fantasy so I guess it's OK for those things to happen.

Naturally (or perhaps unnaturally), she makes it out of the haunting Forbidden Forest (After all, there are a lot more books to come in this series, so she can't die a few pages into the first one, can she?) into a stream that flows by a meadow where a shepherd (complete with sheepdog) is tending his flock. She sits on gnarled roots and cups a handful of water to wash her feet. Then black smoke issues from the woods and big black wolves with black flames billowing off the "alpha wolf" (who also had "lethal teeth" and eyes that "flashed like crimson brimstone"—see p.15) emerge from the Forbidden Forest and attack the sheep (and sheepdog). Gruesomeness ensues.

Chapter 2 finds the girl bloody and shackled and lying on the bloody body of the wolf in some old hag's abode. The "shriveled old woman" (who also has an "erratic stride") hacks up the wolf's body (more blood) although she apparently didn't let the corpse hang to bleed out as one would do for an animal killed for meat and quickly makes it into stew, which they eat.

This woman, unlike the other human characters so far, speaks in dialect (this is another brief quote used for the purposes of a review, so it should be OK to quote):
“If ye wish ta die, feel free ta leave the cottage. There be plagues in the villages so terrible men fall on their swords ta be free of their sufferin’. There be wars between them villagers. Men kill each other in mass slaughters ‘cause they be hungry, and there be not enough food ta go around.”
 The old woman has issues and a mission which I won't get into here, and the girl really wants to escape, but that doesn't happen until several months later. The Smashwords sample ended on p. 24, so I'm not sure what actually ensues. 

My critical opinion of the first three chapters:

I'm not sure who the intended reader is. I can't tell if this is YA (it has a young protagonist) or if it's for adult readers. Unless I'm missing something, it's likely not for fans of English history, nor is it for English majors.

I was interested in why the book was set in a specific year—1270 AD—but that wasn't revealed in the first three chapters. Possibly Parliament levying a property tax to support the 8th Crusade that year? Or Prince Edward's leaving England to participate in the 8th Crusade in 1270? I'm guessing, from the title of a later chapter given in the table of contents, that it was maybe King Henry III dying while his successor was on a crusade.

In the short selection I read, I found anacronisms, dialogue that didn't ring true, some strange similes and metaphors, an over-abudance of cliches, etc. Among the multitude of anacronisms: toddler (1793), debris (1708), exact (mid-15th century) pathetic (1590s)), repressed (late 14th century), alpha wolf (alpha male was in use in 1920s but used to describe animals in 1960!), meagerly (1580s), enveloping (late 14th c), erratic (late 14th c) and many more. My favorite is Adrenaline, which was coined as a trademark name in 1901, so how could the character say, "Adrenaline and heat rushed through my veins" on p. 15? She only missed the use of veins by a few decades, though.

The diction and syntax of some sentences made me wince. Here's one: "I flinched as he pinched one of my red locks between his fingers and let it fall back over my shoulder."

Creative dialogue tags (which serious writers ought to avoid) abounded:
“I know who you are,” he hissed. . .  (You can only hiss s sounds.)
“I’m not a witch,” I defended. . . . (Oh, dear. Defended?)
“There didn’t use ta be this much snow in England,” Hazella complained. (The reader can tell she's complaining without having to be told.)

I was confused by some of the imagery. How would a poor girl in a small inland village know what "golden sand on a sunny beach"(p. 9) feels like? Was she well-travelled? Or "sheets of emerald silk" (p. 32)? The silk-weaving industry in England wasn't established until the mid-fifteenth century, so how could she know? Magic powers, perhaps? 

Much description was overdone (think purple prose) and sometimes used similes that didn't quite fit. I won't quote the passages here. You can read them on Smashwords.

Perhaps the writing improves in subsequent chapters; I don't know. But if you're a fan of The Eye of Argon, you will likely love this book. 

Oh, I should mention—there's a coloring book based on the series! And it's available in several ebook formats. (If you buy it for your kids, I recommend you make them use washable crayons, because magic markers could really mess up your iPad's screen.)

Advice for any writer (or publicist/book manager/blog tour assistant/whatever) soliciting a review: Know to whom you're sending your request. Don't email requests to strangers who aren't interested in your genre. If your book seems in need of extensive editing, a former English teacher will certainly notice. Be careful if you ask me to promote you or your goods or services on this blog. I just might do it—but not the way you expect. 

Unless you include pictures of cute kitties. 

Really cute kitties.

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Blogger CountryDew said...

Fantasy readers are generally forgiving of misuse of words with regards to time, but it is better not to set a time and actual place like that so that it doesn't matter. If your setting is properly done, then specific dates are not important. Or use a time that isn't our time, but a fantasy time, since it's a fantasy story. This is my issue with self-publishing. Too many stories are hitting the market without proper editing.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Elena DeRosa said...

I received a similar request a couple of days ago via e-mail. Don't know if it was from the same person because I wasn't as kind as you...I just deleted the message.

I agree about being careful with word usage in the time frame. One of the reasons it's taking me so long to get into the actual writing of my book is exactly for that reason. Since it begins during the late 1700's from England to SW VA I'm trying to make sure I'm as correct as possible with terminology, etc. Even though it's not non-fiction, I want to be as accurate as possible.

4:48 PM  

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