Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Good, the Bad, the Published

Thanks, Kelli, for your excellent question. With reviewing, I do come across more mediocre books than I'd like. Some are chosen for me, some are from new authors I haven't read before, and sometimes a favorite author does a less than stellar job. I try to keep several things in mind while I write the review.

My first responsibility is to the readers. While I love supporting authors, if I tell people a book is great and it isn't, it only damages my reputation as a reviewer. That hampers my effectiveness when I praise a great book. Why should anyone trust what I say if I treat good and bad books alike?

All of my editors want my honest opinion of the book. They also have responsibility to the people who read their magazine or website. Two of the publications I review for provide reviews for church librarians, who will most likely not read every book they purchase. I don't want to mislead people to pay for a book they won't enjoy. And two of my editors have even complimented me for giving an honest review of a poor book.

I have a personal bias against certain genres and styles. I don't like most westerns, for example. To be fair to authors, I try not to review books I'm pretty sure I won't like. When I do review one, I ponder what a person who liked this genre would think about the novel. And I mention who would most likely enjoy the book in who I recommend it for. Age is also a factor. If the main character's a grandmother, that might be part of the reason I don't like the book, since I'm 21. But if the protagonist's a grandmother and I still like the book, that will raise the book in my opinion. Same with a western.

However bad the book might be, I have to remember that it was published. So someone must have liked it. This doesn't apply to self-published or POD books, though if I like one of those I'll give it a great review, considering some of the stigma those authors have to face.

I consider the author's history. Some authors continue to refine their writing. Others fall into a formula rut, letting their name sell the books while they churn out mediocre manuscripts. Some authors are brilliant, but this particular book is a dud. In the latter case, I don't want people to read an author's worst book and never give them a second chance. So I mention that it isn't as good as previous titles.

No matter how awful a book is, there's usually something the author did right, and I'll mention that in the review. With the book I talked about in the previous entry, I admired the author's use of in-depth description, something my writing tends to lack. I'll be sure to point that out in my review.

For a few examples of how this method has worked for me in varying degrees of quality, try the following links:

Only Glory Awaits
The Priest
Garden of Dreams
Leah's Way

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Misused Retrospect

Few things are as irritating as losing a blog entry into cyberspace. The book I was writing about on the lost entry is. Nearly every important scene was relayed in flashback. I could understand the flashbacks from the narrator's childhood. Though they came at odd places (the novel was similar to a printout of the character's thought patterns), there was a significant reason they were flashbacks and not the first chapters of the book. The narrator was viewing her childhood through the eyes of adulthood.

The other flashbacks seemed to placed only to trick the reader into reading further. As soon as the narrative began to get interesting (and trust me, the overwhelming detail made many parts uninteresting), the author would skip ahead to the next day or week, only revealing what had happened several pages later. And in a sketchy, unsatisfying way.

I've read a lot of novels (I've read at least one book by all of the authors on the sidebar, and dozens by several). I've even read novels with lots of unnecessary details. But this novel made Ivanhoe seem like a pleasure read. Even the climax was skipped. The two main characters meet at a restaurant, the guy asks one insightful question, and the narrative moves ahead to months later. I felt like throwing the book across the room, but restrained myself for Amazon saleability. I only finished the book (which took twice as long as usual) because I needed to review it.

I'm not going to reveal the author (though they're not listed to the right), though if you get Church Libraries you might see my review in several months. And it may be more unbiased now that I've got this rant over with. Twice. But this novel makes me question some writing advice: never take the reader where he wants to go. I don't remember which writing book I read that in, but it was a recognized expert. I can see how that works with multiple POVs, but not with one. Maybe you could squeeze it in once or twice, but frequent usage would frustrate the reader.

I'm still adding to my links, so if you know of a good one, feel free to let me know. And if I've linked to your blog or website, I'd appreciate if you could do the same for mine. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Back into Things

Today was filled with many things - babysitting, watching movies, online browsing, a nap, but nothing was as fulfilling as the hour I spent writing. I freely admit I'm a procrastinator. Solitaire and freecell are so much more attractive than that next sentence I can't figure out quite right. But once I get past that sentence and get moving, I wonder why I waited so long to write it. What exactly was so difficult that it kept me from writing? Nothing. Just my own laziness. Which I am resolved never to let happen again (or until the next difficult spot - which is why I usually have two reviews in progress at the same time).

I'm finally getting used to when most people are online, so the need to stick to this computer has faded. I have enjoyed the browsing, which should translate into more links for the sidebar. I'm going to be gathering the blogs I visit frequently along with some new review links and fiction/writing sites. I'm open to suggestions - won't make any promises, but if I find myself visiting a site more than once a week, it'll definitely earn a spot.

Today I got a little written on my short story. It's so hard to keep it down to the bare bones, but I know that it will easily exceed the length requirements. Novel writing will not let me go. Anything beyond a one- or two-scene story evolves into a book. Hmm. Maybe they'll me submit it as a serial.

Saturday a check arrived with two complimentary copies of the March Christian Communicator. My article title (Maximize the Market Guide) was on the front cover, and the article itself was second in the magazine, right after Sally Stuart's. My toes curl at the thought of all the authors I love who read that magazine and may read my article! Monday I heard that an author liked my review of his novel, and today I received a wonderful endorsement for my first novel.

Still pondering the genre decision, but have pushed it away to allow it to simmer on low. I know what I need to do now - submit Freedom's Decision, edit Winter, finish my short story, write reviews, and look for other magazine writing opportunities. That's plenty to handle for the moment, and I'll see how God directs for the future.