A Review By Any Other Name…

I have noticed a trend in book “reviews”, especially by independent bloggers such as myself: they aren’t reviews so much as puff pieces: PR-worthy paeans of praise for prose that is possibly putrid.

(that alliteration just rolled off my fingers. Yay, me!)

Seriously, folks: I was a professional (read: paid by legit publications & recognized as such) book reviewer for some years. While individual writing style may vary, a proper review always–ALWAYS–includes the good and the not-so-great things about a book. And make no mistake, there is always something not-so-great about even the most bestselling and/or popular book.

I would never have gotten even one review published had I just focused on how great (or not) I thought a book was; that’s how I learned to write a review, by having my drafts sent back and rewriting them to accurately reflect concrete, objective issues in a book versus my personal feelings about the book (there is a difference, but people often confuse the two under the guise of a “review”).

The people who paid me wanted balance, as that balance was what lent legitimacy to the reviews by both authors and readers alike. And yes, I have caught hell from authors when a review wasn’t as glowing as they’d prefer (“What…what do you mean, you didn’t like XYZ in my book? How could you find fault in it? Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews loved it! It’s on the NYT Bestseller list! It’s got over 500 five-star ratings on Amazon!  HOW DARE YOU?!”), but in the end they had to (grudgingly) admit that while the review wasn’t to their liking, it was at least fair. Plus, if an author is a true writer who wants to further hone his or her craft, the constructive criticism is necessary for future growth.

(if you’re a writer and you can’t handle folks telling you your writing sucks in some way, you’re in the wrong line of business.)

There is nothing wrong with giving a shoutout to an author when you’re digging her or his work. Our egos thank you for it. But keep it real and call the praise-only blurbs what they are: acknowledgements of fandom better suited for personal blogs and big-ups on social media, rather than a “(professional) review”.

Thanks for stopping by.

Stuck (pt. 2)

Back in January (I know, it’s been awhile), I posted about a bout (ha ha) of writer’s block and how reading The Ninja by Eric Van Lustbader helped me break out of it. I promised to follow up on what I meant, so here it is.

It took so long to write a follow-up because I got unstuck, then stuck again, and had to get re-unstuck. Plus, I had to indulge in my annual “holiday”, March Madness, so there was that. 🙂 Anyway, in The Ninja the main character, Nicholas Linnear, is training for a specialized form of martial arts: ninjutsu, or the art of the ninja. As part of his training, he is told to read No Rin Go Sho (The Book of Five Rings), a classic yet short Japanese military tome by Miyamoto Musashi. While The Book of Five Rings is primarily devoted to victorious sword-fighting it, as most Japanese books do, incorporates philosophical and spiritual elements. The main underlying principle to the book is adherence to the Way, which I interpret as an honorable place of spirit that is applied to every endeavor in one’s life. The Way is when a person is true to him/herself in whatever s/he does; by doing so, it’s implied that any decision made will be correct.

Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men. Next, in order to beat more skillful men…not allowing your heart to be swayed along a side-track. Even, if you kill an enemy, if it is not based on what you learned, it is not the Way. If you attain this Way of victory, then you will be able to beat several tens of men.” — The Book of Five Rings, Musashi Miyamoto

I was stuck in my writing because I lost my Way (or way). I was writing to fit myself into a marketing category, instead of just writing and figuring it out later. When I look at my first book, I see where I went wrong (and a future rewrite/re-release is still an option), and how I could have had more fun with the book. Even with the third book in the works for a late April/early May release, I’m slowly getting away from what I think I should be writing (e.g., the romance novel formula that is set forth by the Romance Writers of America) and just letting the story take me where it wants to go. That’s where the most honest writing lives, anyway.

It’s hard sometimes because the story may not be in line with what my current readers want or expect. Therein lies the rub of the published author: give the people what they want, or stay true to self? Stephen King said it best in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft :

“What would be very wrong, I think, is to turn away from what you know and like…in favor of things you believe will impress your friends, relatives, and writing-circle colleagues. What’s equally wrong is the deliberate turning toward some genre or type of fiction in order to make money. It’s morally wonky, for one thing…Also, brothers and sisters, it doesn’t work.” — On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King

So here I am, finding my Way, writing what brings me joy and what may not fit into the Census-like boxes of the publishing industry. To that end, I may even abandon the whole pen name thing as well; I usually end up signing my real name out of habit, so what’s the point? The best I can do is turn out quality product, and hope that readers will (continue to) ride with me. The minimalization of book category may even help gain new readers, since they won’t automatically see a genre (e.g., romance) and think, “Nope, not for me.”

If you’re in a stuck place in your life (no matter what your profession or day job), I encourage you to go back to the beginning of when you were hopped up with excitement, when you felt, deep down, that your path was the right one for you. I encourage you to find your Way (again). And you might want to check out The Ninja; it’s a pretty cool read.

Thanks for stopping by.

Stuck (pt. 1)

I haven’t blogged in quite some time. An emergency hospitalization of my grandmother (for whom I’m a caretaker) which required me to spend both nights there; followed by week-long bout with the flu (which I probably picked up from the hospital, but I digress) doesn’t bode well for the creative process. Even as my full recovery drew nearer, and I did my usual “write it in your head” part of my process, I faced a crisis that strikes fear in the heart of every creative:

I got stuck.

Once I was able to stop sleeping for long periods of time, and managed to stop coughing up a lung, I tried to work on the rewrite of next book in my Bastille Family Chronicle series, which is Dominic’s story. I made major changes to his love interest, which required more research (shoutout to Cynthia and Ekaterina for the gamer info!)–which required a recalibration of the plot, especially after I added some different tension points to the love interest. But the flow still wouldn’t come.

Then I pulled up the first draft of the novel I started for National Novel Writing Month 2012. This was a more serious book (the BFC series are contemporary romances), which take longer for me to write. Tinkered with that some, made some progress. But I felt guilty because I wasn’t working on the BFC book, which my readers are looking for by spring.

Then I managed to write a science/speculative fiction/fantasy (SFF) short story for submission to a magazine. The story was based on an SFF book I started back in…2006, or somewhere around there. Anyway, that was kind of fun, and made me think about revisiting that book again. And the guilt over writing another BFC book took over.

I had to ask myself why I felt so guilty. Was the thrill gone from the series already (I’ve only published the first one, and have five more to go)? If so, why? I’ve gotten positive word-of-mouth feedback from readers so far, and the excerpt seemed to work toward introducing me to a broader audience of fans. My readers are looking forward to the next five books, as well as a stand-alone spinoff. The book is selling, again via word-of-mouth. So what’s the problem?

I thought long and hard about it, and my conclusion wasn’t pretty. And I have The Ninja to thank for it.

More on this in a later post. Thanks for stopping by.

Very Inspiring Blogger Award!

Over the holidays, I was surprised and honored to be given a Very Inspiring Blogger Award by Kalisha Buckhanon of the Negression blog.

Inspirational Blogger Award

When I blog, I usually just write about what’s percolating in that creative yet dystopian landscape that is my brain. It can be hard to swallow, sometimes, as I’m not known in real life for pulling too many punches. That being said, it’s nice to be recognized by a peer as contributing something of positive value.

Per the parameters of this award, I should list seven things about me that you probably don’t know. Those things are:

  • I hate carrots and artichokes (they are DARK-SIDED)
  • I am severely arachnophobic (afraid of spiders)
  • I’ve been previously published in two nonfiction anthologies (which are, alas, currently out of print, but available for large sums of money on used book sellers)
  • I started my post-college career in healthcare, including direct patient care, research, and as a policy analyst for a healthcare nonprofit in Washington, DC. Stayed in this industry for over ten years.
  • Tea is my beverage of choice. Hot, cold, winter, summer…it’s all good. Black teas, of course. 😉
  • I’m an only child
  • I was a professional restaurant chef for 4.5 years in the Bay Area and Miami, FL areas (yep, went to culinary school and everything), and did my externship at Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, CA (Alice Waters, anyone?)

The parameters also state that I need to pay it forward and nominate fifteen blogs that I, too, find inspiring. This was a challenge, since I don’t read a lot of blogs, although I get a lot of email updates (and I read them in my email, not necessarily the actual blog page–I think that counts LOL). Also, a lot of times “inspiring” tends to be synonymous with “uplifting” and “positive”; inspiration can also be borne of anger, injustice, and frustration, so long as it’s properly channeled. The blogs I list below have inspired me in one way or another: some by laughter, some by tears, some by dismay. Quite a few I discovered via Blog Her and National Blog Posting Month. So without further ado, these are the blogs that have caught my eye over the past year, and in no particular order:

  1. Negression
  2. In Search of His Face
  3. Black Girl Nerds 
  4. My Life Runs on Food
  5. The Culinary Life
  6. Jonathan Beverley
  7. My Black Mind
  8. Mimi G. Style
  9. Life In Training
  10. Rhymes With Mascara
  11. My So-Called Glamorous Life
  12. A Little More Sauce
  13. Stand Up and Say OW!
  14. Cancer Is Not Pink
  15. Jeneration Why

Now I have to contact the members of these blogs and tell them I find them (and their blogs) inspirational. Maybe they’ll respond, maybe they’ll ignore. *shrug* Oh well.

Your mission, dear readers, if you choose to accept it: if you want to share the love, here are the rules for this award:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and add a link to their blog.

2. Display the award on your post. 

Inspirational Blogger Award

3. Proudly display the award logo (or buttons) on your blog, whether on your side bar, ABOUT page, or a special page for awards.

4. State 7 things about yourself.

5. Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award.

6. Contact your nominees to let them know you have nominated them. Provide a link to your post.

Alright…that’s done. Get to nominating!

Thanks for stopping by.