Tuesday, November 27, 2012 | By: Lynn

Respect from Reviewers

Sometimes I blame on Jerry Seinfeld what I see as the current critical-of-everything environment. In my lifetime, he seemed to pioneer the attitude of closely examining everything and everyone for coolness or noncoolness. If you're young enough to experience this Seinfeld phenomenon only through reruns, you may not share my perspective, but you still may be familiar with the comedian's style. It gave us lots to laugh about, and laugh at. I remember the montage of reasons the show's characters listed for not getting involved with someone: too tall, too tan, doesn't have a thick head of hair, man hands, not a good naked, close-talker, soft-talker. Jerry's evaluations got us thinking about trivial things in critical ways.

Critical Thinking is Good
Not only were Jerry Seinfeld's observations good for a laugh, they pointed out obvious redundancies or stupidities. It's not hard to find lists on the Internet of Seinfeld's observations that point out human silliness. For instance, "What's the deal with people who put carpeting on the lid of their toilet seat? What are they thinking? 'Gosh, if we have a party, there may not be enough standing room. Let's carpet the toilet seat, too.' " And, "Would somebody please explain to me about those signs that say, 'No animals allowed except seeing eye dogs.' Who is that sign for? Is it the dog or the person?" And this classic: "Why do we have to pay someone to rotate our tires? Isn't that the basic idea of the wheel? Don't they rotate themselves?" It's a mindset of critical thinking and I firmly believe in the good of critical thinking and discernment, of thinking for yourself, of reflection and having an opinion. But I'm weary of the flippant quip about someone or something. It's feels dismissive and shallow and critical in a "this is not cool" or "you are not cool" way.

We're Not All the Same
So what does all this reflection on Seinfeldisms have to do with writing? It's not Jerry Seinfeld's fault, actually, but it seems like critical thinking has been taken to the far right to morph into extreme criticism. Reviewers have taken evaluation of a book to a place of criticism without respect. Criticism for the sake of taking pleasure in pointing out perceived flaws. It seems like the mentality of a popular kid pointing to another kid in school and hurling insults for the personal fun of it. It makes me cringe.

J. Robert Lenno suggests in a post for  Salon that critical reviews are important, but criticism is not the same as cruelty or evisceration, and there shouldn't be a detectable sense of glee in picking apart the writing. There should be R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

"Even if you don’t like the writer you’re reviewing, not even a little bit, acknowledge, at least to yourself, that some people do, and that this fact is not meaningless. In your review, let your reader know what it is other people like about this writer. If you disagree, say so, in a non-condescending manner. The goal is to explain and persuade, not to hurt," he wrote.

According to Daryl Campbell in a post for The Millions, reviewers have historically delighted in their ability to dissect writing and reflect on its effect on them. But he suggests reviews today have become lackluster, even in their negativity.

"…all of these reviews consist entirely of the initial response and a subsequent explanation, and no self-reflection about whether there might be more to the the book – and to the reviewer’s response – than that initial, emotional decision," he wrote.

 A reviewer himself, he defends the negative aspect of reviews. But I admit, it's hard for me. Almost daily I read about an author's hurtful experience with a review of his or her book. And I wonder, does the reviewer who calls a book "Dumb!" or gives it an "F" really have that kind of authority? Does she speak for everyone's taste? I don’t think so. It's just an opinion. Hopefully it's an informed and some sort of an expert opinion, but it doesn't necessarily speak for me. Nor does it always speak for the masses. Author-reviewers who panned the Twilight series didn't speak for all the readers who put it on a best-seller list. Ditto for the author-reviewers who dismissed The Hunger Games series. Opinions vary, even with agents and editors. What writer hasn't read about editors – arguably experts of a sort – who rejected books that went on to acclaim and even classics status, such as Gone with Wind, A Wrinkle in Time and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as the Harry Potter books. So though standards of quality are important, opinions vary. I'm glad there is room for all kinds of writing or we might have missed, or miss in the future, some lovely books.

On the other hand, the present discussion about Amazon deleting certain reviews points out a possible weakness in the practice of authors reviewing authors. Silly to think authors shouldn't review other authors when they're read the book, but the review can lose value when it's always plus, plus, plus. There needs to be balance.

A Neutral Eye
Reviews and criticism are a part of the landscape for a writer. I know that for a writer, getting a book reviewed holds the possibility of attracting more attention for the book. We all believe in our story and expect that others will see a good story in it, too. It doesn't always work out that way and a reviewer may have a challenge offering a balanced review from a neutral point of view. I wonder why reviewers so often lately can't let readers know what's what with a book and still be mindful that a person wrote it, a writer, and offer a balanced assessment.

As a reader, I find value in getting someone's opinion of a book before I start a new book. It's input. But honestly, I am more likely to pan the reviewer who is disrespectful of a writer's work than I am the book being reviewed. I work as a freelance editor, and sometimes I read writing that I don't fall in love with. But I still can think it has value if it meets my criteria for subject expertise, grammar, and typos don't get in the way of the story, and there is a level of competency in presenting story elements. That I can acknowledge even if the story itself is unappealing to me.

But don't get me wrong, I've been guilty of saying things among my friends and fellow writers about books I have read that I thought stunk. In truth, though, those books had been accepted by a publishing house, had been edited, and had found an audience. So it's just my opinion, for what it's worth, that they were bad books.

Personal Impact
I'm a reader and I read reviews to get a sense of a book, so I believe in the review process. I'm also a writer. I want my books to get good reviews. I want everyone to love my books. But I've been the recipient of a low rating on Amazon. I don't like it. I can say I've learned and improved since that book so I hope my next reviews show that, but it still stings a bit.

There is a Buddhist principal that suggests we humans should not get very excited about praise or criticism, not give much weight to either one. I’m working on that.

These thoughts are only my opinion, and that changes, too. I'd love to learn what the personal impact of reviews, as a reader and or a writer, have been on you. Have you written a review? Have you found reviews align with your reading experience? Share?

Friday, November 23, 2012 | By: Cafe
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
- Neale Donald Walsch
Thursday, November 22, 2012 | By: Cafe
We wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!
- Lynn and HiDee
Tuesday, November 20, 2012 | By: Cafe

An Interview with Robyn Bachar

Today, The Write Way Café would like to welcome Samhain author Robyn Bachar.

How long have you been writing?
According to my mother I wrote my first book when I was four years old, so I think it’s safe to say that I’ve always wanted to be an author. I started writing my first novel when I was in 8th grade. It was awful (there are unicorns, don’t ask), but I still have it stashed in my closet. Every so often I glance at it and wince at the writing. Still, finishing that novel gave me the confidence to write more, and even then I knew I wanted to write romance. It’s important to me to tell stories where the good guys win and love conquers all.

Do all of your books have magic in the storyline? What is your interest in magic?
To an extent, yes. I enjoy writing stories with swords and sorcery—I even have swords in my space opera. I like taking the mundane and giving it a dose of the extraordinary. In Fire in the Blood, Patience owns her own small business, All on Red Consulting. She has an office with an empty fish tank and a computer cluttered with spreadsheets and expense reports. And she has an invisible demon minion who enjoys playing Angry Birds on his iPad while she’s at her desk.

Do the books follow well known information about magic, so to speak, or do you completely create the worlds?
I draw heavily from the magic system in the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons. No, not really, but one day I am determined to have a character attack the darkness with magic missile. One of the nice things about building your own paranormal world is that you don’t have to do heavy amounts of research. (Unless you want to try your hand at summoning demons, though I don’t recommend it. The stains are just murder to get out of your carpet.)

What is different about your latest release?
In a word, demons. Fire in the Blood was a story that flowed for me from beginning to end. It was born out of a single line that came to me while in the shower (most of my random inspiration happens in the shower, apparently my muse enjoys washing her hair). It was a play on a line from the movie “Army of Darkness,” in which my heroine announced, “Good. Bad. I’m the girl with the demon.” And thus Patience Roberts was born, the newest addition to the Bad Witch books. Patience is a summoner, and demons are her business. Patience started stealing scenes in the second Bad Witch book, Bewitched, Blooded and Bewildered, so I knew I wanted to give her her own story. I love writing her, and I love writing her hero, Faust. He started stealing scenes in the very first book. And they’ll both continue to do for the foreseeable future.

Are your main characters completely imaginary or do they have some basis in real people? Do they reflect aspects of yourself?
I think each of my heroines has my voice to an extent. My girlfriend beta reads for me, and she once expressed a suspicion that I have multiple personalities. (I don’t. I only write what the voices tell me to. That’s normal, right?) I do have characters who are inspired by friends of mine. In the Bad Witch books the character Mac was inspired by my buddy Scott. He often asks me how Mac is doing.

Do you face any blocks while writing, particularly your latest book, and if so, how did you handle them? If not, what's your secret?
This was a story that I was very excited to tell, and the only block I had while writing Fire in the Blood was that I started it just before NaNoWriMo last year and had to put it on hold during November. I stopped, wrote the second Emily book, Poison in the Blood, for NaNo, and then picked up again during December. It helped that despite the difference in time periods both books have characters in common (it’s so useful to have immortal characters sometimes).

What have been surprises you've encountered while writing the book and after?
Actually there weren’t a lot of surprises with this book. It went rather smoothly, despite the shenanigans that went on in my personal life while I was working on it.

What did you learn? For instance, what did you learn about yourself, your process, the writing world, your characters?
I learned to never fight a land war in Asia. Just kidding. ;) I learn something new with each book I write, because each experience is different. This is the book where I became enamored with Tom Hiddleston, who is my dream actor for Faust.

What are some of your favorite books and why?
I become obsessed with new books on a regular basis. I’m always updating what I’m reading on Goodreads, so that’s a good place to see what my latest favorite is. Currently I’m in love with Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners series, especially The Siren. I’m also addicted to Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series. And Sheryl Nantus’ Blaze of Glory series. And Keith Melton’s Nightfall Syndicate series. Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha is also very good. (Seriously, I could do this all day.)

What are you working on now?
At the moment I’m working on the next Bad Witch book, Blood, Book and Candle, and the next book in my Cy’ren Rising series.

About Robyn Bachar: Robyn Bachar was born and raised in Berwyn, Illinois, and loves all things related to Chicago, from the Cubs to the pizza. It seemed only natural to combine it with her love of fantasy, and tell stories of witches and vampires in the Chicagoland area. As a gamer, Robyn has spent many hours rolling dice, playing rock-paper-scissors, and slaying creatures in MMPORGs.

You can buy Fire in the Blood from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Samhain Publishing.
Website: http:// robynbachar.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorRobynBachar
Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobynBachar
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/iamtherobyn

Friday, November 16, 2012 | By: Cafe

Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
-Lewis Carroll
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 | By: Cafe

An Interview with Victoria H. Smith

The Write Way Café is happy to welcome author Victoria H. Smith today.

When did you first have the thought you'd like to write a book? Was that first thought related to writing romance?
I first had the thought to write a book back in 2010. I had just started grad school and, surprisingly, had a little extra time to read fiction. I went in search for a book about people my age and wasn’t finding what I was looking for, so I decided I wanted to write a book about things I would enjoy reading. I was planning a wedding at the time, so finding the time to actually write a book wasn’t possible. A year later, I bought a book about writing fiction, and three weeks later, I had my first novel.

What was your path to getting this first book written and published? What type of research did you do?
When I first wrote The Crimson Hunt, I had no desire to get published. It wasn’t until I let others read it and they told me it was something worth pursuing that I even considered it. Once I made the decision, I did a Google search on how to begin. After I edited a few drafts of my novel, I put it aside and started looking for ways to make it better. I joined the online forum Romance Divas and found a critique partner. While editing with her, I discovered that starting a social media platform was a must, to not only meet fellow writers, but to reach out to readers. I started a blog, joined Twitter, and quickly found other writers. I started building my platform in November about two months after writing The Crimson Hunt. Fast forward to March of 2012, my media platform started picking up steam. The Crimson Hunt was starting to really look good since working with my critique partner, so I started researching small presses and agents. I quickly found out that what I write (fiction about college students), didn’t really exist and agents weren’t looking for it. I focused on small presses since some of them were actually taking those types of manuscripts. While searching, I stumbled upon a contest with a small press who took the types of manuscripts I write. I entered and won. I was signed by May 2012. While working with that publisher, I quickly realized I needed more flexibility, so I actually left and decided to self-publish my book. I am now officially an exclusively self-published author. The lesson I learned is there is no right or wrong way to publish a novel. With my work, I prefer a more hands on approach. I’m a planner and always have been, so I knew self-publishing was more my suit.

Where did the idea for your story come from? Was it always the first in a series? Tell us more about the Eldaen Light Chronicles.
The idea for The Crimson Hunt came from that gap in the fiction market I'd found. I wanted to write a book about college students, something I hadn’t seen in the market at the time. So with that foundation, I started thinking about all the things I loved seeing in movies. I wasn’t a big reader and movies were all I had to go by. I wanted a snarky, Bridget Jones-type character, thrown into a situation with a lot of action. I wanted heavy romance, but I also wanted fight scenes and a suspense/thriller setting. Once I drafted all the things I wanted to see, I put it all together and The Crimson Hunt was born. The Crimson Hunt is book one in the Eldaen Light Chronicles about a college junior who meets a mysterious new coed on campus. The coed quickly captivates the female protagonist with his charm and charisma, but her involvement with him leads to a horrific tragedy. Left alone and without many options, she is forced to rely on his aid, but she discovers he may not have her best interests at heart. She has to decide very quickly who her true allies or the ultimate cost could be her life.

Why did you pick the setting you did?
My book is set in the good ole’ Midwest on a fictitious campus. I chose the Midwest because it was my first novel, and I knew writing what I “know” would be best. Now, all my novels usually start in a Midwest setting. It’s where I’m from and what I know, so I can explain the setting very well. Though the college itself is made-up, it is based on my undergrad college campus, the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

Are your main characters completely imaginary or do they have some basis in real people? Do they reflect aspects of yourself?
My characters are all completely imaginary. I created their personalities based on the level of conflict I could create. I gave all my characters specific quirks, hoping that I could create the best story off their personality types. I didn’t base any of my characters on any specific person, but I did study people in general to find quirks I liked. As far as elements of myself in my characters, they definitely have my sense of humor. My heroine is very snarky and bubbly, and that’s definitely my voice.

Did you face any blocks while writing the book, and if so, how did you handle them? If not, what's your secret?
I, fortunately, did not have any blocks while I wrote The Crimson Hunt. This is because I used the Snowflake Method to write my story. I know my characters very well and researched their world heavily the world. I knew about a hundred things more than I needed to know to make the story. Since I had so much information, it pretty much wrote itself.

What have been surprises you've encountered while writing the book and after?
Surprises I have found while writing is how awesome the writing community is. There is so much camaraderie. Everyone wants to help each other and that’s outstanding. Another surprise? Writing sex is hard! I thought the hardest thing to write would be fight scenes and action scenes. Nope. Sex. Super hard. But once you get the hang of it, it’s the most fun.

What did you learn? For instance, what did you learn about yourself, your process, the writing world?
I learned while writing this book that I actually had a story to tell. I remember seeing all those books on the shelves at my local bookstores, and saying I could never do something like that. But I did, and if I could, anyone can.

What are some of your favorite books and why?
Some of my favorite books are other novels in the new adult category. I love anything by Abbi Glines and Easy by Tammara Webber. Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire is also very good, as well. These are all contemporary, college stories. Outside of contemporary, NA author Lynn Rush has some great paranormal romances. She writes about angels, demons, and vampires, and they always feature twenty-something characters. Outside of new adult, I like The Hunger Games and anything by YA contemporary authors Simone Elkeles and Jennifer Echols.

What are you working on now?
I’m in between projects right now. I’ve decided to slow down and concentrate on editing so I can get my books out. I have a NA short, holiday romance coming out this month, too. But other than that, I plan on getting about three more novels out around the beginning of next year. The sequel to The Crimson Hunt and its novella are among them. They’re already written. Next summer, I plan to finish the series with the final full-length novel and two novellas.


About Victoria H. Smith:  Victoria H. Smith has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. She puts it to good use writing romance all day. She resides in the Midwest with her Macbook on her lap and a cornfield to her right. She often draws inspiration for her stories from her own life experiences, and the twenty-something characters she writes give her an earful about it. In her free time, she enjoys extreme couponing, blogging, reading, and sending off a few tweets on Twitter when she can. She writes new adult romance in the sub-genres of science fiction, urban fantasy, and contemporary. But really, anywhere her pen takes her she goes. Her new adult science fiction romance, The Crimson Hunt, will be published November 2012. 

Where you can find Victoria:
Website:  http://twentysomethingfictionwriter.blogspot.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/AuthorVictoriaHSmith
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/VictoriaSmith76
Pinterest:  http://pinterest.com/victoriasmith76/

Friday, November 9, 2012 | By: Cafe

Everything in the universe has rhythm; everything dances.
- Maya Angelou
Tuesday, November 6, 2012 | By: HiDee

What is Your Weapon of Choice?

To-Do List, Task List, Project Manager. . . It doesn’t really matter what you call it, we all have to find which method works best to help us manage our daily lives.

At work, they call me The Boss. I am the power behind the throne. I keep my professors legal and my graduate students from going crazy, and in return, they provide chocolate. Some of my professors are high-maintenance. They think the rules don’t apply to them, and I have to jump through hoops to accomplish their goals while complying with university guidelines. I spend a good portion of every day putting out perceived fires, and somehow in between, I’m expected to also perform the day-to-day duties for which they rely on me. Most of my responsibilities are not one-and-done items; most of them require follow-up. How do I keep track of all of these things? I’ve tried organized piles, file folders, color coding, and stacking trays. I’ve tried post-it notes, task lists, and weekly planners. And still I lack a reliable way to stay on top of all the little things that need done.

My brother is a computer geek and a project planner for a large company, so I asked him to recommend something. I was very disappointed in his “weapon of choice” – Excel. He said I could make my own columns to sort or filter by (Done, Waiting, Pending X, Pending A, etc.), use dates, formulas, or whatever else I needed. I told him that sounds like a story problem, and I don’t do story problems!

As a mom, I make sure my kids are where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be. I practiced tough love with my oldest (who is now out on her own), and a little less tough love with the second one. It wasn’t intentional; I just learned to let some things go, much to the dismay of my oldest. But in order to stay current on school, sporting, and even social events, we have a dry-erase calendar on the refrigerator – a central location to keep all events in plain sight.  Even Hubby has learned to check the calendar before planning anything.

As a writer, I juggle a number of writing projects and responsibilities. My writing projects are given working titles and each have their own folder on my computer. Within the folders, the files have titles and dates. This method of organization works for me – for the actual writing.

Keeping track of writing responsibilities is another story. A calendar is useful for some projects, but not for others. I’ve tried to forgo scribbling on scrap papers and jot things down in a notebook so it’s all in one place, but it’s not organized. I’ve tried keeping electronic to-do or task lists as well, but they’re pretty useless without a smart-phone to access them. Post-it notes with scribbled lists appear in random places around my house – I like them because I can pick them up and move them, or stick them on my purse or on the door so I don’t forget something.

All of these things together eventually help me get my projects done, but it’s not a very efficient system. Whether at work, being a mom, or as a writer, I’m always on the lookout for a better way to manage my life.

How do you manage your life? What is your weapon of choice, or do you have more than one?

Friday, November 2, 2012 | By: Cafe
Believe in your dreams and they may come true.  Believe in yourself and they will.
- Unknown