Can I Brag?

The rough draft to my third legitimate novel is finished. Started November 5th, 2015. Ended June 24th, 2016. Seven and three quarters months. And it’s only 74,500 words. Not exactly what I was shooting for in terms of time or word count, but to some extent, every story writes itself.

This writing business is a strange and amazing process. So many twists and turns to the story of the story. Grandiose ideas that fizzle. Characters’ morphing arcs, motivations, genders. And here, at the end I’m sitting back thinking of all the turning points. How, if this didn’t happen in real life, than I wouldn’t have written that piece of fiction. In this story’s case, if events had happened differently two years ago, I would not be posting thisMonkey-typing-300x214 write-up today.

I’ve composed this post to brag about an accomplishment, but also to illustrate the importance of writer friends. I’m saying this now in the afterglow of a finished rough draft because I knew I was getting close, but insurmountable barriers obscured my view of the end.

That is, until I reached out for help.

I have been thinking of this novel for about three, maybe four years. There’s even initial hand-drawn sketches of scenes in my two-inch thick stack of notes. What was originally a pure action hero became a deeper character struggling to answer questions. Of his allegiances, of the plot, of life. Shit gets blowd up, too, don’t get me wrong, but the focus has changed.

In one of the stranger twists, if a demoralizing event didn’t occur to me almost two years ago, I wouldn’t have met (again) the person who brilliantly forced me to reevaluate aspects of my main character, then helped me with major road blocks.

A few years ago I had met this writer lady through a mutual writer friend. The meeting was brief, just introductions, really. My second novel was in the works at the time, off to an agent, per request, who never got back to me (part of, but not close to the demoralizing event).

The second novel had major structural issues so I quit it to write this third. I had what I thought was a good outline, knew the plot points, drawn all the supporting characters so last November I sat down and started writing. My goal was 100,000 words in about four months. I wanted to be finished, or nearly so, by February, 2016, in time for a writers conference.

Yeah, none of that happened. But I still attended the conference. After all, writers conferences are good places to meet like minded people. This writer thing is so isolating to begin with, getting out and talking to other cave dwelling humans who intimately understand the struggle is refreshing. And after said demoralizing episode the conference was exactly what I needed to believe in myself again.

lrg-786-monkeys_-_best_friendsOkay, back to friends. I had met the writer lady again at the conference, this time in a sociable setting with dozens of other inebriated writers all exhausted from the busy weekend, all recounting shared writerly experiences. At one point I talked to a dude. A romance writing dude. About sex scenes. At a bar. Where non-writers could hear. More than the subject matter, the subtext and technique he explained to me was amazing. The information translated in my mind at first in the form of fighting scenes (my specialty), but then I figured out that the questions should be asked and answered about every scene. That was an awkwardly transformative conversation.

Later the writer lady and I discussed our works-in-progress, found out we live vaguely near each other and agreed to meet at some time later. That’s common at conferences, though it usually never happens.

After the conference I contacted one fellow (not the dude), met him for coffee. I’ve always hated a specific enormous chain coffee shop, but hell if it isn’t a convenient place to meet writers. Anyhow, we made future plans, but his course in life is a little different than mine and we haven’t seen each other since. I met another writer from the conference shortly after, read some of her stuff, though she’s at a different place in her writing journey than I am. We still keep in touch. I never like it when people discount me because they’re ahead of me, so I make it a point to never brush off others who may be newer to the game than I am. Everyone has needed help and everyone has help to give.

Finally met the writer lady. We’re in similar places, writing wise. I told her about a major problem I’d been having with my main character. She asked me one question. One damn question that I couldn’t answer. That one damn question stuck with me the rest of the meeting, the entire drive home and into that night despite normal household chaos. Over and over the question recycled without answer. I couldn’t shake it. It bothered me. Simple enough, but I couldn’t answer a basic foundational question about my own freakin’ character.

Then it hit me. I scrambled for paper, pencil, scribbled, thought, rewrote the idea legibly, placed it in my notes, wrote it into the rough draft, although I was about half finished. It defines the character so needs to be mentioned as early as possible, but that’s what edits are for. I was amazed that the one question could affect my writing in such a way.

But it didn’t stop there.

Approaching the end. My main character has a few more obstacles to cross, but I can’t figure out how. First problem—should a lady character get beat up? In the story she deserves it, but I just didn’t like the arrangement considering the following scene. No matter, I’ll jot it down and ask my friend later. As I wrote out the set-up and problem, I thought of an alternative that produced a much more meaningful end. Still two more lingering issues, one about motivation, the other about logistics. Coffee, I posit my problems and though a series of questions, some back and forth brain storming, we came to some rough solutions. Not write-arounds, not writing over them, these solutions ran straight through my problem spots. These solutions worked so well I finished the story two weeks after the last meeting.

Looking back, I wouldn’t have been at that conference without the demoralizing episode, which means I wouldn’t have learned about sex scenes from a dude at the bar, nor would I have found that foundational trait for my main character. I would have a couple more pointless clumsy scenes in the current draft and a less satisfying ending if I hadn’t embraced people from the writer community and asked for their help.

I finished writing my third legitimate novel, but more importantly I know there are people out there willing to invest time and energy into helping me succeed. It’s not a one way street, however. I, too, am willing to help others succeed. By reading manuscripts, brain storming problems, or sharing posts. It’s the friendships built over time that help all of us writers become better at our art than we were the story before.

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Anonymous Book Review 16

A masterpiece. The pacing, the characters, and in this case, the writing itself, all fell into the right seams. This book is the second in a trilogy and it thoroughly defied my expectations.

How’s that?

I’m not a fan of space station stories—DEFIED!

I’m not a fan of third person omniscient points of view—DEFIED! Sort of.

I get bored with long winded social messages—DEFIED!

Infallible captains are tiresome—DEFIED!

In general I haven’t enjoyed space station stories because it’s usually a ship that goes nowhere. All kinds of deceit and intrigue takes place among species whose dominant character traits resemble somethingAstronaut Pic human. Good, bad, caring, loving, militaristic, and then these traits come into conflict with only the station administrator or a good natured captain to mediate the tension. The problem is there’s never a good enough motivation to keep everyone playing the game fairly. Why not send troops to expel the ne’er-do-wells?

With this book the station stayed near a planet in a well traveled solar system. There were other ships, important ships, moving about. It was big with an organic environment that supported the inhabitants. And it was old. Generations of people, an entire subculture, grew and lived within the dilapidated portions of the station developing their own adaptations to an impoverished life. It added more depth to the space station than some structure drifting about. It had a reason to exit above good will to all.

The social message played into the story fairly quickly with the infallible captain immediately finding a cause for the poor. Take that imperialists. The B plot played out as the justice minded captain made enemies of the privileged who sought to destroy the interloper, opening up a reason to find the culprit, talk to the down trodden and reveal improprieties leading back to the A plot. This one quietly built a narrative that let me take a look at real life from another perspective using thinly veiled allegory. I love when that happens.

Only one alien made an appearance in this book. Its species feared by humans, the individual’s presence leading to suspicions within the A-plot, it had an unsettling way of subverting all human and AI security. And with a very funny disposition that added levity to an otherwise somber tone, it died within two pages of its introduction. That took the infallible captain to the planet’s surface where the B plot got going rounding out the rest of the book.

I sure hope the aliens return to destroy humanity if they’re this funny when they do it.

I can’t discuss why I liked this infallible captain without discussing the most crucial part of this author’s writing technique. The story is written in the first person, but the main character is plugged in (wirelessly, of course) to the surrounding artificial intelligences, a battle ship, a lesser war ship and the space station. Then all the ships’ crews and important people on the station were enhanced so the AIs could read thoughts and emotions while being able to see everything everyone did continuously with very few blind spots. Here’s the beauty of this book’s style. While written in the first person, the main character was able to narrate every action and emotion from all the characters in an omniscient style without ever breaking the first person POV. The scene switches were important, concise and always felt close. It was an omniscient view from a close perspective that worked amazingly well for me.

Now to the infallible captain. Everyone’s read a piece of sci-fi where the captain is perfectly confident in words and actions and never lets the crew down. Tough, but fair. To a great extent this is very much the same, however, this captain, acting upon authority vested by the tyrant emperor over the entire military apparatus, carries several secrets. Its origin, the truth about a very quiet civil war and the nature of its mission. With that kind of baggage every choice and decision, weighed in terms of secrecy and loyalty to unreadable factions, added tension and consequence throughout the book. Not a choice of this or that with only thin margins for success lesser men may not see, but conundrums that lead to greater conundrums always searching for missing pieces to the wider plot. The infallible captain moved the story forward, but not on orders for the sake of orders. With the pieces unfolding wider dangers hid just out of sight, dangers that threatened the whole of an empire this captain served, yet didn’t entirely agree with.

This may give the book away, but I don’t care. The author chose an interesting form of social order. Yes, imperialistic, yes, feudal, but even a step further. I can’t call it a matriarchy because lineage isn’t discussed in detail. Nearly all of the pronouns are feminine. Everyone is a she and a sister. My grasp of the pronouns was better this time than from the first book so I didn’t spend much energy thinking it through. At one point, in a less civilized community one girl had a brother, but the brother was later called a sister and referred to in terms of she. Interesting. So binary genders exist in this world, yet there was never any distinct gender identifying descriptions, or actions for any character throughout. Even though sexual propriety was discussed in some fair length, orientation never mattered which flowed into a greater theme that for the story narrative gender itself never mattered. From my writers perspective gender has always defined the who, as in the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a story.

While the technique was interesting as an experiment to see if distinct binary pronouns are necessary to tell a good story, the overall effect did something every sci-fi story needs. It removed the reader from the real world, yet not so much as to make it unidentifiable. Naturally English readers can take comfort in the familiar pronoun she. Okay, grounded in the humanness, dealing with people similar to me. You know, human. But now that everyone is a she there’s something different. The culture is different and within the difference anything can happen. This notion of differentness allows for FTL travel, loving AI, and comedic domineering aliens. Sure, all of those have happened hundreds of times over without the gender ambiguity, but with the indistinct pronouns holding a question in the back of one’s mind, the reader is never permitted, not even for a sentence, to slip into the familiar world they inhabit. And the greatest accomplishment, the reader is never pushed into a world so foreign as to be uninteresting or boring. It’s a keen balancing act from a skilled and bold writer.

Huhhhh…. I’m out of breath. I’ve already got the last book and can’t wait till this post is finished so I can start reading. If anyone wants to know the name of the book and author leave me a message. It’s taking all my strength not to shout the names simply to preserve the theme of these book reviews.

 

Anonymous Book Review 15

What a difficult book to review. The story could be called thin, the main character whiny and the theme indulgent. The first book of this two book series slayed me. I loved it. I wrote about it as Anonymous Book Review #2. Of course that sold me on the second book. Which I liked as a text book better than a here-and-now sci-fi adventure. With this sequel I was bored at points. I was enthralled at points. I was annoyed at some points. I wantedr it to be mandatory high school curriculum at other points. The plot and characters were written around info dumps, the author says as much in his afterword, and those were my favorite parts.

This book opened at a massive desert festival that will go unnamed to preserve a semblance of anonymity. Fun. Odd. But three entire chapters were devoted to the festival scene. I’m not talking about a book or movie scene. A scene, like the kind the cool kids hang-out in. Within that description the author spent two or three pages describing his favorite coffee and how his method is superior to the 99% other methods of brewing. First freakin’ yawn.

For all of the info dumps the coffee scene entertained me least. The coffee instructions were a perfect example of an author’s baby. Their literary baby. The thing authors love and believe the rest of the universe should love as much as they do. This one was easily identifiable by the word count alone and to me earned the most horrendous of all writerly advice. The author should’ve killed his baby. Literarily.

First chapter—no conflict. Second chapter—the beginning of conflict, but nothing much. Third chapter—the inciting incident. And just in the nick of time because basically it was the chosen one being anointed moments before the quest began. Then the predictable reluctance to build tension, though there’s never any question which direction the hero will take.

The stakes almost got serious. A little torture, but he’s out. His friends and family never felt any danger. Then he gets the job of his dreams working for the Perfect Politician. A guy so caring and insightful as to be mythical. At first I hated it. I don’t want to read overtly political fiction, but then I came to see this figure as an ideal blueprint of what a textbook politician should be. A golem built of clay with a mind and heart pure enough to follow. Meh. The fantasy was nice. I guess I’m left with Bernie Trump or Hillary Cruz. (Note to writers: This is how you date an otherwise timeless blog post.)

The protagonist was led by other characters the entire way. There was a good supporting cast, friends with the same or better skills that helped throughout the novel. Some of them might’ve made better main characters, though the protagonist was the hero of the last book. There were enough call backs to infer motivations, or lack thereof, but I still wanted a more active hero.

One thing that really put me off the protagonist came from an unusual place. At first it was a little funny, kind of playful, and totally relatable, but the girlfriend continuously berated him. Even to the point where the main character repeatedly called himself an idiot. They loved each other, but the interaction felt uneven and degrading. Even in the interpersonal interaction the main character was led. And led to poor conditions. A little more banter, a little more equality in the relationship would’ve done wonders as far as me liking the protagonist. Seriously, at some point capitulation loses its charm.

I felt as though the author was holding back. He could’ve cut loose exquisite prose, yet refrained to maintain the young adult voice of the novel. I also felt that he followed the handbook on novel writing checking off every box that made the protagonist likable. We got to hear about the main character’s sad, out of work parents, the dire conditions of society and overwhelming powers crushing everyone into serfs. It added texture and tension, but it didn’t come close to nailing the suffering that it could’ve. Almost like the throwaway line “they were lucky,” was used to get out of the hard work of writing really painful stuff.

Things are moving along, right? The situation is getting perilous. Down to the darkest moment. The bad guys are after him, the FBI is interested in him and he loses his dream job. Oh no, what’s he going to do? Where’s he going to run? How’s he going to escape to win the day?

Well, an old friend shows up, negotiates with the bad guys. The main character is free of them. His old boss, Perfect Politician, talks to the FBI, gets them off his tail. Then he’s paid a month’s salary out of Perfect Politician’s own pocket because that’s how great of a guy he is. What happened to the consequences? What happened to the tension?

After being led for several hundred pages, with that very squishy notion hanging over his head as a plot point, the protagonist makes the one and only decision, one bland action that defines who he is for the rest of his life. And then the book ends.

What? That was it?

I didn’t check to see where the story ended. There was still half a centimeter of pages to go, so the end snuck up on me. Damn. That was disappointing. The epilog picked up a year later at the same festival doing the same stuff. Another admission of idiocy and everything wound up happily.

Rrrrrrr. It was too easy.

And what was in the last half centimeter of pages? Three chapters of the first book. Not the next book. Not another of the publisher’s books. Three chapters of a book I’ve already purchased.

That’s a lot of negativity. So what did I like?

The techno babble info dumps kept me reading. Those I found entertaining. There was technology I’m curious about that is just outside my skills. With a few more pieces of hardware I can… well, at minimum I’ll have a few more pieces of hardware.

For all of the story’s detractions, this techno dump info babble would be as dry asHomer Studying microwave instructions without the protagonist being led through the marvelous exposition. Like the statistically magnificent majority of technology consumers I wouldn’t have the least inclination to look up, follow up, or dream up uses for the tech all around me. With that in mind, the book changed from a mediocre story to an amazing textbook blending purposely obscured civil rights with technological freedom and independence. There is much more to the virtual world than my ISP lets me see. As a child raised with George Orwell’s 1984 always floating near grown-up conversation (mostly as simple agreement or acknowledgments, nothing deeper) the idea of a space actively denied to me for my own safety by the powers that be is intriguing.

Well written structurally. Important issues raised through allegory. Dry subjects enlivened by sympathetic characters. I liked this book well enough to want a little more. It’s the first book I’ve read where I thought about rewriting it as a favor to the author. I’m sure he’d appreciate it. Sure, while he’s got several published books, thousands of published articles, fame and fortune to last a lifetime, I’ve got a blog. Which obviously qualifies me to rewrite all the world’s literature.

Have you ever almost liked a book to the point you wanted to rewrite it? Share and we’ll discuss.

Anonymous Book Review 14: The Book That Was Almost Perfect.

I’ve been wanting to read a police procedural for a while and this science fiction entry was a perfect fit. In that regard, this book did not disappoint. Elements of the premise are taken from the scariest pandemics to hit the planet, the sciency technology was cool and the Earth wasn’t besieged by some contrived man made apocalypse. All plusses.

There were quite a few pleasant set-ups and pay-offs throughout. And the end was satisfying. Now that the characters are established, I see where this can become a long running series. Actually heard a rumor that the second book is in the works. But I thought it could also stand on it’s own. The author did a good job making everything big. The protagonist works hard despite a larger than life reputation. The antagonist is planning to corner a global market at innocent people’s expense. The partner has real and destructive problems that play right into the plot.

Structurally this is a great book. As it should be. The author is a Hugo award winner along with a slew of other acclaims. In many ways this, in my humble opinion, is a good example of how to write a novel.

However….

My internal editor senses started tingling almost immediately. And not in the creepy good way that secretly begs more. What struck me strange was a consistent use of a same word within one or two sentences. Not unique or scenic words. Not words for repetitive effect. Just plain words like, before. The repetition affected my reading experience in a way that I didn’t expect. It probably would’ve been ignored if not for the tingly editor senses that have ruined most literature for me. These repetitions made me wonder if I had skipped something. Like, read the same sentence twice or missed an entire paragraph. I’ve gotten so used to varying word choices, both in my writing and from popular fiction that I noticed the repeated words.

I talked with one person, a fellow writer, and the repeated words didn’t bother him in the least. I talked to a panel of readers who hadn’t noticed, then chalked it up to the author’s own admission that he writes for popular markets and that he probably wrote to popular market reading levels. This makes big assumptions. One: that the author has a good enough command of the language to dumb it down. Two: that the author has a good enough grasp on popular expectations to write sloppy sentences on purpose. I don’t buy either of these.

Now I hate to give the impression that I didn’t like the story because of technical issues with the writing. This isn’t the case and I probably should say it more. I liked the story.

With that said, let’s go to everyone’s favorite segment—Politics.

Politics matters and you’re either with them or against them. Every human in the known universe holds a position on something. There’s no avoiding, so it’s entirely possible that a writer’s opinion or outlook will get into their story.

This is fine. Who could expect different?

The beautiful thing about long form fiction is the ability to craft a narrative over the course of hundreds of pages to come to satisfying conclusions. Not only does this include the hero’s journey, but the moralistic arc as well. Into which politics falls. I’ve read stories where I didn’t agree with the writer’s position at first, but over the course of the story, elements were introduced, choices faced and decision made that guided my personal beliefs into a softer, more understanding stance. I was shown new perspectives that I appreciated and incorporated into my life narrative. As a writer this is the lasting impression I hope to achieve if ever a personal political opinion sneaks into my stories. The art demands no less.

Unfortunately, this story did not live up to the demands I’ve unilaterally placed on the art. This author is fairly well known for his politics. I knew that going in and didn’t mind a bit. About two thirds of the way through I noticed a very… what’s a word like naïve, but not naïve because I know this author is well versed, yet something was missing, not to balance a personal position so much as to acknowledge a contrasting experience…. What is the word? Ahh. Wishful! Yeah, a very wishful approach to a political issue in the book with many sticky real life analogies. At which point much of the panel discussion dissolved into modern politics with one person inartfully supporting one side and another person declaring half of the United States’ population a scornful and mostly untrue name.

Come on people. Get back to the book. We are all sci-fi.

Again, I liked the story.

Okay, how do you feel about popular culture references? Mmm hmm. Mmm hmm. Me, too. Sometimes I like them. Sometimes I don’t. This near future scenario had a Star Wars reference define the accepted name for a major component of the story. While I liked the name, I had trouble with aThreep quick reference becoming pervasive. And the derogatory term for these components was a shortened version from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. That was never mentioned in the book.

Overall this book did a lot right. I like to learn from those that have gone before me and studying established writers helps me discover what works and what doesn’t, particularly for my style. While the sci-fi was cool, the plot was interesting and the characters were deep enough, my suspicion is that this book was rushed. The pop culture references put instant pictures in the reader’s head, but it seemed too easy, almost a cheat, since the references didn’t have bearing on plot or character development. The politics, while well thought out and integral, could’ve used more depth, more insight into why or why not. And the repeated words are one of those things a couple more passes by the author or editor would’ve caught.

Or, perhaps the author is popular enough not to worry about those little flaws. I’m or there yet. Maybe one day, but until then I’m going to read and pick out the details I like and don’t like from as many books as I can cram into my tiny brain.

Anonymous Book Review 13—Consistency.

At points I really liked this anonymous book, but at other points I disliked it. And while trying to put my finger on an overriding feature to categorically explain how I feel about this book, I discovered everything that moved me, good and bad, did so in

So much time spent at the local liquor store playing 1942.

So much time spent at the local liquor store playing 1942.

technical ways. Again, even this is difficult to state without qualifiers.

The book was written well. The story progressed nicely except for the sections that didn’t. The main character was sympathetic, except for the points when I didn’t care. The plot was a fun race for the MacGuffin, when it was a race.

Mrs. Pacman got me through so many hours at the Laundromat.

Mrs. Pacman got me through so many hours at the Laundromat.

This story required a lot of world building and exposition. I can get into both when they’re done right, and for the most part they were. Except for when they weren’t. There was an entire section devoted to the daily routine of a shut-in. It set up details for later scenes, but at the time seemed long and boring.

Without the bouts of exposition, however, I doubt I would’ve been immersed in the incredible virtual universe where the best parts of the story took place. I mean, this is the only book ever written that could combine all the coolest aspects of science fiction, fantasy, gaming and pop culture into an environment that mattered to the story. That made it a lot of fun to read.

I noticed something throughout this book that made me recognize consistency issues in other areas. The problem was super small, but repeated. And the consistency issue touched a very personal, very specific thread of my only genuine popular culture

Ahhh, the days spent playing all the NeoGeo games at the Pizza/Burge/Chinesse restaurant.

Ahhh, the days spent playing all the NeoGeo games at the Pizza/Burger/Chinesse restaurant.

fanaticism.

The precise problem was that the author frequently switched between metric and U.S. Customary units. This is sad to say, but I probably would’ve given this book five stars if the author chose one system and stuck with it. It read as if the author wrote the story one way, then decided to switch to metric to sound smarter, lost focus through the rewrite process, then remembered, then forgot again.

So the author forgot. Okay, there are editors. But the editors dropped the ball on this one.

Every switch jarred me out of the story, but that’s my own OCD.

This laps continued when the author mentioned my favorite story of all time by its Japanese title. Later he called it by its American title. They’re slightly different stories, but it happens. Then he left it off of the list of the most popular cartoons of its day. Then he made all of the giant robots bad. Then he wiped them all out in half a sentence. Gurge! They deserved better. I’m personally, bitterly offended that this author’s sense of fictional robotic propriety is slightly different that mine.

There were social messages at the begging and end that drew a different focus. It’s basically another dystopian YA novel where evil corporations, backed by one specific political party,

Did you play your favorite character from the cartoons, or the character you played best?

Did you choose your favorite character from the cartoons, or the character you played best?

have destroyed the Earth through their greed. This consequence sets up this story nicely. But to be honest, I’m kind of over the dystopia thing. It seems decadent to me that Western authors write so much about the collapse of their own civilization. I guess people write what they wish for.

… and then a million dollars miraculously appeared in Benjamin’s bank account….

Whoa. I’ll save that for another story.

The real social message seemed to be stuffed into the story at the end. The entire scene could’ve been handled so much better. Two characters finally met after a long and virtual relationship. The second character, looking nothing like the main character expects, suddenly feels the need to admit why she misled the main charter about her ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. Then the main character piously dismisses those concerns. First of all the second character didn’t need to admit anything. After that the second character’s tone seemed diminished which made the exchange read very awkwardly. If the author had maintained the character’s typical tone and let the character own her traits through the witty banter she’d displayed everywhere else in the book, the same message

Double Dragon. How many thugs did my brother and I beat up with this game?

Double Dragon. How many thugs did my brother and I beat up in this game?

would’ve come out from a much stronger character.

This second character’s origin seemed cliché and simplistic in this day and age while the story takes place in the near future, which should make the melodrama even less relevant. All of this is shoved into a few pages with no bearing on the plot. To me it seemed like the author took a writers group suggestion and inserted it without much revision.

Space Harrier!! My favorite, and probably one of the strangest games ever.

Space Harrier!! My favorite, and probably one of the strangest games ever.

These issues aside, I would recommend this book to most anyone. But not everyone. And if they have a decent grasp on 1980s pop culture, all the better.

Now to get on with writing something I’ve been meaning to deal with for a while.

… and then a million dollars miraculously appeared in Benjamin’s bank account….

Anonymous Book Review 12: The first book I quit.

I’ve quit my first book. That’s right, quit it. Put it down and moved on. I’m glad I didn’t list it on Goodreads. I don’t want to face scorn from the fanatical community who loves this book and the seemingly endless sequels. See, this book is legend. It’s sacrosanct. Hallowed text. My bookstore lady guaranteed (in spirit, not refunds) that I would love it.

But I didn’t. And I pissed-off a friend.

Okay. A few things took me out of the story. First was the POV. Third person omniscient. It was done well. I always knew who thought what, but I could never make a connection with a single character. This book is some fifty years old, written in an earlier time, before hyper-critical (ahem) MFAs ruined literature. (Ahem.) I needed something different than the style of the bygone time.

Second, the pace had me yawning. This anonymous book is big. The author took his time developing the characters and

Question: What does the author and lice have in common? Answer: They both hop between heads.

Question: What does the author and lice have in common?
Answer: They both hop between heads.

plot. Fifty pages, ten percent of the book, not enough to adequately judge the rest of the story, but it was all politics. Tedious politics, not fun or scary or spellbinding. Page over page of speculation and preparation. MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN!!!

Sorry. I lost my comportment.

Where was I…

Yes, third, which had more to do with my expectations than the book itself, was that the plot read like a fantasy novel. I love a good fantasy novel when I’m in the mood for one, but this genre defining sci-fi book started with a feudal hierarchy where a sorceress administered a magic test to see if the main character is “The Chosen One,” or some such. Then this lesser noble family is supposed to—

I’ll stop there to preserve a thread of anonymity.

Yeah, I wasn’t ready for that kind of a book.

From a writer’s perspective the POV stood out most. In third person omniscient justification for choices come abruptly, or the back story (as little as a sentence or two) was fed into spots at exactly the right time. The effect was removing tension from the scene. When two people are glaring at each other, daring the other to flinch, I don’t want an explanation why character bad-guy made her choice, then hopping into good-guy’s head to listen to her reasoning. Set up the conflict with solid, distinct POVs and let the consequences follow smoothly.

Speaking of consequences—there’s my pissed-off friend. I had recently critiqued his novel and I think I now know the problem. His story was really good, but the POV and pacing were my biggest issues, issues my writer friend was unreasonably skeptical to accept. It is, after all, only my opinion, but my critique was totally wrong.

I had known that this anonymous book and its many sequels was one of his all-time favorites. Of course, it’s everybody’s favorite, right? But when I read this first part everything made sense. My friend’s writing style matched the style of this book. My critique wasn’t mere comments on his hard work, but comments inadvertently against his favorite fiction, against his childhood fantasies.

Damn. Well, what’s said is said.

So I paid retail price for the massive paperback. I own it and expect someday to pick it up again, but that probably won’t be for a while.

Have you ever disliked and disregarded a book that was supposed to be spectacular? Share your story because you’re not alone.

Oh, and one last thing. Thank you MFAs for insisting on distinct POVs. Readers do come closer to main characters this way. Maybe you haven’t ruined literature after all.

Anonymous Book Review 11: Second Person Showdown

It happened again, O my faithful Readers. Two books, selected randomly and read consecutively, shared enough similarities for me to compare. Both these books were written in England, both had movies made of them and both were written in the second person. I’ve never read a book told from the second person perspective before, so this was an awesome introduction to a new style.

Both of these books, I’ll call them Delicate Flower and Chain Whip respectively for anonymity’s sake, spoke directly to the reader. That’s the convention of the narrative. But in telling a story in what amounts to pure dialog, the repetitious idiosyncrasies of speech must also be included. Not the pauses, definitely not the “ums,” but speech patterns, favored sayings, word uses and sentence structure. All the stuff that makes a third person close POV seem telling.

Delicate Flower was a literary ditty that I didn’t find nearly as dystopian as the cover led me to believe. That said, I doubt I’m the target demographic, O my faithful Readers. I struggled with this book for one hundred pages then quit. I had had enough. It was boring and didn’t seem to go anywhere. And the repetitious idioms became annoying.

Boxing Photo 2 (2)After reading some reviews that called it unrelentingly sad, I pushed on. Yes, kind of sad, I suppose, but really it was a celebration compared to some of Octavia Butler’s work. The book was very well written. It was simple, easy to follow, slow and deliberate with an extrapolation of a moralistic question that humanity is faced with now. Forty pages near the end, at the climax of the story, the book became interesting. But the first two hundred and sixty pages were so tedious. The ending did wrap everything up satisfactorily. That was nice.

Chain Whip must’ve been written exactly for me more than a decade before my birth, O my faithful Readers. Chain Whip was nonstop action. In this book there was true sadness. There was true dystopian misery. There was true fun in the pages. I couldn’t put it down. The vocabulary was challenging, a real exercise in context clues, but the voice stayed true to the character.

Chain Whip approached speech so much differently than Delicate Flower. No, it wasn’t simple and fluid, rather, so many words were invented to form a peculiar slang that a good portion of time was spent getting my mind’s tongue around the incongruous syllables. Once a sound was committed, however, the narrative flowed in a believably unique voice that stands out among all the other characters I’ve ever read. Not one word was out of place. Never did a description drift toward a third person style. The hi-jinks were violently criminal, the punishments dark and depressing, but told as one person’s adventure to a concerned audience, the depravity felt sympathetic and the depression just a natural fact, one part of a larger past. No vaguely normal human would identify with the atrocious behavior, but in this character’s voice you can hear the childish fun. And it would read the same if the disturbing crimes were written as mean-spirited school-yard pranks. I did have problems with the end. This book’s conclusion didn’t quite satisfy my particular sense of justice.

Here are the results in a ten point must system. (Same rules as American Boxing—and just as corrupt.)

Delicate Flower Chain Whip
Ease of Reading 10 9
Dystopian Nightmare 9 10
Kick-Assness 8 10
Contemplative Insight 10 9
Social Dilemma 9 10
Satisfaction with the End 10 9
Winner 56 57

There’s no doubt which book wins my competition. Both are highly regarded, highly recommended pieces of popular fiction. But in this comparison, subjectivity rules, despite the fancy chart. Look closely, O my faithful Readers, and you’ll see that in the highly technical category of Kick-Assness, Delicate Flower scored exceptionally low. If there had been any violence at all, they might have tied. I doubt their respective demographics would ever consider these two books comparable, but this is how I read.

If you’re interested in the real titles, drop me a message, then tell me how you would’ve scored them in the all important Kick-Assness category.