Saturday, November 19, 2011

Unexpected Applause: Monarch

Let me just start out by saying that I love Michelle Davidson Argyle's blog: The Innocent Flower. I love her writing there, and I love what she has to say about her experiences in publishing. She's honest and open about what she goes through and how things affect her, and it's a nice change of pace from the front that many authors put up about their experiences with their publishing houses. Not that Michelle has anything bad to say about Rhemalda, her publisher, but it's not the white wash, everything is hunky dory you see most places. The all is great and wonderful in the land of traditional publishing that traditionally published authors tend to regurgitate constantly. Michelle has both self-published, Cinders (which I still need to read), and been published traditionally, albeit by a small publisher, Monarch, so she often approaches things with a view from both worlds. If you don't already follow her blog, you should go do that.

Having said all of that, this is a difficult review for me to write. I've been planning on doing Monarch as the first book of my review challenge since well before I had the name "Unexpected Applause" for that challenge.

[As an aside: this is a review CHALLENGE. As in, I also challenge all of you out there reading this to pick up at least one independently published book a month and, at least, read it, but, preferably, review it. People out there self-publishing and going through small publishers need the exposure.]

Michael Offutt reviewed it, loved it, gave it 5 stars, so I was really looking forward to the read when I finally got my copy.
Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the book as much as Michael did. In fact, it was rather difficult for me to get through.
Before I go on, though, let me say a couple of things:

1. The book is a thriller/romance, and neither of those are my genres. The last thrillers I read were near to 20 years ago when I had a brief fling with Tom Clancy. Clancy is probably  the best there is at thrillers, and he only held my attention for a handful of books, even if I did love the ones I read. It just wasn't meant to last. As for romances... I read one once. School assignment.
2. I had issues with the editing. But more on that in a moment.

What I'm getting at here is that the main issues I have with the book are not necessarily the fault of the author. Monarch is not a book I would pick up while browsing through the book store; I wouldn't even be in the right section to find it. As such, I just couldn't drum up the appropriate amount of interest in the story. And, then, there was the editing.

I've never had the editing in a book stand in the way of my enjoyment of the book before. Not that I haven't found the occasional error, but, really, those have never been anything more to me than "oh, one got through." Monarch, though, was different. The issues were so prevalent that I couldn't stay engaged with the story. Maybe, this is just my own personal issue. I haven't seen anyone else mention this stuff, after all, but it was an issue for me.

I actually had a discussion with the author about this stuff, and, although she didn't agree with all of the editing choices, she was willing to sacrifice the grammar to the fact that she didn't lose editorial control over the story. And I can understand that. At the same time, my reaction for myself is "I would never have agreed to that." But Michelle's view was that most of these issues were trivial, and, in the end, she was happy with the product. Which is all that really matters.

So, maybe, it is just me. Maybe the "mistakes" shouldn't have bothered me so much, but they did. Here are the main ones, just so you know what I had issues with. Maybe if I'd known about these things going in and the author's view on them, they wouldn't have caused me so many problems, but the teacher in me kept urging me to get out my little red pen.
1. the word "OK" -- The editor made the choice to use "OK" rather than "okay" in the text. In all places. I can't get behind this. I know people use "OK" all the time, but I don't think that makes it okay to use in a professional paper. Of any kind. You can't use "OK" in Scrabble, so it shouldn't be used in a book. And it was a fairly commonly used word throughout the book, and, because it was "OK," it just glared off the page at me.
2. the word "alright" -- "Alright" has become common in popular usage, but this isn't really a word. Not yet. The correct form is "all right." I know that language changes and evolves, but "alright" is still considered an abbreviated form of "all right," and, like with "OK," abbreviations shouldn't be used in the narrative text of a book. Besides, the correct form of "alright" shouldn't even be "alright;" it should be "al'right."

[Yes, I expect that some of you will disagree with me about one or both of these, and that's okay. My wife disagrees with me about "alright" and says I'm being too much of a stickler, but that's how I feel about it, and it was an issue for me in the book.]

3. There were comma issues throughout the book. Yes, I know that comma usage can be subjective, but there are some actual hard rules, and I tend to believe that hard rules should be followed. Unless you are making a stylistic choice for some reason, in which case the usage should be consistent. The comma usage in Monarch seemed much more haphazard to me. Now, to be fair, most of the "mistakes" are not things the average reader will notice, so, in the grand scheme, they may not really matter, but, for me, they were a huge issue. I'll give you a sample, so you'll understand what I'm talking about:

--p. 1: "A muffled pop from the silencer and it was over."
should be: "A muffled pop from the silencer, and it was over."

--p. 1: "Blood meant death and death reminded him of Annabelle."
should be: "Blood meant death, and death reminded him of Annabelle."

--p. 3: "Footsteps followed him down the hallway and he broke into a run out the back door."
should be: "Footsteps followed him down the hallway, and he broke into a run..."

--p. 3: "He hadn't lived here for two years, but even before then he was hardly home."
should be: "He hadn't lived here for two years, but, even before then, he was hardly home."

--p. 3: "Except now he had been betrayed."
should be: "Except now, he had been betrayed." or "Except, now, he had been betrayed."

That's the first three pages, and those are just examples of the "hard" rules for comma usage. There are two more places where I would have used commas differently, but those are "soft" rule spots. Still, the ones that bothered me the most were the ones like this:
--p. 15: "He could handle the pain, but was glad he'd found the fedora in  the car he'd stolen."
should be: "He could handle the pain but was glad..."
I can't understand the inclusion of the comma in this sentence when they were left out of actual compound sentences.
And there are some places where the comma is inserted after the conjunction, so it looks like this: "blah blah blah but, was blah blahing." (These happen frequently, but I couldn't find a specific example upon a casual perusal.)

As I said, these are probably not an issue for the average reader, but I couldn't get past them. Maybe that's completely my issue. I don't really know. I also don't know how much I may have enjoyed the book if I hadn't been constantly tripped up by the commas.

What I can say is this:
If you like romance, this could be a book for you. There's not one, but two, love triangles, so there's plenty of romantic tension.
If you like thrillers, this could be a book for you. There's plenty of action and squished termites to keep you going. And blood.
Oh, and there are the butterflies.

Michelle has written a book that a publisher thought highly enough to back, and that's a great thing. She's proud of her work, and that's also a great thing.
Monarch isn't quite my thing, but it might be yours. If this feels like it could be your genre, you should check it out. Especially if the grammar isn't an issue for you.

As I said in my first Unexpected Applause post, books are a matter of taste. I didn't prefer this one, but I'm  not saying it's a bad book; it's just one I didn't like. Michelle deserves a big round of applause for not just writing a book, but writing a book a publisher is standing behind. And her writing is compelling enough that I want to read Cinders even though I didn't care for Monarch. And her next book has dragons, so I'm really looking forward to that one.

I hope I've given a round enough view of Michelle and her work that those of you that do like the whole thriller/romance thing will be willing to give Monarch a chance. Despite any issues I had with the editing. I do have to say that I can completely respect Michelle's view that the comma issues aren't that important. I wish I could see it that way, too. Maybe I do just need to loosen up.

As a final note, I want to reiterate this whole thing about getting reviews. I want my book, The House on the Corner, to be read and get reviews. As such, I have to be willing to get reviews that... aren't always so good. To support the idea that reviews are important and that "young" authors need the support of reviews, even reviews that aren't always glowing 5 star reviews, I feel it's important for me to do reviews. If I'm going to do reviews, I have to be willing to give reviews that aren't always great. My reviews won't mean anything if I just say every book I read is great. Like I said before, the fact that I don't like a particular book may clue someone else in to the fact that s/he might like it. But I don't want to hurt anyone's career, either, so, mostly, the reviews are just for my blog.


  1. Grammar can be a big distraction for me, as well. Constant issues will take me out of the story and frustrate me.

    I've noticed a problem with editing on small presses, even vs. indie published books I've read. I'm wondering, then, what the difference is between a small press and self-publishing? Do they have editors? Is that part of the process? (I'm not at all ripping on small presses, but am curious; I am always trying to learn about my publishing options.)

  2. I've seen "alright" used so much everywhere that I pretty much expect it now. In my own book, I use "all right" but I figured that it is a matter of taste on my part. I also spell out "okay" but I hardly use that word anyway.

  3. Just another example of why reading is so subjective an experience. Most of the time, I take any reviews with a grain of salt, and only rush to heed recommendations from people I really trust. Otherwise, it just gets added to the back of the library queue.

  4. I've not read Michelle's book, although I do like thrillers. After reading your review, now I'm wondering what might be wrong with my books that neither I nor my publisher's editor caught.
    As to comments, if I read, I comment, no matter how many comments are before mine. It's rare I see one that matches mine anyway!

  5. I'm going to be completely honest with you. The things you say are editorial mistakes are not editorial mistakes. I'm a professional editor and there are various ways to spell words and various ways to punctuate.

    Your examples of erroneous comma usage, are not actually erroneous either. Take a look at the Chicago Manual of Style. I'm not going to spell out every rule in there here, but one example is the use of a comma before "and," The "hard" rule in CMS is NO COMMA before "and," unless there are more than two clauses in a sentence to separate.

    That said, your corrections are not wrong either. As you said, it's subjective. If you need a pause in a sentence, it's okay to add a comma there to create one.

    Personally, I don't understand how these tiny things affected your reading of the book, but, I guess, each to their own.

    I also don't understand why you found the need to publish these sorts of tiny complaints about a book. As an author myself, I wouldn't dream of it. I think we should all support each other. My moto is, if I don't like it, I don't review it.

  6. Shannon: Part of the problem for me with this was there was a paid, professional editor. If there had been no editor, or not a "professional" one, they may not have bothered me as much. However, with the book coming from a publisher as opposed to being self-published, I expected more from it. It really did bother me.

    Michael: I've never seen it used in a book, but I do see it from people all the time. It's not quite up to a pet peeve with me, but it does bother me that people think it's more than just an abbreviation.

    Beer: Yeah, I'm with you on that. There aren't a lot of people I really trust with books or movies. Which is why I saw Green Lantern despite all the (well deserved) negative reviews.

    Alex: Well, your book is on my list. Not sure how long it will take me to get to it, but I do intend to read it.

    Jessica: My criteria on the editing is largely based on what we teach in schools. If we (and we do) teach students that a compound sentence needs a comma, then they should be there in books, too.

    Having said that, I don't have an issue with stylistic changes. Such as no commas in compound sentences. However, these things should be consistent, and they were not consistent in Monarch. On the same page, there would be simple compound sentences with commas and without. It was haphazard and gives the appearance of mistakes. However you do it, it should consistent.

    I can't tell you why it bothered me so much. Possibly, it's because I have been involved in teaching at various stages in my life. If it had been a paper turned in in English class, it would have had red marks all over it. And justifiably so.
    Yes, that's my opinion, but it's also okay for me to have that opinion.

    As I said at the beginning of the post, it was a decision I really wrestled with. Whether to post the review or not. I should do (another) post about this, one that is more explicit about how I view these things, but, in the end, it comes down to this:

    If I only post positive reviews, what good are they? They don't help anyone or do anything for anyone, the author or the reader. If I'm just posting positive reviews, it gives the appearance that I'm just cheering for everyone no matter whether I liked it or not. That's dishonest, and I don't want to do that. Even if I'm explicit that I'm only posting reviews of books I like and choosing to not review the others, it still gives that appearance. Even if we get beyond that, though, and people do realize that I'm just not posting the books I didn't like, people have no way to evaluate whether they will like what I do. They have nothing to compare to. You have to know what someone likes and what someone doen't like before you can make a judgement as to whether you want to read a book that's being reviewed by said person.

    Having said all of that, and I've said this before, I want people to review my book. If I want people to review my book, I have to be accepting of bad reviews. Because I think it's important for authors to get reviews, I want to support authors in getting reviews. To do that in an honest way that keeps my integrity intact, I have to be willing to give good and bad reviews. Otherwise there's no point in doing it at all. I totally understand not wanting to give another author a bad review. I don't WANT to do that, either.

    Hopefully, that all sheds more light on all of this.

  7. If you're not a fan of abbreviations in books, please don't read mine when it's finally ready for the world. I use a lot of abbreviations to convey the narrative voice of a teenage male and this will probably put you off.

    In saying that, I completely respect your decision to publish your opinions on elements you didn't like about a book. It's a hard decision to make, but it proves you're being honest in your reviews. You've also been completely respectful when detailing the elements you didn't like, which for me is the most important part of providing constructive criticism.

    Thanks for the review! :-)

  8. The CMOS is a publisher's bible. Can't argue with the rules in that when it comes to preparing a book for publication, unfortunately. It's used as a pretty strict editorial guide for American English.

    I'd also like to add that consistency with the placement of commas would make very boring writing, IMHO. Not everybody places pauses in exactly the same places every time they open their mouths. Plus it's fiction, not a school paper being handed in for a grade. I think with fiction you need to allow for more poetic license.

    Anyhoo, I'm not trying to get into a debate, or undermine you. I understand where you're coming from, but unfortunately I completely disagree and feet the need to voice it.

  9. Cally: It's not about the abbreviations; abbreviations are fine if they serve a purpose. If the abbreviations support the voice you're trying to convey, they should certainly be used.

    Jessica: Not to continue to argue, but commas aren't really meant to tell people where to pause (or where to breathe). Sure, they do that, but their real purpose is to convey ideas. To convey the -intended- idea to the reader. For that to happen, rules are required. But in the new age of texting, punctuation and spelling have been shoved out the door.

  10. GREAT BLOG...nice posts.



  11. Jessica: I hope you do.

    Elizabeth: Nice to have you aboard! I'll be dropping by your blog :)