Thursday, June 28, 2012

U2 and the Quest for a #1

I love the band U2, of which I've made no secret. I've loved them since the first time I ever heard them. They're my favorite band, and have been for, well, a long, long time. Unfortunately, I missed out on their formative years, because I just didn't listen to that type of music at that time.

I grew up, as most people do, on my parents' music (more specifically, my mother's music). Not that everyone grew up on my parents' music, because I don't remember you all at my house when I was a kid, so I expect that you grew up on your parents' music. My mother was into folk stuff: Simon and Garfunkel; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Bob Dylan. There was a little Beatles thrown in, but I was never into them (my mom still (at least I hope it's still) has the white album and Sgt. Pepper on vinyl). Oh, and the Beach Boys. At any rate, when I finally got into music on my own (at the very old age of 15), I tended toward that kind of music and listened to a "light rock" station that played "hits from the 60s, 70s, and 80s." I was really into Air Supply if that tells you anything. What the station I listened to didn't play was actual rock music which meant that the station did not play U2.

The first time I ever remember hearing of U2 was my junior year of high school. I was dating this girl that was constantly asking me about songs of theirs, especially "Sunday Bloody Sunday." She couldn't seem to hold it in her head that I had never heard of U2 before she mentioned them, and I continued to not try to figure out who they were 1. because she wouldn't leave me alone about them. 2. because her other favorite group was Pink Floyd, and I was certainly not interested in them (thank you very much).

So it wasn't until the release of "With or Without You," a song that the station I listened to would play, that I finally heard a U2 song. I was instantly hooked. I loved that song. I had to know who that group was, and I was kind of not happy to find out that it was U2 1. because my (by then) ex-girlfriend had bugged me about them all the time. 2. because I wished I'd taken the time to see who they were when she was bugging me about them all the time. I dived into all of their older stuff along with The Joshua Tree and 1987 became my own personal year of U2 quite aside from what was going on with them and the rest of the world.

But what did it take for them to finally get my attention? A #1 single. And a #1 single was something that U2 actively sought. They were striving for it. This highlights the question for me of "Is it art if it's commercial?" And that's a whole different discussion, the difference between what is and what is not art, so I'm not really going to go into that; however, it has some bearing on where I'm going with this, so it had to be mentioned.

When U2 first got together, they didn't know what they were doing. Larry Mullen was the only one that really knew anything about music. They were just a bunch of kids that wanted to be in a band. But they practiced hard and learned. Not just learning to make music but learning who they were. That bit, the bit of learning themselves, learning their voice, was just as important as learning how to make music. One was learning the technical skills and the other was learning their specific art, their voice.

Skipping the history lesson, all of this lead to their first album, Boy. Boy and, later, October were received well critically, but they failed to achieve the kind of commercial success that they and Island Records wanted. They were making art, good art, but no one was seeing it. Well, hearing it. They wanted a #1 single, and they set about to get it. They wanted, in short, commercial success.

This is where a lot of people would say they "sold out." They let their desire to be commercially successful destroy their art. (Not that I know if anyone would actually say this about U2, but it would be said about a lot of other people in this position.) It's at this point that a lot of bands, writers, painters, artists of whatever stripe would have sold out. They would have looked around at what was popular and tried to mimic that, subverting their art into something that it wasn't in hopes of becoming popular so that "one day" they could return to what they really wanted to do.

U2 didn't do that. The used their desire for commercial success to drive them to become, well, to become more them. They didn't look around at what was popular in music and try to do that; they just kept pushing to get better. I look at it like what Michelangelo said about his sculpture David, (and this is a paraphrase) "I chipped away everything that wasn't David." I think U2 chipped away everything that wasn't U2 in becoming the band that released three #1 singles from The Joshua Tree. Certainly, they did not pattern themselves after  the things that were popular at the time as often what they were doing was at right angles to what everyone else was doing.

Often people look down on artists that want commercial success. It's as if the desire to be successful somehow makes them less. Makes them, in short, a sellout. Like it's a choice. You can either do art or you can be commercial. The truth is, though, that it's not a choice. Sure, so many of us think that it is that we frequently make it into a choice. For instance, the choice between writing a vampire/zombie novel (commercial) or writing about the long road trip through the desert (art).

The real problem is that too many people never figure out their specific art before trying to get the #1. They don't spend the time discovering their own voice so that they can become more of themselves when they're ready to reach for the goal of making their art a commercial success. Instead, they just strive for commercial success and leave their art behind hoping to go back to it one day.

The truth is that there doesn't have to be a choice. If you know your art, if you've spent time with it, learning it, discovering it, becoming it, when it comes time to achieve, you do that by becoming more "it." You chip away everything that's not "you," and you take your art along with you.

Yeah, yeah, I know, that doesn't guarantee that you get the #1. But, then, nothing guarantees that you get the #1. But, if you do, no one can call you a sellout, right? And you're still you. I think that's the key to all real success and to being happy in your success. The ability to become more of who you are, not becoming something you're not.

Learn your art. Become your art. Become more you.

I really wish I could give you my top 10 U2 songs or something, but I can't get it down to 10. I even like Pop and Zooropa, if that tells you anything. I'll think more about this one and, maybe, give you a top 10 countdown at some point.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Let's go for a walk... Part 7: Barking at Dragons

As I've mentioned before, there are dragons in our neighborhood. Okay, well, not really in our neighborhood but close enough. They like to race back and forth over the troll bridge at night, and you can see the trails of flame as they run. Of course, it's not really safe to go watch the dragons run around, because, well, they're dragons. Also, there's the troll. He's actually much more dangerous than they dragons, because, really, a human is not much of a meal for a dragon or, especially, a lot of dragons. But for a troll? Well... that's another story. And trolls come out at night, so it's just better to keep your distance. Remember the troll cave under the bridge?
Yes, that is stolen beer. Trolls like beer. Almost as much as they like people.

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter was woken up by a dragon hovering outside her window. It was breathing fire, and it was the sound that woke her up. Dragons are quite noisy when they breathe fire. My daughter was rather fascinated by the whole thing and called me to look. The dragon was a hovering just a couple of houses over periodically letting out jets of fire. I was so caught up in it that I forgot to get the camera. I mean, how do you tear yourself away from a sight like that even for just a moment to run off and get a camera?

My dog, on the other hand, was not fascinated my the dragon. She had followed me back to my daughter's room, and she did not like the dragon at all. She stood on my daughter's bed and barked and barked and barked. It was kind of amusing. It was also worrisome, because you don't really want a dragon to take notice of you, and having your dog crazy-barking at the dragon is not the best to go unnoticed. But, eventually, the dragon moved along, and all was well.

Several mornings later, though, as I was taking the dog out on her morning walk, there was a dragon flying by. It was breathing fire as it went, and the dog just did not like that. Fortunately, the dragon must have had other business, because it continued on its way. So did the dog... she continued on the way of the dragon, following along as best she could and barking barking barking. We didn't make it very far that morning, because, as soon as the dragon was far enough away  that we could only barely hear the fire, the dog ran back home. I suppose she was so satisfied that she'd chased off a dragon that she'd forgotten the whole purpose the trip outside. You know, to take care of business. She had to go out again about 30 minutes later to take care of the business she'd earlier forgotten.
This is my fearsome dragon chaser.

I also discovered how completely impossible it is to take a picture of something while the dog is trying to chase it. It's a good thing the camera has a wrist strap; that's all I can say.

But! You're in luck! A few days later, after getting the dog home from her walk, a few dragons flew overhead. Groups of people went out to watch, and the dog barked from inside the house. I think it must have been kind of crazy-making for her considering that there were five dragons making their way overhead, and she couldn't get at them. At any rate, because I wasn't trying to hold the dog, I was able to get my camera and take some pictures of the dragons for you.
The other three were a little too far off to get pictures good enough to post. That is, if you want a picture of more than a dot in the sky. Or a few dots in the sky.

The thing my daughter found most intriguing about the balloon outside her window was that she could see the people moving around in the basket, bending over and pointing at things, and blowing fire up into the balloon. Especially the fire part. She was sad when it moved away. The dog was not. 

And here's the thing: in life, we often treat things the way my dog treats the balloons. It's just a hot air balloon, but my dog looks at it and sees a dragon. It's this huge threat up in the sky blowing fire, and she barks and barks at it and can't even remember to go potty when they're around. The balloons don't care a thing about my dog, don't even know my dog exists, but they take control of my dog's life when they're around. It's so easy to see things we don't understand and start barking at them to chase them away. Or rant about them on our blogs. Or eat a bucket of ice cream. Or hide under our covers.

There's a lot to be said for stepping back and taking another look at someone, some situation, some thing and figuring out what's going on with it before we raise our hackles and start barking. Sometimes, these things can become "friends" (yes, even situations can become friends), like the cat that my dog used to want to chase but now pals around with. Which is more due to the fact that the cat just decided to not be chased than anything else.

At any rate, a lot of things seem threatening, especially at first, but they aren't always threatening. Often, they don't even know we're there (like agents and publishers that we may decide have it out for us because they sent us a rejection letter). What we usually need to do is sit back and watch and pay attention and see what happens. Sometimes, these things turn out to be good and we should really be taking pictures of them. I guess the real message here is "be smarter than a dog."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

An Abdication of Thought

There's a scene in Oliver Twist where he attacks another boy, an older boy. His "owners" can't figure out why it happened and they call the man they got Oliver from to find out and, maybe, return him. This man blames Oliver's behavior on meat. If they'd just kept Oliver on a nice diet of gruel, he wouldn't be acting so independently.

Now, hold onto that thought. We'll be coming back to it.

Mankind, in general, has never been that big on thinking. Most of us are quite content to sit back and let other people do the thinking for us. It's so much easier to let other people do the thinking, make the decisions, and tell us what to do. And, when we do what we're told, we're saved from any responsibility, and that's good, too, right? "It wasn't my fault; I was just following orders."

Not that everyone is like that or that it's always this way. There have been times when, culturally, we have been more intent on thought and thinking, which is not to say  that everyone thought, but, certainly, more of us did. This, unfortunately, is not one of those times. We are in the grips of a mass abdication of thinking. We're more intent on entertainment and a free ride than we are in thinking and, having thought, doing.

Or maybe it's always been this way. The same small number of thinkers with the mass of humanity just following along. Actually, I know that's true, but it sure doesn't feel that way. It's feels worse now. Maybe it's because no one is calling attention to it. There is no Emerson or Thoreau out there telling us to "think!" And not just to think but to follow our thoughts into action.

It's so endemic that we have at least one presidential candidate out there specifically catering to non-thinkers and non-doers. A candidate who spends his time pointing at the other one saying, "It's his fault," rather than talking about what he's going to do. What he thinks. I'm pretty sure the problem is that he doesn't think. He has none of his own opinions, and, if you look at his voting record, I'm pretty sure you can see the evidence right there. The message here is "you should elect me because I'm not him," not "you should elect me because I can do a better job and here's how."

But this isn't meant as a political statement. It's just an example as to how much we don't think in our society. Often, even our leaders don't do it. I'm sure that's not confined to one party or the other, either.

This lack of thought, lack of promotion of thinking, is in our TV. It's in our movies. And, sadly, it's in our books. You can see it clearly by looking at the things that currently have mass popularity: 50 Shades of Not Thinking and Twilight of Our Minds. Really, it all makes me sad. Traditionally, books have been a place for thoughts, but it seems that that is becoming less and less true.

This is funny: My daughter has this Barbie video in which one of the girl's mothers accuses her of reading too much because it puts thoughts in her head. The mother is a bad guy. Person. Villain. Books should be for thoughts and giving thoughts!

Studies show that TV is almost always bad for thinking. It turns our brains off. Movies, also, are mostly bad for thinking, although we do somewhat engage with them. Books, though, that's where our minds turn on and we think. We think! But we seem determined to drive all thought from books, too. Unless they're fantasizing type thoughts about sparkly chests. Or something.

And all of this brings us back to Oliver Twist, because the rise of obesity in America is just another sign of the lack of thought that's going on and the trend toward more not thinking. What? Yeah, you heard me. Eating too much sugar and carbs not only makes you fat, it turns your brain off. It makes it harder to think and to focus. It makes us all nice, docile little followers that are content to sit around on our lard butts all the time just following along with our consumerist, entertainment culture.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Put down your chocolate and your muffins or whatever it is you're eating and go do some thinking. Or some reading that will make you think. Don't be content with mere popcorn literature. Read something challenging that will engage your mind. Think! And, then, go write something that will make others think, too!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Popcorn Reading

I love popcorn. Especially, I love movie theater popcorn. It's horrible. I can't go to a movie without wanting it. I'm sure that's what the theater wants, too, and that smell is sooo... intoxicating. I used to not be able to go to the movies without buying popcorn. Of course, movies were cheaper then. The popcorn was cheaper, too.

It wasn't really the money that made me quit buying popcorn all the time, though; it was my kids. Okay, it was the money, too, but, really, it was my kids. I mean, it's one thing for me to make the decision to put all that crap into my own body, but, back when we used to actually do (almost) a weekly movie during the summers, I didn't think I needed to put all that crap into my kids bodies, too. Even if they did enjoy it and want it.

Still enjoy it and want it.

The thing with popcorn is that it's so easy to just keep eating and eating it. Handfuls at a time. Don't give me a large bag of popcorn to hold at the theater and expect to get some. I will eat it all. You'll reach over to get some, and it will be gone. All of it. Well, there'll probably be a few loose kernels in the bottom of the bag. I won't have meant to have eaten it all, it will have just happened. The same goes for the lesser microwave popcorn at home. I will eat it. I might not even feel bad afterward.

Sugar is the same way. Things with sugar in them, anyway. It's so easy to sit down with a bag of, say, peanut butter cups and eat the whole thing without realizing it. And it makes you want more and more of it.

Eating junk makes you want to eat more junk. That's the way it's designed. Even when we know it's bad for us, we want to eat it anyway. I mean, it's been... well, it's been years since I've had a soda, but, sometimes, I still want one. And I think one can't be that bad, right? It's been years since I had one, so what could it hurt? But that will just make me want more and more. Once I re-acclimate myself to it, that is. Because, actually, having been off of sugar for so long means that anything that has any sugar in it at all is usually way too sweet for me.

The thing is, though, if you give people the option between something that's good for them and something that's bad for them, they'll usually pick the thing that's bad for them. Well, assuming it tastes good. I was certainly that way when I was a kid, which is why I grew up on soda. My kids are no different. They want to eat crap all the time. Even though we don't keep sweets and treats in the house and have a habit of not eating that way, they ask for things every single day. Every single day. EVERY SINGLE DAY! And it drives us crazy every night! NO! WE ARE NOT GOING OUT FOR ICE CREAM! NO! WE ARE NOT GOING TO SIFT FOR CUPCAKES! Why do you keep asking that when you get the same answer every day?! Oh! My! Gosh!

People, especially kids, don't have the ability to look at their food choices objectively and weigh the advantages and the disadvantages and choose accordingly. Mostly, because they can't see what the disadvantages are. Or choose not to see them. Most people respond to things the same way my younger boy responds to food:
"Yum, this is full of sugar and carbs; this is awesome!" [Even though it's objectively bad for him.]
"Yuck! That's green and leafy and disgusting!" [Even though it's good for him.]
However, if you work with the things that are good for you, eventually, you will like them. And I know, because I grew up hating broccoli and yams, hating them with a passion (at one point, I think I vowed to my mother that I would never EVER eat broccoli), but those are two of my favorite foods now. And my younger son also likes yams, now, because we kept making him eat them.

The real issue is that you have to train yourself to like the things that are good for you. And it's not easy. I grew up with a cook for a mother. A southern cook. Let me just tell you right now that the southern diet is not the most healthy in the world. Even the things in it that are good for you are cooked in such a way as to not be good for you. They'll boil the nutrients right out of anything. And, if it can't be boiled, they'll batter it and fry it. Or, you know, throw sugar all over it. Want to eat strawberries in the south? Cut them up and toss sugar on  them. Why? It's already fruit; it doesn't need sugar. But that's how I ate strawberries when I was a kid. And why eat broccoli when there was fried okra as an option (and the okra smelled so much better!)?

At some point, though, you have to look at what you're putting in your body and say, "Is this good for me?" If the answer is "no," you have to train yourself into a different behavior set. And, no, I can't tell you how to do that. You have to figure that out for yourself.

Of course, I'm not really talking about food here. I mean, I am talking about food, but I'm also talking about books. Of course, I'm not the first to compare books to food. I'm probably not even the first to compare junk food to junk books. At any rate, just like most people (in the US, at least) spend way too much time eating junk food, most people that read (because most people actually do not read) spend way too much time reading junk books. Popcorn books.

A lot of people would say, "but at least they're reading something," and I almost agree with that. Except that saying that would be like saying of an adult that was still eating baby food, "well, at least, s/he's eating something." Yeah, I know it's not the same, but it kind of is.

See, I know some people that like to brag about how many books they read. And, yes, they read a lot of books. A couple of them read, like, 250 books a year. But they're all the same kind of book (and I'm not gonna say what kind that is), and they amount to popcorn. At least, that's how I visual it. All pretty much the same with very little substance. Not challenging. Not anything.

So when someone says, "at least, they're reading;" I think, "I'm not so sure about that."

I don't have a problem with reading for pleasure. Reading is great, and reading should be enjoyable. I also think reading should prompt us to think and, hopefully, to grow. The occasional treat is fine, but you really shouldn't try to live off of them (treats), just like you shouldn't use McDonald's as your dietary staple. Okay, McDonald's is trying to reform a little, so we'll go with Burger King. [Actually, it's been so long since I ate at either of those places, I don't know how they are.]

Other than observing people that just read the equivalent of literary junk food all the time, it's my own kids that got me thinking about this. Just like not letting them have popcorn all the time, I can't let them read easy, non-challenging books all the time.

When I was a kid, I didn't have anyone to help me navigate books. My family does not read. I stumbled my way through on Hardy Boys and stuff I could pick up at school until I started having things assigned  to me, and, even then, in my head there was a differentiation between what I read on my own and what I was assigned at school. It didn't matter that I liked the books I was being assigned at school; they were still a different category, so I spent my time otherwise reading literary junk. It wasn't until my junior year of high school that I figured out that I could explore "real" literature on my own. Of course, by that time, I'd wasted seven years of reading on (mostly) popcorn.

I don't want my kids to do that. Not that I force them to read anything, but I do make suggestions.

There's nothing wrong with reading the occasional piece of fluff. It's nice to have a mental break from thinking from time to time. It's something else entirely to devote yourself to only mental fluff. It makes it difficult to recognize something that is actually, really, good, because it's too challenging to get into. Everyone should challenge themselves to grow as readers. To start reading, to read more broadly, to read more deeply. Learn to like your broccoli and yams. I did.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Unexpected Applause: The Crystal Bridge

I recently mentioned, here, about how disappointing it can be to read a book that you've been looking forward to reading and finding it doesn't quite live up to what you expected. Sometimes, this can make the experience worse than it would have been if you hadn't had expectations. The absolute best example of this phenomenon from pop culture is The Phantom Menace. In many ways, that movie was just doomed to fail in the eyes of the fans. I mean, give a group of people 20 years to dwell on something and build it up in their minds, and there's just no way you can win. But I digress...

I'm usually pretty good at avoiding this issue, of building something up and, then, being let down by it, but it may be part of what's going on with this book, The Crystal Bridge,
by Charlie Pulsipher. I honestly can't tell. I expected to enjoy this book, and it started out well enough, so I thought my expectation was going to be rewarded, but... well, I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, let's talk about the technicals. As is pretty common with independently published works, Mr. Pulsipher could have greatly benefited from an editor. It's not the worst self-edited job I've seen, and, according to the author, he's made revisions as he's become aware of mistakes, but I can't actually speak to any corrections that have been made, especially since I have an older (physical) copy of the book. There are formatting issues, spelling issues, grammar issues, and, especially, comma issues. The comma issues include one that is becoming, possibly, my biggest comma peeve: starting a sentence with a conjunction, following it with a comma, and following that with an independent clause. For example: "But, he went home." [my example]
This is just wrong. The comma goes in front of the conjunction, so, if you're starting a sentence with one, you don't need a comma. It should be: "But he went home."
There are even more instances of what is probably my second biggest peeve: <independent clause> comma <conjunction> <dependent clause/sentence fragment>. For example: "He felt sick, and threw up." [my example]
Because "threw up" is a fragment, no comma is necessary. It should be: "He felt sick and threw up."

The other major technical issue that has to do with grammar and punctuation is kind of a borderline thing. It's a usage issue, but, in and of itself, it's not actually incorrect. He uses the word "then" over and over to signify a chain of events. However, when you are depicting action within a paragraph, the chain of events is implied so usage of "then" becomes redundant. Generally speaking, you should only use "then" if the action is dependent upon the previous action and, possibly, not even then. [heh] Basically, we have this:
Kaden did <action>.
Kaden then did <action>
The frequency of this increased as the book went on, sometimes occurring several times on the same page (sometimes within the same paragraph), and it became very distracting.

As the book stands, I'd give it a C on the technicals. The comma issues are pretty common, and most people probably won't notice them. The author is planning on a revised edition at some point with the help of a copy editor, so, if these are the kinds of things that will get in your way of enjoying a book, you should probably wait for the revised edition before looking into reading this book.

Normally, this is the point where I'd go into my reaction to the book, but there are some larger, structural issues with the story that I would place in a more objective category; although, some people might disagree with me. At any rate, I'm going to talk about some of these things before I get into what I felt about the story itself.

The author has a tendency to start paragraphs with the name of whatever character is doing something in that paragraph. There is no variety. For example, in the first section of the first chapter, there are 29 paragraphs which include 8 paragraphs that start with dialogue (or are entirely dialogue). Of the remaining 21 paragraphs, 9 start with "Aren," 5 start with "Tracy," and 2 start with "Steph." That leaves just 6 paragraphs that have some variation of language to start them off. The repetition is boring and, for me, slows down the reading.

This next one is debatable, I suppose, but the author breaks up narration by including the character's thoughts in italics. This seems very redundant to me. When you're writing from a character's perspective, you are experiencing the world through that character's eyes (this is true for both 1st and 3rd person), and this book, while written in 3rd, is always done from the perspective of the character rather than watching the character from the outside. When you are experiencing the action through the perception of the character, the thoughts of the character are implied in the narration. You don't need to say "he thought" because you're already seeing those thoughts. You also don't need to show those thoughts in italics. I found this incredibly annoying throughout the book, especially since we experienced the thoughts of every character ever introduced, even characters that were there for just one page. And every thought from every character had the same tone.

Which brings me to the next thing I'll mention: all the characters spoke in the exact same manner. There was nothing to differentiate the characters. There was nothing to distinguish any of the characters, including alien-type beings and computers, so it was really difficult to identify with any of them, since they all felt the same.

And a related thing, once any character knew anything, everyone knew it. During the middle of the book and the build up to the big battle, I found this extremely annoying, and, if I hadn't been planning to review the book, I actually would have quit reading it. So the bad guys begin their march and everyone knows. No one has a reason to know. There have been no indications, but, oh, yes, let's get ready for war. And that's not the only thing.

And related to that, the author had an issue with divulging author knowledge through the perception of the characters. Kaden is the best example, but this happens to some extent throughout the book with all sorts of things. With Kaden, though, he has the ability to create this thing he refers to as an egg. As the concept is being introduced, Kaden explains to us how it works. However, a couple of pages later, he reveals that he's only ever used his egg once, and he has no idea how it really works, but  the author wants the audience to know how it works, so he dumps the info to us through Kaden even though Kaden shouldn't have that knowledge. To make matters worse, in relation to explaining about the egg, Kaden "tells" us that he's had to move a dozen times in the last year; the implication is that it's because of the egg, but, then, he's only ever used the egg once, so that just doesn't fit together.

Which brings us to continuity in general. There are two time lines that we're following. The first is Kaden and Aren, two high school students with extra abilities. The second is James, a research scientist working at a secret facility. The author switches back-and-forth between these two groups which implies that the action is happening simultaneously. Granted, this is convention, and convention can be ignored, but the book is set up in a way that says it's following this convention. As you go along, though, you find that, on the teenagers' side, only a week or two has passed, and, on James' side, months and months have passed. Eventually, the two time lines come together, but that's late in the book, and the disjointed nature of the story up to that point makes it hard to piece the action together.

So... taking these issues as more objective measurements, I'd give this aspect of the book a D. These are pretty typical issues, I would think. Sort of average problems for newer writers. If there weren't so many of them, I'd say a C, but the issues just kept stacking on top of each other, and, all together, they bring the grade down.

But what it really comes down to is the story. Was the story worth the other issues? There was some amount of redemption at the very end. The author brings the story around in a circle that ties the ends together pretty well. But it wasn't quite enough for me. As I mentioned, if I hadn't been planning to review this book, I wouldn't have finished it. Too much of the middle of the story was standard fantasy fare to be interesting. It wanted to be interesting, but the author had so much in the book that he stopped short of really becoming interesting with any individual aspect of the story.

And that was really my biggest issue with the book: it just had too much stuff in it. Well over 1/3 of the way into it, we're still being introduced to new groups of characters and stories. Some of these characters were completely unimportant to the actual plot. Like Taggers. Now, this is a character I like, but we spend a lot of time with him, and he has no bearing on the actual story.

The worst offender in this is James. His story is interesting. The science in the science-fiction of his story is pretty well handled. If there was any character I wanted to spend more time with, it was James and what was going on at Omegaphil. But, in the end, even though a main character, he was a totally non-essential character. He didn't do anything other than just show up. That was his contribution to the plot. Showing up. To be fair, his story line is essential to the post-story, so his presence is necessary for the ending, but the author needed to give the character a greater purpose within the story itself.

In the end, I think the author had some great ideas, but he would have been better served to do one of two things:
1. Break the story in half so that he could spend the time giving one of the stories the actual depth it deserved.
2. Significantly lengthen the story so that he could take the time to develop his stories more fully and, possibly, present it in multiple books.
As it stands, I couldn't give the book better than a C, and, given the fact that I actively wanted to stop reading it at several points, I'd lean more towards a D. It's too bad, too, because he handled the ending well enough to make it almost worth reading to get to that. Almost.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

On the Contrary

Considering the very cantankerous nature of the blog lately, I figured I'd make a little confession: I'm contrary. I mean that in what I think of as a very Southern sense. As in "he's such a contrary child." It's kind of funny, though, because I was a good child. Always a favorite of my teachers. Did what I was told at home. Didn't get in trouble. In all my years of school, I was only sent to the office once, and that's because I was framed (which is the truth, but that's a story for some other time). I made good (great) grades, and I was responsible.

But, then, my school experience was a bit non-normal, and it rather more supported me becoming who I am than trying to force me into a box of conformity, or things might have been different. At any rate, high school was a time where I learned to stand up for what I believe in. To not compromise. To do what was right. And I carried all of that through college with me.

There are some good stories that go along with this. One of them involves the loss of a job because I wouldn't do something that was wrong, even though my friends and parents (especially my mother) were urging me to just keep my mouth shut and go along. But I wouldn't do it.

It also includes the loss of another job because I read too much. Not on the job but when I was on break. For some reason the fact that I would sit and read rather than socialize made everyone uncomfortable, including the management (seriously, I was brought in for a "talk" on two occasions where they tried to tell me how I should spend my breaks (and that did not  include reading)). The breaking point, though, was a big work party which I did not attend because I knew it wasn't going to be the kind of thing I would be into. The only guy that was my friend at work did go, but his dad was a cop, so, when they broke out the drugs, he left. Oh, I should mention that this was a party that mixed alcohol and minors besides the drugs. A week later, he and I were both "let go" because we "were not working out."

So, yeah... I'm contrary.

I will tell a couple of stories, though:

Many years ago, my wife and I took a driving trip to Louisiana so that we could get all my stuff that was still  in storage at my parents' house, because my mom was complaining. We rented a U-haul trailer to bring the stuff back to CA in. The problem was that the guy at U-haul that connected the trailer didn't exactly do it correctly. Not that it wasn't correct, but there was a bare spot in the wiring that he didn't find because he didn't check everything. As we were driving back to CA, every time those bare wires made contact with the trailer arm, it shorted out all of the electrical systems in the truck. Which included the headlights. And, since we were driving non-stop, that was more than a little problematic.

I'm not much of a mechanic, but I knew enough to realize that a particular couple of fuses were being blown out, so we had to keep stopping and buying packages of fuses to replace the ones being burned out. I wasn't enough of a mechanic to know what was causing the fuses to get blown. We spent about $80.00 on fuses on that trip.

I didn't think much of it. I mean, I did think much of it, but I just thought there was something wrong with my father-in-law's truck. That is, that's what I thought until I took the trailer to turn it in. In talking with the guy that was disconnecting the trailer, you know, making small talk, he said something along the lines of "how was your drive," and I told him about the issue with the fuses. He started checking everything over and, almost immediately, found the bare wires and said it was their fault. He also said we were lucky that all it had done was blow out our fuses, because it could have been much worse.

At that point, all I wanted was a refund for the fuses we'd had to buy. I spoke to the manager at the U-haul place, and she told me in no uncertain terms that I was not going to get reimbursed for the $80. I told her that the guy outside had said it was their fault, so she brought it him in and, after confirming what he'd said, proceeded to chew him out in front of me. She affirmed that I was not going to get any kind of reimbursement.

But I got the district managers phone number, and I called him. He was also unhelpful, so I continued to go on up the line. I spent hours and hours on the phone dealing with issue. It wasn't the money; it was the principle. And I continued to get passed up the line. All the way to a vice-president. Yes, seriously. In the end, I got over $300 back plus a bunch  of vouchers for free stuff from U-haul. I used some of that to get boxes, and, when I went to get said boxes, I discovered that the manager that had initially refused the reimbursement had been "let go." That had never been my intent, getting her fired, but there you go.

More recently, I had an issue with AT&T. In relation to moving and setting up the Internet connection in our new house, I was on the phone with a guy walking me through how to connect to the Internet when you don't have a connected service. Yeah, I didn't know you can do that, either, but there are ways (that I don't actually remember, unfortunately). Anyway, when I started out, everything worked fine, and, when we finished, everything did not work fine. To me, this said that something the AT&T guy had me do made my stuff quit working.

He didn't see it that way. He fell back to the AT&T line of "give us money, and we'll troubleshoot it for you." There was no way I was going to pay them to fix a problem they caused. Know what I'm saying? So I talked him to death. I mean that in the way that I kept him on the phone (an hour or so) until he got tired of dealing with me and passed me up the line to his supervisor. I talked that guy to death, too (over an hour), during which he kept repeating the AT&T line, "pay us, and we'll fix it." And I kept saying "no." Eventually, he passed me to some super secret tech people they have that I wasn't supposed to be able to talk to.

I explained the situation to the tech guy (now, actually, the 5th guy I'd been on the phone with (see, I'm giving you the shorter version which also leaves out where I called a friend of mine and tried to figure out what was wrong without dealing with AT&T), and he said, basically, "well, let's check a few things out." It was the very first thing he said to check, and, he said, it was something the very first guy should have asked me about when the problem started and, basically, confided (without confiding, because the call was being recorded, and he wasn't actually allowed to say what he was confiding, so I had to say it and have him (non-verbally) agree with me) that they're told to push the pay service and that support guys fall back on that without actually doing their jobs, because that's what they're told to do. If I'd paid money for the particular problem, though, I'd have been way more pissed than I already had been. Not to mention that they kept trying to sell me new equipment during this whole process, too.

Both of these stories are here to show that I'm fairly persistent in my pursuit of what's "right." I don't give up easily, and it's a behavior that can be off putting to a lot of people. Even my wife, who appreciates this about me, often wishes I wasn't like this, because it can be embarrassing upon occasion. For her, not for me. I've somewhat learned to moderate the whole thing when I'm with her, but it's not easy. Her question for me when something like this comes up is "Is it worth the time you're going to have to spend to make it right?" And, see, my internal answer always wants to be "yes."

Anyway... I'm not sure that I have a real point to all of this. This is another of those posts I started a long while ago, but it seems to be in context with my recent posts and, probably, the next few coming up (especially since I have another "Unexpected Applause" review coming up that's not going to be all that positive). I know, sometimes, I may come off as being less than kind, but, really, it's just that I sacrifice my "nice-ness" to what I view as being the right thing. Sure, it's what I believe is the right thing, but that's all that matters, that I do what I think is that right thing. Because, if I think there is something that is the right thing but I don't do that, then, I've failed. If that makes me contrary, then so be it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Alone in the Silence

Have you ever looked forward to reading a book? I mean, really looked forward to a particular book. For whatever reason, you've decided this book is going to be good. Maybe it's the author. Maybe you've been told repeatedly that it's the best book ever. Maybe it's about your favorite thing (like a book all about chocolate or Star Wars or coffee or whatever). Whatever it is, though, you finally read the book, and wow such disappointment.

For a variety of reasons, I was really looking forward to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. It sounded interesting. It had really good reviews. But, mostly, being an introvert and constantly being annoyed by people listening to stupid things from people that are loud and more assertive, I wanted to know what this book had to say. And people were saying it had a lot to say. I think what I expected was something along the lines of (and, yes, I know I mention this book a lot, but, really, most of you ought to read it) Bright-sided. Something that was like a science experiment. I have a question, and, now, I'm going to do the research and find the answer. And Quiet was sooo close.

As I read through "Part One: The Extrovert Ideal," I thought I had a winner. I thought I had a book that I was going to be able to say to all of you out there that are introverts and writers (because most actual writers are introverts (and I say it that way to exclude people (celebrities) who "write" books but don't really do the actual writing)), "You need to read this book!" But, as it turns out, I was wrong.

So what happened? Well, Susan Cain (the author) did. As it turns out, she wasn't really interested in introversion, she was actually interested in why she was afraid of public speaking. As many people do, she tied the fear of public speaking to her introversion. It's a great stereotype, right? Introverts are scared to speak in public? Except that it's wrong. Numerous studies have shown that the fear of public speaking has nothing to do with introversion. Extroverts have the same fear of public speaking that introverts have. Meaning, if you're scared of getting up in front of people and giving a speech, you are just as likely to be an extrovert as an introvert (possibly more likely, because we think extroverts make up a larger portion of society). The initial section, the research about extroverts and the rise of our extroverted society is quite good and interesting (but it's not worth buying the whole book for it). It's where the actual, objective research happened.

After that, though... well, it begins an exploration of why she's still scared of public speaking even though she's been doing it for years.

She starts with biology and how much of introversion may be nature and how much nurture. Some of that is also interesting, especially the newer child-focused studie that are trying to differentiate the nature/nurture debate. However, as she went on, she relied more and more on "maybe"s and "might"s rather than actual data. Because there was no solid data to back up any of the claims she wanted to make, so she relied on speculation to make her points. Sometimes, it was her own speculation. And I don't have a problem with speculating, but I do have an issue with speculation being presented as evidence.

The other thing she did was to rely heavily on anecdotal evidence, "I heard a story once...," to prove her points. That's just as bad as speculation. I mean, it's the same as me saying "one time, this friend of mine found a dead cow in the woods with all of its organs removed" to prove that aliens exist. Or that aliens target cows because they like cheese (yes, Briane, that was for you). At one point, she even uses a story Mark Twain told. Really? Because he was know for his non-fiction?

The worst part, though, is that she over-generalized her own brand of introversion as being what all introverts are like, and that's just not true. The introvert/extrovert thing is not something that's cut and dried like that. It's known as the introvert/extrovert spectrum, and it's called that for a reason. But she very happily lumped all introverts into her specific type of introversion, and my own introversion is nothing like hers. For one thing, I don't have a problem with public speaking. At all. I spent years and years getting up in front of people and talking, and the only time I ever had an issue with it was 5th grade, the first time I had to give an oral book report. She also equates introversion with shyness, which is also not true. Shyness, like fear of public speaking, is not something that only introverts lay claim to. Again, shyness is something that falls across the introvert/extrovert spectrum. [At one point, she does, kind of, say this, but, then, she goes on talking about it and discussing it as if it was a purely introvert issue.] But she was a shy child; therefore, all introverts must be shy.

If the book had continued to focus on society (as in the first section) and how introverts can make a place for themselves in a society that holds up extroversion as the ideal (by the way, the US is one of the most extroverted societies on the planet), as the full title suggests, it would have been a good read. However, it goes offtrack and explores how introverts can get over their fear of public speaking (because, you know, that's the assumption, that all introverts are scared of this). In short, it becomes a self help book, and I really wasn't looking for a self help book (nor was it marketed as one). I mean, really, she spends probably 1/3 of the book dealing with strategies and studies and plans about how to get over the fear of public speaking. It was like a big bait-and-switch.

Oh, and also how introverts can act more extroverted. There are strategies for that, too. My issue with this is that she spends the entire first section of the book talking about how we shouldn't have to act like extroverts to get along in our society, and I fully support this. [Introverts should not have to pretend to be extroverts to get along. That's just wrong.] But, then, a huge portion of the book is about how to set aside blocks of time to be extroverted and for no other real reason than that people expect  it. Like I said, I wasn't looking for a self help book, especially one I don't consider a "help."

At the very end (for, maybe, 5 pages), she did talk about the issue of children that are introverts in classrooms designed for extroverts, and that was interesting, but it's the kind of thing that really could have benefited from a closer look. It has to do with how, as a society, we mess up our kids by trying to get them to be one way (an extrovert) when they're not. It's the equivalent of forcing left-handed kids to write with their right hands [my example]; it's just not so visual. [And this issue of the extrovert designed class is pretty much everywhere I guess. Desks arranged in "pods" so that students can work together instead of individually. That's prevalent at my kids' school, too, so that was an eye opener that that's what that's about.]

Anyway, unless you have a fear of public speaking and need to do it, I would just skip this book. I wish I had. I dislike finishing a book frustrated at the lack of information the author actually gave.

As you might expect, I have my own take on the whole introvert/extrovert controversy and how it applies to writing, because, yes, the "extrovert ideal" has been encroaching even upon a field that is populated predominantly by introverts.

Prevailing wisdom says that better, more quality work is done by groups of people rather than people working individually. The problem with that "wisdom" is that virtually every study out there shows that this isn't true. Basically, the more people you have involved, the more muddled the work gets and the longer it takes to complete. Group work also produces an inferior product. Let me say this again, virtually every study done on this subject shows it to be true. But it doesn't "feel" like it ought to be true and some very loud and assertive people speak loudly and assertively about how beneficial it is for everyone to work together, so that's the model that businesses are using. And schools. And, yes, writers.

And you know it's true. Everyone says you need your pack of betas and CPs or you just can't write a novel. You'll get better work if you have more and more feedback. It seems so sensible. And it's hogwash. You can't write a book by committee. Not a good one, anyway. As a writer, you need a vision of what it is you want to write, and you need to pursue that vision in solitude. You need to be alone in the silence of your mind until you can hear whatever it is you need to say. I'm not prescribing a particular method here other than that you need to not let other people muddle your story and destroy your vision.

You need to find that for yourself. Find your vision and pursue it wherever it takes you. Don't get sidetracked by others. Don't let their ideas invade your space. Other people can't see your vision and can't help you to fulfill it.

This doesn't mean don't get feedback when you're finished; you certainly should. People that can see inconsistencies or grammar errors or whatever, but don't spend your time writing by trying to fit other people's ideas into your story. They need to take their ideas and go write their own stories.

Anyway, if you're a writer and an introvert, embrace the introvert within! Go lock yourself in a closet or go down in the cave (or, even, the cafe, if that's how you do it) and write your book. Don't try to conform to the prevailing "wisdom" of the extrovert ideal.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Picasso Syndrome and the First Person

I'm jumping back again to an older post I hadn't gotten around to finishing, but, since I was just talking about Picasso here, I figured I'd go back to the post that inspired the Picasso comment and finish it up.

But let's get into some history, first:

Picasso showed skill and interest in art at an early age, so much so that his father started him on formal training at age seven, much to the detriment of his regular school work. Picasso was admitted into the advanced class at the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona at just 13. Not only was he much younger than the average student of that level, but he completed the entrance exam in just one week, a process that usually took an entire month. At 16, Picasso was admitted into Madrid's Royal Academy of San Fernando, Italy's most prestigious art school.

All of that to say that Picasso was no slouch in the art department. He was classically trained and, possibly, the greatest classical artist of his day. The problem was that it bored him. He wanted to do something new and different, and that lead to experimentation and the development of many new art styles, especially Cubism. Cubism was born from a desire to go where no other artist had gone before not because Picasso couldn't draw. So to speak.

Of course, there were two responses to Cubism:
1. People hated it. Especially traditionalists. It was viewed as trash that no "respectable" artist would even deign to recognize. They didn't understand it.
2. People loved it. It was new and exciting, something that had never been done before. They didn't understand it, either, but they tried to. People are still arguing over what Picasso's paintings mean.

Of course, the most important response to Picasso, other than the group trying to ignore he existed, was to imitate him. After all, it looked easy enough. Just paint some weird stuff that people couldn't understand, and you had it, right? No, not really. Most of what ended up happening was people painting weird crap that was just crap. Some of the crap was good enough, though, especially when it was all new and exciting, that it got elevated to art status, too.

Sometimes, the imitation was from people that could actually do "real" art ("real" art being art that's not just weird stuff that no one understands because it really has no meaning). These were people that saw Picasso as a visionary and wanted to follow after him. There is, after all, skill involved, even if the result is something that's weird. However, some of the imitation was by people that used Picasso as their reason to not bother to know how to do "real" art at all. They saw Picasso as the short cut. Basically, these are the people that were looking at Picasso and thinking, "That's crap. I can do that. And look at how much money that guy's making!" And they went about making crap and trying to get rich from it. Some of them did, of course. Most of them did not.

Which brings me to writing and the cult of 1st Person that's going on these days.

Over the centuries, fiction writing has mostly happened in 3rd person. I suppose it developed that way because it seems more logical. You're telling a story about someone that's not you, so you tell it that way, "that way" being 3rd person. [Interestingly enough, the book that's most widely considered the first (Western) novel, Pamela, is written in 1st person.] From that perspective (the centuries of 3rd person writing perspective), I can understand the attraction to writing in 1st person, especially 1st person present; it feels new and exciting!

However, 1st Person is the new Cubism in that people are using it as a short cut to actually knowing how to write. The idea that you can write it from the perspective of your character is very attractive, because, if you make mistakes, you can chalk it up to being "the way the character talks." And, since it's 1st person, the whole thing is "the way the character talks." It's a nice bit of sleight-of-hand, and other people who don't know the rules (the readers) often fall for it.

I didn't really really become aware of this issue until I started teaching the creative writing class that lead to this (yes, go back and read that post if you haven't already). Their very first assignment was to introduce me to a character. I used the first of my Tib stories, "The Tunnel" (hopefully, this will be available again soon (I'm waiting for art)), as my example of character introduction. "The Tunnel" is written in 3rd person; everything I got back was 1st person (which wasn't a problem in and of itself). But that's not what did it. One of the stories I got back introduced about five different characters, and they were all written in 1st person, and the author hadn't included any cues in the story to let the reader know that we'd switched to some other character. Much discussion followed.

And this is when I became aware that everything they (they being the kids in my class (minus my son, because he's reading a different class of books)) were reading was YA stuff written in 1st person. But it was really through blog interactions that I realized that the reason everything they were reading was in 1st person was because it's just all in 1st person these days. And 1st person present on top of everything else. And that's when I started understanding why I kept coming across comments like, "That's just how my character talks" on various blogs.

It really hit me, though, when I looked at a couple of writing samples from a couple of people. Both were written 1st person present, and both were full of grammar and punctuation errors, and, when I pointed them out, I got the "that's the way my character talks" response, but, when I looked at their blogs, I found out, no, that's just the way they wrote, and neither of them were interested in fixing the mistakes or learning how to not make those mistakes. Neither of those are blogs I follow anymore, because, really, I don't have time for people that are bad writers and blow it off as being the character, especially when their characters were not writing their blogs.

Personal responsibility, people!

And this is where it gets difficult. I don't actually have anything against 1st person writing. I mean, I wrote The House on the Corner (mostly) in 1st person. Of course, at the time, if I'd realized how endemic 1st person had become, I wouldn't have done it that way, but I was experimenting with what I remembered about The Pigman (you can read all about that here) and didn't realize that 1st person writing was taking hold of the marketplace. Which is why I have such an issue with 1st person writing.

No, not because it's everywhere; however, because it's everywhere, I see, more and more, how many people are using it as an excuse to allow sloppy writing and brushing it off as just being the character. And I'm not just  talking about independently published works, because the problem is rampant in traditionally published works, too.

For example:

Percy Jackson: I only read the first one of these, but there's very little chance I'll go back and read anymore of them. Riordan used the fact that it was 1st person to have his character tell us what we should believe about him as a person but used the action to tell us a different story about the character. The two things were at odds with each other, yet we were supposed to believe what the character said about himself for no better reason than he said to.

Miss Peregrine (which I reviewed here) also does the same thing with the character telling us what to believe even when his actions don't support those things. It's just sloppy, lazy writing.

I'd give more examples, but I have not been overly inclined to read any more of the current generation of 1st person YA books coming out. My experience, thus far, has not been a positive one. Add to that the fact that people want to use their 1st person storytelling as an excuse for bad grammar (and I'm sure I'm gaining a reputation for my stance on grammar and punctuation), and I'm not in favor of 1st person writing. It's just not where people should start their writing careers.

I understand the attraction. I do. It's so easy to just write away and believe that you're writing from the standpoint of your character rather than yourself; it's a problem in 3rd person, too (in fact, I'm reading a book in 3rd person, right now, in which none of the characters are distinguishable from each other), but the temptation is so much stronger in 1st, because everything you write is that one character, and it's easy to fall into the trap that that voice you're writing in is your character's instead of your own. At least, with 3rd person, you have the ability to distinguish between the narration and the dialogue.

At any rate, I'm ready for the fad of lazy 1st person writing to slip past us. I'm also waiting for editing to make a comeback. Seriously. I was just reading an article on CNN last week about how copy editing is one of the quickest shrinking fields, right now. Properly edited work is considered "too expensive," so publishers are cutting costs by letting their editors go.

But that's not an excuse for those of us in the "indie" publishing world to do the same. In fact, it's every reason to rise above the mainstream. Show you care enough about your writing to know how to do it. And, if you don't know how to do it, get help from someone that does. Don't let your 1st person writing be your excuse for bad grammar and lousy punctuation.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Garage Sales and Self-publishing

I am not a garage sale person. Not in any kind of way. I don't really feel like it's worth my time to go poking around in other people's junk looking for the rare gem lost in there amongst the trash, and I'm not really for throwing my own junk out in the yard and trying to convince people to buy it. Either it's something I want, or it's something I'm not willing to let go of at a price someone shopping at a garage sale is willing to pay.

When I was a kid, though, my mom would, sometimes, take me to garage sales. I don't really remember if she ever bought stuff at them, though it wouldn't surprise me, but I do know she never bought stuff for me at them. Not toys and, especially, not comic books. There was always the "you have enough toys" and there was never a reason for not getting comic books. My aunt, though, always bought us (my cousins and me) comic books at garage sales, but they had to stay down at the farm where all of us had access to them. And, when I was older, a different aunt and my uncle would always give me books they bought at garage sales for Christmas. I hated it. Crappy copies (as in beat the hell up) of books I didn't want to read. But they just assumed that because they were books and I read books that I would want to read them. Never did they give me anything I wanted to read, not even the trashed copy of The Clan of the Cave Bear I got one year that I might actually have read if it hadn't been completely destroyed already. I'm not even sure what happened to all of those books, because they never made it into my room.

At any rate, none of that has ever endeared me to garage sales.

Having said all of that, we had a garage sale this weekend. It wasn't my idea. It wasn't even my wife's idea. Evidently, it's an annual event that our HOA "hosts" and does all of the advertising for, so my wife said that we may as well participate. We didn't really do a good job of it, though. As we were setting up our paltry items, because we didn't take the time to go through the boxes of stuff we haven't unpacked like we should have, on Saturday morning prior to the 9:00am starting time of the event, we watched some people a few houses down setting up a rather spectacular event that included their entire driveway and the interior of their garage. It almost made us decide to just put our stuff away.

The most interesting thing was all the people driving by early in the morning before 9am. Of course, the people down the street had enough stuff out by 8am that they already had people wandering around, but we didn't even start setting up until, like, 8:15 or something. The heaviest traffic all happened before 9:00 even thought the event was scheduled from 9:00-2:00. People out looking for bargains. Looking for lost gems amidst trash.

And I get it. I do. I think it was just last summer I read about a guy that bought a box of comics, a couple hundred loose comics in a brown box, for $5, and it had in it some very rare Silver Age editions in pretty decent condition, stuff he ended up making over $35,000 on. The guy who sold it to him got pissed and tried to claim that the sale wasn't legal or something because he hadn't known what he was selling. I think the judge called him an idiot. No, I'm just kidding, but they did tell him he had no case, and it was his own fault. Also in the last year, some guy sold a safe that he got at an estate sale. He never bothered to open it. The guy who bought it (for a very good price) found $75,000 inside it. The seller was trying to force the buyer to give him half the money. And you have to understand that that guy was the second guy that sold that safe without bothering to open it. So I get the whole allure of garage sales and flea markets (which we also frequented when I was a kid (and I do remember my mom buying stuff at those)).

But what struck me on Saturday morning as I watched the faces peering out of car windows as they rolled slowly by was that this whole garage sale business is rather like self-publishing. It's like looking for those few good books amongst heaps of trash and drivel. Of course, then, there are the people that like that stuff, as I witnessed on Saturday. Some people just looking for a good deal, "I'll read it because it's cheap." Some people looking for lost gems, "I'll read it because this one might be good." Some people just enjoying the hunt and looking at what other people have out (a surprising number of people, actually, that you could tell were really just there to look (unless, maybe, they would have been willing to buy something that they felt was "worth it;" although, it's hard to tell), "I'm just browsing the titles just in case something catches my eye, but I don't expect anything to." And a few people actually looking for things they could use, "I'll read this because it's got some good reviews or someone I trust told me it's good."

Mostly, though, people just don't go to garage sales. And, mostly, people don't buy self-published books. Unfortunately, looking at my own view toward shopping at garage sales, I completely understand why most people don't want to take a chance on self-published books. And this extends to people that review books. If you go around and look at sites that focus on doing book reviews, they pretty much universally say that they don't review self-published works. The one site I did find that said "I do" changed that to "I don't" between me finding the site and me sending in a request (which happened within the week). And it sucks, but I get it.

So I'm sitting here, right now, realizing that I'm holding a big garage sale for my written work, and I don't know how I feel about that. Not that it makes me think that I don't want to self-publish, because I want to not be involved with traditional publishers a lot more than I don't want to be holding a garage sale, but it's making me, sort of, re-think my approach to what I'm doing. Well, it's made me think that I need to re-think my approach, because I'm not really having any new thoughts about it yet.

But here I am, sitting in my driveway with a stack of my books looking at all the other signs of people sitting in their driveways with their books, and everyone has up the same sign, "But my book really is good!" Or, to put it in garage sale terminology, "My junk is better than their junk." [And, yes, I know how that sounds, but really people... You just don't need to go there.] Small, independent publishers aren't much better; they're the guys with booths set up at the flea markets.

This is what it boils down to I guess:
If you do the whole self-publishing thing long enough and are able to build up a reputation, you can get the regulars to come by. I do know there are people that sort of have garage sales on a weekly basis. People that shop at garage sales come to know those places and go shop there on a regular basis. Developing that reputation is good, because getting the regulars to come buy your stuff is a good thing, right? Well, yeah, it is. But I don't think that's where I want to stop. I don't just want the people that shop self-published. So how do you get people that have the attitude about garage sales that I have to come shop at your garage sale?

I don't have an answer to that, but that's my new question.

Oh, and just to keep people from asking: $25.00.
And for those that didn't have that question, that's how much we made.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"I don't try to describe the future..."

One of the very first "real" science fiction authors I read was Ray Bradbury. It started with a few short stories from a literature book in middle school, stories we weren't even assigned to read and, then, Farenheit 451 which came off of our reading list but which, also, wasn't assigned. This was around the time we were studying World War II and the concentration camps and Nazi book burning and all of that stuff, so that book had a pretty big impact on me. It's the book that molded my belief that government (or other organizational) censorship is pretty much always bad. Just because I don't believe or like what you have to say doesn't mean I get to tell you not to say it, and I really believe that. Thanks, Ray Bradbury, for helping me to understand that.

He has a great quote that fits really well with 451: "I don't try to describe the future. I try to prevent it."
I wish there were more science fiction authors writing today that were still trying to prevent the future.

You know, I went to see him speak once. Okay, you didn't know that, but I'm telling you now. It was something like 20 years ago at this point. Well, almost. It was at Centenary College in Louisiana in the gym. Packed. He just sat out in the middle of the gym with a mic and talked for a couple of hours. Even though I don't really remember what all he talked about, he was fascinating, and I remember being pretty enthralled by it all. There was one thing, though; he talked about the story "Besides a Dinosaur, Whatta Ya Wanna Be When You Grow Up?" which is one of my absolute favorite stories by him, because I was that boy. I wanted to be a dinosaur when I grew up, and, failing that, I wanted to be a paleontologist, which I also failed at, because I found out you had to learn about rocks, and I hate rocks. I did, however, fail to get anything signed by him, because I didn't know they were going to allow signing after he spoke (especially considering the whole thing was in  the evening to begin with, and it was, like, 9:30 by  the time he finished), so I didn't take anything with me. I didn't have any editions of his books that I would have considered worthy of a signature anyway.

My favorite of his is The Martian Chronicles. And, now, I want to go read it again. And Farenheit, which my younger son just started reading a few days ago, actually. I figured I'd introduce it to him around the same age I was. I tried with my older son, but he felt it was too weird for him or something back when he was 12ish and wouldn't read it.

There have been a lot of stories I've loved over the years. A lot. But, even if I love them, most of them don't impact me at all. Don't change me. Bradbury was not one of those writers. He wrote stories that have hung around in my mind for three decades. The image of the boy and his sharp teeth and the dog being scared of him will always be in my mind. The weird reproduction of the House of Usher in Martian Chronicles has never faded. And, most of all, my belief that censorship (a fireless form of book burning) is wrong has never been brighter, but Bradbury struck the match that started that flame.

He may be gone, now, but, at least, the things that he wrote will continue on, and he can continue to light those fires in new, young minds. In my own writing career, I think, that's the very most that I hope for, that something I write will be worth going on after I'm gone. Not a Bradbury, but, maybe, just a shadow of him.

In case you don't know, he had a lot to say about being a writer. One of those things was that you jump off the cliff and figure out how to fly on your way down. It makes me wonder if that's where Douglas Adams got that idea, but that bit about flying in Hitchhiker's has always been my favorite part.

And here are a few more quotes to leave you with:

"I know you've heard it a thousand times before. But it's true - hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don't love something, then don't do it."

"I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves - you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories."

"My stories run up and bite me on the leg - I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off."

And, possibly, my favorite:
"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them."

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

When Everyone's Special... one  is.

The Incredibles is one of my favorite movies, not just one of my favorite Pixar movies. Not that I couldn't say that about a lot of Pixar movies. But that's beside the point.

This is another post I started quite a while ago, but I think it flows pretty well out of my last post. Really, I'll give my soap box back at some point.

There are two themes in The Incredibles that attract me to it. The first of those is being who you are. Not hiding yourself away and pretending to be other than you are, but that's not what this post is about. This post is about the second theme, the one that has to do with society exalting mediocrity so that everyone can be "special."

It's somewhat of a paradox, too, because we are a society that exalts the "popular" while simultaneously trying to devalue everyone else so that we're all the same. The conflict arises because it boils down to "winners" (like Charlie Sheen >heh<) and "losers." If you're the hot commodity, you're a winner. Everyone else is a loser.

But we live in a society (mostly confined to North American at the moment but spreading) that doesn't believe in having "losers." A society that says everyone can be a winner... no, everyone is a winner. A society that tries to protect the feelings of, well, everyone (and saying "it's all subjective" is the ultimate defense against qualitative judgments of any kind). A society that doesn't believe in pointing out that anything is bad or wrong. A society that says "everything is good all the time." [See my post about the book Bright-sided for more on this.]

Let's use a sports analogy, shall we?

Because my daughter was playing softball (you can read that story here), my wife and I have been doing lots if digging and searching around for information about teams and leagues and all of that sort of thing. Meaning, my wife has been doing lots of research and passing the interesting bits on to me. One of the articles I read that really stood out to me is the rise of Little Leagues that do not have winners. Well, that's not true; they don't have losers. Everyone gets to be a winner. There are no outs. There are no scores. Everyone gets to hit the ball and run the bases. Why? Because we, as parents, need to protect our children from being "losers." And having hurt feelings.

But it doesn't fool the kids. And it doesn't help the kids. The kids want there to be winners, and they're willing to accept the prospect of losing, because they want the chance to win. They want the chance to win.

But none of us want our kids to be "losers," so we take that prospect away from them. We want to make them all winners, but the problem is that you can't have winners if you don't also have losers.

In many ways, I feel like this whole self-publishing game is becoming like these little leagues. We're not allowed to say anything negative, because we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. No one is "allowed" to be a loser, and, if there are no losers, everyone gets to be a "winner." Even if that's not true. And we all know it's not true, but, if no one says anything bad, we can keep pretending.

There's this book I want to read, The Fourth Turning, that's all about this stuff from a generational perspective. We own the book, but it's out on loan (because I didn't get to it fast enough after my wife read it). Of course, loaned books can't usually be said to be owned books very often. That's my perspective anyway. Loaning it out is equivalent to giving it away.

At any rate, my generation, in the book, is known as the "unprotected" generation and looking at how I grew up, I tend to agree. We were the generation of latchkey kids (and I started being one by age 7). The current generation, the millennials, the generation my generation is raising, is known as the "protected" generation, and it is a direct response to the self-involvement of our own parents by trying to be over involved in our own kids' lives. It should be the "over protected" generation. [I've been reading a lot about how our aversion to allow our kids to experience risk is not so good for their internal development. Sure, they don't get broken bones, but they never learn how to take risks or, sometimes, even think for themselves.] And there was this other article about the first of the millennials entering the job market and how they need constant supervision and feedback (because they've never really learned how to be independent).

Anyway... I'm straying a bit, and it's getting late, so I need to wrap this up.

The point is this:
There are people in the world like Dash and Mr. Incredible. Not people with super powers, but people that standout above all the rest. We really don't get anywhere by trying to force everyone into a mold of sameness. The problem we have is that we don't want to acknowledge that there are some people that really need to either find something else to do or work harder at whatever it is before they can be good enough.

Like my brother playing basketball in high school. He was a short, white boy. Shorter than me, and I'm only 5'8". But my brother could play and play well, and it's what he wanted most to do. He had to work hard at it. And he did. Hours every day. And I bet you're expecting me to tell you some miracle story about his hard work and perseverance, but I'm not going to. He did make his high school team. He was the only white boy on the team one year. Mostly, he just warmed the bench, though. Why? Because, as good as he was, he wasn't better than the other boys on his team. Mostly because he just wasn't tall enough. And that's a suck thing to be that good but still not to be able to compete. Eventually, he had to come to the conclusion that he wasn't going to be able to do that thing, basketball, and he went to other things.

But he did try. He gave it his all to see if he could make it, but he just couldn't pull it off. But he still plays for fun, so it's not like it was taken away from him.

To bring this back to writing, I'm going to switch movies. There's a quote at the end of Ratatouille that I love, but I'm only going to paraphrase it for you, "Not everyone can be a great writer, but a great writer can come from anyone." I do think everyone should have the opportunity to take their shot at being a great writer. Or a great anything. However, I don't think everyone can do it. I don't think most people can do it. Which is not to say that you shouldn't try. But, if you're going to try, work hard at it. And take the criticism (both bad and good (because to critique something is not just pointing out the bad)) people give you while you are busy working hard, and use it to get better.

Some people won't be tall enough. Some won't be fast enough. Some will just never get the break they need. Some will never get good enough because we don't tell them they need to work on their grammar so as to avoid hurting someone's feelings. And that's really the worst thing that can happen. To not become a winner because no one ever bothered to tell you that you were losing.

Everyone can't be special, because when everyone's special, no one is.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Not As Subjective As We'd All Like To Think

[Disclaimer: This is not, as it may appear, a post in reaction to the review and comments from last week. I started writing this post and making notes for it back at the beginning of March. However, due to the review last week, I feel this is a good place for this post.]

As artists, we like to tell each other "it's all subjective." Some people like one thing, some people like another thing. There is a part of this that's true. But, mostly, it's not true. There are objective qualities to what's good and what's not good, and these qualities are more powerful than the subjective ones, because the subjective ones have to do with preference, not quality. We can tell this is true because such things as "classics" exist. They exist not because there were no other writers or painters or musicians during their time but because they were better than those other people. Not subjectively better. Just better.

And, mostly, those things are still better.

Wait! How can I even say such a thing? Well... because of science. Sort of.

Let's talk about physical human beauty. Science has, of course, studied this. Why do some women become super models? What is it about them? Why are we attracted to them, and why do they stand out? Why are some men held up as swoon-worthy gods and not others? What do they have that the rest of us don't?

I'm not going to go into all of the studies on this, but there are specific, objective qualities that have been identified that people are attracted to. Like symmetrical-ness of the face, the distance between the eyes, the clearness of the skin. Sure, there are subjective qualities beyond those things like hair and eye color, height (being that height preference is determined by the height of the person judging), and fitness of body along with other cultural preferences, but the basics are biological in nature, and the rest are variations of those basic qualities of attractiveness.

How does this stuff extend into the art world? It seems that so much of art changes so quickly all of the time. What's popular? What's not? One way to tell what's good is how long it lasts. There are pieces of music that people will always go back to, because they were better than other pieces of music from that time period. That's why they last. In the 60s, folk musicians were a dime a dozen, and you don't know who most of them are. Why? Because they weren't really any good. But Dylan? He had a horrible voice, but he wrote great music. He's become a classic. Paul Simon. Peter, Paul, and Mary. Names that people remember because they wrote great music and great songs. They inspired other people.

You look back at Rock, and you get names like Elvis, Rolling Stones, and U2. The Beatles.

And, sure, you may look at the names listed and say, "But I don't like The Beatles." Because, well, I don't. Much. But I can not deny the objective impact that they made, and their influence is not something that's just going to fade away because they've fallen out of popularity. They don't fall out of popularity. People will always be listening to The Beatles (just like people will always be reading Shakespeare).

Think back to the 80s and the plethora of bands; how many are memorable? Is it subjective? No, not really. We don't remember the bad ones, even if they were popular for a while or had a hit song or two. We do remember the good ones like The Police and U2. They've become memorable because they were objectively better than the masses that we don't remember.

The same kind of thing is true for painters. We know who some of them are, because their art was better. Why do we even care about Picasso? Is it because he painted weird stuff? No, it's because he was a great artist that decided to paint weird stuff. People look at it and think, "I can do that." But, no, really, they can't, because they didn't start out with the objective background in art that made Picasso great. They're trying to short cut their way to greatness by painting weird stuff that, then, no one really likes because that's all it ends up being. Weird. Not art.

Which brings us to writing. There are some very well-defined ways of judging whether something is good writing, primarily grammar. "Is it well written?" is not the same as "is it a good story?" And, honestly, it doesn't matter how good the story is if it's poorly written, and, even a not good story can be great if it is well written. So this objective criteria of writing becomes even more important than the one of whether an artist can paint something that's not weird.

I'm going to go to something that was said in a comment to the review I did last week comparing a book to a child. [First, I want to say, a book is not a child no matter how over-used that comparison is. It doesn't have feelings, and it doesn't care if anyone likes it no matter how much it may feel that way to the author. However, I'm going to go with the comparison anyway.] If a book is like a child, we have to look at it as if it is a child in school.

There are objective criteria applied to children in school, and, sometimes, the teacher has to say this child or that child is not ready to go on. Of course, this is a difficult thing to do, and many teachers don't like saying that so allow the children to pass through the grades even though they don't have basic skills (I'm from the south, specifically Louisiana (like 48th or something out of 50 in education(at least, that's what it was when I was growing up, and I don't think it's changed any), so I know what I'm talking about). If a student does need to be held back, does it hurt the child's feelings? Sometimes. Probably less than we think, though, unless we make a huge deal about it and remind the child on a regular basis. [My brother got held back in 1st grade, and he barely noticed. It was never an issue for anyone... other than my mother.] Mostly, it hurts the feeling of the parents. The parents feel like they've failed, and, maybe, they have, but, even if they haven't, they project those feelings at the child and worry about how the child will take it. And here's the conflict: do what's right for the child (hold him back so he can learn the skills he needs) or avoid making the child "feel bad" (pass him on anyway and hope he picks up what he's lacking on his own (almost never happens)).

This is how we need to look at books. Especially books on the outside of traditional publishing. See, within traditional publishing, we do have people that are capable of saying "this child (book) is ready to graduate." This doesn't mean the book is qualitatively good, but it does usually mean  that the book is quantitatively good. Or, at least, it meets some minimum standards (like my oldest son just passed (by a lot) the CA minimum knowledge requirement test for high school, so, technically, he's proficient enough to go on (even though he has two years to go)) of what a book needs to be. Someone that knows how has gone over the grammar and made sure it's pretty close to correct. These are people that know how to use spell check and can generally insert commas at the appropriate places. Outside of traditional publishing, though, we have people deciding for themselves whether they're ready or not, and this leads to a lot of people who are not ready deciding that they are.

Like a 3rd grader deciding he knows enough to quit school and get a real job.

No, really, it's the same kind of thing.

We have classics in literature, because those authors knew how to write. They were at the top of their game. The writing stars of their age. Babe Ruths and Muhammad Alis. Sure, maybe not everyone likes those stories, but they could write and write well. Is Dickens long? Sure, but he wrote so well that people don't care. But you don't like Dickens? "A Christmas Carol" is the most adapted story in history. Sherlock Holmes too dry for you? He's had more film adaptations than any other character ever. These things last because, objectively, they are better.

But we get so caught up in what is now. What's popular right now. 10 years from now, most of it won't be remembered. No one will care. Why? Because it's not good. I'm gonna pick on Twilight (come on, you know it makes an easy target). I can't get into the whole sparkly vampire thing. To me, it's just wrong. However, if I was into cheesy high school romances, and plenty of people are, then I probably wouldn't mind sparkly vampires. Does the fact that it's so popular at this moment mean it's something that will last? I remember when I was in high school and everything was about Flowers in the Attic. Everything. But without the social media involvement. They were the only books the girls talked about. But who remembers them now? No one. Because there was nothing there to make them standout other than that they were popular for a few years. Like Twilight.

And, really, like G R R Martin. Two decades ago it was Robert Jordan. The Wheel of Time was the biggest thing in fantasy since, well, Tolkien, and Jordan was talked about the exact same way as Martin is now. But who remembers Jordan? No one. Why? Because he wasn't Tolkien. His work didn't cross the bar Tolkien left behind. An objective, qualitative bar. And, sure, I know a lot of you don't like Tolkien. It doesn't change the fact that he left an objective standard behind that people need to live up to.

So... literature, writing, is not as subjective as we'd all like to think it is. There is an objective standard to what's good and what's not good. Within that objectivity, there is subjectivity. I'll use my own book as an example (because I know it better, and I'm not gonna hurt anyone else's feelings with this).

Well, wait... the problem is that most people have no ability to look at things objectively. They can tell you if they liked it, but they can't tell you why they liked it. Try to pin a random person down as to why they liked something, and you'll find it's like pulling teeth. Ask people why they like The Avengers, and I'll bet, in most cases, you'll get nothing more concrete than "it's exciting," "it has lots of action," or, maybe, "it's the story." Ask someone what they liked about the story, and you get "I don't know. It was just good." At any rate, people have a difficult enough time with being objective about other things, trying to get them to be objective about their own thing? It's just trouble.

But being as objective as I can about my own book, The House on the Corner, I can say it's good. I do have a leg up on a lot of people self-publishing, though. I have a degree in English, for one thing, plus I've studied a lot of classic, objectively good, literature. I've learned how to write, and I know how to tell a story. My book is good (and I'm not going beyond saying "good." That, I don't know).

That, however, doesn't mean that everyone will like it. Just like I don't like Twilight, because I'm not into freaky, stalkerish romances. But, then, not everyone likes Tolkien, but, man, could he write!

And, even within something you like, there may be issues. Sometimes these are subjective. For instance, PT Dilloway pointed out that I use the word "suddenly" too much. But what quantifies too much of that one word? It really doesn't matter, because, to him, it was too much, because that's his preference, and that's where the subjectivity comes in. Does that change that, overall, the work is good? No, but he may not like it for that reason. And it made me go back and look at my use of the word, which is a good thing. Out of 120,000 words, I used it about two dozen times. Quantitatively, I don't think this is too much; however, there were a couple of places where I used it too closely together, and I don't like that. At some point, some of those will get revised out. Recently, I've decided that I use the word "though" way too much. Some of those are going to go, too. But those are just little things that don't really affect the overall book, because my grammar, my objective measures, are pretty much in place.

And this is where we get into problems: the objective values have to be in place before we can get on to the subjective ones. How do you know if you'll like a story if it's just too poorly written to find the story? Is it fair for me to come in and say to someone, "Hey, your project needs work"? It's totally fair if I'm basing it off of objective measurements. No, it's not fair for me to come in and say, "Hey, your work sucks," just because I didn't happen to like it. I can say I don't like it, but that's really all I'm entitled to say if it's about my personal preference. However, it's totally fair to tell someone that they need editing assistance, especially if they need editing assistance.

In fact, I think it's more than fair; I think it's necessary. At least, in the non-traditional publishing world it is. In self-publishing, often, it's all up to the skill of the author, and, often, that means that you have the equivalent of 3rd graders deciding that their work is good enough to graduate. Even in small, independent publishing, you frequently don't get anything better than that. Low paid editors that really don't know what they're doing. There needs to be someone there saying, "Hey, this needs more work."

Michael Offutt, though, brought up a point that did give me pause. Basically, he said, that a bad review for someone's work is directly affecting someone's livelihood. I had to think about that, but, eventually, I came to the following conclusions:
1. Generally speaking, people that are self-publishing are not depending upon  the book revenue for their livelihood. If  they are, if they are successful enough that they make their living through writing, my one review isn't going to affect that.
2. Their "bad" books (speaking from an objective standpoint) make it more difficult for me to succeed; therefore, they are affecting my (future) livelihood by making it more difficult for my work to get out there.

Look, people already have the view that self-published works are sub par. And they have good reason. Most of them are. Most of them have been put out there by 3rd graders, figuratively speaking, who decided they were ready. No, that there isn't good stuff out there, but most of them are not.

I mean, I don't even bother with self-published works unless it's by someone I know or has some good recommendations from people I know. Why? Because I don't have time to sift through all the crap that's covering up the stuff that's worth reading. It kind of sucks, but that's the way it is. And, what this means to me is that if I see something that objectively doesn't make the grade, I'm gonna say so. Especially, most especially, if I'm asked to do it. Because, honestly, I'm not gonna go out looking for things to give bad reviews to; I don't have the time to waste on reading crap.

However, if someone asks me to give a review, I'm going to weigh it to the best of my objective ability, which, as it happens, is pretty good.

Of course, as I said earlier, most people don't ever bother to look at, well, anything objectively, so what we get is a lot of "that sucks!" or "what a piece of garbage!" or, even, "wow! that was the awesomest thing ever!" And none of those statements mean anything, because none of those statements differentiate between what is objective and what is subjective. Which is what I try to do when I give a review, and it's why I separate the technicals from my reaction to whatever it is I'm reading.

For the sake of saying it (because I thought about this a lot this weekend), here are my four basic possible reactions to the things I read:
1. That was bad, and I didn't like it.
2. That was bad, but I liked it anyway.
3. That was good, but I didn't like it.
4. That was good, and I did like it.
Those are, of course, starting places, but what's important to see is that they all start with an objective valuation of the material, and that objective judgement affects my subjective response. And that's true for everyone even if they can't see what's going on in their own heads. They are making some sort value judgement of the piece that, then, colors their subjective response to it and tells them whether they like it or not. Unfortunately, often, it's other 3rd graders doing this, so they don't have much in the way of objective skill to work with, so they can look at two things and see that one is better, but they can't tell you why, and  the why is what is so very important.

Why is this book that this person worked on for so long not good enough?

And do you want to know the truth? Most people don't want you to know why. They want you to leave it at "I didn't like it," because, that way, they can fall back on the whole "well, it's all subjective" crap heap and continue to pat themselves on the back and pretend that that piece of crap they just self-published is really a golden egg. And, you know, continue to have all their friends pat them on the back, too, because no one wants to risk telling anyone in the circle that that book is a piece of crap, because, then, someone might tell them the same thing.

And you know what? I kind of hate that. I hate finding those circles of friends that go on and on about how good each others' books are, because I have no way of telling, at that point, if any of it's good, so I have to stay away from all of it. And that, above all else, sucks.

However, when you approach a book objectively, when you give real, actual, solid reasons why something isn't ready, why it's not good enough, why the author needs to go back and work on it some more, that's when people get upset and freak out at you and yell at you. And, you know, accuse you of being >gasp< honest! And mean.

But I wasn't mean in my review of Matthew Irvine's book. You want to know how I know? I asked my wife. Seriously. Here's how it went:

There was a request for reviews and such for The Last of the Venitars. Everyone else that saw the request and went and looked at the preview said no because the book needing editing.

I looked at the preview and said the same thing. Mr. Irvine (and his best friend February Grace) felt that if I would just read the book that I would fall in love with the story, and I wouldn't care about the rest.

I told Mr. Irvine that it would be better if he pulled the book and got some help with the editing. That, based on the preview, if I reviewed it, I would not be able to give it a positive review.

His response was that he wanted me to read and review the book anyway and that I should be as honest as I could be.

So I read the book, and it took me a lot longer than I would have liked, because the objective parts were so bad that it was a huge barrier to any story that might have been there.

When I finished, I gave my wife my objective evaluation of the book and my subjective response to it (which I did not actually include in my review). She told me that I should probably not review the book if my review was going to be that bad, because people would get upset. There was discussion, and she suggested that I, at least, contact the author again and see if he had changed his mind. I was resistant to that, because I had spent the time reading the thing and felt that the review was owed at that point. But I thought about it and decided to do what she said and emailed the guy again before I wrote the review.

He repeated that I should write the review even though I told him that I would have nothing positive to say about the book.

So I wrote the review. And I felt bad about it. But before I posted the review, I let my wife read it, and she said, "it's harsh, but it's not unkind." And, remember, she heard the things I really said about  the book. So, yeah, I was harsh, but I wasn't mean.

I posted the review. And I felt bad about it.

But I don't think I do anymore. Like I said, someone needs to be able to give honest, objective reviews on material, especially when they are asked for. It's not easy, and it more than kind of sucks, but all of this affects me, too. It affects all of us that aren't with a big time publishing company, because, somewhere, someone has to start setting some standards and being willing to be honest and tell people, "hey, that's not quite ready, yet. Go back and work on it some more." It's really not all as subjective as we'd like to think it is.