Justice (Deck of Lies, #1)

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The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)

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Death (Deck of Lies, #3)

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Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4)

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Hope's Rebellion

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Books on Film: Thinner

October is swiftly approaching, and with it Halloween. It's one of my favorite holidays, and it's all about being scared. That's why I'm going to (attempt to) feature only scary books on film all month long. The first installment begins with, of course, Stephen King. After a fashion, anyway. King wrote Thinner as Richard Bachman, the worst-kept secret pen name in the entire history of the written word. But the jig is definitely up, and the novel moved easily to film.

Was it any better in the second medium?


The Book

When King first started in the writing biz, many publishers believed that authors shouldn't release more than one book a year; they thought it might over-saturate the market. According to literary legend, King invented his pseudonym Richard Bachman for this reason -- and because he wanted to see if readers were buying his words, or his name.

Supposedly. As I've mentioned, the secret wasn't kept very well, and fans aren't dumb. They quickly caught on to the fact that horror novelist Richard Bachman wrote with the exact same style as horror novelist Stephen King.


The public still didn't have wide knowledge of who Bachman really was when his book Thinner was released. Only 28,000 books sold in the novel's first publication. But some fans had already sniffed him out by the time he published Thinner, the third Bachman book, so King dedicated it to Bachman's fictitious wife and included a photograph of the author (actually an insurance agent). A suspicious bookstore clerk in Washington, D. C. searched Library of Congress records and found proof that King and Bachman were actually the same man. After he mailed a letter to King's publishers, King personally called the clerk and told him to go ahead and break the story.

He did, and in its next run Thinner sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

The novel is clearly written in King's signature style. It's set in New England, like most of his books, and it's about a fat lawyer named Billy Halleck. He's recently stood trial for vehicular manslaughter, having hit and killed an old woman while his wife was performing a sexual act on him. The old woman was part of a group of gypsies, and King-as-Bachman draws attention to this right away; it's very important. Halleck is acquitted, mainly because he's good friends with the judge. 

While leaving the courthouse, the ancient father of the old woman appears on the courthouse steps. He steps close to Halleck and strokes his cheek, whispering "thinner."

Rapid weight loss begins at once. He loses weight by startling degrees, and soon realizes that the aged gypsy cursed him. When he speaks to his judge friend, he learns that the judge has also been cursed. His skin is turning into scales. The town police chief, also part of the cover-up, has been stricken with a horrifying skin condition. Both commit suicide before the book ends.

Billy's not going down without a fight. Now pitifully emaciated, he tracks the gypsies all the way to Maine (hey! This book was written by Stephen King!). Finally, he manages to strike up a deal with the gypsy, who gives Billy a pie baked with his own blood. Whoever eats the pie will also get the curse, because it can be transferred but not destroyed. The old gypsy tells Billy to eat the pie himself, and die with some dignity.

But he's not going to do that. He takes his pie home instead to give to his wife. This whole thing is her fault, anyway. He puts it away for the night, and gets himself some rest. When he wakes, he discovers that he made a mistake: his wife and his daughter both ate from the pie while he was sleeping soundly. 

Billy cuts himself a slice of the pie as well because he feels so terrible about killing his own daughter, and that's the end. Surprisingly, the story is re-told pretty well on film.

The Film

 Thinner became a film in 1996, but this time it carried Stephen King's name. To this day, the film is Stephen King's Thinner, which technically is wrong (but let's not get back into all that). Robert John Burke stars as Billy Halleck, and this time the story is moved entirely to Maine. This time, the movie actually shows the manslaughter incident that's already past-tense by the time the book begins. We see the gypsy carnival first, and the accident is shown in second-by-second detail. The sex act Heidi was performing was changed on film, but that's neither here nor there. 

The sham of a trial is glossed over quickly, and the moment when the curse is given is agonizingly drawn out. To make Heidi a little more unlikable, a handsome doctor is introduced to the story in the movie. He makes house calls, and comes to check on Billy's terrible weight loss. The doctor is good-looking and fit, and the implication that he would like to be with Heidi is pretty loud and clear.

The horrible condition of the judge and the police chief is revealed next. Like he did in the book, Billy searches out the traveling gypsy carnival. This experience is drawn out on film, and Billy suffers nightmares and setbacks before he eventually locates them.

A deadly strawberry pie, enriched with blood, is eventually made. Again, the gypsy begs Billy to eat his own pie and die a clean death. Again, this isn't Billy's plan. He goes home and puts the pie away, believing that his daughter is spending the night at a friend's house.

He wakes up next to Heidi's dead body, and feels pretty gleeful with himself. The curse is broken, that cheating no-good wife is dead, and all is right with the world...until he goes down to the kitchen. Here, he learns that Linda has eaten some of the pie for breakfast. That's when Billy eats some of the pie himself, overcome with grief and guilt at what he's done.

What Got Adapted?

For what it's worth, Thinner is a faithful film adaptation of the book. But without any banner actors and too much extra plot in the second and third Acts, Thinner isn't a very good movie. The effects and costuming are great, but the dialogue is rough and the lead actor is thoroughly unbelievable. Don't blame the film for this; blame the book. The novel doesn't have a lot of meat to it, like its main character, and one assumes this is why King hid behind the Bachman moniker in the first place. You can skip this one on the page and on the screen. You won't find a whole lot of substance in this one, but there are a few cheap thrills that may please die-hard King and horror fans. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

From the Trenches: Lucky Day

What does it take to be an award-winning, best-selling, much-loved author? In looking at the stories of those who have walked the path of success (without falling on their faces), certain qualities shine through: grit, stubbornness, hard work...and luck. 


It helps to write something new and interesting and great...but a stroke of luck can completely change your fate. Just ask one award-winner who came within inches of never being published at all. 

A Wrinkle in a Perfect Plan

Madeleine L'Engle was born in 1918 and spent most of her childhood in New York City, where many writers have been inspired. She wasn't much of a student, and received poor grades. Madeleine preferred writing in her journal, creating poems and making up stories. It was a habit she took with her to the French Alps, where her family moved when she was 12.

She studied English in depth at Smith College, where she continued working on her own writing. Upon graduation, Madeleine moved to Greenwich Village in New York, and worked in the theater. By the time she me and married her husband Hugh Franklin, she'd already completed two novels. 

The manuscripts collected dust while Madeleine established her family, but whenever time allowed she was writing and working at her craft. The family returned to New York after a few years, but not before taking a 10-week cross-country camping trip. It was during this family adventure that she would come up with the idea for her most famous novel. She named it A Wrinkle in Time, and completed the book in 1960. 

She would have lots of wrinkles to iron out of her way before she would see it published. 

Lucky Day

Excited about her novel, Madeleine began submitting it to publishers. She was rejected...repeatedly. More than two dozen rejection letters came back to her. The book was unlike anything else on the market, and that frightened the publishers. Having a female protagonist in a sci-fi novel, in her own words, just "wasn't done," and her novel was "too different." 

Her agents gave the manuscript back to her, and it looked like her chances of being a published author were dead. But the fates changed when Madeleine attended a tea party at her mother's house and happened to meet John Farrar...of the publishing company Farrar, Straus & Giroux. She gave him the manuscript, and he loved it. Farrar decided to sign her to the company at once.

A Wrinkle in Time has been in publication ever since. It won the Newberry Medal, spawned a series, and remains one of the most popular children's books on the market. If she'd missed that party, maybe none of that would have ever happened, and we still wouldn't know about Mrs. Whatsit and her charming friends.

Madeleine L'Engle worked from the trenches in secret and for many years, constantly working on her craft and fitting it into the pages of her life. She wrote a great book, and no one cared until she was lucky enough to have a chance meeting with the one man who did. She was eager enough, and smart enough, to seize opportunity when it presented itself, and that's why we know who she is today.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Most Popular Books Ever Written

As an author, it's essential to also be a reader. Authors are influenced and inspired by other greats who have taken pen to page to pour out prose. Every writer should have a reading habit bordering on addiction, because it's important to continuously build upon your craft. Reading is really research for new writing styles, new punctuation usage, tone and wordsmithery (not a word technically, but I like it). 

So if you want to write a bestseller someday, doesn't it follow that you should study bestsellers of the past? Take a look at the most popular books ever written (at least, to date) and see how your work compares to the best of the bestsellers. 


Still the One

The trouble is, it's hard to determine just which books are actually the best. How do you determine what makes a book great? Is it good reviews? Sales? The number of people who have read it? As it turns out, the best book in one of those categories usually ranks pretty high in the others, too.
  •  Fiction Novels
Among fiction novels, there's no general consensus as to which is the absolute best, but there are a lot of opinions. The Guardian ranked Don Quixote (pronounced Key-Hoe-Tee) as the greatest novel of all time. Also on their top 100 list: Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Emma, Little Women and Huckleberry Finn.

According to multiple sources, Don Quixote is the best-selling fiction book ever written. More than 500 million copies of the book have been printed and sold worldwide, though exact figures are hard to obtain because the story was printed originally in 1612. The title character is famously a bit of an accidental hero, known to tilt at windmills and make many mistakes in his bizarre quest.

Other sources say that Dickens actually holds the top slot. His novel A Tale of Two Cities, first printed in 1859, has sold more than 200 million copies. Closely on its heels is Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), a French novel published in 1943. The Lord of the Rings is definitely in the hunt, however, having sold 150 million copies since its 1954 release.

Of course, those are all just stand-alone books.
  • Series Books
Some authors can't confine their creativity to just one book; their stories are too big for that. Rather than comparing each individual book in a series, many rank the success of the series overall...but then, it's unfair to compare a whole bunch of books to just one. So when it comes to ranking the best of the bestsellers, series books get their own category. 

Perhaps predictably, Harry Potter takes this title. The series (7 books in total) has sold more than 450 million copies worldwide. British author J.K. Rowling is far ahead of her closest competition, author R.L. Stine. Stine's Goosebumps series has sold around 300 million copies around the world.
  • Cookbooks
It doesn't have to be fiction to be a bestselling book. Many authors have found success with cookbooks, because every human being has to eat food to survive. Anyone who can teach others how to make that food tasty is valuable, and it shows in sales figures.

Joy of Cooking, by Irma Rombauer, is arguably the most famous cookbook ever written. It inspired Julia Child, among others, to create her own cookbook and taught millions of women around the world how to perform basic to complicated recipes. Since 1931, it's sold a whopping 18 million copies worldwide.

Two other cookbooks have sold a few more copies. Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book is cited as being the most popular cookbook of all time, with 40 million copies sold. First printed in 1930, the book has been updated many times throughout the years to stay relevant (a recipe for success). But it's actually Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book, first printed in 1950, that's the most popular. More than 65 million copies of this one have been sold.
  • Non-Fiction
We all love novels, and cookbooks are definitely handy little kitchen tools. But the books that have sold more copies than any other are all labeled as non-fiction.

Religious books are unquestionably the most popular books ever written. Quotations from Chairman Mao, the Qur'an and the Bible, in that order, are the most-printed, most-distributed books around the world. Multiple hundreds of millions of copies of these books have been printed and re-printed over many centuries, and it's impossible to estimate just how many of these books have been published through the years.

Most sources agree that the Bible is the biggest bestseller. Estimates put the total number of books printed at right around 5 billion. The classification for religious books is clearly debatable, but they're labeled as non-fiction (somewhat unfairly to biography writers, as far as I'm concerned). So whether they're fiction or not, this is the category in which they're always shoved -- and in any case, all three of these books have out-sold true fiction novels.


The most popular books ever written all have a lesson to teach, and it's this: people love a great story. If it's truly fantastic and entertaining and funny and poignant and meaningful, a story can stay popular for many hundreds of years and touch many millions (or billions) of people. Think about all your favorite books, what you love about them and why you love them. Think about the way those books make you feel, what they make you think, why they resonate with you. Take those elements, and learn how to bring them to your own books. Maybe in a few years, your book will end up somewhere on the list of the most popular books ever written.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Writing 101: Dating Your Book

Adding dates and date-specific events to your book will make it feel more like reality, but it will also put a pretty clear expiration date on its relevancy. At some point, every contemporary book ever written stops being relevant and starts being history. There are all sorts of little things you might be adding that are dating your book. What should you do about it? 


Please Sell By...

Sometimes, there's just no other way to get certain plot points across, and an exact date is necessary. If there's some question of a character's age or birth place, or if someone goes to look at a grave, exact dates are going to come up. Sometimes, an exact date suits the circumstance. A character appearing in court before a judge, for example, may hear a long litany of charges and a docket number and specific dates. If the police are asking questions about a crime, they're going to use exact dates.

For some writers, it's just unavoidable. But even if you're terribly clever and you find a way to write around it, you're still dating your book. It doesn't take a specific date to clearly place your book in a specific time frame, and you may not even know it's happening. 

Reference music, television or technology, and you're very clearly pinpointing a specific range of years, months or even weeks. Reference any sort of current event (like names of actual Presidents or earthquakes), and you're likewise pinning yourself down to a specific date or date range. Even clothing trends can date your book, or popular expressions. I recently read a book that extensively detailed activities on Facebook. Fifty years from now, that reference may be obscure and obsolete. So no matter how careful you are to avoid dates, you're dating your book anyway.

Even if you avoid pop culture and technology, it's happening. If you're writing with a contemporary, current voice, your book is dated. Once upon a time, Pride and Prejudice was a contemporary book. The author, Jane Austen, wrote about what life was like in the times she was actually living. And when it first came out, that book resonated with all who read it. Today, the language feels stodgy and archaic, and the descriptions of daily life aren't much like the way we live today. Speech and words are ever-changing. Words we use now are going to be outdated 100 years from now.

So now you know the cold, hard truth: your book is going to be dated, no matter what you do. One day, your contemporary setting will become historical. Here's the good news: it doesn't really matter.

Expired

Some authors are absolutely terrified of using dates, pop culture references and other material that might date their work...and it's silly. A word could be invented next year that catches on and becomes the word, and the book you wrote 6 months before will start looking old-fashioned all of a sudden. There's just no help for it: time marches on, and new books become old books. Don't be afraid of it, because it's no big deal.

You can prove it by Pride and Prejudice, and hundreds of other books. Jane Austen's classic was first published in 1813. It's sold more than 20 million copies, and you'll have no trouble buying it anywhere today. The book is constantly being referenced, adapted, re-written and discussed, for all its dated language and prim ideas and highfalutin morality. People still love that book, because it's good. It was good 200 years ago and it's still good today, even if it does describe history that's long gone. 

Your book is going to be dated the moment you publish it -- the date's right there next to it, or underneath it, and it ought to be on your copyright page, too. So don't worry about that. Focus on making the content exceptional, and it won't matter that the book is dated. It may still stay in style for hundreds of years to come. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writing 101: Double-Spacing...and Why It's Wrong

Double-spacing after a period.  Like this.  Is wrong.  But so many people have so many different opinions about double-spacing and single-spacing after punctuation, it's difficult to point to just one reason why it's wrong. I'm going to try anyway.


 Single and Fabulous?

The number of spaces that should be placed after a period is actually a hot point of contention among writers, editors and typographers. This is the kind of stuff that gets word nerds all kinds of hot and bothered, and I guess I'm no exception. I passionately believe that only one space should be used following any sentence, and the general school of typography agrees with me. 

Typesetters are the people who actually put the words on the page. They're responsible for making everything fit together and using all the space they've got in an economical fashion. Since the early 20th century, it's been an industry standard in Europe and the Americas to use a single space, not a double, between the period and the new sentence.

Standards were much looser before the 19th century, and in the early days of printing typesetters often used enlarged spaces following their periods. But a 19th-century invention would screw all the spacing up and confuse writers even 200 years later.

 Doubles, Anyone?

Ironically, it was the manual typewriter that changed spacing forevermore. The standard space on the manual typewriter was considered by many to be too small to properly separate sentences. Many writers began hitting the spacebar twice, not just once, after every period in order to provide the necessary separation. It became the norm to do this, and double-spaced typing was even taught in typing classes. No one uses manual typewriters anymore, but the error is still being repeated all the time. 

If it's an error. The debate continues to rage on to this day, with many hotly defending the usefulness of the double space. I hate it, and I advise against using it, and I'm going to tell you why. 

The Way It Is 

Typesetters and printers established the single-space standard for a pretty important reason: money. When words take up less space, fewer pages may be used to print out a whole book. Fewer pages equals less cost to make the books, and that means they can be priced more competitively.

It's something no indie author can ignore. CreateSpace is easy and affordable, but it ain't free. Self-published authors can't afford to be less cost-conscious than those huge publishing houses.

It's also important for indies to conform to all industry standards in matters of grammar, punctuation and spacing -- both to fit in with all the other books and to prove that they can. Indies have a bad reputation as being amateurs and hacks, so don't visually separate your books from the ones the big box publishers are churning out by the million.

And because it is a standard, you could get called on it if you do it incorrectly and use a double space. If you do any guest posts or freelance writing assignments, you could easily draw the ire of a blog owner or editor who has very strong opinions. Conform to the standard; they'll definitely let you know if they want you make changes. If they do, just use your search-and-replace function to fix your spacing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Judgment: Exclusive First Look

Can't wait until Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4) comes out in November? You don't have to! Death, the third book in the Deck of Lies series, now has an exclusive preview of Judgment. 


Blog readers can get Death free in any electronic format at Smashwords all week long. Use the coupon code PZ96Z to get 100% off, and get a sneak peek of what's coming up in the fourth (and final) installment of the Deck of Lies series.

Writing 101: Bad Writing Habits

You may not even know that you've got bad writing habits. I didn't know that I had one until after I got rejected hundreds of times, and finally took it upon myself to figure out why. You've got to figure out how to spot, and stop, your own bad writing habits. Everybody's got them. 


Got a Bad Habit

I've briefly mentioned the rejection letter that marked a severe turning point in my writing life, and my discovery of my own bad writing habit can be traced right back to this source. It wasn't until I had an actual mystery to solve that I managed to find out one of the things I do wrong when I sit down to write. It helps that I actually write mysteries, but any writer can figure out how to spot their own bad habits. 

The one criticism the letter had for me was ambiguous at best: too repetitive. The word stuck out to me, and bothered me, and made me fret. So I sat down to re-read the book that got rejected, which is a massive epic of more than 240,000 words (it remains unpublished and I don't want to talk about it). That's nearly a quarter of a million words, and that's a lot. But I wanted to figure out the why of the rejection, so I was fueled by vanity. 

It's a strong motivator. I re-read that book and then re-read it again, growing increasingly peeved. I searched for passages that I repeated, descriptions that I was giving over and over, use of too many "said"s at the end of my dialogue (you know, "he said," "she said," "I said," "they said"). 

I couldn't find anything wrong. My descriptions were well-balanced; I didn't give them too often. I didn't repeat too many of the same words (you know I'm good with a Thesaurus). I didn't know what was wrong. 

And I reached a breaking point. Practically howling with frustration, I began to go through the book a third time to find out why I was too repetitive. My brain was screaming all sorts of colorful words about picky agents and their stupid standards, lies in letters and ambiguous hints that mean nothing at all. I started flying through the book, barely pausing as my eyes briefly skimmed each page in search of an error...any error. 

That's when I saw it. As I scanned, a single phrase began to stick out to me. I kept seeing it again and again...and again. Only with all those 240,000 words flying past my eyes could I make out the pattern that was cleverly buried inside the prose. And I realized the letter was right after all, because these two words were repeated over and over.

It seems. When I started looking, this phrase was everywhere in my manuscript.  

But he had forgotten all about me, it seems.

"It seems the weather turned while we were away." 

It seems silly now, but looking back I think I miss the grass the most

I used the find function to see just how many times this phrase appeared in that single book, to see how bad my habit really was. 

More than three hundred times. And the person who rejected me was right: it was too darned repetitive. I fixed the problem and I've never touched the book again, and I broke that bad habit. The moment I became aware of it, I started writing just a little bit better. It seems appears in my book Justice exactly twice, and you'll find it in my book Death just once. I don't make that mistake anymore...so hopefully soon I'll start finding all the other bad writing habits I don't yet know that I've got. 

Maybe you'll find yours, too. 

Finding the Habit

All authors are supposed to carefully read every letter of their books several times before declaring that it's done. You read it to proof it for grammatical and punctuation errors. You read it to make sure the plot is hanging together and everything makes sense. You read it to make sure it's perfect, and you read it with a critical eye. But once you're done, check for bad habits.

Scan your book instead. Look through each page quickly and see if anything starts to stick out to you, or if you start to see the same things over and over. You can find all sorts of things when you stop being careful and start being quick; things you might never notice otherwise. Once you find a bad habit, you can figure out how to re-word the passages that contain this less-than-perfect writing. And once you know you've got the habit, you'll always be aware of it and you'll end up being a better writer because of it. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Writing 101: Proper Use of the Word Y'All

Every writer who wants to unmistakably make a character southern uses it...and at least half of them get it wrong. It's y'all, and it's been offending southern readers since the first author used it the wrong way. Before you attempt to insert it into one of your books, make sure you understand proper use of the word y'all...or you'll end up hearing about it from me. 


We're in the South, Y'all

I touched on the topic of y'all briefly in my apostrophes post, but it's so commonly mis-used it deserves to have its very own spotlight. First, let's all get clear on the meaning of y'all right here and now.

If you read my post, you know how to use apostrophes, and you know that y'all is really you all. The apostrophe takes the place of the o and the u to create this contraction. So every time you see y'all, think you all. The phrase means the same thing as all of you or (as Yankees might say) you guys

It's a plural word, and that's the most important thing you've got to remember about y'all. It only addresses more than one, because Robby by himself cannot be an all. Robby and Johnny can be an all because together they're two guys. For example, it's totally appropriate for me to say Robby and Johnny, y'all come in here and get your lunch. But I would never say Robby, y'all come in here and get your lunch.

So many, many authors get that wrong. The word means you all, and actual southerners only use it when they're addressing more than one. Replace y'all with a phrase that means the same thing, and you'll see what I mean:

Robby, all of you come in here and get your lunch

Robby, who's out there alone, is going to think the speaker has gone crazy. And readers who see the error are going to roll their eyes...maybe away from your book, and onto the next. Y'all means the same as all of you and it's always plural. 

But I know why people get confused...because y'all's is also considered to be a usable word in the south. 

Y'all's

 It looks like the worst of grammar, but honestly it's not as incorrect as it appears. Y'all's is a double contraction that's commonly spoken south of the Mason Dixon line, and if you're writing true southern dialect it's bound to crop up. Do you know exactly what it means? 

Just extend it to find out. We know that y'all is you all, so what does it mean when you add the new apostrophe and and s to the word? The same thing it always means -- it's possessive.

Y'all's refers to something that belongs to you all. For example, I could have said Robby and Johnny, y'all's lunch is getting cold instead, and it would still be correct. If something belongs to more than one and I'm addressing those owners directly, the thing becomes y'all's

Some sources might argue with me on that one; they say the possessive form of the word is more properly spelled y'alls. Some grammarians compare y'all's to its, which is a possessive form that does not have an apostrophe. It's one of those confusing rules of English. However, according to the urban dictionary (the authority on such things), the word is properly spelled out as y'all's. I find this to be the less confusing spelling, at any rate, because you can look at it and figure out exactly what you're doing. Start deleting apostrophes arbitrarily, and you're bound to get yourself screwed up.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Books on Film: Robin Hood

At some point, everyone gets exposed to the heroic tale of Robin Hood. Everyone's heard at least one version of it, or seen one of the many movie adaptations. The story of the bandit who robs from the rich and gives to the poor is so old, and it's been re-told so much, no one really know just where it comes from...or whether or not it's true. But a great many brave souls have written books, and turned them into films, in order to depict this hero.

Only a few have done it well. 


The Story

The oldest recorded mention of Robin Hood can be found in a 15th century poem. It references "Robyn hode in scherewode stod," which becomes Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest. A 16th century reference places Robin in Loxley near South Yorkshire, an area that's been associated with Robin dating as far back as 1422. Records do indicate that a man named Robin Hood lived around Wakefield, Yorkshire, in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Piers Plowman created the first "rhymes of Robin Hood" known to exist, from the late 14th century, but these have not survived. Others referenced them in the 15th and 16th centuries, long enough for history to be blurry. In the earliest versions of the story Robin is known for being an excellent archer and a sworn enemy to the Sheriff of Nottingham. Little John, the Miller's son and Will Scarlet all appear in early versions of the legend.

Over the centuries, Robin Hood's legend grew. Even Shakespeare referenced Robin Hood in his works. The first printed version of the tale is A Gest of Robyn Hode, circa 1475. It's more a collection of short stories than a full-length novel, each one playing out like an episode.  


The earliest plays about Robin were written in the late 1500s. The first novel about the hero was created in 1883, when Howard Pyle wrote The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. It's this version that solidifies Robin's reputation as a philanthropist who takes from the wealthy to give to the less fortunate. This novel also made him a contemporary of King Richard (the Lionheart).

It's an image he still has today.

In The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, the reader follows Robin's path to becoming a famous outlaw. He gets into a conflict in the forest and begins recruiting merry men while evading the authorities. Robin and Little John battle with staffs, he meets Friar Tuck and he continuously battles the Sheriff of Nottingham. At the end of the novel, Robin and his men receive a royal pardon from the returning King Richard (who's been away at the Crusade).

It was Pyle's first novel, and a deviation from the original ballads. In the earliest versions of the story, Robin isn't the good guy -- he's just a thief and a bad-tempered one at that. The book was a huge hit, and it cemented Robin's more heroic image for all the succeeding generations.

The story is so well-known, the legend so entertaining, it very naturally lends itself to adaptation. By the time the novel appeared, Robin Hood had already appeared in poetry and plays...so why not in film, too?

The Film(s)

The very first film adaptation of the story happened way, way back in 1908. A silent English short film, Robin Hood and his Merry Men features Robin as a former earl and a pretty Maid Marian who loves him anyway. America made their own version, titled simply Robin Hood, in 1912. This 30-minute version includes characters like Friar Tuck and the villainous sheriff, in addition to Robin and Marian. Not to be outdone, the Brits made another silent film in 1912, this time called Robin Hood Outlawed


Lots more movies followed. Three more were made in 1913. One was Ivanhoe, one of the more popular versions of the story. But Robin Hood wouldn't gain real movie fame until 1922, when he was Douglas Fairbanks. Fairbanks was one of the biggest silent film stars of all time, and this version is still considered to be a classic. It had the biggest sets Hollywood had ever built, up to that point, and incredible action scenes involving swordfighting, Castle-climbing and all sorts of other thrilling moments.

But talkies were invented, and the story had to be adapted again...and again and again and again. More feature-length Robin Hood films followed in 1946, 1948, 1950 and 1951. Three Robin Hood movies were made in 1952 alone, one a live-action joint by Disney, who would go on to make a much more definitive version of the story later. It was turned into film again in 1954, 1959, 1960, 1962 and a 1964 version moves Robin to 1930s Chicago and stars Frank Sinatra as "Robbo" (I'm not kidding).
     
 Someone has made a Robin Hood film pretty much every single year since. Some are unwatchable, some are good...only a handful are worth mentioning.
 

The 1973 version of Robin Hood, made by Disney, is undoubtedly one of the best ever. It was actually a low-budget production for the megastudio. The 21st animated feature the studio produced, this version of the story turned Robin and all his pals into animals who act a great deal like us. Alan-a-Dale appears as a rooster who narrates the tale, and Robin's heroic reputation is fully intact. In the end, Robin gets his royal pardon and goes off to marry the lovely Maid Marian.



But it wasn't until 1991 that someone created the film version of the story. A box office monster and star-studded action fest, Robin Hood:Prince of Thieves starred Kevin Costner as the title character and I personally hate it. I'll never forgive Costner for not at least attempting an English accent of any kind. And Christian Slater? It's an insult to moviegoers. Still, this is considered one of the best versions of the story and it's one of the few to feature Will Scarlet (the aforementioned Slater), though he's been Robin's companion since the 1400s.

This time, Robin isn't just a nobleman but a Crusader. He joined King Richard, who was famously separated from his men and captured before he could get home. This time, Robin is given a Saracen buddy that he's brought with him from Crusade and he has to deal with a witch instead of just a crooked sheriff. In this version, Will Scarlet is Robin's half-brother (oddly). But the ending does remain intact: King Richard shows up to pardon Robin just as he's marrying his lady love, Maid Marian.

An ambitious version of the story was created with Russell Crowe in the lead in 2010. This time, Robin Longstride (Crowe) is an archer in King Richard's army and a veteran of the Third Crusade. He returns home with friends Little John, Allan A'Dayle and Will Scarlett, but runs into all sorts of problems. When he makes a promise to Robert Loxley to return a sword, things start to get all mixed up.

Robin assumes Loxley's identity and returns to a homeland in turmoil, as King John has now assumed the throne. This film doesn't end with a pardon for Robin. In a deviation from the original novel, King John labels him as an outlaw for life instead.

Which One's the Best?

And they're all good films, I'm sure, but if you want to see the very best adaptation of Robin Hood that ever was made, you'll get the one from 1938. It's the only one with Errol Flynn, and that makes it the only one worth watching. 


The Adventures of Robin Hood is the clear winner when it comes to film adaptations (sorry, Disney). This swashbuckling epic was filmed in stunning Technicolor. Errol's real-life love interest Olivia de Havilland (perhaps better-known to moviegoers as Melanie Hamilton from Gone With the Wind) played Marian and the incomparable Claude Rains rounds out the cast. 

Richard the Lionheart has been taken captive by the Austrians (historically accurate) and Prince John has assumed power. Taxes have been raised, and the people are discontent. All of this reflects the real history. Only Robin, Earl of Locksley, opposes him. The archer even boldly goes right to the castle to insult John to his face, then eludes all of his men in an impressive bit of heroics. It's enough to impress the watching Maid Marian, anyway.


Robin flees to Sherwood Forest with friend Will Scarlet. Together they meet Little John, who spars with Robin. Soon enough Robin meets Friar Tuck and the band of Merry Men is complete.

It's a heck of a good movie, and Flynn is the definitive Robin Hood. He became indelibly associated with the role, and he and his Maid Marian would go on to star in 4 more movies together. The flick won three Oscars, and was nominated for Best Picture. It pays decent enough homage to the 19th-century novel and captures much of the flavor of the original Robin Hood legend, and it's one version you absolutely shouldn't miss.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

From the Trenches: Going It Alone

Being great doesn't mean you're going to be successful. There have been lots of great writers who still had to work hard before their words were read. Sometimes, it takes a long time for everyone else to realize just how great you are. 


Walt Whitman had something to share, and he decided that he was going to share it. He's arguably the most famous American poet...and he was a self-published author. 

Lighting the Fire

Walt Whitman was born Walter in 1819 Long Island. He was one of 9, and called Walt so he wouldn't be confused with his father. They had severe financial difficulties, and Walt would later recall his childhood as being unhappy. He finished his school at age 11 and began working for a living. 

Young Walt worked for lawyers as an office boy, and later worked on the printing machines for local newspapers. He learned how the machines worked and picked up typesetting. Whitman continued to gravitate toward the written word when looking for work. He accepted a job working for an editor at a major paper, and sent some of his own poetry anonymously to the New York Mirror. He moved to New York, but financial trouble in the city made it hard for him to find work. Eventually he moved back to Long Island and began teaching, but was ultimately unhappy with the work.

He continued to work in the papers and eventually worked his way into editorial positions. And like many authors, he read. Whitman would later say that he was "simmering, simmering, simmering." All the poems were burning slowly away inside him. It took another poet to set it all ablaze. He read The Poet, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 1844. It called for a new and unique poet from the United States to step forward.

So Walt Whitman did. As he said, "Emerson brought me to a boil." 

He went to work. And in May 1855, he went to the clerk at the United States District Court in New Jersey to register the title Leaves of Grass. Like many self-published authors, he had to buy his own copyright. Luckily, he knew people in the printing business. Whitman next went to Fulton Street in Brooklyn, where two of his friends owned a small printing shop. Walt knew typesetting from his experience in the newspaper business, so he did most all of that himself.

It didn't sell very well. He worked for years on that collection of poems, and had enough gumption to get his own copyright and do his own printing and self-published the darned thing, besides. When sales were few and decidedly tepid, Whitman could have easily given up. 


He didn't. The very first edition of Leaves of Grass was 95 pages long, with 12 poems that had no names. Whitman made it small enough, he said later, to fit in one's pocket. He hoped that it would make people want to "take me along with them and read me in the open air." He printed up 800, 200 with covers made of green cloth. There is only one library in the US known to have purchased one of these first editions. It's in Philadelphia.

One copy was sent to Ralph Waldo Emerson, whom Whitman admired. Emerson praised it, and sent a letter back to Whitman complimenting the work. It was enough to fuel Walt's fire to write and succeed. He produced edition number 2, now 384 pages in length. It had a pretty cover this time, and was priced at one dollar.

He relentlessly perfected his work, something to which all self-published authors can probably relate. Whitman added titles to his poems, then began to write more poems. He re-arranged them and then did it again. Some he removed altogether. He published so many different versions of the book, in fact, scholars still aren't clear on just how many times Leaves was revamped. Depending on the source, Whitman created 9 editions. Others say there were only 6.


By 1860, he'd snagged a publisher. Unfortunately, shortly after they produced their edition of the work the company declared bankruptcy, and they were unable to pay him. Whitman got around $250, and the original plates were sent to a different publisher in Boston. This resulted in a new edition, 456 pages in length.

More editions would come out, and many more years would go by, before Whitman was prepared to be finished with the book. He created his final edition in 1891 and declared in a letter to a friend that it was "at last complete."

It now had nearly 400 poems. Like previous editions, the last carried an updated photo of Walt Whitman -- looking distinguished this time with a full beard.

Leaves got a lot of heavy criticism; perhaps this is why Whitman was intent on perfecting it. One critic said that Whitman should have burned the book after writing it, and one critic called the book "a mass of stupid filth" in a newspaper. Whitman printed one of his bad reviews in the second edition of Leaves of Grass.

Walt Whitman wrote in the poetry trenches every single day, and never stopped. He died shortly after completing his final edition of the book, just when he'd finally finished...if he ever really thought he had. He relentlessly perfected and polished his craft, and always tried to improve upon what he'd done in the past. Today, Leaves of Grass sells thousands of copies every single year. It's studied in classrooms and quoted among word lovers, recited in public and re-posted online. Whitman has now been dead over 100 years, and most critics agree when it comes to his now-famous collection of poetry.

It's pretty perfect.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Want to Self-Publish? Time to Toughen Up

Think you're ready to self-publish your book? You may have checked all the punctuation and proofread all the grammar and done all the careful converting...that doesn't mean you're ready. Maybe you've got a great cover and a winning blurb, a fantastic trailer and an amazing marketing game plan. And I say you're still not ready. You're not ready to self-publish until you're tough enough to take it. 

Are you? 


Sticks and Stones...

"Good God, I can't publish this!" 

One publisher wrote these words in a rejection letter sent to William Faulkner, celebrated novelist and frequent Jeopardy answer. Some rejection letters aren't even this nice. 

"The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help." This was in a letter sent to J.G. Ballard, author of Empire of the Sun and one of the Times Greatest 50 British Writers Since 1945.

Here's the rub: neither of those authors self-published. If you think rejection letters are bad, wait until you get some reviews from your fellow indies. 

When you self-publish, you're putting yourself out there. That means that you're making yourself vulnerable. And there are going to be times when you honestly feel like you're being abused for doing so. If you're playing the game correctly, you're going to get negative reviews. There's an old saying that says you can't please all of the people all of the time. When you're an indie author, you're going to have days where you feel like you can't please anyone.

And it's going to hurt.

You're Rubber, and I'm Glue  

"Obvious, saccharine mockery of a novel." 

"I advise and suggest that nobody dare pick up this book. You may die of boredom." 

"It's not even good. The characters are black and white two-dimensional cardboard cutouts." 

"I could not say I was entertained in the least bit." 

"It sucked."

These are not reviews that have been given to me (whew!) or, in fact, any other indie author. These quotes are taken directly from Amazon reviews of To Kill a Mockingbird, voted by the Huffington Post as the best novel ever written. Harper Lee won a Pultizer for it, and the AFI has lauded the film version of it as one of the best movies of all-time. 

So maybe Harper Lee, if the author was still around today, would find it easy to laugh off reviews like the ones I've quoted above. When you're an indie and you don't have a bunch of accolades to soften the blow, comments like these can be incredibly traumatic. 

Unless you toughen yourself up. Because it's likely that if you stick around long enough, you're going to see comments like this attached to your book -- if you're lucky. Always remember that all bad comments are really good comments. Why? Because someone ready your bloody book, that's why! Not only did they read it, they took the time to comment on it. 

That should always make you feel good. Forget about what's being said, for a minute, and think back to the days when no one ever read what you had to write. When you were sitting at your keyboard plugging away, and nobody ever re-tweeted your book announcements or asked you about your next project. When no one ever bought your books, because they didn't exist. 

Even Pulitzer prize-winning authors can be mocked, ridiculed and viciously slammed on the Internet. Here's the big secret: they already got ridiculed and mocked well before someone logged onto Amazon to write about it. Didn't the rejection letters I quoted prove anything? Agents and publishers can be nasty, too, and everyone's got friends and family members who are going to tell you the truth...no matter what. 

When you put yourself out there, you are going to get hit. Sometimes the people may throw roses at your feet, and cry out that your writing is wonderful. But sometimes, they're going to throw rotten eggs. If your ego is wounded and your tears fall every single time an egg gets tossed your way, it's time to toughen up.

If you've read anything in my From the Trenches features, you know that some authors have to battle for years and years before becoming published. Those years absolutely aren't criticism-free. One famous writer has an entire room full of rejection letters -- in the museum that's now dedicated to his honor. Every one of those letters probably stung, every one of them was a defeat. Some authors stay tough and keep going. 

And that's what you're going to have to do, too. Remember that every review and every criticism helps you. No matter how much those words hurt, they're wonderful. More than knowing what you're doing right, it's important to know what you're doing wrong -- at least, as far as some readers are concerned. How else are you going to improve and perfect your craft? How else are you going to win over more readers? 

So toughen up, and tuck in. Welcome criticism with open arms. The more of it you take in, the stronger your writing is going to become. I promise, you'll be better for it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Writing 101: Local Marketing

As a modern indie author, it's easy to get bogged down in the online community. The Internet allows self-published authors all over the world to connect and share, to offer up excerpts and promote themselves 24/7. It's important to use social media and other online methods to spread the word about your books, but you shouldn't limit your marketing scope. When you want to sell more books and spread the word about what you've got to offer...think smaller. Local marketing is a great way to promote your work and get more experience with being a self-published author.


What's Nearby? 

We all love Twitter, and I personally spend way too much time there. But every so often you've got to log out and get up. Go outside, and look around. You'll find lots of local marketing opportunities.

And don't worry -- I'm only kidding. You can still do some of it while you're sitting on the couch. 
  • Local libraries. Contact your local library about potentially carrying print versions of your book. If they're not having it (and it's a lot of time and trouble to make that happen, so don't feel bad), you can offer your services in a different way. Offer to participate in or even sponsor writer's workshops, and share your experiences with self-publishing with others who want to learn the craft. Libraries often hold community events, and they're looking for promotional opportunities just like everyone else.
  • Local papers. Contact your local newspapers, and the smaller the better. Many small towns have their own papers, and if you live anywhere nearby you should send them an email. Offer up excerpts of your work, or maybe an op-ed piece about the world of self-publishing, or any other thing they might be interested in. Tell them you're also available for interviews, and when you first publish your book make it a point to send out press releases to these small papers with all the pertinent information. There's no reason you can't offer review copies of your work while you're making your inquiries, as well.
  • Local schools and colleges. Contact your local schools, colleges and universities. Offer to visit during career day or another special event, and talk to students about writing and being an author. There are many students out there who wish to be writers, and you might have a lot to offer. Before you call, have a very clear presentation in mind. Craft outlines of speeches that take 15, 30 and 60 minutes, and have very clear ideas about your availability to come and speak. 
  • Local radio and television. Contact your local radio and television stations and let them know about your achievements and your availability for interviews. The worst they can do is laugh. Local radio especially may be interested in an engaging and insightful guest, so have a captivating topic to offer them. Talk about digital publishing, modern mystery writing, or something else that brings out your best and your personal knowledge.
  • Local bookstores. Call local bookstores while you're at it, and offer to do signings, readings and/or workshops. Small and locally-owned bookstores are likely to be much more amenable to local self-published authors; big chains are a little dicier but it's worth a shot. You can make phone calls and send out emails in-between Tweets.
  • Don't show up empty-handed. If you do get yourself booked, don't show up empty handed. Print up bookmarks, postcards, flyers and other take-home items that have information about you, your books, your website, and anything else you might be trying to promote.
Local marketing is often ignored by indies because the business (and the world) is extremely Internet-oriented. But don't ever underestimate the power of getting out there and getting in front of people. Personal charm and charisma can go a long, long way toward selling books. Your name and your face are a whole lot easier to remember if you're out there shaking hands and introducing yourself (and shoving bookmarks in those hands while you're at it). Word-of-mouth is always, beyond any doubt, the best possible promotion. It doesn't matter if those mouths are on Facebook a thousand miles away or right down the street. Once word starts to spread, it has the power to go all around the world...even if it starts on your block.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Writing 101: Learn How to Research

I've made no secret of the fact that I think strong research is the cornerstone of any book. I've written about map-making, and learning about your setting, and making an effort to get details that bring added realism to books. 


But I've never told you how to do it. Learn how to research to use your writing time efficiently, and to avoid gathering a bunch of facts that aren't actually true. 

How to Research Anything

Thanks to the Internet, there's pretty much no question you can't answer -- and thanks to my varied writing style and somewhat morbid curiosity, I know that to be true. I once went on an odyssey to learn about writing tools during the 1800s (because who knows when the pen was invented, right off the top of their head?), so I've already been through every painful research experience you might imagine. 
  • Phrasing. Obviously your first stop is your favorite search engine, but once you get there things can start to get out of control pretty quickly. It's really hard to get too specific when you're researching a particular period of history, setting or fact. Start out extremely specific, and become more general if you're not finding what you need. You might need to enter the same information in multiple ways in order to find a good mix of sites that promise to offer the information you need. Open up a bunch of sites; don't go through them one-by-one and jump back and forth between new sites and the search engine. Load up those tabs until you've got quite a few, and then keep going with your research. 
  • Consider the source. You can't be too picky when you're researching, either. Information you get from the History Channel website is more valuable than information gathered from Bob's Page, even if the data is identical. Why? Because Bob might not tell you where he'd getting his information; the History Channel will cite their sources. Look for citations, because those websites can be taken a bit more seriously than stuff you find on Becky's Blog. University websites, well-known magazines, not-for-profit TV stations (like PBS) and encyclopedias are all extremely trustworthy, and you can generally trust the information you find here...but not enough to use a single source.
  • Multiple sources. It's not a fact unless you can find the same information on multiple sources. If you're researching information about the types of trees that grow in the northwest United States, for example, you can't just use the Arbor Day website and call it a day. You also need to go to National Geographic, the World Almanac and other sites that might offer the same information. It's not a fact unless more than one source is reporting it - remember that. The rule is three. If you can find three sources that say oak trees grow in Washington, then you can add oak trees to your book. I personally have used only two sources before, but only in cases where both sources are impeccable (encyclopedias, for example).
  • Wikipedia is not a source. The information in Wikipedia is always suspect. If comedians on television can convince their fans to go on Wikipedia and change facts (and I know it happens because I've participated), then you can't use Wikipedia. At least, not the information. Wikipedia does often include a list of links with each entry, and this is a good place to look for sources if search engines aren't yielding anything useful.
  • Finding. That sounds time-consuming. And make no mistake, doing a lot of solid researching can seriously take a chunk out of your time. Speed up the process by using the built-in search functions you've already got. Go to the Edit menu in your browser toolbar and type in a specific word or phrase. Simply search for this word or phrase on the websites you're checking, instead of reading massive blocks of text to find the little nuggets of data you're after. 
  • Keeping track. You're not doing yourself any good unless you're actually taking notes when you're researching. I like to keep notepad open so I can copy and paste text from Internet pages without copying any weird code along with it. If you paste your stuff directly into a word processing program, you're running the risk of crashing and you're going to wind up with a multi-colored document that looks like a font parade. Once you've got your information copied, you can simply weed out the extraneous stuff you don't need and create readable notes.
When you know how to research, there's nothing you can't find out. How do police officers dust for fingerprints? How are court trials conducted? How long does it take to suffocate someone to death? If I can find answers to questions like this (I'm a mystery writer, so forgive the weirdness of those queries), you can definitely learn about vegetation, world history, what type of fish swim in that river and whether or not there was an earthquake in California in July 1983. Accurate facts and rich detail will only improve your story...and you can never improve your story too much.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Writing 101: Do You Need an Epilogue?

Some writers use epilogues like final chapters in their books...but this is an abuse. Like prologues, epilogues are entities unto themselves. Treat them that way, and you'll end up writing them the right way.


At the End...

By the time you get to the epilogue, the book is essentially over. The story should already have its own beginning and ending that takes place within the chapters of your tale. An epilogue shouldn't be tacked on at the end to bring resolution to the story -- because you should have done that already in your final scene, within the pages of the book. Epilogues are there to do something more than finish the story.
  • The longer ending. If the book ends on a particularly abrupt note -- a character dies, for example -- you may wish to include an epilogue to provide a lengthier wrap-up of the aftermath. This is especially important if the end of the story doesn't provide a conclusion or follow-up. For example, what happens to the characters left behind after the death? Some epilogues may skip ahead several years to tell readers what eventually happened to the characters, or a single character, in the book.
  • The continuation. If the book is part of a series, epilogues can be especially helpful. You'll want to open the door to whatever action is going to take place in the next book, and let readers know that the story is going to continue in a new installment. In this case, the epilogue should set the stage for the next book and the next part of the story.
  • The style. If you write one, make sure the epilogue reflects the same style of writing as the prologue. Usually, it's best if the prologue and the epilogue both match the general tone and voice of the remainder of the book. The prologue and/or epilogue are only written in a different style or from a different POV when they're wholly separate from the rest of the story. This may happen if the story is narrated by one character, and a supporting character narrates the prologue and epilogue.
Epilogues add on to, or continue, the story that's already been told. They aren't final chapters, and they should never be treated like they are. It helps to think of prologues and epilogues as bookends. They hold together the meat of the story, and serve as a way to cap off the plot that takes place. Do you need one in your book? If you read your story and it feels unsatisfying, adding an epilogue can add that feeling and provide the conclusion it may be lacking.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Why You Have to Read the Whole Book

 Whether you're aware of it or not, you're sort of reviewing every single book you've ever read, whether in whole or in part. Don't you form an opinion about the writing, the pace, the characters and the plot as you're flipping pages? You may never tell anyone what you thought of the book, but you're still creating a review in your head for yourself -- notes and remembrances that will spring to mind every time you think of that book in the future. If you're an indie author, there's a good chance that the review you create will take a much more literal form. You can easily find yourself with a long TBR (to-be reviewed) list and a lot of responsibiliies and agreements to read other self-published books. 


And believe me, I know that it's tempting to cut corners. But there are some really good reasons why you have to read the whole book if you're going to review it and share that review with others. I know there are good reasons, because I've gone through some pretty bad experiences that taught me pretty well.

All or Nothing

When I first self-published my first book (Justice), I began reading forums for indie authors pretty quickly. I wanted to connect with others like myself and learn from their experiences. I fell into a review swap agreement right away. It was my first trial as an indie author...and my first important lesson. 
  • Review responsibilities.
I committed myself, and I did take that commitment seriously. But I didn't know what I was agreeing to in the beginning; meaning I agreed to swap before even looking at the other author's book. Do NOT do this. I found out that I had agreed to read a book about religious subject matter, which I have never and will never do again so do not ask. 

It's not my particular slice of pie, and after about 25 percent I felt strongly that I had a really good grasp of the writer's style and the main characters in the story. Basically, I had enough information to write a review about the book's premise, the author's narrative voice and the mechanics of the writing. I'm certain I'd have done a great job of writing that review, too, and I nearly went ahead and did so.

Something stopped me. I decided to read just a little bit more to find out more about the story, even though I wasn't particularly interested in the story. At 50 percent, something stopped me again. I discovered something extremely offensive in the book, and it was a deal-breaker. I knew right then and there that I could never, would never, promote this book in any way -- not even to uphold my responsibility. And that brings us right to lesson two. 
  • Over the line
Funny that I should brag about stopping a book at 50 percent in a post that's all about reading until the end, right? I can appreciate the irony as much as you, but there's a point to the story and a method to the madness. There is a line when you're reviewing, and you know where it's at. When a book crosses that line, that's when it's okay to stop but that's also when you've made the decision not to review the work. You can't review it if you don't read all of it, and that's because of what I discovered: you never know when or how an author will surprise you. You might love a book, and when you're 99 percent finished the author writes something that's just over the line. If you decided to write the review at 75 percent completion, you are now supporting 100 percent of the work (unless you're writing the review to denounce the book completely and you make it clear that you didn't even finish, of course, but I find this unkind and I believe many other authors would as well). And even if your review is wholly negative, you're still contributing to its publicity. 

You know how I feel about reviews: there's no such thing as a bad one. The more incendiary and negative a review, the more compelling that book will become to certain people. So read all of it, because whenever you talk about it or write about it you are supporting it in some way. 
  • Small taste.
There's another reason why you have to read the whole book: plots unfold slowly. You can't really get a complete grasp of the plot until you read all of it, from beginning to end. This allows you to put every part of the book into its proper perspective. Without that perspective, you are going to walk away with a skewed vision of that book. What you think of the book could end up being wildly different than your friend, who did read the whole thing. You can read just a small portion of a book and walk away from it, and your impressions will be so vastly different from others it's almost like you read a completely different book. 

I was on the other end of a situation like this one. I send out a lot of review requests, because I believe in them, and I was feeling particularly confident one sunny afternoon this summer. Confident enough to toss my book on the table for the 7,500 word challenge. If you're not familiar with it, it's a particular blog where the reviewer reads only the first 7,500 words of every book they review. They make it plain that this is what they are doing to all readers and authors, so I knew what to expect. 

I just wasn't prepared for it, that's all. Turns out, the first 7,500 words of my book take place before my big twist and before the main character's entire life falls apart (which is the entire meat of the entire story and really, the entire series). So I end up getting back a review that I felt wasn't really reflective of my work at all, and maybe I cried a little (I'm human, okay?), and that definitely isn't one of the reviews you'll find re-posted here on the blog (because I spent a long time pretending that particular review didn't exist and today marks the one and only time, to date, that I have ever mentioned it in any forum). I wanted to write to the blogger and beg them to read the entire book, but that wasn't the deal, was it? 

Now, imagine how broken up I'd be about it if the reviewer never told me they weren't going to finish the book.

All or Nothing, Again

If you've ever created anything, you know how it feels. I get myself bent out of shape if someone doesn't take the time to read my entire email, and it stings when I know someone didn't finish my book for some reason or another. If you're going to review it as a whole, you owe it to the author to read it as a whole. The minute you stop reading, you decided not to create that review. And that's okay. Because unless you can look at the whole picture, I as a review reader don't want to see a tiny snapshot.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: The Gaze

I was wasting time on Goodreads one day when, somehow or other, I ended up reading the blurb for The Gaze. It was amazing! I was so drawn to the story upon reading it, I sent the author a message right then and there and actually asked him if he would let me review the book. That was at the beginning of the summer. I started the book in June and finished it last night...just a few days before autumn will officially begin. 


The Gaze is beautifully written. Javier Robayo definitely knows how to turn a phrase, so to speak. The dialogue is smooth and true; I can actually hear the characters talking when I'm reading it. The narrative is powerful and strong. Robayo knows which words to choose.

But, he does choose too many. It took me a long time to read The Gaze because The Gaze is just too long. There are a lot of scenes that flash back to the past and a lot of scenes of the main character doing nothing much at all. For a rather hefty chunk of the story, I felt like I had two options: I could read about a woman in agonizing detail as she screws around on Facebook, wanders around her bedroom and wastes time -- or, I could just go back to being that woman. Time was getting sucked out of my life, needlessly, either way. 

There are a lot of scenes of Sam, the main character, on Facebook. There is a lot of detail about the various conversations she's having there. I think a lot of us know what it is to waste time on Facebook, so I felt like some of these scenes were needlessly added.

Mostly,  I just wanted to get back to the main story because it was fairly gripping. Sam is young, troubled and hopelessly entangled in her own past. I really identified with that. At the start of the story, she meets a young man in the restaurant where she works as a waitress. He's also young, and troubled, and he writes a beauiful, heart-wrenching love poem on a paper placemat. It's pathetic, and it speaks to Samantha right away. It leads to an encounter between the two. She takes him home, and seduces him, even though it's clear his heart will never be hers. 

It leads to a downward spiral. Years later, Sam is college educated, and gorgeous, and living in the big city. She works as a book editor, because she's been drawn to fiction ever since that chance encounter. And she's a miserable wreck. Still pining for Tony, she's come out of a very toxic relationship on the wrong end of a vodka bottle and her only family in the world is gone. She has one close friend, an Englishman named Lewis who loves being the life of the party. Despite the career and the looks she's got, Sam is 100 percent screwed up. Frankly, I didn't care for her or for her friend Lewis, either. She's clearly an alcoholic, extremely low-functioning, and during their early interactions he's well aware of her problem and still taking her to raves and clubs. He's an enabler and it's despicable, but Sam has a true problem that stems from deep emotional pain. I didn't hate her because she was an alcoholic. I hated her because she was on Facebook. 

In a move that I'm sure many other women (especially those who have had their cups refilled too many times one night) can relate to, Sam goes searching for Tony on Facebook. And she finds him. She finds the mysterious woman from the placemat, too, Tony's love that he wrote about so beautifully. Her name is Gwen, and she's gorgeous. She's got blonde hair and a perfect smile...and Tony. They're married. They have two beautiful daughters. 

Most self-respecting women at this point would go ahead and drink a little more, call Gwen some names and maybe imagine that she has webbed toes or forty extra pounds in her rear or a back covered with legions (one can only hope). Samantha isn't a self-respecting woman. She ends up befriending Gwen instead, enticing her with hints that she had some connection to Tony in the past, and sets about to destroy the relationship in a hazily subconcious/concious fashion. 

They become best friends, Sam and Gwen (betcha didn't see that coming), and you'll spend the next 25 percent of the book learning what it's like to spend a whole lot of time on Facebook. Eventually things start to happen. A great deal of the past is revealed, perhaps too much, and Sam ends up seeing Tony again. Does she meet Gwen? Does she steal the guy from the blonde wife? Can we find a reason to hate the blonde wife? You'll have to read it yourself. 

Just don't say I didn't warn you about the length, because I did (don't stop following me on Facebook because of this book!). The grammar is good, so you know I love that, and Robayo has mastered the mechanics of writing itself. He doesn't use the wrong words or screw up his punctuation, but there are some proofreading errors and weird formatting issues you'll have to watch out for. 

But if you want a story with a strong narrative about chance meetings and how they shape us, being mired in the past and how that can stop us, and how not letting go can wreck us, you'll probably adore The Gaze, flaws and all. I know I set the bar pretty high, but there's a chance you can beat my three-month reading record and complete the book quicker than I did.