Your Book Reviews Are In

I’ve been to the future. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Quintuple-stuff Oreos. The reanimation of Walt Disney*. Laundry robots. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.

And the reviews for your novel. No, not the one you’re writing now, the next one. The one you’re certain is the best possible work you could ever do. (Wait, don’t scrap the one you’re currently writing. It’s the best possible work you could ever do. For now.)

The Time Lords wouldn’t let me bring back a laundry robot, but they couldn’t stop me from memorizing what people will say about your novel. Here are just a few of the reviews. Most came from Amazon.com. Yeah, they totally own the future. I can’t tell you more or they’ll suspend my Kindle-reading privileges in the now.

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[Five Stars] Brilliant!!!! The best book I’ve read in like, forever!! I mean it, seriously. The plot is perfect. The characters are perfect. The font is perfect. It’s like, if Twilight (remember that?) had been written by Hemingway or Steinway or whatever that guy’s name was. It is totally. That. Good. Buy it. Right now. Did I mention how brilliant this book is?

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by a total stranger who said I could keep it only if I promised to give a totally unbiased review. I’m pretty sure “unbiased” means “really positive.” But if I got that wrong, well, then I’d probably rate it three stars. I didn’t like the font that much.

 

[One Star] Don’t. Bother. The characters were thinner than the paper books used to be printed on. The plot has a hole bigger than the one in the ozone layer. (And that’s really big, because this is the future and the ozone layer is practically depleted.) I really wanted to give the book a chance because of all the “unbiased” five-star reviews, but apparently all these five-star reviewers think “un-biased” means “totally inaccurate and obnoxiously hyperbolic.” Check out this excerpt from page 49:

She grabbed the wheel from Jack and held on like she’d invented it.

I mean…seriously? Who writes this crap? I’d have given this zero stars, but I feel it’s only fair to acknowledge the hard work of writing a book. The author probably gave up an entire November to write it. One star for commitment. Zero for content.

 

[Four Stars] Loved this book. After a strong start (the scene by the newspaper kiosk was perfect), I was completely taken by Hannah and Jack. They reminded me of my real life story (apart from Hannah killing her father and all the time-traveling, of course). When Hannah lost Jack the third time my heart started racing and I just had to check and see what percentage of the book I’d read. I was praying there was at least another ten percent – enough for Jack to come back. Thankfully, I was only at 83 percent. The next seven percent or so was probably the weakest part of the story, but the last ten percent? Totally worth it. I can only hope this wasn’t the best possible work the author ever will do. I want more. Oh, and I almost forgot: spoiler alert.

 

[Zero Stars] The file I got was all screwed up. I couldn’t even read it. Digital books suck.

 

[Three Stars ] Solid, if unspectacular novel. I mean, it was good for what it is – a time-traveling love story. But nothing will ever be as good as The Time Traveler’s Wife. While this one might have had fewer factual errors (everyone knows you can’t meet yourself in the past – that just screws everything up), the characters didn’t do it for me. I believed Jack’s story, but Hannah seemed more like a petulant child than a heartbroken lover. The action scenes are great, though. The author really knows her way around Union Station. I felt like I was right there. Overall, it was a decent escape, worth the price of digital but definitely not one I’d get in heirloom paper.

 

[Five Stars] Best book I’ve ever read. And I don’t even like time-traveling romances!

Disclaimer: I’m the author’s mother. She’s almost exactly like the character Hannah. Apart from the time traveling, of course. Her father would have been proud. We miss him.

 

[Two Stars] I haven’t read it yet, but from what I hear, it’s like Twilight except without vampires or werewolves. So what’s the point?

 

[Four Stars] Actually, four and a half stars. Wonderful story. Creative plot. Characters I actually care about. What else could a reader want? It did get bogged down in unnecessary details at about the halfway point, but I can accept a little Crichton-ization if the overal story is compelling. This one is. And the writing? Check this sentence out:

She grabbed the wheel from Jack and held on like she’d invented it.

I dare you not to fall in love with Hannah.

Highly recommended.

_________

 You’re welcome.


*Walt was visibly upset when told about Disney’s purchase of Miramax but calmed down after he learned about Pixar.

The Table in the Corner

There is a table in the corner of a small cafe where The Writer sits. It is a table for two, but one seat always remains empty, waiting.

The table is next to a bookcase. The books there are dusty, but not forgotten. They have earned their dust. The ghosts would agree.

The ghosts often sit in the empty chair, listening. Nodding sympathetically when they’re not nodding off. They understand the dust. Sometimes they draw their names in it.

“It’s not easy,” they whisper. “This writing thing.”

The Writer often responds aloud. “You’re telling me.” Someone at a nearby table will glance over, then quickly look away. A stymied writer is more frightening than ghosts.

The Writer spends a lot of time staring at the books. Dreaming. Worrying. Lost. Frustrated. Wondering how to get there from here.

“Don’t worry about there,” the ghosts will whisper. “Just work on the here.”

The Writer doesn’t always listen to the ghosts. Or trust them. When she doesn’t, the table is just a table like any other, a resting place for coffee that’s just a drink and a laptop that’s just a distraction.

But when she listens – when she hears – the table becomes a place of magic. The coffee is elixer. The computer is a portal. The ghosts drum their fingers and the words dance.

If someone looks over then, into the alchemy, they won’t turn away. They can’t. Instead, they pause, attentive to mystery. Curious, aching to know. Longing for story.

Then The Writer will look up to the bookcase, to the name scribbled in the dust – their own – and smile.

“Not yet,” she will say. “But soon.”

Because The Writer is writing.

 

 

The Worst Book Ever. Or Not.

“Coldplay sucks!”

I had my car window open (as required between blizzards by Colorado law). Mylo Xyloto was playing on a recently-purchased stereo that had doubled* the value of my 2000 Jetta.

I didn’t see who shouted it. Probably not the elderly woman on the sidewalk who was attached by a taut pink leash to a matching taut pink poodle. And surely not the five-year-old doing donuts on his Big Wheel in the driveway across the street.

It’s a pretty safe bet the Chris Martin hate came from someone in the huddle of teenagers admiring their generation’s ironic muscle car, a tricked out Scion tC.

I ignored the shout and passed through the Norman Rockwell scene with a vehicular shrug. (The Jetta’s suspension needs work.) But a block later I turned the volume down from 25 to 18. I told myself this was because I didn’t want to cause [further] damage to my eardrums. I even imagined calling over my shoulder, “Thanks, random hoodie-wearing teenager. I will embrace your astute observation as free healthcare.”

There’s no such thing as free healthcare. And I wasn’t concerned about my eardrums.

like listening to Mylo Xyloto with the volume at 25. Yet after hearing “Coldplay sucks!” apparently I felt 28 percent less confident of this.

I have friends who love the Twilight books. If the Twilight books were people, these friends would marry them. Or at least stalk them obsessively. Now let’s face it, you don’t have to drive down many streets before hearing shouts of “Twilight sucks!” This makes me wonder, do people who like the Twilight books** ever turn down the volume because of the shouting? What if the shout comes from a trusted friend? Or a trusted stranger who goes by the pretentious nom de plume, “noveldoctor”?

I haven’t yelled “Twilight sucks!” on this blog, but I might have made an oblique reference or two about my lack of personal love for Bella and Ed’s Excellent Adventure. (Like that, for instance.) If I’ve caused any of you to turn down the volume, I apologize. I believe strongly in value of literary (and musical) criticism, but yelling “Twilight sucks!” is not criticism. That’s just being rude.

My taste in music and books is different from yours. I’m okay with that. In fact, I celebrate it. If everyone loved the things I loved, you’d all be my soulmates. I live in a small apartment. I only have room for one soulmate. (I know she’s out there somewhere, though the restraining order remains an obstacle.)

I can’t always tell you why I don’t like something. Maybe it’s repetitive themes. Or predictable chord progressions. Maybe it’s paper thin characters or a reed thin voice. Given ample time and motivation I think I could wear the tweed jacket and smoke the tobaccoed pipe of a reasonably skilled critic and explain in more detail. But I don’t look good in tweed.

can tell you why I like Coldplay. Or books by Alice Hoffman. Or the color and smell and mystery of actual twilight, if not the book. I like these things because they remind me of a secret language I only remember when someone leads me to it. I like them because they break me into pieces or put me back together. I like them for the space between the words and for the unresolved chords.

I like these things because they linger.

That doesn’t make me a good judge of what you should or shouldn’t like. It just makes me…me.

There’s only one opinion that matters when you read, listen, watch. Yours. If you enjoy artful criticism, go ahead and soak up all you want. Then heed it or don’t.

But when you find something you love, keep the volume at 25. Don’t let someone make you feel “less” just because they don’t agree with you.

And then be thankful for the guy who can’t get enough of ABBA. Don’t shout “ABBA sucks!” Let him play it at 25.

Because honestly, do you really want that guy to be your soulmate?

 

*The stereo cost under $200. You do the math.

**I’m not just talking about Twilight. You did know that, right?


A Day in the Life of a Freelance Editor

You might think what a freelance editor does all day is worthy of a blog post. That would be a classic example of wrong thinking. But for the sake of filling this space I’m going to tell you anyway and since I just established that a freelance editor’s day isn’t all that interesting, some of the details below will be complete fabrication. Feel free to decide which ones.

6:14 AM – Get urgent phone call from Stephen King pleading with you to be his editor for the upcoming sequel to Under the Dome, provisionally titled Under an Even Bigger Dome - a project that pays by the word. Say “yes,” then mumble something stupid like “my name is Stephen too, how cool is that!”

6:33 AM – Figure out how to defeat the army of dragons that got in through the open bedroom window before they storm the poster of an Irish castle on your wall.

7:41 AM – Wake up.

7:42 AM - Check your phone to see if Stephen King called. Check the walls for scorch marks. Close the window.

8:16 AM – Go to the gym. While on the treadmill, solve a plot problem in a book you edited a year ago that’s already in bookstores. While on the stationary bike, solve a plot problem in a book you’re currently editing. Decide never to use the treadmill again.

9:24 AM – Put leftover pizza from night before in the fridge so you can throw it away next week.

9:25 AM – Eat a donut.

9:27 AM – Eat another donut.

9:30 AM – You really shouldn’t eat another donut.

9:41 AM – Shower. While in the shower, solve a plot problem in a TV show you saw last week.

10:11 AM – Arrive at your satellite office: Starbucks. Reserve a table by dropping your laptop on it despite evil stares from the 27 bestselling-authors-in-waiting in line ahead of you. Order coffee. And a donut.

10:29 AM – Open file for the novel, Nothing But Dragons. Scroll to where you left off on page 139 and begin reading. Scroll back to page 94 to see if the mage on page 139 is telling a lie on purpose or if it’s a continuity error. Determine it’s a continuity error and order another donut. Make notes about how to solve the plot problem. Resume editing.

3:30 PM – Calculate number of pages you edited per hour. Calculate number of waking hours left until your deadline next Tuesday. Divide the second number by the first and get Divide by Zero error. Google “Divide by Zero error.” Follow random link to article about the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Pray they discover time travel before Tuesday.

3:35 PM – Realize you forgot to eat lunch. Decide to eat early supper instead. Go to the same restaurant you always go to and order the same thing you always order.

4:41 PM – Return home. Settle in at your desk.

4:51 PM – Re-arrange stacks of paper and unread mail. Rearrange work schedule to find more hours in a day. Bump editorial review of Hey Look, I’m In Love With the Wrong Guy But it Will All Work Out in the End until later in the month. Email author with explanation and apology and lots of affirming words about her writing that are absolutely sincere even though later in the month you’ll send her a 12-page document describing all the things that need work.

5:22 PM – Get back to the Dragons edit. Determine that Herman the Conqueror is not conquer-y enough. Make notes to that effect and suggest solutions.

9:35 PM – Get up from your desk. Try to ignore sucking sound as the chair breathes a sigh of relief.

9:39 PM – Fix yourself a delicious, healthy snack like fresh veggies or in-season fruit.*

9:49 PM – Turn on TV to watch 11 minutes of some show you can’t remember the name of but the actress looks familiar and wait didn’t she sign a book deal last week and what’s the deal with that?

10:01 PM – Drink something besides Diet Coke while catching up on DVR’d TV shows.

11:18 PM – Wonder where the time went. Wonder where the remote went. Wonder why there’s an empty wine bottle on the TV tray.

11:27 PM – Climb into bed with your Kindle. Look longingly at the list of books you purchased and planned to read before Armageddon. Select a client’s manuscript instead. Begin reading.

1:13 AM – Close Kindle. Check date on your phone and subtract one to figure out what day it was.

1:19 AM – Fall asleep and dream of dragons who fall in love with the wrong guy but it all works out in the end.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

 

*Or just open a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis and a can of Diet Coke.

 

 

 

The Room in the Elephant

It lies on the kitchen table like a tipped tombstone, this year of late nights and early mornings, of exhilaration and frustration, of too much coffee and too few showers. The Froot Loops box is prostrate, casualty of another rushed breakfast.

The kids are out the door. The dog is bark-begging back in. The spouse is gridlocked, Van Halen blasting him into the past if only for one more exit. His parting word to you, “finally.”

You repeat the word in whisper even though you know better. This is just another beginning.

But it’s done. Your first novel. Or your tenth. Drafted, redrafted, written and re-written.

You run your finger across the title, printed in 16 point Times New Roman.

The Room in the Elephant.

You are so clever.

It’s a story about a homeless man who happens upon an abandoned carnival ride – a collection of hollowed-out metal animals that once spun riders in a perpetual parade to nowhere. He makes his home in the largest of the rusting carcasses – the elephant. And it’s from there that he begins his long, strange, courageous journey back to life.

You pull at the rubber band and let it snap. The dog stops barking and tilts his head into a question.

You tilt yours into a dozen.

Is it too different? Too literary? Not literary enough? Are the characters memorable? Believable? Will it engage readers? Bore them to tears? 

You do a mental survey of books you’ve loved. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The Road. The Art of Racing in the Rain. The Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake.

It’s not like those. Not really. Except maybe in two ways.

It is a little left of center.

But perhaps more importantly, it desperately wants to be read. Do all books?

You pick up the Froot Loops box and stand it on end. Exactly seven Froot Loops spill onto the table. You eat the three orange ones. Then the single green and the two yellow.

The purple Froot Loop looks up at you, pleading. It wants to be eaten, too.

You look from the purple Froot Loop to your manuscript.

You’ve dreamed of being a published author for decades. Ever since that first story you wrote – the sad one about the girl whose hopes of being a dancer are crushed by an unintentionally cruel comment from her mother.

There is no dream more enduring than your dream of being published.

But maybe you won’t be. Maybe it’s not your turn. Maybe it will never be your turn.

You pause on that word, “never.” You choke on it.

Agents and editors don’t owe you anything. They might love The Room in the Elephant. They might hate it. They might think it boring and unsaleable. Or brilliant and unsaleable. They might think the same of every other book you write.

You reach for the purple Froot Loop and accidentally flick it across the table. It slides to the far edge and falls, landing with a soft, sad tap.

The dog barks.

You look at your manuscript again.

It’s out of your hands.

It wants to be read.

You get up and let the dog in. He goes right to the Froot Loop. And as the sun begins its slow crawl across the un-swept floor, accompanied by a symphony of slurp and crunch, you decide to believe it will.

You decide to keep dreaming.