Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Green Eggs and Ham: A Fresh Look at a Dark Book

I've been between book edits recently. This can be a productive "down" time if I use it wisely, taking the opportunity to work on the never-ending house projects that seem to be . . . well, never ending. Living in a house built in the 1920s can do that. More often than not, though, I find myself anxious for the next round of edits to begin, whether with a new book or second-round revisions of a current WIP. I would much rather be editing than washing windows or decluttering (as my windows and clutter will attest).

Homeschooling provides me with numerous editing opportunities; the disadvantage to this is that my kids refuse to pay me for my services. Huh. 

In honor of not really having anything new to say, I thought today's blog post could feature my 18-year-old son's most recent English paper . . . kind of like when that Family Circus cartoon guy lets his son, Billy, take over. Without further ado . . .

The Real Green Eggs and Ham
Many consider it to be a normal children’s book, with little purpose other than to entertain with its rhyming, humorous illustrations, et cetera; any deeper meaning that may be found is generally cast aside, or perhaps watered down to a simple moral: “You never know you don’t like something until you’ve tried it.”  This is, of course, not the entire meaning that Seuss intended, and to say so would be an insult to the Doctor’s intentions.  The printed version of Green Eggs and Ham is a very selective telling of a much darker story, of harassment and kidnapping.
In the beginning of the book, a nameless character (assumed to be the protagonist) expresses an extreme dislike for a character named “Sam,” and rightly so, for Sam is notably narcissistic, parading about with a sign which reads, “I Am Sam” and, on the opposite side, “Sam I Am.”
 In the particular incident recorded at the start of the book, Sam has been riding strange animals through the protagonist’s house, waving his signs shamelessly, while the protagonist is minding his own business, attempting to read the morning paper. It is at this point that he expresses his dislike for Sam, and Sam, seeking further attention, inquires as to whether the man enjoys eating green eggs and ham, offering a plate of the stuff.  The protagonist, understandably enough, states that he does not, and refuses the offer. He does not mention a reason for disliking these foods; no doubt he assumed there was no need to do so. I mean, would you eat ham that had sat out long enough to turn green?  And there’s no knowing what was added to the eggs to cause them to be such a color.
Sam, of course, does not accept such a simple answer, and inquires further, asking whether he might enjoy them in a different location. The protagonist explains that the location makes no difference: it is the food to which he objects. Sam, undeterred, continues with his questions, asking if he might like the food better in a house, or perhaps with a mouse. The protagonist explains again that it is not the location, nor the company kept during the meal, but the food itself which puts him off from such a thing.
After this, the story begins to turn dark. Sam asks if the man would eat his food in a box, with a feral canine for company, and the man, not understanding the veiled threat, declines again. It is at this point that Sam abducts the man, throwing him into his car and driving off recklessly, all the while continuing to offer the food. He is quoted as saying, “Eat them! Eat them! Here they are.”
The man continuously begs Sam to let him go and leave him alone, but Sam does not heed his pleas. He drags the man onto a train—no doubt to escape the authorities more quickly—and from the train, to a boat, all the while urging the man to eat the food offered to him. It should also be noted that Sam keeps a live goat in his car, and it may be best not to speculate as to why. Shortly after they board the boat, it goes down—a direct result of Sam’s recklessness—and they are left swimming toward the nearest land mass; yet even while swimming for his life, Sam holds the eggs and rancid ham aloft, telling the insistently refusing man to eat it, because he may like it, if only he would try it.
The man is tired: he has been harassed, threatened, kidnapped and terrorized, and it has been the longest day of his life. He asks Sam if he will be released and left alone if he eats this food which Sam is so obsessively eager to share. Sam tells him that he will let him go if his conditions are met, so the man eats the food and pretends to enjoy it so as not to anger Sam by disliking what is apparently his favorite food. He even goes so far as to thank Sam for putting him through all this. After counseling, the man is able to eat normal ham again; however, he cannot bring himself to try eggs in most forms. 

Sam disappeared shortly after the incident and has not been heard from since.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Should You Be Afraid to Review?

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? In the big, wide world of semi-anonymity we call the internet, it seems at times that people are afraid of nothing. Strangers say things online that they'd never say if looking someone in the eye.

As tempting as it is to tell people where to get off—especially when they're being obnoxious or unfair—I still feel awkward saying something online that I wouldn't normally say when talking to somebody face to face. I've gotten into a few online discussions where I've tried to explain the other side's view in a rational manner, but it seems that people don't want to debate rationally; they only want to shout insults and belittle those who don't agree. If you don't believe me, try explaining to a gang of vehement Teachers' Union supporters that all homeschoolers are not, in fact, "inbred, narrow-minded, homophobic hypocrites." Wow. And those were the ones who didn't refer to a variety of body parts and animal acts. That was one "discussion" from which I removed myself after only one sentence. I never said anything critical about non-homeschoolers; I only tried to explain my own position.

It's not worth my time to argue with people who don't want to hear someone else's point of view, especially if those people are strangers who don't ultimately affect my real, flesh-and-blood life in any way.  

But what if those strangers could, in fact, affect your real life? Would you still feel free to express your honest thoughts?

I've been exploring a variety of threads on Goodreads lately, and a disturbing number of authors mention unwarranted attacks by other authors who don't agree with someone's review of their book. Researching further, I even found a website devoted to outing the attackers, Evidently, author/reviewer bullying is a pretty big thing. On the STGRB site, I read through quite a few of the stories, and was thankful that some of them ended happily, though it doesn't appear to be the case for the majority of the incidents.

Since when did an honest opinion become a bad thing? There are tactful ways to say the negative things that need to be said, like when my husband says, "Well, I know it's a comfortable outfit you like to wear, but it's not the most flattering thing you own." I'd rather hear that than overhear someone whisper, "Does she know what she looks like in that outfit?" In the case of a book review, I would expect an author to be prepared for the occasional negative. No one likes to hear that what they've worked on for months (sometimes years) isn't loved by one and all, but it should at least be expected once in awhile. I've perhaps not always used the most delicate phrasing when leaving reviews, but if confronted by an author, I am prepared to stand by my words and would (if the opportunity presented itself) say those words while meeting the author's eyes. 

I can think of one instance where I ended up wondering if I'd overstepped my bounds. A book I'd edited had gotten a two-star review from someone who admitted she didn't finish the book, it was not her typical genre, and in fact, anything to do with that particular genre really "didn't do anything for" her. So I asked her why she'd bothered to read or review the book, when all those factors would never have led her to a favorable review. I was polite, I clearly stated that I was the book's editor (which I didn't have to disclose) and wasn't asking so I could jump to the author's defense, but was genuinely curious. The reviewer didn't reply, but another GR person did, accusing me of being unprofessional by telling someone what a review should be, on a book which I "helped to create."

Well, first of all, I didn't create the book. I didn't help to create it. The novel was the author's hard work, not mine. I edited it. As much as I'd love to take credit for a book's success—and I do celebrate with them!—my work is the equivalent of adding gravy, not the meat & potatoes of the deal. I don't even have to like the books I work with, I suppose; I only have to correct them. So of course, I felt that was a moot point. However, the person who criticized me was polite, and I responded with equal politeness, and we went our separate ways. I'd intended no harm, she said her piece, and I realized it was probably not my business to ask the original poster anything at all. But I'm curious like that, and now I know that curiosity is not always appreciated. I'm thankful that my post didn't do any damage to the author, but I didn't feel it was right to remove it, either. After all, I said it, and I need to stand by my words, lest they cease to mean anything anymore.

A close relative of mine once decided she was going to be an author. She's not a reader, has never been a reader, and her reading attention span is about the length of a People Magazine article. However, she is creative. She wrote a bunch of children's stories in rhyme, and they were silly and could have been wonderful. 

Could have been. 

She asked me to look at them, and said, "Tell me what you think. Aren't they great?" Well . . . yes, they were. Mostly. But each time I'd ask her about something that needed to be adjusted (hard and fast rules, like not saying, "Dad and her went to the store . . ."), or questioned randomly capitalized words, or the way she forced the rhyming meter by accenting words on the incorrect syllable, she became irritated and say, "Well, that's the author's prerogative," and dismiss my concerns. I finally realized she only wanted pats on the back and no real help, and stopped bothering. Her books never got the polish they needed and never got off the ground, and that's a shame, because the eight stories she'd put together were pretty clever. 

My point, if I can still get back around to it, is this: if an honest opinion is wanted, then prepare for it to be honest. "Honest" does not always mean "favorable." And if your loyal fans jump to your defense, please make it clear to them that bullying your naysayers is NOT acceptable. Some of the articles I read left me incredulous that people would be so vicious to strangers over a book review, methodically stalking them across the social networks. In some of the cases I read, the author and the reviewer blamed each other for attacks launched by friends; once the true culprits were revealed, apologies were made and all was made as right as it could be, considering the emotional trauma each side was put through.

In a previous post, I stressed that most authors desire honest reviews. Reviews are the things that encourage people to purchase a book, and they allow authors to know their work is noticed. The relative obscurity provided by the internet should not ever be used as an excuse to lash out at anyone who doesn't happen to agree with us.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

D.R. Shoultz Has Started Something Good

After reading the first chapter of Melting Sand on D.R. Shoultz's blog, I was eager to find out more about Miles Stevens, and expectant of good things.

I'm very happy to tell you I got those good things and more. I just finished reading Shoultz's novel and am already looking forward to whatever he has in store for Miles in future books.

Melting Sand isn't your typical time-travel book. I love a good time-travel novel if it's done well. So many of them are based on something magical happening to cause the travel through time, and that's fine, as long as certain things aren't overlooked which cause consistency errors (such as nobody noticing or questioning someone's wristwatch in Ancient Egypt). Melting Sand is different in this aspect: the time travel is scientific and purposeful, with all details attended to.

Miles Stevens and his partner, Terri, are CIA agents who work for the Department of Historic Intervention. They've been sent back 23 years on a mission which, if executed correctly, will prevent a major war in the Middle East. Unfortunately, they're not the first team to have been sent by the DHI on this same mission, and they need to figure out how to work in such a way as to not botch the job like the previous team. They're in constant danger, as one would expect, due to Iranian subversives expecting their arrival and trying to stop them (thank you very much, previous team, for blowing the whole mission that completely).

Although there are specific events which need to be altered for the mission to succeed, they never happen in quite the direct way one would expect, and I like that. No simple "stop this and the war won't happen" kind of things in this book; everything is intertwined and non-linear.

Being me, of course I was pleased that there were very few editing issues. Less than a handful, and most likely things the average non-OCD person would never notice.

When all is said and done, it's not a tidy ending, just like regular life, with the hope of better things in days to come. Excellent read, plenty of action, and a likable hero. Great job, D.R. Shoultz.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Honk If You Loved It! ...And Even If You Didn't

As I interact with more authors, whether personally or through Goodreads threads, I've noticed a conversational theme which crops up over and over. Reviews: good, bad, ugly, or worse—nonexistent.

Most authors depend on reviews to promote their books to others. Some use them as feedback in order to learn what they might be doing wrong so they know how to improve their writing. Some really strong-willed authors claim to never read reviews, no matter what, because it's not going to change anything they do in the future.

I have issues with those who claim to "never" read reviews, so I'm just going to be honest: I don't believe you. I think you secretly read them and pretend you don't care.

Although most, if not all, authors write for the pleasure of it and the satisfaction involved with the whole creative process, I simply can not believe there are more than a handful of them who truly don't give a rip about whether someone likes and appreciates their efforts or not. If you don't care, then why are you publishing your books at all? Why not write them and put them in a special place in your home where nobody will find them until you're dead and gone? Like the basement freezer; sealed in a ziploc bag & buried the backyard; in your septic tank; in a wall safe behind your mother-in-law's picture. There you go: four perfectly safe, practically-hidden-forever places where your special art can remain concealed, untainted by the eyes of others. Don't thank me for the ideas; just use them. But only if you really, really don't care.

The other 99.8% of those who write creatively do so because they want to share their ideas with the rest of the world. I'm so glad they do, because I need more creativity and imagination in my life. They give me color and nuance in a way I can't come up with on my own. They make me think of things in a totally different way. They make me smile, and they make me cry. And sometimes they make me crazy.

These are the authors who may not live for reviews, but they do thrive on them. One author on a Goodreads thread mentioned that he'd rather have more reviews of all levels than only a few that are all five-star. To leave a book review tells the author you've not only read their book but have taken the time to let them know you appreciated it . . . or didn't. Either way, it tells them you've paid attention somewhere along the way.

I leave reviews for specific reasons. Obviously, if I've enjoyed a book, I want to let the author know. I'm pretty sure most people enjoy being complimented when it's sincere. I'm not a flatterer. If I like you, I'll tell you. If I don't, I'll avoid you but will still be polite if I can't avoid you. I can be tactful if I need to be . . . and uncomfortably blunt, also, as long as I remember to be kind while doing so.

I've left some pretty scathing reviews on Amazon. I've been accused (by someone claiming to not be the author, of course) of being a cheapskate and expecting superb literature for under three dollars. I've been chastised by disgruntled friends of authors for "never" giving good reviews. I've been told to "get a life" by the same not-author who called me cheap. None of those things is true. I just firmly believe in warning book purchasers if a novel is a piece of garbage. It has nothing to do with my personal taste in books, but whether a book is well written, makes sense, and is the best work the author can do.

A newer author will never realize what he or she is in need of learning if readers don't leave reviews. In this era of e-books, sales don't always mean your book is loved by one and all. Someone could download it for free or cheapie-cheap and delete it without finishing, because it was very little investment in their resources. Some sites won't allow an author to promote on them unless a minimum number of reviews are logged on either Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, or other places. A good author, whether new or not, needs the encouragement to keep writing.

Read it. Review it. The authors worth their salt will appreciate it. They really do want to know what you think.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I'm in Love!

It must be love. It simply must be. Why else would I forget to eat, get very little sleep, and hyper-focus to the exclusion of all else around me?

Oh, yeah . . . I'm editing a great book. I guess the emotional state is pretty similar. <sheepish grin> Don't get me wrong: the hubby comes first in my heart, yesterday, today, and always. But a lot of my "symptoms" are remarkably familiar.

As I've been working my way through the latest manuscript from a favorite author, I've realized what I'm doing each day seems less and less like work and more like sheer enjoyment. I look forward to that point in my day when I can sit down and relax with Ol' Greenie and get to work. I'm almost resentful of the day-to-day things that get in my way, delaying that moment. (What? Someone needs me to drive them somewhere? Well, shoot. Sleep? Oh, I guess it is three a.m. and I probably should think about it . . . but I'm not done with the chapter yet.)

I think one of the thrills for me is not only do I get to read something terrific, but I have the privilege of seeing something which has only been revealed to a handful of people. And yep, it is a privilege. I become emotionally invested in the characters and what happens to them. I get to tweak things to make sure everyone gets to enjoy the diamond. I get to rejoice when someone's happy with my work, and ultimately, when readers are happy with the author's work.

I'm slowly but surely settling into a season of life in which all the pieces are falling into place to create a pretty phenomenal picture.

I guess I really am in love—with my life.