September 21, 2015

Book Review: Descent ***************

My favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird, and I'm not saying that's changed but I just finished Descent by Tim Johnston and this book absolutely blew me away, like no book has in a very long time.
The writing is gorgeous; unique descriptions, vivid images, emotion that poured from the page and wrapped around my heart. Tim Johnston is an amazing storyteller. This book is a page-turner in the truest sense of the word. There were parts where my heart thumped wildly - I was so fearful of what was about to happen. There were parts where I was literally sobbing (I'm not kidding), there were parts where I was simply in awe of the writing.
The reason I read this book is that I saw Tim Johnston at the Writer's Digest Writers Conference. He was the closing keynote speaker and his speech was, for the most part, awful, at least in the beginning, peppered with "um's" and apologies (for not being able to forward his Power Point slides, for not practicing his speech, etc.), for forgetting what he was saying...but he was so real and so funny and so humble that I just didn't care how uncomfortable he seemed on stage.
His book Descent was a bestseller - his debut adult novel - and when the introducer enumerated his awards and accolades, I yawned. Everyone has awards, at least everyone at writers conferences. Everyone is a "best-selling" author, at least everyone at writers conferences.
But after his charmingly awkward keynote I got the Kindle sample of his book and was engaged enough to buy it. And I have to say, this is an amazing book, one of the best books I've read in years, and I've read a lot of great books.
It's a powerful piece of writing - the story unfolds beautifully, the characters grab your heart. I have to say I was a bit confused in the beginning - he has a tendency to use pronouns instead of names, so until I got into the story I wasn't sure who "he" or "she" was.
No matter. It wasn't long before I got so involved that I stayed up long into the night to read.
Read the synopsis on Amazon, I won't spend time here telling you what it's about - just trust me...READ THIS BOOK!

Many, many stars out of five for Tim Johnston's Descent.
I wish I could write like Tim Johnston.

September 18, 2015

The Reality of Being an Author

This article from author Kameron Hurley The Cold Publishing Equations: Books Sold + Marketability + Love 
couldn't have come at a better time for me. I'm still smarting from St. Martin's Press's rejection of my second novel, The Ones You Left Behind.
I'm thrilled beyond measure that they published my first book, What More Could You Wish For, but they don't want book number two. Why not? Is it a lousy book? I don't think so (of course I don't). Is it a great book? Well...probably not, but it's decent and it's well-written, so I don't think that's the problem. More likely it's my numbers on book number one, which didn't sell well (and if I could make heads or tails of the statements they send me I could maybe tell you how many it actually sold) and that's probably the biggest factor.

Kameron Hurley says: I want to talk about the reality of being a debut author, because nobody actually talked to me about those numbers. What defined success? What should I expect? Was I a failure if I sold fewer than 80,000 copies? Fewer than 20,000? I know selling 100 is bad, but outside that….?
The average book sells 3000 copies in its lifetime (Publishers Weekly, 2006).
Yes. It’s not missing a zero.
Take a breath and read that again.
But wait, there’s more!
The average traditionally published book which sells  3,000 in its entire lifetime in print only sells about 250-300 copies its first year.
That's kind of comforting to me. I was paid a $10,000 advance for my first book and I earned out of that advance before it was even published because they sold the rights to a German publisher who paid more money than my advance. So that was fantastic! And eventually I even got a small royalty check, but the bad news is I didn't earn out through book sales.
A time when you could find my book in a bookstore.
And St. Martin's Press is in the business of selling books.
My chances of selling more of book number two probably don't look promising to SMP, even though now I have a (small) audience, so why take a chance?
Discouraging? Yes, of course.
Add to that the fact that my agent isn't quite on board with book number two, although she likes my writing, but she's looking for more revisions. So what now?
I like it the way it is (not that it can't be improved); a quiet story about a woman's personal growth in the face of adversity. And, frankly, I'm a little sick of it after working on it and revising it for three years (not a terribly long time in the world of novel writing). So maybe it's just time to move on.
I've started book number three and am 10,000 words into it. So, (onlyabout 70,000 words to go.
It's a frustrating and disheartening business, this business of writing novels. I have always known that. It's even more frustrating now, from where I sit, feeling a little like I've failed.
But, my friend Barbara likes to remind me that I have a book that was published by St. Martin's Press, one of the biggest publishers in the world; I have written a second ENTIRE book; I am now working on a third; I can utter the phrase, "my publisher." Where's the failure in that?
After reading Kameron Hurley's article I feel better. I'm not alone here. I'm walking in the footsteps of many other authors - some wildly successful, some not, but most whose books will sell 3000 in their lifetime.
As Kameron Hurley says, the only thing I have control over is the words on the page.
If I quit writing, that failure is on me.
The Ones You Left Behind hasn't sold yet but that doesn't mean it won't. There are other publishers. And maybe it won't sell until I've sold book number three (which doesn't have a title yet).
And that's the sad truth about publishing. The bottom line is, I don't write because I think I will make a lot of money doing it (obviously!), I write because I love to write.

September 9, 2015

Book Review: The Arsonist *

I can't imagine why I finished this book. I normally give a book 50 pages and if I'm not engaged by
that time I move on. I was intrigued enough with The Arsonist at 50 pages to keep going, believing something would actually happen. And I had just finished The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller, which I loved, so I really wanted to like this. So I kept reading, hoping for some action, some revelation, some reason to slog through all the excruciatingly boring and distracting details. 
But none of that is there. There's no tension, no real conflict, no payoff.
You don't even find out ***SPOILER ALERT*** who the arsonist is.
About halfway through I began skipping huge narrative passages that I didn't care about and didn't need to know. But still, I kept reading. And when I finished, I couldn't have been happier. To be finished.

One star out of five for The Arsonist, I'm sad to say.

September 8, 2015

Book Review: The Lake Shore Limited *****

I love the varied characters in The Lake Shore Limited, the 9/11 component, the theme of trying to live up to expectations. I even love the play within the book, which shouldn't have worked for me, but did.
This is a story of the aftermath of 9/11; not about the particular victim in this case, but those left behind, and the emotion, the confusion, the realizations that follow.

Action is minimal in this story but the character studies are authentic and thought-provoking, and kept me wanting more.
I didn't want this book to end.
Five of five stars for The Lake Shore Limited.

September 3, 2015

Movie Review: Grandma ****1/2

Lily Tomlin couldn't be more perfect in the role of an irascible grandmother who has a ton of her own baggage, fighting to help her (baggage-laden) granddaughter out of a situation that brings back memories.
The first half of the movie is good, but when Sam Elliott comes into the picture it turns into a richer, more poignant story. The scene with Tomlin and Elliott tore at my heart. Tears rolled down my face, even though there was very little action on screen. Sam Elliott's performance is heart-wrenching.
It's a sweet story about a dysfunctional (is there any other kind?) family.
Four and a half stars out of five for Grandma.

Movie Review: Southpaw ***1/2

We've seen this story before; the champion boxer who has to deal with a tragedy, who's down on his luck and, against all odds, fights to regain his title.
But I liked Southpaw anyway. Mostly, for the performances. Jake Gyllenhaall is one of my favorites because he always delivers a solid performance. He does his best with this material, and there are a lot of flaws with the script. Forest Whitaker is, of course, a highlight, as is Rachel McAdams. I don't love the young actor who plays his daughter - her performance is too orchestrated for me, but she will tug at many heartstrings. Just not mine.
It's an entertaining couple of hours.
Three and a half stars out of five for Southpaw.

August 26, 2015

Movie Review: The End of the Tour *****

Beautifully done film about David Foster Wallace who, when he died in 2008, Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin called, "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years."
How is it possible that I never heard of this guy?
Have you read his best-seller, Infinite Jest? I hadn't, until after I saw the film. Whatever is ground-breaking about his style, and this work, is beyond my understanding - I got nowhere with the book.
No matter, The End of the Tour is a really good film.
It's based on the book by David Lipsky, who interviewed Wallace for Rolling Stone, and who spent several days with Wallace as he toured to promote Infinite Jest.
Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg give great performances as the two writers, and it's a fascinating study of how their relationship developed and then deteriorated along with trust. Lipsky really liked Wallace, and wanted to be his friend, but he was a journalist after all, and so he wanted to write the truth. Where do you draw the line?
Five stars out of five for The End of The Tour.