October 28, 2019

Can 257,901 People Be Wrong?


Last time I checked 257,901 people on GoodReads had given Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens 5 stars. Can all those people be wrong? That would be crazy, right? 
So let's not use the word 'wrong.' But really, I am completely baffled.
In the beginning I was engaged and thought the writing was lovely. And then as the pages wore on it seemed the author became more interested in finding new ways to describe things than in telling the story, and so it went on and on with pages of tedious description, quotes from nature books, poetry, etc.
I am a writer. I'm not well-known, I don't have a NY Times best seller, but I am published. I write and read and study writing continuously. So when I read there's a little critique going on in my head. When something annoys me or pulls me out of the story I highlight it so I know not to do that in my own work.
Here are things I highlighted in this book (they became more frequent as I continued on and by the end I was skipping large passages):
1. The book is written in the point of view of Kya but every once in a while it switches POV, out of the blue, to explain something.
2. Then, about 1/4 of the way in there is even an omniscient narrator (another POV) who tells the story of Kya's parents. Annoying.
3. Another POV switch to explain why Tate never came back. Again, jarring, pulling me out of the story. It could be explained later when he returns.
4. Then, it all of a sudden changes to present tense, when all along (and through the rest of the book) it is past tense.

                                                    WHERE IS HER EDITOR, FOR GOD'S SAKE?

5. There are long passages from the nature articles Kya pours over, because even though she did not learn to read until she was a teenager, she suddenly is reading scientific materials. I am not interested in those passages, and they don't move the story along.
6. She goes to the library to request those scientific books (let me just say her sudden knowledge is a huge credibility stretch) and the librarian offers to get them for her. How do you get a library card if you live in a marsh and have no i.d. and no address?
7. Then, guess what? She writes a nature book and gets it published. Talk about a suspension of disbelief. And then at some point she gets a check for $5000 from her publisher. She could not receive a check from a publisher without having a completed W9 which would require a social security number. She continues to get substantial checks, so let's just say that COULD happen - how would she cash them? She has no bank account.
8. When she fixes up her shack (which she's lived in her whole life without toilet facilities or heat or running water or a place to plug in her blow-dryer) and puts in running water and electricity, did she get permits? Does her contractor just come in and jury-rig all the utilities?
9. She orders stuff from the Sears catalog. With what?
I could go on...
The last 1/4 of the book is tedious and repetitive with much unnecessary description. And then I kept thinking I'd reached the end and I'd be so relieved, and then I'd turn the page and it would just continue on.
The trial scene, in particular, could be cut entirely. There's nothing new or revelatory there. It's predictable and mind-numbing.
Ok, I'm done.
Books are subjective, we all know that. But I can't believe 257,901 people could be so wrong.

February 27, 2019

Writing Tip: Writing Doesn't Have to be Lonely

I read post after post about how difficult writing is; how lonely, how stressful, how agonizing, how no one really likes doing it.
Here are just a couple:

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
“If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.” ~ William Zinsser
“I really hate to write. I get no fun out of it because I can’t get up and say I’m working, close my door, have coffee brought to me, and sit there camping like a ‘man of letters’” – Jack Kerouac

Oh, pish posh! Then quit it if you hate it so much.
Is writing a novel easy? Of course not. If it was, everyone would be doing it. But what in life (that is worthwhile) is easy? Quit whining.
If you don't like how solitary writing is, find a critique group or a class or a writing partner. Not that they will sit with you while you're creating, but you have your characters for company when you're writing...be engaged with them; they're fabulous! If they're not, change them, find new ones, learn more about them, have a relationship with them.
And when you need real people around, it's simple...turn to your writing community. It is vast; it's real-life or virtual, it's one person or five or ten, it's in every bookstore and on every website, it's at a writers conference. If you need people they are out there and the writing community is an amazingly supportive one. Just look around.
So now, it's time to get back to your writing, and enjoy it.

November 11, 2018

Dear Officer Aaron Huizenga

Dear Officer Aaron Huizenga,
Thank god you saved the streets of New Buffalo, MI last night from the threat of a 69-year-old woman from Chicago, driving a rental car with Arkansas plates, who had a glass of wine with dinner. I hope you feel good about yourself.
My friend Kathleen and I rented a car this weekend to drive to New Buffalo to see Chicago, the band (our 4th time seeing them in concert - we're aging groupies), at The Four Winds Casino (which has a nice theatre venue but is a disgusting place where gamblers are allowed to smoke indoors). But I digress.
After checking in to our hotel we had a really nice dinner at the Bentwood Tavern. We each had a cocktail before dinner, and then a glass of wine, and Kath asked if I wanted to share another glass of wine but I said no, I better not, I'm driving.
So then we head to the casino for our meet and greet with the band because we had front row, VIP seats for the concert which included a photo op (very cool, and fun). The casino is less than 4 miles from the restaurant and I'm driving along, in the right lane, looking for the turnoff when I see a police car with flashing lights in my rearview mirror. At first I don't think it's for me because I'm not speeding, but after a minute it's still there so I pull over. An officer comes up and I roll down the back window because it's a rental car and the controls are new to me, but then I roll down the driver's window and he asks for my license and registration. I tell him it's a rental car and ask why he stopped me. He says he ran the plate and it came back unregistered, or something like that, whatever that means. "Well, it's a rental," I say. "It's not mine." He does not say I was speeding, or I ran a stop sign or anything like that. I can only guess he ran those plates because I was in Michigan and the plates were from Arkansas.
He asks what we're doing in New Buffalo and we tell him. "Did you drive here directly from Chicago?" "No," I say, "we checked in to our hotel and had dinner." He asks if we had any liquor at dinner. I say yes, a glass of wine. Note: Okay, I don't mention the scotch, but later, when he's harassing me, I fess up.
He takes my license and goes back to his car and he's gone for a long time and Kathleen and I are looking at each other, not worried, but totally confused, wondering what's going on. Finally he comes back and asks me to get out of the car and for the next 20-30 minutes he scares the shit out of me, having me walk the white line, wanting me to balance on one foot, telling me do a finger coordination exercise, all of which I did.      
Meanwhile, Kathleen doesn't know what's going on or why it's taking so long, so she tries to find out but each time she opens her door he yells at her to shut the door and stay in the car.
So now I'm getting scared. I ask why he's doing this. He says he smelled alcohol when I opened the window. Liar. He also says because I rolled down the back window instead of the front when he came up to the car. "It's a rental car," I say. No matter. That must be the mark of a hardened criminal in New Buffalo, MI.
Then he wants me to take a breathalyzer, says it's Michigan law. I think that's bullshit too, but what do I know?
What would that show? I had a scotch and a glass of wine over the course of a couple of hours, what would my blood level be? I have no idea. I don't even know what the numbers are. I didn't feel drunk, I didn't even feel buzzed, but what would a breathalyzer show? I was terrified.
He says I can refuse to do it. "Is that what you want to do?" he asks. I ask what would happen then and he says, "This is where we are right now, ma'am. Are you telling me you want to refuse?"
I say no, I want to know what happens if I take it and what happens if I don't. He won't tell me.
Finally, another officer comes up, a woman, I don't know where she came from. She doesn't seem particularly sympathetic but she sees the state I'm in (because by now I'm crying) and she explains what would happen, which frankly I don't even remember and am not sure it even sunk in at the time, but I agree to take the breathalyzer and pass it and he tells me to get back in my car and he will bring me my license. More time goes by. He finally brings my license back and says I'm free to go.
What the fuck was that? Did he have a quota? Did he want to be the first guy on the block to arrest an old white woman for driving to a Chicago concert?
All I can say is thank god I'm not black - who knows what would have happened?
And to the New Buffalo Police Department, and to Officer Huizenga in particular, if you really want to save the streets of New Buffalo you could just go sit outside the casino when all those drinking, smoking gamblers get in their cars - you're sure to reach your quota then. And then some.
On a happy note, the concert was fantastic.
And you'll be happy to know that New Buffalo is a safe place now because you will never see me there again.


November 4, 2018

Movie Review: Bohemian Rhapsody ****

Don't read the critics' reviews of Bohemian Rhapdody. Listen to mine, and then go see it.

October 17, 2018

A Small World Story

Before my novel What More Could You Wish For was picked up by St. Martin's Press, I self-published the book under the title Mr. Right Enough. On the cover of that book, published in 2010, was a house, because a house figures prominently in the story.
Cover design by Miggs Burroughs
I traveled through various Chicago neighborhoods looking for the perfect house for that cover and found it on Michigan Ave. in Evanston, a beautiful house with a welcoming porch.
After I published, I sent a copy of the book to the people who lived there (I hadn't asked permission to take the picture) and got a lovely letter back, saying they were proud to have their house on my cover and that I'd made it look beautiful.

Here's the small world part:
I recently saw a film at the Chicago International Film Festival titled An Acceptable Loss. When I got my ticket I didn't realize the filmmakers were Chicagoans and that it was entirely shot here. In an early scene the main character, Libby (coincidentally the name of my title character!) is going for a run (my Libby is also a runner!) and as she exits her house I was struck dumb...there was MY HOUSE! The one on the cover of my book! It freaked me out. I thought it couldn't be, but there are several more shots of it and by then I was sure.
During the Q&A with the producer after the film she said both she and the director live in Evanston and I thought, wouldn't it be amazing if one of them lived in that house? So I talked to her afterward and neither she nor the director live there but she did confirm it's on Michigan Ave. in Evanston.
I wonder how the people who own that house are handling all their fame.

For the record, I am so grateful that St. Martin's Press published my book. But I think it would have sold better if they'd done something similar to my original cover, instead of putting a cupcake on there. Not only is there no cupcake in the book at all, but now it looks like a young adult novel, instead of a coming-of-middle-age story of a woman at a crossroad in her life.
My very favorite cover, however, is the one the German publisher created for the translation. Germans. Who aren't known for their sense of humor. That cover is brilliant.
Which one's your favorite?

September 25, 2018

Guilty as Charged

I grew up loving Bill Cosby. I watched him team up with Robert Culp in I Spy in the 60s, the first black actor in a dramatic role on TV. It gave us, white people as well as black, a model for equality, an uncommon view of the world back then.
I saw him do stand-up comedy on stage in the 70s, and then as the warm, wonderful, funny Cliff Huxtable, in the 80s.
Bill Cosby was someone I admired. He was charismatic and charming. He was ground-breaking, a role model.
I didn't want to believe he could be guilty of the things he was accused of, and maybe when the first woman accused him I could casually disbelieve it; I couldn't get my mind around this kind of duplicity. One woman might lie, for whatever reason; revenge, retaliation, jealousy. Two women might even lie, though that begins to stretch deniability. But 60?
I think we always want to believe people are good. It's hard to fathom that someone can present such a lovable face to the world and that it can be such a a bold-faced lie. We all have different facets to our personalities, but can they be so vastly opposed without some kind of mental instability? I'm not looking to excuse him, but there has to be mental illness there, to think what he was doing was not wrong.
He hasn't shown a shred of responsibility or remorse; he's only shown arrogance. I wonder how that will play in prison as he begins his 3-10 year sentence. Which is not long enough.