My Bibliography

Friday, 12 July 2013

My review of Such is Life - Jeri Walker-Bickett.

I've long since admired Jeri Walker-Bickett for her dedication to writing, her professional approach to editing and her efforts at promoting the work of other Indie authors.  It is my pleasure, therefore, to be able to review her short story collection - light literary pieces that are easily read in one sitting.  These stories reflect on everyday events that might have a bigger impact on who we are as people, they are observational and insightful and Jeri's ability to paint the scenes with a fine-edged brush is a pleasure to read.

My Review:

Such is Life is an appropriate title; the stories concentrating on everyday matters that most might find insignificant in the first instance.  And therein lies the skill.

At first, when reading `Pretty Girl' and `Leaving Big Sky', I wondered if I was going to enjoy this collection as much as I was hoping to; becoming slightly weary of the descriptiveness of seemingly irrelevant body language, regardless of how well applied, and also because both of these stories, I thought, kind of left me hanging... wondering about the point of them... until I remembered the synopsis; this collection simply about being human - which then made me take a different view on the relevance of them and the deeper implication; the everyday actions and choices we make in life that might have some kind of bearing on who we are or what we become, but in terms of the underlying sentiment of these stories, the finer nuance of interaction between the characters, it became clear, was vital.

Moving on, I then thought that descriptiveness acted as a kind of precursor for the next three stories, building up to me having an appreciation of Walker-Bickett's style - which is crisp and linear.  And while also literary, one doesn't have to think too hard to engage with it; the writing, flowing well, is easily understood, this descriptiveness with more relevance to the bigger pictures - almost as if Walker-Bickett had been building momentum; merely teasing the reader at first.

And as the stories became slightly more intense, darker even, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the collection.  I appreciated in particular, the odd edgy scene thrown in here and there; a word or reference sticking out like a sore thumb almost juxtaposing the innocence of the writing style that I'd thus far seen, and that had me saying, `yeah... that's more like it'.

Being Scottish, I found the attitude of the Mormon community in `Not Terribly Important' quite fascinating (and, incidentally, an overall southern feel to this collection, which was quite insightful for me.)  Ironically though, given the loud and clear message in that story, that fiction is fiction, I couldn't help but feel, as I smiled throughout, that it seemed almost cathartic - such was the conviction of the sentiment.  All in all though, it kind of made me think, such is life indeed - a brainwashed, exacting, society, whose youth, especially, seem preoccupied, excited even, with all that they are taught to hate.  Humph.

I was really immersed in `For the Love of a Dog', and that situation touched me a great deal. I found the characterisation far more invested - and as it was in the last piece also,`River Walk' - in that both women in the first two stories felt too similar for me to separate in my own mind.  However, I felt the desperation of both respective main characters in the last two, in very different ways, and, in `For the Love of a Dog', the mentality of a pitchfork wielding society - which also had me reeling about the ridiculousness, largely, of humanity at large.

Overall I enjoyed these stories, they evoked emotional responses, and I read them in one sitting.

Finally, I will say that the excerpt from Walker-Bickett's upcoming novel, `Lost Girl Road' - a ghost story - held my attention (surprisingly, for me, because it is a ghost story) the style being used there - the third person omniscient point of view - my personal preference. Together with the immaculateness of her writing, I think a longer piece such as this, with the opportunity to develop characters fully, will be thoroughly enjoyable..

You can find out more about Jeri at her blog here.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

A word about 'Word'... and other words.

Note to self – Never ever publish tiny edits at midnight or thereafter – at least in the sample chapter that’ll appear on Amazon - for what was otherwise a typo free manuscript (yeah it was!) suddenly becomes glaringly obvious and potentially off-putting to anyone happening along.
Such was the case with one book this morning I noticed when I went into see what I’d done last night – somehow another 'me' coming into existence in the wee hours with a different opinion about everything – but the word ‘dated’ instead of ‘dared’ appearing very early on, which made absolutely no sense – and the kind of thing that makes my heart lurch.  (You can read about all the 'me's here, in this blog piece entitled Me, Me, Me.)
So, I mean, where the hell is the grammar check function on Word when you really need it.  But oh-no, its too busy insisting sometimes that you change what is an otherwise perfectly legible sentence to something utterly ridiculous  (which actually I find might mean the problem lies elsewhere; a missing comma or something and not the structure of words at all, but still…) for despite the fact I know the programme is there mainly as a helper, I still need to get rid of those red squiggly lines when they appear, always bowing to Word's high and mighty f**cking superiority.  Lol.
And is it just me… has twelve point text become more like eight?  I can barely see that anymore.  I’d been typing in fourteen for the longest time because of that and recently have had to increase that to eighteen, having to remember to change it back to the industry standard of twelve at the end – and once submitting a short story to a publisher without having done so – and of course they just happened to be one of those anal retentive types who insist that you format exactly the way they dictated or they'll bin you immediately.  Frikkin’ publishers!
I have to admit though, with my new version of Word, I hadn’t really explored it until recently; thinking, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, they probably only moved things around a bit, nothing’s really changed’, only in the last few weeks discovering the ‘focus’ feature, which brings the document up my screen like an e-reader and the text larger looking and very reader and edit friendly.
There’s a writing mode and a reader mode – although I still prefer to use eighteen-point even in that mode as I can sit back and read and edit comfortably instead of giving myself constant headaches like I always have with my nose pressed up against my very bright 28inch iMac – and of which I only also just realised that it would be a good idea to adjust the glare of to deal with that.
What happened to me; I used to be so computer savvy – I was the ‘go to guy’ ‘chic geek’ in the days when we all connected to the Internet by phone?  What happened to my ability to write in twelve-point without squinting?  Huh?  Frikkin’ Word!  Frikkin’ deteriorating eyesight!
I find though that writing and reading my work back in Focus mode is most definitely a great way to catch all the little errors that most people will point out to you when they come to read it on an e-reader etc. - and, strangely enough, something I’ve long since noticed when I’ve uploaded a piece to a writing site or whatever; a more eye-friendly platform really changes the story, one can tell that the flow is different; makes what might be improved outside of typos or punctuation so much more obvious than just working in Word without the ‘focus’ feature on.  My only gripe with that mode is that it doesn’t have that ‘show/hide’ function available  – and I rely on that for formatting.
I don’t even want to know if all my previous versions of Word had this function, because if they did and I didn’t use them, I only brought my eyestrain and migraines upon myself all these years.  And as I type, I’m also searching for a bona-fide reason to blame Word for my tennis elbow – but if not caused by that, certainly sitting here with such an intimate relationship with the programme making my arm feel as if rigor mortis has set in, continues to exacerbate it.  Frikkin’ Word!  Thank god for jumbo-sized tins of soup my Chinese mom brings me – good for something at least (I use them as weights for my tennis elbow exercises, in case you didn’t get that, because the thought of meat in a tin swimming in what was no doubt a large vat of various other things in a factory somewhere appals me.  But then, I always was a picky eater.)
But I think my biggest gripe of the morning lies with Amazon Kindle, ‘cos, getting back to that sample chapter that is currently there for everyone to see with the word ‘dated’ instead of ‘dared’ in it as I wait anxiously to be able to upload a correction, why exactly does it take twenty-four hours (or so) for them to allow you access again after each and every submission?  Huh?  I mean… it’s not like anyone is physically checking them or anything.  It’s the same if you only upload a new cover image; you have to wait if you want to make any little changes to your manuscript.  Why?  Isn’t this all done by computers?
Smashwords is great that way; changes are instant.  So why not Kindle, I ask?  Why do we have to wait forty-eight frikkin'  hours for the initial manuscript to even appear, and then between twelve and twenty-four hours thereafter for any changes we might wanna make?  Huh?
It’s kind of like banking though; any money coming out of your account vanishing instantly when you make a payment, but takes five working days when you want to transfer it from your higher interest savings account or if an authority of some description needs to refund you.  Why?  But that’s another gripe, another day.
The good thing is that The Moon Doesn't Shine has been doing very nicely in the UK and the US (or at least dotcom) and that's great; but its particularly gratifying to see Prickly Scots Pt II selling well too after me having made Pt I free* for a number of months as a marketing strategy, because that was the book I wrote before learning how to write professionally and subsequently tried to change accordingly as I went through my writing journey before finally deciding to let it fly free because it was like painting the Golden Gate frikkin' Bridge; never ending.  But most of all because it is my baby, my first born, and for people to want to get Pt II is one of my favourite things to see.  

I do actually drop in there on occasion to visit my earlier writing self and because I miss the characters ; always uplifting even if I do say so myself; but it's like going home.  I have started a Prickly Scots Pt III - at the request of some readers... but that might take a while.... ooh, I just got emailed from Amazon; I can upload my edited manuscript... it'll only take a few hours for the changes to reflect in the sample.  Frikkin' Amazon Kindle.  Lol.
Anyhoo... just felt like rambling on a little this morning... have a good day yourself.

*Free only at Amazon dotcom, I believe, and even if it doesn't look like it is, it is, you won't be charged, but for the rest of the world you can get it at Smashwords, Kobo, Nook, Barnes & Noble or iTunes etc. Promotion ends October 2013, and ps: If you have an older copy, some changes have been made recently, I'd suggest you get the newer one).

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Listening versus Reading?

I haven’t done a piece on my writing journey for a while, but after something that happened last week, it brought to the surface an instance that annoyed me greatly from way back in 2011 when a ‘so-called’ reviewer – and I mean an unqualified person who advertised themselves as such in exchange for free books – 'reviewed' one of my books based on only having listened to it as opposed to actually having read it in the traditional sense; having her e-reader’s unemotional voice relay it, while, I imagine, she did her vacuuming or something. Don't get me wrong; I know audio books are popular; I just don't write them, but if I did I can imagine I'd need to bear that in mind during the writing process; make it listener friendly. How do I know she listened to it?  Part of her review made mention of how funny it was to hear the e-reader speak in Scottish vernacular where I'd used that.  Granted that would be funny, but to say so in a review as one of the things she enjoyed most?  Huh.  Perhaps I could have had a wheel going round and round for her amusement instead of the clever interaction of the characters that I did.
I said nothing about it at the time because I’ve learned from the writer’s site that I used to participate in through the early years of my journey, not to engage in conflict over the Internet – usually nothing good coming from that – but the situation from last week pushed me over the edge a little, and so I do have to vent at least a little – I mean, after such good behaviour online for years, I feel I’m entitled to a minor rant every now and then; gives me character (or at least displays more of its true nature.)  Lol.
But really, I do find that pouring out my occasional woe into the vastness of the blogosphere is like a tourist in Mexico pissing into the ocean; the acidity of a day drinking cuervo dissipates into nothingness almost instantly there as you go back to basking comfortably in the sun.  And talking of oceans, certainly this person’s ‘review’ from all that time ago has clung like a barnacle to the debris from Japan washing up on British Columbia’s shores right now.  Time to clean it up, air it out, power wash the crap away like they did from that Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Don’t get me wrong, her review was actually quite good, she enjoyed the story overall and even said that a certain demographic would love it, the content just wasn’t for her; calling it ‘man humour’ and slagging off ‘the so-called ladies’ in that book for having the odd audacious thought – which was, largely, the entire point I made in its synopsis (back then). She gave it three stars, which isn’t bad, and in fact balances the five and four stars there.  Yet, shortly after, I saw her rave about Fifty Shades of Grey; giving it a resounding five stars whereas the majority of readers have slagged it off for the poor writing, and where, rather ironically, I thought, she loves that the female MC gets up to all sorts of crude and lewd activity – from what I understand; the sample chapter being quite enough for this discerning reader.  What… because the book is more geared towards the female interest in sex?  But I can totally see why one could ‘listen’ to such a book; there is, apparently, nothing literary in it to get any juices flowing other than the obvious ones.
My point is, I’m more literary than most, I have come to realise that I need to simplify my stories for a more laid back kind of reading experience, and I can understand why many people these days are actually able to ‘listen’ to a book - from what I’ve seen emerging as the new norm – in that most indies are written in an amateur first person style such as Fifty Shades is: ‘I did this, I did that, I blinked… etc.’ Fine, easy to listen to, perhaps the only way to ‘read’ such stories, but when a writer implements deeper meaning, creates sentences perhaps intended for the reader to sit and contemplate, even re-read, then it has to be digested by the eyes to be absorbed into the soul; these are intended to put the reader into the story.  I mean, listening to your girlfriend’s description of some hunk that came by to take care of her dripping pipe wouldn’t be as satisfying as actually standing over that plumber while he was on the job now, would it?  Admit it.  Same thing.  But I don't mind; after all, I take solace and pride in the fact that my writing has been mentioned by notable people in the industry, a Poet Laureate, international best selling author over decades of the books 'Princess' and 'Growing up Bin Laden' among many others, Jean Sasson, to mention but two.  Why, I even passed with flying colours, the entry tests set by a company in San Francisco - Hyperink.
But back to the point of all this, recently I answered a call for submissions; writing 10,000 words in 24hrs because I only saw it the day before, I could have written 5000 but went full steam ahead, and long story short, the publisher loved it and is going to use it as the title/cover story for one of the anthologies.  The story was as perfect as I could make it in that short time frame, albeit in my traditional style, a tad complex, and one that many don’t, or yes, can’t, use, but the writings of H G Wells were given as an example of what was actually wanted for these intended books.  Fine, that’s right up my alley.  Usually I’d take weeks, months even, to pour over anything, but it was alright; the rubric said that first drafts were entirely acceptable as they’d be going through the editing process anyway.
So, anyhoo... after all of this, now in the actual process of it all, despite me putting the publisher in touch with a professional editor who’s agreed to work with one of the anthologies, what do I get?  A wannabe editor who’s taken some classes and whom immediately I worried would not be able to get my style after looking at her own website, and, let's just say, less than stellar writing in the samples of her own works there.  However, fine, I will go with it and see what happens; easygoing for the most part about such things; one is usually better with other people's stuff than their own work after all.  In the meantime the publisher sends her all of the stories he wanted her to content edit, mentioning that one of them was a story that another editor refused to work with.  She assumed, when she came to mine, that was the one he was talking about, no doubt because I didn’t use a ‘cat on the mat’ style of writing, and the way she referred to it and to me was highly insulting in emails that were probably never intended for my eyes; assuming that I have never written anything in my life before, and referring to my piece as my ‘little darling that I probably wouldn’t want touched,’ also saying that it was too old fashioned; that I needed to write for a modern reader – and by that I can only assume she means YA, or the lesser educated – which I don’t generally do - but anything more literary, out of her realm - and most certainly wouldn't want touched by her.
Although, in those emails she admitted that she'd only had her machine read it to her – bear in mind that this is a highly complex story, containing actual physics, backstory, deep meaning about the future of humanity and all kinds of other sophisticated stuff that was, quite simply, obviously beyond her comprehension; the notes she did make, even from the simplicity of the first paragraph, making it clear that she hadn’t actually ‘listened’ to it at all, saying that it was 'all telling' – something I do not do; well versed in various forms of exposition thank you very much, but misinterpreting the fact that it was written in omniscient voice and not the first person voice she no doubt expects or is used to.  I get it, they're on a tight budget; but the cost of having my work messed around with by a person like this, is far too high for me to pay.
The two thing she got right, was in saying, ‘she wouldn’t have a clue where to start,’ and that 'this could be a much larger book.'  The publisher wrote back to her telling her that he loved the story, which was why it was to be the title story, the style being what attracted him to it in the first place; that he completely connected with everything, the character especially, that she mentioned had no substance.  Hah!  Characterization is what I'm (semi) famous for.  As a result, the subsequent emails from her changed their tune even if they were now trying to save face; willing to work on it all of a sudden.  Hah!  No chance!  If he sent me her emails, then no doubt she received my choice words in response too; no way could she ever look at my story objectively now, not even by actually reading it, for that’s the impression she gave me about who she was – the quintessential mean girl who slags people off behind their backs and retains resentment, despite the initial sugary sweet and, apparently, helpful email she sent to introduce herself.  But further, while I am always open to critique and suggestion, completely welcome it; part of the never ending writer’s journey after all, I have come too far to have it thrown into the hands of someone less qualified than me who simply want to exercise their community college course training in their first editing job ever.  Overzealous, not to mention not trusting her own opinion; backtracking on realizing this was not the questionable story mentioned by the publisher.  But then, the point of this little rant is just that; I can’t help but feel many people who advertise themselves as reviewers and editors are no more qualified to do so than many writers out there are who have never taken even a writing class to learn the fundamentals yet blatantly advertise themselves as successful authors - and the mood I'm in I so wish I could name names right now, but will exercise decorum.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I really don’t feel an editor or reviewer should simply switch on a robotic voice to read a writer’s work to them while they go about their other business… doing the dishes… whatever.  .. when it is not in fact intended as an audio book - and maybe not even then.  And in the case of reviewers, such as the one I mentioned earlier, if the genre of the story is not one to your taste, then perhaps discern that from the synopsis, or at least comment on the level of writing as well, don’t just concentrate on the negative, the aspects of someone’s hard work that you personally don’t like to read; take the time to learn what a real review should be; earn your free lifetime supply of books if you're going to call yourself a reviewer.  In this case though, I really don’t mind; anyone who thought Fifty Shades of Grey was the best thing ever really doesn’t belong in the same circles as me; I can see why my writing wouldn’t appeal to her, and so have removed myself from her social media - and since, systematically doing the same with others as I come to see posts and statuses that have no bearing on who, or where, I am on my own personal journey, and, using the ocean analogy, avoiding that tsunami of irrelevant to me information that you see daily and have to cling to a tree trunk to survive.
Getting back to my 10,000 word story; I have told the publisher that I will not work with this person and that I remain indifferent about having my piece in the anthology if he has a problem with that; I will withdraw it.  My first hissy fit actually, and making me rather uncomfortably seem like a prima donna, because I’m not... truly I’m not; can look at my own work objectively, know what’s good and throw out what’s crap; I do it all the time; I love people more trained than myself to offer pointers and to critique honestly.
Where am I left?  He really wants the story, and has invited me to take the time, given the 24hrs in which I wrote this draft (thankfully now with the privilege of a few thousand extra words that will help me to simplify it, and which I know really needs done for easier reading in general as I can be convoluted, I fully realize that – but then, the very reason my work should be read and not ‘listened’ to - grammatically correct as it stands or not).  He suggests that I work with someone on my own if I want, that if we can get it to a publishable state then it won’t need to go through another editor – but even if it does… I welcome it; just make sure they’re qualified more than I am to judge/wanna change it; I don’t write half-heartedly; to coin a cliché, I put my heart and soul into everything I do write (and don't orate).  It would be nice to have that reciprocated by so called professional reviewer/editors - their resulting opinions, good or bad - but then, the people I mention here are hardly professional, are they?  I suppose we have to get used to that.