Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Coping With Adverse Criticism



Our guest post this week comes from author Jane Bwye who gives some advice on Coping With Adverse Criticism


If only reviewers would realise how much angst they cause by just one or two hasty words! There are more ways than one to clothe your comments, turning them into constructive thoughts and aiming at the readership rather than the author or the book.

Coping with adverse criticism is difficult. We may be advised not take everything personally - it is the book which is addressed, we are told; people don’t think of the author when reading a book, unless it’s an autobiography. And the writer should have got used to exposure and criticism in the battered journey towards publication.

And at least someone has taken the trouble to read your book. That’s all very well … in my case (don’t you find you’re always worse off than anybody else?).  I requested a review for an e-zine, and sent her an e-copy. I waited and waited … then eventually gave her a little prod.

An email came winging back. She didn’t have an e-reader, she’d tried reading my book on her computer, had read the first chapter, but it hurt her eyes. Could I send her the book? I didn’t blame her – apart from anything else, I prefer to curl up with a book in my armchair, than sit on an ergonomic apparatus peering at a screen. She held out a carrot: as well as publishing the review in the e-zine, she would also put it in the next issue of a Newsletter she wrote for her local exclusive Club, which had a large library.

Fair enough. I despatched a copy to her and waited some more.

Every month I scanned the e-zine in vain, until – I couldn’t believe my eyes! She summarised the story and started to question its credibility. It was a NOVEL, but perhaps she was reading it as a history, trying to identify places, which I’d deliberately kept vague … then I came to the final sentence.

The entire book will satisfy neither Kenyans, nor Colonial survivors if they read it: they both surely are the only authentic judges.

My heart tore in two and dropped into my boots. Then righteous ire welled up, mixed with intense hurt. The cheek of it … I was there – where was she?

I took a deep breath. Cool it, Jane; sleep on it. She was probably put off the book from the beginning, trying to read it on the computer; I had often started reading books myself while in the wrong mood and that had coloured my perception. And perhaps I’d  made a miscalculation sending it to her in the first place.


I only felt marginally better in the morning so I waited another 48 hours before drafting an email, and another two days before amending it and sending it on. No point in antagonising her further, but she did have a precious copy of my book.
I thanked her for taking the trouble to read it, and asked her if she would donate it to her Club library.

Back came an email saying she felt horribly embarrassed about producing a negative review, but it was her honest opinion. Of course she would donate the book to the library, and on behalf of the Club, she thanked me for the gift. She would not publish her review in the Newsletter, as she felt it was not a wise move and much better to leave it to library members to form their own opinions. I was grateful for that small mercy and relieved that if we met in the future I would be able to greet her with a genuine smile. No doubt some members at her Club might hold the same views, but perhaps a little controversy would stir up interest in the book, for several of my contemporaries from Kenya had expressed their enthusiasm and praised its authenticity.

So there you go – swings and roundabouts, mountains and molehills. But it hurt while it lasted.

Come to think of it, coping with adverse criticism is but one step further on from dealing with indifference, really – especially when you socially network like mad and the best response you get is but a few “views”. You scan your feedback daily and try to draw comfort from one or two “likes”. You are over the moon when one person comments and your day is well and truly made when a couple of people respond to your thread and you can get a conversation going.

Blogging can be worse. You spend hours honing on what you want to say, and even more  time searching out and scanning photos so your readers’ eyes don’t blur at all those words on the screen. It’s all ready, and you have to get up early to make the post and propagate it because you’re told readers like to have regular bursts and the rest of your day is full. Then when you return that evening, a mere dozen hits have been recorded on your website and none but a few spam comments have appeared. (How do they do it? These spams appear with no corresponding rise in number of views I’ve discovered – but that’s a subject for a computer geek, perhaps).

You doggedly blog on, then in desperation, send out a heartfelt plea … like a cyber-friend, who talked about blogging a dead horse. My heart went out to him and I told him if it were any consolation, his record number of views in a day outstripped mine by far. We’ve been buddies ever since, and I’ve actually put his book at the top of list next time I top up my kindle (it helps that we both love horses).

The secret is to write from the heart, rather than worry about views and comments, but we’re all human, I guess.

You can read about Jane’s book BREATH OF AFRICA, listen to the trailer, and sample some reviews on her website: http://janebwye.com/breath-of-africa

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Monday, 26 May 2014

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Getting to know ... Shani Struthers



What genre would you say your novels fall into, or do they defy classification?
Psychic Surveys Book One: The Haunting of Highdown Hall is a paranormal mystery and the start of a series of books that will only get darker.

What made you choose that genre?
Since young my two favourite genres have been romance and paranormal – a strange mix I know – blend the two and I’m just as happy. I also write contemporary romance (my first novel – The Runaway Year – is a romance set in Cornwall and it’s sequel is due out this year). But, as I don’t just read one genre, I don’t want to write just one genre either. After completing The Runaway Year, it was Psychic Surveys that flowed next. Following on from that it was the sequel to the first book. It’s back to the darkness now. I like to alternate!

How long does it take you to write a book?
When I write a book I get completely immersed – the world I’m writing about is often more ‘real’ than the world I live in (which in the case of The Haunting can get interesting!). So far I’ve written four books, each has taken me between 3 to 6 months. After that though, comes the hard work. I have a trusty band of beta readers I deliver each book to. They critique, I amend (if I agree it needs amending, sometime I stick to my guns) and then it’s editing, editing, editing. Oh, and proofreading. By the time I’ve finished, I can practically recite each book word perfect!

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I have three children so I tend to write whilst they’re at school. Having said that, if I’m really in the flow, I write when they come home too. The burnt dinners those poor children have suffered because I’ve been unable to tear myself away from the computer screen! They’re proud of me though and my eldest (16) now wants to be a writer herself! Basically, I write when I can. If an idea hits me when I’m out no problem. That’s what the notepad on my iPhone was invented for!

Where do you get your ideas for your books?
I love Cornwall, especially the North, so I wanted to set some books there, hence the Runaway series. Regarding The Haunting, my husband is a structural engineer. Many a time he’s surveyed a new house and the owners have said they’re on the look out for ghosts – almost gleefully they say this but some have been more worried. This gave him the idea for another kind of surveying service – Psychic Surveys – specialising in domestic spiritual cleansing. In reality, I think there are many flaws to such a business idea but in fiction, it could work beautifully – so I took the idea and ran. In the Haunting, Psychic Surveys is run by Ruby Davis, a young psychic, as a high street business. She has a team of freelancers working for her, all psychic to varying degrees. Together they work on cases in and around Sussex, their success ensuring them a solid reputation. This reputation is threatened, however, by the new owner of Highdown Hall and the ghost of 1950s movies star, Cynthia Hart… The ideas just keep on flowing and there’s a Psychic Surveys Two in the pipeline!

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
The Runaway Year is my first book and I wrote that just a couple of years ago. I am a copywriter by trade, however, and have been since leaving university at 21. Before that, I dabbled in poetry but only really for my own pleasure.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
My extra-curricular activities include reading, walking in the countryside and socialising with friends. I also love a good movie, horror being my ultimate favourite on that score but not gory stuff – I like my horror much cleverer than that. I also love a good thriller.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
That I could do it! Honestly, that is the most surprising thing. That I could take a story and all it’s different threads and weave them together in a page-turning way for around 80,000 to 90,000 words. I’ve also been surprised by the strength of the writing community on social media, how friendly people are, how welcoming, how willing they are to help you on your way. And finally, the ideas well, how it never dries up.

How many books have you written?
I’ve completed four and am currently working on my fifth (Psychic Surveys Book Two). Two are published, the third is coming out this year and the fourth is on submission.

Which is your favourite and why?
I love them all equally – they’re my babies, I have to say that! Seriously though, whatever book I’m working on at the time is my favourite, I just become so immersed in it, live and breathe the characters. I’ve just finished Jessamin(e) – the book currently on submission – and it’s a paranormal mystery/romance. I LOVED writing that book, I love all the characters (even the dead ones) and I think the romance within it is very touching.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I just wanted to write, which I have done, as a copywriter and an author. I’m a writing machine!

What are you working on now?
I’m writing Psychic Surveys Book Two. Around a week ago I didn’t have a clue re storyline and then it came to me in a blinding flash. I like those blinding flash moments and I tend to go with them. The idea involves a lot of research, but that’s fine – I tend to research as I go along rather than before. I’m really excited about writing it, although after that I’ll go onto something lighter, another romance maybe, it’s not good to immerse yourself in the darkness for too long! As I said earlier, I intend to swing between the dark and the light.

Links

Facebook Author Page: http://tinyurl.com/n8ks6rz






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Monday, 19 May 2014

To Hop or not to Hop?



Katherine sent in this heartfelt plea for help on the subject of point of view perspective: I just can’t seem to get my head round this issue of point of view and head-hopping. I understand about first person and third person and that side of it, but when I ask for feedback on my writing it seems I always get the same comments – that I’m head-hopping. I just don’t understand where I’m going wrong. Writers in my online group keep trying to explain it to me and I’ve also looked on the internet for help, but it all seems so complicated. Do you have an easy way to demonstrate it, so that I can finally understand what everyone else seems to find so easy to grasp?

First of all, Katherine, you are not alone. Many writers find it difficult to get to grips with staying in point of view. Before I give you my tips on keeping within one character’s thoughts, feelings and observations, I would just like to explain (for those who aren’t sure) the viewpoints available.

First person – this is where we remain in the narrator’s head at all times, observing all others from that one perspective. (I went to the cliff and wanted to jump, but I was pulled back by Sarah).

Second person – this is where the narrator is talking to a person throughout the story about that second person’s actions (you went to the cliff and wanted to jump, but you were pulled back by Sarah).

Third person – this is where the story is told from the perspective of the character or characters.

Third person can be broken down into three groups

Limited: readers are only privy to the thoughts of one character. Everyone else in the scene is shown through that character’s eyes, thoughts and feelings. (He went to the cliff and wanted to jump, but he was pulled back by Sarah.)

Limited is the most popular and easiest to master.

Objective: there are no inner thoughts or feelings. Readers only see what happens and what is said. (He went to the cliff to jump. Sarah pulled him back.)

Objective can leave readers without any emotional involvement in what is going on.

Omniscient: here the readers are privy to everyone’s thoughts, feelings and observations – head-hopping from one character to another within a scene. (He went to the cliff and wanted to jump. Sarah wanted to save him and pulled him back).

Omniscient is hard to pull off unless the writer is extremely experienced and a master storyteller.

From your email it seems to me that you are using the omniscient point of view, but it isn’t working for you because you haven’t quite mastered it. For many writers, it is impossible to get right because (unless you are very careful) the reader loses track of who is speaking, whose thoughts we are sharing, whose eyes we are looking through and so on. It becomes tedious and leaves the reader confused and unwilling to continue.

Regardless of which point of view you choose, you need to know how to deal with writing from that perspective. There is a simple exercise you can carry out to help with this.

Imagine someone in a restaurant. He’s there because he’s had a massive fight with his wife. He observes a couple at another table. He can hear the dialogue, but he doesn’t know the people. He has no other background knowledge outside of what they look like. This means he can only judge them on how they look, what they do and what they say. He is our point of view character and it’s his life we are involved with. The other couple are not important to the story. They are simply there to bring out the point of view character’s thoughts and emotions. We are looking at this scene through his eyes. We’ll call him Jake.

Jake put down his newspaper, eyes drawn to the next table where a middle-aged couple were studying menus. He noted they were both wearing wedding rings, but by the way they avoided eye contact, he didn’t think this was a celebration. Picking up his own menu, he was about to decide on a starter when a whispered exchange drew his attention back to the couple.

“You know how I feel about this, Carol.”

“Yes, John, I do. You’ve never made any secret of it.”

From the above dialogue it is impossible for the reader to know whether the dialogue is friendly, unfriendly, intimate, angry, or any other emotion. Because we can only know what Jake is thinking and feeling, we have to discover the emotions of the couple – and how it impacts on Jake’s own situation – through his eyes and ears.

Let’s see the dialogue again, this time with Jake’s observations included.

Jake glanced across in time to see the man reach out to touch the woman’s hand.

“You know how I feel about this, Carol.”

“Yes, John, I do,” she said, snatching her hand away. “You’ve never made any secret of it.”

Jake wondered what the man had done to make the woman so angry. He sighed. His wife always seemed to look at him like that these days. If they were still together when they reached the couple’s age, he’d be amazed. He imagined reaching out to touch Sarah’s hand and … no, better not to think of Sarah and the fight he’d walked out on.

It’s tempting at this point to slip into the woman’s or the man’s point of view and let the reader know what thoughts and emotions are being felt, but this is where staying in point of view comes into play – we are only interested in Jake’s life – what he thinks and feels. What if Jake had seen something different? What would Jake think?

Jake glanced across in time to see the man reach out to touch the woman’s hand.

“You know how I feel about this, Carol.”

“Yes, John, I do,” she said, taking his hand in hers. “You’ve never made any secret of it.”

Jake sighed. His wife never looked at him like that these days. If they were still together when they reached the couple’s age, he’d be amazed. He imagined reaching out to touch Sarah’s hand and … no, better not to think of Sarah and the fight he’d walked out on.

As you can see from the above, because we are in Jake’s point of view, we can only experience the event from his perspective. Using Jake as a first person point of view would be the same.

I glanced across in time to see the man reach out to touch the woman’s hand.

“You know how I feel about this, Carol.”

“Yes, John, I do,” she said, taking his hand in hers. “You’ve never made any secret of it.”

I sighed. My wife never looked at me like that these days. If we’re still together when we reached that couple’s age, I’ll be amazed. I imagined reaching out to touch Sarah’s hand and … no, better not to think of Sarah and the fight I’d walked out on.

And here is the same scene, this time head-hopping to use the perspective of all three characters.

Jake put down his newspaper, eyes drawn to the next table where a middle-aged couple were studying menus. He noted they were both wearing wedding rings, but by the way they avoided eye contact, he didn’t think this was a celebration. Picking up his own menu, he was about to decide on a starter when a whispered exchange drew his attention back to the couple.

Jake glanced across in time to see the man reach out to touch the woman’s hand.

“You know how I feel about this, Carol,” the man said, wishing she would be more understanding.

“Yes, John, I do,” she said, snatching her hand away. He was so selfish, thinking that a nice dinner made up for all the rest. “You’ve never made any secret of it.”

Jake wondered what the man had done to make the woman so angry. He sighed. His wife always seemed to look at him like that these days. If they were still together when they reached the couple’s age, he’d be amazed. He imagined reaching out to touch Sarah’s hand and … no, better not to think of Sarah and the fight he’d walked out on.

From a reader’s perspective, we have lost touch with Jake. There is no reason for us to know what John or Carol are thinking and the scene is weakened as a result of having their thoughts intrude.

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Friday, 16 May 2014

Getting to know ... Alan Hutcheson



What genre would you say your novels fall into, or do they defy classification?
Defy seems a bit harsh, but I can’t deny its accuracy. Let’s just say I don’t have the marketing savvy to zero in on a genre and then follow that formula. When asked, I generally describe my first novel, Boomerang, as a Comic Novel of International Intrigue and Jazz. The Baer Boys, which has just been released as an ebook, is a Character Driven Novel With a Flawed But Likable Main Character (Male) which some readers have likened to the works of Nick Hornby. But then again, another very well read early reader told me it reminded her of Anne Tyler. I have read most of Mr. Hornby’s novels, but only recently, long after The Baer Boys had taken shape. And Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is the only Anne Tyler work I have read. That was years ago.


What made you choose that genre?
Here’s my marketing savvy again. I don’t choose genres, I choose characters. From those characters I get stories.

How long does it take you to write a book?
Way, way too long. Boomerang literally took fifteen years if you include the time I spent rewriting it after it made it to the “agent stage” but failed to get a publisher under the title “Close Enough for Government Work”. The Baer Boys started out as a comic murder mystery with a theatre teacher as the reluctant amateur sleuth. After reaching the short list for the first annual YouWriteOn book of the year contest, but ultimately falling short, I asked one of the finals judges what I could do better. He told me that I was not a genre writer, my characters were too well developed and my overall style or voice, if you will, was better suited to Novels with an upper case N. It took me close to nine years of bouncing back and forth, resisting and then following his advice, writing reams of stuff that never made it into the final product, before I felt I had a book worth releasing.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
Whenever I can. My day job has an extraordinarily erratic schedule. Some days I’m in at four or five o’clock in the morning. Some days I start at 3 PM or even 8 PM. Plus, I’m a husband and father, and those roles are important to me. So I squeeze my writing into lunch breaks, those slivers of time on days off when my domestic duties are complete, and a couple of times I have scheduled a week of vacation simply so I can have Days to Write.


Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Characters are the first thing that come to me and they are conglomerations of people I know or have known, real and fictional characters I have read about, and myself. There is at least a bit of me in every character in both books, and they both have a pretty large cast.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
My first book was a collection of short stories that I wrote when I was in seventh grade. So that would make me twelve years old. The stories were all excruciatingly derivative of things like The Mad Scientists Club and The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald with a bit of Twenty-One Balloons and The Hobbit thrown into the mix.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love to read. Big surprise there. And although I’m not a fan of the word “avid”, I think that describes my relationship with photography. Cooking is fun. Gardening is something I enjoy but am not terribly successful at. And both my wife and I love to travel, visit museums and go to concerts. To completely decompress I play guitar.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
That I could do it. I didn’t start writing with any intention to publish until I was in my late thirties. It began as a challenge, something to stimulate the grey cells that would involve something I was already passionate about.

How many books have you written?
I’m guessing we don’t want to include the seventh grade short story collection. So the answer is two. Boomerang and The Baer Boys.

Which is your favourite and why?
That’s like asking who I love more, my son or my daughter.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Let’s see. Architect. Car designer. Rock and roll musician. Late night talk show host. Actor. That one lasted all the way into college.

What are you working on now?
I am about 18,000 words into a book featuring the main characters from Boomerang and also making notes for a follow up to The Baer Boys that would more prominently feature the character of Art Baer, the father.

Bio
We will dispense with the third person nonsense one usually finds in bios of this sort. Born in Michigan and transplanted to Arizona early in life, I have been avoiding skin cancer and gila monsters for decades and still am grateful not to be shovelling snow. By way of a day job I have been littering up the retail industry for longer than either retail industry or myself would care to admit. When not persuading innocents to part with their hard earned funds in order to obtain a shiny object or two, I read, play guitar, play with my dog Max, go on hikes with family and friends, and on occasion I have been known to pretend to be moderately knowledgeable in the subtleties of wine. When I retire from the day job I will be infesting whatever local theatre company that will have me.

I would love for you to drop by and say hello at any or all of these spots.


http://alanhutcheson.blogspot.com/   otherwise known as Sketches by Plumboz




https://www.flickr.com/photos/fmthend90now/   Where you can find a bit of my photography




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