Category Archives: Reading

Don’t Follow Me

I started watching a Netflix series called “Black Mirrors.” It’s a “sci-fi anthology series [that] explores a twisted high-tech near-future where humanity’s greatest innovations and darkest instincts collide.”

The first episode is about a young woman whose social media rating is at a 4.2, but before she can really get what she wants, she needs to raise it to a 4.5. I won’t give much of the details, but let’s just say it all backfires on her.

It serves, I think, as a warning to us all. How often to we post something and eagerly await every single like and comment. Even here, we are given ratings on our writing.

In and of itself, it isn’t a bad thing, especially here. Ratings help us to improve our writing. The problem comes when we take those same ratings and apply it to how we perceive ourselves as individuals. How much do we determine our self-worth based on how high (or low) our ratings go?

During the last writers conference I attended, I sat in on an agent panel, and one agent said, “If I am to look at two writers, and one has thousands of followers on Facebook or Twitter versus another writer who has only a few hundred, I will most likely sign the first writer.”

From the agent’s perspective, it’s not a horrible thing. As writers, our success or failures in readership will always boil down to the numbers. It may seem unfair, but that is the very definition of fair. Numbers don’t discriminate. They are what they are; how we feel about them is never part of the equation.

That said, I don’t want to succeed that way, at least considering the numbers first before anything else. I follow people on Twitter and Facebook because I care about what they have to say. I want people to follow me for the same reason. In fact, I have no idea how many friends I have on Facebook. I only know how many I have on Twitter, because it shows me every time I login. If it didn’t show me, I wouldn’t even care to look.

Some authors have followed me on Twitter. As soon as I decide to follow them, I get a standard private message stating, “Thanks for the follow. Please see my books and/or other products I have for sale.” Out of fifteen or twenty of those, guess how many books I’ve purchased? One. And only because the way that author asked it was so funny and unique, I had to check it out (I’m glad I did. The novella he advertised for was actually quite good). I know then that they’re not interested in my posts. They’re out to get a sale, to uptick their own numbers. As a potential reader, I feel more than a little used.

Writing and gaining readership aren’t solely about the numbers for me. They never were, and I hope they never will be. As other – especially Christian – authors have said and stressed, writing should be my ministry. For me, it shouldn’t matter if my words influence and comfort a mere 100 people instead of 100,000. Nor should any number of ratings or likes on social media determine how I view myself, or even in how others may view me (“Psh, she only got seven likes for that post. Must be crap. I ain’t reading that!”)

Now this last part may sound like a sales pitch in disguise, but it isn’t. I don’t want you to follow me — unless you really care about my words. Also know that if I follow you, it’s not to try to sell you something, or increase my numbers and/or ratings. I do so because I want to know what you have to say. It’s as simple as that.

Rolling in Poison Ivy

When a writer or author follows me on Twitter, I usually follow them back.

When I do I inevitably get a private message stating, “Thanks for the follow. Be sure to check out my book . . .”

It’s a marketing thing, I get it, and I try not to allow cynicism to take over in that they only followed me in the hopes of getting a sale. Have I purchased a book from a Twitter message?

Once.

And I did so because the author of whom I returned the follow messaged me this:

“I’d roll around in poison ivy to get you to read the free sample of my book . . .”

How could I not turn down such an offer?

At $0.99, I decided to buy the book before I even read the sample. I figured at that low cost, I couldn’t lose either way.

“The Scattered and The Dead Book 0.5” reads like a long prologue (as if the 0.5 didn’t give it away).

With some books, less is more, and the authors Tim McBain and L.T. Vargas proved that with this 162 page book.

“All my friends are dead. Everyone I’ve ever cared about is dead.”

Loneliness drives an introvert to write a letter to the girl in the apartment across the hall. He is anxious. Reclusive. Desperate for a friend. The apocalypse interrupts this attempt at human contact.

Now he watches out the window as the world gets gut to pieces by plague and riots. Buildings burn. Pedestrians vomit blood.

Soon bodies line the streets. Rumors of zombies spread. And then the power goes out.

Getting to know someone could be harder than he thought, let alone surviving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

He might even have to leave the apartment.

The entire book is Decker’s (the main, and really, the only character) letter to the girl across the hallway. In it he describes everything he does and everything he sees out the window before, during and after the apocalypse starts.

On the surface it might sound boring. Where’s the action and interaction between characters If most of the book takes place in a single apartment through the mind of one person? Unless you count the girl, but we don’t meet her; we only know her through the main character and his imaginings of her. The authors don’t reveal how the apocalypse starts, but I don’t care. It’s not relevant to the story; what matters is how Decker responds to the challenges before him.

In order for a writer to build a character who’s believable and sympathetic, the writer must love that character — even if he/she is the antagonist. The love the authors have for Decker is obvious from the first page. He’s not only believable, but I could see a lot of myself in him. I felt as though he was talking and writing the letter to me. That, there, proves how solid the writing is.

The writing is smooth and direct, and I didn’t find a single error. The authors give just enough detail to immerse us into Decker’s mind and his world, but not so much it gets bogged down. I read the entire book in less than two days, and I honestly didn’t want it to end. Luckily Book 1 is out, so I can keep going.

I won’t offer to roll in poison ivy to get you to read it, but I recommend you check out the book nonetheless.

You can find out more here: http://www.amazon.com/Scattered-Dead-Book-0-5/dp/1523769025/

Respect the Reader

Part of a writer’s responsibility is to read. A lot, both in and outside the chosen genre.

Many have suggested that a writer should include published books similar to their own when querying agents and publishers. This helps the agent/publisher determine where the prospective book belongs on the bookstore shelf (or online category).

Along with researching agents, I’ve also been researching books in my chosen genre, so I can pick a few likely candidates similar to mine.

I found one that looked promising. Before I purchase any book, I look at the reviews, usually the negative, or more critical ones, and see if it’s worth my time and money.

The critical reviews of this particular book were few and far between, but what concerned me was one of the author’s responses:

Considering that the eight novel series has sold more than twenty million copies in 13 languages, and was praised as “Landmark Science Fiction” by Publishers Weekly and Locus Magazine, I suppose Chris and I were probably doing something a little bit right.

No one likes to be criticized, and this is especially true of writers. We are a sensitive lot. Because we pour so much of our heart and soul into our writing, it’s difficult not to bristle at harsh criticism. Lashing out at it is a near insatiable temptation.

But writers must refrain, and approach criticism with a rational and humble attitude. There is but one reason we must do so:

We write not for ourselves alone, but for the reader. Readers are the ultimate decider in an author’s success or failure. Without them, an author can’t succeed. Their opinion matters. Sure, not all criticism should carry such weight that the author must change how or what he/she writes, because not all readers share the same opinions about what’s good writing and/or storytelling.

It’s a matter of respect. The author’s response above was a figurative slap across the reader’s face. It shows both a lack of respect, and an arrogance. The author basically said the reader’s opinion wasn’t worth a fly’s poop, and worse, he accused the reader of not knowing what he was talking about; that he was stupid.

If it were me, I would have either not responded or said something like, “I’m sorry you didn’t like it as much as you expected. I hope that you’ll give my subsequent books a chance.” I would then offer them a coupon or free sample of the next book with the request for another honest review.

As a reader, I would not only gain more respect for the author, but would also take him/her up on the offer. And if I do like the next book, the author will have gained a loyal reader. Even if I don’t like the next book, I’d more likely try a third time if for no other reason than the author cared enough to appreciate my opinion, and responded positively to it (even if the author didn’t necessarily agree with it).

Because of the author’s response to the review, I didn’t purchase the book. Nor will I consider buying any of his others; I don’t care how good they are. No author who holds their readers in contempt deserves my money.

What I Miss — And Don’t Miss — About Facebook

November 30, 2015 was my official last day of spending time on Facebook.

After over two months of freedom from that site, I found there are both advantages and disadvantages to doing so.

First the disadvantages (because I want to end this entry on a positive note):

  • Daily happenings. I have little to no idea what my friends and family who don’t live nearby are up to. I’m way out of the loop, and feel a bit left out when people talk about the latest happening, or viral meme or video on Facebook.
  • No more writing ideas. At least as far as non-fiction is concerned. Facebook provided a lot of fodder for me to comment on, and inspired many a blog entry. It’s part of the reason I’ve posted fewer entries here since then. But only partly. The other reason is a big positive that outweighs this negative.
  • People miss me. More than one person has expressed how much they miss my updates — some of whom I see fairly often. I guess they like my stuff.

 

The advantages:

  • Writing and more writing. While I’m empty of ideas for inspirational blog entries, I have completed two novels, and am now working on completing a third. Since December 1, I have written over 110,000 words.
  • Reading. I have more books in the last two-and-a-half months than I’ve read the previous year, which further inspires me to keep writing. Which reminds me. I need to start posting reviews of said books . . .
  • No more — at least way less — anger and frustration with the constant flow of memes and angry proselytizing with regard to politics and religion.
  • No more pissing people off with my own opinionated opinions with regard to politics and religion.

 

At the end of the day, while I miss out on a lot, what I’ve gained is far more important. I may actually get a book published out of it. That’s the hope anyway.

Once I finish this third novel, I will have time to write and send query letters to agents (I’m not looking forward to it, but it’s got to be done. Maybe that’ll be the subject of my next entry . . .).

Since this blog is supposed to be about my writing journey, I will keep you apprised.

Swallowed Up

EmpireIt’s rare that I read a book in only two days. I managed to do just that when I read “Empire (In Her Name: Redemption, Book 1)” by Michael R. Hicks. Even though I spent hours reading it on my Nook, and gave myself a headache doing so, I didn’t care. It was that good.

What made it so good wasn’t the premise alone. He managed a perfect combination of exposition, detail and action that swallowed me up as a reader, and made it near impossible to put down. I even teared up at the sad parts, and for a book to do that to me, that’s saying something. Fair warning if you’re curious about the book. There’s a bit of profanity and explicit sex scenes (although thankfully few and short, and fit the plot instead of being — for the most part — gratuitous).

What I liked most about it is that the words disappeared in favor of the story. That’s something all writers should seek to achieve. Writers have to pay attention to every word they use and how they’re structured, so the reader doesn’t even notice them. It seems impossible, and even counter-intuitive, but every reader almost instinctively understands this, especially when it comes to science fiction, fantasy, and other “action” type genres. The last thing a reader wants is to be jarred out of a story because of a poorly written sentence or odd word.

Poetry is an exception, I think. In poetry, the words are supposed to shine. In other writing, whether it be fiction or even non-fiction, the words are the stage hands, not the actors. Mr. Hicks’ words were definitely the stage hands, the story and plot the actors, and he utilized both better than most. I’m a bit envious, but at the same time motivated. It can be done! With a bit more practice and study, perhaps I can achieve that balance myself.

Part of me wants to get the next book in the series right now, but I hesitate. There are other books on my list to read, and I don’t want to keep giving myself a headache because I can’t put down an eBook. If/when I do purchase the next in Hicks’ series, it’ll have to be paper methinks.

EDIT: If/when nothing! I just purchased the other two books in the trilogy (paperback!) and should receive them on December 30.

The main reason is because reading “Empire” inspired me to dive into my own unfinished novel that I haven’t touched in about a year. Gotta keep up that momentum!

Words Mean Things

How a person speaks, including the words he/she uses says a lot about that person’s thoughts and feelings toward a subject.

For example, I saw this in a local news item today:

“Approximately 192,000 North Dakota residents are renters. They are our construction workers and our nurses. Renters are our young families and they are our college students who are faced with increasing tuition costs. As the cost of living goes up and the price of rent goes up, they are the individuals who have been left out of the tax relief.”

One word in that paragraph (said four times) stood out at me. Can you spot it? I’ll give you a few spaces before I reveal the word below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When a person adds “our” to another person or group, what exactly is he/she inferring?

“Our” implies possession or ownership, right? So by that reasoning, the person who said the above thinks and believes (even though he would vociferously deny it should someone ask him outright), construction workers, nurses, young families and college students are owned by the State.

Now one could argue that the politician is implying “our” in the context of family, such as when a parent describes “our” children. Considering the bill being discussed, however, I doubt he’s thinking in familial terms. I won’t get into the politics of the bill, because that’s not the point of this entry.

Construction workers, nurses, families and college students don’t belong to the politician or the State, whether in familial terms or ownership. They belong to themselves. If he had left out “our”, the meaning of his statement would not have changed. So why add “our” in the first place?

A Microcosm of Human Nature – And It Ain’t Pretty

I often peruse a photography forum, and there are times when people post subjects that show me just how depraved people can be. Not by them posting pornographic or other exploitative pictures and calling it art, but — for example — discussing when it’s appropriate or inappropriate to take a picture. One person brought up a scenario:

If you’re daughter is being raped, do you take a picture, or do you drop your camera to save your daughter?

The answer seems obvious, doesn’t it? To me it did, but not to others. I was both disgusted and frustrated that people responded with such comments such as, “It only takes a second to take a picture. Afterwards, then you can help your daughter.”

Their reasoning? The photographer who took a picture of the man who jumped off the Twin Towers on 9/11/01. In doing so, the photographer captured a poignant and now historical moment of the horror of that day. By taking a picture of the horror of rape, the photographer can then share it with others so they, too, can see what a horrific crime it is.

Another comment went something like this: “You don’t know if the perpetrator has a knife. By interfering, you could put your own life at risk.”

So better to take a picture and walk away.

Human beings are selfish and self-absorbed by nature, which is why when someone does risk their own life to save another, we notice and call them heroes.

This particular thread showed that selfishness more succinctly than others I’ve read. No amount of appealing to their sense of empathy worked. They simply refused to put themselves in the shoes of the victim, proclaiming themselves victims when people “told” them not to take a picture and help, thereby violating their right to freedom of expression.

If you can stomach it, here’s the thread in question: http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/55009360

This is the world we live in, and I am ever more grateful to those who help others without a second thought to their own well-being (or their “right” to take a picture), whether they be first-responders, family members, or complete strangers who happen to be in the right place at the right time.