author C.C.Cole's blog

Saturday, August 31, 2013

On Paying It Forward

"The Godfather"

Until I became a writer, the phrase “Pay it forward,” never came to me though it has been around for a long time; meaning, doing favorable deeds for others in the absence of having someone to “pay back” for past favors done.  It’s taking more of an altruistic approach to interacting with others; and with social networking it can be done with respect, pleasant interaction, and sharing each other’s work across the internet. 

I learned “Pay it forward” when I made virtual friends with ace writers on Facebook author groups.  We shared our books, did some blog tours, features, and tweets for each other.  As the number of authors grew, the amount of time grew, and I had to find another way to benefit my fellow writers, being short on time and lacking for social networking expertise.

The better fit I found for me was to download the books of my fellow Indies and post reviews or email if I had negative issues about the books.  That way, I could work on my own time, read a lot of good books, and be of use to my fellow writers.  I spent over two years reading and reviewing many Indie novels, posting to my blog, social networking, GR, and amazon. 

So when we “Pay it forward” do we get something back?   One large gain for me was the extensive reading of many independent novels.  When I blog about Independent writing, the more books I read, the better perspective I have, especially with the never ending comparison with traditionally published books.  Do fellow Indies read my books?  Sometimes.  I don’t keep a tally.  While such “book trading” is subject to criticism, still we new authors must start and grow readers where we find them.  Some writers read with much scrutiny, so I don’t consider writers to be a primary source for readers.

Have I ever “Paid it forward” for a writer, and expected something in return?  No, but I’ve been made promises that didn’t work out.  What did I do?  Nothing.   I agree with “The Godfather,” he wanted bad news immediately, and if he asked for a favor that was declined, he never asked for a favor from that person again.  But unlike the gangsters, who tend to payback, I prefer to choose my benefactors and continue to “Pay it forward.”

On the Wrong Audience

"The White Queen"

As I continue with social network with other writers, the topic of negative reviews recurs, obviously because no writer likes a bad review.  I won’t repeat myself with what I’ve written in past articles about the cyber-conflict between writers and reviewers, other than mutual respect should take precedence from either side. 

But going back to negative reviews, why are they negative?  I do like to download books sometimes that have been slammed on amazon to see if they are really so bad I cannot get past the third page.  Usually what I find is the topic, or presentation of the topic, does not interest the reader.   Controversial successful author John Locke made an excellent point in his “how-to” book for sales:  "You are probably not a good writer, but you need to be an entertaining writer." (paraphrased)

A great example of negative reviews is the naughty book of today “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E.L. James, reportedly now the wealthiest writer in the world.  I found the reviews more entertaining than the books.  Some go on and on about how horrible the writing is, then give it five stars.  “Entertainment” is what it’s all about.  Others blasted it with one and two stars for reasons I agreed with, and I admit, romance/erotica is not my main interest in books.  Therefore, I am not part of Ms. James’ audience (not that it made much difference, good for her).

Another example of a non-audience review is one of my first reviews of “Act of Redemption,” sent to a fundamental religious group as children’s reading by a publicist.  (Yes, I paid for this publicist and was not happy).  See review:  http://www.shevata-cccole.blogspot.com/2011/08/one-of-my-first-reviews.html
To be fair, the review did not personally attack me, he did read the book, and clearly was a non-audience reviewer. 

As new authors, how do we avoid non-audience or as above, potentially offended readers?  Answer:  We can’t avoid them all.  The reviewers are right when they say (write) that we writers are opening up for a slamming when we put our work out there for the world to see.  I’ve seen more than one broken hearted author dealing with a cluster of negative reviews following giveaway programs.  But it’s not all bad; many writers have found great exposure and success through a giveaway route. 

New authors keep writing awesome stories.  Let the readers decide.  Don’t let non-audience readers/reviewers shut you down.  We’re not meant to be the same.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

On Broken Pieces and Broken Reviews

I downloaded “Broken Pieces” by ace author Rachel Thompson, having been intrigued by the wide range of reviews this novel has.  Generally, it’s well liked, well reviewed, and “well selling,” so my hat’s off to Rachel’s success. 

“Broken Pieces” is an autobiographical story told in “Pieces” about the author’s past experiences that left her in “Pieces.”  The chapters change formats from prose to 6-line non-rhyming poetry (what is that called??), off and on to variable stories so the title is clever because it applies to the story and it applies to the writing format, a maneuver I found to be innovative.

The autobiographical point of view is very intimate, focused mainly on disturbing relationships with men in her past.  While autobiographies to me are hazardous, the level of intimacy to me extends to many women who have had similar negative experiences and climbed out of the darkness; hence, putting the “Pieces” of their lives back together.  Many serious issues regarding women are addressed in the author’s life, such as domestic violence, suicide, pedophiles, and over-the-top dates.  I found these issues to be compelling and appropriate for the message in this novel, which to me is an easy five stars for this kind of book.

After I finished, I went back and read the one star reviews.  Most of them had not finished the book, which I read in about an hour.  To me this points out a couple of things:  1) Readers are impatient 2) Readers have an expectation.   If a writer breaks a few rules in the eyes of a reader, they put it down and move on.  I’ve seen this with my own novels.  Sometimes the message will not reach the reader. 

I still think writers should be innovative and write what they know, and in this case, Rachel wrote what she knew:  The bad times in her life and that she brought herself together.  At one time or another, all of us experience a moment when we lay in Broken Pieces and find the strength to stand on our own again.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

On the Wisdom of Simplicity

I’ve been a longtime fan of martial arts and still have the privilege to endure the training sessions when I can make the time for it in my life.  Any person well skilled in martial arts with the proper training will tell you it’s a lifestyle, both physical and mental that is embraced together.  There is no perfection of the skill, one is a student always training, and even “Masters” take humble but serious responsibility in teaching others what they know.

In other words, “The Karate Kid” made several valid points about martial arts, but to leave it at tournament training would be disrespectful.

“A Book of Five Rings” by the famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi is one of the philosophical books many read that are either trained in martial arts, read history of the Samurai, or amongst the masses that read “The Art of War" by Sun Tzu and “The Prince" by Niccolo Machiavelli, a set of books that each carry their own deep philosophical messages that apply to modern life and are often quoted today.

Musashi’s book, like Sun Tzu is a brief read, but has a wonderful, simplistic way of examining society and thinking about it from a warrior’s point of view.  He reviews various methods of fighting and strategy, and the relationship of facing one opponent versus numbers of opponents.  He describes certain weapons are useful for certain battles, but not weapon is suitable for all battles.  He reminds the reader that battles are not won by weapons alone, thinking honestly for you will bring about the cunning needed for victory.

What does Musashi’s book have to do with a new author?  Everything.   He emphasizes over and over again “this takes much practice.”  Writing takes practice.  Historically the samurai remain famous for their skill and discipline.  As we create characters, think about what conflicts they face and how they will overcome them.  New writers, if you have a couple of hours, pick up Musashi’s book and read it.  He gives us a large dose of inspiration with very few words and pages.  I highly recommend it.

On the American Princess

During my cyber-absence, I wandered into several non-dark fantasy books, because I like almost everything, and biographies are one of my favorites non-fiction categories.  In thinking about people I haven’t read about, one woman occurred to me that I’ve overlooked in my adult years:  Grace Kelly.

What I remember are so many tabloids I’d see in the grocery store with my Mom as a kid about “Princess Grace, Princess Caroline, and Princess Stephanie.”  I asked my Mom, who at the time was in college to become a teacher, who Princess Grace was.  She told me Princess Grace is the actress Grace Kelly and became a Princess because of who she married.  When I asked her where Monaco was, she told me to find a map and clean up my room.  I pressed her further about why are her kids always in jail or drugs or something, and she said, “That’s what rich, spoiled kids do.”

In reading this of the many, many biographies of Grace Kelly, this interaction with my mother was how she and her daughters were perceived in the later years.  I do remember when she was killed in the car accident and felt bad for her family.  As I’ve grown older and watch her films, I’m happy to say I’ve learned a new appreciation for her work.  While doing a bit of net-surfing looking at famous bridal gowns (a girl thing), I clicked to Grace Kelly’s pictures.  Wow!  She was absolutely beautiful.

The biography above tells the story of Grace Kelly in what some would say a sympathetic tone; meaning, in a way that her Royal family would agree with.  The Prince, her son and daughters reportedly gave input to the bio, along with close friends.  

Grace grew up in a family of wealth and privilege, but was the “least talented” of the group of kids and always wanted approval from her father; it was a long time before it arrived.  She left home from Pennsylvania to become an actress/model in New York City.  After bringing home a boyfriend and taking him for an outing, her meddling parents reportedly found birth control and divorce papers, so he was sent away on a train, and she was brought home (how intrusive!  That would have been a MAJOR fight with me). 

Grace found her independence by moving to Hollywood and continuing her film career.  In this book she apparently dated often, had several lovers, and worked hard as an actress.  But somewhere in the 1950s culture she felt compelled to get married.  By almost an accident, she meets Prince Ranier Grimaldi and agrees to marry him before she really knows him and had no understanding of how it would affect her life, including the $2 million dowry her family had to put up.  The examination regarding her ability to have children I found humorous.  When asked about her virginity, she replied, “It’s impolite to ask.”  (Really!)  But like every other obstacle in her life, Grace made it happen.  The wedding was beautiful, the cameras flashed, the family smiled, and finally people in the world found out Monaco existed.  Then everyone left to go home and left Grace in the tiny world of decadence, away from her film career, away from her friends and family, and in the cold comfort of European Royalty.

I recommend this biography as a touching story about Grace Kelly that spans her entire life and tragic death.  It brought me back to the time as a child about seeing her in the tabloids; she seemed to have it all.  I never thought it possible that she could have a difficult life, but after reading this, now I can appreciate her work, her beauty, and her strength as a person.  If anyone had it all, it was Grace Kelly.  But she did not, and if she were alive today, I believe she’d be the first to say so, but in a very prim, ladylike fashion she was known for.

On Writers and Great Characters

April Wheeler "Revolutionary Road"

Viserys Targaryen "Game of Thrones"

In reader book reviews, one of the first topics usually mentioned is the lead character, and whether the reader liked him/her or not.  Like I’ve written in the past, the lead character must hook the reader in by good or ill deeds and often either breathes life or kills the story.  Supporting characters have a role as well, and sometimes a strong supporting character gives enough strength to the story, or a group of supporting characters, as in the prototype dark fantasy LOTR.

But when readers say they like or dislike characters, does it mean they are not good characters, in reference to writing a story?  Perhaps the better term is effective character.  Did the character affect the plot?  Did you remember the character after you finished reading the book?  Readers often base preferences on characters they like, meaning that they can relate to, but when they say they dislike a character does that put down the story?  Answer?  Not always, from a writer’s standpoint. 

I’ll go back to a non-fantasy classic mainstream writer’s favorite novel:  “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates.  I know plenty of readers that didn’t like the story or film, because of the depressing ending.  But as a reader, do you remember April Wheeler?  The 1950s housewife who felt trapped in their “safe” post WWII suburban lifestyle and wanted to act upon her dream of moving to Paris for a different life?  She was selfish, hot tempered, but had dreams.  Don’t we all dream?  From a writer’s standpoint, is she a great character?  Yes.

Another example, on the other sphere, my world of dark fantasy:  “A Song of Ice and Fire” books or “Game of Thrones” cable series, take a look at first season (or first book) at silly stupid older brother of Daenerys, Viserys Targaryen.  I didn’t find anything to like about Viserys, except that he had the vision of retaking Westeros but the methods were ideas of others.  While we readers and viewers were glad to be rid of this stupid character (with a scene everyone seems to like) was he an effective character?  Do we remember him?  His family was murdered; he wanted his birthright crown, so he had a valid argument, though was sexist and violent.  So from a writer’s standpoint, was he a great character?  Yes.  

Readers want to find a connection with the lead character.  But likable characters need balance with obviously flawed characters, sometimes, selfish, jealous, or manipulative.  These characters bring depth to the story and make it memorable.  Most of the time, when I think about any novel, while the description of the world is important, the characters remain with me.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Review of “Rising” by Elizabeth Marshall

“Rising” by Elizabeth Marshall begins with the life of Brody, a who is raised by a woman who is not his natural mother who had to give up her natural son to be raised by others.  As the boy grows up, he has an irrational intolerance for his family, and later his friends.  While demonstrating intelligence and aptitude to do anything he wants to do, he realizes most things he wants come easier to him than most around him.

When he becomes older, his irritation with his family and friends changes to absolute hatred leading him down a dark path of murder and treachery. He finds himself in a place in Scotland that exists outside of the time he once lived and meets many people that knew his natural mother, meets and faces the consequences with his natural father, and the son of the woman that raised him instead.  Brody remains incapable of opening his heart and changing his ways.  By the story’s end, the Brody finds that evil does come full circle, that horrific energy expelled may nourish something else altogether, creating another power.

“Rising” is a complex and clever ride, taking the reader not only into darkness, but also through time.   It is a skillful character study of how good becomes evil, how neutral remains neutral, and how good arises from it all.  Five stars!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

On the American Party Education

During my blog break, while glancing over an online newspaper, a book review caught my eye with the title “The Five Year Party.”  That translated to me the obvious, known to us University College graduates as “college.”  I like reading many genres, so I couldn’t pass this one up.

While I’m an adult with no kids, this doesn’t impact me directly, I’ve always been interested in the education of kids from all walks of life, particularly like I came from; poor, living on a gravel road, no telephone, violent father, no family car, and very few frills.   I find it annoying when the blogosphere describes as the “magic bullet” kid from lower middle class who will do whatever it takes to better his or her life.  Magic bullet?  To me, that’s “hard work.”

But the Five Year Party isn’t about hard work; actually it’s the opposite.   This book reviews details about kids entering universities called “Party Schools” where kids do little or no classwork, get good grades, and spend most of their time underage drinking or worse, just to graduate with a meaningless diploma and a huge debt burden with no job to pay for it.  Chapter after chapter, the author grinds into the hideous issues of the party schools, linking all of the ills of the teenage generation to riots, assaults, and even deaths of students.  From reading this book, the teachers do their best, the students do their worst (if you call partying worst), and the school administrators walk away with the cash. 

While this book has few nice things to say about American universities, the author seems to believe Ivy League or other small colleges give students better educations without the Five Year Party.   Really?  He can write what he wants, but in my “vast hard science educational background” as I’ve written about in the past, I’ve known plenty of brilliant people who graduated from “party schools.”

Do I think this book is worth reading?  If you’re sending your kids to the large university schools mentioned in this book, parents should know what can go on and understand the finances behind the academia.  “The Five Year Party” is presented as “in your face” but many things in college are in your face that I’d prefer not to remember. 

Was my undergraduate college mentioned?  Of course!  I knew it would be before I opened the book…