Book endings and authors’ obligations to readers

Deborah Harkness provided me some useful information but no answers.
Deborah Harkness provided me some useful information but no answers.

It’s been several weeks since I finished reading the final book in the “All Souls” trilogy by Deborah Harkness, The Book of Life, and after writing a few reviews of it for various sites and chewing on my ideas for some time, I had the opportunity to attend Harkness’ book signing in San Francisco a couple of days ago. After asking the author two questions during the open Q&A and then one “spoiler” question while she signed my books, I still have mixed feelings about how the series concluded.

I’ll just say that this observation is a little spoiler-ish but not in detail, so if you have not read the final book, then skip over this paragraph: I felt that many of the questions I had about Ashmole 782, the elusive and strange magical manuscript introduced in the very beginning of A Discovery of Witches, were not answered. And while some of my questions may be just “my own” or somewhat indirect, some were directly brought up by the characters in the book quite early on. And THEY WERE NOT RESOLVED. ARRRGGGGH. Considering that this was a huge part of the plot of the series, I felt gypped as a reader (of 1700 pages, no less) that they were left open. Talk about unsatisfactory. So I asked Harkness this: “Do YOU know where the book came from, who made it, etc.?” And she immediately and firmly responded with a “yes.”

She KNOWS, and she did not tell readers? Whaaaat?

Harkness told me this: “Everything readers know in the book comes from the point of view of Diana and the other characters. She doesn’t really know (at the end of the series) yet the answers to these questions, so readers don’t.”

During the hour of the author reading from the book, talking about it and herself, and then doing Q&A, she said a few things that are relevant: One, she really intended to keep the series as a trilogy, so as she explored the story while writing, she had to limit herself so it wouldn’t get unwieldy. Two (and I’m piecing this together a bit), I think she said, essentially, that anyone’s full story is never contained in a book. Things happen before and things happen after. The book is then a part of the whole story. And (after someone observed that the last book was the darkest of the series) she was trying to show what happens in a relationship after the fun, easy, falling-in-love part, where it gets trickier and is more work, and so on. So I’m going to extrapolate that she doesn’t intend for her writing to “tie everything up in a bow” at the end. But the part of their lives that is the pertinent story is captured and pinned down a bit within the pages of the series.

Now here’s where this gets interesting. Some readers can get up in arms when a story doesn’t end the way they expect, or it doesn’t end “happily” or it doesn’t tie up all the loose strings. And it may show a sign of reader immaturity when one gets mad that a story doesn’t end with a happily ever after — life, after all, is never that simple and “satisfying,” and books are best when they reflect the messiness and realities of life. So at what point should readers rightly expect some kind of conclusion?

Here’s my take: it depends on the type of book (genre) and how thoroughly expectations were set up in the book and plot. In a mystery, for example, it’s understood that various disparate elements are going to be introduced and then the mystery “solved” at the end, with those elements put together in certain ways to provide a satisfactory ending, leaving the reader with the “aha!” feeling of “That’s why all those items were important.” In a memoir, one may fairly reasonably expect the author to recount parts of his or her life that relate to a certain theme, a story arc that includes pertinent facts, experiences, and observations, because it would be impossible and undesirable for that person to just sit down and write everything that’s happened without giving it shape, form, or meaning.

Regarding the expectations, if a few things are simply mentioned as facts that might give a better idea of characters’ personalities, motivations, expectations, development, etc., they don’t require further attention by the author. But if the book frequently mentions certain plot elements and has the characters and readers questioning them as a large part of the book and plot, they need to be answered.

In the case of the All Souls series, as Harkness put it in her talk, the three “main characters” are Diana, the historian and witch; Matthew, the vampire and researcher; and Ashmole 782, the manuscript. Since she herself said that explicitly and since all of the book’s promotional materials and synopses focus on those three characters, one rightly expects to get questions answered about them. We learn quite a lot about Matthew and Diana’s histories (where they came from), their personalities, and their fates. We don’t know all the details about what will happen to them in the long term, but their stories as presented in the books are concluded well and make sense. But Ashmole 782, as a “main character,” gets short shrift. We know where it ends up, but we still have no idea where it came from and why. I appreciate that Harkness says readers only know what Diana and the other characters know, and that she had to keep the series to a manageable size, but I still feel she did not do her job as an author and conclude that part of the story. If she had to cut out other things to still keep it manageable, or if she had to make it a little longer so readers could come along to the point Diana knew more, then so be it.

Harkness did make one comment that gave me some hope for future satisfaction: I said, “I’d really like to know what you know!” and she responded something along the lines of “You will.” But since she said she won’t be writing more about Diana and Matthew, but may revisit the “world” of the books to explore other characters and stories, I’m not sure how that might come about. So we shall see.

What do you say? How much should readers expect in these situations?

Here’s something radical: We disagree. We can still be friends.

Civil discourse. Sometimes it seems like an impossibility, a utopia, a thing of the past. In the age of instant publication of everyone’s thoughts to a potentially huge audience, and with no way of taking back a rash, thoughtless statement once it’s escaped one’s texting or posting fingers, it feels as if cyberspace (and, thence, real space) is clogged with outrage, name-calling, and sometimes straight-up mean-spiritedness, all because we are drawing battle lines over a variety of hot topics. New blog posts that go viral, legislation, personal experiences all get hashed out in great detail as toes and fingers dig into the lines in the cybersand.

Friendship and lines in the sand: do they mix?
Friendship and lines in the sand: do they mix?

Again, though I don’t write about the really controversial topics on this blog or go into detail about my opinions on some of them, it may be fairly simple to figure out where I stand on certain things. I am religious and conservative. As I said in my previous post, about body image and “feminism,” sometimes people’s conclusions about what I think might be different from what I actually believe, but in general, they’re probably going to be mostly right. But the reasoning and the emotion and compassion and time I’ve taken to draw my conclusions are almost NEVER going to be as cut-and-dried and automatic as some might assume, which is a point I’d really like to make clear.

The past years, for instance, have brought same-sex marriage to center stage in the national consciousness and in legislation. And it’s been interesting to have discussions with friends (and acquaintances and their acquaintances) about the various issues that tie into that hot topic. Various states are still in the process of approving or banning it (or having their voters’ decisions overturned); attorneys general are weighing in; states are introducing legislation that deals with related issues to gay marriage (Arizona’s current potential law trying to safeguard business owners who would like to exercise religious opinions on it is a biggie this week). As all these legalities make their way through the various systems to some kind of eventual, kind-of-final resolution, many still have mighty strong opinions about all the ins and outs.

Again, I won’t talk about all my opinions on this topic. There are some truly good sites out there that do better than I could for all the sides. What’s interesting to me, however, is HOW we present these ideas. And in many ways, it is NOT a pretty picture. It’s ugly out there, folks. Discourse is so far from civil it’s not even on the spectrum sometimes (is it DATcourse? ha ha).

But when I’ve talked about this topic, for example, with friends I adore and respect and think the world of in cyberspace, mostly Facebook, I’ve found that though the discussion can still get a touch heated, it’s still pretty respectful. And so far I’m talking about people who are all of my same religious persuasion and similar backgrounds, I’d roundly say. And we still have very different and strong opinions about all the issues-within-the-issue. Here’s what I love, though: that it stays respectful and devoid of name-calling or (mostly) generalizing. I’ve not changed my mind, and I am sure they haven’t, but we’ve had some interesting discussions and even insights and ideas that were generated. And we walk away still liking and loving each other.

I think about this when I drive sometimes: when there’s a driver who’s been doing something that’s “making me crazy” on the road, it’s once or twice been someone I ended up knowing! And when I know who it is, then my frustration just dribbles right out of me. I think twice now when someone’s really going slowly or ___(fill in the blank) because I wonder, “Could it be someone I really like?”

I wonder if it’s possible to do this more in public discourse. Could we imagine that the people we’re “talking” with in cyberspace, for example, are decent human beings, ones we might be friends with in real life? Can we treat them with the respect due to that kind of relationship? This isn’t a new idea: it’s all about not de-humanizing people. (In extreme situations, severe de-humanization — or objectification, if you will — has led to slavery and genocide.)

I’ve been taught from these discussions and hope I’ve said something that might give someone else “on the other side” a new insight or understanding. And if we were all together in person, I imagine us smiling, shaking hands, and heading out for a nice dinner together, laughing, joking, and just enjoying time together as friends. Now THAT’s pretty radical.

It’s not just paper and ink; it’s love

I just finished reading a New York Times review of a book about letter-writing (I doubt I’ll have time to read the book itself, To the Letter, by Simon Garfield) and was reminded once again how much I appreciate and enjoy the written word. I suppose that should be obvious, given that I am a writer and here I am writing on a blog. I’m not just one of those people who savors language and words and how, used just so, they can sometimes express what it feels impossible to share outside of the seemingly wordless depths of the heart. Sure, I can and do use the sublime gift of language to share my feelings and thoughts through electronic means, but I really do like to take a pen and commit those ideas on a more permanent medium. It just seems a bit more serious and heartfelt to show my feelings in a way that’s more tangible and keep-able.

I love to receive, too. And, yes, I’m one of those old-fogies-at-heart who bemoans the loss of the art of writing notes and letters. I still frequent the Hallmark store. I have pretty notepaper and thank-you notes, and I relish using my good ink pens, shaping letters carefully and making sure my words not only sound appealing but look nice as well. Since I like those things so much, I do enjoy receiving them, as well. I love knowing that someone I care about took the extra time to put pen to paper (or card) to express their love for and admiration of me.

my arms around youSure, I have folders in my documents file on the computer, some of which hold electronic correspondence from others, and I have kept emails that mean a lot to me. And it’s admittedly kinda nice that these don’t take up any physical space (neatness, too, is a virtue I value), but I also have a few boxes’ worth of just letters and cards from people who have meant a lot to me. They take up real estate in my closet, but I’d never part with them.

Perhaps at this time of the year, where we shop so much online and send e-holiday cards and e-gift cards, we could take just a few minutes to write a personal note. Maybe after Christmas, when life isn’t quite so hectic. Perhaps as part of a physical thank-you note to someone who gave us a gift we unwrapped or just has given us the gift of themselves, we can get out a nice ink pen and craft a few heartfelt words of love and appreciation. What a present that would be!

It’s OK to close doors in life

I wrote recently about dreams and that sometimes it’s just impossible to reach certain dreams and goals. Well, that’s tied in to other conclusions I have drawn about my own life. I’m in my 40s now and still have plenty of good years ahead, very likely, but I’m not 20 anymore. And I’m really generally OK with that: more than OK, really — I’m happy with where I am and wouldn’t want to go back to those early years of adulthood.

I love to write, and I love to read. I’ve always wanted to have a book published, and when I was in my late 20s, I wrote a memoir that was just a series of vignettes about my experiences raising my first child. (Now she’s a senior in high school, a stage in life I never could imagine in those long, early days.) I worked on it and worked on it, and I wrote dozens of revisions of query letters and mailed out hundreds to agents and some publishers. I kept all those rejection letters in a file folder and just went through them again, more than 10 years later. I don’t think I’m ready to toss them all. They’re somehow a reminder of the work I put into this goal, and how dedicated I was to achieving it.

Even so, I never acquired an agent or got a traditional publisher to take on the work of publishing my magnum opus. Not too surprising; getting memoirs published is nearly impossible. So, after a few years, I decided to self-publish. I really did my homework and made my product the best it could be without completely breaking the bank. I found a printer and had 2,000 copies printed. The day they were delivered, I had 20 white boxes full of my pretty pink books sitting in my living room, a testament to my optimism and, probably, stubbornness.

bye-bye booksI sold 200. And through two moves, one all the way across the country, I have kept all those remaining boxes. But now I am ready to get rid of most of them. I accept I’ll never sell them. I don’t think they’re my best work anymore. I’ve evolved as a writer. And they might just be too cutesy for most people. So, all these years later, some are being donated to the local book sale, and the rest are going to the recycling bin.

I realized a while ago I’m probably not meant for fiction, either, though it is easier to get published (I’ve tried writing some and I like the results even less than I like my memoir now). I think I’m too much of a journalist after all these years to write stuff completely out of thin air. So, nonfiction seemed still the best way to go. I thought that I’d develop my series of articles about plastic surgery in Utah into a faith-based book on self-image and beauty. I worked on it for a year. I sent it in to a good publisher for our faith community. Two months ago, my chapters were rejected. The company wants to publish a book on that topic, but my manuscript isn’t quite the right fit.

I’ve also now decided it’s time to put that book on the shelf for good. It was a good experience and I learned a lot from it, but I’m done with it. I feel it’s time to move on.

It’s time for me to focus on what I’m truly good at, and that’s editing and helping other people with their writing. I’ve been editing for newspapers for years, and I can say with all honesty that I’m very good at it. More than that: I’m excellent, really talented. I’ve always wanted to get into editing manuscripts for book publishers, and it seems I now have an opportunity to get a foot in the door for that goal as well. So I’m going to take it, go for it, put my time and efforts into that. I’m ready to move forward.

That means I’m closing the door on the book writing, at least for now. New doors may be opening, and I have to close the doors on the old stuff behind me first. I only have so much time and energy for career-oriented goals in my life, so I have to focus on the real opportunities and let go of the old dreams. Besides, this is a dream, too, just a different one. Watch me turn the knob to see where this door takes me.

If I’m going to take a “personality” test, of course it’s going to be literary

So I was reading Josh Hanagarne’s blog, World’s Strongest Librarian, and he posted about using a fun little site called I Write Like, which uses an algorithm of some sort to analyze whose writing style your writing most resembles. Now I typically don’t get caught up in those cutesy types of things everyone posts on Facebook (which Jersey Shore person you’re most like or which reality show you’d be best on, etc etc.), but this certainly hooked my interest. I mean, I love to read, and I love to write. And having myself compared to a famous author can only stoke my writer’s vanity, right?

So I eagerly tripped right on over to the site and pasted in a few different paragraphs from my blog and from my reviews on Rated Reads. I clicked the “analyze” button and only had to wait a second for the site to spit out its conclusion: I write like Vladimir Nabokov. Ohhh-kaaay. Haven’t read any of his work, actually (no, I’ve never been interested in reading Lolita, thankyouverymuch). But it was a fun game to play.


I write like
Vladimir Nabokov

I Write Like. Analyze your writing!


Hanagarne noted that he hadn’t seen any female writers pop up so far, and my sample certainly lines up with that. Anyone else care to give it a shot?

Remembering my dad

Dad’s shadow still looms large in my life.

With today the third anniversary of my father’s death, I’ve been pondering what to write. I thought for a while I might take a particular “angle” to discuss, like organ donation. My father suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and was declared brain dead, so his body was viable, and my siblings and I all agreed to donate his organs, so his kidneys and liver are now keeping three people alive. So I could take the opportunity here to talk all about that. I felt so happy to know that my very health-conscious father could help other people even as we had to lose him. I was particularly pleased when we received a letter from the woman who received his liver, and it became even more personal.

But no, I decided not to make this post all about that angle. After the full weekend I’ve had, I’ve just realized that, as always, I simply want to honor my father by living my best life. I felt blessed the other night to have a few prayers answered and to be able to make progress in some goals I’ve had for a while, and I thought it was wonderfully appropriate that my exciting evening of those things coming together came over this weekend. Saturday was three years after the hemorrhage, when I realized, late that night, that my father would not survive it. Yesterday I remembered our long drive to where he was lying in a hospital, his body kept alive by machines and medicines, so his children could be there with him. Three years ago today, we met with doctors who officially informed us of the steps they had taken to assure he truly was “gone.” We said goodbye to him and held a funeral service two days later, just a small group of family and a few friends who were in the area.

I’ve remembered him every single day that he’s been out of my life, but these anniversaries have brought home again the memories of those days and moments, where I had been hit and flattened by an emotional truck and felt hollowed out by grief the magnitude of which I had never before experienced. I had dreaded the days when my parents would die, because I knew they would be devastating, but I thought I had a lot more years with my dad. The unexpected event blindsided me.But the grief has eased over time, and the hole in my chest doesn’t feel quite so gaping. Now I remember with a chuckle all of his foibles that would make me crazy, and I recollect with fondness all the time we had together, all the experiences we shared. He taught me so much.

Right now I’m writing a book, and I’ve been able to incorporate some of the lessons he taught me about media literacy into what I’m writing, and it gives me such great satisfaction to be able to use his work within mine. He’s a part of my present even now, as I work on a project that is so important to me. I may not be able to talk to him about it and share my excitement, but I’m still somehow sharing this with him.

As I watched my oldest participate in a marching band competition on Saturday on a perfect fall afternoon, I thought of Dad, who marched in band himself many years ago and loved watching when I did so too as a high school student. My heart swelled with pride on his behalf as well as mine. I listen to my fifth-grader practice on the very same trumpet my dad played, and I feel him around somehow.

So many things remind me of Dad and keep him close here in my life. The best “angle” I can write about today is simply that he  lives on, quite literally, and I will see him again someday, and even now, he is still present in my life through all he taught me and all I do that honors him.

Strong language in books: not so common as one might think

After addressing my great discomfort with the number of strong and vulgar language in J.K. Rowling’s first book for adults, The Casual Vacancy, I looked at other bloggers’ reviews on the book, and I was perhaps a tiny bit surprised that few expressed any frustration with that issue. Several that I commented on basically did respond that they thought that the really, really frequent use of harsh language felt “authentic” to them.

So I decided to do a little analysis of how frequently the f-word, for instance, pops up in popular books to see just how much use readers are “used to” or tolerate.

My ratings website, Rated Reads, features nearly 1,000 reviews of a variety of fiction, nonfiction, and young adult books. Of those, only about 175 are rated “high” and a few are rated “DIRT” (for “don’t invest reading time” — not because of the quality of the writing, but just because of the offensive content). I thought that it would be interesting to see how many uses of the f-word tend to be used among those books my reviewers and I have already rated “high,” which means in terms of language, more than five or six uses of the f-word.

Here’s the breakdown: 17 of the “high” ratings have no use of strong language (they’re rated high for detailed sexual content); 91 have between 6 and about 15; 31 have between 20 and 40 uses of the f-word; and only 15 have more than 50 uses of that strong word (or the very rare c-word).

My conclusion? Writers of the most “popular” or “critically acclaimed” books, which are sampled fairly well on Rated Reads, don’t tend to use the f-word much more than 15 times. Only a very few use it very liberally, 50 times or more.

Which is why J.K. Rowling’s book for adults seemed so outrageous to me: she must use the f-word 100 times or so (and the c-word at least once), not to mention a liberal use all the other “milder” language. That puts The Casual Vacancy into a very small group: only about 1 percent of books, according to my sample of about 1,000 books, use strong language that casually.

It brings me back to wondering why authors use strong language. Readers who “defend” the liberal use of harsh language say it’s because the authors are being “authentic.” Especially when it comes to high school-age kids, they say, that kind of language is used all the time. I don’t argue that notion. It’s true that one can hear a lot of bad stuff in a school hallway. And then there are different groups in society that tend to use that kind of language very frequently and without any thought for what it says about them. But if most authors would hope to be “authentic,” then why do so few actually use that kind of strong language very often? In a book of 300 to 500 pages, my “most common” group of usages of the f-word only feature about 6 to 15 uses of it. That’s actually not too “true to life,” one could argue.

In fact, a lot of the books that readers really love don’t have any use of the f-word, or very limited use of it. It would seem that those authors, who write well and with large followings, don’t feel a need to use “authentic” language. Hm.

Most of the books out there that are really entertaining or thought-provoking, that open a window into other worlds of all sorts, succeed at transporting us as readers, making us think and experience other places and groups of people, and do the job we want them to do — most of the time without using really harsh language (even if the characters, places, and situations might genuinely call for that kind of language if they were to be completely “authentic”). Are most of us complaining that they don’t use more authentic language? No. But when an author does use a lot of bad language in the service of being authentic, people just say, “Well, that was authentic.” Where’s the outrage here? If only a small percentage of writers (in this case less than 1 percent) really go for it and use tons of vulgarity, why don’t they stand out from the crowd that doesn’t write with tons of that trash?

I’ll let you all ponder on these facts and draw some of your own conclusions. Then comment and let me know what you think.

All I want to say to conclude is that in real life, yes, there is plenty of “authentic” rampant use of vulgarity and harsh language. I hear it sometimes, and I heard it when I was in school. My high-schooler hears it at her school. But given the choice, we both try to avoid it as much as we can, because regardless of what we’re “forced” to hear, we still don’t like it, and we haven’t “gotten used” to it. I avoid the groups of people and places where I would be likely to hear that kind of abuse of the English language, and likewise, I try to avoid books and movies that contain that language. I don’t HAVE to read or watch those books or movies or TV programs. I have a choice. And I choose to stay away from them.

Yep, still wary about self-published books

I hate to say this, but as much as I hate the traditional publishing “system” as a writer, I’m mostly grateful for it as a reader. This past month I spent most of my time reading books that were either self-published or had originally been self-published and now had been picked up by a publisher, or the author had started out as a self-published writer.

First, I decided to try out Amanda Hocking. She received a great deal of attention for the many sales she made in self-publishing of her Trylle Trilogy series. The millions she made got the notice of some publishers, and she got picked up by a traditional company. I ended up getting a review copy of the first book in her new Watersong series, Wake, which is her first to be published entirely traditionally. It’s in e-book format as well as hardcover. Everything about it is polished and professional, from the cover to the marketing to the actual writing. I found the story to be compelling and pretty well written. I don’t think it’s going to be my favorite of any YA series out there, but it holds its own among its competitors.

After reading that, I thought it might be time to investigate the older Trylle series, starting with Switched. Now that Hocking has been picked up, the books she’s already self-published have gotten the professional treatment, with nice cover images and some editing. Having not read them before they were edited, I can’t say how much editing they got. Did they just get some good proofreading, or did the stories themselves get some good polishing and reworking to make them better? I don’t know. I suspect they didn’t get as thorough editing as the Watersong books, however, because I did feel they could have used some more changes. I can also say that I didn’t think that the Trylle books were “all that.” Again, they hold their own OK compared to other books in the full YA romance and “paranormal” market, but they’re not standouts, in my opinion. The love story was pretty well done, but I couldn’t get on board with the “triangle;” one character just didn’t get fleshed out well enough for me to be completely behind him. And that was really important. I also just couldn’t get into the premise of the story enough for me to really like it; the idea of these “beautiful trolls” having little communities and “kingdoms” hidden among humans was fine, sure, but I just didn’t care what happened to them. Hocking kind of resolved that for me by the end of the series, but a reader shouldn’t have to wait till the middle of the third book to “get into” the premise. That was a major strike against the books, I thought.

So I am glad that Hocking got picked up by a major publisher, because she has talent enough to produce books that will sell well in the YA market, and she definitely benefits from good editing.

Next, I started a self-published book called Broken Shell Island, which a blogger had highly recommended. Looking at her list of other favorite books, I found similarities in our tastes and thought I should try out this book. I have to say that this is a fairly good story, but I just didn’t love it. It’s deliberately quirky, with a splash of Alice in Wonderland, almost, but the whole mix just didn’t do it for me. Others may like it. I think it would do better with a larger audience if it had the benefit of a good editor, as well.

Since I had blogged about clean romances, an author contacted me and asked if I’d like to read one of hers. Normally, I tell self-published authors I simply don’t have time to read their books; I have such a huge list of to-reads anyway, and limited time for reading/ reviewing, that it’s just safer for me to stick with traditionally published stories. (More on this later.) Plus, I want to make sure that Rated Reads reviews books that are getting a lot of attention, so that my site’s visitors know if the popular books they’re hearing about are clean or not. If I had a hundred reviewers contributing to RR, maybe I could alter that policy, but for now it still works. But I made an exception and read her book, Forgotten Honeymoon. It was cute enough, I suppose, but I did feel that I could have used that reading time for something I would really have loved. Again, it’s nice to know that someone’s out there writing “clean romances,” but they have to be really great and well-written in addition to simply “clean.”

Last, I read Love Unscripted, which is another book and writer who have been picked up by a traditional publisher after finding some success in the self-publishing arena. As I wrote on Goodreads, I decided to read this when I saw on one of my publishing-news updates that it had gotten picked up by a publisher. I figured that meant it should be a cut above the usual self-published stuff. For the first half or third of the book, I felt convinced that was true. It was fun to read and actually pretty well written. But as the book wore on, I had more complaints. I am hoping that since it’s now getting the treatment from a good editor, it may end up correcting some of the problems that I saw.

First, it was entirely too long; it could easily have been edited down without losing anything at all; in fact, taking out some stuff would have made me happier. It just dragged. I felt that some of the plot points were stretching my credibility and patience, and they could easily have been left out or changed significantly. Second, and related to the first point, as some other Goodreads reviewers noted, Reber does too much “telling” rather than “showing” in her writing. She hammered us over the head in telling us how the characters must be feeling. We get it. We’re smart enough to follow where you’re going. Third, a few things toward the end were so obvious that I just wanted to smack the character and the writer. I won’t “spoil” the story, but, really, this character is pretty smart. She didn’t see the really, really, REALLY obvious things that were going on around her from a mile away? Everyone else knew, and she didn’t. Urgh.

And on the topic of “clean” content or not, I was unhappy with the number of uses of the f-word. There were at least 25 to 30, which was simply far too many. The sexual details throughout the book were actually at a satisfactory level except for the first time the main characters have sex, and that scene is long and detailed. I REALLY didn’t want to know exactly what he was doing to her. Ick.

I think, though, that this author has potential and can create some characters we can root for and a love story that draws us in. This just needs a little bit of good editing. I hope that when it gets that and is published “traditionally,” this book will do well.

So, to sum up: In this month of spending my reading time with books that have been self-published somewhere along the line, I can still say with all confidence that I’d rather read something traditionally published. It’s still true that the publishing route allows books to get vetted for quality and then edited to make them even better. I just want to read books that are going to knock my socks off, and so far I haven’t read anything self-published that has done that.

And if that means that since I have yet to get picked up by a traditional publisher for the projects I’ve spent months of my life (and blood, sweat, and tears) on, I’ve not produced writing that’s good enough for others to read and love, so be it. It hurts my pride, but I’ll keep trying.

The power of story

Over the past few years, it has really struck me just how strong the power of a story is.

But really, most of us just take for granted how surrounded we are by stories, how they can captivate us, ensnare us, direct us and shape us, without our even realizing that it’s happening.

Of course, as a dedicated reader (and editor and writer), I love to be willingly captured by a good story, whether it’s one that’s been spun completely out of someone’s imagination or one that’s based in reality and been tamed just enough to be put down in words. I’ve come to realize how difficult it is to extricate ourselves from a story once we’ve stepped inside of its boundaries. The story could be shared via any medium: books, film, television, or any other kind of art.

Have you ever noticed that even if you’re watching a movie or reading a book that’s even just mediocre, it’s challenging to walk away? (I can detach myself from a story that’s really poorly told, however.) Something in us yearns to know “the rest of the story.” It’s so against our nature to not find satisfaction in completion. We must know how the story plays out ’til its bitter end.

What’s even more entrancing is to find ourselves enmeshed in stories within stories. One recent example that had me absolutely mind-boggled was the movie “Inception.” There were so many stories layered inside of each other that I wasn’t even satisfied completely with one viewing; I had to go back and let my mind wander those strange passages several times so I could really follow the stories and how every detail fit together. I absolutely adore complexity. And surprises. (I’ve written about that already in my post on gothic tales.)

But books and movies don’t by any means hold a lock on story. Our minds always create stories for us. We lay down memories that are ordered in some kind of story format. We consciously and unconsciously create stories to make sense of information we run across. Yes, story-making is hardwired within us. Some people are just skilled at weaving the stories within them for others’ consumption, but they are not the only storytellers. I recently loaned some of my favorite books to a friend, and she very kindly extricated some wonderful quotes from the second in the set, Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Angel’s Game. One goes like this: “Everything is a tale. … What we believe, what we know, what we remember, even what we dream. Everything is a story, a narrative, a sequence of events with characters communicating an emotional content. We only accept as true what can be narrated.”

Yes, story is a powerful thing. It can be dangerous; it can be liberating; it can be instructive. It has the power to move people to action, for good or evil.

I just thank those people who have the gift to create and shape stories and share them with me. I think that’s why books are so beloved, and why even writers pay homage to other writers and to the written word itself. Books and the stories in them can transport us and change us, so much so that they come alive themselves. As Zafon also writes, “As long as there is one person left in the world who is capable of reading [books] and experiencing them, a small piece of God, or of life, will remain.” Thank goodness for that!

Make it permanent, make it right!

OK, I’ve already made clear how I feel about proper grammar and punctuation. I read and write book reviews and run a book-review website, and I work as a copy editor. I suppose I became a copy editor because I have always been so precise and persnickety about the proper use of punctuation and grammar. Then editing for a living has just cemented my punctiliousness and dedication to our lovely language and how it’s expressed, especially in writing.

So it is not an exaggeration to say it PAINS ME to see our language atrociously abused and misused. What gets my goat in our wired day and age is people’s inability to get even the most basic concepts correct when they communicate electronically. OK, I admit I’m forgiving when an iPhone or similar device is being used; they are notorious at messing up a comment or word that was written correctly in the first place. And quick emails or texts are forgivable as well. What I just cannot understand is when someone takes the time to craft a fun meme or e-card or something else “permanent” that is intended to be passed around the Web for public consumption. Is it not possible to make sure that “you’re” or “your” is used properly, or that a comma is put in the right place? One of the worst mistakes I’ve seen in indelible use is the poor, innocent apostrophe. It exists to do good. But it’s employed so wickedly wrongly. Outside of the Internet, I see it most often misused in those carved wooden signs outside people’s front doors: welcome, the signs say, to “the Smith’s”. (*Silent scream*) I’ve always said if I were to commission one of those signs, I would send it back to the artist for redo were that apostrophe so nefariously inserted into that simple plural of my last name.

Glancing on Pinterest this very morning, I saw a lovely graphic that proudly proclaims “Seven days of camping recipe’s!” There’s that naughty use of the poor apostrophe right at the top of my page. Further down is an inspiring saying that throws in a hapless comma: “You are always responsible for how you act, no matter how you feel. Remember, that.” (Remember, not, to, use, commas, needlessly!!!) And one simple green e-card is generous enough to illustrate my point about spelling by containing not one but TWO mistakes: “What I love most about our friendship is that it’s based soley on innapropriate conversations that no sane person should have. Ever.” Solely. Inappropriate.

I mean, really, folks. If you’re going to craft a cute meme or card, please use spell check before you hit “save” and ask a friend about your punctuation. Simple as that. I may enjoy your meme but simply WILL NOT re-pin or share it if it has mistakes. Simple as THAT.

And here is my own little meme. Share as you will.