Blog of a Writer on the Go and Barely Here.
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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Tantalizing Allure of Sour Grapes

Question: What's easy to grow and hard to swallow?
Answer: Sour Grapes.

We're all guilty of it at one time or another, even me. Bashing and belittling something out of our reach makes us feel better about ourselves. That lottery jackpot we didn't have the winning ticket for? Money is evil. The job promotion they gave to someone else? Power corrupts. The contest you didn't win? The prize wasn't that great anyway. Yes, we all do it, whether we mean to or not. 

What happens when the object at the other end of our snub isn't a what at all, but a who? In our own little world, it may make us feel better to vent, especially if we don't know the person on the receiving end. The jackpot winner is probably already a millionaire or It was most likely someone on welfare, using our money to buy their ticket. The new manager? He's a brown-noser. The winning contestant? Can't (fill in the blank) to save their life.

While venting makes us feel better, what about the person on the receiving end? I know what you're all thinking; the person on the other end got what they want. They're laughing all the way to the bank, corner office or wherever they go to celebrate. Sometimes this thought process isn't true and the words spoken or written, get back to the subject of our disdain and cause hurt feelings. Never has this been more true than with the implementation of the internet and social networking.

For the sake of ease, I'm going to use the recent cuts in ABNA as an example. For anyone not aware, Amazon provides discussion boards for the contestants and anyone interested in order to network, discuss writing and the contest and generally pass the time between rounds. Each time a cut is coming up, the whole community girds itself for the onslaught of sour grapes bound to be hurled by disgruntled contestants.

We commiserate with those freshly cut and cheer on those continuing. After all, only two of us will be left standing when the ink dries on the final reviews. The camaraderie is wonderful until the inevitable happens, and it will happen. One person starts on how the contest is unfair or a joke. Sometimes this person is alone in his view. Other times he is joined in his mission to dismiss those continuing on as 'mediocre' and 'run-of-the-mill.' This is when their sour grapes can taint the winners' celebration wine.

This year we had gems such as: 
"If you've really written something different (and few have)..." (the rest of this quote has since been 'edited' by the original author. Perhaps the taste of sour grapes wasn't as nice as he thought.)  

And this: 
"I should have known better than to submit "NOVEL" to this contest. Collective minds cannot judge value, only decide on the least controversial or on the most mediocre. Howard Roark would't have won the Cosmo-Slotnik architectural contest, either. I was just curious to see how far my novel went, which was apparently nowhere." 

"Entering this contest was a disinterested experiment, with no expectation of making the second rung. I would have been quite astonished it my novel had made it that far. It would have been evidence of other sentient life in the field. As for rummaging through five years of past posts, that isn't going to happen."

Now, venting is all fine and good, but turning your frustration on others who have worked as hard as you have and succeeded, isn't going to win you any friends. Belittling someone else's victory, no matter how small, stings and will be remembered the next time you try to tout your own accomplishments. 

Yes, the internet has made these insults easier to sling around. You can't see the person on the other end or how much your words hurt. Remember, while those few words will make you feel superior for a short time, they are out there forever. Whether on a discussion board, Facebook, Twitter or any other social network, what you say will be seen by many and can always be found down the road. Sour grapes will always be out there, waiting to return and haunt you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Second Round Strike or How to Handle Reviews

After taking a day to lick my wounds, I'm back. Yes, it took me a whole day. The wounds on my back were hard to reach. Give me a break, I'm not as flexible as I once was.

Yesterday ABNA announced it's second round of cuts. This time they were determined by Amazon Vine Reviewers who scored our excerpts on different criteria and left reviews. Each excerpt received two reviews of varying lengths and in-depth critique. The top 250 in each category, 500 total, continued on leaving behind 1500 disappointed writers this round. Yes, I fall into the 1500 on this occasion.

Late in the afternoon, after the list had been posted, reviews arrived in our accounts. As you can imagine, the reviews varied widely in terms of how the reviewers handled them. Some were helpful, some so short there was barely anything to indicate how they felt one way or the other. Some received reviews that were in agreement, whether for good or bad. Often the reviews were conflicting each other.

My own reviews fell into the conflicting category. One reviewer loved my excerpt and went as far to say I shouldn't change anything. The second reviewer, well let's say there wasn't much they wouldn't change. What, oh what, is a writer to do with reviews like these?

"It's great!"
 "You don't know what you're talking about! It sucked!"

First of all, taking a deep breath is always advisable. Shouting, screaming and stamping feet will get you nowhere and few people will be willing to help you with your writing if you take criticism in a less than congenial manner. Back away and think about what they're saying before getting worked up.

Second, do not, and I can't stress this enough, DO NOT respond to a bad or less than glowing review with anything other than 'Thank you for your time and input.' There have been several examples recently of authors going off on a reviewer. These hissy-fits end up going viral on the web and the author loses all credibility, hurting their chances of a lasting career. Please see my first comment.

"My mommy says I'm awesome."

Third, remember that every review is subjective. Nothing is going to be loved by everyone and few things will be hated by everyone. Any review or bit of criticism should be taken with a healthy dose of salt. Yes, this means even those glowing reviews we all love to get. This doesn't mean go changing your work every time you get critiqued. Instead, get several peoples' opinions. If you end up with three or more people making the same comments over and over, take a look at what they're concerned about. Their advice might carry some merit. If it's only one person, don't go making changes unless it's something you completely agree with. If you change your work for every single person, you'll never finish anything.

I'm lucky enough to have comments and feedback from other people. While some of my reviewer's comments do carry merit, some things they didn't like worked well for numerous others. Now my work begins as I sort through comments and fix things that need fixing before querying.

At least they both agree it was 'unique.'

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

One Year Anniversary and Still Not Easy

Straying away from my usual writing post today for a more personal post. Today marks the one-year anniversary of a life-changing event for my family, but not a celebratory kind of event. It has been one year since we lost my pépère. The year since has gone by so fast, it makes me wonder where it went and the time hasn't made me miss him any less.

My Dad and Pepere
I think what sticks with me most about is passing was how quick it happened. For an eighty-three-year old, he was more active than most people half his age. Up until two weeks before he died, he was out cutting wood for his wood stove and taking care of things around his house.

 Him and my mémère had been avid campers, travelling around New England and up to Canada in their camper every summer. The summer before he passed, he talked my mémère into selling their camper. Mémère claims he knew something was wrong then and never let on.

Mem & Pep at my brother's wedding in 2010.

He was diagnosed with cancer in late February. When the doctor told him it was terminal, he thanked him, went home and continued on his business until he became bed-ridden. Less than two weeks from the diagnosis he was gone.

I will always remember him as a hard worker, riding around on his tractor. His voice is imprinted in my memory, asking me if I brought my rabbit over because he has a nice warm room waiting for it, a joke about him wanting to cook my pet rabbits. His lop-sided smile, mouth crooked up on the side. To you, Wilfred J. Farley, Jr., Pepere and my father's father, I raise the Parting Glass.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Synopsis - Bane of a Writer's Existence

Not  long ago I posted about the pitch and it's importance in selling a story. I also mentioned the difficulty in compressing an entire novel into roughly 300 words. Story lines are missed, characters are left out and you feel like you could get an agent/publisher/reader's attention if you could only have more space and time. Too bad we can't all be Time Lords.

A lot in a little package

There is good news. If you manage to catch an agent's attention with the pitch or query, they may ask for more material. Often the next step includes an excerpt (or partial) and a synopsis. The excerpt won't be an issue - it's the first couple chapters from the book you're dying to get into their hands in the first place. But what the heck is the synopsis? Remember the trouble you had with your pitch? You're going to wish you were still on that step.

The synopsis is an overview of your WHOLE novel. I know you're excited, thinking this is exactly what you wanted in the first place. There's no way they won't love your novel now they can see everything. You sit down to the keyboard and realize something. Your novel is somewhere in the ballpark of 60,000-100,000 words. You now get to condense ALL of it into one to two pages. No picking which characters you feel are more important or which story arcs should be included. Everything in the novel has to be included.

Once you get through the shock of how much work is now ahead of you, you come to a sad conclusion: this is going to be as boring as school reports. You won't have room for embellishing your writing or adding any of your 'voice' to it. There just isn't enough space. This part is for facts and facts only.

I know you're saying, "But, there must be some way to make this interesting! The agent I managed to snag after all this time will fall asleep two paragraphs into this drivel." I agree. Here's how I manage to get through mine.

When I received my first request for a synopsis, I panicked. While I thought about how to approach it, my son asked me to read him a story. I obliged with a Little Golden Books version of 'Finding Nemo.' While I read it, I came to a strange conclusion: this was a synopsis. It had some embellishments, but everything was boiled down to it's basic elements.

But I don't have time to tell you all about him now.

So, here's my advice: Take your novel chapter by chapter and explain each one in a paragraph or so. Write it as though you're explaining the action to a small child, not an older reader or adult. Before you know it, you'll have all those complicated twists and turns written out as 'FISH escapes and goes home. THE END.'