Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Interview Time with Shelley N. Greene!

All right, you lovely people!  We have a special guest today--my critique partner, Shelley Greene, has published her first book, a kick-ass romantic suspense novel called The Fire Walkers! Yay! I can hear you guys being all excited. She's here because I tortured her with a little interview, so I hope you enjoy. 

Take it away, Shelley!  

Hi, Sarah!

Thank you so much for hosting me today! My debut novel THE FIRE WALKERS released July 1st and I’m thrilled to talk to readers about it.

Blurb from THE FIRE WALKERS, Shelley N. Greene:

Kelly Monroe is an idealistic good girl thrown into a bad situation.  A graduate student chasing her dreams of a PhD, one party invitation lands in her a jail cell with only vague memories of the night before, images of a tragic bonfire haunting her. Sentenced to perform community service at a horse rescue, Kelly’s life goes from bad to worse, all under the watch of an attractive, blue-eyed detective. Driven to stick out the hard times, Kelly develops a bond with Keegan, an abandoned racehorse horse with a past.
Ex-NARC turned arson detective, Aidan Wright is tracking the drug dealers who killed his partner. Kelly’s memories of the bonfire prove to be the missing piece to Aidan’s investigation of several drug-related teen deaths, perpetrated by the band of drug dealers who scarred him years ago. When Kelly becomes the unsuspecting victim of the drug group’s trafficking, Aidan is forced to stay close to her to catch them.
As Aidan uncovers the truth, Kelly develops feelings for the fearless, blue-eyed cop, and the battered arson detective falls hard for the outgoing girl with the contagious laugh.

I'm lucky enough to have known you for a while, but tell everyone about yourself:

I’m coffee loving, late-to-the-party, night writer who trips horrendously through things before learning how to do them the right way. I was raised a dog person (cocker spaniels), and later transitioned into a rescued horse person (visited, not owned), as well as a diva cat who is lovably needy and independent at the same time. When not living the dream of neurotic author, I’m an avid nature walker, intermediate photographer, and scrapbooker.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts about being a writer?

My favorite part of being an author is the open arena in which we work. When telling a story or creating a character, you get to go everywhere and anywhere; you get to be anyone you wish to be. The research you do takes you to new places and teaches you new things. It’s the one job that allows you to stand in the shoes of any profession, travel to any setting, or simply make up your own world.

The least favorite part is the stress that comes with the job. Like any profession, writing takes time, experience, and skill, all of which are the result of practice and failure. I've noticed that, “You know you’ve crossed over into being an author when someone says to you, ‘I’ve been working on a novel’, and you’re first response is ‘How do I gently explain to this person the life they’re embarking on?’” It's a tough life!

Prose, narrative voice, adverbs, dialogue tags, present tense, back story, grammar…grammar. Did I mention grammar?

Once the thing is written its copy edits, galleys, marketing, and book reviews. It’s like a long race with a million hurdles, and every person stumbles in their own, select places. But when you keep running, even when exhausted and ready to give up, that’s when you know that you’re an author.

Authors are awesome about helping each other out, so what’s one piece of advice you’d give to other writers?

Be kind to yourself.

When you create a written work in a solitary environment it’s all yours, no one else can see it. Once the work is published and out in the world, you have no control over it or how it will be received. That’s an unnerving part of the process that makes a writer feel very exposed and out there. Your first book will be different from your second, and different from the one after that. You grow with every word, sentence, scene, and story. Worry about what’s inside of you, and leave the rest of the world outside the door.

Take care of the creator (you) and KEEP WRITING.

Do you prefer silence or to have music on when you’re writing? What kind?

I’m the type who needs complete silence when I’m writing, so I don’t play music because I find it distracting. I do however love to listen to music away from the keyboard, as it helps give me get an emotional and mental grasp on the images and scenes. A playlist develops as I write each book, and there is a list for THE FIRE WALKERS.

With TFW it was about feeling lost, cultivating courage and finding your fire.

The following songs take me back to TFW’s pivotal moments:

          FIND YOURSELF – Brad Paisley

          STANDING IN FRONT OF YOU – Kelly Clarkson

          THE SUN WILL RISE – Kelly Clarkson

          IT’S WHO YOU ARE – A. J. Michalka

          BRAVE – Sara Bareilles

The second book in the Walker series is being drafted as we speak (um, type), and the tunes that put me in the characters point of view are just starting to come to me.
So far two songs have become earworms for Book 2:


UPTOWN GIRL – Billy Joel

Awesome playlist!  And how’d you get the idea for THE FIRE WALKERS and the rest of the Walker series?

The idea for THE FIRE WALKERS came to me suddenly and wouldn’t let go. Several years ago I began volunteering at a horse rescue in western Maryland, and the horses there inspired me in so many ways. They each had personalities and histories.

          Drawn in by their stories, I began to daydream, and around that time an old news article I’d read in the 90’s also kept coming back to me. When I get curious I do research, and everything I was learning began to tie together seamlessly. The idea of a horse rescue setting along with a strong external conflict began to percolate. I connected instantly with my heroine, Kelly, but (mentioned in a CN blog post) Aidan, my hero in THE FIRE WALKERS, was a bit of difficult character to grasp at first. A strong, fiery guy, I feared that my depiction of him on the page wouldn’t do him justice. In the end, Aidan turned out to be a wonderful hero. Blue eyes, dark hair. Swoon worthy as he single handedly carries heroines, as well as nosy, omnipresent narrators out of burning barns.

          The overall Walker series is based on a premise of Astrology, each element containing signs (characters) which play into its theme, and as the plot for TFW unfolded in my head I knew that the fire theme would result in an action packed story. From the beginning TFW was set to be a romantic suspense, while the rest of the Walker series is based on the element of each book, and will each lean toward contemporary.’s book 2 coming along? Inquiring minds what to know!

Book two is coming along great! It’s about half done, and I’m very pleased with it so far. In THE FIRE WALKERS, you meet Ben, the hero of book two. His element is earth, and it makes Ben a very industrious and stable guy. As the second book in the series and the second element in the astrological sequence, I was worried about the mental changing of gears, so to speak. The fire element is physical and instinctive, while earth is stationary and settled. Like lava that has cooled to become igneous rock, I had to transition my perspective from active to inert. My earth characters are practical and meticulous, which is opposite my impulsive and unpredictable brood in TFW. Another flip-flop has been that I’m channeling Ben clearly, far easier than I did Aidan, but book two’s heroine has required some extra consideration… 

More details on that coming soon. :D

What are you working on now?

I’m taking a short break from book two to focus on TFW promotion, distribution, and to breathe a little. But next week it’s back to the drafting desk!

Tell us what genre(s) you write in, why, and what your experiences are like writing THE FIRE WALKERS. If you write in multiple genres, how is the experience different from one another?

I write both Contemporary and Romantic Suspense.

Contemporary focuses on deeply personal conflict. It’s the everyday feelings and problems that a character encounters in their relationships. Contemporary is definitely a different “gear” to write in because the author gets to address real life situations. It’s also a lot fun because readers can relate in a profound way, where the emotion relayed in the story matches feelings and circumstances they’ve faced, too.

Romantic Suspense is contemporary with a kick. A story set in modern day and sprinkled with believable external conflict. RS is a love story with a hint of danger and intrigue that excites the mind and still gives the reader the Happily Ever After.

I love the fact that THE FIRE WALKERS is a romantic suspense. It lives up to its theme because fire is physical; action, impulse and adventure. When writing romantic suspense the author gets to talk about real world problems but with the added perk of throwing in the danger and bad guys.

There’s one chapter in TFW written from the girl villain’s point of view, and that scene actually took a lot of time and research.  To ensure that I portrayed her right involved reading up about the psychology of a felon. There’s a narcissism, lack of remorse, and dominance to her personality that shows in the history of how she’d come to join the Dove group. It was a squicky mindset to write from, but it revealed what the bad guys were after, which amped up the suspense.  

What was your favorite scene to write in THE FIRE WALKERS

There are four scenes in the book that are special to me. In another blog interview, I talked about a moment that involved my horse character, Keegan. Today I’ll tell you about another favorite, a scene that occurs in Chapter 18. In the scene Aidan and Kelly have endured their first fight, while Keegan is recovering from a health ordeal. Once again all three of the Walkers are together in one place, and their chemistry is lively and fun.

In the plot this is the second point of peace before the other shoe drops. The Walkers have survived the initial challenges, and the future appears sunny until the winds of the final storm blow in. The scene begins with Kelly as she walks into the barn to find Aidan visiting with Keegan. Kelly and Aidan's body language and banter make it clear that they’re comfortable with one another in an intimate way, and the dialogue feels like a flicker of flame, quick and energetic. The Aidan we meet in the beginning is withdrawn, his fire dimmed, while Kelly starts out reserved, watching others live the life that she wants. By this point in the story Aidan and Kelly have grown more spontaneous and animated like their fire element. In the barn they joke in a playful and physical way, chasing one another.

They run and laugh.

 The joy is a brief respite from the final conflict that is about to hit, but watching their evolution from inhibited to free shows that Aidan and Kelly have found their fire.

I can’t help but smile every time I read that scene.

I love living vicariously through my characters.

What scene gave you the most trouble in THE FIRE WALKERS?

          Chapter 8 had to be the scene that gave me the most grief in a good way. It’s the first fight between Aidan and Kelly, and I actually wrote the scene three times. It was important to me to get the right feel of the moment for several reasons. First off, I like believable conflict. Disagreement for the sake of fighting is not realistic, plus these two characters LIKE and are starting to LOVE one another. Their falling out needs to not be an act of tearing one another down, but rather them being at cross purposes. And that is especially dynamic when the couple are fiery in nature. They care passionately about their goals, and their frustration doesn’t simply build up, it flares.

          Before this chapter the last time Aidan and Kelly had been together they’d felt a spark of attraction and were getting close. In the next chapter we see Kelly’s goal yanked away from her because of Aidan’s actions.

          So at this point the reader has seen Kelly’s side, and can understand why she’s angry. The scene is crucial because it’s a crossroads for all the characters. Kelly’s dream crashing down, Aidan’s obsession with catching the drug dealers, and most importantly, the definition of a Fire Walker. The truth is raw in that moment and the "camera", so to speak, had to be angled in such a way to catch all the effect. And there was an intensity to the way Aidan is blind-sided. Aidan's mind was set on what he wanted, Kelly’s rebuff opens his eyes to the repercussions of his behavior, as well as pans out to show the overall battlefield of the situation.

           After I’d settled on the version you see in the book, I felt that "good" level of writer exhaustion, the kind that validates the work. I reached for a desired result, and kept plugging away at it until it worked. And the scene brought it all together perfectly.

Where can we find you on the interwebs? 

Author Links:

Where can we find your books? 


It was a pleasure visiting with you today, Sarah! 
Thank you so much for having me! 

You're very welcome, Shelley!  Thanks for stopping by. Now get back to writing! :-)

xoxo Sarah

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Interview time with Nancy Weeks!

Today I have fellow author and Maryland Romance Writers member Nancy Weeks on my blog! The fourth book in her Shadow series, In the Shadow of Pride, came out a couple of days ago, and she's even doing a giveaway to celebrate!

Take it away, Nancy!

Sarah, I’m so thrilled to be here today. Thank you for inviting me. Please feel free to ask me anything.

We know each other from MRW, but tell everyone about yourself.

I always choke-up when I’m asked this question. Sometimes, I think who I am changes daily or I’m a book still being written.  I have been happily married for over thirty-two years and a mother for twenty-six years.  I decided before having kids that I wanted to be home with them. It went against the norm, but I felt that one hectic career in the family was enough. After moving back to Maryland from southern Germany, I decided to give up my career and became a stay-at-home mom. The moment both my kids were off to college, I began to write. Now I proudly call myself an author. 

What are your favorite and least favorite parts about being a writer?

There is a magic that happens while I'm working on a story that is very intriguing. I always write up an outline of the beginning, middle, the dark moment and the end of every story. But as I get deep into the writing, the story develops a voice of its own and leads me to a place I never imagined. Some people may think that it’s not magic at all, but my ability to get closer to the story--really develop an understanding of who my characters are as well as experience how they think and feel. But for me, that special moment when I just shake my head and think, "where in the heck did that come from," really is magic. I may always end back up where I’m supposed to be, but those rare moments of magic make writing the most exciting job.

The part I struggle with even after four books is the promotion writers need to do today to get their book noticed. With some many free and 99 cents books available all the time, it is so hard be notice through all that noise. Promoting a book is like raising children. Just because a promotional strategy worked for the first book, doesn't mean it will work for the second, fifth, tenth. There are no clear answers because the game is constantly changing.

Since you’ve been writing for a while, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to other writers?

Write! Revise! Write again. If you are serious about becoming a published author, accept that it’s not going to be an easy road.  Take your writing seriously and learn your craft. Keep an open mind and be willing to sometimes change the way you see your story.  My most important piece of advice: You will never be published if your manuscript never leaves your laptop. You have to query it out all over the place. When you receive a rejection, read it, learn from it, store it away in it’s own file, and get back to writing.

That’s awesome advice—sometimes a writer needs to hear someone tell them to just do it and send it out!  Now for a bit about how you like to write? Do you prefer silence or to have music on when you’re working? What kind?

Oh great question. Music is what brings out the emotion in my writing.  Each book in this series had its own unique playlist. For instance, In the Shadow of Greed, I listened to Jason Mraz, Mika, Norah Jones and Adele. Their voices brought out that heart-wrenching emotion I needed to write not only the love scenes, but those dark moments when my characters were at their worst. In the Shadow of Pride demanded the sounds of the cello. Whatever the story, I lose myself in the music. It clears my mind and allows the words to just flow.

How’d you get the idea for In the Shadow of Pride?

Without giving away too much about the story, the internal conflict between my hero, Mac McNeil and heroine, Lexie Trevena formed in my head as I was writing In the Shadow of Greed. I knew I wanted a small piece of Greed that I just touched on in chapter one to be the beginning of Pride. That small crumb was what was going to cause the most internal conflict between Mac and Lexie. However, I had no idea what the external conflict was going to be. When I began to outline Pride, I scoured news articles and real life cases in the FBI news blog for potential ideas. The words Unmanned Aerial Vehicle popped off the page. Drones! How fun would that be? I spent more hours than I care to admit researching drone technology, but what a blast I had crashing that internal conflict smack into the external conflict. Rest assured. It may take Mac and Lexie a few pages to get to their happy ending, but when they do, it's explosive. 

How’s book #5 in the Shadow Series coming along…inquiring minds want to know! 

I’m just beginning to write In the Shadow of Vengeance. This book is going to bring my entire McNeil family together in one place. This will be Noah’s story and he’s going to need all of his brothers to deal with what I have in store for him and the woman who he will fine his happy-ever-after with, Elizabeth Merlot.

Tell us what genre(s) you write in, why, and what your experiences are like writing it.  If you write in multiple genres, how is the experience different from one to another?

I write romantic suspense with sometimes a touch of the supernatural. I chose this genre because it is what I love reading. I love the romance first in the story, but the suspense adds a level of depth to a story I don’t find in other romances.

What was your favorite scene to write in In the Shadow of Pride?  Why?

Oh this is a hard question. There are several very intense scenes in Pride that force my hero and heroine to work together. Since I have to pick just one, I love the scene where Mac has to put all of his distrust of Lexie aside and rescue her from my villain’s hands. This is one of those changing points in the story where Mac and Lexie are thrown into such an intense situation, they can't help seeing a different side of each other. However, they are not quite ready to trust each other completely. As a writer, it's so much fun creating these 'baby' steps that bring them closer and closer together.

What scene gave you the most trouble In the Shadow of Pride? Why?

Oh, hands down the technical aspects of this book. I read numerous articles about drone technology, GPS spoofing and computer viruses. Thank God I have a great technical team who are willing to read through everything before I show it to anyone.

How freaking cool is that?

Find Nancy at:


Twitter: @NancyCWeeks

Where can we find your books? (Links, please!) 

Look for In the Shadow of Pride at: Crimson Romance ebooks | Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo | Google Play | BAM 

Buy links for the first three books in my In the Shadow series:







Okay, folks!  It's giveaway time!  

Nancy is giving away one free digital copy of any of her books!  How cool is that? You just have to answer this question:  Have you ever seeing someone you thought you disliked in a different light, and that new view brought you closer together?  Give your answer below in the comments, and Nancy will randomly chose a winner!  

xoxo Sarah

Monday, July 21, 2014

Awesome Writing in Media, Part 4: Book of Mormon

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I talked a bit about two notable writers from the television and movie worlds: Joss Whedon and Quentin Tarantino.  And in Part 3, I diverted a bit to discuss the movie Horrible Bosses.  Providing you haven't thrown your hands up in despair for my taste in awesome writing in media, here's another one for you.

Here in Part 4, I'm taking another turn, this time in to the world of theater.  My husband and I have been very lucky to enjoy quite a few stage productions over the years (though we'd always be happy to see more of them), and, like movies, the hype is often built up so much about one that you're left feeling wanting and let down after seeing it.

I'm happy to report that this was not the case with Book of Mormon.  It's a freaking 9-Tony-award-winning musical that's both a satire and comedy, written by the team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the creators of South Park) and Robert Lopez, who apparently worked on the writing for Avenue Q before that, at least according to Wikipedia.  And that, ten years ago, was a sentence I never thought I'd write.

I should mention that if you're of the easily-offended variety, be it about religion or lady-parts, you'll probably want to stop reading here.  Thanks for stopping by, and avoid this play like the plague.

Everyone good now?  Awesome.

The premise is that two young, naive Mormon missionaries are assigned to a remote village in Africa to bring the Book of Mormon--the sacred text of the Latter Day Saints--to the people there and baptize them into their faith. Unfortunately, the missionaries have difficulty connecting with most of the locals, who are ruled by an evil warlord obsessed with female circumcision.  I don't want to give any more away than that, because this is just something you have to see for yourself.

The plot and characterization are unmistakably Parker and Stone; the whole play seems as though it's a live-action version of the best South Park episode you've ever seen (minus the core characters, obviously).  The Mormon missionaries, villagers, and the rest of the cast are full of caricature and satire, overdone in the best possible way.  Even the social commentary is spot-on and universal; when I saw the play, it was in London at a West-end theater, and I think the audience mostly consisted of British people--everyone loved it, and everything translated just fine. If anything, they thought it was funnier, because they got to poke fun at Americans.

As for the music and lyrics, those fit in with the plot and dialogue and never felt out of place.  Whether the characters are singing a cheerful song which title translates to "Fuck you, God!", or one about repressing negative thoughts or homosexual feelings, it all works.  And by works, I mean has you laughing your ass off.

But, Sarah, you may be thinking.  You can't possibly lump this play in with the likes of Phantom of the Opera, or Les Miserables, or any other amazingly popular musical?

No, you can't.  They're apples and oranges and pomegranates; you can certainly be fans all of them, but Book of Mormon is fresh and interesting, and an entirely different fruit altogether.  Plus, Phantom doesn't have a spooky dream sequence in Hell, and Les Mis seems to be missing some crossover references with The Hobbit, Star Trek, and Star Wars.

One caveat is that I think Book of Mormon is probably geared toward a younger audience (40 and under, I'd guess) or those of any age who aren't easily offended.  My parents enjoyed every minute of it when we took them.  Good writing is universal, so go see it in London or on Broadway, or even one of the touring companies if you can.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.  Just don't wait; it often books out months in advance.

Have you seen it?  What did you think?

xoxo Sarah

Monday, July 14, 2014

Awesome Writing in Media, Part 3: Horrible Bosses

Okay, bear with me on this one.  I've decided to jump around a bit and will, instead of solely focusing on individual writers in this series, also focus on works as a whole.

Also, just so you don't feel obligated to stop reading, I won't spoil any of the movies or other media for you. Promise. Or, at least I'll try not to.

Hopefully none of these, so rest easy.
That doesn't mean I won't talk about the plots or characters, but I'll try not to give something away that would ruin the movie(s) for people.  On the other hand, if there's a movie (or its source material, if it was based on a book) that's been out for a long time, all bets are off.  People whining about Martin Freeman "spoiling" something in one of the Hobbit movies are ridiculous...that plot point has been out for seventy-something years.  Suck it up, buttercup.

Anyway, onward!

Honestly, Horrible Bosses wasn't a movie I initially had high hopes for.  Sure, I knew it would be entertaining--the cast includes Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, and Charlie Day among other notables--so when it came out and we got it on Netflix, I was looking forward to seeing it, but was expecting your standard comedy.

How wrong I was.

Now, this post, as are all of the posts in this series, is just my opinion, but I enjoyed Horrible Bosses far more than I thought I would, and that was due just as much to the amazing writing as to the great performances by the cast.  Was it a perfect movie?  No, of course not, but it was a smart, well-written  comedy.  And in the current movie climate, that is a rare thing indeed.

What was so good about it?  The cast, for one, deserves a lot of credit for their kick-ass performances, but the writers made it all happen.  The premise of the movie is that three guys each have a boss that makes their lives absolutely miserable--so they figure out that they'd be so much better off if the bosses weren't around anymore (in the dead sense).  See, it would have been so easy for the writers to phone in a script where the characters were flat and boring and made the illogical--and extreme--jump to murder to get their lives back.  But it's far more than a case of "Ugh, my boss is annoying." "So is mine!"  "And mine!" "Let's murder them!"  One of the main things that stands out about the script is how well-rounded and justified the characters are.  Each one of them--the bosses and our heroes--are shown in the beginning of the movie so we see exactly how each of the characters' lives are impacted by their, well, horrible bosses.  These hard-working folks are being slowly driven crazy by these people, and we, the audience, buys it hook, line, and sinker.

I like to say that with writing--any kind of writing--the audience or reader needs to identify with the characters or believe the story they're reading or watching could happen, even a little itty bitty bit.  Sci-fi, comedy, romance, action--doesn't matter.  If the audience doesn't buy into it, your movie or book is dead in the water.  And even though each of the bosses in this movie are caricatures, between the three there will be a tiiiiiiny bit of a supervisor you, the viewer, have had at one time, and that's enough.  You're in and along for the ride. 

Oddly, nothing feels forced about the movie.  Sure, some of the scenarios are ridiculous, but it's a comedy, and my suspension of disbelief never felt like it was about to snap.  The way everything ties together at the end is satisfying and, again, that's credit to the writers.

Will all of this hold true for the sequel?  I have no idea; it's a rare sequel that can recapture the magic of the original.  I guess we'll have to find out.  In the meantime, if you're looking for a fun, well-written comedy, check out Horrible Bosses.

Have you seen it?  What did you think?  Was the writing above-average for a comedy nowadays?  Have you seen one that you thought was far better?  Tell me!

xoxo Sarah

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tips for Editing Your Manuscript from a Real-Life Editor, Part 6.5

Because it's not often that the world says, "Here's a real-life example of that thing you're always talking about! Have at it!", I'm doing a little bonus post here for you lovely readers.

The awesome Dear Abby has a letter up that, I think, a lot of people could have written nowadays. And, quite frankly, this exact letter is why I'm writing this series on editing your own stuff.  The full text of the letter (and Abby's response) is below, though the link back to the actual letter is above, so I'm not plagiarizing, I promise.

DEAR ABBY: My friend's husband has been writing a novel for several years. He just self-published it, and it's available on Amazon. He gave me a copy, asked me to read it and enter a great review on the Amazon page. The problem is the book is filled with misused and misspelled words, and there is missing punctuation. He even switched the names of two characters. (His wife, who is a "perfectionist," was his editor.)
Aside from the fact that I don't want to finish the book, I know he or my friend will ask me how I liked it. I don't want to lie because I'm afraid if someone else brings these things to their attention, they'll know I didn't read it or think I should have told them. I know they will be embarrassed if I bring it to their attention.
Frankly, I think it's too late to say anything negative because the book has already been printed. I also don't want to cause hurt feelings because I know how long he worked on this project and he's proud of it. How do I handle this? -- READER IN THE SOUTHWEST
DEAR READER: He's a friend, right? And you're only a reader, not a literary critic whose credibility will suffer if you don't point out every flaw. Find SOMETHING you liked about the book and mention that on the Amazon page. You could call it a "page turner" because you had to turn from Page 1 to Page 2, didn't you?
In a case like this, less is more. And remember, you're doing this in the capacity of being a friend, not an English teacher.
One thing I noticed that Abby's otherwise good response lacks (actually, the whole letter in general) is the knowledge that, yes, you can re-upload a new copy to Amazon. So, if the author of said bad book does come to his senses and have someone who knows what they're doing look at his work and fix it, he can upload a revised copy. And, as I've seen before on Amazon, reviews will reflect that his book is cleaned up.

I feel that I must add that though I don't think there's anything wrong with asking friends or family to read and review, to give a person a copy of a book and request that they "enter a great review on the Amazon page" is far from fair to the reader. It doesn't give the reader any chance to be honest, and immediately tells me that the author will be far too sensitive to any criticism. If that's the case, he (the author mentioned in the article) is in the wrong business. If you can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen. Just like when you're applying for a new job and asking people if they'd be okay with giving you a reference, never assume someone will be able to give a positive review. But there's nothing wrong with asking for an "honest, and hopefully positive" review. That seems more fair. Or be prepared to take what you get--professional bloggers and reviewers even put something like "An ARC [ARC=Advance Reader Copy] was received in exchange for an honest review" to make sure that people reading their reviews know they were unbiased--and unbought--by the author.

You're probably wondering what tactic I'd take in this situation. That's a tricky one.  I trust most of my writer friends to be completely honest about my work and I'd be honest with theirs.  We also understand that there's a big difference between someone being a bad writer, and someone's writing not being your cup of tea.  Example: I don't read much inspirational romance, but I'd be able to figure out upon reading one if it was well-written or not.  And I know my writer friends can handle feedback. Also, when I say "honest" I mean I try to be tactful but clear if something isn't working. If someone told me I had errors in a completed book, I'd bust my butt to fix them--a few can be forgivable; I see them in completed published works all the time, but a few always slip through the cracks (a few being the key words). Any more than a few, and you need to fix it. Otherwise, the reviewers will tell you, and they won't hesitate. Trust me on this.

"Just keep talkin', Bob. Just keep talkin'."
But back to the letter... Depending on how well I knew him, I'd probably say something to him before posting any kind of review, possibly taking a route that allowed him to save face.  "Hey, Bob, I'm part-way through your book, but I noticed some errors. Maybe you accidentally uploaded a pre-edited version?" Do I really think that's what happened? Not on your life. And if he's smart, he'll take the hardly-subtle hint and fix it.  But he's obviously sensitive to criticism (he asked for that "great" review, after all), and even if I'd said something in my theoretical Amazon review about anything being less-than-perfect, he'd still likely corner me at the next BBQ we ended up at together, grill me (haha, see what I did there?) about what that meant, and then passive-aggressively complain, defending his book and his "perfectionist" wife's editing skills until I start daydreaming about strangling him to death with a rack of ribs.

But what if I just go ahead and write the review and don't say anything?  I'd take Abby's tactic--short and sweet. Find something, anything, about the book that I liked, even if it was a small side character or his overall writing style, and write a very short review based on that. Like, a sentence or two. Hey, he didn't ask for a long review, just a "great" one.  And maybe give it four stars instead of five (three, and he'd see it and we'd be doing the BBQ scenario all over again). Your relatively neutral review will likely be fine with him, and it will allow other readers and reviewers to fill in the gaps you so conveniently left in your own. And they will. Oh, they will.

Does this mean that every book I rate on Goodreads or Amazon with a four-star/short review is because of this? Absolutely not. I'm lucky to be able to squeeze out a few minutes to write this blog, much less review everything I've read lately.  I do my best to, but something has to give. And, like I said above, I'm honest in my reviews. So, if you're looking for something new to read, do what I do--read ALL the reviews (or at least the "most helpful" or "most recent"ones) and make a judgement call for yourself.  What someone loved, you may not; the reverse is just as often true.

Oh, and here are the rest of the posts in this series. If I'm able to help one person with their editing, then I've done a good job.

What do you think of Abby's answer? What would you do in this situation? I'm curious!

xoxo Sarah

Monday, July 7, 2014

Awesome Writing in Media, Part 2 : Quentin Tarantino

Back in Part 1 of this series on awesome writing in media, I discussed my love for Joss Whedon.

But this time around, I wanted to talk about someone a little more polarizing...Quentin Tarantino.  The more I talk to people about him and his movies (which include Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds, among others), the more I'm convinced that you either love him or hate him.

Most of the movies Tarantino has made he's both written and directed, and has taken home and/or been nominated for quite a few awards for his work.  Like him or not, he's a talented guy.  And I happen to enjoy his movies.

Why?  Because they're different.  There's this odd mix of extreme, bloody violence, unique plots, and interesting dialogue--complete with gratuitous swearing.  Tarantino makes movies that aren't formulaic; he makes the movie he wants to make, and because he has his hands in so many aspects of the movie-pies, he has a lot of creative control to do just that.

So, what about these movies do I enjoy so much, exactly?  As with Whedon, Tarantino has a knack for dialogue, but not in the same way.  While Whedon's is quick-witted and sharp, Tarantino's dialogue is real.  His characters have long, odd conversations, and they do it in way that makes you think you're eavesdropping on real people.

Here are two examples that always stick out in my head when I talk about his dialogue writing style (which, oddly, happens more than you'd think).  The first one is from Pulp Fiction, and is a conversation mostly between John Travolta's Vincent Vega and Uma Thurman's Mia Wallace.  Vincent has been charged by Mia's husband, Marsellus Wallace, to take Mia out for the evening to make sure she has fun while Marsellus is away.  They go to a restaurant called Jack Rabbit Slim's, where she orders the famous Five Dollar Milkshake and later enter a dance contest.  Their conversation in this scene isn't really related to the rest of the movie, but somehow fits anyway.  Check it out below... (language is NSFW)

The other scene that stands out in my head is from Reservoir Dogs during which the characters discuss tipping.  The cast is quite big in this movie, but for the clip below to make sense, the only thing you need to know is that the group of men here are a bunch of criminals--which makes the scene even better.  Again, like the milkshake scene above, their conversation has no real relevance to the rest of the movie, though it gives the viewer a sideways look at their characters and their personalities.  A perfect example of what I try to drive home to the lovely authors I work with: show, don't tell.  As with the other video, the one below has plenty of NSFW language...

There's something about a scene where a group of criminals argue over tipping, including defending the hard-working waitress.

Along with Tarantino's unusual style of dialogue go his unique stories and plots.

Want to hear a story about a female assassin who wakes from a long coma, only to discover that the child she'd been carrying has been taken from her womb and that she needs to exact vengeance upon the ones who wronged her?  Yup, got you covered.

Want to watch a WWII movie about Jewish U.S. soldiers who conspire to assassinate Nazi officials, including Hitler?  Check!

How about a story about a freed slave who, with the help of a German bounty hunter, is on a mission to rescue his wife from a plantation owner?  Sign me up!

He weaves tales about characters from all walks of life, even rewriting history in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained.  Some even theorize that all of his movies take place within the same insane universe.  Personally, I think that's very plausible.

And it would take a good storyteller to be able to weave that kind of thing together over so many years.  For reals.

I also give Tarantino a lot of credit for his story and directorial quirks...  Things like his distaste for brand names, so he makes up his own products (Red Apple cigarettes and Big Kahuna burger are just two) and uses those instead of product placement.  That allows the viewer to concentrate more on the story than on the overly-commercialized movie they're watching.  Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but everyone can think of at least one movie or television show where you begin to roll your eyes at all the product placement.

Most of the points in this post are just my opinions; plenty of people can't stand Tarantino's movies for the exact reasons I've listed that I enjoy them.  They're too out there; too violent; too meandering in their conversations.  And that's okay.  They're not for everyone.

How about you?  Are you a Tarantino fan or not?  Do you only like some of his movies?  Do you have a favorite or one you particularly can't stand?

xoxo Sarah