Monthly Archives: November 2013

“Thanks Giving”

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite annual holiday.  Why?  Well, the absence of commercialism is one big plus.  Perhaps some only love this holiday because it ushers in Black Friday, but I avoid stores like the plague!   Also, I love food, so any holiday centered on a meal is a winner for me (pass more gravy, please).  But mostly it’s because my extended family travels “home” to Pittsburgh from Virginia, Maryland, and Connecticut on this holiday so we can all get together.  In addition to my parents and brother, I see my aunts and uncles, my cousins and their children, and those of my husband as well.  At my mother’s house, tables spill into the entry to accommodate the group (remember the “kids’ table?”  That’s my daughter when she was only five).  IMG_2245

I grew up on a street with three sets of cousins, one set of grandparents, and my husband’s family.  There was never a day when I didn’t feel love coming from many different directions.  Now that I’m more or less isolated here in Connecticut, I miss that closeness, and sometimes I lament the fact my kids have never known it.   One of my cousins (one who grew up on my street in Pittsburgh) lives here in my town with his four kids, but life is different today.  He commutes to L.A. for work, and his weekends are gobbled up with hockey, flag-football, and other obligations, making spontaneous get-togethers too infrequent.  It’s no one’s fault, it’s just modern life.

But this time of year isn’t about bemoaning what one doesn’t have, it’s about giving thanks for what one does have…and I have a lot.  I have two beautiful, healthy kids, a caring husband, parents who love me, in-laws I enjoy, a roof over my head and food in my stomach, interesting friends, and the ability to pursue my passion for writing.  I’m truly blessed, and for that I give thanks.  For that, I’m willing to make the eight-hour trek across the forests of Pennsylvania with thousands of other drivers, run around to four sets of grandparents in three days, and gain at least five pounds from those multiple holiday dinners!  For all of that, I recognize this as my favorite holiday.

So how about you?  How do you celebrate Thanksgiving, and for what are you most grateful?

xo-Jamie

Good Book? Says Who?

A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it ~ Danielle Steel

If you follow my Facebook page, you know I sent a draft of my current manuscript to several beta readers yesterday.  I’ll rely on their feedback to help me shore up the flimsy spots in my story, whether it relates to character development and credibility, plot and pacing, or any other weaknesses those readers report.

During the next few weeks, I’ll nervously anticipate their comments.  Naturally, I want a reader to fall in love with the hero, root for the heroine, and empathize with the conflicts.  At the same time, I do appreciate and desire constructive criticism.  Ultimately, I view the process as practice for the inevitable day when, once my books are published, I’m hit with a “bad” review.

Book reviews sell books, which is one reason why professional writers have such a vested interest in readers’ opinions.  Earlier this week, Dear Author, a lively, informative reader/writer community, instigated a thought-provoking discussion (generating over 100 comments) about the ethical and professional obligations of authors who choose to publicly support or review other writers’ work (When The Personal Becomes Professional).

I opted not to join the discussion because, after reading through all the comments, I couldn’t decide how I felt about the topic, or if my opinion might change once my own work is published.  But it did raise a lot of questions for me, especially considering the inherent defect of every book review: subjectivity.

Of course, certain objective criteria apply to all books.  At a bare minimum, the story should be written without grammatical errors and gaping research holes or mistakes.  The basic plot should follow a credible story arc, as should the evolution of each character’s development.  But so many other elements are subjective.  Did you fall for the hero?  Was the heroine relatable?  Did you enjoy the pace?  Did you enjoy the author’s “voice?”  Did the story make you think differently about its theme?

Any two people could read the same book and come away with entirely different opinions based on their own preferences and perspectives.   So if there is no correct answer, then why place so much value on a review in the first place?  Fifty Shades of Grey’s commercial success versus its critical failure perfectly illustrates the dichotomy.  Clearly, bad reviews didn’t hurt the sales of this trilogy.

It seems the critical thing for readers, then, is to find those reviewers who share their same taste and can point them to books they are likely to enjoy.  Maybe grading the books isn’t as helpful as simply writing a very articulate review describing why a particular story did or didn’t work for the reviewer.

As a romance reader, I’ve realized I can overlook plot credibility problems or even an unlikable character in a book as long as I’m completely invested in the characters’ emotional worlds (both their inner and outer relationships).   That’s the critical element for me, and what makes a book a winner.  A perfect example is Sherry Thomas’s Ravishing The Heiress.  Oh, I wept.  I got angry.  I felt hope.  I rode that emotional roller coaster even though the hero wasn’t particularly swoon-worthy (in fact, was often callous or obtuse).  For much of the book, the romantic love was so one-sided that I couldn’t claim this is a “great” love story, but it was such an emotional journey for me, I would recommend anyone read it.  That said, I’m sure my personal bias (I’m a sucker for unrequited love stories) has much to do with my reaction.

How about you?  What makes you love a book more than others?  Which book review blogs do you follow and why?

xo-Jamie

 

Handling Rejection Without Despair

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

My writing journey has introduced me to many new experiences, but the most common has been rejection.  I’m told it’s part of the process every single writer must face.  I’m told it’s not personal.  I’m told to keep trying.  Occasionally I experience a win, like placing in the finals of a writing contest or landing my agent, but then I’m again subjected to another round of critiques, and another round of rejections. 11127052_s

It’s humbling.  It’s hard to remain motivated and not feel inferior to other writers.  It’s really hard not to take it personally.  But, as difficult as it is, I know it’s a critical part of this journey.  That’s right – that bitter pill of rejection is actually a positive because the critical feedback exposes my weaknesses, which enables me to work on fixing them.  Thus, rejection is actually making me a better writer.

Consequently, it’s imperative I learn to separate my ego from the process.  To recognize rejection is based on many factors (is the manuscript well written, is it good but lacking a clearly defined market, does it appeal to a particular editor’s taste, and so on).  Rejection is not simply a big rubberstamp proclaiming, “You’re Not Good Enough.”  And once I digest that truth, it becomes a little easier to accept.  It becomes easier to use it to improve rather than use it as an excuse to give up.

This same philosophy can be applied to any kind of criticism or rejection one receives throughout his or her life, whether through a lay-off, a break-up, or dispute with a friend.  It’s human nature to feel defensive, hurt, or even bitter when we meet with criticism.  But we shouldn’t let it crush our spirit or make us feel inferior and unworthy.  Most criticism is given constructively (whether by a parent, friend, boss, or partner).  When it isn’t constructive – when it’s intended to injure – then you must put it in perspective and let it roll off your back.  But never let it create such self-doubt that you wither up and refuse to try new things or meet new challenges.  Never let it make you feel less than.

We all have value.  We all bring something unique and beautiful to the table.  Sometimes there may be a better way to do something; other times there is simply a different way.  Listen to the feedback, determine whether it can help you or not, act on your decision, and then move on.

How do you handle criticism or rejection, and what advice would you offer to others?

xo-jamie