Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

19 April 2013

Criticizing Other Writers

I don’t like to criticize other writers. It’s like one pilot looking at another and saying, “I’m better than him.” This may be true but nevertheless should only be thought to oneself and never spoken aloud. I’m not the world’s best pilot, and God knows I’m not the greatest writer in history either. However I am a “published author” in that I have made money from my words, though I hasten to admit they were only magazine articles and not full-fledged books or self-published “novellas” or anything. But I don’t make any money from the crap you’re reading here. So while it’s easy to snipe at another writer, it’s not really fair.

One of my friends recommended a book on his Facebook page. Said book was in turn recommended to him by one of his friends. My friend put his own recommendation up before actually reading the book. I was skeptical about this, and said so in a Comment. This started a lengthy, funny/snarky back-and-forth thread on his FB page which oddly enough included the author of the aforementioned book!

The author seemed funny on Facebook and the synopsis of the story on Amazon was compelling. The two customer reviews of the book were positively glowing. So on a whim, I bought the book, and then downloaded the Kindle reader app to my phone. The book is actually a “novella,” which is something that is too long to be called “a short story” but is not long enough to be called “a book.” A kind of in-between thing that author Stephen King called, “an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic.” Whatever that is. Kind of like my posts here, I guess. In any event I figured the book wasn’t going to be “War And Peace.” I read it with great expectations.

Cut to the chase: I did not like this book. The author used a number of amateurish techniques, one of which was to use two narrators. The main one was herself, in the first-person. But there was also another one. From the start there were passages that were “spoken” by some unidentified entity with a third-person perspective. I initially wondered if it was the female protagonist’s cat? Dog? But no, it couldn’t be, and it turned out not to be. It was very confusing.

The book also jumped a lot between timeframes. The main character in the book was relating in the present tense about thinking back on the night she was going to get pregnant. She was sitting by a window looking out the window at the rain and thinking back to an earlier time when they were having a Father’s Day barbecue in the backyard and... Good God, flashback within flashback! What timeframe are we in? Now it wasn’t just “very” confusing; it was totally confusing.

Okay, I know enough about writing to understand that it’s not so much about being technically, grammatically correct all the time. It’s about the story, right? If the story is compelling enough, then we can overlook amateurish (let’s be kind and say “non-conventional”) writing styles. This woman most certainly did have a unique writing style. And she is desperately in need of an editor.

Unfortunately, the overly-romanticized story in the novella we’re talking about here was not really all that interesting to me. It concerned a young woman who got pregnant by her “love-of-my-life/soulmate” boyfriend of a different race. Ultimately the woman lost the child prior to its birth. The boyfriend didn’t stick around long either, we’re told in a postscript. The "other" narrator (along with the author's first-person account) turned out to be her unborn baby, speaking and intellectualizing as a fully-grown adult.

No doubt, losing a child to a miscarriage is a horrible, traumatic experience for any woman and it obviously was to the author of this novella too. But the way she told the story was so incredibly complicated and cloying that it just lost me. In the end I “got it,” but I wasn’t sure it was worth the trouble. In the end I said, “Damn. Glad that’s over!” On the other hand, the FB friend who recommended the book to me (eventually) read it and loved and was very moved by it. So there ya go.

Back in another lifetime when I was a disk jockey, the radio station owner always urged the air-staff to never let the listener in on the technicalities of what we were doing. For instance, if something went wrong…say a commercial failed to start on cue due to faulty equipment or maybe a record miscued or the needle skipped we were to just move on smoothly and not explain it. Radio is “theatre of the mind” and if you break the barrier between listener and programmer it destroys the magic of what you are trying to create. At least that’s one theory.

And so it is with the relationship between writing and reading. Unless you’re taking a course in creative writing, or unless you’re a professional editor, then you should probably just read a story for the story. If it’s good enough, then you get the message and walk away happy. But a writer should not let the writing itself interfere with the story.

And ultimately I think that’s what happened with this novella. The story wasn’t all that strong and the writer’s style definitely turned me off. As I said, I don’t like criticizing other writers, but there are some bad ones out there. After reading this poorly-written book, it was a little troubling to realize that, hey, maybe I'm one of them. Hmm, maybe I’m not as good a pilot as I think I am either!

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