So I gave myself an exercise (eating my own dogfood)…

...and it was oh so good!

You see a lot, doctor. But can you point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don’t you – why don’t you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you’re afraid to…
– Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs

If you’ve read Writers’ Groups – Introduction, Writers’ Groups – Critiques and Butchers, Bakers and Candlestick Makers then you know I’m on a quest.

To find a critique group that does critiques as I do them.
Continue reading “So I gave myself an exercise (eating my own dogfood)…”

Three Books I Won’t Be Reviewing on Goodreads

Nods to Goodreads' Trike and Allison Hurd. And oh, the learning!

Ever notice there are some people whose opinions matter? Two such people for me are Allison Hurd and Trike on Goodreads.

Why do their opinions matter to me?

Nutshell response: I don’t know.

I could figure it out. Things like kindness, graciousness, wit, intelligence, writing skills, comments they’ve made, nature of their responses to other people, things we disagree on and how we disagree, … all sorts of things like that come to mind.

But that’s not what this post is about so let’s move on except to note that Trike and Allison are the impetus for this post.

The Books
I won’t be reviewing Autonomous, Wit’s End or The Fifth Season on Goodreads. I read them pretty much simultaneously.

The Fifth Season I may yet review, I’m not sure. I may yet review them all. Again, I’m not sure. Let me deal with the other two first.

Wit’s End
Karen Joy Fowler’s Wit’s End had such an interesting teaser to me; “What happens when your readers steal your characters?” Okay, that premise wasn’t as interesting to me as the one my lexdyksia created for me; “What happens when your characters steal your readers?”

I mean, just park it at a red light and walk home, right? I’ve got to write me that kind of story someday, where your characters steal your readers, right while they’re sitting comfortably at home, reading and sipping a nice wine. Or listening or reading during some commute? There they are in a crowded train heading into the city and then they’re not.

Enoch walked with God and then was not. – Gen 5:24

Talk about an Enoch moment!

I got about one-third through Witt’s End and put it down. Bored, frustrated. I wanted to like it. I wanted to revel in it. I studied under Karen Joy Fowler years ago (I doubt she remembers my writing although she told me I should not rename a story, Cicatrix, even though everybody else in the class said they couldn’t understand the story because they didn’t know what the title meant. She did and thought it was perfect for the story.
Neener neener neener, everybody.
Or she might remember the night I made chili for the entire class. It was a bonding exercise that failed. Everybody liked the chili. One guy even told me he knew why I was making chili for everybody. He appreciated the effort, although he didn’t think anybody else would understand.
I wonder what became of him?
He was correct, by the way. It didn’t work as a bonding exercise. So it goes) and was a good teacher. I still have the exercises she gave us to do and bring them out to brush up from time to time.

Wit’s End read like just about everything I’ve read by Karen Joy Fowler.

I never really liked anything I’ve read by Karen Joy Fowler. Even when I was her student (and enjoyed her as a teacher!) I didn’t understand why people were blown away by her writing. It seemed so Meh!

But I figured I was older now, smarter, wiser, more mature, wouldn’t try any bonding exercises with people who didn’t know what “cicatrix” meant, that kind of thing.

Nope. Her writing still bored me.

But she’s won all those awards! What gives?

Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous also had an interesting premise to me. And Annalee Newitz’s background is…Whoa! She’s got some chops! And, reading Autonomous, I totally get that she really has those chops, she’s earned them, she’s knowledgeable, she definitely writes well (so does Karen Joy, for that matter), …

And again, about one-quarter to one-third of the way through, blech, mindfart, brainpoo, somebody wake me up or kill me and put me out of my misery.

But she’s got such chops! And she’s won some awards, too!
(at least I think she has. I’m not going back to look right now. I’m on a roll!)


The Fifth Season
I picked up N.K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season because Allison Hurd and Trike liked it. A lot.

And they’re good people.

Whom I love, respect and admire.

And I still do!

Because here’s what I learned…

The exchange that caused revelations
<From Goodreads>
Allison wrote: “Haha! I hope you get to it and love it as much as I do! …”
Well…I didn’t. I had such an adverse reaction to it that based on your intense joy in it, Trike’s review of it and the fact that I have great respect for both of your opinions, I’m concluding that I need to give it another read, this time keeping watch on myself to learn what (if anything still) is causing me such troubles.
I mean, I noted that the writing was quite good (I often put books down because the storycrafting isn’t there or the editor was just getting off a ten-day bender…) so it wasn’t the writing. Often when I have such adverse reactions to books it’s more to do with me than the book. A great opportunity for learning, maturing, evolving, that.
So another go it is!
</From Goodreads>

I tend to read several books simultaneously, going from one to another for lots of reasons. This time I was simultaneously reading two other books I enjoyed; The Western Star and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

So many voices seeking my attention! And they’re all in my head!

Meanwhile, and because nothing ever happens in isolation (someday, if you’re really bored, I’ll explain the quantum, behavioral, classical and meta physics of this), Annie Neugebauer’s The Differences Between Commercial and Literary Fiction, Chuck Wendig’s 25 REASONS WHY I STOPPED READING YOUR BOOK and yours truly’s Why I don’t read in my genres any more were in my mind, working their way around, looking for a comfortable place to sit, maybe have a drink or two (I strongly recommend the first two posts. They’re wonderful, entertaining, educational and did I mention wonderful? Mine’s pretty good, too, but I’m still working on that self-promotion thing, so…).

Also topmost in my mind was something my writing coach, Rich Marcello, shared with me about energy levels in stories and scenes, something I’m actively working on in my Ritchie and Phyl series plus some things that have been banging around in my head since I read Jill Nelson’s Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View.

I like stories where the energy levels change(!!!) in a scene, in a chapter, on the page (this only applies to fiction so far that I’ve noticed).

I mean, shabang shaboomie. Revelations like steamrollers smacking the forehead wow.

How come I didn’t like Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible but loved her The Bean Trees? How come I couldn’t get enough of Charles Frazier’s Nightwoods but was less enthusiastic about his Thirteen Moons?

How come this book was great but that book sucked? How come I can’t get enough of this author and would rather have a root canal than read that author? How come some of my Goodreads reviews come down to “Great writing, but I was screaming ‘Will somebody please do something?'”

Because I like changes in energy levels in the stories(!!!) and the longer I have to wait for some kind of energy shift the less I’m going to like the story.

Me and my toolbox
da dat de dah de dat de dah dah
Straighter than your ox
(okay, I’m not Nilsson)

This is so important because…
…it’s another tool in my toolbox. I can go back to all those books that I recognized were beautifully written but sucked, pick them up…

…and throw them in the trash forever!

Bwa-ha-ha-ha! (bear with me, folks. I’m drunk with power. I get that way when I figure something out. Especially if it’s something about myself)

It’s all about me!


But when isn’t it?

I never have to wonder if it’s me or them anymore! I know it’s me! It’s not that I’m stupid or don’t get it or aren’t sophisticated enough to understand the subtleties inherent in their structure,

It’s that they suck!

To me!

But now I know why!

And that means I can fix it!

Especially in my own writing!

Because I don’t want someone to read something of mine and wish they’d opted for a root canal instead!

And now there’s lots more books I can enjoy because I’ll understand why I think they suck and the understanding brings a joy all its own!

Masochist me!

So again, thanks to Allison Hurd and Trike for helping me through this.

PS) I’m having fun learning about callouts. Can you tell?



Butchers, Bakers and Candlestick Makers

Oh, it's cruel to be kind

Tough lessons last week.

Long ago (in internet time) I had my own company. It did well enough to keep us going for 20+ years. One of the things I learned during that time was how amazingly easy it was to piss people off.

For the most incredible, unbelievable reasons.

We worked in marketing mostly. Most people had no idea of how marketing worked, hence couldn’t defend their marketing decisions, therefore any time we made a suggestion they read it as a direct challenge to them, not to what they were working on (if you can’t separate yourself from your product, get out of the game. Now. And you probably don’t have what it takes to be an author. You can be a writer, sure, but an author, no), and the insults and yelling would start. Often in boardrooms, if you can believe it.

Amazing, when I think back on it.

And when we brought in science (which was our job and why companies hired us)? Experimental evidence? Fact based research? Duplicatable results? Scientific reasoning?

“Bah! We don’t need no stinking science.”

One of my favorite anecdotes from the early days was when a CEO looked me in the eye and said, “What do I care what my customers think?” (we pioneered and patented several marketing neurotools, that’s why that line still cracks me up)

I empathized with wisewomen during the Witch Trials.

People asked why we kept at it.

One reason was because we knew that what we offered would catch on (it did). We also know that people crucify the heretic then accept the heresies. We developed a strategy of staying small because we’d studied lots of evolutionary theory and learned from the survivor species of the last global extinction: I couldn’t be big so I had to be clever.

Part of that cleverness was recognizing something; If the butchers, the bakers and the candlestick makers think you’re an idiot, you’re an idiot. If the butchers and the bakers think you’re okay and the candlestick makers think you’re an idiot, the problem is with the candlestick makers, not with you.

My finger or where I’m pointing. Your choice
I’ve mentioned that I attend a few different writers groups. What I’m learning is best summed up in the following image:

Surround yourself with those on the same mission as you

There’s a lot to this. The above is the condensed version, the gist of it.

I’m learning about individual desires, goals, and how they work when individuals form groups. I’m learning that my kind of critique can piss people off (they’re not prepared for it emotionally) and/or confuse them (they’re not psychologically able to use it) or, in the rare case, benefit them (professionally. One person told me my critique of her work was priceless).

I’m learning that when a writer defends their work or gets upset by your comments (even if they’re personal. If someone’s making personal comments they’re an idiot), it’s time to leave/move on/bid adieu. You’ve found yourself amongst candlestick makers.

Thou Shalt Not Muzzle the Ox and the Ass Together
That’s from Deuteronomy 22:10. I love that line. It’s inspired me to write lots of rotten poetry.

The idea applies to…everything. Be careful who you marry. Or even date. Choose your schools carefully. Make sure you get expert advice before signing a contract. Listen to people who are where you want to be.

Don’t get involved in writers’ groups unless they’re providing you something you want/need, unless they’re going in the same direction you are and hopefully to the same place. You probably already are. People tend to rest where they’re comfortable, where they feel safe.

I wrote in Writers’ Groups – Critiques that my core reason for joining any writers’ group “is to learn, improve, increase.” I don’t mind some discomfort if I’m learning in the process.

The Weight (aka “Some Background”)
This brings us to a realization I had that’s the source/inspiration for this post. I wrote The Weight, about a chance encounter with one of my guitar heros, Peter Frampton, long ago when I was hitchhiking The Dragon’s Spine.

In the story, Peter Frampton teaches me a few guitar licks.

Susan and I often have lunch at The Riverwalk, a wonderful little eatery in downtown Nashua, NH. There’s one picture on the wall that always saddens me; Robert Cray, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn, guitars all, smiling and chatting it up. I’m guessing it was taken at some blues festival.

It saddens me because Stevie Ray Vaughn is long gone. Damn.

But I also appreciate that the picture is of three guitar greats, relaxed and having fun with each other. You’re not going to see a picture of Robert Cray, Eric Clapton and me, guitars all, smiling and chatting it up. Frampton could be in that picture, sure. Not me. I might be in that picture if I was slicing up some of my homemade pizza and offering it to them (for those who don’t know, I’m known for my homemade-from-scratch (including the shells) pizzas from Ontario through Atlantic Canada and much of the US. Friends have described me as “an extraordinary pizza maker“).

Frampton taught me a few licks long ago and who knows why. He’d had a horrible accident, we met at a wa-a-ay out of the way place and there was nobody else around except the shopkeeper.

I didn’t recognize Frampton at first (this guy playing on a makeshift stage in a backwater town in a ditchwater cafe couldn’t have been Frampton) and, after he played a few songs, I offered that he did a hell of a Frampton impersonation.

He asked if I played. I demured. He had an extra guitar and held it out to me.

Like a fool, I accepted it.

But I’m sure Frampton could tell what kind of guitar player I was just by how I picked up the guitar. Do I need to state that I wasn’t at his level? Then or now?

Just like I can tell from an opening paragraph where a writer is in their career?

Robert Cray, Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton and I could have a great time so long as I’m cooking pizza and not picking up a guitar.

And that’s what I learned
Oxen and Asses, Butchers, Bakers and Candlestick Makers, great guitarists, surrounding yourself with those on the same mission, those going in your direction to the same place you’re going.

Peter Frampton is not going to ask me to help him improve his guitar playing. He may not ask Eric Clapton or Robert Cray, either. But put the three of them in a room together and you know they’ll pick up things from each other – things that you and I wouldn’t even notice, wouldn’t recognize if you had flashing lights and sirens drawing our attention to them – just by playing together and being in each others’ presence.

Put me in that mix and I hope they’d be polite enough not to laugh until I was gone. I’m sure they wouldn’t amuse themselves at my expense. People are that skill level don’t. Won’t. Or can’t. Not sure which.

Likewise, they may get a kick out of having some beers or wine and watching me make pizza. I may teach them a little about blending flavors, how to make one smell/taste combination stand out against the others.

I’ve been making homemade pizza regularly for 40+ years. Put me in a picture with two other long-time pizza makers and you’ve got something cooking (ugh. I couldn’t help myself).

But there’s not a lot of us 40+ year pizza makers around. There’s not a lot of guitarists at that level around.

And I’ve had to come to terms these past few weeks that there’s not a lot of writers at that level around, either.

I’m still looking. If you’re in a group and you’re getting something out of it, Good for you! I’m happy for you. Truly, honestly happy. You’re found your group! Hooray!

I’m still looking for mine.


I so want to learn.

(want me to critique some of your work?)