Monthly Archives: May 2013

About those critical reviews…


Rivetting… exciting… absorbing… extraordinary!”  That’s the sort of critical review that all writers hope for. They don’t always come our way, but you’ve got to have a dream.

In my salad writing days I  naively believed that all reviewers were benevolent beings who looked kindly on those of us who poured heart and soul onto the printed page. I was sure that their criticism was kindly meant and constructive. Actually, I still believe that a majority of critics are sharp readers and kindly folk, but now I know that those who criticize are also human and that their viewpoints are therefore subjective and  are to be taken with a saltshaker at hand.

Many years ago I met a woman who was a reviewer for an important literary magazine. Still wet around the ears and bubbling with excitement over my new book, I enthused about it to this lady, who eyed me cynically and purred, “Oh, I will be moved, will I?” Her review was scathing and—I still believe—unnecessarily cruel. The fact that A Boat To Nowhere  was well received elsewhere and went on to win a national award made up for the wounds she inflicted, but I never forgot the experience.

So how do we deal with reviewers and reviews? Through the ups and downs of review-reading, I think we all need to keep a level head and to believe that  If we have done our best, that is what counts. If there are lessons to be learned from a negative review, we will learn them. If there is praise that will validate us after all of our hundreds of hours of work, that’s icing on the cake.

The best critics, I think, are not the ones who write for newspapers or literary magazines but the readers themselves. That student who wrote to say he found your book the best he ever read, or the thoughtful questions posed by a teenaged reader … aren’t  those letters priceless? I confess that of all the reviews I have kept, the one I prize most was written from a juvenile detention facility. It began, “Yo, Miss! I hate reeding (sic), but your book reely (sic) wasn’t too bad!” It was signed “Squinty.”

I suspect that we never outgrow some anxiety about reviews. I know I haven’t. Now that my e-book, The Lake Is On Fire, has hit the airways, I have been watching and waiting for some commentary to be posted. And behold, today there they were!

             “This book,” one reviewer began, “has only two important characters – a short-tempered boy and a bad-tempered dog. How they got that way and how they react to the exciting and dangerous events that overtake them makes for an engrossing story with vivid characters and plenty of suspense. I loved it!”

               And another: Once I started it, I couldn’t put it down.

               And again:  Beautifully written, the suspense becomes so riveting that it is next to impossible to lay it down. I highly recommend this book for teens – and for their parents too!

No writer could possibly ask for better reviews!

Words said by others

Who read what we have written…

Do they hurt…or please?

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I admit that I had forgotten about this book, published in the ‘80s by Westminster Press and then by NAL, until that e-mail from a grandmother who explained that her grandson was doing a book review on The Lake Is On Fire. “He needs to have a song that goes with the book,” she wrote. “Can you suggest one?”

So I sat down and read my book again after many long years. It was a good read,  with a story about an angry, recently blinded boy and a suspicious, maltreated dog caught together in a forest fire. It was about danger and the redemptive force of gained trust, courage and love.  It deserved to come out of retirement. So… perhaps as an e-book?

Immediately, my Practical Self sent out shrieks of protest.

Practical Self: Have you gone totally nuts? There are a hundred thousand e-books out there. Who would ever pay attention to yours?

Me: It’s a good book. Every time I read it, I cry. People have told me that they cried when they read it, and I remember the editor who told me: ‘When you make me cry, you make me buy.”

PS: You cry too easily. You’ll definitely weep when you find out how much it cost to get a book on line. It’s a book for young people, for Pete’s sake.  It couldn’t compete on the market.

Me: Adults have enjoyed this book! My colleague in the English department read it on the subway going home one day and got so involved that he missed his station—twice! And just the other day, I read the last two chapters to a number of English teachers who were spellbound.

PS: Bah.

Me: I believe in this book. Both protagonists are angry, hurt, and they dislike each other. When they are forced to rely on each other, trust begins. The song I suggested to the grandmother via e-mail was “Stand By Me.”

PS: Humph!

After silencing my voice of reason, I sought the help of Kristine Goad, herself an author. My kind friend offered invaluable advice about the mysterious ways in which a real life book could be converted into one that sprints through the airways into kindles and nooks, tablets and computers! Then it was a matter of researching various companies and—after much hesitation, a myriad e-mails, phone calls, night sweats and palpitations— the deed was done.

So with fear and trembling I have sent my long neglected story into the world again to be found now on Amazon _ and soon to be available on such sites as ibooks, Barnes and Noble, The Sony Reader Store, Kobo, Copia, Gardners, Baker&Taylor,Ebook Pie, Scribd and eSentral. All of which are beyond my comprehension and all of which sound very much like black magic.

Venturing even further into black-magic territory, I’ve created a one-day event on Facebook and am offering a giveaway: anyone who downloads Lake and sends me an e-mail receipt will be entered into a drawing. Five kind souls will receive a copy of one of my (hard copy) YA books or a regency romance I wrote back in the day. Their choice!

All this is fun. But like any parent standing on a distant shore and watching her child make its way into the world, all I can do is wish it Godspeed.

Written long ago

I find the words still carry

A part of my soul.

 The Lake Is On Fire Cover




Is Winning The Only Thing?


The other day I was notified that one of my wall hangings had been juried into an upcoming exhibition. Since I had tried in the past to have my pieces juried into shows put on by this gallery, I was delighted. After several failures, I exulted, success!

Success means a great deal to all of us and failure to reach a goal can be devastating. Such is the emphasis placed on winning that being Number One becomes all important. “Nobody bothers to ask who was in second place,” we are told, or even “Only the lead sled dog sees anything worth looking at.” Whether we are aiming for a prize or a promotion or being the winner on Dancing With the Stars, we want the prize, the brass ring, the gold at rainbow’s end!

I surely felt that way years ago when my essay got a mere ‘honorable mention’ in a high writing school competition. That was just wrong. Even back then, writing was terribly important, the thing that  most defined me. I had put a lot of my heart into the essay, had polished it till it shone. Also, I didn’t much care for the person who had waltzed off with the first prize, and his essay was… well, it wasn’t very good. I was crushed.

My entire family commiserated in various ways. My mother took me shopping. Dad dragged me off on a long walk. Uncle Joe baked my favorite pie. Aunt Juliette decided I needed to do another needlework project. Aunt Francine let me take home some of her prize roses. And as usual, Uncle Harry quoted his favorite Kipling line about ‘meeting Triumph and Disaster just the same.’

But while I appreciated their kindness and love, my ego remained bruised. Thinking that my English teacher would at least say something helpful, I confided my sorrows to him. He heard me out and then asked, “Did you do your best?” I assured him that I had. “Well, then,” he said.  Well then, what? “Not everybody can win all the time,” he said, mildly. “You’ll be doing a great deal more writing. I know,” he added, “because you have an almost frightening imagination. If you always do your best, the writing will grow with you. Just try not to compete with anybody but yourself.”

Back then that sounded like pretty weak stuff, and slow learner that I am, it has taken years of trial and error to understand the wisdom of it. The real prize, he was trying to say, is in the doing.

It’s true. If I put heart and soul into something I create or imagine, something in my work is enriched. And though I love to succeed and would like to slide into that #1 slot every time, I have come to understand that personal growth is the only yardstick with which to measures true success.

Success is fleeting

But the love that shines in work

Lives on forever.


“If You Could Be a Rose…”


My knockout rose is in bloom again, bold and bright as it joyfully turns its face to the sky. I am pausing to admire when I realize that it looks several shades darker than when I planted the bush last year. Could it be the soil? The weather? Or perhaps the rose itself has decided it needed a different look?

Change is a fact of life, I think, and then I remember the game of ‘roses’ that my book club—a wonderful group that has been together for over forty years— played so many years ago.

On that long ago evening we were given paper and pencil and instructed to answer the question: “If you were a rose, what kind of rose would you be?” Decades younger when the game was suggested, energized by a spirited discussion of that month’s book and made mellow by the hostess’s decadent dessert, we all agreed. So, chuckling good naturedly, I scribbled that I would be an apricot climber growing on a rocky cliff that overlooked a waterfall.

What a drama queen! And some of the others’ answers were revelatory of character, too. The ‘rose’ I remember most was that of one friend’s unopened bud. “Will the bud ever open?”  We asked, but she only shrugged and said time would tell.

Years later, I played the game again with a different group, and my rose had changed dramatically. No waterfalls and no rocky cliffs for me—I was now a pale pink Peace Rose in a garden full of flowers.

How the times have changed

And the re-invented self

Seeks different light.

I don’t know which rose you would have chosen to be back then or choose to be now (try it—it really is fun!), but I do know that as the years pass we re-invent ourselves. For sure I have done so more than a few times.  Life experiences have shaded my perceptions of the world; of choice or necessity I have put aside some goals and found new ones. I suspect it is the same for most, if not all of us. If we are lucky, the years that have shaped our characters have been gentle, but even the raw, bitter times may have stiffened the spine and fostered both understanding and patience. We all know friends who have mellowed and grown wise through the years so that to be with them is a delight and a nourishment for the spirit. Other friends have become brittle and bitter; their petals, once fragrant and full of the joy of life, have been shriveled with frost. Their thorns keep us at a distance.

For myself, I look across the years at my young and self-important self and smile. The rose that I once was may hold my deepest essence, but it has had to change in order to grow and prosper. Now, knowing all that, I hope that time and change will always find me rejoicing in life’s garden like my knockout rose.

Though summers have changed

The bright sun is always there

To warm the spirit.

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Who Are (were) You?


Perhaps, like me, you have looked into the night sky and wondered if somewhere in that great cobalt circle someone was looking at earth and wondering… who are you? What are you like?

These days, the mysteries of the universe seem even more fascinating. Imagine—the astrophysicists have discovered a galaxy so very distant that the light from Galaxy MACS607-JD needs to travel 13.3 billion years to reach us. What really boggles my mind is that 13.2. billion years is 97% the known age of the universe! We’re talking about reaching into the beginning of time!

In another mind-blowing discovery, these learned sky-watching folks have found a ‘goldilocks’ world many light years away which is so situated that life is possible there. Life, yes— but what kind of life? Who are you? I would like to ask the inhabitants of ‘Goldilocks,’ but it is unlikely that we will ever know the answer. Instead I must be content with contemplating mysteries closer to home.

So here is a near-at-hand mystery. In the foothills and mountains of South Carolina, there are apparently some hundred sites where—archeologists believe—ancient people carved their messages on stone surfaces and painted them with clay. One of these pre-historic carvings is the Jadaculla Rock which is to be found in a park near Cullowhee. Also, I have read that another archeological find—discovered very recently— is a 30×40 foot boulder soon to be on display in a two-room edifice built by the Pickering CountyMuseum. The thirty one images on the flat surface of this boulder have been so faded and eroded by time and by the elements that on a sunny day they could not be seen. If an archeologist had not studied the boulder on a rainy day, the carvings would have been lost for all time.

Who were these people who lived here so many millennia ago? What did they think as they chiseled their stick figures and animals onto stone? Perhaps they were telling a story or recounting an adventure, or giving directions to the best place to hunt. Or—and this is the explanation that I like most of all—perhaps they wondered as they chipped away at stone who would view their art. Perhaps they puzzled—as I puzzle now—what the world would be like in untold ages to come and asked the universal question: who are you? what will you be like?

In the faded rock

We see shadows of ourselves,

Our past and future.