The Reviews Are In, and It’s About Time

My new story, “Time’s Deformèd Hand,” is starting to garner some interesting praise from reviewers. Here’s just a sample:

  • “I laughed, I cried, I winced, I snorted my milk in my cereal.”

Houston Chronometer

  • “If you read only one book set in 16th Century Switzerland…well, if you read only five, this should be one of them.”

New York Timer

  • “In ‘Time’s Deformèd Hand,’ Steven R. Southard manages to take Shakespeare’s ‘A Comedy of Errors’ and update it all the way from 1594 to 1600.”

Baltimore Sundial

  • “Your book, ‘Time’s Deformèd Hand,’ is a completely inaccurate portrayal of Switzerland. There is no such town as Spätbourg and never has been. The Swiss people are not as obsessed with clocks as you describe. You will be hearing from our lawyers.”

Swiss Ministry of Tourism

[Note to self: Not a book review. Remember to delete before publishing post.]

  • “It’s like Shakespeare meets the Marx Brothers, in a clock factory, and they’re all on a caffeine high.”

Greensborough Watchman

  • “One character in the story uses da Vinci wings to fly. Really cool! I want those wings. Second, I’ve got to have one of the eight foot tall clockwork automatons. I really want both of ‘em, but I’m not gonna be greedy.”

Remember, the book is scheduled for launch in two days, on November 15th. With reviews like those, nothing more need be said by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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November 14, 2014Permalink

Emotional Roller-coaster

As you and the story you’re writing go through time together, do you find yourself on the same type of emotional roller-coaster as with a personal relationship? Do you feel elated by positive events and dejected by negative ones? I’ve been through the process enough to detect a repeatable pattern. Maybe it will be the same for you.

Let’s follow through as I experience the highs and lows of writing a story and getting it published. This is my relationship with a single story, so the line will overlap with other stories in various stages.

Emotional RollercoasterGetting a story idea is enjoyable, having it mature in my mind while I imagine the possibilities, the characters, the plotline, the settings, and some of the dramatic scenes. It’s a good feeling to go through that, because that imaginary, unwritten story is as good as it’s ever going to be. Once the reality starts and I put words down, the story never reaches the exalted heights of perfection that it achieved when just a dream.

Still, putting words down has a gratification all its own. I feel I’m making progress, producing product, assembling widgets on my keyboard / word / sentence / paragraph assembly line.

Until I get stuck with writer’s block. Here I mean the minor writer’s block I’ve described before, where I can’t get out of a plot hole, or I need a character to act contrary to his or her motivations, etc. Although temporary, this is a real downer. I don’t always experience this, (as shown by the reddish line) but there’s usually some drop-off in enthusiasm as the glow of the original idea fades a bit.

Reaching THE END of the first draft is a definite up-tic in satisfaction for me. The mad rush of getting words down is over. It’s good to know I can start the reviewing-editing-improving phase.

For simplicity, my graph only shows two drafts, but there may be more, with minor wave crests for completing each one. I get to the highest emotional state so far when I consider the story done and submit it for publication. “Here, Dear Editor, this is my newborn! Don’t you love it as much as I do?”

That emotional high fades, as they all do, while waiting for a response. Usually I’ve begun another story by then, so I get an overlap with a similar-looking graph displaced in time.

My graph depicts two paths here, one showing a rejection. Despite my earlier advice to look at rejections positively, I still find that hard to do. Rejections stink. Maybe not as much now as my first one, but still…

An acceptance of a story is a very high emotional state, especially the first time. It’s time to celebrate, indulge, and surrender to the grandeur and magnificence of me.

No one can maintain a very high or very low state forever, so I do descend from the grand summit as I get through the rewrites and signing of the contract, though these are not unpleasant.

The launch of a story is another sublime pinnacle of emotional ecstasy, and that’s no hyperbole. “For all human history, readers have awaited a story like this, and today, I, yes I, grant your wish and launch this masterpiece, this seminal work of ultimate prose, so you may purchase and read it. You’re quite welcome.”

After the story is launched, you’ll get occasional uplifting moments, such as favorable reviews, or book signings, etc. These are never quite as exciting as acceptance or launching, but they’re gratifying anyway.

I’ve not gotten through all these stages with a novel yet, but I suppose a novel’s graph is longer in time, and has many more ups and downs than that of a short story.

Also, your mileage may vary such that your graph looks quite different from mine. Leave me a comment and let me know about the emotional stages of your writing experience.

Remember, when on a roller-coaster (emotional or state fair-type), it sometimes helps to raise your hands in the air and scream. Whee! Here goes—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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October 26, 2014Permalink

Your Baby’s Ugly

How should you, as an author, deal with negative reviews?  You’re going to get them, so you might as well prepare now.

Bad ReviewsNobody calls actual babies ugly, not to the Mom’s face anyway, but people will describe your novel or short story with some pretty ugly words.  Those words sure can sting, too.  After all, just as with real babies, writing is an act of creating something new from almost nothing, something that takes considerable effort and time, and you’re putting your creation out there for the world to see, unsure of what people will think.

Well, you soon find out that some people think your ‘baby’ is ugly. What to do?  Options include:

1.  Giving up this writing thing, and slink away to a hole where no one can see you or hurt you ever again.

2.  Lashing out at the reviewer, and maybe starting an online flame war to prove to the world your novel was prose perfection while the reviewer was an ignorant, unsophisticated numbskull.

3.  Ignoring the reviewer so you can keep on writing as you have been, since the reviewer obviously didn’t ‘get it’ and you can’t waste your time on idiots.

I’m not going to recommend you do any of those things, however much you will want to.  My advice is to move as quickly as you can through the first four of Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief—denial, anger, bargaining, and depression.  Get to the last stage, acceptance, as soon as possible.

No matter how poorly written the review, no matter how uninformed the reviewer seems, it’s just possible there’s a kernel of truth in the review.  No matter how you try to deny it, that reviewer has a point.

But it’s a point you can use to improve future stories. Whatever flaw the reviewer noted, you should strive to avoid repeating that problem again.  In the long run, you might even find that reviewer did you a favor.

Authors Joanna Penn and Rainy Kaye have posted some excellent advice on contending with unfavorable reviews.

The writer’s version of having your baby called ugly isn’t nearly as bad as having an ugly real baby.  Then again, sometimes ugly babies grow into good looking adults, whereas stories always stay the same.  Unless you revise your story.  Who picked this stupid ‘baby’ analogy anyway? Oh, yeah, it was—

                                                        Poseidon’s Scribe

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February 2, 2014Permalink

A Review of “A Steampunk Carol”

How about that?  My book, “A Steampunk Carol,” received a favorable review by the nice folks at Coffee Time Romance.  Here’s that review, where my book earned 3 coffee cups on their rating scale.

ASteampunkCarol72dpiReviewed At CTRcoffeethoughts





I’ll raise my own coffee cup to Hollie, at Coffee Time Romance.  Her review is much appreciated by—

                                                         Poseidon’s Scribe


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Book Review – Something Wicked This Way Comes

Ray Bradbury died June 5th of this year, a day this universe lost a literary giant.  I just finished reading Something Wicked This Way Comes for the first time.  I have read some other Bradbury works, including Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man, Now and Forever, and The Martian Chronicles.  His short story “The Flying Machine,” in part, inspired my story “The Sea-Wagon of Yantai.”

I listened to the Recorded Books version performed by Paul Hecht, ©1962 by Bradbury, renewed 1997, and ©1999 by Recorded Books.

The novel takes place in a Midwest town in the month of October sometime in the early to mid-1900s.  A traveling carnival comes to the town and strange things happen, including the disappearance or alteration of some townspeople.  Two boys and one of their fathers start to believe the carnival is evil and try to find a way to deal with the problem.

That synopsis sounds inexcusably bland, and doesn’t at all convey the magical experience of reading the book.  Bradbury’s works are always poetic, alliterative, and metaphorical, and this novel is no exception.  You find yourself swept along with the cadence of the words, caught up in whatever web Bradbury chooses to weave, and you’re glad of it.

The work deals with eternal themes of good and evil, as well as old and young.  With the first, he examines the weapons wielded by forces evil and good.  With the second, he explores the absurdity of the old wanting to be young and the young yearning to be old.

No one better expresses that delight, playfulness, curiosity, and sense of wonder of being a young boy in a Midwest town, than Ray Bradbury.  I was once such a boy and can relate.  The details he recalls and sensations he can–with lyrical prose–rekindle, resonate within me.

I’m not sure whether to classify the novel as horror or fantasy.  Perhaps it’s a horror…poem?  In any case, I loved it and give it my highest rating of 5 seahorses, the first work I’ve reviewed to have earned that rating.  Do you disagree with my review?  Leave a negative comment and you may find out “by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,” and that something is–

                                                  Poseidon’s Scribe


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Book Review – Supervolcano: Eruption

For some time scientists have known Yellowstone National Park is the site of a volcanic caldera, and if it suffered another major eruption, world-wide and centuries-long effects would ensue.  What a great potential disaster for an author to write about!

I just read Supervolcano: Eruption by Harry Turtledove, © 2011.  I listened to the Recorded Books version narrated by Jim Frangione.  I had previously read other books by Turtledove, namely How Few Remain, The Breath of God, and Opening Atlantis.  That author is known as the Master of Alternate History, but Supervolcano is not alternate history.

This book follows the life of California Police Lieutenant Colin Ferguson and his extended family and a few acquaintances as they deal with the consequences of the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano.  It appears from Turtledove’s website it’s supposed to be the first of an intended series.

The novel is populated with intriguing characters all of whom have depth and quirks.  It’s easy to identify with them and to care about them when bad things happen.  Most of the characters whose point of view the author alternates us through are part of Colin Ferguson’s extended family.  They become widely separated geographically which gives Turtledove a chance to show the effects of the eruption on various parts of the country.  The author has done his research, and a reader who pays attention will come away with a much better understanding of the Yellowstone volcano.  Jim Frangione provides a fine narrative voice as he reads the tale.

The book suffers from some significant deficiencies.  In any disaster novel, there must be some introduction to the characters before the catastrophic event; however, Turtledove’s book goes on for a very long time before the volcano does its thing.  I wondered if it would ever get around to blowing up.  The entire book is too long, having extended stretches with no real advancement of the plot.  Indeed, there is little real action in the entire novel.  Worse, none of the characters experience any internal change, despite the self-reflection they go through on a continual basis.

Moreover, the author takes nearly every character’s action, follows it with an adage or rhetorical question thought by that character, and then relates what they think about the adage or question.  This is fine every so often but not all the time.  This is not a quote from the book, but it could have been:  ‘He tied his shoe.  You were supposed to tie your shoes.  Everybody said so.  And he wasn’t about to argue with Everybody.  What was the point in that?  No point at all, that’s what.’   This sort of thing happens far too often in the novel.

It seems to me Supervolcano: Eruption is a great idea, poorly executed.  I can’t rate it any higher than 2 seahorses.  Fans of Harry Turtledove’s works might enjoy this departure from alternate history, but I did not.  As always, if my review has gotten you angry enough to erupt, leave a comment and spew your (metaphorical) molten lava on–

                                                                             Poseidon’s Scribe

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Book Review – Tree Soldier

A relative suggested I read Tree Soldier by J.L Oakley, ©2010, and I did so.  Usually I read books on CD, but I read the paperback version of this book.  Yes, I read the “dead tree” version, and yes, I see the irony in that, considering the book’s title.

The novel takes place in 1935 in the Pacific Northwest.  It is mainly about the character Park Hardesty, who hails from Pennsylvania, but joins the Civilian Conservation Corps, partly to escape the guilt over some events of his past.  He falls in love with a girl who lives in town near the CCC camp, but there is a rival for her affection and Park’s past eventually catches up to him.

The book seems to be well researched, and gives a vivid picture of life at a CCC camp in the state of Washington during the Depression.  It seems a realistic portrayal of the interactions of a quasi-military camp of young men from various parts of the country living in close quarters, and their interactions with each other and with the “locals.”  We see their rough behavior, rough language, jealousies, and developing interests in some detail.  It’s clear the protagonist is trying to make a new life and put his past behind him.  The romance between Park and Kate seemed realistic and blossomed with the right mixes of thoughtful tentativeness and emotion on both parts.  The ending is exciting and well-paced.

Before I review the novel’s weaknesses, I should note I read the book in brief snatches over a period of months.  It’s possible a more concentrated reading of more than a few pages at a time would have yielded a better impression.

Although the beginning and ending are both thrilling and action-packed, the rest of the book is very slow.  It’s as if the author wanted to include all her research in the book to give it credibility, but much of it ends up slowing down the plot.  Also the work suffers from poor editing, with word errors, missing quotation marks, a name spelling change, and anachronisms (people didn’t say “no way” in 1935).

For me the most maddening part involves what happens following the commission of a vicious crime.  The entire town seems to leap to a conclusion about who did it; that’s just human nature.  However, the victim comes out of her recuperation to announce a fact about the prime suspect.  Not a peep about who might have done the crime, and no one seems interested in asking her.  The authorities launch into an investigation of footprints and combing the territory with search parties, etc.  All the while I’m wondering why no one is asking the victim any questions.  Perhaps she has some clue about the perp, or even knows who did it.  No mention of any of that until the scumbag is caught and locked up.  Then we learn the victim remembered the smell of his breath and one facial feature.  The only part important to Oakley’s plot is that announced fact about the prime suspect.  After that, there’s no point in concealing the victim’s knowledge from the reader.  In fact this reader began to suspect the town of being populated by idiots.

Tree Soldier is getting excellent reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and has won some awards, but I’ll have to dissent from that majority.  If you have an interest in that historical period, or setting, or the CCC, you might enjoy it.  It is a nice romance between two strong and well-drawn characters.  But the weaknesses lead me to give it a rating of 2 on my seahorse rating scale.

Whether you agree or disagree I’d like to know your comments about the book.  Leave a comment for–

                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

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Book Review – The Clan of the Cave Bear

Go ahead and chastise me now.  Yes, I’m one of the few who hadn’t read Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear © 1980.  Until now.  Along with the rest of the world, you read the book, and perhaps the series, long ago.  You already formed your opinion.  What follows is mine.

I listened to the Brilliance Audio CD version, narrated by Sandra Burr.

In brief, an earthquake collapses a cave containing a clan of Cro-Magnon people and the only survivor is a five-year-old girl named Ayla.  She is taken in by a clan of Neanderthals and her differences from them complicate all their lives.

The novel seemed, to this listener, to be authoritative and well-researched.  I liked how the author didn’t paint the lives of these prehistoric people as being simple; these characters had complex lives and traditions, as well as sophisticated knowledge of their environment.  I found the characters to be distinct, memorable, and intriguing.  Descriptions of the settings and characters were vivid, making the events of the book easy to imagine.

I thought the conflicts in the novel were clear and challenging, both the inter-character conflicts and the conflicts with the environment.  The conflicts posed bedeviling problems for the characters, especially Ayla.  I thought the book contained profound lessons about leadership, with both positive and negative examples.  Anyone aspiring to lead a team would do well to emulate Brun, the clan leader through much of the novel.  Moreover, Jean M. Auel wrote in an easy-to-read style that flowed well.  Sandra Burr did commendable job of narration.

However, I found the novel repetitive, as if the author felt she had to remind the forgetful reader of previous events and who the characters were, on a frequent basis.  In addition, for every big decision made by any character, the entire deliberative thought process was described.  The author presents detailed pros and cons for every choice.  Once the reader understands the motives driving a character, it’s no longer necessary to drag the reader through the careful weighing of pluses and minuses.

I found the point-of-view changes distracting at times.  Auel did a fair job of signaling which character’s POV we were in, but it’s not necessary to describe how each major character feels about significant events; the reader can discern a good deal of that from expressions and actions.  In fairness to Auel, it’s possible she also signaled POV changes using breaks in the text, something I couldn’t tell from listening to an audiobook.

A few events in the book strained credibility, though these events were necessary, perhaps, to make the novel relevant to our present and to help readers identify with Ayla.  They included (1) Ayla becoming a huntress despite strict clan tradition against that; (2) Ayla learning, with apparent ease, every Neanderthal skill including cooking, medicine, weapon-making, tool-making, as well as hunting; (3) Ayla reasoning out the connection between sexual intercourse and pregnancy as well as the fact that people are products of a father as well as a mother; and (4) the holy man Creb foreseeing the end of the Neanderthal people.

Taking strengths with weaknesses, I’ll give the book a rating of four seahorses using my much-coveted book review rating method.  The novel deserved its good reputation and popularity.  I don’t need to recommend you read it, since the only remaining person who hadn’t read it was —

                                                        Poseidon’s Scribe

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Book Review – The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Writers should be versed in the classics of literature to some extent, and I had never read The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, published in 1831.  So I read it.  I just completed listening to all 19 CDs of the Recorded Books version narrated by the incomparable George Guidall.

It would be easy to do a straight review and give this monumental novel a rating of 5 seahorses.  Hunchback well deserves my highest rating for its universal themes and timeless characters.

However, you can find those sorts of reviews anywhere in print and online.  I propose to do something different here.  Since the purpose of my blog entries is to tell you things I wish someone had told me when I was beginning to write fiction, I’ll do a different sort of review.  I’ll analyze the book as if it had been written today for English-speaking readers.  If an author tried to market this book today, what would editors say?  I know this is very unfair to Victor Hugo, and I apologize, but I believe this sort of review might be more useful to you, a prospective writer.

So here goes, and I’ll start with a few positives.  Hugo has crafted a work with well-drawn, tragic characters, and then proceeded to put each of them through hell.  Quasimodo is a deaf and grotesque cripple who (1) feels an understandable but undeserved loyalty to the Archdeacon who saved him, (2) loves a woman who could never love him back, and (3) is forced to defend a church alone against an irate mob.  Esmeralda is a beautiful young girl raised by gypsies who searches for her parents and loves a soldier who does not return her love; moreover, she is accused of witchcraft and is both tortured and condemned to die.  Archdeacon Claude Frollo is tormented by his love for Esmeralda to the point of insanity.  In addition to these vivid characters, Hugo’s language–his style and use of metaphors and similes–survives even the translation from French to English.

On the other hand (and again I’m reviewing the book as if it were a submitted work in English today), the novel has an unsatisfying hook.  It gets off to a slow start and it’s not clear near the beginning what the central conflict of the story is.  Moreover, the pace is slow throughout; much of the text could be tightened up.  The long section on architecture, where Hugo compares books to buildings, could be either eliminated or cut way back.  In general his descriptions of things are two long.  There is no need for the narrator to periodically address the reader (“With the reader’s consent,…” “Let the reader picture to himself…”  “Our readers have been able to observe…”).

If Mr. Hugo would hope to get this manuscript published today, he would have considerable editing left to do.  As it stands, I would have to give it a rating of three seahorses.

All right, quiet down out there, Victor Hugo fans.  You’re asking (in loud tones) how I dare to give this colossal work of literature a mediocre rating. I believe I explained that.  My aim, as always, is to help beginning writers–those who hope to get published early in the 21st Century.  I reluctantly had to downgrade Hunchback, but I only did so to aid budding authors.  Even so, I’ll take legitimate comments from anyone about this review.  So go ahead and (figuratively) heave down your timbers and your stones, pour down your molten lead upon–

                                                                      Poseidon’s Scribe

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Book Review – A Time of Changes

I’ve enjoyed other books by Robert Silverberg (Roma Eterna, Letters from Atlantis, and Gilgamesh the King) and so had high hopes for A Time of Changes, published in 1971.  After all, it won the Nebula Award in 1972 for best science fiction novel.  I listened to the Recorded Books version, their Sci-Fi imprint, read by Pete Bradbury.

The blurb for the book stated it takes place on another planet where the use of “I” and “me” or any self-referring pronouns is blasphemy.  For me, that brought to mind Ayn Rand’s Anthem and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, both novels about civilizations that forced people to think of themselves only as part of a collective, not as individuals.

But that’s not exactly the case with the planet Borthan, where the protagonist, Kinnall Darival, lives.  It’s a bit more complicated.  In most areas of the planet, people live under a centuries-old Covenant which forbids people from sharing personal thoughts with anyone, with two exceptions.  People may share any thought with a “drainer,” a religious authority who is paid to listen; such unburdenings of personal feelings is meant to be cathartic and bring a person closer to the gods.  Citizens may also share thoughts with “bond-kin;” these are a pair of unrelated people of the same age assigned to each person at birth.  People can share intimate thoughts with bond-kin but never become sexually intimate with them.

If this seems complicated, I agree.  But it seems Silverberg has created a world where love itself is cut in two.  People share sexual love with their marriage partners, but not emotional love.  The only outlets for emotional love are forbidden as sexual partners.

Silverberg fleshes out the world of Borthan in a thorough way, complete with geography, history, myths, and socio-governmental structures.  The tale follows the life of Darival as he finds a drug that can allow people to read each other’s minds, and how he falls from being a wealthy prince to a fugitive outlaw.  I found the Darival character well-drawn, as were all the others.  Despite the complicated premise, the novel is easy to read.  Silverberg has a wonderful writing style–flowing and lyrical and yet precise in meaning.  Pete Bradbury does a fine job with narration.

However, I did find the premise difficult to believe.  The colonists from Earth who’d settled the planet centuries before set up the Covenant for religious reasons, apparently.  But their aim in separating emotional from sexual love is not clear.  Nor is it apparent how the Covenant remains in force even when there are occasional visitors from Earth, so that Borthan citizens become exposed to alternative ideas.  The mind-reading drug is available on a neighboring continent, so (despite the population’s strange disinclination to travel) it stretches credibility how Darival is the first person to try to spread new ideas about love.  Also, it made little sense why the technology of Borthan was at the early-20th Century stage (cars and telephones), despite the story taking place about a millennium in the future.  Lastly, I couldn’t understand the taboo against self-referencing pronouns.  Original architects of the Covenant clearly wanted people to think of themselves as individuals–it’s considered virtue to solve your own problems without burdening others.  So why forbid the use of “I” and “me?”

With regret, I’ll give this novel a rating of 3 seahorses.  See the basis for my rating system here.  I do recommend A Time of Changes, but it is not my favorite book by this author.  If you feel I’ve been unfair, please enter a comment for–

                                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

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