A Review of My Reviews

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reviews_starsI make it a point to file reviews on Goodreads and Amazon for every book that I read. Sometimes I file reviews under my own name, sometimes under an alias. With a little embarrassment, I admit there have been instances when I have posted a review more than a year after I’ve read said book.
But I do file that review.

As an author, it would be hypocritical of me to curse the world for not filing reviews of my own books, then turn around and not file my own reviews of others’ books.

And as much as I despise hypocrisy, I embrace rigorous honesty.
I still remember the exact moment the brilliant thought “If I don’t lie, I won’t have to remember what lies I’ve told” occurred to my thirteen-year-old brain. I thought I was oh-so clever, until I discovered Mark Twain beat me to the punch by more than a century. Oh well, at least I can take solace that I think like Mr. Clemens!

Nevertheless, I try to practice rigorous honesty — though some might say it’s more like brutal honesty. For example, I once told an ex-girlfriend that I was a better cook.
True? Absolutely. Necessary to say that? Well… maybe.

When it comes to my book reviews however, I won’t quibble. I will not freely give out 5-star reviews. They are reserved for those books that left a mark on the core of my being, books that helped define my writing style, and books that I have read again and again. Less than 10% of the books I’ve read are awarded a 5-star rating. And in a true Gaussian distribution, that’s the way it should be!

It greatly disturbs me when readers blithely hand out 5-stars like jelly beans, often with the comment “I liked it.” Really? Do you not understand that the 3-star rating is explicitly tagged “Liked it”? Believe you me, if I give a 3-star rating, that’s exactly what I intended to say: “I liked it.”

At the lower end of the spectrum, if I dole out a 2-star or, Heaven forbid, a 1-star rating, rest assured that I believe the author truly had it coming, and am willing to explain why. That’s rigorous honesty, Buster. The comments I leave with my reviews hopefully prove my passionate honesty for 5-star ratings, and dispassionate surgical honesty for 1-star ratings.

I only hope that when readers file reviews of my own books, they rate them (and comment) with similar honesty. How else am I going to learn, adapt and improve?

So if you have read my books, please file a review!

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Oops! Did My Face Say That?

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reinach_cropI have little control over my facial expressions. My eyes will bug out when I hear unbelievable claims. I hardly ever go to amateur musical performances, because I grimace whenever I detect a flat note or off-kilter sound.

I like to believe I am more self-aware than most. I am cognizant of every facial twitch, every sigh, every click of the tongue, every angling of my eyebrows.
It’s only my self-control that is lacking! The instinct to rein in my facial commentary comes too slowly.

Sorry, Mr. Politician, I didn’t mean to roll my eyes at your blatant exaggeration! Nor did I mean to flash that death’s-head rictus at your stupefying claim, Ms. Spokesperson.

It’s this self-awareness that also gets me in trouble with my writing.
Take for example my latest novel, the working title of which is “My Friend Jackson”. It’s a gritty YA urban fantasy/horror, dealing with Jasmine, an inner-city girl tormented by bullying, and the monster that comes unbidden to help her. All written in “Deep 3rd Person” — I’m the little angel/devil on her shoulder, observing what she observes, with the occasional peek into her thoughts.

I rely on my self-awareness to model and portray Jasmine’s thoughts, her fears, her likes and dislikes, and the myriad of angst-driven emotions that fill a teenager’s mind. What frustrates me, is that whenever I describe our heroine’s reactions, well-meaning critiquers circle it in red with the warning “You’ve changed POV!” (Point of View).

Consider these examples when I describe Jasmine’s actions: “she bared her front teeth in a weak snarl,” or “she pulled down her collar, exposing the yellowed bruise.”
I will get at least one “Bad POV!” response, inevitably backed up with the reasoning: “She can’t see her own face.”

And yet these same critics don’t bat an eyelash at the protagonist “raising her eyebrows.”
Wait a cotton-pickin’ minute!
She can’t see her own forehead– so why is the former a no-no, but the latter example is okay?
Riddle me THAT, Batman!

My stance is that the character must be allowed to be aware of their own body.
You want proof? There’s a scientific name for this phenomenon – proprioception. This is the body’s mechanism to know the position, actions and state of any part of the body without looking at it.

And everybody has it. For example, proprioception allows us to touch our nose with our finger, even when our eyes are closed (assuming we’re not tipsy!). Many neurologists refer to proprioception as “the body’s Sixth Sense.”

Proprioception is the sense that allows the character to know, without seeing:
– whether their own cheeks dimple or not,
– whether they raise one or both eyebrows,
– whether a bruised area is exposed or not,
– how far one sticks out their tongue at POV critics,
– whether their hand behind their back is crossing its fingers, or flipping POV critics the bird.

Writers often serve up the following advice – “Use all five senses.” I heartily agree, but let’s go one further — I feel writers are allowed to use all SIX senses.

I therefore plant my flag – it is valid to write anything that can be sensed by the character’s proprioception.

“So there!” he said, followed by a flash of his incisors.

Keep an eye on my Facebook author page for developments on “My Friend Jackson.”bibi_and_dragon

Walking into a Minefield

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I have finished my latest novel, “My Friend Jackson,” and am currently in the process of pitching the book to agents.
However, once published, I suspect I shall be walking directly into a minefield.

I’ve been working feverishly over Jackson for one-and-a-half years. It is a gritty YA urban fantasy/horror telling the events spanning a week in the life of Jasmine, an inner city teen girl — as she struggles against psychological, emotional, physical and cyber abuse at the hands of her high school peers.

I’ve never quite fully understood how the maxim “write what you know” applies to writing speculative fiction (sci-fi, strange tales, horror, etc.). How does one exactly know the world of monsters, spirits, artificial intelligence, angels & demons, and so on? How does one claim expertise over The Inexplicable?

Maybe that explains why I am courageously (and possibly foolishly) venturing into this No-Man’s-Land (pun intended) of girl-on-girl bullying. If that weren’t enough of a challenge, the heroine of the story is a teenager of color. So of course it makes perfect sense that a much-older-than-teenage white male author write about such topics and protagonists!?

I have had long conversations with agents, like Arara Hoshijo, who have forewarned me of the current sensitivity over cultural appropriation.
I’ve been advised by her and others that perhaps I should write the book under a pseudonym. That seems counterproductive, if not just plain disingenuous and cowardly. If I’m destined to take heat for such a project as Jackson, imagine how much worse it will be when its readership discovers I’ve hoodwinked them?
Thank you, no. I prefer my honesty straight up.

So – a few words of explanation.

At heart, I’ve always loved to learn.
As a writer, I learn by reading and writing.
My first defense is that if I don’t explore this undiscovered country of experiences outside my own small sphere of gender and race by research and writing, how else can I learn?

This whole work had been inspired by Rosalind Wiseman’s profound study Queen Bees and Wannabees. Much of her analysis of the dynamics of girl bullies is reflected in Jackson.
And what little familiarity that I can claim on the topic of diversity comes from my decades-long work experience at AT&T Bell Labs. I worked and partied with people from all over the world — China, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Columbia — while learning and appreciating their similarities and differences.
Truth be told, I sorely miss my days with that crew. I may not be fully “woke,” but I’m trying the best way I know how. Maybe the result will be me having a better handle on it than most. Only time will tell.

And lastly — Why did I choose this protagonist and her environment? I didn’t — the monster in the story did.

If you want to see a smattering of how these experiences have already influenced my writing, visit my webpage, or my author page on Amazon.

If you have any advice that might help me navigate the perilous path ahead of me, please comment or email me. For example, any words of wisdom on a new term I learned this past weekend at a writers’ conference — a sensitivity reader, and how to choose one.

What Ever Happened to Hippie Jane?

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what_happened_1969_2019“The median age of the Fox News viewer was 68” in 2018 — so quoth Google from that year’s Nielsen ratings.

Let’s step into our Wayback Machine, and consider the “Summer of Love.”
Doing the math, we find that today’s average Fox News viewer would have been 19 in that halcyon year of 1969 – the perfect age to be drafted and shipped off to fight in Vietnam, yet still not yet old enough to vote. In other words, the exact age to represent the typical disenfranchised  “Flower Child”.

So here’s my question — How did the generation that actively took part in “Drop Out, Tune In, Turn On”, chanted “Trust no one over 30,” embraced Free Love and Flower Power, and loathed everything associated with authority, turn into the Ugly American beating the drum of ultra-conservatism?

Truly I say unto you, the child grew into the thing they most hated.

I’m not just postulating hypotheticals here. I have a close relative who is the poster-child for this metamorphosis. In 1969, he was a hippie, lived in a commune, read Marx and Lenin, had a ponytail down to his waist, and was arrested for marijuana possession (in an era when such a thing was a truly scandalous societal Scarlet Letter).  Today, he is a devout follower of all things Fox, Breitbart, and who-knows-what-else, often proselytizing the Gospel According to Glenn Beck.
But he is not the only one I’ve observed this startling transformation – not by a longshot.

So, what causes this reversal of behavior in so many of that fabled generation?
Is it Stockholm Syndrome run rampant on a society-wide basis?
Were they so disgusted with their failure to change the world, they decided “if ya can’t beat ’em, join ’em”?
Is it enantiodromia, a Jungian mental illness that causes a person to become their polar opposite?

I don’t have an answer to the question I pose.
I wish I did, but I don’t.
I merely post this to point out my latest unsettling observation.

Whatever the reason, it’s quite probable I’ll work it into one of my books. I’m already working on the follow-up collection of strange tales to “If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep.” Stay tuned – it might show up there!If_I_Cant_Sleep_v3

Gotta Darwin ‘Em All!

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No deep thoughts this time around.
No discussions of things philosophical or metaphysical.
No diatribes over the craft of writing.
Just a bit of fun.

Last week, I had a book signing with A.E.Decker, who whiled away the slow spots with the iPhone version of Pokémon Go. After having a guilty chuckle over that addictive electronic version of crack cocaine, several questions came to mind:

  • How many people have hurt themselves walking into traffic in an attempt to “catch ’em all”?
  • Is the game a nefarious social experiment of Darwinism in Action, culling the genetic pool of those silly enough to walk obliviously, phone in hand, into dangerous situations?
  • Why haven’t Anonymous or other groups hacked the game, placing Pokémon critters at entirely inappropriate locations and situations?

That last question lit the fuse to both our twisted imaginations. We spent the next quarter of an hour rattling off a host of “Places We’d Like To See Pokémon.”

  • A house of ill repute
  • A funeral parlor
  • 1000 ft above the deepest point in The Grand Canyon
  • Under a SpaceX rocket 5 minutes before blast-off
  • The killing floor of a slaughterhouse
  • NORAD headquarters
  • The bottom of Niagara Falls
    Oh, we had plenty more, but that’s all I remember…

Well, people – I’d love to hear your ideas as well! Leave a comment if one comes to mind.

If mirthful macabre thoughts like this are your bread and butter, then you’d certainly enjoy If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep. A.E.Decker’s review favorably compares my dastardly tales to those of Roald Dahl. High praise indeed!If_I_Cant_Sleep_v3

A Not-So-Innocent American Abroad

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220px-Beckwith_Mark_Twain_Portrait

Apologies for not blogging over an extended period of time. I’ve been out and about, visiting across the country and the world, visiting friends, fiends and family. (I sometimes have trouble discerning which is which.) One of my relatives is big on books and an ardent fan of Mark Twain. It is indeed fitting that one of Mr. Clemens’ quotes deals with travel. After my month away from my desk and home, one seems especially apropos:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

So true – it is impossible to remain in the political and moral echo-chambers we Americans seem to seclude ourselves, when one is out and about in the company of others who are not imprisoned in one’s own myopic groupthink.

After considering how much this giant of American Literature has contributed to the American Psyche, I thought I’d just spout out a few of my favorite quotes and aphorisms from this wily and wicked wit:

There isn’t any way to libel the human race.

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

And last but not least – my favorite!

The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.

If you’re enamored of these, you can find plenty more at www.twainquotes.com. As for my own teensy contribution to the world’s “Pearls of Wisdom” vaults, a few may be found in the lessons of the morality plays in If I Can’t Sleep, You Can’t Sleep.

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Enough Words? Count On It!

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books_fer_head_cropWe writers have often been told in one form or another that we must “Write Something Every Day!” But how much is enough?

Erle Stanley Gardner, Anne Rice, Frederick Forsyth, and Arthur Conan Doyle all recorded they had personal goals of 3000 words a day. Ouch – my Inadequacy Meter is spiking.

Stephen King, in his seminal work “On Writing,” claims he works toward 2000 words a day. For beginning writers, the master recommends a saner milestone, on the order of 1000.all_work

Ernest Hemingway had a goal of 500. Since he was a notorious minimalist, one wonders how his goal would apply to more prosaic authors?

Speaking of loquaciousness, the word-count prize goes to the granddaddy of verbosity, Anthony Trollope. He claimed a goal of 250 words every quarter hour. That’s 8000 words for a typical 9-to-5’er. Yikes!

Add to the mix these numbers do not consider the quality of writing. Is that 1000 words of literary gold, or gibbering drivel? Arthur Hailey confessed his aim was 600 “finished words, not ‘almost right’ words.” Again, King in “On Writing” openly admits that his goals are for first drafts, which are honed down after rounds of solid editing. But that’s fine — the primary point is to simply write.

More modern tech-savvy authors, like Kristen Lamb, advise that it’s valid to include your blog in your daily word count. She points to the craft of blogging as an excellent tool to hone one’s writing skills.

So there’s hope for me yet. Why, this blog already gets me to 250!

That’s The Opposite Of What I Meant!

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autoantonymsI have always been fascinated by words and their meanings, long before I even considered entering the world of writing. I have also been frustrated by words, sometimes while searching for the right word when writing, other times when I’m debating with persons that neither understand rules of logic and debate, nor the definitions of the fifty-dollar words they bandy about in their blissful ignorance.
But I digress…

One genre of words that presses my curiosity button is the “auto-antonym,” also called the “contranym” — a word that has two or more definitions, one which is the opposite, or contradicts, the other. There exist dozens more than listed here, but these are ones that fascinate me.

1. Sanction (verb/noun) can mean “give official permission or approval” or its exact opposite, “impose a penalty.”
The Olympic Board hereby sanctions the previous sanctions on drugged athletes.

2. Oversight (noun) can mean “oversee or supervise” or “overlook, discount, disregard or ignore.”
The Committee has oversight regarding the Senator’s oversight of paying required kickbacks to said Committee.

3. Dust (verb) can mean to add or remove dust.
After I dust the doughnuts, I must dust the counter.

4. Cleave (verb) can mean “to break apart” or “to join.”
Once husband and wive cleave together, let none cleave them apart.

5. Weather (verb/adjective) can mean “to withstand untouched” or “to wear away.”
The Rock of Gibraltar has weathered many a storm, though its south face is severely weathered.

6. Original (adjective) can mean “unchanged since it came into existence” or “never existed before.”
Moving the sculpture from its original place was quite an original idea.

I’m sure there are auto-antonyms, both homographic and homophonic, in almost any language. (Frankly I find learning the basics of foreign languages difficult enough!)
Kudos to those ESL citizens who can correctly use auto-antonyms in the already unbelievably complex English language.

For a future blog- ambigrams!
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When Your Truth Is False

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sheep_argueThe problem I see with the discussion of sensitive subjects (especially in the cesspool of social media) is that people often declare in the most obnoxious tones, “ABC is RIGHT!!!

When you ask “Why?”, and assuming the person insisting on “ABC” is not a web-troglodyte who goes medieval on your butt at light speed with a righteously indignant flame war, their argument boils down to “Because of XYZ!!!”.

What they often don’t realize is that their claims of both ABC and XYZ are not universally true. Their statements claiming “absolute right” are often based on an assumption.

Very little in this universe is always true. And under the proper conditions, even simple math is not always right.

Take the mathematical statement,
1=2
Obviously incorrect, right? WRONG.
If you’ll indulge me in a little grade school algebra…

Let’s say we have three numbers that satisfy the algebraic equation,
a+b=c
Then it’s also true that,
2a+2b=2c  (distributive law)
Now reorder the equations,
a+b-c=0
2a+2b-2c=0  (associative & commutative laws)
Now that they are both zero, they can be set equal to one another.
(a+b-c) = (2a+2b-2c)
Factoring out the common root, we get,
1*(a+b-c) = 2*(a+b-c)
  (distributive law again)
Now divide both sides of the equation by (a+b-c),
1=2
TADA!

I’ve been playing this math game on people, showing that 1 DOES equal 2, since 5th grade. Of course, it’s actually a trick — an intentional deception. Though it demonstrates that there are indeed times when even our most fundamental assumption about what looks correct is WRONG.

So before you lambaste someone, saying, “My belief is always RIGHT!”, think of how I can “prove” to you that 1=2.
Maybe your beloved sacred cow is dead wrong, because you’ve made the wrong assumption. Like the British burlesque comedian Benny Hill had often said,

“ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and ME.”

PS – if you have figured out the trick behind “1=2“, message me – please don’t spoil it in the comments for the rest!

And of course, what post would be complete without my shameless promotion? My passion is writing stories where the reader’s assumption ain’t necessarily so.
Pindlebryth of Lenland was reviewed as a “masterpiece of deception”.
If I Can’t Sleep is awash with twists on the classic monsters that pleasantly surprised the most seasoned reviewer. Try them yourself!
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