I just finished reading an older, but wildly popular, novel. This was an Oprah pick. It took the reading world by storm years ago. Sadly, the more I write the less I read for pleasure, so I am late to the game. When my husband surprised me with a birthday trip to Los Cabos this was the book I brought with me.
I was entranced — until I wasn’t. The first half was stunning, brilliant, a classic-in-the-making; the second half was annoying, disheartening, and predictable. The reasons for my assessment are many, but this is not a critique. This is the admission of a personal awakening. While I am a voracious – and I hope – adventurous reader, I am also realize I am a timid reviewer. For days I questioned my reaction to this book simply because my opinion was in the minority. I convinced myself that writing a review would be a waste of time. That I must be wrong about the book. In truth, I simply didn’t want to be the odd man out. What a coward!
I had written many thoughtful, honest reviews, and the only thing keeping me from posting this one was numbers and it’s very best seller status. I would be swimming upstream, going against the grain, raising my hand to reveal myself as the annoying, contrary kid in class. How could I be so arrogant as to not love this book fully? But then I looked at reviews on some of my own books and saw readers who had posted thoughtful, honest reviews both glorious and gloomy. As an author, I took all of them seriously. Sometimes the critical reviews hurt, but only if they didn’t offer reasons for the reader’s dissatisfaction. (My favorite was a one star that simply said, “I haven’t read the book yet.”)
After reading my reviews, reading the reviews on this beloved book, and thinking about my hesitancy a while longer, I came to a conclusion. While the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder, a book’s beauty is in the brain and the heart of the reader. There are no brightly colored paints or chalks so show us the artist’s intent. There are only words and our interpretation of them. One author’s work may touch us, while another keeps us at bay. One author’s style may enthrall us, while another’s is tedious. It is our job as readers to clearly and fully explain why we react as we do to a book when we write a review. Specifics matter. Qualifying that it is our personal opinion puts the review in context. It is wonderful when we all agree, but it is interesting when we do not. A contrary review can make us stop and think as much as a glowing review can excite us. Our eyes, hearts, and minds are as individual as the author’s who write the books we read. It isn’t about the number or reviews or the plethora of stars. It is about a one-on-one experience: the reader and the author. Whether we share our opinion in writing or not, we have reviewed a book a minute we read the last word and that’s the only number that counts.
This week I had lunch with two of my oldest writing buddies – the ever fabulous Mindy Neff and equally fabulous Sandy Chvostal. I met them soon after publishing my first book. Over the years I have truly come to treasure my book friends. In fact, I think the world should be run by book friends and here is why:
1) Book friends are inclusive. I have never been asked how old I am, what my heritage is, what my political party is, what my religion is. What I have been asked is,’what have you read/written lately?’ Instant friends!
2) Book friends are creative. We share not only a love of reading, but a love of creating. I’ve met sewers, quilter, carpenters, crafters, and chefs. I wonder if we love creating things because we need to move around after spending so much time reading, or do we read because we’re exhausted from our hobbies?
3) Book friends are endlessly curious. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t read, or review, ask questions about what they’ve read, or waxed poetic about it. I love being asked, “have you read (fill in the blank)” because I know the conversation is going to be interesting.
4) Book friends are generous. Time with a book is time we treasure, but reader friends will put down their book to come to another friend’s aid. Period. No questions asked.
5) Book friends are open. All of us have preferred genres, but we like to try something new. I’m a thriller lover yet there are historical fiction books I’ll never forget, nonfiction works I love, even action/adventure novels that have kept me up late into the night.
So it was no surprise that when I received an invitation from a group of authors to join their Facebook reader’s group, My Book Friends, I did. The authors are fun, smart, and generous. They primarily write women’s fiction and romance, but welcome my gritty thrillers. The members of My Book Friends are creative, curious, and inclusive.
The bottom line is this: no one can have too many books or too many book friends. That’s something we can all count on.
You’re Invited June 16, 4-5PM Pacific: Cocktails, Cops & Conversation . Help me celebrate my birthday and Detective Finn O’Brien’s fourth birthday as we talk about my latest release INTIMATE RELATIONS.
Join My Book Friends.
Read INTIMATE RELATIONS FREE at KindleUnlimited; 99¢ to buy
(Click on the cover for more information. Hover over the cover for buy links.)
May 3, 2021 was National Paranormal Day. In keeping with the spirit of the day, nothing went right. I played tennis that morning, but every time the ball came my way I miffed it, missed it, or muffed it. Poltergeists, I decided, were having their way me.
As they say in sports I shook it off, and went home deciding a long hot bath was what I needed to set the day right. Before I got in the tub, I looked in the mirror to see one of those pesky chin hairs. Unable to manage to pluck it out with the tweezers, I reached for one of those fancy little shaving blades and sliced my thumb. The little cut bled profusely, and my attempts to bandage the awkward injury were a dismal failure. I sat on the edge of the edge of the tub, with a towel on the cut watching the room fill with steam. But maybe it wasn’t steam. Just maybe it was a ghostly presence swirling around me. Something – someone – pushed my hand and made me cut myself. The silver lining was that the thing didn’t want to kill me because it missed my wrist by a mile.
Evening came. I was scheduled to do a Zoom with Patrice Samara, COO of Wordee.com, and author Mara Purl. The topic was writing the paranormal. I was going to discuss Before Her Eyes. This is the book of my heart. It was inspired by the last days of both my dad and father-in-law and the strange things they experienced in their waning days.
As requested,I logged in fifteen minutes before the assigned time only to land on the tenth level of hell. I glimpsed Mara and the hostess through undulating, writhing, tongue wagging, screaming, pierced and tatted young men and women. My ears were blown out by the most God-awful heavy metal music. My eyes were assault by a scrolling list of vile, generic curses that eventually were directed at me by name.
My first thought was, “This doesn’t seem normal.”
My second thought was, “I wonder if I should mention this. What if these ladies like a little shock value to their interviews and this is normal for them?”
My third thought was, “Don’t be an idiot, Rebecca! This is bizarre.”
I kept the third thought to myself and waited because sometimes when things get really weird the best thing to do is wait. Watch. Listen. Finally, I decided to dip my toe in the water. I said:
“The music is very loud, do either of you know how to turn it down?”
That seemed neutral enough. Either they would tell me how to turn it down or they would unleash the hounds. They did neither because Mara, realizing we had been hacked, shut down the Zoom. The vile devilish hackers were sent back to the inferno, and three very normal ladies were left looking at one another from our little Zoom boxes. We laughed and went on to record the interview, Writing the Paranormal, to be posted later.
I’m superstitious. Not crazy, black-cat superstitious, but hedge-my-bet, listen to the cosmos kind. For instance, when I play tennis and I win a service point, I won’t serve with another ball. I use the lucky one—at least until it isn’t lucky anymore. The point is, I believe in signs, fate, and all that stuff.
This brings me to my new book. I’m excited about it because I am actually working in earnest after a fairly unproductive year. The idea exists, the characters are coming into focus, my rear end is getting used to sitting in a chair for longer than an episode of Law and Order. Yet doubt lingers. Is the story substantial enough? Are the characters interesting enough? Are the turns I’m planning twisty enough.
I needed a sign that I was on the right track, and I got one.
During the pandemic the world has been hunkered down in a bear-cave. Sleep. Eat. Hibernate. Drink from the bottomless well of mesmerizing streaming television. I was right there baking bread and searching for the lost episodes of The Big Bang Theory as I fiddled with this new idea. Then something wonderful happened.
Two days after I penned the first word of this new project, I received an invitation from ATF, Los Angeles to a Zoom meeting. ATF is the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Agency, and this was not a random invitation. I’m a graduate of the ATF Citizen’s Academy. I often join citizen’s law enforcement opportunities for research and adventure, but I graduated well over a year ago. This invitation was a surprise, and it was also a sign that my new book was on the right track.
The inciting incident of this story is fiery explosion. It detonates any number of dramas. For my detective, Finn O’Brien, the situation is personal not professional. He won’t be investigating, the ATF will. That email, that Zoom meeting and the things I learned during the hour gave me confidence in my story. The stars have aligned; Fate has given me the stamp of approval.
Hard work is needed to write a book, but sometimes a little sign is what it takes to go all in.
*(Check out The Bailey Devlin chic lit series where I pour out my superstitious little heart).
I was going through my travel pictures – some as close as another town in Southern California, others as exotic as China and Albania – and was reminded that my writing was richer for each experience. But it wasn’t just the places that fired up my imagination. By far, it was the people I met that made the journey unforgettable. Here are the five groups I seek out on every trip because meeting them always inspires my work.
Keepers of the Keys: A hotel maid, a waiter, a shopkeeper. The interaction with these people might be fleeting, but they know what goes on behind closed doors. Sometimes the small details, the seemingly most insignificant secondary character, can make a good story great.
Merry Makers: Festivals, a local pub, a county fair are where people let their guard down. Join in. Experience the sights and sounds to enrich your descriptions. Festivals are especially fertile ground for romance writers.
Wise old Sages: A simple hello, an offer to help carry a package, a greeting in their language, will make an instant friend of the elderly. From them you will learn the history of the country and the person. Seeing through their eyes enhances the pacing of your work and the backstory of your character.
The Village People: No, not the singing group. These are the folks outside the mainstream. They are a wonderful contrast to city dwellers. Taking the time to go off the beaten path to meet them is invaluable to those who write family sagas or historical fiction.
Fellow Travelers: Some people travel out of necessity, others are running away from something and some running to their destiny. The traveler you think most humble might be a titan of industry. One of my favorite encounters ended up as a major character in one of my books. He literally inspired a complete novel because he was not what he seemed.
When the pandemic comes to an end, travel. Near or far, it doesn’t matter. Meet one or all of these five people. They will be an inspiration. If you take the time to truly connect, you will inspire them too.
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