Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Full Disclosure Policy, My First Bad Review

When I signed on to write about my adventurous road into becoming a published writer I said I'll abide by a full disclosure policy in an attempt to help any newbie author fellow out there to the best of my abilities. It's very easy to share when all you have to say are good things and small victories, but sharing failures or tough experiences can be a little more challenging.

Be that as it may, I'm here to tell you all about my first truly bad review, how I reacted, and what I've learned from it.

We all know reviews are the most important tool small names like mine have to sell a book. When nobody knows who the hell you are, convincing them to pony up ten bucks for your book has to be done in resourceful ways, like having other people reviewing it. Now, a true author that believes in his/her work won't resort to shady deals paying for only good reviews; no, we go out there and ask people to read and share what they really think about our stories. It is here that lies the inherent risk of someone saying bad things about your book because not everyone will be pleased.

When I started in this business, as I mentioned in another entry, I bought a "Writing a Novel for Dummies" kind of book and one of the first phrases that caught my eyes said: 'If you want to work as a writer you have to get used to rejection. You have to have rejection for breakfast!!' And I did, or so I thought. The real proof comes along with the first harsh words you receive and how you handle yourself after them.

The reviewer in my case was a bit harsh and even mean, but that might be just touchy me. In any case, when I read it my heart sank and I felt sad; I though about a thank you note but didn't know what to say, so I just closed my computer and took a break. While I was cooking I kept thinking what to do and one hour later I wasn't feeling all that sad anymore, a little disappointed maybe, but I understood this was bound to happen sooner or later and I recognized this woman had made some good points.

I came back to the computer and wrote that note. I said how I thank her for taking the time to read my book and how sorry I was she didn't like it, then I acknowledge some mistakes had been made when editing the story and assured her we were now in the process of correcting them. I closed my note telling her I wished this bad experience didn't deter her from reading any future work of mine and said bye. Minutes later, I noticed another new review from a different person who gave me three stars instead of one and that just closed the deal for me.

I was very surprised at how good I felt after hitting the send button, it was liberating! All in all, I think that I raised to the challenge and am now much better prepared to when the next one comes; it being for this book or any future one.

Well boys and girls, that's the story, I hope it helps you to deal with your own sense of rejection, or at least that it entertains you. I'll see you around and remember, the most important advise I can give you is KEEP WRITING and BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray, A Review

It has taken me some time to get to write this review but here it is. As I've said previously, I'm on a quest to read as many classic books as I can and being that horror is my favourite genre, Dorian Gray's story couldn't be too far down on my list.

I'll begin by saying I did enjoy the book. The story is interesting and starts very promising as a conversation between a Lord and an artist develop seemingly unrelated to the topic of the book, but very soon they sell you on the mystery of this beautiful and innocent young man. You're hooked and can't look away from what becomes the horrible downward spiral in which the central character goes.

The narrative is heavy at times and there are whole arguments that feel like mere means to express the believes of the author, a little preachy to me, but not in the 'be good' kind of preachy, but in a justification that Wild gives for the acts committed by his characters. I explain. As a writer, when you think of a story and how it evolves, you have to find logic in what your characters believe and do; when these actions are a little outrageous or anti-natura, you have to work harder to sell the action to your readers. One way of doing it is to have the characters explain themselves in often long, tedious, unnatural speeches. However, if you move forward a couple of paragraphs the action restarts and the fall continues casting its spell on the reader in the same way we can't part eyes from a car crash on the road.

The supernatural aspect of the story is the portrait, of course, which makes few appearances but has a clear effect on the way Dorian behaves. It is an extraordinary book that made it clear to me why it had stayed on the public's mind for such a long time. It has suspense, pain, horror, mystery, and a heavy dose of philosophical undertones that leave you thinking about Dorian Gray's choices, the reason why the picture became his undoing, and why, to begin with, it became haunted.

The story has been adapted to film so many times it could make your head spin, which in this case, it's not so good. For those who haven't read it, it's almost impossible to escape its mentioning here or there with spooks or spin offs (The League of Extraordinary Men, anyone?) that makes you have a series of expectations that will, invariably, not be met because the piece does not fit in our current preconceptions of horror. Make no mistake, it is a greatly woven story with dark, twisted characters and horror that creeps under your skin not because there is blood and guts everywhere but because of the very real possibility to find a flawed human being like these in your neighbourhood.

All in all, a very recommendable piece, especially for the young. If you haven't read it, don't miss it, if you have, well, any day is a good day to revisit it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Real Mexican Party. The truth Behind 5 de Mayo.

Today I won't talk about character development nor reading or writing novels, I will actually use this space to reach a hand out to my roots and say: VIVA MEXICO! I'll also try to set the record straight about what really is one of the most important days in Mexico's holiday calendar.

There's no doubt about it, Catholicism is a big thing in my Country and above all, we (as a people, this is not about me) are devoted followers of the Virgin of Guadalupe, so no surprise when the number one important holiday in Mexico turns out to be December 12th, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It is pure chaos because almost everyone works half-day but the city is bursting with people coming from every corner of the country in an endless procession. Some in cars, some walking, some in knees!! all trying to get to the Basilica dedicated to our Patron.

The second most important holiday would have to be September 15th, our Independence Day. Now, this is where things got twisted somehow. Don't ask me why but people in the US (including Mexican-Americans) celebrate 5 de Mayo as the great patriotic party but it isn't! Actually, in Mexico we barely remember that day and it's celebrated in no way or manner. However, September 15th is big, and when I say big I don't meant to say fireworks-big, I mean monthly-ilumination-of-every-street, decorations-hanged-from-every-public-building, fireworks, fairs, costume-party, drinking-and-eating-party-in-every-house big. You see, the one thing we mexicans know how to do is partying.

There is a very specific ritual to the celebration and it has its reasons, so I'll first give you a bit of background and then I'll share what my family, in particular, do for this date.

Back in 1810, Mexico was under Spain's boot and it was hard being anything other than spaniard. There were four classes of people: Spaniards, which represented the minority but held the best positions in public office and every social benefit; Criollos, which were born of spaniard mother and father but in the New Spain and had no access to the politic elite; Mestizos and Indios made the two lowest casts, one born from the union of locals and spaniards, the other (and the lowest in the ladder), the original inhabitants of the lands. Since most Indians had no other education but religious, the independent movement was organized by Criollos. The Father of our country, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, had two important attributes that made him the perfect leader of the insurgency: He was a priest and a criollo.

For months the insurgency planned and rumours ran rampant but the night of September 15th the King's Forces discovered the place where the meetings were taking place and sent a group of soldiers to off the traitors. When the news reached the group, forced into action, Don Miguel Hidalgo decided to do the best he could to mount a serious resistance and kick start the War of Independence. He rang the bell of his church, convoking every member of his congregation and, uttering an inflamed speech, he armed them with clubs and whatever thing could've served as a weapon. And so it started the first of two horrible wars that brought a lot of blood and pain to my country but also gave us an identity.

These days, we try to replicate a bit the original call to action of that september of 1810. Last year was the bicentenary of our independence and I'll post here a video of the celebration in the Historic Quarters of the city, better known as El Zocalo. But first I'll share with you a few of the fondest memories of my childhood.

We are a big family on my father's side; my mother's side is even bigger but we always celebrated Independence Day with my father's. Between uncles, cousins, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and a couple of friends, we massed something like thirty people. Everyone convened in preparing one typical mexican meal (don't get me started with the food, that's a whole new entry); we gathered in my grandma's house and everyone had to be disguised in period clothing. Quite amusing for all the youngsters. We'd eat, chat and drink, and close to midnight (the hour when traditionally it is believed the original call to war was uttered) one of my uncle's would wear a wig and special clothing so he resembled Miguel Hidalgo. He'd go atop a table set for that purpose and would reenact El Grito (that's how it's called). Then he would sound a bell close to him and all of us would yell and make crazy noise. The party went on until all hours of the night but everyone in the block was doing the same thing, so no problem.

Ah, the memories... I have to tell you, to this day my skin crawls in patriotism when I see our president in turn screaming to the top of his lungs VIVA MEXICO! and all the people answering VIVA!! There's no other feeling like it and I'm never more mexican that during those brief minutes...

Feliz Dia de la Independencia!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Next Thing I Knew, A Review

John Corwin is an up and coming writer with many titles to his credit but his most recent, The Next Thing I Knew, sounded so mysterious it was impossible to pass. 

When Lucy Morgan drops dead along with everyone else on Earth she refuses to take death lying down even if, technically, her corpse is. She drags her ghostly social life back from the grave and enlists her friends to figure out the rules of the afterlife. More importantly, they want to discover who or what killed everyone and why the heck anyone would do such a mean thing. What they discover changes everything and if they can't figure out how to put their newfound ghostly powers to work, humanity will be extinct for good. 

So good, right? So last week I embarked on the adventure and was I ever so happy. Here I detail the whole roller coster it gave me and how much fun I had with it. I hope you get stung by the curiosity bug and read it too. You won't regret it.

I'll start by saying: I really hope this is the first book in a series, otherwise I'll be forced to pull an Annie Wilkes stunt and hijack me a writer. Boy, is this book engaging! The story is very original, they way it mixes all kinds of crazy stuff like ghosts, faith, love, meditation, and even aliens! The author does a great job of making it all cohesive and interesting. The characters are personable, fresh and funny; I found a few grammar problems and typos but nothing that can take away from the very pleasant experience the story gave me. From the moment it starts, it grabs you and keeps pulling you in relentlessly, which was a problem for me since I was reading at bedtime. Let's just say I haven't slept much this last week. 

As engrossed as I was with the story, I didn't realized it was coming to an end; it was also aided by the fact that the story doesn't tide neatly its loose ends and it just ends. Like that. I was flabbergasted. I actually, wouldn't recommend to finish a book leaving your audience hanging like that; then again, if you're writing a follow up, you mostly have your audience trapped already but you should let them know, with a note or afterword, that there will be more. If a second book comes out, I'll be the first one running to get my copy and if there isn't... well, I've told you my plan before. 

I totally recommend it, The Next Thing I knew is engaging, light, fun, exciting, and intriguing. The one serious note I have is, though the voices in the book are very young and feel very enticing, there are a few moments there where, either because of the vocabulary or because the scene being described, the book becomes not really oriented to young (I mean young) audiences. I consider this a bummer because the one group of people who could best identify with the protagonists can't join the party. Of course, this is mostly a matter for parents to decide but, as a mother of two youngsters, I would've loved for them to read it. They'll have to wait a couple more years, not much. 

All in all, a great experience you shouldn't miss. C'mon, what you're waiting for? Go get your copy!!

For more details on John Corwin and his works: Goodreads: John Corwin

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wuthering Heights, My Review

Two nights ago I finished reading Wuthering Heights for the first time. It was around 2 am and I was left bewildered and unable to go to sleep. I came about the book as many youngsters do this day and age, by reading Twilight. The way the book gets tangled in Edward and Bella's story made me completely curious about it; I did some research and found out a few reviews that classified it as a tragic romance. I thought Romeo and Juliet-like and decided I could do with a bit of tragedy. Oh, my, did I get it wrong. It is a tragedy, alright but in a very unexpected way and, from my point of view, it has very little to do with romance.

Lets start with its best qualities, the style. The narrative is enthralling and you know how some classics are so heavy on the descriptions that you just want to skip whole paragraphs? Well, I'm happy to say this is not the case. The descriptions are vivid and take you to the middle of the moors where you feel the breeze caressing your hair and can almost smell the abandonment in the old Wuthering house. The language is simple for the most part, though one of the characters, Joseph, speaks in a manner completely indecipherable to me but it's a small character and all the others give you a clear idea of life in the 1800's. The style of a story provides like half of the experience for the reader and this half is a master piece. Now the other half, the characters.

Imagine a painting with a beautiful country landscape so bemusing you can't stop looking at it even though in its centre there is a group of human beings doing the most atrocious things to one another. That's kind of the effect the story has on the reader. All the beauty contrasts so much with the behaviour of the characters that it hits you like a hammer.

Wuthering Heights relates the story of the Earnshaws, who deal badly with the adoption of an abandoned gypsy boy the father took back home from one of his trips. Very soon in the story, you perceive how the relations between the children break and, as soon as the father dies, the suffering begins. What eventually develops is a vicious cycle of abuse towards the youngest characters that broke my heart and almost made me cry more than once.

About the romance part we all have heard so much about... well, more than a love story I would say that the main characters, Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, share the same sense of entailment and selfishness that dooms their 'love' from the very beginning. Their actual 'love story' lasts but a moment in the whole of the book but it has such an effect on them and the ones around that, like in the aftermath of a hurricane, the horrible weather left behind is what destroys whatever life the other characters had.

I think the one very contemporary message everybody fails to see is how damaging verbal abuse is and how it tends to repeat over and over through generations. In our time, this subject tends to get the same kind of incredulity the story in the book got back in its time. And I quote the Graham's Lady Magazine: "How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors."

I'd have to say to that woman that many families live in real life the horrors described in the novel and still there's hope for love to survive and one to better his/herself, just like in the book.

So, in a nutshell, I one hundred percent recommend Wuthering Heights, not only as a great exemplar of classic literature, but as a cautionary tale of a very contemporary problem. Let yourself be taken to life in the 1800's, its beauties and its pains; just be warned: don't forget your hankies.