Sunday, May 26, 2013

Categories of Novels

Fiction Categories


My debut novel, Slipping on Stardust, having been published quite recently, I am for the first time focusing on the various categories of fiction. I was surprised to find that there are so many, some to me more clear and sensible than others.


I think I get what a children’s book is. I also understand the difference between a contemporary novel and a historical one although the latter would seen to embrace both books that simply take place in the past, i.e., not contemporary, and those that are set in and relate to major historic events. It might be tempting to resort to the definitional distinction between historic and historical, but that won’t work because calling a novel historic creates the impression that the novel, as well as the historic event around which it is centered, is itself destined for the history books.


Romance is an extremely broad, well populated category of novels. In my “unauthorized” autobiography, Wet Firecrackers, I identified love as one of three primal sources of pleasure, the other two being education and creation. I went on to subdivide love into love of sex, love of family and friends, love of pets, love of nature, and love of art. If I’ve left anything out, do let me know because “I’m [always] in the Mood for Love.” I get the feeling that a “romance novel” probably centers on sexual love, but, as I say I’m a new (albeit old) comer.


Once sex is on the table (shades of Jessica Lange cooking up something in the kitchen other than dinner in the second film version of The Postman Always Rings Twice), we come to degrees and kinds of depiction, and, here, I think that Secret/Sweet Cravings Publishing has it right with its flame system. I also think the word “explicit” is highly useful in letting readers know how rough a ride they’re in for. Equally useful are the initialisms, M/M/F/B/D/S/M/T/G and on and on—arrange the letters as you will in the interests of full and fair disclosure to potential readers.


In considering descriptions like suspense, mystery, and thriller, I think it’s a matter of emphasis in the novel. I believe that in order for any novel to be worthy, it must surely engage and entertain (and maybe enlighten, if you’re lucky) the reader and that these objectives are generally realized by setting up some basic conflicts--conflicts which are most successfully resolved with some measure of suspense and mystery, all enlisted for the ultimate objective of producing a thrilling novel. But for these words to apply categorically to a novel, I would think they should be considered more as ends than as means in the telling of the story. Dealing with whether the farmer’s daughter will succumb to the charms of the hunky rodeo rider in the tack room or the barn does not by itself qualify a book as a suspense or mystery novel in my view.


I consider Slipping on Stardust as a romance suspense novel. You be the judge as to whether that characterization is accurate.


I’ll end with a comment about YA. When I first heard of it, I thought it was about a club of women sitting around quilting. But apparently it means Young Adult. I can’t decide whether this appellation is oxymoronic or just plain moronic. I can’t decide whether YA is exclusionary (mature adults) or condescending (young readers). I suspect both.


As stated above, these are reactions of a newbie to the world of novels, and I welcome the views of more seasoned writers of novels, of which there is certainly no shortage.

Book Reviews

Book Reviews


The following article expresses only my own personal opinions and observations and was written primarily to stimulate discussion on a subject important to authors. Contrary opinions and other comments are encouraged.


Many questions arise on this subject once a book has been accepted for publication and the author is starting out on the daunting task of promoting it with a view to stimulating sales.


When should the search for a review begin?


It depends upon which reviewers you’re courting. If you want a “free” review in Publishers Weekly or other well-respected and notorious review sources, you’d best submit your book pre-release.


Getting reviews in advance of publication also makes it possible to put squibs from glowing reviews on the printed copy of the book itself. This is, of course, more important when your book will be on shelves rather than only online.


What different kinds of reviews are out there? How do they rank in terms of credibility and exposure?


A statement from John/Jane Q. Public which reads something like, “A real page turner. I couldn’t put it down. I can’t wait for the next one” whether it appears on Amazon or in Macy’s window, is a nice comment but not my idea of a review, especially if it is written by a blood relative who owes you money.


On the other end of the spectrum is a thorough and well reasoned review written by someone who has no reason whatsoever to be kind and who also has some experience writing reviews for credible reviewing sites, like Bookpleasures or Bookideas for which I write reviews. One of my most treasured reviews of my debut novel, Slipping on Stardust, was a 5-Star Amazon review from an author whose own book I rated less then perfect on my review sites. Now that’s impartiality! Amazon is a mixed bad, including as it does reviews from their Top Ranking Reviewers as well as from Aunt Edna. Also, in deciding whether a review can be posted, Amazon seems more concerned with whether the reviewer has a customer account with Amazon than with whether the reviewer has actually received the book being reviewed.


One of the many great things about Secret/Sweet Cravings Publishing is that reviews on a book’s page are divided between regular reader reviews and professional ones. Amazon seems to make a comparable effort, but I’m not convinced it’s always successful.


Paid reviews are to me prima facie questionable despite protestations of impartiality by the reviewing site.


And don’t let the stars get in your eyes and hope they don’t get in the eyes of those browsing for good books to read. I received a 4-Star review from a Top Amazon reviewer that showed more care in reading my book than I took in writing it.


By the way, there’s a difference between a “mixed” review wherein a single writer carefully balances a book’s merits and demerits and “polarized” reviews where there’s a wide range in a group of reviews between good and bad.


How should authors react to reviews?


With stoic restraint. There’s nothing wrong with thanking a reviewer for the time taken in reading your book, and an author can certainly express the pleasure of receiving a good review. But challenging or arguing with the author of a less-than-glowing review is downright foolish and should never be done.


If an author’s frustration or anger level is at the breaking point, it might be acceptable to say something like what’s been said to me sometimes by the author of a book I have reviewed more or less unfavorably, viz,. “It’s always interesting to see my work seen through other eyes.” Of course, the subtext is, “And your eyes are not functioning,” but no harm done. As a critic, I have more respect for an author who takes the lumps in silence.


Final advice and comfort from the great American actor Geraldine Page.


Ms. Page received precious few bad reviews in the course of her long and distinguished stage and film career, but when asked how she would react to a bad one, she answered simply, “I would just think the critic has poor taste.” That should sustain all authors in their darkest hours.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Ironies of Support

The Ironies of Support


After the publication of each of my three books, I’ve noticed a pattern of support that is sufficiently remarkable to note with the thought that the experience of other authors may be similar or quite different.


After garnering reviews from professional critics and after making media appearances via print interviews, blog posts, or radio shows comes the critical third phase of promotion—word of mouth. Here, one might reasonably expect support from friends and family members. I have been surprised to learn that this doesn’t happen as automatically as I might have expected.


As I noted in my “unauthorized” autobiography, Wet Firecrackers, many friends and family members have me boxed into the category of lawyer, a person of considerable wealth and power. As long as I functioned squarely within that sphere, my every word was hung upon and there was no wish that was not freely granted in the rational expectation that a quid pro quo would be forthcoming in return sooner or later.


I jumped out of that box at the earliest opportunity, retiring at 60 and taking up new pursuits—first in playwriting, then in writing non-fiction books, and finally with the publication of my debut novel, Slipping on Stardust.


My current status as a struggling writer/teacher in an obscure town in Brazil brings to mind the blues classic, Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out. It’s hardly that bad, but eerily close.


On the acknowledgment page of this book, I note that I have very few to thank, but the few that I do are very dear. What I was tempted to add, but didn’t, was that I’ve never met any of these “dears.” Isn’t that strange?


The “heads” side of this coin is the support I’ve received from the most unlikely, and as I said, universally unmet sources:


  • A New Jersey associate professor of Journalism and Creative Writing, who is using my books in his classes. Never met the guy, but e-meeting him late in life makes longevity worth achieving.
  • A beautiful retiree living in Brazil, whose second language is English and who was introduced to me by close New York friends who didn’t themselves buy the novel even though I had given previous works to them as gifts.
  • A tenor I’ve never met who remembered my attendance at a concert, conducted by my brother, who himself has never read any of my books. The tenor bought three copies.
  • A writer whose own book I gave a very mixed review on If that isn’t impartiality, I don’t know what is.
  • My many fellow authors published by Secret/Sweet Cravings Publishing who have been incredibly generous in giving me access to their impressive sites on the internet.


I will never forget the support I’ve received from these wondrous strangers. And, being a Scorpio, I will probably also never forget the passive-aggressive treatment I’ve received at the hands of many close by, whose every venture I’ve supported with genuine enthusiasm.


Sorry if this sounds like whining. It probably is. But acknowledging the existence of a wound is probably the first step in healing it.


As noted above, I’d welcome hearing about other authors’ experiences on the subject of support.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Breakfast with the Beauties

A Bi-National Breakfast


Courtesy of television, I had breakfast this morning with two remarkable ladies representing two of my favorite countries—Brazil and England.


Serving the coffee was Ana Maria Braga, sort of the Brazilian Martha Stewart but much more beautiful and charming and with no known criminal record. Her guest was Nigella Lawson, a remarkable English beauty not previously known to me. The two chatted away in their respective languages with the critical assistance of an unseen, but highly talented interpreter.


The thread that connects these two is a love of cooking about which each has written books, which they did not hesitate to flog at the end of the show. Flogging books is an exercise with which I am very familiar and Ana Maria and Nigella did it well.


I was struck by the physicality of both host and guest. Ana Maria Braga is an icon of Brazilian TV and her show Mais Voce (which I’m told means, More You, a clever audience-orientated title) has been popular for a very long time. She is a tribute to the efficacy of self-discipline and the cosmetic arts. She is also a heroic cancer survivor. A permanent fixture on her TV set is a photo, not taken yesterday, which puts one in mind of Catherine Deneuve at her patrician best. Imagine my reaction when a neighbor who had dealings with her described Ana Maria as “short, ugly, and arrogant.” I don’t believe a word of it.


As I said, the very English (I could hear her native voice through the translation) Nigella Lawson was a case of first impression for me, but quite an impression it was. My first assessment was that she looked more Brazilian than did Ana Maria. The dark brown eyes, the brown hair tinged with that particular touch of copper that is so common here, the ample mouth fronting a dazzling dental display, and a complexion that survived the severest close-up scrutiny, probably arranged by Ana Maria. All of this was swaddled in a tight-fitting wrap that made no apologies for her hyper-curvaceous corpus. Lawson admitted to being in her early fifties, which was two decades more than I would have guessed.


The final touch was Nigella’s shoes. Brazilian shoe designers have a unique flair. When I was teaching ESL in San Diego, the head of the school, who spoke American English without a touch of foreign influence, wore shoes that were incredibly beautiful. I later learned that she was born and raised in Brazil. Nigella Lawson’s shoes featured stacked heels, platform soles, and ankle straps. Carmen Miranda meets Joan Crawford. Had I not sworn off the word, I’d say awesome.


In short, Ms. Lawson was more in the mold of Sophia Loren than Deborah Kerr.


As a final tribute to her host country, Nigella Lawson whipped up some swoon-producing chocolate-banana cupcakes. Bananas are quite well known here in Brazil.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Tune in to my weekly broadcast when I'll be interviewing five-time Emmy winner Bill Persky, TV comedy writer, who has written for Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke, and Marlo Thomas. I'll be asking Bill about the craft of writing TV comedy and about his new memoir. Tune in live (1/6 at 2:30 pm, EASTERN) or later in the archives by linking to

Monday, November 26, 2012

This is an inaugural post to launch this blog relating to my new novel, Slipping on Stardust.