But first! How’s about a little report on the Retreat we just finished?

  • We finalized the cover and back matter for Eden’s Fall and it is in the hands of our advance readers!
  • We hope Eden’s Fall will be uploaded to Amazon within the next few weeks.
  • Stay, K R Brorman’s novella, is on Amazon and has its first 4-star review! If you haven’t downloaded your free copy, here’s the link, or you can buy it at Amazon for $0.99.
  • The first (approximately) 15 chapters of Winter’s Thaw have been heavily reviewed – more about that in a moment – edited, are now in Hemingway for readability, then on to Grammarly for another objective review of grammar, punctuation and, again, another take on readability.
  • The Winter’s Thaw plot has been honed and now we three know just where it’s going, why and when. Whew.
  • Winter’s Thaw SUB-plots, and a couple for Venus Rising, have been plotted.
  • Several new scenes have been written for Winter’s Thaw, so the need for what I call “spackle” between segments already written, grew somewhat smaller this past week.
  • We’ve added common sense to our project milestones for the last two books. We think Winter’s Thaw will be released in early September 2018 (which coincides, by the way, with the timing of the book’s opening scenes). Don’t judge if we’re off by a bit.
  • And, finally, we got a review of the first 5,000 words of Winter’s Thaw by a writer who represents themselves as a professional writing coach and editor. And that’s what this blog is about.

Most of my/our ranting and venting is out of my/our systems, but some residual bitching may remain in this post. This experience is one that any writer should be wary of and prepared for, so I prefer to think of the following as a PSA (public service announcement).

We were, maybe, two days into our Retreat when I received a blast email from the person referenced above with a tempting offer. The first few people to accept the offer would get a “deep analysis/critique” of the first 5,000 words of their novel for an exceptionally attractive fee. As we like to say here at SS&S, we jumped on it like a rat on a Cheeto. We have been working on the first several chapters of Winter’s Thaw for a long while, preparing for a real deep analysis/critique of the first 10,000 words by our good friend/coach Jami Gold.

My instructions were to attach the first 5K in a Word doc, Times New Roman, font size 12, and put my name and the name of the work in the subject line. No pitch, no synopsis, no other information was required. I should have included a synopsis. Reading a few thousand words of the second book in a trilogy with no context, we learned, produces confusion. But, Winter’s Thaw needs to stand on its own, and the feedback I received showed us that we were assuming too much on the basis that the reader would have read Eden’s Fall first. Lesson learned.

In about 12 hours, it was back. There were some structural problems, I was told. In particular, too many characters introduced in the first few chapters (we have quite a few characters, main ones at that; they were introduced in Eden’s Fall, but there was little or no foundation to introduce them so early in Winter’s Thaw), and too much head-hopping (shifting points of view, or POV) among them. This was important, constructive criticism – problems that had to be addressed. Over the next few days of the Retreat, I/we made needed repairs. This portion of the novel is now much tighter, the action moves at a faster pace and it’s less confusing to the reader – characters are introduced as needed to move the story along, scenes have clearer purpose.

At the end of the transmittal email back to me, and at the end of the document filled with commentary, I was told that I have a good writing voice and that the story seemed like it was “cool.” To get to the constructive parts of this feedback, however, I had to wade through a deep bayou of sarcasm, condescension, gratuitously snarky comments that had no purpose, and outright insults.

Example: “Seriously? LOL”

Not particularly helpful. Several times I wished the positive comments had been offered in the beginning, rather than the end. It would have helped buoy me through the other.

A structural problem I discovered as a consequence of reading the commentary was that I had not shown how bad the bad guys and gals really are. When someone decides “the only character I like and sympathize with is [the bad wife],” and then proceeds to write fresh dialogue to make her a stronger, more capable character? That’s a problem.

I’d like to think the average reader would have picked up the badness without big bread crumbs, but just in case they possess the same prejudices and life view that this person brought to the material, I’ve gone back and taken out some of the neutral-to-flattering description and ladled on some more evil. I don’t think anyone will make that mistake anymore.

Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange, courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. from “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”

I was given an extensive lecture on how corporations and attorneys/law firms work from someone who has a marketing background. Have I mentioned that I have been a corporate lawyer, both in-house and in private law firms (big ones) since 1981? I think I know how they work, and the sermon I got was dead wrong. But it was said with conviction, by God.

I was told that my high school English teacher might not have corrected my structure, but that a pro would know better. Granted I’ve only been writing fiction for the past eight to ten years, and so far Eden’s Fall is the first novel we’ve completed and are poised to publish, but, have I mentioned that I have been writing professionally for over 40 years? I freely admit that, for instance, writing the agreements to form a joint venture between the People’s Republic of China and a major US corporation is way different than writing a novel. Also easier. References to my high school English teacher are amiss, and a miss.

The POV in legal documents is – everyone knows this – omniscient rather than third or first person, so that’s where I, as part of this trifecta, have had much to learn. As a reference, the critic directed me to their blog post on POV, which doubled-down on the condescension, but was helpful, if not original.

A better article on POV, for our purposes is Jenna Patrick’s, “Three’s a Crowd: Writing An Effective Multiple Point of View Novel.”  We do have multiple characters whose points of view are necessary to paint the full picture.

Had we known how difficult these structural problems would be when we decided on this collaboration, the trilogy and the framework that embraces three strong, female main characters and their significant others, we probably would have chosen a different path. But this is the path we’re on, and the structural problems are not intractable, just challenging. Winter’s Thaw does not belong in the garage where it can’t see the light of day, as was suggested.

Had we gotten this kind of criticism on the first 5,000 words of Eden’s Fall way back when? We wouldn’t have written the book, we’re convinced. And that would have been a real shame. Eden’s Fall is a great story, one that shines a spotlight on worldwide evils that have never been dealt with effectively: domestic violence, war crimes against women and children, and human trafficking.

So, here’s the lesson for writers: choose your experts with care, don’t rush, and shop around. Research their work product before sharing your own. Just because a person is good at marketing themselves doesn’t mean they’re good. Do not let another’s lack of professionalism discourage or slow your creativity and progress. Consider, learn and use what you can that’s constructive – with dispassion, if possible – and when it gets under your skin? That’s when