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text 2019-12-19 05:00
Why (some) writers fail, and fail spectacularly
The Walls of Jericho - Paul I. Wellman

I've been thinking about this blog post for some time, maybe months, maybe even years.  It might be the offspring of a workshop I gave at the St. Louis RWA conference in  1993.  Then it was called "Pulling the Trigger, or how to start your novel off with a bang and keep it on target."  I'm not sure I'd use the same imagery today, but you get the drift.


A strong opening won't save a badly written novel.  In other words (pun intended), you can't just fix the first chapter and leave the rest alone.  RWA discovered that some writers would polish their opening chapter nigh unto death so it would score well in contests, but the rest of the manuscript was garbage; a winning contest entry had to be strong throughout.


Likewise, a strong opening can't be tacked onto a badly written novel.  The elements that make a novel poorly written are there regardless, and the opening won't fix them.


Understanding what makes a strong opening and why it helps the writer to make the rest of the novel better is crucial, but it's very complicated.  It's not enough to say "Start with action" or "Open with dialogue" because neither of those tactics is enough. As a writer -- and perhaps as a reader -- you have to know why the elements are so essential.


When I was teaching creative writing at Estrella Mountain Community College back in the '90s, I had a hand-out that consisted of the opening paragraphs of several genre novels as illustrations of effective starts.  Through all the classes I taught, the one that was most determinative of the potential for success was how the students analyzed those first few lines.  Sometimes it wasn't more than a sentence or two, but because they couldn't grasp the concepts, I knew they weren't likely to go any further.


Here's the first paragraph of The Walls of Jericho, Paul I. Wellman's 1946 novel about small town life on the Kansas prairie in the early twentieth century.


    He paused momentarily at the front door before stepping out into the night, and took his pipe from his mouth while he felt in his coat pocket to make sure his keys were with him.


What does that single sentence show the reader?


1. The character is male.

2.  He's not in a hurry.

3.  He's going from inside a building to the outside.

4.  It's night.

5.  He's an adult, old enough to smoke a pipe.

6.  He's wearing a coat, indicating that it's cool enough to require one or at least not so hot as to be unbearable.

7. He has keys at least to the house, if not something else, and he has reason to be concerned that he has them.


This last item raises a hint of curiosity in the reader.  Why is it so important that he make sure he has the keys?  Is there a chance he might be locked out? What are those keys for?  Just the house, or something else?  Another building?


That single sentence also serves to focus the reader's attention as sharply as if they were looking at a photograph or the opening shot of a movie.  We can mentally see this man standing outside the door in the dark, taking his pipe from his mouth, reaching into his pocket, touching the keys.


Once the reader's attention is thus focused, the writer absolutely must maintain that focus.  So when we move to the next paragraph, the attention is intensified, not broken or blurred.


A delicate pale thread of smoke rose from the bowl of the brier in his hand, pleasantly prickling in his nostrils.  As his fingers encountered them, the keys clinked dully on their ring.  At the same time Belle's voice came, lagging, from the sitting-room.

We're still focused on the man outside the door, smoking his pipe, fingering his keys.  When Belle speaks, we know he's hearing her.  We don't see her, and she doesn't enter the mental picture.  She's only a voice.  We're hearing her with him, still in his point of view even though we know her name but not his.  We don't know who she is -- his wife, his mother, his daughter, his sister, his lover.  But we know he is hearing her.  The focus is still on him and his experience.


The camera hasn't moved.


    "You're going ... to the station?"
    "Yes," he said.  "Tucker would be disappointed if I didn't show up on the reception committee."


Is there a hint of tension between the man with the pipe and Belle?  Is there a hint that she doesn't want him to go to the station? A hint that she doesn't want him to meet Tucker?  Is there a hint of tension between Belle and Tucker?


But the focus remains on the man.


In those few sentences, the entire plot of the novel has been put into motion.  Does the reader know that?  No, not consciously.  Having read the book several times, yes, I do know exactly what happens and how this tiny fragment foreshadows everything.  That's what good writers have to do.


As you read further into The Walls of Jericho, every tiny detail falls into place from that beginning.  Every word, every phrase, every sentence, every paragraph builds on that foundation.  It's easy to say the narrative reads like a film script, because Wellman did work as a scriptwriter; the novel was turned into a movie in 1948.


Another thing that these opening lines establish is that this is a character-driven novel.  Does the reader care?  Does the reader even know the difference between a character driven and a plot driven novel? The answer is probably "No" to both questions, but for the writer who wants to learn to write better so they can actually sell books, this can be crucial.  It's not enough just to string a bunch of words together; they have to be the right words, in the right order.


Wellman puts the character front and center from the beginning. Description of setting is secondary and, at this point, totally unnecessary.  This is going to be the story of the man with the pipe, on his way to meet Tucker at the station.  Later, when the setting becomes important to the man's story, Wellman provides the description, but it will always be in the context of the characters.


I've done analyses of other books' openings before, and I can honestly say that if I'm turned off by the beginning, it's very very difficult for me to get through to the end, and almost impossible for me to enjoy the reading.  I'm careful to stress "for me," because many readers really pay no attention.


Several years ago, a friend recommended a novel to me, a self-published spy thriller that she felt was every bit as excellent as anything written by Robert Ludlum.  It happened to be free on Amazon at the time, so I downloaded it.  Though spy thrillers aren't my preferred genre, I've read enough of them to find some enjoyable.  This one, however, had a huge error of fact on the first or second page that made the entire premise of the novel not just implausible but impossible.  I told my friend about it and said it completely ruined the novel for me, but she laughed and replied that details like that didn't affect her.  "I just read; I don't care about whether it's believable or not."


And the truth is that most readers are like that, especially today in the age of Kindle freebies and Kindle Unlimited and Hoopla and Overdrive and digital library loans.  And badly written, author-published novels.


Paul I. Wellman didn't have to worry about setting the historical time frame for The Walls of Jericho on the first page because his readers had the book in their hands.  If it didn't still have the dust jacket --



they probably didn't have 6,000 digital editions stashed on a Kindle. 


To be sure, within the next few pages, as the man descends from the front porch of his house and begins to walk toward the station, details fill in the scenery and setting.  The reader quickly learns that Jericho is a small town on the Kansas prairie, that Tucker Wedge is returning to Jericho with a new wife no one in town has ever met, and that the man with the pipe is named David Constable.


If you're a reader with no aspirations to writing, The Walls of Jericho is a wonderful story.  (I've tried to read the sequels, The Chain and Daughters of Jericho, and haven't been nearly as impressed.)  But if you're trying to write popular fiction, The Walls of Jericho offers excellent study material. 


(As an aside, I have to strongly disagree with Wellman's biographer that he failed in his depictions of women characters. But that's for you to judge for yourself, I guess.)


Anyway, this examination of how one author opens a highly successful novel -- The Walls of Jericho was a best-seller in its day and the movie rights sold for $100,000 -- can offer the aspiring writer a kind of artistic template.


It can also offer a template for critique.


How well does the opening of your novel fit that template?  Is it focused on a character or on action?  Does it present a potential for tension or conflict that will carry through the rest of the novel?  Does each sentence lead seamlessly into the next, like a movie camera panning a scene and then pulling in for a close-up, or does the focus shift from close-up to distance, scenery to character? 


As you get more into the novel, a page or two, is the action level sustained, or does the scene fade to black for the introduction of backstory?  Is that backstory needed?  Is there another way to provide necessary backstory information?


Josh Olson is right, of course. Within a page or so, you know you've been pulled into a story by someone who knows how to write.  The page falls away and your imagination takes over so that you're into the story, into the action, into the mind of the character.  You know what's going on.  You hear the voices, the music, the clash of battle.  You feel the heat, the cold, the rage, the passion, the pain, the ecstasy.  Everything carries you forward into the conflict -- even flashbacks -- and builds toward an emotional crescendo.


Sometimes that building is slow and gradual, so that you as a reader hardly notice it.  But it's there and the evidence is your desire to keep reading, to keep turning pages, to find out what happens next.  The writer has to work consciously and deliberately to construct the escalation, whether subtle or obvious.


Small, even unrelated, details can ruin the imaginary reality, like the penny in a pocket in Bid Time Return.  Style and grammar and usage and spelling, even formatting for a digital edition can destroy the world the author is trying to construct.  Facts have to be reasonably accurate, or at least made believable within the context of the novel.  If you want to have flying vehicles in the 1850s, make them plausible; if you don't, readers will be more than a little upset. 


All these elements must come together smoothly, and it can take a great deal of effort to make them do so. 


What happens when this template is applied as an analytical tool to a book like Yvonthia Leland's The Wrythe and the Reckoning? Unfortunately, the project's multiple flaws become more obvious, and the writer's weaknesses are amplified.


The wagon traveled steadily along the country path. The bright sun was shining over the expansive terrain. The green grasses and wildflowers were swaying in the warm breeze. The leaves on the trees were swirling overhead above us. It was the mid-afternoon in early spring, and we were on a journey traveling to our new home, to the city of Boston in Massachusetts.

Leland, Yvonthia. The Wrythe and the Reckoning (The Wrythe and the Reckoning Saga Book 1) . Reverie Ardent. Kindle Edition.


The opening sentence turns the camera on the wagon.  It's moving, so we know it's not just sitting there, but the reader doesn't know what kind of wagon it is or anything else about this wagon.  It's on a country path, a word that normally suggests a narrow way for pedestrians, not vehicles.  So the first sentence has already put some confusion into the reader's mind rather than pulling them into a scene.


The next sentence, however, abruptly shifts the camera's focus.  Now it's a wide shot of  the sun and the surrounding landscape.  Wait, what about the wagon? Who's in it? What kind of a wagon is it?


Instead of going back to what the first sentence set in motion (pun of course intended), the third sentence zooms in for a close-up of grass and wildflowers!  Then it shifts yet again to the leaves in the trees!  Oh, there's a reference to "us" but the reader really can't be sure that "we" are in the wagon.  It's an easy assumption, but . . . .


It's also possible that "we" are sitting under a tree watching the wagon approach from a distance.  Or watching it roll off out of sight.  The reader has no context to be confident that "we" are in the wagon that is traveling down the country path.


Even before I taught creative writing at Estrella Mountain Community College, I was a member of several different critique groups.  Some of the other members were competent writers, and some went on to sell the novels they brought for critiques.  Others, however, lacked the skills to make their work publishable.  Invariably, the problems showed up on the first page. 


Author Leland had no focus for her first paragraph, and she couldn't recover from the fragmented trajectory.  As the reader went further into the narrative, that fragmentation intensified. The ability to write a single coherent sentence isn't enough.  Most of Leland's sentences were individually competent.  Not sparkling or eloquent, but competent.  The problem was that they didn't cohere.  The narrative became disjointed beyond repair.


Having read more of the book, I suspect Leland's problems are far more extensive than just not being able to craft a fine opening paragraph.  But her failure in that paragraph is indicative of other weaknesses, and they are not likely to be overcome.





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review 2019-12-15 16:29
The Wrythe and the Reckoning - Everything wrong and nothing right
The Wrythe and the Reckoning - Yvonthia Leland

Preliminary assessment here:



Disclosure: I acquired the Kindle edition of this book when it was offered free on 14 December 2019.  I have encountered the author on Twitter, where she has viciously attacked reviewers. (She has also attacked them on GoodReads, but I'm not there.)  I am an author of historical romance, contemporary gothic romance, and assorted nonfiction.


If you want to be a championship figure skater, you get out on the ice every day and practice.  You fall down a lot and the ice is cold and hard and it hurts.  You get back up and practice some more.  You listen to your coach.  You watch videos of your own performances and those of other skaters.  You analyze each move, each success, each failure.  Especially the failures.  You practice and you practice and you practice.  You understand and accept that you alone are responsible for your success or failure, while at the same time you acknowledge and appreciate the help you've received along the way from teachers and coaches and supporters and critics and competitors. 


Author Yvonthia Leland thought she could win Olympic gold before she knew how to skate backwards.  It's almost as if she didn't know skating backwards was a thing and that you had to be able to do that in order to win . . . anything.


Reviewing the book The Wrythe and the Reckoning outside the context of the author's behavior is impossible once you've been inside that behavior.  It colors the reading and colors the reviewing.  It's so pervasive that I couldn't read a single line without mentally seeing the GoodReads and Twitter pages projected on a huge screen behind the Kindle images. 


She sent an ARC to NetGalley without knowing reviews of NetGalley ARCs are supposed to be sent to sites like GoodReads.  She sent an ARC that consisted of a rough draft of only half the book, without knowing that ARCs are supposed to be virtually the finished product, complete, edited, ready for publication.  She didn't know the basics, and yet trumpeted her lack of knowledge on GoodReads, on Facebook, on Twitter.


No matter how much pushback she got on GoodReads and on Twitter, she persisted in her wrongheadedness regarding ARCs.  She made her ignorance clear in flashing neon lights.  And she took out her wrath on those who tried to at least inform her of her ignorance.


She's not the first.  She won't be the last.  But her combination of ignorance and arrogance transcends even the viciousness of a Melissa Douthit, the pomposity of a Maggie Spence, or the tearful whininess of a Raani York.  If authorial stupidity were an Olympic sport, Yvonthia would sweep gold, silver, and bronze all by herself.


So, how bad is the book itself?  It's terrible.


The cover, as I wrote on the previous post, is nice to look at, but the plain fonts scream amateur.  There's no teaser line, no description.  These things are helpful for the reader who downloads a book -- especially when it's free -- and goes back later to read.  They've probably forgotten the description from the Amazon listing and need a refresher.  "Braving life in the big city, she faced the twin challenges of love and danger!"  That sort of thing.  So on an ordinary grading scale, let's say the cover earns a C+.


The front matter -- everything from inside teaser to the actual start of the narrative -- is a mess.  The title page is another amateur effort, with a pretty border around almost useless information. What's the difference between "The Wrythe and the Reckoning" as a book and "The Wrythe and the Reckoning" as the saga?  "Reverie Ardent" isn't identified as the publisher, so it's just words without meaning.  "The Special Note" is just an ordinary dedication; the "Introduction" is more blathering not needed for the reader's enjoyment of the text.


And then there's "The Preface."


I quit after reading the first paragraph of the preface.  The usage error stopped me cold after all the other problems I'd encountered getting to this point.  The author's public online behavior was enough of a turn-off.  Her lack of knowledge of how publishing in the 21st century works was more than enough.  The unprofessional production standards further discouraged me from going further.  Why, faced with poor writing skills on the very first page, should I go to the next?  I didn't.  I stopped.  I wrote my preliminary review based on that one paragraph of the preface.  Thank you, Josh Olson.


But that's where I made my mistake.  I took Leland's "The Preface" as a prologue, as part of the narrative.



I suppose you could say it was by chance, or maybe destiny, but I prefer to not think of it in that sense. Perhaps instead, I took one road which lead me to another, and then to another, and so forth.

Leland, Yvonthia. The Wrythe and the Reckoning (The Wrythe and the Reckoning Saga Book 1) . Reverie Ardent. Kindle Edition.


It seemed like a short opening paragraph, the first person narrator reflecting on how her adventure began.  The opening of Dickens's David Copperfield is somewhat similar:


Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

David Copperfield (p. 1). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.


But Dickens provided a true preface to his work, and added subsequent commentary on subsequent editions; the Kindle edition I have includes both the original 1850 Preface as well as one dated 1869.


Leland, however, seems not to understand exactly what a preface is -- and probably doesn't understand what a prologue is either.  The brief paragraph quoted above is the entire thing!  It's not the beginning of the book; it's her statement of her own journey.  As a writer?  As a person?  It's just not . . . right.


I didn't discover this until later last night when I determined to try to read at least a significant part of the book in order to assess the writing fairly.  To go from that one-paragraph preface directly into the narrative was quite a jolt.  I thought I had missed something, skipped a page.  But no, that's all there is.


Now, the problem with all the author's online histrionics is that she revealed certain information that can't be unrevealed.  As an individual reader, I can't just forget what I know about this book and about the character and even about what other reviewers have said about it.  That knowledge makes the author's failures even more apparent than they might be to another, less-informed reader.


In the text, there's no indication when the story takes place.  In the spring, yes, but of what year? 1800? 1820?  1850?  1859? 1875?  1919?  1680?


I know, personally, from reading the author's comments here and there, that the events are set sometime prior to the American Civil War, during a time when slavery was still an issue. But that still leaves a lot of decades open, and the reader who doesn't know the time frame at all would be at a complete loss.


This is further complicated by the description Leland provides of the conveyance the family is traveling in.  The opening line states that it's a wagon, and so in my mind I pictured an open farm wagon pulled by a team of horses or mules.  The parents might be sitting on the front seat, perhaps with a small child between them.  Other children would be sitting or lying in the back, surrounded by the family's furniture and other possessions. Maybe there's a milk cow ambling along behind the wagon, or a dog curled up with the children.


Again, my impression based on the knowledge Leland has provided in her online rants about the time frame for the novel and my own experience reading lots of books set in the nineteenth century is thrown for a loop when she begins describing this wagon.  It has a table! And side benches!  And a back bench with a window!


Sounds more like a Class A motorhome than a "wagon."


The narrator's brothers are playing marbles at the table. How does one play marbles on a table in a moving vehicle? Especially a vehicle that's probably traveling over unpaved, uneven country roads.  Her mother is knitting a shawl on the side bench.  She herself is sitting on the back bench looking out the window. 


This is the opposite of an invisible manuscript.


As a writer, you (should) want your reader to see the scene you're creating with your words. You don't want the reader to look at the words, go back a page or two to try to figure out what those words mean, then come back and read some more.  You want the pages to disappear.  Leland here is doing exactly the opposite.  And it's not just with the wagon.


We don't know the gender or age or name of the narrator.  We get the names and ages of the brothers, and there are references to an older sister.  I only know the narrator's gender because of the online drama; there's no reference to her being a girl so far into the book.  The sister is four years older, and then there's a mention of the house they're leaving.


My father and grandfather had helped to build the house about nineteen years prior, a few months after Abby was born.

Leland, Yvonthia. The Wrythe and the Reckoning (The Wrythe and the Reckoning Saga Book 1) . Reverie Ardent. Kindle Edition.


So now I have to go back to confirm that Abby is the older sister by four years and thus the unnamed narrator is somewhere between fifteen and sixteen.


All of this pushes me out of the story, when I want to be pulled in.


But again, what I know from the external context collides with the text itself to push me further away.  I know this story takes place prior to the American Civil War.  I know from the text that the narrator is in her middle teens and that the family is leaving a village where she has lived all her life.  Yet she references her classmates.


In that moment, it occurred to me that perhaps what my classmates said was true that our lives will change for the worst and we’ll never see the village. . . .

Leland, Yvonthia. The Wrythe and the Reckoning (The Wrythe and the Reckoning Saga Book 1) . Reverie Ardent. Kindle Edition.


What kind of school would she have been attending in rural New Hampshire in the first half of the nineteenth century?  The fact that I as a reader need to ask this question signifies that the author hasn't done her job.  Imagine how much clearer the mental picture would have been if Leland had written something like


I had been lucky.  Our little village of Deerfield had a fine school because Mr. Alford the schoolmaster had not only attended the college at Dartmouth but even studied at the great university in Cambridge, England.  I so loved my studies that Mr. Alford prevailed upon my parents to let me continue well past the age when I should have finished any formal education required of a female.


This gives an explanation of how there was a school in their village and why she was still there.  To put all of this in historical context, Laura Ingalls Wilder of Little House on the Prairie fame was born in 1867 and began teaching school in 1882 at the age of 15.


Authors don't have twenty or thirty pages to grab a reader's interest.  I don't care if the book is 813 pages long and needs 150 pages of warm-up.  I want to know right from the beginning, from page one, paragraph one, that this is a book I'm going to be interested in.


Yvonthia Leland turned me off her book before I'd even started it, but I took a look out of morbid curiosity and because it was free.  I know from her comments online that the story isn't going to be wrapped up in 400 pages, which is what she put on NetGalley, nor in 813 pages.  If I'm going to invest the time and effort -- and apparently money, since this volume is now priced at $8.49 -- to read that kind of narrative, it had better be damned good.  It's not.


The writing itself is pedestrian.  There's nothing exquisite about the individual sentences, and they're sequenced into a prose narrative that's lackluster at best.  Everything is told, nothing is shown.  Details make no sense in the historical context, and certain crucial information -- revealed only in the author's online comments -- is withheld from the reader.  (There's a section of the book that seemed very problematic to me on this particular point, but I'm going to reserve that analysis for later, when I can devote more time to it.)


Bottom line:  This is a book that should never have been published simply because it's so poorly written.  The author needs to strap on her skates, take a few falls, find a coach, and start over again.  And again.  And again.  There are books out there that will help her, blogs and patreons and other resources.  She needs to apologize abjectly to each and every one of her critics and shut her fingers up until she's had some serious criticism and listened to it.


Her writing sucks.



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text 2019-12-15 03:53
Writhing through the reckoning . . . the utter horror of truly terrible writing and worse behavior
The Wrythe and the Reckoning - Yvonthia Leland

Disclosure: I acquired the Kindle edition of this book when it was offered free on 14 December 2019.  I have encountered the author on Twitter, where she has viciously attacked reviewers. (She has also attacked them on GoodReads, but I'm not there.)  I am an author of historical romance, contemporary gothic romance, and assorted nonfiction.


Pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, but keep the bottle/pot close by because this is going to be a long one.


The Kindle edition says it was published 4 December 2019.  ARCs via NetGalley were apparently distributed as early as January 2019, as evidenced by reviews posted on GoodReads.



Between January and April 2019, several GoodReads members posted reviews, most of them identifying the source as the NetGalley ARC. Most of the reviews were one- and two-stars, with a lot of DNFs.


In April, the author came to GoodReads and posted her own comments (not a review?) explaining that the ARC was not the whole book.




It's logical to assume, then, that the author doesn't know what an ARC is, or at least is supposed to be. 


An Advance Reading Copy is the full text, not half of a rough draft, distributed to readers to generate publicity and "buzz" prior to publication.  Other than minor last minute edits, an ARC should be the final version of the book.  Usually the ARC is sent out a few months -- but not a full year -- prior to scheduled publication.


Author Leland apparently believed that an "ARC novel" was some kind of partial rough draft sent out for . . . what?  Critiques?  Free editing?  Proofreading?


Though she admitted the ARC was only a "partial novel," she claimed NetGalley readers loved it.  I know nothing about NetGalley, so I have no idea how that works.  But she also claimed that it wasn't supposed to be reviewed on GoodReads.  She doesn't know what she's doing.  Of course ARCs are allowed to be reviewed on GoodReads.  That's what they're for!


(One of the commenters on GoodReads posted the relevant ratings from NetGalley; they averaged a 2.88.)


Leland then popped up on Twitter on 12 December 2019, again scolding readers and reviewers.  There was a lot of pushback, with screenshots of her GoodReads posts and Facebook posts added to the discussion.


As of this moment -- approx. 5:30 p.m. Saturday, 14 December 2019 -- there are no reviews posted for the book on Amazon.  There have been additional listings/ratings posted to GoodReads on 13 and 14 December, probably in response to the Twitter discussion.  There are no good reviews.


I'm going to take my dogs outside, finish making my bed, and then come back to this.




On 12 December 2019, Author Leland posted this on Twitter:



(The only drama on GoodReads is what she herself has generated.  No one has been rude to her, though many have pointed out her errors, such as her belief that the book was put on GoodReads in violation of GoodReads policy, and so on.)


Despite being directly addressed about the wrongness of her behavior, Leland has not removed the tweet.  Nor has she responded, at least not on Twitter.  This, however, was captured from her Facebook account:






The GoodReads thread of comments on Rhonda's review is illuminating, but Leland has not apologized nor acknowledged that she did anything wrong.


Soooooo . . . . .


I downloaded the free Kindle edition.


The cover is nice.  I suppose it could have used a more imaginative font, but it's okay.


The title page is weird.




I had to go back to the Amazon listing to discover that "Reverie Ardent" is the name of the publisher.


I'm not sure why the title is listed twice without some graphic to distinguish between the book and the series.  And it seems to me if the saga is "The Wrythe and the Reckoning," shouldn't the two books comprising it have different titles?  Oh, well, maybe that's just me.


Next comes the Table of Contents.



Special Note, Introduction, and a Preface.  Hmmmmmm. . . . .









I did these as screen shots rather than Kindle snips because I wanted to make sure the visual impression came through, not just the text.


All the rest of the nonsense aside, I fall back on the Josh Olson Protocol:



Had this been just another author-published freebie, I would have quit at the end of that first page.  All the preceding nonsense probably wouldn't have stopped me; more than likely I'd skip over it to get to the story.


But when the first page contains a common usage error, I know without a doubt that the author -- and I use the word very loosely -- is not a writer.  More than likely she's not a reader either.  She's probably very young and has never engaged in any serious genre fiction writing and critique.  If you click through to the "About the Author" page, it says she graduated from college with a degree in sociology (that's my field, by the way), but the syntax is that of an artistically immature writer who thinks she's impressing the reader.  She's not.  She has a link to the publisher's website -- it's her own blog.


The whole project, and the way it's been presented, is a catastrophe.  We've seen others here like it, and before BookLikes there were disasters on GoodReads.  Right now it's ranked quite high in the Kindle freebie listing, but no doubt that's due to the buzz she's generated by being such an ass.


Under normal circumstances, I would let this go at this point. The author has behaved abominably.  The product is substandard.  The writing is worthless.  But I'm angry.  There have been too many self-publishing authors getting on my last nerve this week, and I have enough other crap going on in my life right now that makes me disinclined to be charitable to the stupids.


Review to come.

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review 2019-12-13 02:50
Stolen Vessels of God, and a commentary on the expectations of writers
Stolen Vessels of God - Michael Lechtman

Disclosures:  I obtained only the free sample of this book via Amazon.  I encountered the author of this novel on Twitter, and took screen shots of the exchange.  Beyond that I do not know him, nor have I ever had any other communication with him, about this book, other books, or any other subject.  I am an author of historical romance, contemporary gothic romance, and various miscellaneous non-fiction.


As someone tweeted yesterday, no one has to be a writer.  Furthermore, no one who writes has to publish.


And yet as I've written many times myself, writing seems to be the only art form that wrongly demands public performance for validation. You can sing in the shower or act in community theatre or hang your own paintings on the wall or saw away on that cheap violin at the family Christmas gathering, and no one puts you down for having an artistic hobby.  No one demands that you perform at Carnegie Hall or have a one-person show at the Louvre or win an Oscar.  All the arts are fine as hobbies, except writing.  You're not a real writer if you don't "publish."


This is wrong.  And the worst wrong about it is that it hurts so many writers.  (Of course it hurts readers who end up reading that dreck, but that's another part of the story.)


Mr. Lechtman is unhappy that people don't like his book.





Here's the Twitter profile that identifies "Novelauthor" as Michael Lechtman:



According to his Amazon bio, he's been a lawyer.



If I may be allowed to express a personal opinion, for someone with an advanced degree in psychotherapy, Mr. Lechtman seems to have some anger management issues.





After downloading the free sample of Stolen Vessels of God, I tried to read but gave up after about four very short Kindle pages.


Now, let me add some personal background here. I've had a passing infatuation with archaeology and paleontology since I was a kid.  Not enough to consider myself anything close to an expert, but I've picked up a few bits and pieces of info along the way.  As a young teen, I was asked by one of my aunts to pick out a book from her book club freebies and she would get it for me for my birthday or Christmas or something.  I selected Millar Burrows's 1955 The Dead Sea Scrolls. When it arrived at the house in the mail, my mother thought it was for her, and when I pointed out that it was supposed to be a gift for me from Aunt Shirley, my mother got mad and threw it at me.  (Yes, my mother sometimes had anger management issues, too.)  I just now spent nearly half an hour tracking down that copy from its hiding place out in the studio, a reminder that I still do not have all the books out there catalogued!



And the cover with the dent where it hit the coffee table when my mother threw it.



I post this nonsense because some people insist the critics don't know what they're talking about.


From the first page of the sample of Stolen Vessels of God:


Standing outside the caves south of Masada was like being in a sauna bath back home at the spa in Manhattan.

Lechtman, Michael (2019-04-17T22:58:59). Stolen Vessels of God . Kindle Edition.


 And from the very next page:


"The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves not more that 200 meters from where we now stand." He pointed to a rocky outcropping in the rugged hills above.

Lechtman, Michael (2019-04-17T22:58:59). Stolen Vessels of God . Kindle Edition.


Again, I make no claim to be an expert, but I was pretty sure the Qumran caves where the scrolls were found wasn't right by Masada.  And it's very easy to Google a map. (Typo, too.)



Qumran is a good distance north of Masada, not south.  Ooops.


Lechtman's writing is amateurish at best.  Within the first few pages he shifts point of view numerous times.  There's little set-up for anything, virtually no description.  For a book that's touted as just like Raiders of the Lost Ark, there's astonishingly little excitement. The scene at the caves never goes any further before the action moves with no transition or explanation to a hotel bar for a bunch of info dumping, screwed up formatting, racism, and misspelling.






This kind of horribly bad writing should never be published.  There, I said it.  Not because of censorship, but because it's just embarrassing.  And it makes the other non-traditional, independent, self-publishing authors who take the time and put in the effort to deliver even reasonable quality products a bad reputation. 


Again, not all writers should publish their work. It may seem like validation, but when the writing is this bad, even the effort is embarrassing.  And when the writer adds antagonism toward readers and reviewers, well, they just shouldn't.


No stars, do not want to read.

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review 2019-06-19 20:10
Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered
Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered - Karen Kilgariff,Georgia Hardstark

I HIGHLY recommend you listen to the audiobook version of this book because it is narrated by the writers and you'll miss a lot of the emotion in the words if you don't hear them tell it. I also suggest that you only pick it up only if you are a fan of the My Favorite Murder podcast - otherwise you might not get what it is all about and you'll probably be very disappointed and will be left scratching your head at the title. It's not a guidebook instructing you how to "Stay Sexy & Don't Murdered" (that's the tagline of the true-crime comedy show), it's a book about the podcasters very personal, very intimate struggles with family, mental health and their careers. As a fan of the show, I found it both interesting, painful and funny - just like the weekly podcast.



Recommended to fans of the podcast only, especially if you're super nosy like myself

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