Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How to Write a Helpful Review

My husband and I are contemplating laying down a month's worth of income for a piece of furniture.  Yes, we are buying a couch.  For the first time in our married history, we can buy furniture, real adult furniture, something I actually like and not just given to us, scrounged out of the trash or found at thrift store.  I didn't think it would be this hard.  Now, don't get me wrong, we both agree on style and color, but finding exactly what we want is harder than finding a movie we want to see.

We ran into a little trouble when we started looking on-line.  How can you know if you like a couch by seeing it in a picture?  If you haven't sat on it, punched the pillows, lain supine to see if your feet hang off the end, how can you know if you like it, if it's comfortable?  You depend on reviews.  But only if the reviews are helpful.

I clicked on a few reviews.  I was deeply disappointed.  Review after review written and I still have no more information.  An example of a five star review and it says something like this:

Love this piece.  I just got it! Looks great with my decor.  The color was what it looked like on the screen.

There's a little tag at the bottom: Was this review helpful?  In my frustration of scrolling through sometimes hundreds of these vapid reviews, I want to scream,  no!  Why did you bother to take the time to write such drivel?  I don't care about your decor!  I don't have the same computer screen you do and if you just got it, how can you tell if you love it?  You love the design?  I can see the design from the picture!  Not helpful!

So, I've decided to write a tutorial about how to write a helpful review.  First off, what do people want to know when they read review? 

1--Tell me something about the object that I cannot see/feel from the computer screen. Ie, the fabric is soft/rough, the cushions are dense (don't just say that you like them, say why!) or fluffy.  If the couch is comfortable (comfort is an opinion) but give facts, like, I'm 5'5" and my feet dangle a bit, but still it's comfy.
this goes for anything you buy on-line.  When I wrote a review of a pair of leggings I bought my daughter from Children's Place, I was specific about the lace around the bottom of the pants.  They were too tight.  She complained about them constantly.  And my daughter is a twig, skinny long legs.  I can only imagine if someone who wasn't rail thin buying these, the pants would probably  cut off the circulation to their feet.  But I digress.  I just wanted the buyer to beware that these were made for malnourished children.

2--How easy was it to install?  Some furniture needs legs, or other details that need to be put on after shipping.  How difficult was it?  Did it make you want to swear like a sailor married to Howard Stern or was it intuitive?

3--Time.  If you've had this couch for over a year, write a review.  I want to know how it wears, do the cushions hold up over time?  Does it sag?  Do the buttons come off?  Does the frame stand up to your toddler or teenager jumping on it.  Or whatever!  When it's brand new, it's harder to predict the life of the object.

As much as I like positive reviews, this is the one time I want to hear you complain, but be specific.  I want to hear what you have to say, just not about how much everyone raves about your cool couch when they come over unless they happen to say "This is the most comfortable couch I've ever sat on!"

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why I Write Novels

I've probably done a post on this before.  But I think I can't say it enough, writing is hard.  It's not the hardest thing I've ever done.  A few other examples come to my mind for that category: serving a foreign mission for my church for 18 months, rehabbing a house, raising three kids would top my list.  But nevertheless, writing is hard.  Sometimes I don't want to do it.  Sometimes I doubt myself, my characters, my plot.  I feel trite, cliche', hackneyed, shallow.  I feel like a fraud.  So why do I write when I could be scouring pinterest for the latest and greatest craft for my house?  Why do I write instead of getting a night shift job that I would actually get paid to do?  Because writing benefits me in so many ways.

I learn patience.  I am so impatient.  Ask my husband.  I can't keep a secret, I snoop in Christmas presents, I want it and I want it yesterday.  Writing a novel takes a great deal of time, effort, energy to see the finished product.  It stretches me to my limits of my patience with myself and the story.

I learn to appreciate detail.  I am a big picture person.  I get bogged down in the details. I give up easily (see patience above) if there are too many little things that have to be done.  Writing is all about detail.  There's big picture stuff there, too.  I mean plot is pretty big picture.  But I have to make the scenes come alive with detail.  It's not that I don't observe detail, I do.  But to be able to replicate, explain detail to where the reader can see, feel and smell the scene takes great talent.  I'm working on that.

I learn about myself.  Sometimes when I'm dealing with something upsetting, I don't even realize until it comes out in my writing. This is my therapy.  I can write it out on a page, often in tears, and deal with it.  When I am angry about something someone said, I can retaliate in my writing.  Heartache becomes gold.  My best scene in my current WIP is a scene where her boyfriend breaks up with her.  Every heartache I've ever felt went into that scene.  It's burns off the page.  I can explore topics I can't talk about even with trusted friends, I can face fears I've never told anyone about, I can right wrongs.  It's healing.  It's cathartic.  It's like blood letting, but it makes for good fiction.

I learn about other people.  When I spend an afternoon or so in someone else's head, I learn to understand their motivations, their fears, their pain, their insecurities.  Writing gives me understanding of human nature, compassion.  It is as close to walking in someone else's shoes as I can get.

I play.  I'll admit it.  I write unrealistic realistic fiction.  What happens to my characters wouldn't happen in real life.  But wouldn't it be cool if it did?  I like to go to exotic places, or even places I've been but miss.  I can reminisce, relive, make alive, recreate, examine, explore places I can't in real life in the safety of my laptop.

If I happen to sell some stories, that's even better!  But I love my characters, my stories, my experiences with my stories.  I cherish the inspiration I receive, the laughs and the tears I've had.  Reading is powerful.  Writing is creation.    

Monday, September 30, 2013

Fantasy Men v. Real Men

My husband often reads over my writing and scrutinizes the male protagonist.  He asks, "Do you wish I did this?"  Or, "Should I be more like So and So (input hero's name here).  Let me just put one thing straight and let me be very clear!  I might even type this in all caps:


Just to drive my point home, I will chart things women (and by this I mean me and maybe a few other girls out there) want and find attractive in fictional men and then contrast it with real men, in real life.

*Motocycles:  For some reason, I think guys who drive motorcycles in books/movies are hot, reckless, mysterious.  It symbolizes a fast, free, and spontaneous lifestyle.  It's edgy and cool in a fictional guy.  BUT, I would have a cow if my hubby came home one day with a Harley. Why?  Because the father of my children should have a VERY safe car--not just because is he my bread and butter; he's also my honey.  I know what the mortality rates are on those crotch rockets and I do not want him becoming a statistic.  But hey, snaps to all out there who risk their lives to either save gas money or the environment.

*Looks: In books the male protag is often gorgeous.  Depending on the genre, he could be a Greek god chiseled from stone with equally firm chest and arms and in equal parts cool and aloof--stoic.  Or he could be the dimpled darling with sparkling eyes, a crooked grin and tons of sex appeal.  Either way the guy gets more description than the setting, his smell, the light off his hair, the drape of his clothes, his eyes, the heat of his touch (unless his a vampy, then he's cold, but I digress.)  In real life, it seems like those types of guys are either in line at the DES or for porno flicks.  In real life, we're happy to be with a good, attractive man, not the male model pictured on the cover.  We want someone who loves us, respects us.   Besides, I think I'd be mildly uncomfortable with someone that attractive. I'd hate to have to beat other girls off him all the time.

*Conflict: From Pride and Prejudice to Twilight, every story that has even an ounce of romance in it, there is conflict between the female/male protag.  Why?  Because we want resolution and we want it so badly that we will read through hundreds of pages to get it.  We want the characters to get together because it will make us happy.  But in real life conflict in a relationship sucks.  It's like having a permanent bad mood hanging over the head.  Clear communication in real life, not conflict is what we seek.

*Mysteriousness: If entertainment thrives on conflict then its sister is the unanswered question.  It is what drives a story.  But I don't want to spend my real life trying to figure out what is going on in my mysterious husband's head.  I want to know what's going on.  Ok, maybe I want a little mystique.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Communication: The more you have the less you have

I've made an interesting observation lately.  We have so many ways to communicate Facebook messaging, phone, snail mail, email, Twitter, texting, so many in fact that it's becoming hard to communicate with people.  What? you say.  Doesn't that seem oxymoronic?  (My spell check says that's not a word, but I'm going to go with it.)  But listen to me.  Most people have a preferred method of communication, their habit.  I have one friend who said he only does Twitter--email, even texting is so passe for him.  If you want to communicate with him you better #bepreparedtotellthewholeworld.  My elderly friends all use their home phone, eschew email to perhaps a once a week activity (REALLY!) and don't text.  (You mean I have to dial a phone number to reach you?) The younger generation, I have no idea how best to communicate with them.  Do I leave a Facebook message?  Do you have a Facebook page?  Text?  Do your parents let you have a phone?  No? Text the parents?  Call the home?  Does anyone respond to their home voicemail messages anymore?  Call their parent's cell?  I could probably write a letter and they'd get it, but I'm not sure I'd get a response.  At any rate, communication has become more complicated because now we have to ask which is their preferred method of communication and hope it aligns with yours.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

So you're watching Downton Abbey...

I guess the Edwardian Era is all the rage.  Well, if you are a fan of the new electric light, telephones attached to the walls and cars that max at 20 or so mph, you've got to read stuff by P.G. Wodehouse.  He invented the hilarious duo of Jeeves and Wooster.  Bertie Wooster is a wealthy bachelor who is constantly getting into scrapes, often involving fiancees, former fiancees, overbearing aunts, dogs and old school chums.  Jeeves is his valet, his man servant known for his expertise in the human "psychology" and problem solving skills.  Reading "Just Enough Jeeves" has had me laughing out loud and if you enjoy smart humor, the Edwardian Era, you'll love his stuff.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


When I started writing, I knew exactly who my audience would be--18-26 year old girls (women?).  I think I chose that age group because, for me, those years harbour some of the best memories, college, dating for long term potential, working and juggling all three.  There were some hard struggles too--heartbreaks, disappointments--but also some real growth, living in two foreign countries, overcoming fears, finding my strengths.  I want to write for girls this age, give them encouragement, share in their adventure, help them through these college and early work days.  The only problem is that up until recently, there wasn't really a genre that fit these themes.  Chick lit tended to be, in my opinion, vapid, full of selfish frivolity, stories that centered around drinking and getting laid.  I want to write stories with more depth, purpose and uh, morality.  Adult books seemed to focus on themes that were just not right: divorce, redemption, recovery, reconciliation.  There was a gap in literature from YA to straight adult literary fiction.  Where did that leave my niche?

Well, now I am totally stoked because I just found out that there is an emerging genre of New Adult fiction aimed at this age group with those goals in mind!  Hopefully, I can find a place for my stories of girls rising to the occasion, overcoming career obstacles and meaningful love. Yay!  Yay! Yay!  My gut was right!  People do want these kind of stories!  I'll keep you posted as I now try to query agents mentioning this new genre!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

House or Spouse?

My sister is in the middle of house hunting this spring.  And as I listen to her talk about the pros and cons of each property she visits, I can't help but think:  House hunting is like spouse hunting!

No one/no property is perfect.  Each house she looked at had some good qualities--great view, good locations, perfect master suite, wood floors.  But each of them had some flaws too--no garage, yard wasn't landscaped, needs updated electrical, new roof needed!  When we are dating, each of us date "potential properties."  Each of us has our own strengths--has a great sense of humor, likes children, is responsible.  But in turn, each of us also has our own weaknesses too--always late, critical of others, has "questionable" family members.

Each pro and con should be examined before greater commitment.

For example, wood floors are beautiful but require a lot more care, shows dints and scratches and are damaged easily by water.  Foundation cracks are hard to repair (and expensive!) while almost anyone can paint a room.

I think what we are all looking for is something that we can live with.  Some people like gut rehabs (draw your own parallels of what this looks like in a relationship) and some people want a move-in-ready house with little effort to redecorate.  The point is, see its potential but then after you commit, you have to be happy with your choice and not try to make your house into something it's not.  Some things are easier to live with even if they can't be fixed.

What can you commit to?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fiction is healing

I've had the winter blues.  Only in my case they seem to be the winter blacks.  Even though I'm living someplace was ample sunshine, I still think I get Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.  A psychiatrist-friend of mine told me that was impossible, but I swear every February I sink into a nearly unrecoverable funk!  It feels like a black shroud of self-doubt, un-motivation, depression, lethargy, weight gain hangs over my head and I can't shake it.  But I have found something that helps.

Reading fiction.

Back in the ole college days, I took a class titled "Communication in Fiction."  (Aren't you jealous?  What a great class!  I mean I got college credit talking about books!)  It's more than escapism.  I know a lot of people who poo-poo the value of fiction as something we need.  I disagree.  Fiction is a life blood.  My professor theorized that we actually need to read fiction.  During the time we read, fiction specifically, we meet a problem and have a cathartic experience overcoming the problem. This week alone I survived a shipwreck and lived with a tiger on a boat for over 200 days and then saved a company from sabotage--all from the safe distance of a page.  What fiction does for me, is help put things in perspective, it helps me empathize, it cures me of "self-ness." I become more aware of others since I've lived in someone else's world for a while. 

Now there is a difference between a refreshing dip into fiction and being completely immersed.  I don't believe that I would be healthy if I read all day every day.  At some point, I have to write too! 

Third Place from Book Buyer's Best Contest

A sweet romance wins third place Sweet romances can compete and win! I'm super excited for this honor.  I want to tell you, please keep ...