Archive for 1 April 2010

Duck and Cover #1236

1 April 2010, 11:31 AM | Category: Duck and Cover

When Bad News is Good News

1 April 2010, 1:35 AM | Category: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, Telling Stories

Please note that, despite the timing and the strange headline, this post is not in fact related to April Fool’s Day.

Also, please note that I discuss reviews of the first 5,000 words of American Dream On below. I try to avoid spoilers, but tread a little lightly if you want to read it and haven’t yet.

Just got done reading my feedback from ABNA and I couldn’t be much happier. No, they didn’t make some mistake and fail to put through my submission despite its glowing reviews. But the feedback was so positive on what I need it to be positive on and the negativity was either (A) innate to the contest or (B) innate to the fact that American Dream On is hard-hitting and bleak.

So I thought the excerpt would be judged largely on hook and, when it didn’t advance, I was concerned about this. Needn’t have been:

The flow of the story is easy to follow and to connect with. The words fly off the pages impacting the reader. American Dream On tugs at the reader’s heart and conscience. The characters’ pain and determination to get their message or action across is experienced by the person reading. The things that once mattered now seem almost as though it was a wasted thought.

How about character development?

The strongest aspect of “American Dream On” is the author’s ability to create a character. This excerpt has great character development.

Whew. So why didn’t it go through?

The tone of the story needs to be worked on. The negative aspect of American Dream On is overbearing. When writing a sequence of bad, unfortunate, or even dismal beginnings, there has to be some sort of light to take away the effects of the darkness.

While some people (my own mother, for example) agree with this assessment, I think this is largely a problem with the contest. Number one, I don’t think Amazon Vine Reviewers are largely comprised of people who read dystopian works or critiques of their society. But more to the point, they probably assumed that they were reading the first 10% of the novel, not the first 3.7%. My work was one of the longer ones submitted, and very few seemed to be over 100k words, with ADO weighing in at 135k words. Indeed, one of the two reviewers went on to say:

I would like to note that I strongly suspect that the excerpt is from a short story collection rather than a novel. If that is the case, then “American Dream On” violates the submission rules for the ABNA contest. However, to be on the safe side, I am reviewing this excerpt as though it is a novel consisting of three independent stories interwoven together.

This makes one of the most damning aspects of the contest the failure to provide the pitches with the excerpts. I simply cannot comprehend the failure to do this, but for three years, they’ve done it the same way and it seems to be a deliberate choice. They wouldn’t print a book without a back jacket flap, so it befuddles me why they insist on making readers judge excerpts without any context. Of course, there are 5 threads in this novel and only 3 are introduced in the excerpt, so it’s no wonder people came away from the experience confused. If only they could’ve grasped the breadth of this work.

They didn’t fail to grasp its bleakness, though:

“American Dream On” is the type of novel you wouldn’t want to read if you are already suffering from depression. It may drive you to attempt suicide. Written in a morbid style that varies in degree from one character to another, this novel may turn your American dreams into American nightmares.

Wow. Talk about impact. This is actually the kind of comment that makes me elated, not because I’m sick or morbid or want people to be suicidal, but because I can see that I’m really affecting people. Two total strangers read this work and both came away distressed. The paragraph above the one just posted above called it “provocative”. Bingo. This is what it’s all about.

I wonder how many times Orwell got comments like this:

The writing style creates a depressing mood that never relinquishes. The reader can’t help but wonder if the entire novel is an emotional downer. Isn’t there enough sadness already in the world to create more?

Clearly, this contest was not a match for this novel. But I’m really energized by the nature of the critique of the excerpt. No one thought the writing was bad or failed to be engaging. People reacted to the characters, drawn in by their pain and even driven in one case to “hatred”. The work is emotionally vibrant and jumps off the page, grabbing people. A lot of them don’t like the experience, don’t want to go there. That’s fair enough. But there’s serious writing and then there’re feel-good stories. One of these prompts people to change their life and one of them makes them go to bed assuming everything’s just hunky-dory.

Now if only I can find a publisher who isn’t looking for the feel-good story of the year…