The Blog Mistress chimes in. Again…. The results are in.
* Thank you to all who joined us, we loved your enthusiasm and contributions. Mesaraven Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) Elizabeth and Mary Anne contact Annmcman@gmail.com)
Ann, Salem and Barrett –Conference Nurse
If you remember in our last episode (day before yesterday-scroll down) Ann McMan stepped up and strapped on with her memorable responses to some questions about the collaboration on Hoosier Daddy. Today, we’ll hear from her wife of 21 months, Salem West.
But first my intro to his part. Ironically, I also met Salem through her review of my first book. I was thrilled by her spot-on analysis of my intent in writing the experience of a veteran FBI agent afflicted with PTSD.
Long story short. We’re corresponded, chatted, and Skyped for months as she helped with my Nanowrimo project. Within months, she introduced me to Ann–“the love of her life” and the rest is history. We all met face to face for the first time in Austin 2012 for the Lone Star Fest.
So it is my great pleasure to share the pensive half of team AMFA, Salem West.
Since 2011 when you debuted The Rainbow Reader, you have reviewed a variety of books from both large and small publishers, including independent and self-published authors. You have earned a well-deserved reputation as an independent and balanced reviewer.
In 2013 you moved onto the stage as a fiction writer. Working with your wife, Ann McMan, you co-authored Hoosier Daddy: A Heartland Romance.
Would you please share your thoughts about working both sides of the street?
Well, technically, “working both sides of the street,” means to engage in deceitful or duplicitous behavior. And, while it is true that my sisters often registered formal complaints with Grandpa Hames that I hid extra Hoppy Hippo cards up my H.R. Pufnstuf pajama sleeves when I was three, I can assure you that my good fortune in Animal Rummy was simply a combination of preparation, strategy, and providence.
I’m not sure what the proper idiom for reviewing books and being an author is, but it’s probably closer to ‘batting both ways’ or ‘straddling the fence.’ Be that as it may, the experience has been utterly terrifying. As a reviewer, I deconstruct a story and try to present an informed opinion as to whether or not the characters, plot, point of view, setting, style, and themes hit the mark—and are interesting, innovative, surprising, or challenging. However, as an author, I am the one the readers, reviewers, critics (and Ann’s mother), put under that very same microscope at 100x magnification.
How has this experience differed in both preparation and execution from preparing your reviews?
For me, the preparation and execution required to write fiction is quite similar to what is required to write reviews.
Before any words hit the Hoosier Daddy page, Ann and I talked ad nauseam, usually while eating dinner or taking a bath, about major and minor characters, plot lines, point of view, our setting for various scenes, how to combine our styles into one voice, themes, metaphors, and how to effectively mangle idioms for maximum literary impact. We knew the beginning, middle, and end of the story before we started writing, and we spent more hours than I can count doing research about UAW organizing efforts, union busting, the economic meltdown, transplants, the automotive manufacturing process, lockout/tagout, OSHA violations, monster trucks, and chair caning techniques. Heck, one night Ann and I spent hours driving around the highways and byways of southern Indiana and southeast Illinois on Google Maps so she could get the lay of the land and visit the small towns we were writing about.
When I review books, I often do comparable research about the type of book the author is writing, the area they are writing about, jobs and names of characters, and why certain chosen elements may have been used or not. I also consider wretched little things like pacing, editing, and realism of dialogue, and whether or not each scene has a purpose, and whether transitions are effective.
Do prefer writing fiction or non-fiction? And would you consider another novel?
Well, there may be another novel down the road a ways, but in 2014, I really want to focus on taking The Rainbow Reader to the next level. By that, I mean that I’m concentrating on things like morphing TRR into an eZine—offering more reviews, op-ed pieces, and additional content. Having a Bully pulpit will be an added bonus.
As for fiction versus non-fiction, I honestly prefer being an essayist and the challenge of mastering my own voice. There could always be a book in that, but I’d still need to do some serious thinking and planning, and that would require more bath gel than we got for Christmas.
You have married into the job of “first reader” for your wife Ann’s recent releases. Has your work as a well-read reviewer affected your beta reading skill?
First up, Ann doesn’t use beta readers. She is probably the ‘cleanest’ writer I’ve ever met—every time she opens her working file, she edits everything that came before. She is meticulous. So, if there is a mysterious beast called a ‘beta reader’ in her camp, it is surely she. As for me, I’m really a ‘first listener’ because I always ask her to read for me— I do so love to experience Ann McMan’s stories in her own voice. You could say it’s my guilty pleasure.
[ed. if you ever have the opportunity to hear Ann read–don’t miss it!]
Beyond that, I offer suggestions, ask questions, and flag inconsistencies, but I rarely do anything more substantial than proof and limited line editing on Post-it® notes before she submits the manuscript and the typeset galley. For the long-term health of the household, and in accordance with §7, Section 4, Part 2.E.3.c of our prenup, I must clarify that only Ann McMan makes actual editorial changes in her manuscript.
And did writing Hoosier Daddy affect your objectivity for reviewing?
No. It didn’t affect my objectivity for reviewing. In fact, my objectivity for reviewing is one of the few things that weren’t influenced by the experience. I will say that it did fortify my policy of being honest yet respectful in my reviews. Now, knowing from personal experience, any book, whether praised or reviled, came about because of some author’s hard work, passion, and persistence.
Think it’s easy? Try it. No. Really. Don’t.
Why? Because the other thing that has really shifted is my frustration with shortcuts. That is, authors who don’t take the time to do the research, significant consistency errors, plot lines that disappear, and disregard for a pesky little worm known as grammar. Respect for the effort is one thing, but quality (or lack thereof) always comes through.
Last summer you participated in an interesting panel with two other reviewers. Can you share some thoughts on the changing landscape of lesbian fiction?
Not long before that GCLS Panel (featuring Elaine Mulligan and Lynne Pierce, and moderated by Carleen Spry) I published an editorial on The Rainbow Reader titled The Lesfic Boomtown Foretold: A Cautionary Tale by Salem West. The thesis was that growth is a good thing, but too much growth too quickly can easily overwhelm an industry. Along with the huge increase in demand by readers of lesbian literature in the last three years, I see a significant decrease in the quality of writing, editing and publishing across the industry. I also see a reading population that has not yet found its voice when it comes to speaking up for their rights and expectations as readers. That is not to say that all writing, editing, and publishing is bad, because it isn’t. Likewise, there are several loud and proud voices in the reading community that continue to call for a correction. Still, across-the-board, we all need to consider our pursuit of growth in conjunction with our ability to develop authors, publish their products, and advance the legacy that our foremothers entrusted to us.
I need to run out to do my trading, and then home again for thirty minutes on the treadmill. After that, I may get back into the book for my next review, and start on dinner before Ann comes home from her regrettable day job. This is Tuesday, and that means meatloaf.
Thanks for participating in this unique joint effort. Let the questions commence!
**Wrap: Winners of a copy of Hoosier Daddy …OR a book of your choice from Ann McMan,will be selected by a random pick of the commenters. I have asked Ann and Salem to select the most interesting Question from either set of responses for a copy of Balefire. Winners will be announced Friday Jan 9th at 8 PM EST.