Wow, The Road Show got a great review on the Association for Mormon Letters bulletin board this morning. You can see it here. Thanks to Beth Roach for the review.
It's always nice to get a good review, but this was especially welcome since it's been a while since the book was published (over a year now) and so interest in it has pretty much fallen off the map--that's not a complaint, it's the normal way of publishing. You write and write and work on something and then it's a big deal for a few weeks and then it's not. And, being released in the summer, I just never felt like the book got all that much notice at the time.
So, to get a nice review from such a prominent, credible source is like Christmas come early (or Thanksgiving staying late. Either one).
Anyway, it's a great start to a bleak and gray, rainy Monday morning!
P.S. Should have a Middle School Monday post up later, so check back!
This post really is for me. I know that's a blogging cliche, but in this case it's true.
So, I have learned a lot in this last year as I've worked to get the book published. One of the things I've learned, or rather, re-learned, is how I respond to criticism.
I find that I don't really mind if people don't like my work. Of course, it's nice when people do, but it doesn't bother me if someone doesn't. In fact, I'm surprised by how objective, almost clinical I feel about that.
On the other hand, there are some things that really do bother me. Once someone gave me 5 stars on Goodreads and I knew they hadn't read the book (don't worry it wasn't any of you). That actually frustrated me more than any amount of criticism! Getting a compliment that is insincere is worse for me than an honest critique.
Another thing that bothers me is when people comment without any attempt at understanding what I was trying to do and focus on what they would have done or what they wish I would have done. Goethe said there were only three questions to ask when judging an artistic work: What was the author trying to say? How well did he say it? Was it worth saying? I've always found those are useful questions in guiding my response to books I read.
But the thing that really bothers me, I'm being authentic today, is when people are factually inaccurate about the book. Don't like something? Fine. But if you are going to write a review, please make sure that your facts are straight.
Just for the record, I want to address something I've read a few times. Why I am doing this? I know that people who read this blog are generally a friendly audience--and I love you for it. But I want to set the record straight. This is NOT an attempt to fish for compliments and get you to say, "Oh, it was such a good book!"
I promise that's not it at all. No, this is just me wanting to respond to a criticism that bothers me: The Road Show is unrealistic because the character's problem just magically end.
That is not true--it's factually inaccurate. A careful reading of the book shows that there is no magic ending. Everyone's problems are not tied up in neat little packages.
I feel strongly about that because I was very careful about that when I wrote it.
Stephanie, for example, begins taking medicine for her depression. She also begins some lifestyle changes like exercise and trying to be more present for her family. These changes allow the Lord to help her and open her understanding during the performance. Her depression isn't magically gone.
Scott has grappled with his addiction for years before the book starts. He has finally hit rock bottom and has gone to see his bishop. When he wins one bout of temptation, he realizes he still has battles ahead of him and that he's not "done." During the road show, he comes to feel the Lord's love for him and feels that he's finally forgiven. That doesn't mean his problem is over.
Curtis has some breakthroughs in the way he sees people. But he has years of habits to overcome. Clearly, he will continue to struggle. But now he has a vision, at least, of what a Christ-like leader can be. I find that to be very realistic--flashes of insight that help us realize that we are not where we need to be, followed by the desire to be better is a very common experience.
Ed has made a friend and his dad, with whom he has issues said something nice to him. His struggles to fit in and feel comfortable are not over.
Eula does get a bona fide miracle. She is healed, but only after years of suffering and the demonstration of substantial faith--not an insignificant exertion, I might add. Her house is still falling apart, she is still seriously behind on her bills, and while we hope Curtis will step up and take better care of her, she may still have to deal with loneliness.
The point of The Road Show is that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is real. He heals and helps us through the trials and vicissitudes of mortal life. But he doesn't take away our problems. There are sweet and sacred moments when He gives us perspective, hope, and even miracles--but the miracles help us endure through the rest of our trials. They don't end them.
The Road Show happens to end at one of these high points. Perhaps as an artistic choice, one could argue that it implies the problems are solved and is therefore ineffective. That would be a valid critical point. I happen to disagree, but I could respect that point of view.
To me, however, the point is this: the characters have received grace and love so they can move on to face their problems with the knowledge that God loves them and knows them and will help them carry the burdens they bear.
I thought I’d talk a little about some of the criticism I have received for my book. Understand, I’m not fishing for people to say, “Oh, it was wonderful, don’t worry!” nor am I feeling defensive. But I am trying to learn and thought it might interest some of you as well since I know there are other beginning writers who read this blog.
When I my book was accepted for publication, I knew that some people would like it and some wouldn’t. I knew some reviews would be good and some wouldn’t. Over 20 years in the theatre have left me fairly objective about my work and open to intelligent criticism. In fact, I pay careful attention to the critical reviews and analyze them because that’s how we learn. I’m a big believer in being teachable. I’m new and want to get better. What I didn’t realize was that those good and bad reviews would cite the same things.
For example, the element that I have heard the most about is the characters. Those who like the book feel that they know the characters, that they are real. They care deeply about them and are drawn into their stories. Those who don’t like the book feel that characters are shallow and clichéd, stereotyped cut-outs.
As I said, it surprised me that different people felt so strongly about the exact same thing, and saw them from such different perspectives.
I’ve been thinking about the character issue a bit. This is interesting to me because, there are things I would change about the book if I were to start on it again tomorrow. But I think the characters would be basically the same.
That’s because they are as they appeared in my mind. Changing them just so they wouldn’t be clichéd would see dishonest to me.
Here’s an example: there was a summer camp on our campus this past week. One of the offerings was a robotics class. Two of the students taking the class are girls of Chinese descent. I walked past them and happened to hear them comparing their notes about violin lessons. Incidentally, they have soft voices.
Now, if I were to write a novel about an Asian girl who talks softly but takes robotic classes in the summer and plays the violin, I would be accused of writing a clichéd character. I understand that. And yet…there are Asians who do those things and they are just as real as Asians who do not engage in those activities. So, if I write about a young woman of Asian descent, do I need to studiously make her do the opposite of these real-life counterparts? Have a bad attitude, talk back to her parents and watch MTV instead of studying—just for the sake of not being cliched? I get that this can be refreshing to some extent. But to do it for the sake of just not being regulat seems as contrived and unrealistic as a cliché.
I suppose I could have taken the characters as they appeared in my mind and changed things around. Curtis could have been a poor, grumpy Elder’s Quorum President. Ed could have been a lonely ultra-orthodox conservative. Stephanie could have been a middle-aged woman with depression instead of a young mother. That sounds like an interesting story. But it wouldn’t be my story. I can only write about what I know and what I can imagine. One well-known author/agent/editor/publisher says emphatically that we don’t want to portray regular people in books—we should emphasize the eccentric and show what peopled don’t know.
I understand that. But in theatre, success of characterization is measured by the degree to which an actor or director takes an ordinary person and gives them depth and a credible emotional life. In fact, if one is playing an eccentric character, most actors will try to tone down the eccentricities, or at least ground them in a realistic emotional context. The highest praise for most actors or directors would be that they showed new emotional layers in an otherwise ordinary, common, regular character.
That’s what I tried to do with The Road Show. Whether or not I succeeded is an open question, and one that every reader can answer for his or herself.
Part of what I hoped to accomplish with The Road Show was to take characters that were readily recognizable in Mormon circles and lift the curtains on their lives a bit. I hoped to open the reader’s heart and help see beyond the obvious.
That is one of the great revelations that comes with being a bishop. Ordinary, average people come to you and suddenly you see that they are struggling with terrible problems and burdens. It may be a cliché that someone struggles with pornography or depression, but it is not a cliché to that person as they experience it first-hand with all the human drama that comes along with it. When a human is suffering they are anything but average, anything but cliched.
My goal was to start with recognizable types, clichés if you want, and hopefully help the reader see that there was a real person there. The idea being that in real life, I think we look at people and quickly assess them and then assign them into our own clichés. He’s a liberal, she’s a conservative, he’s unorthodox, she’s uptight—without realizing that the human emotions they have make them living, dimensional people.
The extent to which I succeed is clearly a matter for individual readers to decide. But I maintain that the goal itself is worthy. That's the kind of LDS fiction I want to write--it's the only kind that interests me.
Ok, does this post make me sound defensive? :)
I am getting behind lately! It's summertime but the livin' is not easy. Or at least not mellow.
There have been two more reviews of The Road Show. Cami Checketts and Patty Ann Pitterle were both kind enough review it. You can read Cami's review here and Patty Ann's here.
So, here's a question: would anyone be interested in being part of online book club? Or, or you all already comfortably ensconced in your own book clubs in your neighborhoods and church groups?
No pressure--but if you are, why don't you drop me a line here. I thought it might be kind of fun since an online format would open it up to a. Let me know if you are interested and enough people are, we'll work out the details.
This isn't my real post today, but rumor has it that The Road Show is starting to hit the shelves in the highest quality bookstores. I have photographic evidence from a store in Nauvoo, Illinois. Thanks, Alyssa!
Let's a play a game shall we? If you see the book in a bookstore or library or anywhere else, will you snap a picture and send it to me? We'll do a drawing for everyone who sends a picture in.
The prize will be a dozen of my wife's famous-to-die-for peanut butter/chocolate cookie with a Hershey kiss stuck on them. Trust me, they are really good. We'll overnight them to you.
I'll put another post up later--gotta run to Theatre Adventure Camp!!!!!
One day, over at MMB, I was browsing through their "Post of the Week" feature. I saw a title that caught my eye, although I forget now what it was. I clicked on over to a new blog: Momza's House. I was intrigued and inspired. As I became a regular reader, I got to know Momza--a mature and wise mother of a large family. She is a convert to the Church and loves the gospel with the zeal and passion of someone who understands its full value. She is a thoughtful and evocative writer and I always enjoy her free-verse style as well. I was thrilled that she agreed to review "The Road Show". Go check her out!
A few months ago, I met a blogger who's enthusiasm, energy, and supportive nature are so integral to her that they infuse everything she does--even on the computer. Alexes, at One Cluttered Brain is a blogger, a mother, a wife, and someone who is working in a careful, thoughtful way to be a writer. Alexes is a generous and supportive soul--the kind of person who is as excited for someone else's triumphs and successes as her own, the kind of person who really helps energize and encourage you when you are down. She was kind enough to review "The Road Show"--so go over and check her out.
I knew some of the bloggers who reviewed The Road Show before the book was released (by "known" I mean on blogs, not in real life). Others, I have met more recently. Mommy J is one of those. At her blog, Mommy Snark, she records her family's life in a fun, snarky (in the nicest possible way!), and thoughtful way. Her blog is named after Snark, but I have always found her to be thoughtful and often profound. She does a lovely job of connecting the eternal gospel to everyday life--the sublime linked to the mundane in a way I find interesting and inspiring. Mommy J was kind enough to review my book--I hope you'll go check her out.
P.S. I just found out, she's doing a giveaway. So go on over!
We Mormons have a core belief, an article of faith that tells us we should follow after anything that is "virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy." When I first started blogging, I came across Anne Bradshaw's blog, and that phrase summed up what I found there. Anne is a published writer with a diverse background. She posts everything from nutritional information to book reviews. She often posts beautiful video clips that testify of Jesus Christ and His gospel, and she also has some really cool Giveaways. I was so honored that she agreed to review "The Road Show." Go check her blog out, I think you'll enjoy it!
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