28 October 2013

The Art--and Courtesy--of Reviews

Reviews are a double-edged sword for any artist.  As the saying goes, everyone's a critic. Readers  are encouraged to talk about what they've read on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble--and rightly so. It's a handy thing when you're deciding whether to buy a book to see what others thought. Authors definitely love the glowing ones and abhor the dismal, true. But an ugly trend appears to be gaining ground in the book reviewing environment--other authors who delight in tearing a book to shreds. I call it Writers Who Rip.

I'm not sure why these people feel the need to exude such negativity in public. It's quite fair to say you did not like a book and give one or two reasons why. It's quite another thing altogether to use your Creative Writing 101 handbook and berate every adverb, character flaw, or locale description.

One possibility these writers may compose such nastiness is the "do unto others" principle: at one time, another writer ripped their work apart so they feel the need to do the same to someone else. We see that in history all the time. Cruelty begets cruelty until someone makes a concerted effort not to respond in kind.

I am not saying every review should be glowing five-stars. But one can state what they felt was a disappointment and move on as opposed to yammering about how terrible that character was or how the plot line was juvenile.

Which brings me to Spoilers. There is nothing more irritating than someone who spills the beans, whether it's the end of The Sixth Sense or listing everyone who dies in the Harry Potter books. What in the world makes it acceptable to reveal the "A-ha!" moment? Is it a raging need to feel superior? Or is it envy that someone else came up with a real shocker that you didn't see coming? If you're writing a review and feel the need to add "Spoiler Alert"--don't. Let me express it another way: just because you can does not mean you should.

Toastmasters and other speaking groups encourage critiques of each other a la the "Oreo Method": start with a positive, say what you found objectionable or less than perfect, and end with a final positive observation. It's something every writer who composes a review should keep in mind, whether critiquing a book, film, or artwork.

Fellow scribes, when reviewing another person's expression of creativity remember this: It is every bit as dear to them as yours is to you. Be fair but be kind.


14 October 2013

What to Do When Congress Screws Your Plans

The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
  Aye, Bobbie Burns, ye had the wisdom o' the ages. Congress, aka the Gang o' Spoiled Brats and Bullies shut down the government three days before my friends from Philadelphia and Southampton, England were to arrive. They closed all the national parks, including the Grand Canyon. Our prepaid reservations for two nights in Williams, the steam locomotive into the
The Little Colorado River Gorge on the Navajo Reservation
park, and our park admission passes were rendered useless. How, you may ask, can they "close" a canyon that is 300 miles long?  Well, the government shutdown closed all of the access roads, shutting out anyone unable to hike long distances in rugged terrain. One could go through the Havasupai or Navajo reservations but the first costs and arm and a leg while the second requires some navigational skills and physical endurance. Not feasible for three fifty-year-old-and-then-some (but who's counting?) crazy ladies.

So what to do? Well, considering Northern Arizona's economy heavily depends on tourist dollars, we decided to go to Flagstaff instead and wing it from there. The result? We had a blast. We saw the Painted Desert and the Little Colorado River Gorge and purchased some lovely Navajo jewelry directly from the artists. Then we returned to Flagstaff and drove up Snowbowl to the ski lift, only to arrive a little late for their last run of the day. The views were incredible, and sharing the beauty of my state with great friends was pure joy.
Aspens changing color in Flagstaff
Sunday, we headed home to Tucson through Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, and the mining town of Jerome where we shared a tasty meal with more dear friends. I won't bore you with all the "what I did on my Arizona vacation" details but suffice it to say we thumbed our noses at Congress and had a damned good time.

Though the best-laid plans often go awry, improvising often enhances the experience. Instead of lamenting what could have been, seize the chance to try something else. 

As another great Robert-poet (Frost) once said, And that has made all the difference.

Home again for another spectacular Tucson sunset...