Saturday, June 20, 2015

Assigning Blame Where It Belongs

I have a new book coming soon from The Wild Rose Press but I can’t find the fortitude to gush on and on about how wonderful this book is, how awesome the cover is (and it really is, though I can’t share it just yet because it hasn’t been approved by the art department at TWRP), or even how great I think the characters are. Right now, my heart is heavy and aching.

The other night, a very deranged and mentally ill person sat in on a Bible study/prayer meeting in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina and when the meeting was over, this person opened fire and killed nine people. He did this for no other reason than he is very ill. He is an admitted white supremist and he is a racist. He is a thug. He became what he claimed to fear—something less than human, something with no redeeming attributes. He did this with an illegally obtained handgun. And, he committed these murders because he wanted to start a race war.

Needless to say, both sides on the handgun debate immediately lined up and began pointing fingers and making wild accusations. I won’t go into all the arguments here. I will say this about the debate—the right to own a weapon is a Constitutionally guaranteed right and stricter handgun laws will not solve our problem with gun violence. The problem isn’t the handgun—it’s the hearts and souls of those who pick up a gun with the sole intent to destroy the lives of others. Chicago has the strictest and most restrictive gun laws on the books. Has anyone looked at the handgun murder rate in the city of Chicago recently? Those laws haven’t even dented the murder rate there. But, when threatened—citizens want the ability to protect themselves with lethal force, if necessary. Just ask the majority of the citizens around the prison in upstate New York where those two escaped murderers were believed to be.

This racist, hate-filled, fearful person was using a gun he could not legally own—due to a previous felony conviction and alleged to be on anti-psychotic/anti-depression drugs. Instead, his father bought him the gun for his birthday. That’s parenting done right—NOT!

We blame the gun when those such as this racist use that instrument to kill others. We don’t blame the car when an inebriated person gets behind the wheel and makes the choice to drive in that condition and takes the lives of others through his impaired driving. We rightly blame the driver. We didn’t blame the manufacturers of pressure cookers, nails, screws, and bottles when two men chose to use those items to create a bomb which they detonated at the Boston Marathon a couple of years ago. We rightly blamed those two hate filled young men. We didn’t blame the jet craft when twelve hate filled men hijacked them and flew them into the Twin Towers, into the Pentagon, and almost into the Capitol Building in D.C. We rightly blamed those hate-filled men.

We are asked when acts of terrorism touch us to not paint an entire religion with the black brush of hatred that the terrorists paint themselves, but when a horrific crime such as the murders of nine people within a church is perpetrated by a thug and racist and terrorist (which using the definition of the word, he is and with his stated goal of trying to start a race war, he became), many in our society are swift to paint every law-abiding gun owner with the blackest of brushes. Why do we insist on blaming the gun?

My heart is heavy and aching, but it is also filled with hope. At this man’s arraignment and bail hearing, the judge did something which was within his right to do. He allowed members of the families of those victims to speak. One after another, those family members spoke of their heart-ache, of their grief, of even their anger. And one after another said they forgave him and asked for God’s mercy on him. They are much stronger, much better people than I could be. May God grant these families peace and solace in their time of sorrow, and may God have mercy on that young man’s soul—because I don’t think I could be merciful to him.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

JUST STOP ALREADY!


Readers of my blog know that I am a fan of Thoroughbred racing. I am keenly aware that there is a very dark, incredibly ugly underbelly to this “Sport of Kings.” I’m aware of the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs—very often to deadly effect—on these magnificent animals. I’m painfully aware of a horrible practice resulting in the death of hundreds of newborn foals annually so their mothers can be used to raise the baby of a much more valuable Thoroughbred mare. (The issue of nurse mare foals is one of the ugliest aspects of this sport.) But, these things aren’t what this blog post is about.

Rather, it’s about something that is driving me to scream in frustration at my computer monitor. On Saturday, June 6, 2015, a thirty seven year long drought ended. Oh, lightning tried to strike a few times in those long, disappointing, frustrating years, but never quite connected. This time, lightning did strike—in the form of a muscular bay colt with a ridiculously short tail—and American Pharoah became only the twelfth horse to claim Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. He now stands in incredibly elite company. For some perspective, since 1919 when Sir  Barton became the first Triple Crown winner we’ve had more United States Presidents than Triple Crown winners.


I wasn’t duly impressed with American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby, because it seemed AP was struggling to find both his stride and his speed. It wasn’t until he got clear—on the far outside, I might add—that he found his stride. He still didn’t find a lot of speed, but as a good friend of mine just recently said it’s not about breaking track records, it’s about coming across the finish line first. In the driving downpour that came with the running of the Preakness, he led wire to wire and really only showed any speed with a sixteenth of a mile to go when his jockey gave him a tap. At times, he seemed to be loafing, as if he was waiting for someone to join him in the front. One sports writer noted that it appeared AP was checking his messages on his iPhone for most of the Preakness. But it was that deceptive loafing and the sudden, amazing burst of speed and his ability to continue to accelerate that made me look at AP again. I climbed on the AP wagon after the Preakness. I called him the winner of the Triple Crown the morning after the Preakness and he is the first horse of the last six or seven possible winners I have thought had even a snow ball's chance. (http://lyndajcox.blogspot.com/2014/05/mediocrity-horse-racing-and-dog-shows.html)

Usually when I watch a horse race, I’m shouting and cheering and screaming for my favorite the whole race. For the Belmont, I sat on the edge of the sofa, with my heart in my throat, begging whatever Higher Power to please let this horse be the one and murmuring instructions to AP’s jockey to keep him under wraps. The Belmont usually destroys the speed horses. Just ask Sham. AP didn’t have a great break from the gate but within a few strides, Victor Espinoza had him moved to the rail and into the lead. And, he never relinquished that lead. Halfway through the race, I said, “Not yet. Hold him a little longer. Not yet, Victor.”

When he made that sweeping turn into the homestretch, I jumped up and shouted, “DROP THE HAMMER NOW!” As if he heard me, Espinoza let the reins out a notch and AP shifted gears and began pulling away from the field. Every stride, every bunching and uncoiling of muscles, every second, AP drew further and further away from the field. I watched with tears in my eyes as the long drought without a Triple Crown winner came to a decisive end.

Finally, those nay-sayers were silenced. The Triple Crown isn’t impossible to achieve, it’s just damned hard. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s the test of champions.

Within hours of AP’s win of the Triple Crown, the inevitable comparisons began. Even before the Belmont Stakes, Penny Chenery (owner of the great Secretariat) said the colt doesn’t measure up to the greats, such as Affirmed, War Admiral, or Secretariat. (http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/the-turnstile/secretariat-s-owner--american-pharoah-doesn-t-measure-up-against-all-time-greats-191957211.html) With all due respect, ma’am, Secretariat lost three races before he started his bid for the Triple Crown, and the last time he was started in a race, his retirement race, Secretariat was handed his gorgeous, muscular hind-end. As a Triple Crown contender very few people took Secretariat seriously, even after he won the Derby. I’m old enough to remember the debate about Secretariat and Man O’War and how heated both camps were in proclaiming each animal to be the greatest of all time. It’s a debate that still rages to this day, long after both animals have gone to Heaven’s greener pastures.


I can’t recall if there was such a debate about Secretariat and Seattle Slew or Secretariat and Affirmed because those were years I refused to pay much attention to Thoroughbred racing. My heart was shattered into a million pieces on July 6, 1975 and other than watching the Triple Crown races in ’77 and ’78, I wasn’t following the racing world. (Why I stopped following for many years is detailed in this blog post here: http://lyndajcox.blogspot.com/2012/05/broken-wings-and-hoofbeats-maybe.html)

At the time though I thought the comparisons between Secretariat and Man O’War were ridiculous. There was and is no manner of comparing the two horses, both known to their fans as “Big Red.” Track conditions, training techniques, manners of conditioning these superb athletes had changed dramatically between Man O’War and his descendent, Secretariat. I think it’s still ridiculous, more so with this comparison. There is simply no manner to compare Secretariat to American Pharoah, short of someone creating a time machine and transporting one animal to another time. Yes, AP’s fractions were slow in all three of the Triple Crown races, until he turned on the juice in the last sixteenth of a mile in the Belmont—when he also beat Secretariat’s time for that particular stretch of race track.

A friend of mine suggested that perhaps AP’s fractions were so much slower because he didn’t have a Sham to push him, to challenge him, as Secretariat did. Most people involved with Thoroughbred racing will state that these animals are amazingly competitive. Let another horse challenge them and they respond with a greater effort. Perhaps the reason AP’s fractions were so much slower was because there wasn’t enough depth in the field to actually challenge him to exert himself.

This comparison is also belittling. It cheapens a spectacular win, a masterful ride by a skilled jockey astride a magnificently trained and conditioned animal. I understand the human emotions involved. As I said, I’m old enough to remember watching that “tremendous machine” rolling along the massive, wide turn and pointing his nose toward the finish line in that killing field of so many dreams also known as the home-stretch at Belmont Park. I know people who to this day still tear up when they speak of watching Secretariat open his lead by lengths and then furlongs and then in distance that can only be measured in large fractions of a mile. Even though many of them never actually laid eyes on the horse other than through the medium of television or in print, Secretariat is the horse of their heart.


So along comes this new-comer, this descendant of Secretariat, and this newly crowned king cannot be allowed to usurp that place in their hearts. American Pharoah has earned the right to stand alongside the racing greats, like Affirmed and Seattle  Slew and Man O’War and yes, even alongside Secretariat. He won that right on a hot day in June, on a mile and a half oval in  Elmont, NY by defeating more rested horses, and even a horse that hadn’t even ran in either the Derby or the Preakness.

No one—not sports writers, not casual fans, not rabid ones either, and certainly not the acknowledged old blood royalty of Thoroughbred racing—has the right to try to take that from American Pharoah or his connections.

The King is dead. Long live the King.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Where Did All This Stuff Come From?

After twenty five years in a home, it’s safe to say that there is twenty five years of accumulated stuff in said home. As I sift through this “stuff”, the memories come washing over me, complete with warm smiles and sometimes with a pang of sorrow.

I’m sifting through all of this because the DH and I are at the stages of our lives where he’s ready to slow down with his veterinary practice and I’m ready to down-size. To accomplish that, we’ve purchased property in the back woods of Tennessee. (I do mean back-woods, too, as I’ve been there more than a dozen times in the last year and I seriously doubt I could find my way to our property in the dark.) We’ve put up two small cabins—one as the “public” space and one to serve as the “private” space, namely as our bedroom. Even with the combined footage of the two cabins, it is still only a third of what we have here. My office for the past decade has been a free standing building, completely separate from the house.

I’ve been packing up my office because the DH can’t just up and leave his practice, while I can spend a week at a time in Tennessee working on the homestead. As I pack up the books I’ve accumulated over the decades, flip through files, carefully box up pictures, I’m struck by two things. The first is how much “stuff” I have. The other is how painful this really is. What goes. What gets put into boxes for a donation to Goodwill or the local library for their annual book sale. What I know I can live without and what won’t be donated. It’s painful.

The DH and I have made a good life in this home. We raised two kids here. Raised our grand-daughter until her mother could care for her. Raised puppies in this home. Brought home ribbons with those puppies and finished champions who graced our home and our lives. Our days of raising children are over. Our days of raising and showing collies to their championships will continue. But, as I find stashes of ribbons in envelopes with the dog’s call name on the front of the envelope, those memories flood me again. Whiskey—known to the AKC as C-N-D’s Southern Comfort—the memories of a dog always happy, always getting into some sort of trouble bring a smile to my face. Rose—Ch. Wych’s Safe in My Heart—the first of my blue smooth prima donas and a girl who insisted that things be done her way or they weren’t done at all. Heaven help the handler who tightened her collar in the ring because she made that handler pay for it and it didn’t matter if it was an accident. She extracted payment by refusing to use her ears and she knew EXACTLY what she was doing because she would look the handler dead in the eye and drop her ears and glare daggers. Rambo—A-N-L’s Paper Tiger—and he only has one ribbon: a first place from the 1986 Centennial Collie Club of America National Specialty Show. He died ten days after the national specialty. My heart still aches with that loss. Boots—Ch. Franchel’s Prince of Belmar—doesn’t have an envelope. He has a large manila folder with his show pictures in it, but there are no ribbons there. His ribbons have been crafted into a one of a kind wall hanging that will most definitely have a prominent space in the new home.

While sifting through the “stuff” in my office, I realized I have enough paperclips to make a chain long enough to stretch from here to the front of the DH’s office, five miles away. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I’ve got a heck of a lot of paperclips. Do I really need that many? I’ve also found three staplers, a baker’s dozen boxes of staples, more binder clips than any sane person should possess, and I can’t make enough voodoo dolls to use up all the thumbtacks I have. Seriously…what am I doing with all that stuff? I could start my own office supply store. My teacher friends—you need binder clips? Or paper clips? Or thumbtacks? Give me a call. (We won’t discuss the five pencil boxes full of pens, colored pencils, markers, Sharpies, and mechanical pencils I have.)

Lighters…HOLY MOLY! I’ve found lighters in drawers, in boxes, on shelves…I’m not worried about any impending societal collapse and needing to make fire because honestly, I have enough lighters to start fires until the next century.

I posted a status on Facebook before I started writing this blog post that I was starting the long, drawn-out process of whittling down the possessions. And, it is a long process, because we’re not in any rush to get moved, the cabins aren’t even finished yet…but I also feel a goading, a prodding, to get this done. This evening, when I looked at the stacked totes full of the books I can’t/won’t part with, saw the bare spaces on shelves and on my desk, I felt a pang again of loss. And, even though I can see those empty spaces, there is still so much to be packed up in my office and I rather feel as if I’m re-arranging chairs on the Titanic. I know once I move the boxes out to the trailer for the trip to Tennessee in a few days, the empty spaces will hit me harder.

I just have to keep reminding myself that there is a quiet place in the woods in Tennessee waiting for me and the DH to make it our home. And, the “stuff” that used to fill the empty spaces in my office will go into making that space our home.



Saturday, December 20, 2014

What Am I Missing?

What am I missing? I’m on a lot of writer groups on FB (okay, more like share your buy links groups) and I’ve been keeping track for the last week or so of what’s posted in these groups. The preponderance of these books are self-published, self-proclaimed erotica.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there’s some really great erotica out there. I’ve found a few good ones…but those are truly in the minority. I can’t begin to tell you the books I’ve downloaded and returned via Kindle, and they were free to start with! The ones I’ve returned were so full of grammatical errors I felt as if my eye balls were bleeding and that I was reading more freshman comp papers in the developmental college comp classes I taught. (Yes, these “published” books were that bad.) And, please, don’t get me started on the plot—because there wasn’t one in any of the books I returned. No character development. No plot. Most definitely not even an attempt at proof reading the manuscript at least once before the “publish” button was hit. I could overlook the horrible covers, for the most part, because at least on my Kindle, when I open a book, the book opens to the first line of the “story.” I don’t have to deal with the front matter if I don’t want to. There’s zero romance in these horrible things, either, but I guess that goes along with cardboard characters and a lack of plot. It’s just a lot of sex. And, in a lot of them, a whole lot of dialogue. In several of them, I felt as if I was reading a screen play, rather than a novel. Except in a screen play or script, there is some stage direction. Two I returned didn’t even have that. And, honey, if you’re busy telling the guy what he’s doing to you—something ain’t right!

So, what am I missing? Is this the 50 Shades of Gray effect? Is this the natural progression of romance novels back to the days of the “bodice ripper” covers and the “hero” who forces the heroine to have sex with him and she still ends up falling in love him? I HOPE NOT! I’d like to think I’m not a prude. I write historical western romances, for heaven’s sake, and I’m not shy about leaving the bedroom door open for “THE” scene.

Or, is this the result of the instant gratification produced by Create Space, Smash Words, and several other self-publishing platforms? Don’t have to know the rules because in this electronic universe where everyone is a published author rules don’t apply. Most certainly the rules of grammar, character development, plotting, creating tension (and that includes SEXUAL tension, ladies and gentlemen, and hopping into bed by page two does not count!), and every other rule applying to writing apparently don’t apply.

Or is this phenomena stemming from a backlash against those guarded, protected ivory towers of traditional publishers? Suddenly, with the ability to self-publish, those last bastions of the old guard, “those people” who prevented all these self-published erotica authors from landing a contract can be circumvented. Just upload a document into Create Space and hit publish.

And, once it’s published, apparently these people have a lot of friends who are willing to write (again with little regard to grammar) 5 star reviews, just singing the praises of how “hot” the book was, how wonderful the story line was and how much they cared for the characters. On several of them, before I returned the book, I just wanted to put up a review asking if I had read the same book the other reviewers had. I refrained, though. If I can’t leave at least a 4 star review, I won’t leave a review at all.


So, I’m back to my original question. What am I missing?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Destroyer of the World

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. There’s been a lot going on in my life—trying to find the funds to go play in New York City in February at Westminster Kennel Club, sending my third book to my editor, working on another book, training puppies to be show dogs. Usually I take this time to reflect on the year and look ahead to the next, but I’m not doing this for this post. Maybe before the end of the year, I will do that.

Rather, I cannot remain silent any longer. I watched with horror as a religious extremist took hostages in a mall in Sydney, Australia. My heart broke when I read the news that religious extremists within the same purported “religion of peace” invaded a school in Pakistan and killed more than 130 children. My heart aches for the families who have lost so very much. The Quran states that when you kill someone, you have destroyed the world. The world has been destroyed for so many families.

I do not claim—nor do I believe I can attempt—to understand the reasoning behind violence in the name of any god, whether that god is the god of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. When you use religion and drape your violence and brutality and bloodshed within the precepts of ANY religion, you have destroyed any credibility for that religion you wish to force upon others. Conversion by sword point is not conversion; it is coercion and it is not a manner to gain followers to a “peaceful” religion.

When you chose to target those who cannot fight back, when you chose to target the weakest, the most defenseless, the most innocent among us—you have made the conscious choice to be nothing. YOU ARE NOT A WARRIOR. YOU ARE NOT A MARTYR. YOU ARE NOT AN EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW. You are no longer anything other than a coward, a murderer, and a heretic to what you claim to believe.

You are a coward because you fear what you do not understand and you fear to learn understanding. So, you attempt to destroy that which does not fit into your narrow-minded, frightened little world view. The thing any religious extremist fears is an educated mind. You are not enlightened in any manner what so ever. The most terrifying thing to you is not an army but rather a child with a book. 

You are a murderer of the lowest form. You seek out those who are innocent, those who are the weakest, those who cannot fight back. You throw around terms like “honor” as if you understand its meaning. You have no honor. The mangiest mongrel cur in the streets has more honor that you have ever had or ever will have. There is no room in Paradise for spineless, cowardly, honor less murderers of children. I would call you a son of a bitch, which I know is the worst insult I can offer to one of your religious persuasion, but I WILL NOT dishonor my dogs.

You are a heretic to the precepts of the religion you have chosen to drape your cowardice and dishonor in. Children are to be treasured. They are a gift and you have chosen to reject that gift. You have chosen to destroy the world.




Friday, November 14, 2014

Hell Without Heat

I’m a weather watcher. This winter is seemingly starting early, starting out viciously and unseasonably cold (it’s ONLY mid-November!), and appears to be headed to another long, cold, and snowy winter, thanks to “polar vortices” and “above average precipitation” and “la nina” (or is it el nino?) . When I was a kid, we used to call this kind of weather “winter.” Last winter started out much the same and it was devastating for the cattle industry in places like Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa. Because the snow came very early, the cattle hadn’t put on their winter coats, and the snow was followed by the first, hard blast of the polar vortex, many ranchers lost a considerable number of head to hypothermia. It wasn’t that the ranchers don’t do all they can to help their herds survive the winter with hay feeding and by moving them down into lower pastures in the late fall or that the cattle couldn’t handle the cold and the snow under normal conditions—it was that “normal” wasn’t in play in fall and early winter last year.


Last winter and this year’s early arrival of winter make those of us who are Western history buffs think of the “Great Die-Up” on the Western Plains in the winter of 1886-87. The losses that winter were staggering and ruined many ranches. “Normal” wasn’t in play that winter, either.

The winter of 1886-87 came on the heels on one of the worst droughts that the settlers and ranchers on the Great Plains had seen in their limited time there. Prior to that winter, for many years of the preceding three decades of settlement, rainfall in a usually semi-arid land had been well above normal, creating lush landscapes on which to graze cattle. After the American Civil War, land was basically free for the taking under the Homestead Act and the land they grazed their cattle on was owned by no one so these cattlemen established codes to govern the West and to protect it from outsiders. Principal among such codes was the Law of the Open Range, the unwritten rule of free access to grass and water. Most did not own the land on which their cattle grazed, and thus the Law of the Open Range secured their rights, by warning farmer-pioneers “not to stand in the cowman's route to the ranges, not to block his way with towns and fields--and of all things—fences.” The cattlemen had settled the West prior to the Civil War. It wasn’t until after the Civil War that their empire was built. After the Civil War the demand for beef reached unprecedented levels, driving the cattle to higher and higher values and more and more cattle were brought to graze the “free land” of the West.

Because of the railroads, that beef could be transported quickly and efficiently (either on the hoof or in rail cars specifically designed to transport meat kept cool with ice) to markets back East.
In the 1870s, barbed wire made its first appearance on the range, following the passage of The Homestead Act in the late 1860s. Now, smaller homesteaders could settle the Plains, keep their crops protected from ranging cattle and prevent access to water. The cattlemen were furious and range wars became the normal—but that’s a story for another day.


The rains dried up and the lush grasses that had first lured the cattlemen burnt in the summer sun. Two years of extreme drought was followed by one of the worst winters on record. The snows started in late October of 1886 and didn’t stop until the following May. There is a recorded period, from November 13, 1886 until December 24, that it snowed every single day. When it wasn’t snowing and would warm up to a few degrees above freezing, it rained. This rain created a cap of ice several inches thick on the snow cover. And when it would momentarily stop snowing or raining, the bitter cold would return.


In January of 1887, the blizzards came and with the blizzards came a kind of cold that locals call “freeze-eye cold”—a cold so intense and bitter it would freeze the moisture on eyelashes. Blizzards came howling over the plains, blasting the unsheltered herds. Some cattle, too weak to stand, were actually blown over. Others died frozen to the ground.


Starving cattle, already weakened by a lack of grazing fodder because of the drought, would attempt to paw through the ice and snow to what was left of the drought-blighted and sun-burnt grasses. “The cattle had the hair and hide wore off their legs to the knees and hocks. It was surely hell to see big four-year-old steers just able to stagger along” (Teddy Blue Abbott). The cattle would drift with the howling winds. Cattle won’t stop “drifting” until they run into an immovable object: a dead-end canyon, a rock face, a barbed wire fence. The results were horrific as one account states:

They moved “like grey ghosts” . . . icicles hanging from their muzzles, eyes, and ears," directly into the fences. There they were stalled; they could not go forward, and they would not go back. They stood stacked together against the wire, without food, water, warmth or shelter. The pressed close against each other in groups all along the fence line, and sometimes they gathered in bunches reaching as much as four hundred yards back from the fence. Still there was not enough warmth in their huddled forms to counteract the cold, and within a short time they either smothered or froze in their tracks (Hill, J.L.. The End of the Cattle Trail. Austin, Texas: The Pemberton Press, 1969).

The spring thaw of 1887 (in late May) revealed the extent of the devastation. More than fifty percent of the cattle herds died that winter from hypothermia and starvation. Some ranches lost upwards of seventy-five percent of their livestock. Dead cattle were found everywhere, observed bobbing in the streams as the ice broke up, and discovered in large groups dying where they stood.



It was a perfect storm of conditions: decades of unusually high rainfall in a semi-arid land, overgrazed land, a severe drought that ended the wet period, too many cattle and the open range cut-up and sectioned off with barbed wire. The “Great Die-Up” as cattlemen called it in a dark attempt at humor marked the end of open range ranching, that supposedly sure way to riches which Theodore Roosevelt called “the pleasantest, healthiest and most exciting phase of American existence.” And it proved again that nature can at any moment shatter all sense of human control.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Standing on My Soap Box

I’m getting on my soap box here. This topic has gnawed at me for a long time.

Back when I was a member of a group of romance writers that group had a critique group. It was a small group—both the main group and those who were members of the monthly critique group. Because of this, when I joined that romance writers group, they had already critiqued one another’s works and needed fresh blood—err, sorry, reading material.


I was asked if I would be interested in joining the critique group and if I was interested, could I bring a completed manuscript for the five members to the next meeting. I said I was interested and of course I could bring five copies of the manuscript. (Yeah, this was a few years ago.)

When the group got together for the critique of my manuscript, three members didn’t show up, but sent the MS back with friends and without a critique. One member said what I wrote wasn’t even a romance, and the other member said she couldn’t get through the whole MS. Needless to say, it was a short meeting.

I collected up the five copies of the MS, took the MS from the next person in the sights of the firing squad, and drove the two hours home. A week later, I opened up the printed MS and started to read. Head hopping, passive voice, no historical accuracy, a total lack of knowledge of horses and how to tack them up…all that being said, the story premise had quite a bit of potential and promise. I wrote a lot of smiley faces in the margins with the things that were good, made suggestions to change the problems, and three weeks later, went back to the next critique session.

All five other members were there and the four not being critiqued were just raving about what a wonderful story this author had written. I kept my mouth shut, but I was wondering if we had read the same MS. As I said, the story had potential but it had a lot of problems. At the end of that critique session, I gave my marked up copy of the MS back to the author and left.

A week later, at the regular meeting of the romance writers group, the program was changed to talk about how NOT to do a critique. If a suggestion is made to correct a problem, be sure to praise something else the author has done. Don’t be a negative Nellie. And, then, it was said that at the last critique meeting, one author had totally obliterated the author being critiqued, had returned an MS chock full of red ink, and crushed that author and that just wasn’t how things were done and if a new member was uncertain of how to do a critique, perhaps that new member should sit in a few sessions before critiquing. I felt as if a spotlight were shining on me because I was the ONLY new member in that romance writers group and critique group in over a year.


Seriously? I made it a point to note the things that were working, the things that I liked, the manner the author had in turning a phrase.

Needless to say, I didn’t go back to that group. I realized after that meeting that what this group was wasn’t a group of people trying to help each other become better writers, but a group for patting one another on the back and offering useless praise.

Imagine my surprise when six months later, I received a post card from the author I had critiqued announcing the publication of her first romance novel. And, then I did a web search for her publisher. It was self-published. Her publisher was a vanity press. Self-published in a time when that phrase meant vanity press and received zero respect.

And, all this brings me to our current state of publication and the world of self-publishing. For every single success story in the world of self-publishing, there are thousands of writers who continue to give the term self-published a bad name. Writers like that writer in that romance writers group who are so eager (desperate) to see their name printed on the cover of a book, so enamored with their own words that they cannot see their foibles.

To these people, I want to say a few things. First of all—LEARN THE BASICS! Learn how to avoid head-hopping. Do your damnedest to avoid passive voice. Avoid clich├ęs. A story written almost entirely in dialogue is fine, if you’re writing a movie script (sorry, that’s one of my biggest pet peeves!).

Secondly—HIRE A FREAKIN’ EDITOR! For the love of all that’s holy, hire an editor. At the least, ask a friend with more than rudimentary English skills to read your MS and find the grammatical and mechanical errors so you can fix them before you upload that novel. Even Microsoft Word has built in spell check and grammar check. Not that I would ever rely totally on Word to make any MS better, but running spell check and grammar check is a start, for heaven’s sake.

Lastly—if you’ve posted this masterpiece of yours on Amazon and you’re getting creamed by reviewers and they all have the same complain—you might want to think about what they’re saying and try to fix the problem. Don’t blast them on your Facebook page or your blog. Those people took the time to buy your novel (unless it’s one of those forever free deals and then I’m of the opinion that the reader got what he/she paid for), took the time to read it and post a review. Three or more reviews hammering you for grammatical errors might be a hint you need that editor I said you needed to hire.

Let the flames begin.




TEMPLATE ERROR: Error during evaluation of quickedit