Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic
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A friend who is a big fan of youth sports recently made an effort to help a young man achieve his expressed goal of a college scholarship. Letters were written, phone calls were made. An independent coach was engaged to offer a private skills assessment. Specialized training was arranged, as well as participation in limited-enrollment clinics. This friend spent a small amount of his own cash, but solicited others to make donations. Most of the friend's contribution was time and the value of many years' connections in the youth sports arena.
After all this, the young athlete blew it off. He skipped training sessions, and even dismissed a tutor hired to help him bring up his academic grades. No scholarships were ever offered; the potential college athlete dropped out of high school two months before graduation.
The friend was devastated at first, then outraged. He couldn't understand how this young man could fail to be appreciative that so many people were willing to help him get the scholarship he himself said he wanted.
"Now you know how I feel every time I've offered to help a writer improve their writing and then been stabbed in the back for it."
We do this sort of thing out of the goodness of our hearts, in a sense. I enjoy writing and I enjoy reading good writing, so there's a sense that other writers would want the same thing. Furthermore, there's a desire to raise the quality of writing in general, especially in these days of digital self-publishing. My friend, who was an athlete in his own youth, wanted to bring this young man the same sense of accomplishment and achievement.
But the return on the emotional investment ends up being a total loss, and it's depressing and discouraging. There's some consolation to be taken from the fact that it doesn't happen just in the writing game, but it's not much.
Deadly Deceit by Rose M. Brate is not a promising young athlete. Nor is it a promising self-published novel.
Here's the Amazon Kindle listing, the first thing the potential reader sees:
The $6.99 Kindle price is a bit high, but maybe the author has enough sales and recognition to justify it. I'm not sure what the book's Kindle Unlimited pages are, because the spacing seems a bit expanded, generating more pages than the word count might otherwise warrant. Supposedly Amazon has a way to balance this, but if Brate's 304-page "book" brings in the average Kindle Unlimited royalty, that payment should be around $3.00 per copy read. Royalties on the $6.99 sales price would be approximately $4.50.
None of it, of course, makes that "head-over-heals" typo any less glaring.
I downloaded the free sample. I had no great expectations, with all apologies to Mr. Dickens.
There's no front matter, a flashing neon sign that this is an author-published project. My expectations dropped a little lower.
The blurb on Amazon was about Jack and Abby Morrison; that's not how the book opens.
So, who is this story about? The Morrisons or this detective?
At this point, I as a reader and as a reviewer -- a merciless one -- knew that whatever qualities the story might have were deeply buried under lackluster and possibly just plain bad writing. Invoking the Josh Olson protocol, I proceeded without hesitation.
Let's look at that opening page under a magnifying glass:
Detective DeMarko ducked beneath the yellow police tape surrounding the twelve-story building of Morrison Advertising. The entire block had been closed off, since it was an official crime scene. Squad cars lined the block, drawing the unwanted attention of anyone within a two-block radius. She stood with her hands on her hips, taking in the scene as her partner, Jasper Reiner, approached, bitching about the weather.
“It’s a scorcher, boss,” Reiner complained, wiping the sweat from his brow.
“It is that,” DeMarko confirmed, heading toward the uniformed officer maintaining order.
Brate, Rose M (2017-11-13T22:58:59). Deadly Deceit (Kindle Locations 30-35). Kindle Edition.
We start with Detective DeMarko, who is not further identified. No first name, no physical description, so we don't even know if this official is male or female or whatever. Is this clever? Is it intentional? Is it sloppy writing? Hold that thought.
The yellow police tape automatically tells us this is a crime scene; the observation in the latter part of the second sentence is unnecessary. It's certainly not clever; it's sloppy.
What about the first part of that sentence? The yellow tape surrounds the building, but "the block" had been closed off. How large is the block? What's used to close it off? Vehicles? Police officers?
The third sentence gives some more information: police vehicles are lining "the block." We still don't know if these vehicles are sealing off the area, just that they're there.
They're drawing "unwanted" attention. Unwanted by whom? And why is that attention unwanted?
And why is it important that they draw unwanted attention from anyone in a "two-block" radius? (Think about how awkward that is, since radius implies a circle, presumably centered on the tape-surrounded building, which would itself block at least part of that circle. Words have meaning.)
Now comes the big jolt: "She stood with her hands on her hips."
Aha! So, is our detective a woman? If we didn't already suspect that, or have an image of a woman in our reader's imagination, we've been stopped cold while we alter that mental image. The first sentence with no description of DeMarko is probably intentional, but it may not be quite so clever, because it has forced the reader to reassess the vision created by the opening words. It has pulled the reader out of the story, when instead that opening should drag the reader in, further and further with every word.
There are four sentences in the opening paragraph. Three of those sentences contain present participial phrases; one of them contains two. This is lazy, sloppy, unpolished writing.
Do most readers care? The honest answer has to be, "No, most don't care. Most don't notice. Most don't know enough to notice."
By the end of the first paragraph, we know that Detective DeMarko is a woman, but we don't know her first name. We do, however, know her partner's first and last name. We also know that he's bitching about the weather. Author Brate has clearly told us what Reiner is doing.
Even though she has already told us Reiner is complaining about the weather, the very next sentence repeats the information. That participial phrase "bitching about the weather" is telling, and it's completely unnecessary when the author shows the same information in Reiner's dialogue.
But Reiner calls DeMarko "boss," even though he's been identified as DeMarko's partner, not her subordinate. After the very first sentence left DeMarko's gender unknown, now the relationship between her and Reiner is uncertain.
The next sentence, which is the last on the first page of my Kindle sample, contains DeMarko's confirmation of Reiner's statement . . . and two more participial phrases.
This is just plain lousy writing. It's crap. Is there s good story under all those present participles? Maybe, but I don't care. I'm not going to wade through any more of this garbage.
There's no direct return for me on this investment of time. I didn't expect any. If someone reads this and benefits, then it's all to the good. If a writer learns to check her sentences for repetitions of present participles, if a reader learns to distinguish between good writing and bad, that's the very most I can hope for. The exercise in analysis, of taking apart a couple of paragraphs per the Josh Olson protocol, is my way of getting five cents on the dollar of my own investment elsewhere.
EDITED TO ADD: