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Author of the Faye Longchamp Archaeological Mysteries
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Writing Tips for the Practical-Minded #27: Get advice from people you trust

Publishers Weekly weighed in on Strangers this week.  They said lovely things, so I cannot resist copying them here.  I have deleted one phrase, because it gave away too much plot.  (And if you care about such things, do not read the dustjacket blurb.)
From Publishers Weekly--Strangers: A Faye Longchamp Mystery
Mary Anna Evans, Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (322p) ISBN 978-1-59058-742-3; $14.95 paper ISBN 978-1-59058-744-7
Evans explores themes of protection, love, and loss in her absorbing sixth Faye Longchamp mystery (after 2009's Floodgates). [Faye and Joe], who have started an archeological consulting business, are excited by their first big job--excavating the rear garden of Dunkirk Manor, a historic house in St. Augustine, Fla., that's now a bed-and-breakfast. When Glynis Smithson, the manor's attractive manager, goes missing, a note for Faye and several artifacts in her abandoned car are found. Blood on the front seat suggests foul play. The local police consult Faye about the artifacts, and her research skills provide important clues to Glynis's disappearance. Compelling extracts from a 16th-century Spanish priest's manuscript diary that Faye begins translating lend historical ballast. Determined that old mysteries see the light of day, the feisty Faye never gives up until justice is done. (Oct.)
Ah...absorbing and compelling.  I can live with that.  I'm enabored by that first sentence, because exploring "themes of protection, love, and loss" suggests a book that should be taken seriously.  And yes, Faye really never will give up until justice is done.  That quality is simply central to who she is.  I've always considered  mystery fiction to be the literature of justice, just as some people say that science fiction is the literature of ideas.  Faye's tenacity in the search for truth reflects my views on the matter.

But what if they'd said that it was flimsy trash that wasn't worth the ink used to print it?  Well, what's done is done, and that flimsy, trashy book would be landing on bookshelves this October, regardless.  I could pretend like the review never happened, but I'd be forced to ignore a publication I respect.  One of those moments when I thought, Oh, good Lord, this is really happening, struck me when PW reviewed Artifacts.  (They said nice things.)  That review meant that the industry whose approval I'd been seeking for years had finally noticed me, and they had deemed that I'd said something worthy of that notice.
I hear actors and writers and dancers and musicians and artists of all kinds say that they don't read their reviews.  I'm not actually sure they're serious about that.  And perhaps an artist with an unusually fragile ego (and a few of us have those) really can't work without fear after reading a negative opinion of that work.  I guess my position on that issue is that you should read them if you can.  You just might learn something.
Reviews of my work in large publications aimed at the publishing industry--PW, Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews--have generally been very good.  At worst, a couple of them were lukewarm.  There were a few scathing reviews online and in small-circulation publications that were written by people who seemed to be angry that I was breathing, but I made myself read them and consider whether their criticism was valid. 
And that is my point here today.  If you can get a critique of your work, take advantage of it.  Try to determine in advance whether this critique is coming from someone whose good opinion you care to have.  As you read the review, keep this question in mind:  At the end of the day, do I care what the person who wrote this review thinks?
I care deeply what Booklist thinks, but there are a couple of reviews posted on my books' Amazon pages that make me shake my head.  After considering whether the reviewer's opinion is one I cared to have, I move on.  If a valid criticism helps me to see something lacking in my work, then I use it as a prompt that shows me how to improve.
Seek out respected friends for feedback.  Seek input from other aspiring writers whose work you enjoy, and consider forming a writers' group with them, but always remember that your work is your own.  Just because a reviewer doesn't like it doesn't mean that your work is matter who the reviewer is.
Everybody's a critic, but if you can find a good critic whose advice helps you burnish your book into something better, then you've uncovered a real treasure.


  1. Your position on reviewers is well stated. If it helps take note. If not, forget it.
    I'll happily check out your book. Best of luck.

  2. Thank you, Mary! Best of luck to you, too. And I hope you always enjoy the best of reviews...

  3. Oh, hon! Congratulations on wonderful review! So well deserved!

    And I really like what you have to say about reviews that cause one to shake one's head. We want people to rave. When they don't, it's wise to embrace the lesson, but it can really hurt. I wouldn't know, of course. I've never had a review that wasn't a rave. KIDDING!!! HAHAHAH!!!

    In all seriousness, I DO have one good one that I managed to memorize. I recite it in hushed tones on those days when I can't do anything right.

  4. I don't have to work to memorize the good ones. Not at all...

    I set the bad ones aside and never look at them again, because I know it will be equally easy to memorize them. Ack.