Feedback from S.

Every post I put on my front page (as well as every content page within the site) has a little email button in the corner. That is my direct email address. I also have a contact page to simplify getting a message to me. Still, I get surprisingly few emails (with the exception of penis enlargement ads). I get so few emails from the site that when I do get a message, I tend to go a bit overboard in my reply. Such was the case yesterday.

I received an email from S. yesterday, which I am printing here with her permission (though she did ask that I didn’t use her full name). It read as follows:

Hello,

I found your book after reading your review of Anything for Her. Your review of the book was very good, but I thought you were being too critical when you said some of the events toward the end were extremely improbable. Since your book was on free promotion, I downloaded it with the expectation that I could point out improbable things in your own work. The thing is that most of what happens in your story is improbable. How are your improbable events different than any other authors?

Also, it’s obvious from your book that you work (or have worked) pouring and shaping concrete. The scene of carving the angel and pouring a concrete slab make that clear. They also get very boring. You might not want to put in quite so much detail about such boring things.

Your book was pretty good though. I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did.

S.

P.s. Why did Jez drive a Fiero? I would expect someone like her to either drive a Porsche or a luxury car.

-The book she is talking about here is In the Shadow of Angels

My reply to her was a long and rambling stream of thought that would have made Jack Kerouac proud. I’m going to trim that down to just a few points for the purposes of posting it here. You’re welcome.

First, thanks so much for reading it! I’m always happy to see that someone enjoyed my work, even if they do so grudgingly. New authors always have a hill to climb with readers, and it’s clear that I had a larger than average hill to climb when you started reading it. Even if I didn’t make it all the way to the top, I am still calling it a win!

Second, I’ve never worked with concrete in any way, shape, or form -pun intended. I do, however, play the guitar. That’s why those particular portions of the story are done with a fair amount of detail. I know that doesn’t make any sense, so I will elaborate. When I watch a movie or TV show where someone is ‘playing a guitar’, I know immediately if they are or aren’t actually playing it. When they aren’t, it runs one of two ways: either they will be holding their fingers in what is very loosely a C chord while the actual sound is going through a chord progression, or -and even worse- they will be working their fingers up and down the neck of the guitar like they are the reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix while the actual music being played is a strummed G chord. Simply put, not only does the actor not know to play it, but they also didn’t do even cursory research into the instrument before pretending like they do. It annoys me endlessly. Especially when the actor is making huge stacks of cash for doing it*.

Because I don’t want to start bandying about facts related to things I don’t know anything about, I tend to over-research them. In the case of carving the angel from a slab of marble, I know literally nothing about the craft. I spent a fair amount of time researching the tools used in the craft, and did my best to make it sound like I (or Beatrice) really did know what they were doing. I hope I hit the mark.

Also in the prologue, Beatrice loads and fires a muzzleloader. I have fired a muzzleloader before, but only a rifle, and I didn’t load it myself. Again, I researched this for far longer than I care to admit to make sure she would do it correctly. In the case of the muzzleloader, though, I spent even more time to make sure which firing mechanism would be contemporary to the time she was using it. The flintlock that Beatrice used was one of many different mechanisms that were used to fire the projectile from muzzleloaders over the years, but using a different mechanism would have been anachronistic. I spent hours -very literally- researching the muzzleloaders and the history of the firing mechanisms to make sure it would be believable. All the time I spent doing that research was only to make the point that it took Beatrice long enough to reload and fire the gun again that she wasn’t doing so in anger. It was all about retribution.

Regarding pouring the concrete… This portion of the story took me an embarrassingly long time to write. While I have worked with cement before, my experience is limited to filling post holes and making little round concrete steps in the garden. I’ve never worked with that volume of concrete, nor have I ever tried to pour a slab of the size mentioned in the story. But I did want it to seem like my characters did. That meant I had to spend a ridiculous amount of time online researching the subject. First, I didn’t have any idea how much concrete it would take. I visited at least a half a dozen websites, and went through even more online calculators, to determine the volume of mix it would take to fill a slab of the required size. I then watched at least four or five youtube videos of people using the same size electric mixer that the characters used to see how long it took them to mix and pour the bags. And again, I over-researched the tools used for project (in my own limited experience, the only tool I had ever used was a screed) to try to make it seem more believable.

In the case of pouring the concrete slab, I actually ended up scrapping about five hundred words from the initial description to try to make it flow a bit better. I know what you’re thinking: “You scrapped that much? It still reads like the owner’s manual for my computer printer.” That may be true, but before I edited it, it read more like an instructional guide telling someone how to write the owner’s manual for your printer. Even I got bored reading that.

Coming back to your initial point, in my review of Anything for Her, I do say that some of the events near the end are extremely improbable. I stand by those statements. If you only read my condensed review on Goodreads, I didn’t detail exactly why. My review of the book on my reviews page has a bit more detail about it. I’ll quote a portion of it here:

When one car, traveling fifty miles per hour, strikes another car, it throws a child from the backseat of the car and completely through the windshield. The windshield of all cars produced since the 1970s is made of safety glass which is specifically designed to not allow this to happen. If you see a rollover accident beside the road, you’ll see a broken up windshield, but there won’t be a hole in it where someone has gone flying out. Further issues with the car crash include the woman who died also being thrown from the car, but having her neck caught in the seat belt, which seems completely unbelievable. A car seat was ripped from the frame and thrown thirty feet through the air… at fifty miles per hour… That the child is still alive, an hour later and a hundred feet down the hill, buried in snow, further pushes the unbelievability of the crash. And when a cigarette butt lights a fire from a pool of gasoline in the snow, we get to full-on bullshit mode. Growing up in Oregon, I tried to start a fire to burn a pile of branches in the snow. Despite pouring a full gallon of gasoline over them and using several books of matches, it just wouldn’t light. If a cigarette but can in fact light gasoline on snow, it must be an exceedingly rare occurrence.

Don’t get me wrong, Anything for Her was a great book. I gave it five stars, and it deserved every one of them. I do believe that the car accident was totally unbelievable though. Every page I turned regarding that crash pushed it further and further into bullshit mode. But, as I stated in the Goodreads review, I was able to suspend my disbelief because Jordan’s story was crafted so well.

Finally, you asked: “The thing is that most of what happens in your story is improbable. How are your improbable events different than any other authors?” The short answer is that they aren’t. The long answer is that all of the improbable things that happen in my story require only that you believe someone is capable of doing it. I don’t mean that they have the physical strength, but that they have the mental capacity (or more likely a lack thereof) to execute the tasks. Nothing that happens in my story requires that a character defies the laws of physics or that safety features which have been required for several decades don’t exist.

That leads nicely into your P.s… Jez drives a Fiero for two reasons:


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First, the car needed to be one that could believably catch on fire from a very minor accident. The Fiero was notorious for enige fires. The portion in the book that said 1 in 400 cars caught fire is based on actual reported numbers. One can find higher or lower numbers depending on search criteria, but the point is, these suckers catch on fire. The only other car with anything close to the same spontaneous fire issue is the Ford Pinto. The Ford Pinto’s fire issue was such common knowledge that everyone from my generation knows about it. It was even lambasted in the movie Top Secret!, where a Pinto explodes after being lightly tapped by the fender of another car. I think we can also agree that Jez would not drive a Pinto anyway.

There are a couple of other larger issues at play though. One is that Jez needs to seem like she isn’t who she is. If she were to drive a Porsche she would look like a rich girl, and a rich girl wouldn’t be as likely to get the dirt on the guys she gets the dirt on. Another is that maybe the Fiero was a gift from someone… And maybe that will be explained in a forthcoming story… Maybe it’s even being edited as we speak… I don’t know. I’m just spit-balling here.

Thanks, S., for the email! I hope I’ve answered some of your questions.

Have any questions of your own? Find the little email icon to the bottom right of the screen or click the contact link near the top. Rest assured, your words won’t be used without your consent (except for masturbatory purposes).



* As an aside, in the guitar scenes in Back to the Future, Michael J Fox didn’t actually play the music. He did, however, finger-synch the chords pretty goddam well. Probably because he could play the guitar in some capacity and knew how cheesy it would look if he didn’t. This might be why it annoys me so much when others don’t take a few minutes to learn some chords. They don’t have to actually play the music, they just have to have their hands in the general area to make it look real. Or less fake at least.

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