Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Spare Time?

 

Terry here, and this week we are talking about our hobbies – no, not the “hobby” of writing novels, but creative outlets other than writing. 

Some people garden, others work on jigsaw puzzles, cartoon, or play music. I do most of those things, except cartooning. Wouldn't even know where to begin. I also don't actually do "gardening," because I don’t have a garden. But I attempt to green my environment with lots of potted plants, which take their own bit of care. 

 I used to sing, and belonging to at least one chorus for years. I would also sing and play the guitar. I never felt the need to perform, but just enjoyed the singing. In recent years that has fallen away. Oddly, I don’t listen to music as much as I used to, either. I think it’s because I find air pods irritating and I don’t want to broadcast my music throughout the house, so it doesn’t get played at all. I’m thinking it’s time to revise that. 

 I do the daily New York Times crossword every day. And I like to do jigsaw puzzles. I even bought myself a fancy jigsaw puzzle board that has slide-out drawers for sorting colors. During Covid, I actually did a 3,000-piece puzzle that was given to me by Camille Minichino who said she and her husband just couldn’t tackle it. Except for the 15 pieces that my dogs chewed up when they fell on the floor, I finished the whole thing. 


 Then there’s reading. I guess you could call it a hobby, but it feels more like a lifeline. I read a lot of mysteries, but also read other types of books as well—mostly fiction, but some non-fiction. I read classics, mainstream, sci-fi, you name it. 

 But my best creative outlet is cooking. After a day of writing, even if I’m tired, cooking relaxes me. I love to cook, and there is hardly a night when my husband doesn’t remark that whatever we are having is superior to anything we could get in a restaurant. Which is an exaggeration, but I do enjoy cooking.

I like to try new recipes and revise old ones. I can enjoy making a simple meal as much as an elaborate one, because I know that the nuances of taste can be teased out with only the smallest bit of the right herbs. 

 But I also enjoy coming across a challenging recipe and taking the time to make it. I have a recipe for a 9-layer cake with different flavors of crisp meringue and layers of different flavors of custard. It takes a lot of time, but the end result is magnificent. I served it at a dinner party and one of the guests asked for the recipe. I told her I’d be glad to pass it along but that I knew she wouldn’t make it. She insisted that she loved to cook and that of course she would make it. Two days later she called me and said she had just read the recipe. Then she said, “Are you crazy? Who would make this?” The funny thing is that once you got the rhythm of it, it was fairly easy to do.

 Because I love to cook, I enjoy going to the farmer’s market, and sometimes I overbuy because the sight of all those beautiful vegetables sparks such creative ideas. The colors of purple eggplants, red or gold tomatoes, green or yellow zucchinis, snowy white fennel bulbs is irresistible. The scent of basil and cilantro. The exotic look of the variety of mushrooms. Freshly-made pasta. I rarely have a time when I don’t feel like cooking. 

And my last “hobby” is exercise. Again, it feels more like a lifeline than a hobby. I bike (okay trike), hike, and do on-line exercise classes 2-3 times a week. Believe it or not, I look forward to all of it. 

 I look forward to reading what my fellow “Minds” do as hobbies.

Sunday, July 21, 2024

Creative Outlets

Hobbies - some people garden, others work on jigsaw puzzles, cartoon, or play music. What's your creative outlet when you're not writing?   

Brenda starting off the week.

My hobbies depend on the season.

In the late spring and summer, I spend a lot of time in my garden. Buying, planting, watering, weeding, dividing, putting to bed .... there's always something to be done. Then it's time to sit with a book and a cup of coffee or glass of wine and enjoy the hummingbird in the honeysuckle and the bees in the Russian sage. I also like biking or walking around my neighbourhood looking at gardens.



In the fall and winter, I turn my creativity to curling -- no, not my hair -- but the sport on ice with rocks. You might not think a game is creative, but I assure you that coming up with the strategy and figuring out how to throw the stone can take a great deal of imagination. My husband and my daughters curl too - my daughters competitively, and we spent a lot of our winters following them to bonspiels and competitions from the time they were seven and eight. My oldest daughter Lisa's career took us to the Olympics in South Korea. She went a second time to the Olympics in China during the pandemic when spectators and family were not allowed, so we watched on television. In any case, curling has occupied a lot of my time as a parent, spectator and participant.

Cooking has also been a creative outlet, one that I enjoy ... sometimes. As those in the family tasked with coming up with meals every night know, cooking can also be a drudge. Still, it's fun to try a new recipe and satisfying when it turns out. At the moment, my herb garden is overflowing, so I'm incorporating these into my meal creations as often as I can.

Writing and the business of writing take up much of my time. I also usually have a book or two on the go that I'm reading for pleasure, another time-swallower. When adding in family and friend time, exercise, looking after a house, shopping and all the day-to-day tasks, I'd say my life is busy enough! Boredom is a word I seldom use :-)

Website: www.brendachapman.ca

Facebook, Instagram & Threads: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter (X): brendaAchapman


Friday, July 19, 2024

How My Crazy Brain and a Terrier Dictate my Workflow, by Josh Stallings


Q: A writer's job involves a lot of sitting - scribbling in a notepad, or hunched over in a chair, typing. Do you have a daily exercise routine? What advice would you offer to other writers, to keep themselves fit and healthy over the longer term?

A Case Study.


2:41 AM PST. My brain alerts my central nervous system, "WAKE UP. I have pages for the new novel. I need the fingers to type them. WAKE UP. I have the essay for Criminal Minds. It starts with “CASE STUDY” and a screen grab of the time.” 


Drifting between a dream and this demand I glance at my wrist. My trusty Tudor Ranger tells me it’s too damn early o’clock for any demands. I try to negotiate. “Hey brain, sweetie, twenty more minutes of sleep and I’ll jump to.” 


“No. Now.”


“Right, how about I get up and make some…” I feel myself slipping into a dream about making coffee so I can write. I feel myself measuring the water. I can smell the grounds as I spoon them into the filter.


“Wake the fuck up you lazy bastard.”


“Hey brain, ease up.”


“NO. Get the fuck up and start typing. I work over-time thinking about stories and essays. Coming up with fixes for chapter twenty-seven — she holds the veil up against her face so Harry can see who she was, lowering it exposes tattooed tribal lines of the warrior she is. She is the widow. She is the warrior. MY only request is that you act on these ideas with some immediacy.” 


Fair-play brain. I roll out of bed trying not to wake Erika or the dogs. Buster isn’t fooled, he follows me into my office. 



2:49 AM PST. I’m up and typing. No coffee, my own fault; I wasted coffee making time arguing with myself, Topo-Chico will have to do until I get enough of this essay written that it won’t crumble if I look away for a few minutes. Ideas are like dreams, real concrete worlds that start turning to mist the moment I wake. For them to survive…


3:35 AM PST. …fairy chimes ring out of my phone, ripping me out of my writing. It’s a family member worrying about Huston power outages. I’m not physically in Huston, or I wasn’t until I checked the text. Who is texting this early? Don’t they know I’m working? Yes it is three hours later on the East Coast, but still. Calming down I breathe. My own damn fault again. I forgot to set my computer to “do not disturb.” I work on a Mac linked to my iPad and iPhone. With one setting I can tell all my devices to “Leave me alone, I’m working.” 


If I don’t respect my writing time, how can I expect my brain to keep churning out ideas and coming up with solutions to my first draft messes?


3:48 AM PST. An hour wasted. 504 words written. 507 if you count these. 513… 


3:51 AM PST.  I hide Word Count. Computers have all these amazing tools, choosing when to use which ones can be tricky. Knowing my current word count tends to lead me into a state of I-need-more-words-to-prove-I-had-a-productive-day. 


Less is always more unless more is needed. My life is full of dichotomies. The only way to gain power over my life is to admit I am powerless over my life. This is as true about my alcoholism as it is about my writing career. 


By accepting I have no control over any outcomes I see what I do have control over, these words I’m typing, this moment. Right here, right now, that I can control. I can control setting the do not disturb switch. I cannot and should not control who sends a family group chat out. I have neither the nuclear launch code nor the formula to cure disease. I’m just not that important. Anyone trying to reach me can wait until the sun has risen and I’ve had some coffee.


PROJECTED AGENDA: Future gazing from 4:00 AM.


6:00 AM ish - I will take the dogs on a pee/poop walk around our property. Give them a chance to investigate the smells left by the wild things of the night. If we’re lucky our neighbor dogs will be up and they can have a quick sniff and chat through the fence. This walk takes between ten and fifteen minutes depending on the length and speed of investigation.


7:00 AM - Feed dogs. Make coffee. My breakfast of oatmeal or smoothie. Chat with Erika and Jared. Maybe do some writing after that. We shall see.


8:00 AM ish - take the dogs to County Park or Nature Center for a long walk. This schedule varies based on weather, summer heat gets us out earlier, winter’s lack of light pushes walks until 10 AM. If we’re walking our friend’s dog Daisy, we go as late as 11:00 AM. The key is to get thirty to forty-five minutes of physical and mental exercise. Buster being a terrier needs this or he becomes an asshole. I need it because as a human if I live entirely in my head I become an asshole.


Today is a writing day so after the tromp in the forest I will write. 


12:00 PM ish - lunch. Usually with Jared and Erika. Food and a show of some kind. Lately Jared and I have been watching Snowpiercer, a dystopian TV series based on a French graphic novel and a Korean film. It is different enough from my creative worlds that it can feed me without taking over what I’m working on.


After this depending on my output so far and the demands of life, I will either go back to typing or get to outside chores, chopping wood and carrying water literally. 


3:30 PM ish - Walk dogs in the neighborhood, visit with their and our friends. These walks are anywhere from twenty to forty-five minutes, depending on how many plants need sniffing, and how many conversations we have.


Afternoon is for finishing the hanging threads of my chores or writing or watching a film.


7:00 PM - dinner for humans and dogs.


8:30 PM ish - a quick last walk with the dogs. Family hang time and bed.


Wake up tomorrow and if I’m lucky enough to have my brain still talking to me I do it all over again.


BACK TO REAL TIME


4:46 AM PST - wrapping this up before emailing it to Erika for her first pass edit.


I come from a long line of farmers and peasant folk who aspire to be artists and intellectuals. My body is built for labor while my brain is built to muse and mumble. When I forget to honor both sides of my DNA I wobble wildly out of balance. That doesn’t mean exact equal amounts of physical and mental tasks every day. Creative work like outdoor chores have seasons. Early in the writing process I need a lot of staring into space think time. Chopping and stacking logs give me something to do while I think. Deep into a project my brain becomes a taskmaster, I honor this by spending less time outside and typing more. 


Owning dogs makes sure I never completely disappear into my office. Those big eyes and a hereditary willingness to turn boredom into acts of destruction are great motivators.


4:47 AM PST - Heading back to bed. Catch an hour of sleep before reading this over to see how crazy I am.


9:30 AM PST - Words fixed as best as my dyslexic self can. Emailed to Erika. She’ll let me know if I’ve strayed completely off the page. She hasn’t said so yet. I’m beginning to think she likes me a wee bit crazy. And so do I. It’s important to have an editor who likes the same things about your work as you do.


Hoping a grand and productive day to you all.




****


What I’m Reading now:


All the Colors of the Dark by Chris Whitaker. 
Finished it, and it only got more astute, ingenious, insightful, and crazy good. One of the most brilliant books I’ve read since We Begin at the End.



The Mars Room: A Novel by Rachel Kushner
I fell in love with her The Flame Throwers. This is very different but equally wonderful.



I’m listening to The Singer’s Gun by Emily St. John Mandel.


 ****


Todays word count for those counting is, drum roll… 1,439 so far.

Thursday, July 18, 2024

Just Six Things, by Catriona

A writer’s job involves a lot of sitting - scribbling in a notepad, or hunched over in a chair, typing. Do you have a daily exercise routine? What advice would you offer to other writers, to keep themselves fit and healthy over the longer term?

Great question! I quite like exercise and I really like routines so I'm feeling smug as I embark on the answer. (If the question had been "A writer's job involves a lot of biscuits (US cookies) ... What advice would you offer to other writers to help them fit into their clothes over the longer term?" I'd have been struggling. My only solution is to have absolutely no snacks in the house whatsoever.)

How sad is that?

Anyway, I get up at six o'clock in the morning to start work at ten, with a forty-second commute, and much of that four hours is spent exercising. Wait, half of it is spent exercising actually. I read in bed with coffee for the first hour and I eat breakfast (in the garden, reading again) and get clean and clothed for the last hour. In between, I do ONE an hour of gardening and TWO an hour of exercise. On alternating days, I do half an hour outside on a trampoline, listening to Radio 4 on BBC Sounds (of which more later) plus half an hour of outdoor yoga, or a whole hour of outdoor yoga.

Later in the day, once the rural postie has been, after the summer temperature has dropped (yesterday it was after nine at night), before the winter light has gone (although a walk in the cold, starry dark is pretty lovely), THREE I go to the mailbox. Big whoop, you say? Yeah, but it's a good twenty-minute brisk march there and back. 

Manhattan it ain't

In between, when I'm at my desk, FOUR I set the timer on my phone for thirty minutes and leave it in another room. When it goes off, I stand up and do something for a wee while before resetting it again. These somethings can be: making the bed; putting away dry dishes; starting a load of washing; hanging out a load of wet washing; bringing in a load of dry washing; putting away a load of washing . . . it's mostly washing. If I used a service wash at a launderette, I'd have puffy ankles.

I forgot "colour sorting a load of washing"

Of course, sometimes writing does involve leaving your desk: to go to the post office and send off books; to go to Staples and buy more colours of Post-It notes to help with editing; to go to a coffeeshop because you need witnesses looking over your shoulder to shame you into staying off property websites (Rightmove UK has floorplans, by the way). Whenever duty calls me away, I try to FIVE park at the furthest corner of the Staples carpark and walk as far as possible to the door; park in one place in town and walk to the post office and coffeeshop rather than shift the car; or even better take my bike to the edge of town and cycle around on all my errands; and of course never ever ever take the lift instead of the stairs. It sounds less impressive than forty minutes on a machine at the gym, I know. But I was persuaded by the evidence on "exercise snacks" being better for you than long sessions. The hypothesis - borne out by studies - was that the muscle recovery period from exercising is where a lot of the benefit lies, so pumping up your muscles, briefly, many times a day is preferrable to getting it all over in a oney. (So why do I do a solid hour of exercise after a solid hour of gardening? Dunno.)

Which brings me to thing SIX. Those nods in the previous paragraph to persuasion, evidence and  studies all refer to Dr Michael Mosley, a medical doctor and science broadcaster who committed his life to evidence-based public-health messaging on British telly and radio, including on his Radio 4 podcast Just One Thing. He died last month in a tragic accident and, if you don't live in Britain, you might have missed the outpouring of grief that followed a nation's shocked disbelief that such a warm, humble, clever, generous, and helpful friend had been taken away by the cruelty of fate. 


Anyway, he has left as part of his legacy, an archive of cheerful fifteen-minute suggestions on how to live a healthier, happier life. I heartily recommend them to you. I'll never brush my teeth standing on both legs again.

Cx
 



Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Bump, set, spike, write! by Eric Beetner

 A writer's job involves a lot of sitting - scribbling in a notepad, or hunched over in a chair, typing. Do you have a daily exercise routine? What advice would you offer to other writers, to keep themselves fit and healthy over the longer term?


I was an indoor kid. All of my interests - movies, TV, music, books - took place inside, and usually in the dark. I've never been much of a sportsball type. I always enjoyed being active when I did it, but I never joined any teams and I never took up any regular regimen.

Now that I'm in my 50s, I exercise more than I ever have. I do it for my health, yes, but being active 100% unlocks your creative flow. There's no denying the endorphins and other chemical reactions when you get up and get moving. When your mind is getting blood flow, the ideas float along those rivers.

I also relish the time to get away from the keyboard. If I'm not feeling it, I love to get out and walk the dogs. I don't need to run a marathon, just a little activity. It changes my scenery and gets my heart rate up. All of this works to help the creative flow. There's nothing worse than feeling sleepy and uninspired at the keys. 

My preferred activity is volleyball. For some reason it's the sport I gravitate to most. I've played indoor for many years, but living very close to the beach as I do in southern California, I have migrated to being a beach player. I have a regular group that meets on the weekends and I've started playing 2 on 2 in the mornings twice a week. Getting up at 6:30 to get out and be active is a 180 degree flip of my normal schedule which is late nights and a whole lot of sitting, but I've grown to love it. I mean, it's the beach. C'mon.

I can probably make an analogy about volleyball and writing - keeping the ball in the air and such, knowing when to volley and when to spike - but mostly it is a way to stay active and stop my heart from calcifying.

But being active is a must for anyone in a sedentary job, and a must for creative types. When your body is in good health and your blood is moving, your mind is clearer and works more efficiently. There's science behind that, even if I can't point you to a study or medical text. It doesn't have to be vigorous exercise. Beach volleyball is quite a workout and I don't recommend it for everyone. But a short walk, a few pushups, getting outside and pulling weeds, all of it helps engage your whole body and your mind is a big part of that system. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Pay Yourself First by Gabriel Valjan

 

Pay Yourself First

 

A writer’s job involves a lot of sitting - scribbling in a notepad, or hunched over in a chair, typing. Do you have a daily exercise routine? What advice would you offer to other writers, to keep themselves fit and healthy over the longer term?

 


I thought of the myth of Antaeus, the wrestler in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, when I read this question. Antaeus remained undefeated, so long as he touched the ground. Readers learned that he drew his strength from contact with the earth because his mother is the goddess Gaea.

 

Exercise grounds me, and it helps me purge frustrations, in life and in writing. Call it working out, physical fitness, or self care, with or without the hyphen.

 

Wrote myself into a corner? Go for a long walk.

 

Tempted to punch someone, scream at them? Hit the gym, and lift.

 

Disheartened, discouraged, feeling defeated with the author’s life? Meditate, do yoga, or punch a bag.

 

Sense a theme with anger management?

 

Now for the serious stuff. Want to live longer (hopefully) to annoy a few people? Exercise.

 

Exercise gets a bad rap, thought of as a chore, and I don’t know why because I’ve found it pays dividends on several fronts. The struggle for solutions in the midst of the firefight of writing a novel or short story is real. You question your talent, your sanity, and whether you can deliver the goods. Exercise is an outlet for all of that negativity and frustration.

 

To touch the earth, so to speak…I’ve found that the solutions to most of my problems evaporate during moments of silence and clarity that come from physical activity. It’s paradoxical that by focusing on something else, such as the movement, the rep, or whatever, the answers come to me.

 

I feel grounded, victorious as Antaeus. There’s a second wind, a fresh perspective.

 

And there are endorphins. I LOVE endorphins.

 

Writing has always been detrimental to health. I’m serious. First, there are the emotional and psychological liabilities, in that there is no guarantee of success, however you yourself might define it. The literary profession is riddled with substance abuse, with writers who have struggled and lost their battles with the thirsty muse or recreational drugs. What you write might be misconstrued, seen as dangerous. Cancel Culture is the least of your worries. Look at what happened to Salman Rushdie and Naguib Mahfouz.

 

The act itself of writing is unhealthy. It starts with poor posture, the hunchback at the desk, the eyes fixed on the screen. There are shortened hip flexors, which affects men more. Then there is being sedentary. All the medical literature drives home the point that a lack of movement kills us. Like the great white shark who has to keep moving or it dies (never did confirm if this line from the movie JAWS was true), but humans were meant to move. The National Institutes of Health is explicit that, even with having major health issues, people who exercise live longer than people with the same health concerns who don’t exercise.

 

I’m an impatient person with excuses.

 

‘I don’t have time.’

‘I have an injury.’

 

Wah-wah, you wuss.

 

If you’re like the average American who watches 28 hours of TV a week, after a 40-hour work-week, you can find the time. Excuses don’t fly first-class.

 

As for injuries, I get it. They are legit, but don’t allow them to be excuses and limit your mind. I exercised and wrote while dealing with surgery and radiation. I don’t say that for the sake of pity. What choice did I have? The alternative was lying in bed and feeling sorry for myself. My personality won’t allow it. Life won’t allow it, because truth be told, most people don’t give a damn. To see you suffer reminds those around you of their own vulnerability. I’d rather do something than nothing. I also had perspective. It’s hard feeling sorry for yourself when you see a double-amputee on the mat doing exercises, or who swims faster than you. Been there, seen that.

 

All jokes and pokes aside, you have one life and one body. Barring bad genetics, do all you can with what you have because mortality is the great equalizer. Here are things I learned as a nurse:

 

US Healthcare is reactive, not proactive, so it is on you to be healthy.

 

People say, ‘How can someone allow themselves to get ‘that way’? That’s not the right question; it’s, ‘Isn’t it amazing that the human body can tolerate that kind of abuse for so long before it gives you the middle finger?’

 

Lest we forget there are those among us who do all the wrong things, have all the wrong habits, and who are too mean to die. Go figure.

 

As for the writing, I do the best I can.

 

This mind and that body have to carry you through life. And do yourself a favor, don’t think of them as separate. Body and Mind go together. The body follows the mind. Take care of both, and both will take care of you. Find activity that you enjoy and that you look forward to doing because it instills the habit, and do it. I exercise in the morning because that is what works for me, and it’s such a habit that I feel ‘off’ if I don’t.

 

No one will do the work for you but you, so pay yourself first.

Monday, July 15, 2024

The Lazy Writer's Advice

 Q: A writer's job involves a lot of sitting - scribbling in a notepad, or hunched over in a chair, typing. Do you have a daily exercise routine? What advice would you offer to other writers, to keep themselves fit and healthy over the longer term? 

 

-from Susan

 

I have a daily exercise routine in my head, which does not mean that I perform a daily exercise routine. So, my advice falls under the heading of Do What I Say, Not What I Do. Which is not to say I don’t do anything, just that the ideal of a routine – same time, same exercises, same commitment – is tenuous here. The phone rings, the wet laundry needs to go into the dryer so I have those jeans for later, I have a zoom meeting to attend, the cat demands to go out or come in or get fed or get fresh water or a hug. 

 

Yes, I think writers who hunch over any writing tool, who get lost in the mental business of choosing the right phrase, who are determined to write 500 words before lunch need to remind themselves that being physically fit and healthy is part of their commitment to themselves. 

 

Here’s what I try to do and the only legitimate advice I can give is to do something, some set of moves and mental refreshment other than writing your book every day.

 

The writer’s hunch – ugly, permanent once set in place, avoidable – calls for anything you find comfortable to fend it off. One writer I know sits on an inflatable ball, which looks supremely uncomfortable to me, but what do I know? Standing desks are apparently a good practice, but I write on a laptop and have terrible typing skills so I have to look at the keyboard when I type. I use a pilates Styrofoam roll to straighten my shoulders and sometimes just lie on my back on the carpet in a resting yoga pose called shavasana.

 

The cardiac revive – to get the blood and heart muscle working – is as easy as standing up and doing something productive and active every 20 minutes, easy when you have laundry, pets, or kids in the house. But if that breaks your train of thought, maybe just standing and stretching and doing a few jumping jacks?

 

The full body reviving routine would be a set of exercises you do every day. For me, the best is a 30-minute yoga/pilates mix that begins with standing balance and stretches - paired sun salutes, warrior poses, one-footed “tree” standing - and then a set of seated poses, followed by lying down poses that include core and back poses. Aside: My older cat died recently and I miss her as my exercise companion. Inevitably, when I got to the floor part of my routine, she lay down next to my head and did cat yoga with gusto, stretching, rolling and loving every moment!

 

My mental exercise is gardening, when I’m focused totally on something other than writing. It’s the zen concept of “chop wood, carry water,” being in the moment. No time to revisit the past or worry about the future, just experiencing the present with all my senses. I find that recharges me, opens my mind for what comes next, and cheers me up. In fact, the needs of a garden are sometimes a distraction from the writing work, which probably isn’t the best outcome if it gives me an excuse to put off finding that phrase or resolving an awkward plot point!

 

Anyway, the bottom line is we are more than our brains and we need to nourish and protect the body that allows us to do what else we love. 

 

Latest book to buy or ask your library to purchase:



Friday, July 12, 2024

Some like it hot, some like it cold - On reader reviews, by Harini Nagendra

Some like it hot, some like it cold. Some like it in the pot, nine days old.

What's your favourite positive review, and worst negative review, and how did they make you feel? Tell us, really.  

Reviews, especially book reviews, are the subjective opinions of readers. As writers, we love having reviews. A book which generates thousands of reviews on Goodreads, Amazon and other platforms from readers, helps to spread the word to other readers. In today’s information age, reviews are the equivalent of word-to-mouth recommendations. As writers, we all solicit reviews and are very grateful for readers who take the time to read and review our books.

But reviewers differ in their views. Some love characterization, others like twisty plots. Some want long books, others like them crisp and short. Some readers like their books happy and upbeat, others seek out horror and gore.

As a (relatively) new-to-fiction author, I found it useful to compare reader reviews to academic peer review, which is how scientific publications make it to press – a process which I’m far more familiar with, having dealt with it for over 30 years.

A fiction book goes through multiple drafts, after which the author gets reviews from friends, family, and other writers as informal alpha and beta readers. These reviews usually remain private, as feedback used by the author to rewrite their book. The book then may go to some combination of a developmental editor, agent, copy editor and publisher for more edits, again kept out of the public domain (this varies depending on the writer’s route to publication).Eventually, the book goes to market and then finds its way into the hands of readers and reviewers who publish reviews online, for everyone to read and share. After the book is published.

In contrast, academic papers and books must go through peer review before publication. The reviewers remain anonymous, but they are also experts in the same field. Peer reviewer feedback can be pretty brutal on occasion. As an example, one of my papers received a review that said we were “literally trying to squeeze blood out of a stone.” It’s difficult to ignore these reviews – you have to revise your manuscript and craft a response that satisfies the reviewer – otherwise, your paper or book doesn’t go through to publication. It doesn’t matter how famous you are, or how well established - know Nobel Laureates whose papers have been rejected because of anonymous peer review.  

The process is very useful when it works, though. I have learnt much from my reviewers – whether about alternate analytical methods, new sources of literature, or better ways to interpret the significance of my data. Also: academic peer reviewers don’t get paid for the time and energy they spend on reading and commenting on my work – it’s a voluntary service. I benefit from peer reviews on my papers, and in turn, I provide the same service to others. A little help makes the (academic) world go around.

This process different in some important ways from the reviews I receive as a fiction author. The service provided by readers is  voluntary, honest feedback. But it’s not a a barrier to publication, as the reviews come in after the book is published. That said, they are useful for a writer who wants to improve her craft, so I read all my reader reviews.

Fortunately, 32 years of academic peer review have grown me a rhinoceros skin. I can now read all my reviews, thousands – even the most critical ones – and not take them too much to heart. As long as no one is telling me that I’m trying to squeeze blood from a stone, it’s fine. (Yeah, ok, that one stung).

But I’m trained to think of reviews as a way to provide feedback, so that I can improve my craft. One reviewer pointed out that I overuse an adjective in my description of setting. They were right! I am very fond of this word. Now I know, and can catch it, at least in subsequent books.

Sometimes reviewers provide varied feedback contradict. For instance, one reviewer says my books have “too much set up” and another says “I love the setting.” One reader finds my books twisty, another says it’s predictable.

At other times, I disagree with readers.

For instance, one reviewer said Kaveri has “the perfect husband who not only supports his wife’s educational ambitions but makes her coffee. This does not sound like any Indian family or husband I have met either in fiction or in life.”

Such a blanket dismissal of all Indian men! My books are set in the 1920s – and my father was born in 1930, not too far off from those times. He taught me how to cook. His father, born in 1897, was also a good cook. And they were definitely not anomalies, even for their times.

But I also received another review from a reader based in the US, appreciating the fact that I do not ‘pathologize the suffering of Indian women.’ When I read that, I wanted to hug her. Because that’s what I was getting at!

All in all, getting reader feedback is great, whether positive or negative. A reader took the time to read my book, and to tell me what they thought. And I’m grateful.