Monday, December 30, 2013

Beta Readers

Also called early readers, family, friends and members of a critique group, beta readers see my manuscript before any other outsider does. Here's how it goes.

My husband is my first reader. Boy, is he tough. He's all down about back story, character development and plot movement. If he has any questions, his manuscript comes back with red circles all over it. Oh yes, he also tells me what he likes.

My family and friends can be trusted to like every word. Bless them, they help but only if they think they won't hurt my feelings.

My best beta readers are members of one of my two writing groups. They provide the critique necessary for me to figure out what's wrong with what I wrote and how I wrote it. Once I pass this group and edit the heck out of the story one more time, I send the manuscript to my agent. After all, she has to love it as much as I do, or she can't sell it.

So why didn't she love Mad Max 2? After all, my critical beta readers pointed out what had to be fixed. I paid attention. Really I did.

After much angst, I realized that I had done everything I should to make the Mad Max 2 manuscript worthy. Except one thing. I selected the wrong members of my critique group. Each beta reader had already read Mad Max 1. They filled in the gaps in character development, in particular, because THEY KNEW THE CHARACTERS. They knew the difference between Whip and Johnny. They knew about the Great Dames.

But two readers who haven't read Mad Max 1 (shocking, I know, but there are a few people who haven't read the first in the series) were lost in the first twenty pages.

So, what did I learn? My beta readers did what I asked. It's just that I asked the wrong thing. Lesson learned.

And now back to reworking the manuscript. I have laid out my agent's comments, those from two incredible beta readers (you know who you are) and a clean copy. I'm going to focus on the first 50 pages in the next week or so. Once that's nailed, I should be able to continue. My goal is to produce a work my agent loves. Next to produce a book my publisher loves. And most important of all, produce a book you readers will all love. Without the first two, however, the last won't see another Mad Max.

Thanks to all beta readers of Mad Max 2 and the readers who bought Mad Max 1. I will make you proud of your support. I promise.

Ciao for now. Off to write. Must write on, right now.

Monday, December 2, 2013


I wasn't sure if this belongs on my book blog or over on the political blog. I decided it belongs here. Over the past few weeks I read three books about three very different wars. I generally shy away from such books, but a new friend of mine gave me a copy of a book he wrote in 1985. He thought it would have meaning for me. It did, but maybe not in the way he intended.

...And a Hard Rain Fell: A GI's True Story of the War in Vietnam  by John Ketwig is still in print. It's a hard book to read if you were in Vietnam or if you were on the home front, protesting or not, waiting for a loved one to come home or not. The back cover likens this to Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, a great anti-war novel. I read it years ago during a sit-in. I read it again before I plunged into Ketwig's story. Different, but so much the same.

Ketwig was a kid when he went to Vietnam. Late teens. He was there near Dak To and through the Tet Offensive. His book, divided into three sections, is stream of consciousness for the first half. His fear, his anger, come through in long run-on sentences where his emotions pour out onto the page. His second section, his healing year in Thailand before he returned to The World, is less frenetic. As he feels he's safe, his language is less powerful. The return to The World in section three is the weakest and shortest. But what he writes in the first section overrides the weakness of the last section.

The third book, No Way Out: A Story of Valor in the Mountains of Afghanistan, by Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer, is measured in tone, reportorial in its presentation. A story of one Special Forces team and its Afghan commando counterparts are airlifted into a valley to capture or kill a high-value target. The problem is the valley is surrounded by the enemy on cliffs surrounding the landing zone. Caught by automatic weapon fire and rocket-propelled grenades, the teams are asked to scale the cliffs and bring down the target. The fear and anger come through without run-on sentences. Still, it's a very powerful narrative.

Three different books. Each worth reading. Each made me ask tough questions.

  • Have we learned nothing about war? We still send out boys, girls, men and women into harm's way, sometimes with little foreknowledge of what they will face.
  • Do we not know that you can't expect troops to seize hills under withering fire? In Afghanistan, military intelligence said the ridge tops were heavily fortified.
  • Have we not learned from Gallipoli? From Balls Bluff, VA. Normandy. Dak To? Numerous valleys in Afghanistan? We must not, because we keep doing the same thing over and over. Thank you, Einstein. Yes, doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different outcome is insanity.
Each book ground into my psyche. I hated all three. I couldn't put all three down. I wondered if we'd ever figure it out.An earworm about drove me nuts. Thanks, Country Joe, for these lines: "And it's 1,2,3 what are we fightin for? Don't ask me I don't give a damn, the next stop if Vietnam."

I'll probably get slammed for this post, but I don't give a damn. Slam away.