Tuesday, February 05, 2008

BOM: Questions and Answers


This will be the final day for the BOM, and I'm happy to answer the questions that came in. 

Amy Beth asked:how do you personally deal with critics? Do you take what they say personally or are you able to brush it off?
 
I wouldn't be human if I didn't take it somewhat personally . . . and sure, criticism stings.  The thing that hurts most is when and if I am misunderstood--some folks are so small-picture minded that they completely miss the big picture, which is often where my message lies.  The thing that irritates me most is when mature Christians behave like weaker brothers and claim offense at things that should not offend them.  I always think of that verse that says, "Great peace have they who love thy law . . . and nothing shall offend them."  :-)  If we are firmly rooted in Christ, why are we so easily ruffled? 
 
The key, as in all things, is not to RESPOND to criticism out of anger or hurt.  So after I've had a chance to vent to my husband (his first response is always, 'Want me to beat 'em up?'  LOL.  He's such a man), I try to read the letter or review again and look for truths that it might contain and I might be too blind to see.  At that point, if it's a review, I let it go.  Responding publicly to a bad review looks like sour grapes and accomplishes very little, if anything. 

If it's a letter, however, I try to be honest in my response.  If I found a valid point in the letter, I thank the writer for bringing it to my attention.  However, most people fire off these letters and emails in the heat of their passion, so most critical letters are not exactly Spirit-filled.  I wrote one woman back and opened with:  "You didn't pray before sending this to me, did you?" 

She wrote back and confessed that she had not . . . and then she apologized. 
 
If the person is being hurtful, I tell them that their comments hurt.  I honestly think that some angry letter writers don't even realize that a real person will be on the other end of that exchange. Or they imagine that some mythical "staff" will sort through emails, so the author will never even see the letter. LOL! Oh, to have a "staff!"  
 
So--I try to respond to critical emails and letters, and once that's done, I simply file the letter away and try my best to forget it.  Human nature being what it is, though, if I receive thirty letters filled with praise and encouragement and one negative one, which one am I going to remember?  You bet, the angry one.  

Any time you go public with anything--a blog, a book, a newspaper column--you are inviting the public to read, judge, and respond.  So it is a good idea to devise a strategy for dealing with all of those things.  And it's very important to make sure you do your best in the first place, which is why I am constantly checking my theology and I trust my editors' judgment when certain issues might raise a red flag with readers.  IOW, I've learned to choose my battles carefully. (Joella Norris definitely has a bosom, but in the book the word has been changed to "chest." I did, however, take a stand for "fart particles," because that's very true-to-kid.)  

And I realize (sorry this is turning out to be a long answer) that many times the reader's problem stems from something in the reader's life, not mine.  For instance, there's a funeral scene at the end of "Doesn't She Look Natural."  One online reviewer described the Episcopalian clergyman as a "hell fire and brimstone preacher" (yowsers!)  while another reader wrote to tell me that I was mocking the Episcopal service.  Wrong on both counts.  The point of that scene was that many people in the audience were unused to the liturgy  of the service. One of my dearest pals worships at an Episcopal church, and I love how she loves her denomination. I'd certainly never mock it. 

So--sorry, didn't mean to write a book.  :--)  But doing this is easier than jumping into work on a Monday morning . . . 

Question: how did you research the stories? Just by spending hours at the library reading books? Did you have a specific topic that you looked up, or did you just start reading books in general about the period and build your story from there? 

When writing a historical novel, two kinds of research are necessary. First is the "broad" research where you learn about the structure of government, family life, religion, etc.  You learn how women are treated in a time period and how religion influences the daily life.  You learn who was king and who wasn't.  You learn about social customs and prevalent beliefs.  You learn about medicine, food, clothing, agriculture, etc.  I usually spend a couple of weeks doing this broad sort of research, and I take copious notes.  These days, I take them on computer.  For Afton and my Egyptian series, I took notes on notecards, then organized them by topic.  "Broad" research is necessary for plot (especially if events in the story revolve around historical events), and it can also give you ideas for plot (like learning about the twins/two fathers idea). 

The second kind of research is what I call "detail" research--you're writing along, and you say, "Wido sat down and ate . . . "  what?  When I'm first-drafting, I usually just stick in a pair of brackets that look like this:  [look up what he'd eat], and I keep going.  In the second draft, I look up details about food, clothing, transportation, etc.  Sometimes you don't know what you need to know until you need to know it.  :-)  

In the early days, I borrowed library books.  These days, I tend to buy books and mark them all up.  Yes, my library is very crowded.  :-)  NOTE:  I do not read other novels for research.  I might read other novels in that time period, but I don't use novels for historical research because part of a novel is always "made up." Trouble is, most of the time you can't tell what's "made up" and what's historical. 

Well, that wraps things up for another BOM.  Thanks for coming along! 

~~Angie, off to her book club meeting.  

10 comments:

Doni Brinkman said...

Angie - I have had a difficult time reading your posts this week. I have started to comment several times and erased them each day. I asked you to talk about this series having no idea that it might bring some painful memories up for you. Like your husband, I am very tempted to say "Let me at them!" :) I have heard that it takes on average 11 positives to outweigh one negative so I want to contribute to the 11. I LOVED THAT SERIES! You have told me that I may own more of your books than your own mother and THAT is the series that made me first fall in love with your writing! I have read the entire series probably 3 or more times over the years and am anxious to start it all over post these discussions. If people don't see your message, your heart, your love for the Lord shining through your writing than I don't think they are reading with any comprehension or insight to the larger picture. The next time this series comes to mind, I hope you include my thoughts in your mental review as well:). It was a well written story and very real. The topics were hard, the realities harsh, the suffering great, and "the God" - BIG:). Thank you for always being HIS servant first.

P.S. Just so that I can get in all eleven positives in hopes of outweighing one critical remark - I'll repeat myself 11 more times :).

I loved the Theyn Chronicles
I loved the Theyn Chronicles
I loved the Theyn Chronicles
I loved the Theyn Chronicles
I loved the Theyn Chronicles
I loved the Theyn Chronicles
I loved the Theyn Chronicles
I loved the Theyn Chronicles
I loved the Theyn Chronicles
I loved the Theyn Chronicles
I loved the Theyn Chronicles

Amy Beth @ Ministry So Fabulous! said...

Thank you so much for answering my question! I really appreciate it.

Angela said...

Doni, you're a sweetheart. And Amy Beth, you're very welcome.

Thanks, everyone, for your many encouraging comments this week. You are too kind. Really.

Angie

Mocha with Linda said...

Oh, I love to hear all the details and background! Thank you for sharing it with us. And thank you for putting so much effort into your books....and even into the comments and criticism you receive. That would be a difficult thing for me, as I tend to be a people-pleaser.

I finally got a chance to start The Novelist this afternoon in "Mom's Taxi". As usual, you pulled me in right away!

One thing I wonder... When you do stories within a story like the Novelist (it even changes type of font with William the Ambassador's story)... do you write them concurrently or do you write them separately and then weave them together?

And is the "writing a novel" info she tells the class pretty much how you do it?

Sorry... You just finished one BOM, I'm sure you're tired of explaining your craft. Go put on your purple socks and put cucumbers on your eyelids!! :-)

Angela said...

I think I can give you a concise answer to those questions, Linda. :-)

Yes, how Jordan teaches is pretty much how I do it--amplified, of course. When I teach I tend to boil it down to basics, but they're the same basics.

And when I do a dual story line as in THE NOVELIST (THE EMERALD ISLE has a dual story line, too), I work on both stories at the same time, but not on the same day. Some people can write more than one book at once, but I tend to be a monomaniac. I can only think about one thing at once. So I'll do a first draft of story one, then the first draft of story 2. And so on. At the end, I "fold" the one story into the other.

Now . . . . where are my purple socks? :-)

Angie

hestermomma said...

Angie,
I always say "Want me to beat them up?" to my husband when he has had a rough day or received criticism. Keep in mind, I am 5'2 and he is 6'2. It makes for an interesting picture, doesn't it? Like he really needs "little old me" to fight his battles. :)

The Koala Bear Writer said...

Angie - thanks for the answers. I've really enjoyed reading this discussion of your novels and learning something of your craft. And like Doni, it's making me want to go back and read them all over again! :)

Kay said...

I just can't imagine ever writing an author to criticize their book. I just wonder about the people who do... Do they give those kinds of opinions to everyone they know?
I have read books I don't like. I have read books that I thought had questionable content as far as theology goes, but I never even considered confronting the author with it. I just figured they weren't a writer for me.
I can see how those comments would hurt. I mean, I really can, because I have a very hard time with even gentle criticism. But maybe some of those people are just THOSE kind of people. KWIM?

Although, I did write that time to tell you your book was giving me nightmares! LOL
Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease...Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease...Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

Nicole said...

Absolutely love your husband's response. Too cool. What a guy, huh?

Mocha with Linda said...

Thanks for answering my questions!

The whole process just fascinates me. I'm more of an editor at heart - love to proofread stuff and in fact I'm proofing/editing a friend's book right now. So since I'm the more cut & dry detail person, the extent of your imagination & story weaving just baffles my mind.

And my ONLY criticism is that I'm really sleepy today because I COULD NOT STOP reading last night! I finally MADE myself turn off the light at midnight since my girl had to be at BB practice before 7:00 this morning.

You do that to me every time! :-)

(Please don't stop!)