The Complexity of Belief vs the Reality of Racism – a review of “Go Set A Watchman”

Do you know what a devil’s advocate is? If you don’t, here it is: One who argues against a cause or position, not as a committed opponent but simply for the sake of argument or to determine the validity of the cause or position.

That’s what I think Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” was, a devil’s advocate written to add some reality to the complexity of racism in the United States that has become too much of a black and white issue when in reality there are many shades of color at work.

When the sequel of “To Kill A Mockingbird” came out, the first thing I read was one or more of the politically correct mobs lashing out when they condemned the book because of an early scene in the novel that depicts Atticus Finch as a racist, but I didn’t let that stop me from buying an audio version of the book on six CDs at Costco, and I’m glad I did because the story in this novel offers a brutal reminder that hot-button issues like abortion, school reform and racism can’t be dealt with in a 14-second politically correct sound bite by one side or the other. Reality is more complex then simple and often ignorant thinking.

After listening to the novel, Atticus Finch turns out to be a complex individual and I don’t think he was the kind of racist that fits the stereotype that so many love to hate. He didn’t belong to the KKK. He was not a white supremacist. In fact, Atticus didn’t even own one of those white cloaks with hoods that have holes cut out for the eyes and mouth.

Instead, before the end of the novel, we learn that Atticus might believe in separate but equal, but he would also be the first one to put his body between a fire-breathing racist lynch mob and an African American the mob wants to hang from the nearest tree, because it’s obvious Atticus still believes in justice and equality for every person but maybe not everyone’s definition of what that means. Right or wrong, I don’t think Atticus deserves to be condemned. Reserve that anger for those who bomb black churches, murder minorities for just having a different shade of skin and/or block the right of minorities to vote.

I taught “To Kill a Mockingbird” in high school, and I’ve seen the film a number of times, so I was ready to read about the characters who were 20+ years older, and I was not disappointed. The audio book is read by Reese Witherspoon, and Jean Louise Finch—Scout—reminds us that she was a child once when she takes readers on journeys back in time to when she was a child and then an adolescent becoming a young woman. I think Witherspoon’s voice is exactly what we would want Scout to sound like as a young woman in her twenties.

Instead of jumping blindly on the politically correct bandwagon that defines what racism is, read this book and do what it was designed for: weigh all the factors and think for yourself. Then judge individuals like Atticus on an individual basis and not a blanket indictment written by an often angry and mindless mob.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

Crazy is Normal promotional image with blurbs

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy followed by his award winning memoir Crazy is Normal . His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards.

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In Defense of Authors Perceived as Behaving Badly – Part 3/3

In conclusion, an author should not argue with a negative reviewer by using the author’s opinions. Instead, the author should use positive reviews from reputable sources to counter the negative review. It is a fact, that some people will write reviews as if his or her opinion is the only one in the world that counts, but that is not true.

It also takes time to gather reputable, credible reviews. It took me four years to gather the credible and positive reviews that I have used to counter some of the negative reviews of my work.

Then after countering a negative review, I suggest that if a reader feels he or she might agree with the negative review, they take advantage of a free sample of the author’s work. For example, Amazon offers a free preview, and I offer free samples on my Websites/Blogs.

In addition, I reply to negative reviewers by saying that he or she has a right to his or her opinion and that a few may agree with that opinion, but there are other reputable opinions that do not agree and then quote from those reputable sources, because these opinions may be used as facts.

After all, they are not the author’s opinions, are they?

Now, how do you earn reviews from reputable and credible sources?

The answer is to write compelling fiction or non-fiction books and to do that, the writer must learn everything there is to know about the craft of writing. There will always be writers that are more talented who write more compelling work that sells more copies, and there will always be writers who write books that cannot compete.

For most of us, the craft of writing must be learned. For example, few, if any, are born with the knowledge and talent to be great wood workers, architects, engineers, inventors or scientists so why should this not be different for the craft of writing?

That’s why it is important to be a literate, life-long learner willing to read how-to books—in addition to reading for pleasure from those writers that have demonstrated what they are doing like Grisham, Hemingway and Paulo Coelho.

Every author, no matter how successful and talented, will have critics and reviewers that will not like his or her work, so get used to it, and disarm the damage they might do by using the opinions of credible sources that may be used as facts to prove that there are readers that enjoy what you write. Don’t use your friends, relatives, a neighbor, anonymous reviewers or paid reviewers or your own opinions to fight this war against negative reviews

As authors, we are not alone when it comes to attracting negative reviews, and I’m going to use a few examples to prove this point:

J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1)

  • Of 6,558 reviews on Amazon, ninety-five were one-star and 5,505 were five-star.
  • “I bought this book because everyone finished the entire series and all liked it. seriously I don’t like this book. no originality at all” – Wan
  • “This was the worst book I have ever read in my entire life. I have never read a worst book.” – mom

Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Of 2,377 reviews on Amazon, eighty-eight were one-star and 1,773 were five-star.
  • “I waited 52 years to read this book. I should have waited 52 more. A real snoozefest. I don’t see what all the fuss is about.” – Nick T. Francone
  • “Pretty darn boring, if it wasn’t required to read in English i would’ve burned it. This type of book isnt for everyone.” – Elizabeth A. Fager

J. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

  • Of 2,343 reviews for The Lord of the Rings, ninety were one-star and 1,867 were five-star.
  • “It was a piece of crap. This book was one of the worst books i have ever read.
    I read it once and could barely fumble through it. The charaters, as in some books, don’t lack depth, they DROWN in it. there are WAY to many PASSIVE sentinces. I mean, come on, each page is usually about 3/5 discribing the landscape and telling us useless information about what I care about and about 1/5 of the pages are used for ‘character devlopment’. This is good, and what i personally look for in the FIRST chapter, but this is used THROUGHT THE ENTIRE BOOK. I even fell asleep reading it. I mean WOW. …”  – phd_computer
  • “I’ll start by saying that I am a huge fan of Fantasy novels, but this ‘crux’ of Fantasy literature really disappointed me.”This book has a lot of faults. To begin with, it goes against the first basic rule of writing a book: show don’t tell. As you start the novel, it tells everything and nothing has been shown. Tolkein has just narrated almost everything, starting from the history to the setting, and this gives the novel a feeling as if a child has written it.”Secondly, the book is just too slow. I mean you just start the 1st chapter and you doze off after a couple of pages. The pace might have been fine for the 50’s but it’s just too slow for the double Os!”I don’t know why other people liked the plot so much, but I think the plot was really really weak. The causality in the story is almost non-existant and that is what makes the difference between a jumble of short stories joined loosely together and a good novel.

    “Lastly, the characters could have been much developed with more life in them than mere puppets bound to do the author’s bidding. The chracters are much more Archetyped than they should have been.

    “Overall, I think that it has gotten more attention than it deserved, perhaps because of the movies, and that people are liking it because of some trend or the like” – Minhaj Ali Shahid “Ibtehaj”

Did you notice that these three authors had 9,145 five-star reviews to counter the 273 (less than 3% of the total) one-star reviews? Why should the one-star reviews receive more weight than the five-stars?

Return to Part 2 of In Defense of Authors Perceived as Behaving Badly or start with Part 1

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

Authors Finding Readers – Part 1/4

Over the decades, I’ve met many writers that planned to write a book, publish it and reap fame and fortune. At least that appears to be what most believe.

In reality, this belief is the same as tying fifty-pounds of iron to an infant then throwing the three-month-old child in the ocean expecting him to swim ten-miles to shore.

Back in 1968, when I wrote my first book-length manuscript and found an agent to represent it, who found an interested publisher, that’s probably what I thought too—at first.

The wake-up call to reality was traumatic because that deal ended in rejection. The publisher had a budget to publish one new author and someone else earned that slot. If it was any consolation, I was one of the finalists and reached second place, but only first place signed the publishing contract, which explains why this series of post is specifically written for writers (want-to-be authors) and authors (already published—it doesn’t matter how: traditional, indie/self-published, or vanity), who may be wondering where all the readers are hiding after the bubble that held the dream of fame and fortune popped.

First, it helps to know how many books are competing for the attention of people that read.

In August 2010, Google reported there were 129.8 million unique books in the entire world. I’m not talking about the total number of books printed. I’m talking about unique titles. The number printed is in the billions.

For example, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien has sold more than 250 million copies and that’s for a few titles.

How about a few more examples?

Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles have sold about 80 million; J. K. Rowling has sold more than 400 million, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, one title, has sold 30 million in fifty-two years.

Such success is a great motivator sort of like hearing that someone won a few hundred million in a lottery. However,  if you read the small print on the back of a lottery ticket, the odds are usually 20 million to one or worse.

How about books and publishing? What are the odds? The answers to these questions are more complicated.

According to Nielsen Bookscan, the average U.S. book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime, and it doesn’t help that the competition is getting more crowded annualy.

In April 2010, Smashwords reported, “A staggering 764,448 titles were produced in 2009 by self-publishers and micro-niche publishers …”

By the end of 2011, R.R. Bowker reported 2,776,260 self-published books were printed in the US alone. In the UK, there was an additional 151,969 new titles. Source: News & Press: Publishing.

With all of those new titles coming out annually, who reads them and what do they read?

Continued on August 30, 2012 in Authors Finding Readers – Part 2

View as Single Page

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

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The NEED to Edit – Part 6/6

Even though I taught seventh to tenth grade English in the public schools (1978 – 2005) and was the advisor/teacher of an internationally recognized, award-winning, high-school journalism program, I am not a perfectionist (an ARG) when it comes to editing. I do my best as an imperfect mortal with dyslexia.

My students did well (above average) on standardized tests. I taught the basic rules of punctuation, the differences between a simple, compound and complex sentence, and how to write a basic essay in addition to an introduction to the parts of speech. The textbook I used was Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition (I have two editions on my resource shelf) with almost 600 pages filled with the complexity of the English language.

The literacy level of my high school students—in the same class—ranged from second grade and up.

However, most of my time as a public school teacher was spent working out of the literature textbook focusing on theme, characterization, plot, conflict, etc. We also read and studied novels such as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Shakespeare was also part of the curriculum, so there wasn’t a lot of time to focus on grammar and there was little time to correct thousands of student papers riddled with mistakes. As it was, my average work week as a teacher was 60 to 100 hours—twenty-five hours in class with students and the remaining hours planning lessons and correcting the deluge of student work. The focus of the public schools is reading literacy—not editing literacy and reaching grade-level reading literacy for more than half of the students is a challenge.

In addition, how many people have photographic memoires with instant recall as an ARG probably does? I don’t. Most of my students didn’t either. I do not expect that many of my students remember much of the grammar that I struggled to teach them. There is a lot of truth in “use it or lose it,” which I have never heard from politicians and critics where public education is often attacked for its alleged failings.

English is a complex language with many rules of grammar, mechanics and spelling with endless exceptions to those rules. In fact, in the back of Warriner’s, there is an eight-page section on words often confused such as principal and principle followed by 350 spelling demons such as hour which sounds the same as our and then there is teaching the difference between to, too and two; blew and blue, etc. (Note: I bought my copies of Warriner’s used through Amazon.)

I have no idea why so many people expect children and teenagers to remember everything they are taught—memory is complex and it is not perfect. In fact, what happens to most people during waking ours is stored in short-term memory and while one sleeps the brain sorts through the short-term memory and transfers memories that are considered important to long-term memory, and no one decides what is important.  That is an automatic function of the brain while one sleeps. What isn’t saved to long-term memory is deleted. Scientific studies have also demonstrated that consuming too much sugar (think Coke) in the diet causes havoc to mood and short term memory. See: Foods that Cause Memory Loss

You may be interested in what the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington D.C. says about sugary soda consumption. “Americans consume gargantuan quantities of carbonated soft drinks and suffer untoward health consequences. Companies annually produce enough soda pop to provide 557 12-ounce cans—52.4 gallons—to every man, woman, and child.” … “The amounts of caffeine in one or two cans of caffeinated soft drink can affect performance and mood, increase anxiety in children, and behavioral effects in children remains unclear.”

Anyway, back on topic (sorry about that), in late 2007, when an iUniverse editor said the manuscript of my first novel My Splendid Concubine had too many mistakes to qualify for an Editor’s Choice and Publisher’s Choice Award, I was shocked.

What shocked me was the price to pay an iUniverse editor to edit the manuscript—three thousand dollars was too rich for my budget, so I developed the editing process that I have already described.

In conclusion, I feel that some advice for ARGs (anal-retentive grammarians) may be in order.

Instead of brutally criticizing indie/self-published authors for having mistakes in his or her published novel/book, take a page from a man considered the greatest editor in publishing history, Max Perkins, and offer constructive criticism and point out the number of mistakes with a few examples and where they appear.

Saying a manuscript is riddled with mistakes is not constructive, because one ARG’s definition of riddled with mistakes might mean a dozen in an entire book while to another ARG, riddled with mistakes means the despised bumps appear on every page.

Moreover, in English, there are mistakes most recognize and then there are mistakes only ARGs notice leaving almost 60 million avid readers scratching their heads thinking, “Big deal!”

In fact, the way the brain works while reading, when a word appears such as English and it should have been England, on the way from the eye to the brain, the word converts to what it was intended to be due to contextual clues and pattern recognition. When that happens, most readers are unaware of the mistake, which explains why five pairs of eyes missed a dozen mistakes in The Concubine Saga that the sixth pair of eyes caught, and she kindly made a list with page numbers—an example of constructive criticism. She was also the artist—Denise Killingsworth—that created the cover for that novel.

Return to The NEED to Edit – Part 5  or start with Part 1

View this Six-Part Series as a Single Page

Note: My Blog posts do not go through the exhaustive editing process my novels do.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

The Value of Subjective Opinions

All art is subjective, and all opinions are valid, but subjective is an interesting concept. For example: what one person enjoys reading, another person cannot stand. A subjective opinion is a statement that has been colored by the character of the speaker or writer. It often has a basis in reality, but reflects the perspective through which the speaker views reality.

In addition, a subjective opinion cannot be verified using concrete facts and figures.

Regarding The Concubine Saga, the first two reader reviews on Amazon.com of the Kindle version of this novel earned five stars. Then the third reader review on Amazon.com arrived from “carol al-awadi” who seems to live and work in Kuwait in the Middle East.

Al-Awadi gave the novel a one-star review and wrote, “This ‘historical fiction’ was the most inane piece of writing that I’ve ever read! There was no depth to any of the characters, I culled very little about Chinese history or Chinese life at the time of this saga, and the maudlin “love story” of Robert and Ayaou could have been something taken out of a discount store paperback romance. The story of this supposedly influential and intuitive Robert Hart is related in a very superficial and lame manner…and that’s a pity because if this man was really the person we are told he is, then his legacy has been cheated. And one last thing….I can’t believe how many time Hart had “tears in his eyes” over anything from a compliment to listening to his 5 year old bang out a piece on the piano. Sorry, folks. I’ve read many historical fiction books, and I have to say, this is definitely the worst!

 

Curious, I did some research and discovered that there is a Carol Al-Awadi living in Kuwait—possibly an American married to a Kuwaiti citizen, and the individual with that name is listed as the Curriculum Coordinator at the Fawzia Sultan International School.

Then, this morning (May 9, 2012), another subjective opinion arrived awarding “The Concubine Saga” an Honorable Mention in General Fiction for the 2012 San Francisco Book Festival. This time I have no idea who the judge or judges were that made this subjective decision.

Carol Al-Awadi is not alone in her subjective opinion of my novel and her view is valid as all opinions are.  In fact, since “The Concubine Saga” first appeared as “My Splendid Concubine” and then later in the sequel, “Our Hart, Elegy for a Concubine“, there have been many opinions of this work.  I keep track of the reviews and awards for these novels and the tally, so far, runs 64 positive to 12 negative, so Al-Awadi’s opinion joins the 15% that did not enjoy the novel.

Numbers such as 85% and 15% are concrete facts represented by figures. For example, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee has sold over 30 million copies so far. In fact, on Amazon.com, Mockingbird has 2,250 customer reviews (at the time I checked) — but 85 had earned one-star reviews, 50 earned two stars, and 1,663 earned five stars.

Those numbers are facts that Harper Lee has been taking to the bank each time a royalty check arrives.

One of the one-star subjective opinions on Amazon.com of Lee’s book said, “I waited 52 years to read this book. I should have waited 52 more. A real snoozefest. I don’t see what all the fuss is about.”

However, the most popular five-star review started with, “It hardly seems like 50 years since I picked up this book late one rainy night when it was first published, after my mom had been raving about the book for weeks, trying to get me to read it. Well, what the heck, the late movie was boring that evening and there was nothing else on the TV… next thing I knew, it was two o’clock in the morning and I had just turned the final page on what was the most magical reading experience of my entire life…”

In conclusion, it is obvious that individual subjective opinions do not hold much value by themselves, but when there are many subjective opinions that can be converted into concrete numbers, which are facts, value is added to the equation.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran, is the award winning author of The Concubine Saga.

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”