I didn’t want to use this blog to critique works of authors, but I felt the need to review a book I recently read by Alexandra Skoloff, “The Unseen.” The reason I’m posting my review here is because I feel the need to show new authors the dangers they might face if they choose to publish their wares independently. It might seem pricey to hire an editor when your best friend who majored in English can do it for the price of a bottle of wine. But she knows you and will hear your voice despite the grammar problems, your protests and justifications.
Or you might want to ask a coworker because she reads a lot and knows what’s “out there.”
Hiring a good editor will decrease your chances of receiving a scathing review. I don’t mind constructive criticism with anything I do, but some people can get downright hateful.
A good editor might help create a reader base for when you no longer have to promote your stories on Kindle for nothing. If the free story you read is poorly written, chances are you won’t read anything from that author again. I don’t want to waste my time when there are so many great authors waiting to entertain and move me.
Same if you write something that makes you look like an amateur, it might be hard to convince a publisher you’ll ever make the Bestseller List.
So here is my review of Alexandra Skoloff’s “Unseen.” I’m not saying I hated it. And maybe my experience at Writer’s Bootcamp changed the way I read (which I was warned the first day as a grunt). I want to be a good writer. I want to read good books. When I read one that has a good story going but there’s more action going on between my temples than with the characters, I’m going to change my policy of finishing what I’ve started and start throwing these books away.
NOT BAD FOR A FIRST DRAFT
I can’t believe this novel was published in Hardcover. I downloaded it for free on my Kindle based on a recommendation for this author.
I would have been upset if I paid money for it.
I read the reviews of Alexandra Sokoloff’s “The Unseen.” I’m amazed that no reviewer mentions how poorly written this book was. Some say the characters were flat, another said the novel was a disappointment. Most reviewers loved it. As I read it, I thought Ms. Sokoloff should have invested in a good editor. Or gone to a workshop. I thought she published this book independently and prematurely.
There wasn’t an editor at St. Martin’s Press who knew there was work to be done?
It’s not that the story was bad, it has great potential. If the rule in writing a novel is “show, don’t tell,” Sokoloff is a rogue. The entire story was “told” by the author. I saw nothing. Not from any character’s point of view, which could have been interesting with scientists recording a psychic phenomenon, a poltergeist waiting to be seen.
Maybe that’s why the title is “The Unseen?”
Laurel spends too much time “finding herself turning and looking, glancing around the room when suddenly a dark man appeared.” Yikes! Nobody ‘finds’ themselves turning and looking at anything at any time. A dark man suddenly appearing doesn’t give me “tingling behind” my ears as our psychic-sensitive heroine felt every time the reader was suppose to realize something dramatic was about to happen. Even the quick paced ending left me with nothing. Something rapped twice and some light bulbs broke. A few people sitting around a table and “suddenly” the mayhem was over.
I wish her editor had told her to run a word search. How many times can I read the word “was” before I reach for the bottle of aspirin? Or throw away the book? I counted the word “suddenly” ten times on one page, “was” ten times in one paragraph. If Laurel isn’t going to react to anything why should I? Not only is the use of “suddenly” non effective and a writing no-no, it’s a sign of lazy writing all together. In a story about a poltergeist, there are any number of ways to get the reader’s attention. Poltergeists are noisy and destructive. Certainly Ms. Sokoloff could have supplied a few rattling verbs to get the point across. Slam the door, let the ringing telephone crash against the wall, pinch her, something. I felt I was watching a dress rehearsal for a bad play through a security monitor.
The use of adverbs is also a sign of poor writing. I’ve been taught to find a better verb, period.
I recently wrote a blog about passive voice and point of view in my own writing. “The Unseen” would make a perfect example on why passive voice is, well, so passive. This book sludged along like a drunken walk home in the middle of the night. There was no reason to feel terror when I was told by the author that Laurel felt terror. There was nothing Laurel or any other character did or said that made me sit on the edge of the bed at 3:00 in the morning to see what came out of the puddle of water. Nothing ever did.
“The Unseen” would make a good exercise on how point of view and passive voice are important factors in story telling.
Take this passage: “She turned on the path and glanced toward the circle of oaks where she often saw him with his study groups, but on this chilly day the lawn was empty, dotted with tiny white daisies.” Did his study group “suddenly” turn into flowers?
“She was not aware that she herself sighed as she turned away from the tree.”
What? If she’s not aware of sighing, how can I be?
Reading this novel was like being in a bad dream that never ended. Why didn’t I put it down? It’s my policy to finish what I’ve started. And to be fair, if I’m going to have an opinion on something, I should at least see it to the end.
I could have done without the sex dream as it was never addressed in the end. Who did she have sex with? That scene should be cut as it has no bearing on the story itself.
Who is Brandon Cody? I thought the guy’s name was Ian Brady. I’m confused by some reviews wondering if they read the same book I did.
She might have done a better job if Walter Kornbluth and Dr. Anton were the same person. Without giving anything away, this would have made more sense.
I shouldn’t be as critical of Ms. Sokoloff as I should her publisher. She wrote a book and sold it. If St. Martin’s Press thought this was well written, that gives me reason to question their understanding of good writing. Where was her editor? What Ms. Sokoloff needs to do is rewrite this book. Take away the “was-es” the “had been’s, had seem’s” and “suddenly,” she might “find herself” with a good story.
When we all receive our rejection notices day after day, know this: sometimes the publisher isn’t as scary as we might imagine. What’s scary, is that we might allow a publisher to print something that might make us look less than we see ourselves. That said, I’m going to make sure I write to the best of my ability, buy a bottle of wine, invite the coworker to dinner, AND hire a good editor!
Write and Rewrite, my friends!