10 February 2012

On nontraditional publishing


Some comments I made for an independent authors' forum about the new face of publishing wound up on Dixon Rice's blog.  Worth a look-- definitely worth consideration-- for anyone in or entering the writing scene.

Trust me!

03 February 2012

Independent reviews of 'Deirdre, the Wanderer' by younger readers

   as contributed to Internet discussion groups

edited by Colin Bunge

These compositions were gleaned from an Internet site featuring actual teens providing critical reviews of novels that are ostensibly aimed at teenaged audiences.  [Note: the reviews here reproduced were voluntarily submitted by readers who chose, read and reviewed the book of their own volition.  Neither the Publisher nor Author specifically recommends Deirdre, the Wanderer for any particular age of reader and will here reiterate the caution on the back cover: 'This book contains mature themes.']

  As the book features a narrator of this age the Publisher found it interesting to see how realistic or how interesting high-school students considered the character, the writing style, and the basic plot.  The site provided a reviewer with a brief description of each book as well as any press releases then available and then asked the reviewer to encompass responses to a few general questions in an essay format.
For inclusion here, the texts were edited for only obvious mechanical errors; however it should be noted that the calibre of thinking and expression of views in these reviews favourably impressed the Publisher and Author.  The reviews chosen for the (forthcoming) companion volume are listed in chronological order as they were published on the site and appear only coincidentally in descending age order of the reviewers.  The reader may also find it interesting that no teens were identified as male in contributing reviews of Deirdre, the Wanderer during the period it was listed on the site (just prior to publication of the third edition).

* * *

Review by Cindy F--, age 16-1/2 / grade 11, New Jersey, USA

Deirdre, the Wanderer is an awesome story of a 15-year-old girl who runs away from home and tries to survive in the real world.  By hitchhiking, sailing, and telling a few ‘white lies’ she manages to get to the Bahamas where she believes all her problems will be over.  But she runs into many kinds of abuse, from being sexually harassed and fired from jobs and having to leave places she thought would be home.  Along the way she manages to make friends and most of all to survive.
The best part of reading this book was in the way Deirdre always faces her problems with optimism and especially with respect for other people.  She is never rude or nasty to anyone even when other people are nasty to her.  For that reason she is a role model for anyone who believes that life is too hard and they should just give up or try something easier.  Nothing that Deirdre tries is very easy but she always works through it, and so she gets to travel to some wonderful exotic places and learn how to live on her own.
The most awkward parts of the book were some of the lesbian scenes.  The first few times it’s obvious she is forced into it.  The next time, with Emily, she actually chooses to fool around with a married woman.  The last time it is with Sandy, who is a friend she just happens to fall in love with.  At times the book is very graphic and uncomfortable to read.  But, especially in the parts with Sandy, it is also very romantic and sweet.  I am not a lesbian but it’s obvious Sandy and Deirdre care very much for each other and you really do want them to stay together at the end, even just as friends.
The book is mostly very well written, especially the dialogue and the descriptions of sailing in the oceans and the surrounding environment.  The writer obviously knows what he is talking about and it adds to the interesting quality of the story.  There are a few places where it is too slow-moving but in other places, like when she tells Johnnie off at the restaurant, when she is living on the deserted island, and when she is dancing in the go-go place, it is very interesting and you can’t wait to see how it turns out so you will tend to read faster.
I enjoyed this book very much because it made me want to run away, just for a little while, just so I could see the Bahamas and go to warm exotic places.  It is a very good book to read at the beach or to make you think of summer vacation.  There are sequels coming out and I look forward to reading them soon.

* * *

Review by Becca C--, age 16 / grade 10, Massachusetts, USA

This is one of those books that makes you say ‘Wow.’  It’s a totally fantastic story about a teenaged girl who runs away from some uncaring parents and hitchhikes to the Bahamas.  Her adventures make up a story that seems very believable just because of how much detail there is.  The main character, Deirdre, uses many different names and has to lie about her age sometimes, but she is really just a nice girl who is put into strange and awkward situations and then has to deal with it all the best she can.
Most of the story takes place in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas.  Deirdre works as an exotic dancer which is exactly what people back home would not expect of her.  But she is smart and creative and makes it work for her.  She also works in restaurants and once as a nanny for a little girl.  Towards the end she saves the life of another nice girl, Sandy, after they are both given date rape drugs.  The two girls have a very close friendship that is actually very touching to read about.
As a basically nice person, Deirdre is a role model.  She is brave, strong and smart about making important life choices and dealing with consequences.  But she is usually disappointed and seems very sad most of the time, like she just needs someone to care about her.  Deirdre is the kind of girl you would like for your friend, and the story makes you wonder why she had to leave home until she tells you at the very end.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for action, adventure, and a strong girl protagonist, especially if you want to read a book that will make you laugh, cry, sit on the edge of your seat and say ‘wow’ too.

* * *

Review by Marguerite H., age 15 / grade 9, Maryland, USA

I got Deirdre, the Wanderer on Amazon because I liked the description and the cover artwork looked interesting.  It is a story about a girl who runs away from home and runs into all kinds of abuse.  The girl is 15 and in 9th grade.  During her travels she is able to pass herself off as being 18 and sometimes even in college, because of how she acts and how she talks.  She has experience in sailing boats and in working on them and she uses that to sail away to the Bahamas.
In the Bahamas she manages to find an apartment with three college girls but they molest her, sexually, so she leaves and takes a job as a nanny.  Later she gets a job and works at a restaurant, until the owner’s son harasses her and attempts to rape her.  She fights back and quits and walks out after throwing her ripped shirt at him in front of everyone.  Later she meets a really nice rich guy but he thinks she is older and wants to marry her and get her pregnant so he can inherit all this money.  So she steals his arch-rival’s boat and sails to a deserted island where she gets to run around with no clothes on till this boring guy and his beautiful wife come, and then she seduces the guy’s wife.  So she is sort of a lesbian, but I think she is just confused and a little immature about it and doesn’t know herself yet.  Her next job is in Nassau where she works as an exotic dancer and people stuff lots of money into her underwear every night.  This is the sexiest part of the book and it actually makes you kind of envy her.
At the end she ends up living with this pretty rich girl from a really good school because she saved her life from some guys who gave them date rape drugs.  She and the rich girl become very close friends and have a kind of love affair, but it is not so much gross as it is sweet and romantic.  This part is kind of hard to read unless you have an open mind, but it was very tender and it makes you wish you had close friends you could share everything with.  That’s probably the author’s intention, to show how even one really close friend can change your whole life for the better.
The book is full of detail, especially about boats and houses and what the Bahamas look like.  After reading about Bay Street in Nassau I would like to go and see it.  There are other details about her jobs and how much money she makes that make it sound like you could follow what the main character does and be just as successful.  But the book was written before 9/11 and the world has changed, so you can’t.  Therefore it is basically a fantasy story that makes you think ‘what if?’
The book is kind of long but it keeps moving and you don’t want to put it down.  My favorite part was reading about her job as the exotic dancer because there is so much detail you feel like you are actually her experiencing it all.  The saddest part is that the main character is only 15 years old, and everything that happens is a lot to handle when you are 15.  Most people would not succeed the way she does.  This is why you want to feel sorry for her and wish you could help her or just be her friend, which is what she needs most of all.

* * *

What does Deirdre look like?

A contextual analysis of Deirdre’s appearance

edited by Colin Bunge

It is worthy of note that within the full text of Deirdre, the Wanderer, the narrator never describes her physical appearance definitively.  Displaying possibly a noble sense of modesty or, more likely, a teenager’s tendency towards self-effacing humility, she provides scant details that, added together, approach but never complete a conclusive representation.  Clearly Deirdre is healthy, hardy and durable, physically quick, agile and adept, and within a normal range in height and weight.  She labours hard, swims well and takes on physical challenges without fear of failing due to her own inability.  Merely carrying all her luggage for such durations and such distances as she does is proof of that.  And yet none of this strength of body comes at the expense of her physical attractiveness; for she possesses all the parts of a young woman and, as is made evident by the approbation she receives when she is observed outwardly by both sexes, in a rather pleasant proportions.  But as to particular details we must rely only on the infrequent clues from the narration itself.
We discern that she is probably shorter than average, or at least shorter than she would like to be, for she complains that

  Being short, young and female often gets me overlooked, especially by pushy New York types.  (I, 1, page 9)

She also compares herself to the height of the helm of the yacht Fast Pitch; typically a sailboat of this size (56 ft) might have a wheel of perhaps sixty inches in diameter, suggesting that Deirdre is conspicuously closer to five feet than to five-and-a-half feet in height.  (I, 4, page 35)

As to colouring she is naturally fair, so that despite the sun’s blessings she is able to appeal to the lecherous Teutonic restauranteur Ray as though one of his own ethnicity.  Relunctantly she admits,

  ... as a blonde, grey-eyed, Nordic-looking waif, I had a different appeal to him.  (VIII, 1, 322)

This makes some sense, for her given name and Catholic religion may suggest she is at least partly of Irish heritage.  But her parentage must also include some more southern-European blood as well, because she does tan well without burning, and quickly too, as she reports:

  Of course I’d been pretty white after a whole autumn in Connecticut; but I was surprised at how quickly the mild Bahamian winter sun improved that.  I didn’t burn at all and in just three days I was noticeably tanner and quite evenly too….  (II, 1, page 41)

Looking so well-tanned she fools the local social star Tony Albury about her age as well as her residency status:

  I just stayed there, leaning way back on my elbows, with the jacket falling open so that my suntanned stomach and the bikini top looked sort of obvious.  (V, 2, page 168)

And at the island of Sans Souci she is able to cultivate a rather comprehensive suntan, enough to impress Emily (VI, 3; VI, 4).  Indeed she seems to derive some pride from having good sun colour, as it complements her adopted persona as a Bahamian belonger; and she is even offended that the tourist boys would presume she is a tourist:

  ‘Whoa, you’re local?’ he marvelled.  Couldn’t they tell by my tan?  (VIII, 1, page 314)

We read early that she has no disproportionate interest in food and, whilst certainly not anorexic, tends by habit to underfeed rather than to overfeed herself, almost conspicuously, as others have noticed:

  I asked for strawberries on a crepe and hot tea– that was all.  Jeri and Marian looked at me and teased me about being skinny or watching my ‘girlish figure’ or trying to ‘stay cute’ to impress someone.  (I, 2, page 18)

In fact there are few accounts of Deirdre having much more than a muffin and tea at any time, despite the fact that working in a bistro, a night club with a kitchen, and a lunch café she might have been entitled to eat well and cheaply into the bargain.

So, establishing that she is slender we might assume that in body type she is not at all buxom and more likely tends towards the opposite.  She never describes herself as any more than modestly-endowed and marvels that anyone would even care to look at her breasts, such as in the dance club (VII, 6, page 307; also VII, 3, page 283 and VII, 5, page 301).  She does not care for her string-bikini top since it only exaggerates youthfulness of her figure (V, 4, page 189) and so worries about being seen in the swimsuit by 23-year-old Clive who truly ought to be able to discern that she is not the 18 years old he has been hoping she is.  But this is an example of how Deirdre uses her past experiences with adult yachties in Connecticut to uphold a maturer image; and Clive is bewitched probably more because of her behaviour and her situation than her figure.
But Deirdre does recognise a certain benefit in being less than full-bodied, even in the workplace.  She does not take exception to the required uniform for work at the outdoor bistro in Freeport:

  The thing about a tanktop, though, is that you really can’t wear a bra with one.  Now I didn’t absolutely need one– I could still wear tanktops at my age.  (IV, 2, page 130)

The reader will note that Deirdre quite often does without a brassiere, frequently preferring the white tanktop and a shirt half-buttoned over it; so given her prudish attention to propriety in public (vis. IV, 4, page 147) one must assume she is respectably covered and supported like that.
But her slenderness may be due less to conscientious toning and dieting than to merely being young and incompletely developed.  Dancing at the club in Nassau she acknowledges that she has little to hide beneath her knickers (VII, 2, page 276) and, fully aware of what her own body lacks, she marvels that no-one has even checked her ID at this job:

  I’d long been aware that I wasn’t really fooling anyone– my figure was hardly what you’d call voluptuous and any guy out there who’d ever ogled a girl my real age would have known I couldn’t have been eighteen.  (VII, 5, page 301)

This is a problem that eventually backfires in an arrest for underaged dancing, not of Deirdre but of someone whom she had never suspected could have been under eighteen, a incident that underscores the willing suspension of disbelief about Deirdre’s own age by club staff and patrons alike.
She also remarks that because of her slight build she feels inadequate to wear even moderately mature fashions, such as Sandy’s stockings:

  I’d never worn thigh-highs before.  But these were really nice, all lace, and I smoothed them up each leg, not going too quickly.  The gripper tops squeezed just enough; I marvelled that they would stay up so well on my skinny legs without suspenders.  (IX, 5, page 384)

One of her favourite words for herself is ‘skinny’, even when she compares herself to the lithe and lovely– and skinny– Iris as insufficiently shapely (VII, 6, page 307).  Frequently she refers to herself as ‘little’, emphasising her unworthiness for what she must face in intellectual, emotional and physical terms.  With the horny girls in the Bimini apartment, she recognises her underdeveloped physique as a liability:

  I’d already imagined that Rosie in particular might have had some kind of young-girl or even pædophile fantasy, since being so short and skinny I looked so much younger than the rest of them….  (II, 3, pp. 61-62)

Even so, she does admit some satisfaction with her own body.  She can accept the girls’ compliment on the shape of her bottom:

  Cassie turned her head and looked at me then.  Suddenly she made a little giggle.  ‘She does,’ she said, and then looked at Rosie and the two of them laughed.
  I sat down not knowing what any of that meant and then Rosie turned to me and said, ‘Cassie and I were just remarking that you have a really sweet little butt.’
  I went red again.  It wasn’t that I minded being complimented on my bottom.  I like my bottom.  (II, 2, page 56)

To her credit, Deirdre does not seem to take as flattery the attempts of others who throw compliments at her only in the hope of gaining her attention and interest.  She does not regard herself as pretty enough to deserve it nor vain enough to fall for such ill-aimed ploys.  Eric the eager dance partner in Nassau never compliments her, but the beachcomber at Rocky Point (VI, 6) and the admirer in the red tropical shirt at Mick’s (VII, 4) convey their interest based on her appearance; and the attention of the two oglers in East Bay Street (VIII, 3) is anything but flattering.  Being no fool Deirdre knows she receives this attention only because she appears young, female and available, which of course is no basis for flattery at all:

  … like the other [harassed] women, I was treated as I was treated only because of my sex, my age and my appearance, and that made me feel even more camaraderie with them.  (VIII, 1, page 322)

It cannot be overlooked that girls of this age are inherently contradictions, especially in the motivations for their various behaviours.  One moment Deirdre is a naïve prude and the next she is flaunting herself before would-be admirers.  Of course she is hardly unintelligent enough to deny that she has the power to attract male eyes and the ability to steer the consequences toward her own ends; that comes from basic female instinct.  When, wearing the ‘too-tight’ bikini, she meets the middleaged Bill Clark at the Freeport marina, she decides to ‘pour on the sugar’ and see if her feminine wiles are sufficient to secure her a ride to Freeport:

  His eyes went over me whilst I stood there– I slowly inhaled, filling out my chest a little, and put more weight on one foot to rock one hip out.  The bikini felt a little snugger than usual.  I knew what it’d look like– I didn’t mind.  (III, 1, page 81)

Also authentically for her age, Deirdre frequently laments that she has been normally overlooked by boys in school and is unused to genuine approval of her appearance.  Perhaps the most meaningful compliment on her physical prettiness comes from her soulmate Sandy MacNally.  After Deirdre somewhat obliquely refers to Sandy’s beauty (IX, 2, page 362) as a reason they had received some inappropriate male attention, Sandy pays her back with heartfelt sincerity, almost disguising the compliment as an apology for having received so much herself:

  ‘You have such a sweet little figure,’ she said, and she leaned down on her hand with her elbow on her leg.  Then she sighed again.  ‘Mm, mm….  I love how you look.  I so envy you for it.’
  I went redder.  ‘Envy me?’  Now I turned round and stared back at her.  ‘But you are–’
‘Shhh.  Don’t say it.  I like thinking of you as the pretty one.  I’ve never–’  But she didn’t finish.
  I frowned.  ‘Never what?’ I asked after a moment.
  She shook her head.  ‘No; I shouldn’t say that.’
  ‘Say what?  Sandy, please–’
  Sandy shook her head again, sadly.  ‘It’s unbecoming.  It’s just–’  She sighed a little and finally sat up straight, turning to gaze out the window at the mist.  ‘All my life, Deirdre, I’ve been the pretty one.  The one other people want to be with, because of how I look, or where I live, or who my parents are….’  She shook her head like that again.  ‘I’ve never agreed with them; I’ve never liked it.  I certainly never wanted it.  But now–’  She turned then and gazed back at me whilst I just stood there in the stockings and my underwear and let her look.  ‘Now I have a friend that’s every bit as pretty as they’ve always called me.  Even prettier.’
  … I was beet-red.  Honestly I’d never been called ‘pretty’ in my life– not since I was old enough to look like anything, you know.  (IX, 5, pp. 384-385)

For all her innocence, naïveté and personal bias, Sandy is no idiot; she has even seen Deirdre naked.  If she considers her figure ‘pretty’ than we must too.

Deirdre’s most valuable attribute may be the fifteen-year-old’s blessing of being able, through dress, vocabulary, attitude, or sheer acting ability, to pass for either younger or older.  Dimensions of figure and height notwithstanding, she apparently possesses some childlike winsomeness at the same time she evinces a certain worldliness.  Rosie the dominatrix considers her no more than a helpless ingénue to be overlooked, ordered round and exploited during the same day that Mrs Clark regards her as a sensible and responsible university student on hiatus who is worthy of being entrusted with the safety of her child.  Not just in taking a job as an exotic dancer, but in most of her forays into the adult world of wages, leases and transportation opportunities-- and perhaps only out of fear of the consequences should she attempt the opposite-- she conducts herself with a level of maturity and deportment that belies her youthful appearance, so that she is consistently taken for being a ‘baby-faced young adult’ (Oyster’s Pearl; XI, 4, page 35) rather than a sullen adolescent who would run away from home just to have her own way.
Establishing Deirdre as relatively short, slender and young-looking reinforces the notion of her inexperience and vulnerability, which is crucial to eliciting a reader’s sympathy.  Deirdre, the Wanderer would not have worked if this heroine had been, like many perfectly-normal 15-year-old girls, perhaps 5 feet, 7 inches in height, 130 pounds in weight, athletically and sturdily built and in a C-cup brassiere.  Deirdre’s strength stands in spite of her modest physique and in areas other than what aesthetics, weight or measurements can represent.  From an outward perspective we need to pity her, worry about her, encourage her; and this necessitates a heroine who at least looks like she might need our interest.  But inwardly, even though she is not fully aware of it herself, Deirdre already possesses the wherewithal to face the inevitable challenges she has not yet imagined; and in that she is tall in our view, the kind of self-reliant woman whom anyone should consider admirable.

* * *

The wisdom of Deirdre.

Like Jane Austen, herself another sagacious, solitary Sagittarius woman, Deirdre is prone to philosophising, drawing conclusions from her own experiences and perceptions and attempting to relate them to some greater truth of the world universal.  Whether she knows it or not, some of her snippets of wisdom are actually spot-on and worthy of remembrance and emulation.  Here are a few, fully ready for application to any intelligent girl’s real-life trials-- complete with section, chapter and page for citing the text!

  • I’d come to hate the idea of work like that, an ‘occupation’, you know, the kind of thing you do every day because it’s your life.  To me the idea is exactly the opposite– you use the job to support what you want to do; and for adults that’s supposed to mean taking care of your family (I, 1, 2)
  • The only thing your average guy wants is to get into your panties (I, 1, 3)
  • … you always hear these stories of stupid runaways who get picked up nearly freezing to death on the streets of Manhattan or whatever.  I’m sorry; but being homeless in a place like New York is just stupid (I, 1, 4)
  • School was never very difficult for me and I truly wonder why so many people think it’s so awful.  Most of them should instead count their blessings that they even have a home life that lets them attend it (I, 1, 7)
  • Lies can come in handy sometimes (I, 1, 7)
  • There’s something weird about the idea of peeling down my shorts in front of grown men, even when I’ve got a perfectly legitimate swimsuit on underneath, that never appealed to me (I, 4, 34)
  • This is the islands’ caste system– Black locals working in service jobs for White tourists from America.  Up in comfortably liberal Connecticut one might have thought this was horrifically bigoted, some form of segregation deliberately perpetuated by rich racists.  But the locals in the islands didn’t think of it that way.  After all, once you get past the façade of tourism, you realise that ninety percent of the islanders are Black.  So there isn’t really anyone else do the actual labour round here.  The other thing is that the people doing this menial servitude don’t feel exploited at all.  Practical young guys like Theo crave tourism jobs.  They aren’t concerned with what colour everyone is.  They’re clever and recognise that this is the opportunity to make money, especially in tips, and you don’t get tips working at a fixed wage for some government-regulated equal-opportunity employer.  You get tips by working for rich White tourists from America.  If anyone in the islands didn’t appreciate that because of some high humanistic ideals, he’d be considered an idiot.  And he’d be poor.  And meanwhile everyone else would be dropping four figures’ worth of cash into Barclays Bank each pay period (III, 4, 111)
  • For the first time I realised how Black people up in White, middle-class Connecticut had felt.  And I know it sounds arrogant of me but I began to feel proud to share that feeling of being considered worthless for no good reason.  The pride didn’t earn me a pay cheque, didn’t provide a roof over my head, didn’t increase my sense of independence; but in a way it was far more valuable than any of that, because it strengthened me, and the strength of it would never be taken from me (IV, 1, 125)
  • The whole issue of sexual harassment always made me a little mad– guys will be guys, you know, and it’s a pretty feeble chick who can’t deal with it even before it starts (IV, 4, 144)
  • ‘You’re only as poor as you feel.’ (V, 1, 159)
  • In spite of what I’d seen of marriages I really believed most people would honour one (V, 2, 164)
  • I’d never been much for lip gloss, normally– only the really good stuff, which no-one ever buys, is safe for kissing and if the dumb girls in school only want it to look so ‘kissable’, why put it on if it’s only going to come off all over the guy’s face? (V, 2, 164)
  • I’ve always noticed how most older men seem to believe whatever they want to be true, even when all the evidence is against them (VI, 2, 211)
  • When a woman realises her potential for self-fulfillment nothing but lack of opportunity ever stops her from experiencing the whole thing… (VI, 4, 237)
  • Honesty is only a virtue if what you’re being honest about is virtuous in itself (VII, 3, 285)
  • They were middleaged American businessmen on holiday and seemed agreeable enough, and I almost felt sorry for them; but they were obviously too eager to have a teenaged chick to share amongst themselves and one can hardly sympathise with that motive (VII, 4, 292)
  • University guys in the ‘States are coddled.  Down [in The Bahamas] young men mature more quickly– they have a lookout on life that sort of demands responsibility and they work their tails off (VII, 5, 296)
  • Any suggestion of sadomasochism between girls arouses men– for some reason… (VII, 6, 307)
  • Every girl can use a little help, you know– especially when she’s built like me… (VIII, 1, 318)
  • I think every man of a certain age… must fancy getting with some cute teenaged chick and having his way with her, no matter what the law or society might say.  I suppose in some ways it might be only natural (VIII, 1, 322)
  • … there is no security like cash when you are on the go (VIII, 3, 335)
  • ‘No self-respecting woman would spread her legs for a picture like that unless she needed the money.’ (VIII, 4, 342)
  • … the almost-legal ‘seventeen’ seemed more credible than the just-legal ‘eighteen’– anyone who would lie about her age would lie enough to get something more out of it (X, 4, 420)
  • If we do love, truly love, then we really must put the one we love first, even if it means inconvenience for ourselves.  Because in the end all that matters is that we do what’s truly best for the people we love the most (X, 5, 439)

* * *

Six-word memoir project

Re: this (worth a look)


The tragedy: none truly knew him.

This is a cute exercise... much as I despise this sound-bite mentality we as a society seem to have adopted.  I mean, what happened to sitting down with an actual book and making the reading of it a priority? --not the TV or text messages?   And whoever convinced us that two chapters of exposition at the start of the book were 'bad' in literature and that 'all' popular books should begin with a murder, a sex scene and/or a car chase because 'people don't have the attention span for that; they want action'?  Why is a truly good 215,000-word novel considered 'unmarketable' but a badly-written, inadequately-researched and imperfectly-edited one of 115,000 'deserves' to be printed in mass quantity?  And what is so wrong with expecting an agent to actually SELL a book on its essential merits rather and expecting the author to toe the line and write one just like everything else out there? --even if it's 'a little long' by the standards of the day? --sheesh.  Don't get me started.  :)

* * *