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OF CLOTHES AND BOOKS

My favorite women’s clothing store, Coldwater Creek, will be closing all of its brick-and-mortar and online sites in just over a week. I have been buying my clothes from them since they were a catalog only retailer. I estimate that at least 90% of my wardrobe is from them. If I count only those clothes I wear every day, especially before I retired, it’s probably closer to 95%.

I love their clothes. They fit well, they hold up well, they wash well, they are fashionable without being trendy or flashy. And that may be why, despite the fact that “everyone” I know of a certain age shops there, they have gone out of business.

The clothes are durable, so there’s no need to replace them every year or so when they wear out. (The exception are 100% cotton jerseys, which tend to become misshapen after several washings. Or maybe it’s the dryings. Or maybe it’s because I never bother to follow cleaning instructions.) I have one plain black “travel knit” shift that can be dressed up or down depending on what I wear over it. I’m not sure how old it is. It is so versatile that shortly after I bought it I got a second one, worried that I would somehow damage the first and not be able to replace it. The backup dress is still folded in tissue paper on a shelf in my closet.

Plus, because they’re not trendy, the clothes don’t look dated. They stay in my closet (and on my body) for years before I give them to charity, and then usually only because I’ve worn them so often I’ve gotten bored with them. I have a few things that may be 10-15 years old.

The very reasons I like Coldwater Creek – durability and timelessness – are probably why they haven’t shown a profit since 2007. I’ll have a discount coupon begging to be redeemed, will go to the store, and not find anything I want to buy because I already have the same thing at home.

And what does that have to do with writing? (Thought I’d forgotten the topic, didn’t you?) A book series has to stay fresh and innovative to remain popular. I have stopped reading some authors on my “must read” list because they are writing the same book every time, just changing the names and settings. Or there’s no character development: the main characters don’t age, the events of previous books don’t affect their behaviors or attitudes. Why spend money on a book I’ve, in essence, already read? Yes, they may be comfortable, they may still hold interest, but eventually, they become stale. And if they’re classics, I’ll just re-read them, not buy new ones by the same author. Unless it’s something fresh.

Thanks to all of you who wished me congratulations on my taking first place for short stories and for flash fiction at the Public Safety Writers Association conference. Much appreciated!
 
Fellow author Amy Bennett invited me to post on her blog, offering a few “words of wisdom” to aspiring authors: http://amymbennettbooks.blogspot.com/2014/07/meet-otp-author-ilene-schneider.html
 
If you missed reading my award-winning (love saying that!) short story “Miami Snow” in the Fall 2013 issue of mystericale.com, it has just been reprinted in Kings River Life: http://kingsriverlife.com/07/19/miami-snow-mystery-short-story
 
 
 
 

AWARDS!

My short story “Miami Snow” and my flash fiction (200 words) “Perfect” both took 1st place in their categories at the Public Safety Writers Association conference. (This is the group that awarded UNLEAVENED DEAD 1st place for best mystery novel last year.)

PSWA 2014

Heading to Vegas for the Public Safety Writers Association conference, which awarded UNLEAVENED DEAD 1st place last year for best mystery of 2012. On 2 panels: 2:30 Friday on “What are setting and dialogue and how should you use them?” And 10:15 Sunday on “The aspects to be considered when writing a series.”

A NICE COMMENT

I hate to brag (no I don’t), but …. On the DorothyL listserv, there’s been a thread about what people want to know before reading a new author. One participant posted:

“The first thing I look for in a book is a well-told story with believable characters. That said, I discovered Ilene Schneider’s mysteries because they were about a rabbi and I am a clergyperson myself. I started reading Elizabeth Moon’s works because we were in the Marine Corps at approximately the same time/era — in both cases, however, I keep reading because the books are excellent.”

I recently saw the indie movie “Chef,” a quiet, non-raunchy, slice-of- life (if your life includes a successful, gorgeous ex-spouse, a bright and adorable son, a loyal and devoted staff, and the ability to conceive and produce incredible food) comedy in which a gourmet chef revitalizes his zest for cooking after receiving a negative review. (I’m not revealing anything not already in the trailers and promos.) Toward the end of the movie, the eponymous chef confronts the critic who had written the brutal assessment of his boringly stale menu. He says the critic goes to a restaurant, writes his assessment, and then distances himself from the fall out. What he doesn’t realize is the harm he does: “It hurts.”

And that is why I don’t like to write book reviews.

I feel “obligated” in a way to read books written by authors I’ve met. But I don’t always enjoy the books as much as I wish I could. I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by writing a negative review, so I don’t write anything. I’m worried, though, that if I post only reviews of books I do like, people will devalue my opinion, thinking I’m not sincere or discriminating enough, that I like everything I read. I’m also concerned that authors I haven’t reviewed will think I did not like their books or I would have reviewed them. Nor do I want anyone to think I am writing a positive review only as “payment” for a good review of one of my books from the author.

So I generally don’t write anything.

I have made exceptions when someone has specifically requested I read a book and review it. I also will write a back cover blurb if asked, but only if I am sure I can find something complementary to say. (Okay, I admit that I’m flattered another author thinks a blurb from me will help sell her – so far, it’s always a woman – book.) I sometimes beg off, explaining the book is in a genre such as romance, paranormal, or horror that I don’t enjoy, so I would not be able to do it justice. Other times, I will read the book and, rather than post an unfavorable review, will send the author a private email detailing exactly why I did not like the book. The last time I did that, however, I never heard back from the author; but at least she didn’t unfriend me on Facebook.

The other problem with reviewing a book is that liking it or not can have nothing to do with the quality of the writing, but with the characterization of the protagonist. Such a preference can be very subjective. There are many times when a book will receive rave reviews and awards, but the characters are, to my mind, unpleasant or uninteresting. I recall sitting at a table at a conference when an award winner was announced. My fellow diners and I looked at each other in amazement. The main character of the book winning the award was so unappealing that I am surprised I finished reading the book. The others had the same reaction. But the majority of those choosing the prize winner disagreed. There was later a rather heated and polarizing debate on the quality of the work on a Listserv, with a 50-50 split between those of us who thought the heroine was unrealistic, nasty, selfish, and spoiled and those who thought she was plucky, independent, feisty, and refreshingly original.

I know from firsthand experience how different readers can view the same character differently. I have received a few (very few, I’m pleased to say) mediocre reviews in which the complaints have been that my protagonist, Rabbi Aviva Cohen, is too nosey, too catty, and “not rabbinic enough.” But the majority of reviewers have enjoyed the books for those very reasons, or for their interpretations of those qualities: she is curious, witty, and down-to-earth. The same reviewers who don’t like Aviva’s personality also complain the books are bogged down by too many digressions and minutiae; yet other reviewers enjoy exploring the secondary characters and learning about details of Jewish life, customs, holidays.

Do I say with Chef that it hurts? It’s unpleasant, but I can’t say I’m hurt by the criticisms. You need to have a thick skin before exposing yourself to public scrutiny. But I can only speak for me. Perhaps my harsh criticisms would hurt someone else. I’d rather err on the side of caution and not be the one to cause that hurt.

And so I generally don’t write reviews.

I may not have a manuscript ready to go, but I do have ideas for the future adventures of Rabbi Aviva Cohen.

Book #3,Yom Killer: Aviva’s mother falls forward, hits her forehead on edge of toilet. It’s suspected she had a stroke. But then, why does she have a wound in the shape and size of the proverbial blunt instrument on the back of her head?

Book #4, High Holy Daze: No, not about medicinal (or other) marijuana. Aviva is looking through a trunk full of old books in the attic of a synagogue building that’s about to be razed. On the bottom are human bones.

Book #5, unnamed: An assistant rabbi’s contract isn’t renewed. His supporters are angry and plan to leave and form a new synagogue with him as their rabbinic leader. But then he is found murdered.

#6-?, unnamed: Aviva retires, becomes the rabbi of a cruise line; she becomes the pelagic version of Jessica Fletcher, with bodies showing up wherever she is. I am going to greatly enjoy doing the research for these books.

 

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