Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review of "Mandy Marries a Muslim," short story by Aliya Anjum

Mandy 22, breaks the news to her mother that a Muslim from Pakistan has asked her to marry him. Carol, 46, is a strong Baptist woman who has raised Mandy by herself, after her husband's untimely death. She is dead against the idea of her only daughter marrying a Muzlim man. She tells Mandy to stay away from those terrorist Muzlims. Zafar's family also opposes the match, since his mother had already chosen a bride for him in Pakistan.

Mandy and Zafar met during college in her home state of Texas, where he had come to study from Pakistan. The two get married, ignoring their families protests.

When both set of parents meet for the first time, it leads to surprising discoveries for everyone.

This is the second story I have reviewed for this author.  Both times I read her work I was left with a feeling that the story was unpolished and and possibly unfinished.

Anjum's clear strength as an author is presenting compelling protagonist concepts.  For example, in this story we have Mandy, a Baptist, who is in love with Zafar, a Muslim.  Both families are, of course, against the match due to stereotypes and misconceptions they have formed about each others' cultures.  So it's kind of a modern-day Romeo and Juliet.  Interesting, right?

So there's this set up that's ripe for conflict and emotional exploration but none of that really happens.  Every single barrier is surpassed a little too easily which makes it feel like there's no character development even though you know that's not what the author wanted to come across.  Anjum frequently throws in lines to announce large passages of time ("four months went by") and I couldn't help but feel like she missed out on some prime opportunities to play up the distress Mandy and Zafar feel over their families not getting along.

There are significant grammatical errors in the story and the redeeming factors being the potential for extremely charming characters.  And what's frustrating is that a story like this is the kind that needs to be told because there's a powerful message underneath.  

2.5/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

For the Self-Employed Author

Well it's tax season.  Ick.  There's nothing quite so emotionally draining as handing all your hard-earned money off to the government.  Yes, loved ones could pass away.  But that's a different type of grief from what you experience bottoming out your car in a pothole that no one has bothered to fix with said tax dollars.

But I digress.

One thing short story authors really struggle with is money spent on cover art.  When cracking out a new story every week or month, it's simply not practical to spend $300 on every cover unless you're making gobs of money from some other job that you have.

BUT... good quality cover art can make you money.  People are shallow.  I'm shallow.  You're shallow.  Do you really want to spend $2.99 on a romance with a cover that looks like this?


Would you spend money on a book that had a cover that looked like this?

Come on.  He's wearing a loin cloth!  How could any woman resist that?

Point being that while the story inside may be the same, your assumptions going in and even your very decision to buy the story is based off a one second glance at the cover.  So this is not something to just gloss over, even for a short story you plan on selling at 99 cents.

And on top of that, cover art can be a tax write-off.  If you're making enough in sales to merit reporting it to the government, any expenses you have as a self-employed author can give you a reduction in taxes.

Note: I'm not a tax professional.  You should definitely consult with yours about this.

All I want to point out is the bigger picture.  Don't immediately think, "Oh there's no way I can afford a $75 cover for this story."  Consider all the aspects.  If you're writing the story anyway and publishing it as an ebook, it will be up for sale forever.  Giving the story a professional front will increase the likelihood that someone will buy.  Cover art is not just a superflous expense, it's an office supply and, therefore, a potential tax write-off.  As a writer it's part of your business.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review of "An Arranged Marriage," short story by Aliva Anjum

Based on true events in the life of four women Physicians in the US.

23-year old Reem, married 31-year old Iftikhar, in an arranged marriage. Arriving in America after marriage, she had hoped of a joyous, beautiful life. However, Reem soon discovered, that everything about Iftikhar was a lie.

Read the story of her suffering and eventual triumph, in the land of opportunity.

This story is a diamond in the rough.  There's a very powerful and rich message but it's covered up by choppy pacing and editing issues.

The story is told stream of consciousness style from the point of view of a young woman named Reem.  There's not much in the way of description but you eventually learn that she's in medical school, smart and very career driven.

Most of the story takes place as Reem takes her oath to become a United States citizen.  I felt that the setting was perfect for such a piece.  It's exactly the type of place one would become so reflective of one's life.  The problem is that her "memories" are very disjointed.  Sometimes it's a flash to the past other times it's something that is currently going on.  Which is probably an accurate representation of how we really think about things but it makes for a confusing read.

There are a number of grammatical issues as well.  I make a point to only bring this up in reviews if it detracts from the reading experience (it did).  The author would switch points of view frequently.  It would go from first person, to limited third person, to the omniscient third person and back again.

However, the storyline is so compelling that I couldn't help but be absorbed from beginning to end.  So there's a lot of raw talent here.  The writing just needs to be raked over by an editor or two.  But worth keeping an eye on this author.

3/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez

Buy this story on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Power of Time and Experience

I just had this really cool experience while practicing my violin that gave me new perspective on writing.  I need to give a quick history though in order for the coolness of the experience to come across properly.

I started playing the violin when I was 4.  So number of years invested in music = more than 20.  I don't really remember much of playing the violin when I was really young.  Just that I did.  It wasn't until I was about 10 years old that I really have firm memories of learning pieces.  The memories stuck for two reasons.  One was just that I was older.  And two because by that point I was learning more advanced pieces.  The types of pieces that take you months to work through because they're f-ing hard.  You're not on Twinkle anymore, Toto.

I remember working through some of those concertos and sonatas and eventually being able to play them but they still didn't feel easy.  Fast forward a few years... I studied music in college... learned more pieces... basically improved my craft slowly but surely.  And now I teach which actually makes you even more attentive to details.

Back to my really cool experience, I started working on a piece that I have to do for an audition. Coincidentally, the piece that they are requiring for the audition is one that I had worked through/played years ago when I was a spry, young thing.  So I pull out the music that has, like, 15 years of accumulated dust built up.  I blow off the dead moths and start playing through it.

And that's when it hit.

For one thing, the notes came back a lot faster than I though they would.  Yeah, it was rusty.  But I was shocked how much I actually remembered.  But then the really cool thing happened: I was playing through it and it felt easy.

Easy being a very relative term here.  It was never a simple piece to begin with.  But to have such vivid memories of the last time I played the piece and all the hard sections circled in the music that I drilled and drilled... and then 15 years later I easily play through those same hard passages.

I don't really know if there's a word to describe what I felt at that point.  The thing that was powerful for me was that I clearly remember this particular piece maxing out my technical skills the first time I learned it.  Like I gave it everything I had.  And now that time has passed and my experience increased, I realized I now have the ability to give the piece even more.  Which is just so COOL!

It ended up really putting my writing in perspective.  The stories that I write right now are the best that I can do.  They max out my technical skill.  And I think sometimes this is a source of insecurity for me because I know that they're not life changing.  I enjoy writing them, I feel like I have good concepts but it doesn't always rid me of the feeling that the story could be more somehow.

Playing that piece made me realize that I've only been writing for 2 1/2 years.  Which is NOTHING.  So right now the best thing I can do is try my best and to keep trying.  Eventually time and experience will give me the ability to put that elusive "more" into my stories.