The invisible editor

Like clockwork, yet again I’ve been bitterly disappointed by a bestselling hist-fic published in the U.S. within the last ten years. So many times I’m left wondering if I read the same book everyone else raved about!

This book was written about in the local newspaper I used to work for, either because the author has some kind of connection to that area, or she were doing an author event locally. From the description, it sounded just like the type of book I love, and I couldn’t wait to check it out.

Wrong!

Let me count the ways in which this bloated book fails:

1. So many things were overdescribed, in such overwrought prose! It was like reading an Anna Godbersen book, only without the halfway decent storylines and characters. Nobody freaking cares about the minute details of everyone’s clothes, architecture, pastries, staircases, watches, or opera sets!

2. Million-dollar thesaurus words. I wish I’d kept a list, because she uses so many of them! I know not everyone has the same vocab, but I can’t think of anyone whose everyday language (in either speech or writing) includes words like “mullioned” and “panchromium”!

3. Showing off her research. I personally like when street names are included, since it helps to more fully evoke the setting and create a sense of the city as a character. But I don’t need to know the name of every freaking street or landmark during a walk or drive in Paris!

5. Showing off her language knowledge. I’m all for using foreign language for flavor, but not obnoxiously using it out of context and to show off! So many times, she uses French or Hungarian for no apparent reason. She doesn’t even have a glossary, which I always build for my books with non-Anglophone characters. And what’s with using the Hungarian word gimnázium? “Gymnasium” is the standard English word for continental European secondary schools!

6. Falsely marketed as a sweeping saga about three brothers in France, Italy, and Hungary in the years leading up and during WWII. It quickly becomes obvious this is only about one of the brothers and his insipid love story with an older woman. There should’ve been no shame in marketing this as a very long historical romance!

7. Third-person limited was a mistake in a book with so many characters. I would’ve loved to follow a lot of these other people more than the Mary Sue protagonist!

8. Ms. Orringer doesn’t know how to write a convincing male protagonist! While I’d like to think I’m pretty good at writing characters of the opposite sex, I know I’ll never be 100% accurate. I only have firsthand knowledge of being female, as tomboyish as I’ve always been. Andras reads like a woman’s idealized perfect man.

9. How many 22-year-old university freshmen not only fall passionately in love with women nine years older, but are dying to marry them and have babies with them? Let alone if that woman has a teenage daughter, and this is the guy’s first-ever relationship!

10. As someone who deliberately writes at saga length myself, I’ve developed a strong sense of when length is justified by the story vs. when it’s an overwritten hot mess. The latter is true in this book.

11. One-dimensional characters. Enough said.

12. Historical anachronisms and inaccuracies galore. E.g., blaming the wrong country for the entire cast having to leave Paris and return to Hungary over visa issues; everyone’s amazingly accepting attitude towards Polaner’s gayness; mistitling Bertolt Brecht’s famous play Mother Courage and Her Children as “The Mother.”

13. Overwrought prose, constantly telling the reader what to think and how to react.

14. At least 95% is telling and summarizing! “This happened. Then that happened. Over the summer, Name did this. Then Name did that. Tell tell telling telly telling lots of telling! During the winter, these things happened. Stilted, infodumpy dialogue. Flashback with even more telling. Did I mention, I can’t write an active scene to save my life?”

I’m shocked multiple editors and advance readers were credited. This book shows absolutely zero evidence of any editing. Ms. Orringer won lots of awards for a short story collection, and got many fellowships to research and write a novel. Clearly, no one had the guts to tell her the painful truth.

Newbie novelists deserve honesty and guidance, not mindless praise and carte blanche based on previous triumphs.

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WeWriWa—Saying goodbye

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a bit after last week’s, when 23-year-old departing soldier Yuriy suggested to his 18-year-old crush Inga that she might be a real American girl and have a returning soldier for a boyfriend by the time they meet again.

Inga said she only wanted her old family, and Yuriy tried to cheer her up by saying the pain of longing isn’t so bad as more time passes, and that after the war she could create her own family who’ll never leave her. He then holds out his hand for a farewell handshake.

“Can’t I hug you goodbye?  You deserve more than a handshake after you’ve been so nice to me.”

Yuriy smiles as he hugs her. “You’re such a sweet girl.  Just make sure not to be too sweet with the wrong kinds of people.  You have to be strong to survive in a new country.”

Inga stands at the door and watches him walking up the street, until she can’t see him anymore.  She was given a very nice friend, what some would call a guardian angel, bearing the same name as her belovèd dedushka, to get her started in America.  But he could only do so much, just as eventually a mother bird pushes a baby from the nest so it can fly.  Now it’s up to her to make good in America.

WeWriWa—Ice-cream parlor

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a few lines after last week’s, when 23-year-old Yuriy tended to his 18-year-old crush Inga’s injured knee one final time. They’re now on their way to get ice-cream before he has to get a train back to Canada.

This has been slightly edited to fit 10 lines.

Yuriy turns into the first ice-cream parlor that appears and finds a green corner booth that almost matches his uniform. He translates the menu for Inga, and she orders a sundae with chocolate ice-cream, hot fudge, cherries, and crushed candy bars, with an orange egg cream, while Yuriy orders a humbler strawberry ice-cream float.

“I’d ask you to kill some Nazis or Japs for me, but I can see you’re a medic,” the soda jerk says when she brings over the food. “Good luck with saving as many guys as you can.”

Inga lingers over her sundae and egg cream, not sure when she’ll next be able to splurge on a little luxury like this. Once they’re done, Yuriy leaves the money on the table and walks Inga home.

“You’ll be fine,” he reassures her. “You’ve got a new family who’s eager to take care of you, and some new friends. The language comes quicker than you think, if you’re constantly immersed in it. I bet you’ll be a real American girl by the time I come to visit again, and you might have a returning soldier for a boyfriend.”

WeWriWa—One final knee inspection

Happy heavenly 123rd birthday to my favorite actor, Rudolph Valentino!


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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when 23-year-old Canadian Army medic Yuriy gave his 18-year-old crush Inga an elephant charm and invited her to get ice-cream before he has to go to the depot at the end of furlough.

Yuriy also said he’d like to inspect her injured knee one last time.

“Sure, I’ll get ice-cream with you, but you’ll have to look at my knee downstairs.  My father left instructions about how to navigate the subway, so I won’t get lost.”

“I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not a big deal to look at your knee here.  No one’s looking in the window, and there’s nothing scandalous about sitting on a bed alone, if that’s all you do.  I’m nothing like my blood father.  I hope he dies in Siberia, if he’s not dead already.”

Inga sits down and looks away as she pulls her skirt over her knee.  Yuriy unwraps yesterday’s gauze, cleans out the healing wound, dusts it with a thin layer of ointment, and wraps it back up with fresh gauze.  As soon as he’s done, he stands back up, wishing Inga weren’t almost five and a half years his junior.  Were she only a few years older, he could ask for more, and keep that nice memory with him when he’s far from home.

WeWriWa—First gift

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, as 23-year-old Yuriy Yeltsin-Tsvetkov visits his 18-year-old crush Inga Savvina before his furlough ends. He’s just asked if she can write him letters with her fountain pen and stationary, instead of using a typewriter.

This has been slightly edited to fit 10 lines.

Yuriy opens his satchel and hands her a silver elephant charm. “I got this for you.  You can wear it on a chain for good luck.  Don’t feel bad you didn’t get me a going-away present, since I wasn’t expecting anything.”

Inga puts it on her pillow beside Dotnara. “That’s very nice of you.  I’ll take very good care of it.”

“Would you like to get some ice-cream before I go to the depot?  I hope you know how to get to my aunt’s store by two.  I’d also like to check on your knee one more time.”

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Inga now works at the Russian gifts boutique run by Yuriy’s aunt Valya, her husband, and their three children. One of her duties is painting Matryoshka dolls. Yuriy suggested this job to her so she can stay close with his family.