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“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”  ― Winston Churchill

Playing For Keeps: A Neighbor From Hell Novel

Playing for Keeps - R.L. Mathewson PLAYING FOR KEEPS is a textbook case study for aspiring authors of "Writing Don'ts." If Glamour magazine ran this feature, the book would have a big black slash through its title to save it from embarrassment.

Here is just a sample list of "don'ts" the reader encounters:

1) Headhopping.
2) Telling instead of showing.
3) Info dumping.
4) Abuse of speech tags. The characters don't just "say" the dialogue: they note, they bite, they lie, they announce, they whine, they mumble, they almost scream, etc. etc. etc.
5) Breaking the laws of physics. Bees turn into yellow jackets and then back into bees; the heroine is able to go to the bathroom at Yankee Stadium and return to her seat with her arms full of food from the concession stand in the time it takes to speak ten lines of dialogue. Oh, and this is during a Red Sox/Yankees game in case you were thinking, "Well, maybe the crowd is a little sparse."
5) Sacrificing characterization and character arc for "cute."
6) Word repetition ad nauseam. By the time the book was finished, I wished the heroine really was the hero's "little grasshopper" and thus be a tasty snack for the next passing bird. And speaking of snacks - if I never read a description of brownies or cookies again, it will be too soon.
7) Cardboard supporting characters, so thin and transparent they make newspaper look like kevlar by comparison.
8) Grammatical errors a fifth grader would catch. The comma and its use is especially misunderstood.
9) The dreaded "one good conversation would clear up the whole misunderstanding" black moment.
10) Lack of believable and/or consistent character motivation. Jason tells us he doesn't want to bring girls home, he only has sex at their place because Haley's bedroom is too close to his bedroom. But then he never spends the night. But then he's not all that interested in sex lately. But then his every thought of Haley has a sexual component. And then he gets super, super angry when a third party tells him Haley won't have sex with him, even though he and Haley shared the same bed as platonic friends for months, which transitioned to every sexual activity but intercourse, and yet Jason never thought to ask Haley, "Hey, why no intercourse?" Shyeah, right.

And then it turns Haley out is still saving herself at age twenty-nine for her "one true love" (although apparently that only applies to her vagina, because Jason is blown away - pun intended - by her amazing deep throat skills. Why is Haley saving herself? What motivates her? Who the hell knows?


The book hit the New York Times e-book list, which I guess goes to show that H.L. Mencken's famous quote, "No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people," can be applied to self-publishing. Only in this case apparently no one loses money by underestimating the literacy level of the audience for self-pubbed books.