Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blaming Roger Ebert by Ramona DeFelice Long

ROBERTA: I know this should be True Crime Tuesday, but true crime, psychological style, has been postponed until Thursday. Today JRW is pleased to introduce editor and aspiring mystery writer, Ramona DeFelice Long. (And Hallie and I know she's writing a terrific book because we had a sneak peek at Seascape.) Welcome Ramona!

RAMONA: Everyone’s a critic.

I have a policy about writing smack about my fellow authors—I don’t do it. If asked about a book I dislike, I think about my genteel, east Tennessee mother-in-law, who was raised in a home where it was considered impolite for children to say, “I don’t like_____.” If my MIL was a dinner guest, she was taught to tell her hostess, “No, thank you. Carrots are too pretty to eat!”

Sadly, I haven’t found a line as punchy as that one for books. Besides, criticism is a necessary part of the whole artist gig. I don’t dispute that. I just like to leave it to the pros.

Which brings me to Roger Ebert.

I have had a celebrity crush on Roger Ebert since he and Gene Siskel sat across the aisles and did their thumbs thing. I love his writing, his reviews, his blog. I Like his page on Facebook. I think his public battle with cancer elevates him to the rank of courageous human being.

I especially love when Roger hates a movie. It takes genuine talent to skewer a film without coming off as petty, and to do it with humor. Roger is a master at this.

But I most admire Roger for the screenplays he wrote.

Yes, Roger Ebert crossed the line from critic to artist. And here’s where it gets interesting, because Roger’s work as a screenwriter was…uh…ahem…well, let’s just say that if Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was served to me at dinner, I’d have to say it was too pretty to eat.

Because of my aforementioned crush, I feel safe in lobbing this gentle zapper. What’s important is that he put himself out there to be judged by those he’d made a career of critiquing. He walked the walk. For that he gets major kudos.

Which brings me to me.

My editing career began with a colleague who knew I loved the mystery genre. I read her mystery-in-progress and discovered I had a knack for seeing the bones as a body, as it were. Eventually, I decided I wanted to edit professionally. I took some courses on craft, sharpened my editing skills through study and practice, and set myself up in business.

After editing x number of mystery manuscripts, I grew my own idea for one. I suppose this was a natural development, but it also put me in a touchy situation. I was confident about brainstorming and mending flaws in other writers’ mystery manuscripts, but could I write one from scratch? And if I did, what if it was awful? Would it hurt my credibility? Would I become a figurative bowl of carrots?

In the middle of my internal debate, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens played on TV. It felt like a message: Cross the line. Walk the walk. Write your own mystery novel.

So, I am. It’s a traditional mystery; I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I have learned something from every one of my clients, and I praise new—and experienced—writers when they try to grow as an artist. That is what I am attempting to do. The view is different from this side of mystery-writing pages, I admit, but I’m walking the walk.

And there is my announcement. I’d also like to say, once, that if my mystery turns out to be too pretty to eat, it is Roger Ebert’s fault.

That, friends, is the story of my mystery novel’s raison d’ĂȘtre. What’s yours? What drove you to write what you are writing?


  1. I read a few "too pretty to eat" novels that were best sellers. I've always been complemented on my writing. So, when I put the two together, I thought, why not give it a try?

    I enjoy the process, although admit that at times I am frustrated by it. I'm a concept person, so as I improve my craft, I hope that my concepts and writing sell.

  2. Being able to see "the bones as a body" is a true gift.

    I used to enjoy reading Pauline Kael's movie reviews--if she hated something, it was guaranteed to be a popular hit.

    Good luck with your book--it is different to be on the other side, isn't it?

  3. We've developed a culture of criticism, haven't we? I, too, think it's a mistake to trash a colleague's work. It will always come back to bite you in the butt. (With apologies to your Tennessee m-i-l.) For one thing, your own work becomes the next target.

  4. Elaine, I think your "I enjoy the process" comment is all you ever need to say. Why do something you don't enjoy?

    Sheila, have you ever read Pauline Kael's review of West Side Story? OMG, she hated that movie!

    Nancy, my Tennessee MIL forgives you.

    Thanks to the Jungle Red Writers for having me here!

  5. Ramona, welcome! (And I'm stealing too pretty to eat. Love it! I give attribution, of course...)

    Sometimes, reading, I think--REALLY?? And then I try to see if I can figure out what the author was going for--maybe I missed it, you know?

    NOw I'm off to read that WSS review--that's too pretty to miss!

  6. Hey, Ramona - So glad to see you on Jungle Red!

    I've always had great sympathy for film critics - they HAVE to sit through movies they hate. That's my definition of hell.

  7. Welcome Ramona,
    It was so fascinating to hear your story after getting to know you only via Jungle Red.

    I've never met anyone who had a crush on Roger Ebert before, but I used to love the show when the two battled it out.

    And that's sort of how I feel about criticism. One opinion is only one opinion, especially when it comes to books and movies because we all bring our lives to the table when we read/view.

    I just read a book that was so absolutely terrific -- and it was so good that I'm sure it was absolutely terrific for a lot of people. But that last twist at the end made it feel so contrived for me. That's really just so personal to ME, I wouldn't ever name the book.

    I wish you the best of luck with your line crossing! I'm sure your book will reveal your ability to see the "bones as a body," --
    a great line, by the way!

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  9. Hank, that WSS review is an example of "scorched earth" writing. (A term I stole from....Roger Ebert!)

    Hallie, my husband started out as a film critic. We met in college, in a film & literature class, BTW. The movie that did him in was "Road House." After that, he said hard news and crime were easier to swallow.

    Jan, isn't this online friendship experience interesting? I have all of these "friends I've never met" and love it!

    When I get a new story, I always ask the writer what they are trying to achieve, and then I can read the manuscript with that in mind. When I read a published novel, I try to guess the author's purpose. A twist sometimes destroys my guess. I can't always decide if that is good or bad.

    Thanks for all the well wishes. We'll see how it goes...gulp!

  10. Congratulations, Ramona, on your new venture! The sensitivity and insight you displayed in editing our anthology, FISH TALES, tells me you've got what it takes to create a wonderful mystery. Can't wait to read it!

    Best wishes,

    Nancy Adams

  11. Thanks, Nancy. FISH TALES was a delight to edit. I can't wait to see it in print!

  12. I think it's VERY brave of you to put yourself out there, Ramona. But I'll bet your novel will make it!

    Sheila, there was a critic in the Dallas newspaper I used to read so I'd know what movies to go to--the ones he hated. Never failed. I always enjoyed them.

    I think I could be a good copy editor, but that's about it. I tell people when I'm critiquing that I can see the trees. The forest, not so much.

    What an interesting blog entry!