Review: My Memories of a Future Life by Roz Morris

Cover

My Memories of a Future Life is the first self-published book I’ve read cover-to-cover. It came out via Amazon’s Create Space in 2011.

The premise is interesting, oozes potential.  A professional pianist, Carol, and her two-dimensionally homosexual flatmate, Jerry, stumble into using hypnosis as therapy.  Carol seeks to treat chronic pain that’s keeping her from continuing her work as a result of twenty-odd years at the ivories, and Jerry is hoping to relieve his anxiety disorder.  Enter Gene Winter, later Robert then Gene again, who is a brilliant hypnotist, and Carol’s aloof sometimes-love-interest.

Jerry bookends the story, dragging Carol along to a hypnotist’s performance in which Jerry is regressed, and visiting gravitas upon the hypnosis paradigm by being effectively cured. The hypnotist Jerry uses is an aspiring self-help celebrity a la Tony Robbins, but with a supernatural edge.

Aside from Carol’s habit of calling or texting Jerry to tell him what the reader has already inferred, or whining to herself about being replaced by his boyfriend, Tim, or not having treasured their friendship enough when they were younger and life was simpler, Jerry is a fairly minor character.    Jerry helped Roz Morris get to know Carol, but Jerry didn’t really need to be in the book.

Gene is an acquaintance from Carol’s youth, he works at her physiologist’s office, and hypnotizes Carol throughout the book, usually at his place, but sometimes at hers.

In each session, she becomes a future version of herself, a soothesayer (yes, soothesayer) named Andreq who cannot Xech. Xeching is revealed to be some kind of smoke ‘n’ mirrors operation, but is fraught for Andreq as the cause of his troubled youth and early profession.

Onomatopoeiacally speaking, xech is the sound a heavy knife makes when slicing through cucumber. But it’s not a proper word. In the book, it’s implied that it’s a mystical skill, not unlike hypnosis, that soothesayers employ to comfort their rich, shrill clients, and that aptitude with which they prize as professional capital.

Carol is pretentious and rude and guarded, and her character arc is flawed/missing.  For the first seven-eighths of the book, Carol only wants her hands to feel better and to play again.  Then in the last eighth, she just wants somebuddytalove (Gene), to hold some crazy townspeople at bay, and to keep her taped regressions with Gene sacred.

Gene is a sociopath, and until his abrupt disappearance near the end of the book, is also the primary antagonist.  He’s also the most sympathetic character, and the least 2-D.

The most interesting bits take place in this town known as Vellonoweth.  Vellonoweth has its own complete plot arc, with Carol thrown in the mix. Vellonoweth is where this book really lives.  But in the larger story, Carol goes there after Gene who drops her name in the local music shop, after accepting a temporary gig at the nearby hospital, and the music shop owners engage Carol to cover their regular singing teacher’s vacation.  Carol explains in this moment that she’d been trained in singing as a secondary specialty in college.

In Vellonoweth, there’s a group of horrible musicians, who Carol makes no end of petty remarks about, and a group of fundamentalist Christian mystics who catch wind of Carol and Gene’s regressions an then go on an aggressive witch hunt of which Carol is the suspect.

Almost everything that happens in Vellonoweth is hilarious and vividly conjured.  Still somewhat poorly written, but  the satirical feeling of the witch hunt makes the zany crew’s 2-D rendering a little more palatable.

The novel ends in a messy flourish.  The last fifty pages of the book feel sort of tacked on, where a reasonably plodding, contemplative story becomes a high drama, action-packed mess complete with a car-chase scene, stylized villains and a secret twist.

Throughout, a lot of the writing is clumsy or overdone.

Here are some examples:

“His reply was an expression so subtle it was beyond unreadable.”

“I took the Vauxhaul out exploring.  Rain started to fall, a persistent drizzle that outsmarted my wipers.  Intermittent was too slow; faster screeched in protest.”

“Next door there were sounds of footsteps and large objects being pushed across wooden floors.  Next door as in the adjacent property, not the bedroom.”

There were controlled tense shifts, and I’m sure the author did them intentionally, but they were distracting.  I was looking for some kind of second narrative arc.  Some kind of story reason for the change.  The present tense sections were always right after Carol’s regressions with Gene. It was gimmickey and amateurish.

Which brings me to my over-arching assessment of this work.  It didn’t simmer long enough.  It is drinkable pudding.  The author did not do enough of the painful, often tedious, whisking to thicken it up, make it delicious.

If you’ve ever made a cooked pudding, you know that the faint trails the whisk leaves in its path as the pudding takes shape are unbelievably gratifying, even though it takes a long time, and for at least the first half, the progress is unnoticeable.  It is the same with stories.

This book could’ve benefited from a serious developmental edit.  Developmental editors don’t work cheap, but they help us writers tame our egos and find our real stories.  They can also help us turn un-sellable novels into true pieces of art.  This book could’ve been art.

A developmental editor would’ve told Morris that she should start her story in Vellonoweth, letting those eccentrics guide her to Carol’s involvement and character arc.  Or that she should begin the story with Carol’s romantic entanglement with Gene.  A developmental editor would’ve shown Morris when her prose was weak, and helped her locate where it was strong; clued her into the fact that wardrobe ticks don’t provide characterization, and that her heroine is decidedly unsympathetic.

I’m posting a self-publishing-help post on this topic at my other blog, and hope you’ll check back here tomorrow for Marc Schuster’s guest post.

Roz Morris

Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor. She blogs at www.nailyournovel.com and has a double life on Twitter; for writing advice follow her as @dirtywhitecandy, for more normal chit-chat try her on @ByRozMorris.

My Memories of a Future Life is available on Kindle (US and UK) and also in print. You can also listen to or download a free audio of the first 4 chapters right here.

She is also the author of a writing book, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books And How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, available in print and on Kindle     http://www.amazon.com/Nail-Your-Novel-Writers-Confidence/dp/146108136X/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_cart_2

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10 Comments

  1. I am so thrilled that you read this and blogged about it. Because now I know a few things I wondered! Hahahahahahahhhaha. Life is good.

  2. Come on – the book is a fantastic read – it’s already been professionally edited and proof-read and the author herself is a professional editor. As an author with more than 11 books published by all the top publishers including Penguin and Virago, and a university creative writing tutor for 15 years, I think I can claim to recognise a well-edited book when I see one. I, for one, won’t be using your editorial services.

    • LOL! My favorite part is your punchy, below-the-belt sentence at the end. Thanks for reading the blog and for the strong reaction! I, for one, am still glad there’s free speech!

      • Daphne Wordsworth

        Here’s some more free speech: what a repulsively poisonous blog. ROFL! Strong enough reaction for you?

      • I mean, I generally prefer more thoughtful strong reactions, but thanks for taking the moments to, I dunno, read my poisonous post. Cheers!

  3. I’m not sure that developmental editors should be giving out such specific advice as you suggest – that the author should start the story in a different place, for instance. In my experience, when an editor points out something you’ve done wrong, you should listen. But when they tell you how you should fix it, the suggestion is usually wrong. That’s the editor trying to do the author’s job for them. Hear what isn’t working, then go away and find your own solutions.

    • Certainly, there are no fail safe methods for the mojo between an author and her editor. The more important thing is for authors to find editors who “get” their work, who can help guide them along the process. I don’t think that we’re suggesting different things here, but I do think that editors should (and that good developmental editors do) offer specific advice, point to specific issues. The actual resolution is more or less unimportant to the discussion of whether or not developmental editors are important, and help authors make their work better.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and respond! Welcome!

Trackbacks

  1. Self (Publishing) Help: Get a Developmental Editor! « April Line Writing
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