Reviewed by Justin Glasser
July 30, 1998
When I was a beginning writer, I knew everything. I could write any plot, construct any character, outdo any other author. I brandished my stories like swords, waving them at my friends and family like I was the next incarnation of Joyce or Faulkner or even Stephen King. I was a genius. Now I'm a writer.
I'm not attributing my youthful arrogance or pride to the Erin M. Blair, the author under consideration here, but I do see some of the same confidence, the same rush of enthusiasm for a newly discovered passion that I had in her first story "Discovery of Hope." In this story Erin has a solid plot and a sense of movement (she picks up on a plot possibility that almost every other writer has left untouched), but her execution is marred by the trademarks of a novice writer.
As anyone who has heard from me will know, I'm a sucker for a good first line or paragraph. For me, the first line is the hook, the draw, the thing that sucks me in and makes it possible to escape. I've read stories that I normally would run *screaming* from because they had a strong opening line. Erin's opening line here--"Mulder, were there any phone messages for me?" Dana Scully asked her partner of five years, Fox Mulder.--is adequate, but not entirely engrossing. It contains the initiating elements of the story, but it's not worded in such a way as to suck the reader in. I would have preferred something like [It began with a phone message.] or something equally melodramatic. I'm sucker that way. :)
Furthermore, although the things that Mulder and Scully *do* in the story are totally within character, the things that they *say* are a little hard to reconcile with the characters I watch on Sunday nights. Consider the following passage:
She saw him watching one of those Alien
Abduction videos that he got for $29.95. "What are
you watching? Looks like one of those porno movies."
"No," Mulder replied, not looking up. "I am watching
one of those Alien Autopsy videos that I ordered from
that place in Allentown, PA." He paused. "Remember?"
"How could I forget," Scully replied. "I still think that
it looks fake." She paused. "Are you going to ask me how the
"I was going to," Mulder replied, smiling. "I see you are
in a good mood."
"I have great news! Elaine told me that I can have
children. They didn't harvest all my ova. There are still
a lot more ova left in my body," Scully said, excitedly.
"How could I forget," Scully replied. "I still think that it looks fake." She paused. "Are you going to ask me how the appointment went?"
"I was going to," Mulder replied, smiling. "I see you are in a good mood."
"I have great news! Elaine told me that I can have children. They didn't harvest all my ova. There are still a lot more ova left in my body," Scully said, excitedly.
The dialogue here doesn't sound to my ear like two people actually talking. It's too . . .formal, I suppose. There aren't any contractions here, any evasions of the type we see in Mulder and Scully's conversations. There's no game playing with meaning, and while that's great for other types of writing, that's not what I see when I look at these characters. One of the flaws I see in Erin's execution is that her Mulder and Scully are too straightforward with one another. They hide nothing. (I also object out of hand to the use of exclamation points in dialogue and think they should be avoided if at all possible, but that's my personality flaw and should be taken with a grain of salt. :))
What we do see here on the other side of the coin is that the dialogue is interspersed with tags that break up the speech appropriately, tags that establish a rhythm. Although there's too much repetition of the tag line "replied" the impulse to break the speech apart is strong and seems natural.
Another trademark that I noticed in Erin's work which would cue me to her novice status (had her author's note not done so :)) is her tendency to repeat phrases. An excerpt:
She pressed the print button to print up the report. As the printer was printing the document, she called her doctor.
Often, Erin repeats herself not just with words, but with complete phrases, and the effect of such repetitions is the sense that the reader is being whacked over the head with the information. Some excerpts to illustrate:
Dana, they didn't take all of your ova. You still can have a normal, healthy pregnancy. Scully was shocked with the news. They hadn't taken all of her ova! She could still have children. They didn't harvest all my ova. There are still a lot more ova left in my body," there was zero chance of Scully having children since her ova was harvested along with the other female members of the MUFON Network. Although some of the repetition would seem necessary to reveal all of the details to Mulder (who was not at the examination), I wonder if different wording could be found, or if the episode with the doctor could be left out altogether and Scully could show up in the office and shock the reader as well as her partner with her good news.
All of this criticism is not meant to imply that Erin does not have promise, or that "Discovery of Hope" does not have it's good elements. It does. Especially in terms of its discovery of an original plot (where I was convinced there wasn't one) and her closing about the similarities between truth and love. What I see here is a writer who has a lot of ideas and a lot of energy. Erin clearly loves these characters, and the rate at which her stories appear on my mailing list indicates that she is not afraid of taking chances. She has drive and ambition: now she only needs some practice.
feedback on this review welcome at Julan777@aol.com