Tuesday, March 03 2015
Susan Young for Marshell Publishing
I’ve been speaking a lot lately with Larry Laswell about his experiences in writing The Marathon Watch, as well as some of the feedback he’s received from readers as well as literary critics. Here I’ve gathered some of his thoughts and perspective as he reflects on the criticisms he’s received thus far, and how he’s taken that information to heart.
First, how do you view reader reviews?
The reviews have been very gratifying and all positive. In the US my average review is 4.6 our of 5 stars, and in the UK my average review is 4.3 stars. I am thankful to anyone who provides feedback on my work. I appreciate they read the book and took the time to let me, and other readers, know what they thought. I don’t take criticism of my work as a bad thing. Instead, I view it as a learning opportunity to improve my craft. So far, all of the criticism I have received has been on point and I have learned from it although I may not agree with it because of the goals I set for my novel.
Reader Comment #1: The Marathon Watch begins with heavy narrative.
Larry’s Response: There are several reasons Larry claims that he starts the book with a lot of narrative, rather than dialogue. The first reason is the huge backstory he needs to convey to readers. “Most readers are not acclimated to military thinking and culture,” Larry says. “In order to convey (the backstory) to them through dialogue would have doubled the size of book, unless I did it in narrative (form).”
Reader Comment #2: The Marathon Watch breaks standard literature rules.
Larry’s Response: Larry admits that he knew the literary critics would get on his case for breaking many of the rules of standard literature, which are set by publishing houses. The publishing houses are not concerned with great literature; only minimizing their risk by using proven formulas. However, he believes he broke the rules for a purpose – to have a positive effect. “If you write those rules down, and then take work of Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Michener – not any of them will pass the test on those rules,” said Larry. “To a certain extent, I hope I’m in that class.” Larry also mentioned that some of the most critical reviews he has received have been from other authors because he broke the rules. Larry responded that he knows that there are many cookie-cutter book formulas out there. He offers those critics a spirited response: “Would you rather write a cookie-cutter novel that followed all the rules or write a great one readers will enjoy?” he said. “To hell with the formula!” My goal is to write great books, and my readers deserve more than a cookie-cutter formula book anyone could crank out in three months.
Reader Comment #3: The Marathon Watch is too long.
Larry’s Response: In this case, Larry started to believe some of the criticisms, and has responded accordingly. In fact, the original first draft of The Marathon Watch was 30 percent larger than the current book, but Larry cut the word count by 30,000 words – nearly one fourth of the book. The wisdom behind that decision was that in print format, for size and shelf considerations for retail stores, a shorter book made more sense, even though the larger size typically sells better in the electronic (eBook) world. Because of that decision, Larry said, his beta readers were angry with him because they said his first draft was a work of pure literature, and what he wound up with was all of the prose – beautiful descriptions, the history and the mythology on the cutting room floor. Larry holds on to the possibility that someday he’ll release the “author’s cut” of The Marathon Watch for those who would like to read the longer version. He is also considering re-releasing The Marathon Watch this year with a revised front end to address the narrative criticism.