The Kirkus Reviews.
My opera-themed novel, DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA, obtained one late last month--a very encouraging one, which you can read here. That's why my characters and I are doing the lambada together--the forbidden dance. What dance would you expect characters in a novel based on the legend of the greatest womanizer in western civilization to do? The foxtrot?
While Kirkus reviews roughly 500 books from the big presses, there are many more books that are published by small, independent presses. "Indies" as they are known. Kirkus now offers Indie Reviews by request.
Sometime in February I submitted a request for a review. Nine weeks later--it appeared in my inbox. You have the option of allowing them to include it on their website or not. I guess if you get panned, you might not want the world to see what Kirkus had to say about your baby.
Some wonderful things emerged from this review. First, I love how they described it--"a humorous backstage novel."
They also appreciated the research I poured into this book, evident in this line:
"The details involved in putting on an important opera are fascinating and true, particularly the technical discussions about staging."
This observation made me kick up my heels. I have lived and breathed opera for the last two and a half years. To have such third party validation of my new-found knowhow was truly thrilling. I've interviewed dozens of artists in the operasphere, seen and reviewed dozens of world-class operas, and pored over so many books, immersing myself in the art form to write this book. The reviewer also said:
Cognoscenti will especially appreciate the musical references . . .
That means he or she read my glossary, too. Cognoscenti are those who are truly knowledgeable about the classical arts like opera.
But my favorite part of the review was that they singled out Vivian as the character they liked the most.
Vivian, the ketchup heiress, gets some especially good scenes.
Authors are like parents in a way. We spend so much time with our characters that they become our children in the sense that we love them even when they are bad (or because they are bad.) Vivian struggles with bipolarity. She began as a very unsympathetic character but fifty pages in, I realized she deserved better. She needed to be humanized--not just a conflation of annoying women I've met over the years.
So when the Kirkus reviewer singled out Vivian a favorite character, it felt like being the parent of a late-blooming child who comes home with a blue ribbon from the fine arts festival, and you're flabbergasted. 'Where did that come from?" you ask. The dark horse that you've been praying would succeed has finally come in first. (It being the day after the Kentucky Derby, well, I couldn't resist the reference.)
The Kirkus also offers some valuable observations from which you can learn because the criticism is constructive and valid. This reviewer didn't like Jeannie Jacobs. He or she found her distracting.
Jeannie was introduced later in the book--roughly halfway through. Not that writers always have to follow the rules, but generally major characters should appear in the first third of the book. I broke that rule and here's why. I needed the colorful Elivira character from Don Giovanni--the scorned woman with the stuck crazy button and the most memorable female in the opera--and I wasn't willing to turn Deanna or Vivian (who would have been the obvious choice) into Elvira. I should've bitten the bullet and stuck to three major female characters. I gambled and, in the eyes of Kirkus, I came up snake eyes with regard to that character.
It was very helpful feedback, and I will definitely learn from and grow from--I have already.
The other wonderful thing about my Kirkus Review is that it reinforced what many readers have expressed in their Amazon and Goodreads' reviews:
. . . readers need not be opera buffs to enjoy this novel.
All in all, a great experience that allows me at add another notch to my writing belt--a Kirkus Review for my first published work. Lambada, anyone?