The Review That Matters

Over the last several days I’ve been participating in Zoom sessions with teens who have read or are reading the Boone series. I told them about my writing process, which is pretty organic and unstructured, and a little about the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing (as I have experienced it; other’s mileage may vary); they asked questions and told me what they thought of Boone and the series.

The main reason I agreed to do this, and also the main reason I’m so very glad I did, was that the young people I was talking with are living out on the fringes of society, much as I portray Boone to be, and I wanted to get their opinions about how the characters came across and how Boone’s progress through the latter part of his teenage years sounded to them. I didn’t worry too much that they might be concerned with sparing my feelings; my career working with teens taught me that they would probably either give it to me straight or ignore me completely.

On the whole, they thought that Boone sounded like a real person, which was immensely gratifying and also a great relief. Like Boone, I spent my teenage years living in rural East Tennessee, but it has been a few decades, and Boone’s childhood was more dangerous and desperate than mine. I was never hungry, or beaten, and my family stayed intact throughout my childhood and far into my adult life; my mother died at 90 a few months ago, and my father (93) is still, as they say, alive and kicking. Much of Boone’s character was drawn from the issues faced, mistakes made, and resilience shown by the young people I worked with in treatment centers and residential facilities for the majority of my career. It was reassuring to hear that I mostly got it right.

I have always enjoyed writing for the pleasure of creation, the increased clarity of thought that is required when putting things into written form, and the satisfaction of having my characters take on lives of their own and let me know, in no uncertain terms, which direction they feel the story needs to go. I’m also insecure enough about my own abilities to place great value on the opinions of reviewers and judges. Now I find myself wondering why I worried so much about what they thought. The writer’s world is filled with people who are very comfortable using the yardsticks of number of positive reviews and number of sales to evaluate a book’s worth – and, by extension, the author’s – and having a legitimate reason to set aside those opinions is a pleasure. It’s an ego boost to read a positive review, unpleasant to get a negative one, and I won’t pretend that I’ll be completely ignoring either from here on out, but this experience has given me a more realistic frame of reference for them. These young people, largely ignored by society, have given me the most accurate feedback I have received to date, because they live the life I was trying to portray with Boone.

I can also say as a result of these sessions that I have received one review that is more meaningful than all the others I had gotten before, from Amazon or contest judges or anywhere else. The teacher I worked with during these sessions told me that one of the young men had never read an entire book before, but had finished the first three books in the series, was looking forward to reading the fourth, and wanted to know when Book Five was coming out. He said after reading the first few chapters he couldn’t put it down.

That’s where it’s at, folks.

The Boone Series is available in print or ebook versions on my website, housemountainviews.com or on Amazon. Also, I’m sure your local independent bookstore would be glad to order any of the books or the entire set upon request, so if you have a favorite, give them a little business. If you don’t have a favorite, there’s no time like now to find one.