You are here:Liza N. Burby ~ Author, Journalist, Editor, Consultant/Archive for August 2008

        My last entry was a gentle condemnation of sloppy writing and editing, and I used as examples one book I have read and one I had yet to start. It's the latter for which I want to apologize now that I've finished it. Stephenie Meyer's final book in her series, Breaking Dawn, wasn't all that sloppy. There were some inconsistencies, but for the most part it had fewer typos than did her other books. Yeah, there were a number of neatly tied bows, but all authors do that, and readers forgive them.
        However, now that I have read it, I have more important issues with the book than I expected. As a writer and editor, I don't understand why Meyer chose to change point of view for one section of her book. Hearing Bella's story through Jacob's eyes removed the reader from the main character they had followed for three other books and made it difficult to understand the plot. Why couldn't we hear Bella's thoughts and decision process during a most disturbing plot development? I suspect Meyer's decision to change POV is the reason the rest of the book, which switches back to Bella's POV, feels off track, as though Meyer no longer really knew her Bella. The third section feels like a completely different book than all the others before it. Fans have said that the series ends for them when the first section of Breaking Dawn ends. I can see why.  
        But none of this is my biggest problem. As a parent and a parenting writer and editor, I am deeply disturbed by the plot and kept thinking the whole time I was reading it: This is not a kid's book.  Particularly in the second section, Jacob's POV--and here's a spoiler, so beware--when Bella is pregnant with a vampire child that violently breaks her ribs, pummels her belly, bruises her, making her near death. Bella has to drink human blood in graphic details to save the baby--and she likes it. And the only way to birth the baby is to bite it out?! It's totally gross, and if my daughter weren't already 18, I'd have insisted on reading it with her if she insisted on reading it, just so I could help her through these parts. But Meyer's fans are as young as 12 (and I'm sure younger) and I can tell you I wouldn't want my 14 year old reading it. If there are any parents of younger girls who haven't screened the book and it's not too late, I highly recommend doing so. And if it's too late, please talk to your child about the book. Maybe modern kids are jaded so it doesn't bother them. But I've read a lot of children's fiction and I've never run across a book in which teen pregnancy was handled in such a violent way. Yes, Bella is married so there are no moral dilemmas, but seriously, what's to be gained by everyone around Bella being tortured by how the pregnancy is draining the life out of her, while the "monster" inside her gets stronger? This is the stuff of horror movies that are rated at least a PG-13, but most likely R.
        Then there's Meyer's message, which as the mother of two teen daughters, bothers me as well: That at 18 you can know exactly what your future will be, so forgo college, marry and become a mother and from that alone you will be fulfilled for a lifetime. That just like in the movies, you'll have the perfect home, fancy cars, and oodles of money that comes from a source you needn't concern yourself with. It's a fantasy we'd all like to buy into.  And there are many families that do start out in the teen years. But usually as a society we worry about them because they're more likely to be living below the poverty level, unless they have an abundant source of income, which is rare. 
        As a wife, mother and an adult, I can appreciate Bella's love for her new family in ways my 18-year-old daughter could not. She doesn't yet understand the fierce love that a mother would have for her child, the passion that would make her do anything, even kill, to protect her child. So she wasn't able to relate to that Bella in any way. Which is another reason I feel this book was probably better directed at adults. As a writer I can understand the psychology with which Meyer, a wife and mother, must have been living as she wrote this book. I can imagine that she felt closest to Bella when she was now a wife and mother as well. It was clear from the writing how much Meyer loved the "adult" Bella. But that's exactly why the teen Bella, the girl that Meyer's fans loved and followed, seems to have been forgotten. And I feel for those fans. Meyer has said in interviews that she writes for herself, and that is her prerogative. But I wonder if once you've created such a powerful fan base through what you've written that you don't have a responsibility to them to at least remember their ages as you're writing. Yes, Meyer makes sure to let her readers know that the sex (the only human need that vampires can apparently engage in, and it's better than for humans it seems) follows the wedding, a message I'm grateful for since teen movies and TV seem to make sex after the first kiss an inevitability. And I'm also happy for Bella that in her vampire form she seems to have come into her own, enjoying a power so strong it saves her community. But I'm afraid all this isn't enough for me to justify the course Meyer's plot took. (Not that it ultimately matters what I think, I grant you that.)
        My suspicion is that since Meyer wrote her adult book, The Host, around the same time she was working on Breaking Dawn, she simply forgot how to write for teens. But then I guess that goes back to my earlier post: It's the editor's job to get the writer back on track. Had this not been Meyer's fourth book, had it been her first, I suspect it would have been rejected by an editor, or at least sent back for major revisions. That once again supports my theory that the industry does get a little sloppy when it knows it has a sure sale. We writers owe our readers much more than that.

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    My 18-year-old daughter finally convinced me to read Stephenie Meyer's hugely successful series about the love triangle of Bella, Edward the Vampire, and Jacob the Werewolf.  It took me a while because I'm not a vampire-werewolf kind of person. I prefer the characters in the books I read to be wholly human. But I suppose because I happily expanded that limitation to embrace Harry Potter, it was only a matter of time before I stretched my boundaries. Besides, since following the children's book industry is one of the things I do for a living, I really had no other excuse. So, I've spent my free time reading the first three books in the series over the last two weeks. And now I can start the final book, Breaking Dawn, which every Meyer fan has already finished, though the book was only released on Friday. 

    But I'm not looking forward to it. That's because my resident book critic has already informed me that Meyer's latest is being called an "epic failure" filled with "WTF" moments by the readers who matter most: teens. Fans aren't happy with Meyer right now. They say her 754-page final installment is about 400 pages too long. Then there's the issue that makes the editor in me twitch: I've already noticed in the other three books that there are many typos, misspellings and some sloppy writing. Fans say this book is worse and even teens are questioning if she rushed through it. Now that's harsh. 

    Why do I mention this? Because I'm amazed at what I see as a growing pattern among popular mainstream, successful writers to get carried away with their work and get sloppy, to put it mildly. Libba Bray did the same with the last book in her Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy, another tome that is about 400 pages too long. In this case, as with Meyer, the novelty of the author's ideas and her ability to capture teen angst and love and to tell a thrilling story definitely earned her the hefty advances and bestseller spot. But somewhere along the line, the writers seem to have gotten caught up in their own success, forgoing the good writing skills necessary to sustain fans. Bray's third book registered barely a blip, and the reviews were harsh. Meyer is already suffering the same fate less than a week from the release date. I question where the editors were in the process. After all, as an editor I know my job is to smooth out my writers' work so they look good. If I don't, I'm failing them.  Has the publishing industry become so caught up in their writers' successes that they and the writers think they can do no wrong? You will find no harsher critics than the female teen reader.  Just read some of the latest blogs about Meyer to see what I mean. I wonder if Meyer is surprised and I also wonder what will happen next. She takes her fans very seriously, so I have no doubt at some point she'll respond to them. And I wish her every success because the story of her writing career so far is a writer's dream. (In fact, her first book, Twilight, came to her in a dream. You can read more on her site,

    What does all this mean to the rest of us? I think it proves that as writers we need to be steadfast about our writing skills and not be swept up by the promise of stardom, because sometimes even our editors can fail us. Ultimately what wins out with our readers is the quality of our writing. Well-written books stand the test of time and aren't considered novelties.  Sure I'd like the $750,000 advance Meyer got for Twilight. But I also want to make sure that the books I write--and the books my children read--aren't produced solely for profit. I think it's our job as writers to take the quality of our work seriously at all times. In the end, those are the books that win the awards. 

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August 2008