Maladaptation, by Adan Ramie (40:00)

Today we see that, when you’re writing in tight POV, any description of a thing is also a description of the character doing the describing.

What I gleaned about the story: Lee and Josie are jaded (but likable) addicts. Ruby—on the run from her wealthy, abusive husband—immediately hits Josie with her car. Now they’re stuck with each other, and trying to figure out how to avoid some dangerous people who have already killed one of Lee’s friends.

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WTF #1: POV/tone mismatch

Analysis: The first paragraph does a good job of setting the scene, giving it a hefty dose of energy:

The club was dark when the dancer stepped on stage. The first few chords of a trashy hair metal song echoed through the dark parlor, and the platform lit up. She slung her hair in a cascade of fuchsia and electric pink, and strutted toward the pole in front of the crowd. Her tawny hips gyrated to the beat of the music over catcalls and grunts. Just before her customers started to complain, she popped the buttons off her vest and threw it into the audience.

But then we’re introduced to the person who is making these observations:

Lee Barsten looked on through hooded eyes with disinterest. Her drink sat forgotten in a puddle of its own condensation on the grimy table, and her cigarette had burned down to the filter and hovered precariously on the edge of the full ashtray. She flicked the butt into the tray with one bitten fingernail, then brought her hand up to push a straggly coil of brown hair off her forehead.

On the one hand, I really like the descriptions. The prose is pretty free with the adjectives, but they’re well chosen and used naturally.

On the other hand, the description of Lee’s disinterest in what’s happening onstage leaves me wondering how we got such a lavish and complete description from someone whose mind isn’t really on what’s in front of her. My standard advice is that point-of-view descriptions should follow the character’s attention and be colored by the character’s mental/emotional inner life. So by my ‘rules,’ a character who can be described as disinterested shouldn’t be relaying such comprehensive descriptions.

On the third hand—yes, I keep a severed limb with me at all times, for just these sorts of nuance emergencies—the contrast between the energy on the stage and Lee’s bored reaction really cements her character in my mind (or at least her jaded exterior).

On the balance, I like the writing here. Plagued by the sense that my inner editor is being a bit of a hoity-toity prescriptivist, I read on.

Kudo #1: POV/tone synergy

Analysis: As Chapter 2 opens, we meet Ruby, a woman who is about to leave her abusive husband. As she works up her nerve:

She stood, went to the kitchen, and then walked across the black and white tiles she hated to the stainless-steel refrigerator. Everything inside was lined up by category and color, each package sized up perfectly with its mates. They stared out at her like a troop of rigid Nazi soldiers.

I’m loving this whole opening, the way everything Ruby sees reinforces her sense of terror and disgust. Physically, she’s well provided for. The house is large, expensive, attractively furnished. But when she looks around, her observations echo the secret traumas she carries with her. The things we see through her eyes are painted by her memories and emotions, giving the reader a good sense of the person who is guiding them through the story.

WTF #2: A straightforward grammar error

Analysis: While I’ve seen some minor copy-editing gaffes (mostly of the wayward-comma-and-hyphenation variety), I’ve been thoroughly immersed in the story, so none of them have brought me to a halt. Maladaptation is following the formula for a good suspense/thriller novel: give the reader interesting characters who have landed in a world of trouble.

But as the clock was winding down, this one knocked me down:

The woman Ruby assumed was Sunny lie half naked on the uneven tiles…

It’s a simple, straightforward mistake, and reinforces that nagging whisper in the back of my mind that the book needs a final polish from a good copy editor.

But overall, I’m thoroughly enjoying Maladaptation. It’s got a gritty, dark tone, with troubled-yet-likable LGBT characters who live on the ragged fringes of society. Now they’ve run afoul of some very dangerous people, and I expect things will get worse for them before they get better. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. If it sounds like it might be your kind of thing, I recommend giving it a try.

Note from Jefferson: Methinks the cover doesn’t suit the content. When I first saw it, the artwork and series title created a very specific expectation for me: self-published angsty high-school delinquency drama. I suspect its intended audience would have a much easier time finding it if it had a stronger design that better conveyed the genre and story.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Try the free sample on one of my books or short stories and decide for yourself.

Tell the Octopus and other short stories, by Jonathan Day (40:00)
Above Ground, by A.M. Harte (5:50)