Book Review: Always Listen to the Ravings of a Mad Woman

Always Listen to the Ravings of a Mad Woman
(A Story of Sex, Porn, and Postum in the Land of Zion)
by JulieAnn Henneman
published by Draumr Publishing

This book was mentioned to me as something different (especially as regards Mormon characters), so I went a-seeking. And boy, did I get.

Corinne Young is having an affair with her dentist. Kinda. Sorta. She’s not sure why, but there’s gotta be a reason, right? Her husband, Brent, holes himself up in his office with his computer all night long, working on the software training company he built. And then, well, all hell breaks loose. It doesn’t take long to understand why Corinne’s diddling the dentist, even if it takes her longer than the reader to figure it out. (Because, well, what does “husband holed up in his office with his computer all night long” say to you? Okay, after much thought, it occurred to me he could have been gaming.)

Let me get my beefs out of the way first, and they’re all editing beefs. The story could have been tighter in some places and expanded in others. I know I counted one spot where Corinne’s (the protagonist) name was spelled wrong (which, to me, is major carelessness). The mother character needed to be a little more consistent. The first-person past tense got mixed up with first-person present tense enough to be annoying. Some of the psychological definitions needed to be woven in better for the reader who (ahem, me) doesn’t speak the language of addiction or 12-step groups. There were other things, and all things that an editor should have caught, but…

I liked it. I liked it in spite of its editing flaws, which will usually put me off a book faster than anything. I would have read it in one sitting but I have children and a day job.

The voice was fresh and comical, with a sad subtext that gave me an earbug for “the tears of a clown when there’s no one around.” The fact that these characters are Mormons (jack, social, or otherwise) really doesn’t register with me, except that I understand the jargon and the nuances of some scenes, which would pass harmlessly over a non-member’s head without leaving the non-member behind. Of course, that could be me saying that knowing the jargon; I didn’t really understand what made Corinne a co-addict so it’s possible a non-member would have to take church references in context, as I did the 12-stepping.

I went on the assumption that this is quasi-autobiographical, so everything that happened in the order that it happened made sense to me. Perhaps, had I taken it on its face as a complete fiction (hey, at least she didn’t call it a “memoir”!), I might have had an issue with what genre romance terms The Big Misunderstanding, but even then I might not have. Big Misunderstandings happen in real life, too, and I can accept that as a device as long as it’s not too contrived and the characters have already displayed a willingness to avoid confronting issues.

Odd aside: The publisher classifies this as “chick lit.” I guess I don’t know what chick lit is; this didn’t feel like what I thought chick lit was.

Somewhere between R and NC-17 for sex and language, none of which, IMO, were titillating in the least, so I’d err on the side of the R.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Always Listen to the Ravings of a Mad Woman

  • July 13, 2008 at 7:21 am

    The funny thing is that when I say “Here’s a good example of an engaging story that suffers from exactly the same fatal flaw as your book,” then naturally you can’t help but like it. JulieAnn should totally be thanking me. 😉

    But seriously, it’s exactly as I said in an earlier email: one of the hardest parts of workshopping with other writers is that they always look at your work through the filter of the goals they’ve set for their own work. As I said in my review of Ravings, I don’t like feeling like the author is saying “See how very right the hero is?”

    It’s possible that my position on this is unusual, but (strangely enough) I got this idea mostly from reading Mormon works. There’s a strong tendency in Mormon art to try to promote the faith, and often the Mormons themselves complain (or seek more worldly fare) because they don’t want their entertainment to be something that would be appropriate for a lesson manual. Plus, I was strongly influenced by the work of Alison Bechdel, and (as I explained here). I was very impressed by her ability to create a range of different characters with different perspectives and not say “See? Character A is right and character B is wrong.” And I’ve attempted to emulate this in my own work, so that Exmormon isn’t about explaining to you why the exmos are the ones who are right, but rather illustrating their perspective so you understand their mindset, as you can kind of see from this new review that was posted this morning.

    That said, I understand if it isn’t your goal and it isn’t JulieAnn’s either. 😉 Hope you’ll forgive all the self-linkings here…

  • July 13, 2008 at 7:55 am

    I got this idea mostly from reading Mormon works. There’s a strong tendency in Mormon art to try to promote the faith,

    Oh, indeed. It seems to me religious fiction (and I mean, any faith because you’re going to get it at Zondervan’s as fast as you’ll get it at Deseret Book) explicitly intended to be didactic will most likely result in mediocrity. I discussed as much in a comment on Toward an LDS Cinema regarding LDS filmmaking.

    As we’ve discussed, I don’t read fiction as a morality tale. Ever. Mine isn’t a morality tale and JulieAnn’s book clearly isn’t a morality tale. If I run into something that is clearly a morality tale I either ignore it in favor of the story or throw the book at the wall as preachy BS because the story wasn’t good enough to sustain the preaching—and that’s what I find annoying.

    That said, I don’t think that mine (or JulieAnn’s) is flawed in the way you mean it. Fiction is a lie. Period. A reader is not required to try to suss out an author’s assumptions nor is the reader required to adopt whatever assumptions he thinks the author made. Likewise, the author is not required to meet the reader halfway to assumptions that the author can’t possibly know the reader is going to make.

    The author is required to tell a good lie. The reader is only required to buy the lie OR NOT buy the lie. If the reader is not buying the lie, then the reader is to put the book down. It’s all about the lie.

    The funny thing is that when I wrote my characters, my thinking was, yes, they believe in these things but…they’re not the best examples of any of it, so take it with a grain of salt. They’re not good examples of Mormons, they’re not good examples of Objectivists.

    …switching conversational gears…

    You might be surprised what I’m reading right now: Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, which I’ll review when I finish. So far it’s reading about like any other really good romance novel with a, uhm, twist. 😉

    No problems with linkylinks at all. I’d collect more, but the internets already did. 😉

  • July 13, 2008 at 10:56 am

    Fiction is a lie. Period.

    Well, I’m afraid we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this point. Actually, I recently read a fascinating article in The New Yorker here talking about the ways that fiction can be truer than factual history.

    And I don’t mean to single out Mormons for the accusation of didacticism. It’s just that I’m willing to read and enjoy Mormon works in spite of it because I like portraits of LDS culture. Other didactic stories — without that mitigating factor — I generally don’t read them at all.

  • February 2, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Of course all fiction is a lie; that’s why we call it “fiction” instead of biography or history.

    The only thing that counts is how convincing and entertaining a lie any given piece of fiction is. Great fiction almost invariably tells you more about the author than about their chosen characters because who you are, what you have experienced, and what you believe is always going to profoundly influence the lies you choose to tell, at least if you are telling lies with any kind of originality (which are the only kind worth spending time listening to). Which is to say, if you’re writing strictly formula pulp, who you are and what you believe probably is not going to be much visible–that’s one of the main reasons why formula pulp is invariably trite and b-o-o-o-ring to anyone with a mind. (If you’ve read one connect-the-dots formula Regency romance with paper-doll-cutout characters, you’ve read them all.) However, if you are an original creative writer rather than a hack, all manner of your viewpoints, preferences, and assumptions are going to be made visible by your plot and your characters, and that fact is going to provide much of their individuality and much of the fascination of your work. Personally, I prefer to read that kind of fiction. OTOH, you do need to have an original story to tell, convincing characters to tell it through, and a willingness to reveal yourself in the telling, not just a viewpoint you are trying to present. If one of the main things that concerns an author is religion, she’s undoubtedly going to produce boring, didactic crap if what she writes is just religious formula pulp designed to illustrate Sunday School lessons. OTOH, she can expend a tremendous number of her pages on religious issues and produce mesmerizing literature rather than didactic crap if the issues arise naturally as part of the nature of her characters in an original story derived from her own convictions about what is important and true about life. In that case, it will not be in any way a requirement that the readers share the world view in order to find it fascinating and the writing gripping. I’m not religious at all; I found the world views of authors such as Sigrid Undset and Nikos Kazantzakis totally alien when I read their books. I also thoroughly enjoyed reading their books and exploring their minds and convictions through them, at least in part [i]because[/i] they were writing from a totally different world view from mine. Okay, quite probably none of the authors being discussed here are ever going to be in the Nobel Prize contender category, but the principle remains true. If the work is original and the writer is good, it is not necessary for the reader to share any of the writer’s opinions in order to enjoy the reading. The writer’s opinion of the rightness of their hero, or even their opinion of who is a hero and why, may totally disagree with your opinion, and you can still find the character seems real, the story is gripping, and the book well worth spending time reading.

    I do not share Moriah Jovan’s religion, politics, or even some of her opinions about human nature; however, I found her a very interesting and entertaining writer. She has a mind worth getting to know, and her writing reflects it. Her agenda does not have to be my agenda to hold my attention.

  • February 3, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Thank you, M. Sherwood. I feel like I really did my job when people who don’t agree with me or my philosophies (and who may not like my characters, even) still find my work enjoyable.

  • March 2, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Thank you for the review (I finally found it when, during a moment of self-indulgent procrastination, I Googled my book to see if anything new popped up.) And ‘up’ popped you.

    I am with you 100%. The editing in the book sucked. Like many first-time authors, I am reticent to even tell people about it {the book} because I know where each and every editing mistake is located. As an author, you know how difficult it is to spot your own mistakes, which is why I had a publisher and an editor. Apparently, editing my book was not on their To Do list that month. I am, to say the least, chagrined and irritated beyond belief.

    I have learned a lot since then (past tense, present tense, everybody tense-tense) mostly thanks to a rabid critic of mine who takes anything and everything I write and butchers it to shreds on her blog. She has been unbelievably helpful, so I don’t wish her any ill,(other than pneumonia apparently. Long story…but I digress.)The point is, as you know, writing isn’t just a talent; it’s a craft, one that requires constant work, practice and commitment.

    On characters.

    Carol, we have had this discussion before (and you and Wanker hashed it out nicely as well) It is not up for debate whether or not the protag’s husband is an addict. He is. It’s not a matter of right or wrong; the point of the story wasn’t to allow the reader to decide whether or not he was addicted. According to his behavior, the DSM-IV and countless sources via my research, the guy is addicted to porn. Substitute drugs or alcohol and you have a story about ADDICTION, not about pornography and whether or not is it ‘good’ or bad’. Addiction is bad. Period (unless you’re addicted to garbanzo beans; I hear that can be rather edifying.)

    Example–the protag’s husband is also a man. Do I need to let the reader really DECIDE if he’s a man, or can I just write him that way, using the evidence that he has a penis, short hair and an occasional blast of gas from his ass?

    It wasn’t about the protag being ‘right’, it was about her uncovering what was happening to her life.

    Autobiographical? It was written about someone I know, yes. It turned into an autobiography, when half way through the story, I found out my former husband was an addict. If I were to describe what it was like to be married to an addict, I would say this: It wasn’t the drug, the women or the time and money that bothered me. It was, for lack of a better term, the position of being utterly and completely alone–all of the time. Not physically; emotionally. Doesn’t matter what the drug is–the partner of an addict has no partner, and it sucks.

    Thanks for letting me vent/explain/complain and ramble on your blog. Come visit me–I do some ‘ravings’ of my own. :0)

    JulieAnn Carter-Winward (formerly Henneman)

  • March 5, 2009 at 9:09 am

    JulieAnn, thanks for coming by; sorry I haven’t been around much lately.

    I enjoyed your book, and I want to make it clear that I place the blame for editing squarely on the publisher. I’m sorry they didn’t have their schtick in gear that day.


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