To review or not to review, that is the question.

I have to say that I love writing. I love creating characters whose lives I care about. I want them to succeed and overcome; I want them to come out the other side of their trials better than when they began. And because I care so much about them, I’m confident that as least some of the readers out there will come to care about them too.

That brings up the other side of writing – the reader. If readers don’t like your books, they  won’t tell their friends to read your books, and they certainly won’t buy any of your other books. In the Amazon era that we live in, the view (or “review”) of other readers has become an important part of sales.

I have been guilty of asking (or encouraging, cajoling, begging) people for reviews on Amazon. Most of it came to naught. Why, I wondered, could I not get more people to post a review, even after they came to me raving about my book?

I answered my own question the other day when I was visiting a store. One particular employee had been quite helpful. So, I made a point of hunting down the manager to tell him about his stellar employee. He thanked me and then asked if I had gone to their website to post a review. I had not. He then informed me that it really made a difference, and he hoped that I would do so. I dismissed that thought … until I got home. How could I deny the very thing that I desired from others?

Everywhere we turn these days we are asked for feedback – from our doctors (necessary with Obamacare), grocery stores, online merchants, mechanics, gas stations, and so on. We are inundated with requests for our thoughts. I know I hesitate because I don’t want to take the time and I don’t think it will make a difference. As far as the time issue, I have to say one of my favorite five-star reviews was a single word: “Brilliant.” And I’m rethinking that it will make a difference, especially for some small fry. So I’m making an attempt to provide more feedback.

So, here’s the end of the story. (To forewarn you – it’s a surprise ending.) I went back to that store on a small errand but with the intention of writing down the employee’s name who had been so helpful. I ended up having a colossally terrible customer service experience. So, I figured this time around, the best thing I could do was let my experiences cancel each other out, and I did not write a review. However, I did post a book review last week. Does that count?

What do you think? If you don’t mind leaving a comment – I know it takes time – I’d love to hear about why or when you do or do not leave reviews.


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Are you happy to be you?

It’s been an interesting week. Since my BookBub ad ran last Monday, I’ve had a lot of activity with my ebook – a large number of downloads and a jump in the number of reviews on Amazon. This is good.

So, here’s the thing – I’ve been reading all those reviews. They are, by in large, very positive, with the majority of them being 5-star reviews. I like that. Who wouldn’t? But I also read the 3-star reviews and the one 2-star review. They weren’t so flattering (even if the 2-star review actually made me laugh). How should I feel about those?

As we go through life, a test of our character is how we respond to criticism. I don’t think anyone likes it, but are we willing to learn from it? I tried to read those reviews with that in mind. Was there something I could glean to apply to my second book (and my third)? Is there improvement that can be made? The answer is, of course, yes. But I went beyond that. I started to feel discouraged about those reviews. They had morphed from something that could help me to something that just brought me down.

I had to take a step back and remind myself that those negative reviews were a very small percentage of the total reviews. Not everyone is going to love my book, right? So, was I going to pay more attention to that small percentage or the much, much larger percentage of positive comments?

The answer was – neither.

Yes, I’ll still read the reviews and see what there is to learn, but I had to remind myself of something I decided or accepted when I first began this journey. It came about because of a conversation I had in my head. As I wrote that first book I wondered and worried about how it would be received. I recognized it was a good story, but that it wasn’t Pulitzer material. Then I thought about the Pulitzer winners that I’ve read. Those books have struck me with their mastery of words, but I have often disliked the story. It dawned on me that the books I enjoy the most are more about the story than the words.

As I realized this, I accepted the fact that I will never win a Pulitzer. Wow! I said it. And it’s not even a shock to anyone. So, that’s what I had to remember, to tell myself all over again. And, once again, I knew that I was okay with that. I recently won a prestigious award for my writing which does give me some validation, but it’s not the final say on who I am or what I think of myself.

What matters to me at the end of the day is whether I did my best. My best writing will never win me the Pulitzer, but that’s okay because I’m still doing the best I know how. I’m working hard – writing, rewriting, editing, reading, writing some more. I’m focused and determined. I am Mary Ellen Bramwell – nothing more and nothing less, and that’s going to be good enough for me.


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FREE through March 31

Take a peek at the ebook of The Apple of My Eye. It’s free on Amazon for the next few days. Share with a friend, post a review, and ENJOY!

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In Memory of a Friend

I’ve been a reluctant blogger of late. For my readers and fellow writers who follow me, I haven’t wanted to bog you down with unnecessary drivel. And so, when I haven’t felt I had something important to say, I just haven’t said anything. Today, though, I want to share with you the story of a friend. It’s worth something.

A friend of mine, I’ll call him D., recently passed away, and I was fortunate enough to attend his funeral. Funerals are full of wonderful stories that we’ve never heard before, and his was no exception. During the eulogy, this story was related:

D. was an Eagle scout who loved the outdoors. On one particular scouting trip, his younger brother J. was also along. When the scouts reached their campsite, D. noticed that J. was not with them. So, D. hiked back along the trail to look for him. Sure enough, J. had gotten lost. As D. got ready to guide him to the others, he offered to carry his brother’s heavy pack for him, an offer that was accepted. They made their way back up the trail, but just before coming within sight of the other scouts, D. returned J.’s pack to him, to carry into the camp himself. D. never told anyone that his brother had been lost, nor that he had been the one to shoulder the heavy pack.

This story about my friend touched me. He had suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for 20 years, although I had only known him for 15. I knew him to be a kind and patient man, but I didn’t know the depths of it.

There are many people in our paths that we can help. The first challenge is to make sure we help them, but the second is illustrated by my friend. Do we help them and allow them to maintain their dignity? I’m not sure that we do or that we even consider it. My friend, in his passing, has just taught me to be more aware of that very thing, and hopefully by being aware, I will do something about it.


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How resolute are you?

It’s been a week and a half since the beginning of the year. Are you the type who sets New Year’s resolutions? If so, how’s that working for you? Have you kept your resolutions so far? I hope so, and I applaud your efforts.

I have to admit something here. I, for one, don’t set resolutions – never have, don’t think I ever will. At this point you’re probably either thinking, “Hurrah, she’s one of us,” or “What a loser.” The truth is somewhere in the middle.

I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to be told what to do. This can be a problem, and I try to temper it, but it’s a fact all the same. So I wonder who decided that just because it was the beginning of a new year, that I needed to set some big lofty goal? I don’t know, and I’ll tell you, if I don’t like being told what to do by a person standing in front of me, I certainly don’t like it from some unnamed, unidentified source.

Let me tell you what I like instead. I actually like to set goals, but I set them as needed. Trust me, that happens way more often than once a year. Sometimes I set goals for my day or my week. With my novel it’s often a certain number of words to write in a day or how long I should take to finish a first draft.

Despite my earlier statement about not liking being told what to do, I’m actually a very religious person. I understand the value of commandments and often make goals associated with that, such as being quicker to love than to judge.

If you like to make resolutions, and that works for you – who am I to judge? For me, don’t ask me about my resolutions, but if you ask about my goals, be prepared for a long answer.

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Fragments – Your thoughts?

What are your thoughts about sentence fragments? I admit that I’ve been a stickler for complete sentences for a long time. With the exception of dialogue, since we rarely talk in complete sentences, I’ve always been very loyal to that grammar rule. I like complete sentences. I even crave them in my reading. However, it appears that I am in the minority in this.

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and I’m finding many authors appear to embrace fragments.  It’s made me rethink my opinion. Is there a place for them? My initial conclusion is that fragments can be used effectively for impact, such as, “It was cold in the boardroom. Too cold.” This creates an impression that something is amiss, and it has more impact because the two thoughts are separated by that period, rather than a comma. The period tells the brain to stop and take a breath.

The problem, I would suggest, is the overuse of fragments. I recently read a book that had more fragments than complete sentences. It was simply laziness on the part of the author. Often, by adding a comma, he could have turned his fragments into real sentences without adding words or changing meaning or even diminishing impact.

As fellow authors and fellow readers, what are your thoughts? Is this grammar rule outdated and one to be ignored, sometimes ignored, or always adhered to. I’d like to know what you think.

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I opened my email today to see a notice from Writer’s Digest. I enjoy the magazine. I also receive a fair amount of emails from them. So, as I was in a hurry to work on my latest book, I almost deleted the email without opening it up. Luckily, I didn’t. It was a follow-up to my notice of winning an honorable mention for an article I submitted. If you open this post on my webpage, it will be the image you see at the right – my bragging rights.

Let this be a cautionary tale. As a writer, one must be a braggart! This is not something that I am comfortable with, but I understand that it’s necessary. So, with those thoughts in mind, I set about adding the seal Writer’s Digest sent me. They were even kind enough to send it in two forms (.tiff and .png). I’ve heard of .tiff files. However, I hate to admit my lack of knowledge about .png files, because my early career was in computers. But be that as it may, I set about to add said seal to my webpage.

I won’t bore you with the steps I tried and failed at. Maddening doesn’t even come close. I even googled how to do it, and still it didn’t work. As you can see, I’ve added images before. I kept thinking, “How hard can this be?” Apparently – Hard!

So, an hour later, I finally succeeded – all so I could brag about something that I’ve already bragged about. Geesh! I’m not sure what to say now, other than now that’s it’s there, I’m never taking it down!


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Learning patience

I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember, but before I started my first novel, The Apple of My Eye, they were all short stories. I’ve had to learn patience writing something longer, and it’s been difficult. I always want to hurry and get to the end – to the crux of the whole thing. With my first book and second one, my work-in-progress, I couldn’t wait, and skipped ahead to write the last chapter or two before everything in the middle was done.

But, I’ve learned something along the way about patience. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. I’m happy with the way The Apple of My Eye turned out, and I understand better that complete strangers will be reading what I write. So, as I work on When I Was Seven, I want to get it right. I finished the first draft and started to edit, but then I stopped to read an insightful book on editing. Now my editing is becoming more fine-tuned, as is the novel.

However, something still wasn’t perfect. I stopped editing for reasons I couldn’t articulate, choosing instead to read other novels – voraciously. Some of them were admittedly better than others, but they all helped me recognize what I needed to change in my novel. It’s not the story itself, but the voice with which I tell it. As I caught hold of the vision of what it can become, I’m surprised to realize that I am not bothered by the extra time it will take. Elevating the story will be worth it.

I’m just grateful this is my second novel and not my first. I never would have had the patience the first time around to write When I Was Seven the way it should be written. I hope you find the wait to be worth it, too.


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Spinning a tale …

I find it interesting that we talk about “spinning” a tale, as if we were spiders, creating an intricate web of story lines and characters. I’ve thought on this quite often lately, every time I walk past my resident web builder.

He’s a nasty looking spider, to be sure, but a harmless one. (Trust me, I’ve checked.) For whatever reason, he has made his home in our breezeway, next to our garage. A window graces each side of a door leading outside, and he has picked the left one as his own. I can’t bring myself to wipe away all his hard work. His web spans the window and has even moved onto the adjacent wall.

This web is now populated with a variety of flying bugs, all wrapped and store neatly for future consumption. Although I wonder about him because he never seems to eat. You would think that, from time to time at least, one of the bugs would go missing! But they don’t! I wonder what he’s waiting for.

I’ve met many a person who says, “I’ve always wanted to write a book.” I’ve met many a writer with more ideas than they know what to do with (myself included). Well, what are you waiting for? Take one of those ideas and dive right in – spin your tale!


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Rules, what rules?

Let me start by saying I am not a rule breaker, usually. I follow the laws of the land and the commandments of God. These things make sense to me and bring order to life. But since becoming a full-time writer I’ve discovered a whole cadre of “rules” about my profession. It’s somewhat unsettling to step into a parlor you think you will enjoy only to discover that someone has posted rules of conduct you must follow or risk … what, I don’t know. Suddenly, you are ill at ease, fearful of breaking some sacred trust.

Apparently, back in 1928 “Twenty rules for writing detective stories” was published in American Magazine. (You can find the list at: Writers took these seriously, except for maybe one of the most famous detective story writers of all-time, Agatha Christie. I have read that she broke every one of them. Although I can’t personally vouch for that, I can easily recognize many that she violated. For instance, if you have read her books you will recognize that sometimes the murderer was actually a group of murderers (violates rule #12), or that the investigator might actually be involved in the crime (rule #4). More recent authors break rule #3 on a regular basis which states that there should be no love interest in a detective story.

You may have figured out my motive by now. By explaining away Agatha Christie’s flagrant disregard for rules, I have justified my own neglect of such things. Take a moment to read my short story, “Grandpa.” (

Now, let me tell you the rules I have broken in the writing of said story. Supposedly, one is never to start a short story with the weather. Hmmm … even after learning this rule, I refused to change my story. I like the feeling it gives you of heat and exhaustion; I like the metaphor of wanting or needing respite from current conditions. Kurt Vonnegut gave 8 tips for writing a good short story. One of them is “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.” ( If you read my story, clearly I violated this – and blatantly at that. I do not apologize for this. It was my intention from the start to mislead.

There, I said it. I intended to mislead. I willfully rebelled against the “rules.” However, may I borrow Robert Frost’s words and say:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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