Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Life of the Party

I don't usually read business books, but when I saw that Life of the Party was about Brownie Wise, I was intrigued. So I requested a copy.

You don't know who Brownie Wise was?

Yeah, I didn't either. And that's kind of the point.

Brownie Wise was the woman who was instrumental in organizing and managing and growing the home party concept for Tupperware. You might say she was the first Tupperware Lady.

Her rise was meteoric. She went from selling products for the Stanley company (Fuller brushes!); bringing what she learned there to selling Tupperware; to being the face of Tupperware, running the home party division and living in a company-owned mansion. She had enough money to buy a small island. She was a success story.

Unfortunately, meteors fall. And she came crashing down petty spectacularly. The owner of the Tupperware company, Earl Tupper, decided to fire her and no one could change his mind. Maybe he was jealous that she became the spokesperson for the company, or perhaps it was that she believed her own publicity and she got too over-bearing to deal with.

Whatever the reason, he fired her, booted her out of the company mansion, buried copies of the book she wrote, and erased her name from the official company history. Boom! She was gone.

The current management of the company has put her back into the history, and even re-released a book she wrote.

Her story was interesting, particularly because back in the early 50's many women didn't work, and the ones that did were secretaries or sales clerks. But she wasn't an average woman. She started her own business and parlayed it into becoming vice-president at a huge company.

What she did isn't all that different from what a lot of food bloggers do, except we're sitting behind computers and she was going door-to-door, selling cleaning products.

Brownie Wise didn't start out wanting to be the executive of a company. She just wanted to make enough money to feed herself and her son after her marriage fell apart. But along the way, she made some good decisions, got noticed by the right people, and took opportunities (and their associated risks) when they arose.

But she wasn't the only woman who was a go-getter. Another woman (along with her husband) grew her Tupperware distributorship until she was getting shipments from the company by rail car. That's a freaking LOT of plastic. She had ambition, she was hard-working, and her ideas on how to motivate the people under her were successful.

But Brownie was the one who became vice president, maybe just because she was in the right place at the right time. Reading the book, it seems she made a lot of right decisions, but she made some wrong ones. She was really good with people. Some people. The Tupperware dealers loved her. Idolized her, even. The Tupperware managers, one step up from the dealers, also loved her. But she was less concerned about the distributors. Less in touch with them. And for sure she didn't handle her relationship with the company's owner very well. And that's probably what went wrong. Not a bad business decision, but a bad personal relationship.

This book was a really interesting read, and although it's not really a how-to-do-it book, I think that it gives some food for thought for anyone who's thinking about running their own business.

I received this from the publisher at no cost.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Beyond Ice

If there's one thing that most self-published books have in common, it's the lack of editorial guidance. I'm not talking about checking for spelling errors. I mean the sort of editing that can be brutal to a fragile writer's ego.

If you can get beyond the sorts of mistakes that creep into a self-published work to find the gems within, that's fine. If errors make you want to whip out a blue pencil, you might want to stick to commercial works.

Beyond Ice is self-published. So, let's get through the technical problems.

First, it's written mostly in present tense. Most books these days are written in past tense, and that's what readers expect. It's what's normal. If a writer chooses to write in present tense (and can do it skillfully), the book should stay in present tense. But this book bounced around, and every time it leaped into past tense, I would be jolted out of the story. A good editor would have caught that. Whether most readers will notice ... I really don't know.

Second, this book suffers from what I call CSI Syndrome. This is the plot device where characters have a conversation simply to give the audience facts, but the people in the conversation probably know these facts and don't have any need to discuss them. Done well, it works. You find out facts you need and the story moves on seamlessly. Done poorly, you're left wondering if these people have some sort of mental disorder that makes them tediously explain things to people when the people already know everything you're telling them.

The CSI shows would often have the main character go into a lab and the lab technician would explain something to the CSI. Or the CSI would explain something to an intern or civilian. Most of the time it worked well enough, but there were times when it stretched credulity a little too far.

In this book, there aren't a whole lot of extra characters who can explain (or be explained to) so you have two guys who have worked together for years and set up a secret lab for experiments who say things like "But what if the power goes out?" and "That's what we bought the generators for!" Um ... I knew there were generators. I'm pretty sure these guys didn't need to tell each other why they bought the generators.

Worse yet, a power outage never happened - and it wasn't even threatened - so this exchange didn't move the plot forward.

Other times, it was family members having these sorts of conversations. It was strange and unnatural.

On television, you have the choice of showing action or having dialog. But in a book, there can be that narrator-voice who explains things to the reader. Much of the conversations in the book could have been handled outside of dialog.

There are other conversations that didn't need to exist at all. Several times, characters went out for lunch, and we're treated to, "Hi my name is *whatever* and I'll be your server. Can I get you a drink?" and this trudges onward through the characters ordering whatever it is they order. If one of them came down with food poisoning from a bad anchovy, their lunch order might make sense. But otherwise it's just filler.

And ... since I'm talking about dialog, much of it wasn't realistic. People don't talk like that. They just don't. I have a feeling someone read a first draft of this book, told the writer more dialog was needed, and this was the result. Oh well.

But, maybe it's just me. After working for years as an editor, I see things like this and my editor brain shifts into gear and I want to start fixing things. So I lose interest in the plot. It's like artists who start looking at brush strokes in a painting and miss the fact that Waldo is still hiding in there. Forest for the trees, and all that. I can't turn off that editor-brain, but people who can, or who don't care about technical issues, are probably more interested in the story, yes?

So ... the story.

Hmmm. It gets off to a really slow start. The first chapter could fall right out of the book and we'd lose nothing. It almost feels like it was tacked on after the rest of the book was written. And here's the thing that struck me as really odd. There were three references to a particular brand of insulated beverage container (I'm not going to name the product) that listed the brand name along with the little registered trademark symbol. Who on earth does that in a novel? There was no need to mention the brand name, it had nothing to do with the plot, and the trademark symbol was completely out of place. I have to wonder if that was a paid placement.

Call me skeptical. Go right ahead.

But that might have been just a quirk. Like the use of footnotes. Which was also very weird in a novel.

So anyway, it started slow. Way slow for the first 100 pages or so. There's a woman with what might be a terminal disease. She becomes interested in having herself frozen after she dies. Brrrrrrr.

Meanwhile, two scientists build a secret lab. They have been able to freeze dead mice and bring them back to life but they think that the public will be upset if they freeze live mice and bring them back to life. And bringing these live frozen mice back to life is somehow more difficult that bringing dead frozen mice back to life, so that's the focus of their work at the beginning. Okayyyyyyy ......

So they build this lab in an underground bunker with a general store above for loggers that acts as a disguise for the lab. They move on from mice to gerbils and other rodents to finally freezing and thawing a monkey.

Anyway, these stories run parallel to each other until the woman goes to a symposium where one of the reclusive scientists is giving a speech. And then it starts getting tangled. The woman disappears. Ruh roh. Where could she be?

Towards the end of the book, it fast-forwards by about 20 years and I couldn't help thinking that some of those 20 years might have been much more interesting in terms of fleshing the book out than the first 100 pages. But that's just me.

The story, once it gets going, is pretty good. I liked the good guys enough, but I sort of wish I hated the bad guys a little more. They seemed like reasonably nice guys (who are way too concerned about what "tree huggers" will think of them) up until they do the heinous thing they do ...

The reviews on Amazon (all [both] of them ...) are positive, so maybe normal readers aren't as bothered by the technical issues as I am. Both of them actually call it a page turner. So there ya go. I thought it was slow, they thought it was enthralling. Everyone's got an opinion.

If you read this one, I'd be curious to know what you think.

I received the book at no cost to me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Dex

I read a kid's book, and I like it. There were no wizards. But there was a lot of cooking.

Dex Rossi, the main character of the book Dex, by Sheri Lynn Fishbach, is a middle-schooler who likes to cook. He has a business in front of his house selling sandwiches before his school day begins, and he sells more at school.

A geeky sort of kid with a crush on a classmate who seems to favor jocks, Dex faces all the same sorts of problems that average kids face, but he's also got worries about the family restaurant and his desire to save money for an exercise machine that will help him bulk up to impress the girl.

A strange turn of events lands him a cooking show on television, but then everything gets even more complicated...

As as adult, there were a few times when I shook my head and said, "no, that's not likely," but then I had to step back and realize that the book is, of course, fiction. And it's written for kids who will breeze right past the little inconsistencies.

This is exactly the sort of book I would have read as a kid - I loved Nancy Drew mysteries. But the fact that this kid is really into cooking was the icing on the cake. Hehe. Icing ... cake ... get it?

This would be a fun book for kids who like mysteries or for kids who love cooking.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.