Tag Archives: Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal

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The Art of Giving Constructive Criticism

toastmastersOne of the many reasons I joined a local Toastmaster’s chapter is to develop the ability to offer constructive criticism. While becoming competent in oral communication is a fundamental goal of membership in the organization, so is learning to become a better listener. Cultivating this valuable skill  makes it possible to offer thoughtful feedback on someone’s speech, but it requires genuine interest and focused concentration. At our last meeting, I took on the task of speech evaluator for the very first time as part of my effort to ease into the act of making my first speech (called an “Ice Breaker”) by starting with smaller roles first.

To say I was nervous about standing up in front of the room and making an oral critique would be a monumental understatement. There is definitely an art to providing meaningful, useful criticism designed to help a speaker acknowledge both their strengths and weaknesses in order to become an even better communicator. While I realize I have a very long way to go in this area, I appreciated the positive reviews I received from others in attendance, including the speech giver.

While Toastmasters focuses on the development of competent communication and leadership qualities for individual members, the same principles hold true for the written word. As an author and book reviewer, I understand this well.

Writer's BlockFirst, to take on the author part: I fully understand that as much as I strive to develop themes through my plots and character development in any given novel, not every reader is going to “get” them. We all process entertainment in the form of the written word (and on film and other mediums) though the prism of our own unique experiences, after all. When I sat down to write Water Signs, I never set out to produce a tawdry romance novel, but instead a coming of age story in which sex and attitudes about sex play an integral role. My main character struggles to balance her morality while living in a society that has all but abandoned the “old-fashioned” values with which she was raised. At the same time, she’s human. She experiences the normal desires that go along with being a young woman (and as the story progresses, an older and wiser one). Hence, her inner turmoil often manifests in self-defeating and even frightening ways (e.g. anxiety disorder). Having a much more worldly boyfriend complicates her own personal growth journey and relationship with main character, Ken — not to mention other guys she dates along the way.

However, I never intended the book to be perceived as yet another cheap, formulaic romance where meaningless dialogue and a canned plot provide filler in between raunchy, explicit love scenes. Up until now, no one (at least no one that I am aware of) has viewed it that way. Most readers (those who have contacted me personally and/or posted reviews) have perceived Water Signs as a contemporary romance with plenty to say about the modern dating scene and other realities of current times.

Let me clarify: I am seeking thoughtful criticism; I’m not expecting the whole world to fawn over my book, fall in love with its two main characters, or give me nothing but 5-star reviews. That’s completely unrealistic, not to mention a hindrance to my own growth and improvement as a writer. I do, however, appreciate it when someone takes the time to point out the good (even if it’s simply an acknowledgment of better-than-average writing skills, use of literary technique, or story pacing) while (as I am learning to do at Toastmasters) identifying areas that need improvement.

Which brings me back to my dilemma.

Are some reviewers just more thoughtful than others? Or is it all a matter of perception based on their own personal experience (and not so much what the author was attempting to say through plot and characters)? Perhaps it’s a combination of both? Can a reader who does not fit the parameters of your target audience even offer a balanced review to begin with?

WaterSigns2.jpgAll are important considerations.

Nevertheless, we as authors simply cannot control readers’ perceptions of our work — nor should we even seek to do so. While I am incredibly disappointed in the characterization of my book as a “bodice ripper,” perhaps it will attract a whole new audience. Who knows? Guess I’ll just have to wait and see, although my guess is that readers of Harlequin romances will most likely dismiss Maddy and her entire family as hopelessly out of touch and prudish.

Unlike speeches, books are much more subjective – unless of course, they are truly unreadable due to things like poor grammar and lack of a coherent plot – for which perhaps a 1-star review is appropriate. For the record, no one has accused Water Signs of either of these, although privately someone told me they hated my characters — to the point of wanting to take an ax to them. That was definitely a first.

Given that most others have had a completely opposite take, this is very perplexing. Whether you hate it, love it, or fall somewhere in between, referring to Water Signs as a bodice ripper completely misses the point. Which circles back to every author’s conundrum: we cannot control how others perceive our work because – as with many experiences in life – readers bring along their own preconceived ideas. In the case of my novel, maybe it’s about time a reader presented a different take on the story – whether I agree with it or not.

When I write a book review, I make an effort to specify the positive aspects, e.g. a hard-hitting scene, a particularly compelling bit of dialogue, or the writer’s remarkable talent for drawing the reader into the story through the use of descriptive prose — whatever elements I can honestly rave about. If there are things I don’t like, or believe could use some improvement, I point them out in a constructive way. At least, these are my goals when I sit down to write a critique. Am I perfect at it? Not at all. That’s where Toastmasters comes in, along with the practice of reading and reviewing books regularly. Learn and improve by doing.

As I move forward in my own professional development with Toastmasters, I hope I’ll not only become better at critiquing (and giving) speeches, but also reading and reviewing books.

As for my next meeting role, I’ll be the evening’s “Ah, Um Counter,” which means I’ll definitely be listening closely to all speakers. And as my involvement in the organization progresses, I hope to eliminate my own bad “Ah,” “Um,” and “You know” habits.

Stay tuned….and keep on writing!

 

 

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My Interview in The American Journal

Thank you to Delcan Finn for putting me in the spotlight:

Today, an interview with American Journal’s very own Daria DiGiovanni, discussing her various and sundry roles as journalist, talk show host, and ghostwriter.

1471925_10202487549011836_1698579178_n1. I guess the standard questions for the average writer should be asked first. Bare with me: “How do you get your ideas?” ”A writer, don’t you have a real job?” Feel free to insert any other dumb questions you’ve heard from the general populace.

DD: To me, life experience is the best source of ideas. My first novel is based on actual events not only in my life, but in the lives of people I’ve known, whether friends, family or acquaintances. Of course, the names have been changed to protect the innocent – ha!

As for the “real job,” I spent many years in the corporate world, mostly in the financial industry, in various capacities from corporate communications to marketing to community relations outreach to recruiting. One of my favorite positions was writing e-proposals for a company that specializes in digital marketing for the hospitality industry. That experience helped tremendously in honing my descriptive writing abilities to give the reader a full sensory experience of a particular place, character or plot point.

Even now, I provide social media services for a variety of clients including authors and small businesses. Among other things, this involves setting up blogs, managing social media platforms, providing content, and navigating through the independent publishing process.

Visit The American Journal to read the whole thing. Want to hire me for writing, ghostwriting, blogging and other social media services? Click here.

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Author Daniella Bova’s Review of Water Signs

Well let’s just say that this latest 5-star review from Daniella Bova made my entire Monday:

I just spent some particularly wonderful hours, reading this contemporary romance by Daria DiGiovanni.

photo 5To begin, the heroine, Madeline Rose, is an engaging character. She deals with the same issues most real women deal with at some point or other during the course of an average American, middle class, family oriented, and traditional life.

I myself, though from a blue-collar background rather than an upper middle class family like Maddy’s, have been exposed to many of the same situations portrayed in the novel, albeit second hand, through the eyes of my sister, who dealt with the same sort of dating woes as Maddy, before she married in 1990. These issues, (being stood up by selfish men, insecurity on the dating scene, and worries about weight and self esteem) are portrayed in a realistic manner by DiGiovanni.

The Rose family reminds me of my own; the novel is set in Southeastern Pennsylvania, near my neck of the WaterSignswoods, as well as the Jersey Shore, Philly, and Florida. I loved reading about the family dynamic similar to mine, with Italian food, sisters who share bedrooms, parents who love and protect their children, (sometimes a little too much), and aunts who love to gamble in Atlantic City. Madeline’s Down Syndrome brother and her battle with anxiety were additional themes that spoke to me.

I imagine thousands of other women will relate to Maddy in some way or other; her story is of the American girl next door, only deeper. Cliques, cattiness and backstabbing women are not to be found in Maddy’s world. What we find are love, laughter, family, hard work, professionalism, beautiful clothes, and pop music.

The hero, Ken, Maddy’s true love, comes across as very down to earth, and a bit insecure about his blue-collar roots and upbringing in a Jersey Shore town. The couple’s sweet beginning turns sour after a series of misunderstandings, missed chances, and over-thinking of average situations.

wedding-rings-and-handsInitially, I was sad. I wanted Maddy and Ken to get married within two years of their initial meeting, have a family, and live happily ever after. But…this was not to be, and that’s what makes the story.

The separate courses these individuals take, their experiences, (good and bad), and the relationships they nurture with their own families and new friends along the way, make for an exciting ending to this charming novel. Ken and Maddy spend long years living separate lives, making their own choices, building careers, and yearning for each other throughout; the happy ending is worth waiting for.

It’s always incredibly gratifying when a reader’s detailed review affirms their attention to detail and their ability to easily connect with the characters, plot and settings of your novel. While its themes are universal, Water Signs seems to evoke palpable nostalgia and emotional responses with readers who’ve lived in Southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and South Florida.  And a wonderful review like this keeps me revved up to complete Sea To Shining Sea!

By the way, Daniella will be my author-guest on Writestream Tuesday on August 12. Stay tuned for details! Meanwhile, you can follow her on twitter @AuthorDaniella.

 

 

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Latest Reviews of Water Signs

My first novel is now on sale for $2.99 in Kindle format while I dedicate myself to completing the sequel this year. In the meantime, I am thrilled to have recently received the following reviews:

Water Signs is one of those rare books that makes you feel like you want to meet the characters in person. Yes, they are that real. It is beautifully written with passion for our country and romance. It is one of those books that is just like a good movie, where you hate to see it end. Speaking of more…please Daria, write the sequel as we are left sitting on the edge our seats wanting more. Madeline Rose and her charming husband Kenny will enrich your lives with their love for each other. Yes, a perfect romance does exist.

WaterSigns

I fell in love with Rose from the very beginning and couldn’t wait to know more and more about her story. I am rooting for her and hope the author will consider writing a sequel. I would like to be informed if she does. Her writing style kept me engaged and intrigued. I appreciate an author like DiGiovanni who has a keen knowledge of English language and who writes as if you were right there with the main character. Kudos to you!

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Water Signs on Kindle for $2.99

WaterSigns2.jpgBetter late than never, my 2008 novel Water Signs is now available on Kindle for $2.99. It’s been an interesting journey, navigating through this brave new media marketing world over the past six years. Although I haven’t actively promoted the book in a very long time, I recently realized that 1.) My network of contacts, friends and clients has dramatically increased thanks to platforms like Facebook and Twitter, providing a large new base of potential readers, and 2.) Now that I’ve completed two ghostwritten books and have a handle on social media projects for clients, I can make the time to (finally) finish Sea To Shining Sea.

One of the many benefits of being an independently published author is that you can never really penetrate your market; therefore, there are endless opportunities to reach new readers. And what better way to pave the way to sequel success than to have my audience fall in love with (or in many cases, all over again) Water Signs just before the sequel’s release?

If you would like to download Water Signs to your Kindle for $2.99, click here. For insights into the book’s various themes, literary techniques and characters, click here.

Thank you to everyone who supports my writing — I appreciate you! :)

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