Transcript - Special Delivery

Author: Danielle Steele
Title: Special Delivery
Plot: A story about a widow getting a second chance at life with a player
Note: Men should consider this podcast a matter of survival!

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Full Transcript
Hey, welcome back!

I recently received a report informing me that 75% of my listeners are female. 

Hello ladies!

How you doin'?

You know it's you and you alone I love.

Yes, that’s right ladies and gentlemen, I am reviewing a romance novel!

Today I will be reviewing a book entitled, Special Delivery by Danielle Steele.

The second one I have ever read.

I generally liked this book and so I gave it four stars. I am being generous though because she made up for shortcomings in her writing by telling a good story.

I confess I am somewhat conflicted about the rating
Now realizing I was in over my head I hired a consultant, which is to say I asked my mom, to re-read her Danielle Steele books and give me feedback. I just asked for her honest impression remembering I do book reviews.

She had four books, she gave me one and re-read three others and reported that they were all very similar. Usually the novels begin with an abusive man. And then another one comes along who is a savior, but sometimes this savior is also abusive, and so a third man saves her from the second, all in new and exciting ways of course!

For the record, I didn’t tell my mom what I was looking for. That was the feedback she offered on her own.

Now I understand she is a popular romance novelist, but if I were to buy her book and gift it to a girlfriend I should also buy myself some pepper spray or a punching bag... outfit and prepare for vicious conflict and lawsuits. That wasn't quite so much the case for Special Delivery as it was for the (other Danielle Steele) book I read called, Journey, which I did not finish for this reason. 

Special Delivery had no shortage of slurs for the male character who died at the beginning of the book, and no shortage of stereotypes for the playboy lead savior character who seized the opportunity afforded by the man’s death to bed his widowed wife…

Because of my suspicions about Danielle’s writing. Remembering what I learned from the other book (Journey) I decided to underline all the slurs that the characters uttered about men and in skimming it afterwards there were underlines on every page.

NOTE: I failed to make it clear that the underlines were on every page in the book called Journey (not Special Delivery).

Ironically, her books are so similar that the lead characters in the one I’m reviewing were named Amanda and Jack. While the lead characters in Journey were Maddy and Jack. The supporting husbands were both named Paul in both books and the supporting wives were named Jan and Janet respectively. Both books started with scenes involving someone arriving in an expensive car. In Special Delivery it was a Ferrari and in Journey it was a Limo.

Suggesting Danielle is a one trick pony, writing the same story over and over again in different ways with different occupations and outcomes, scarcely changing  even the detail of the character's names.

Danielle tried to describe the way men think based on how she assumes they must think. But her guesses miss the mark.

I feel like she should co-author a few romance novels with a man to refine her craft. Alternatively she could just change her writing style to conceal the guesses that she’s forced to make being a woman. Because she doesn’t know men as well as she thinks she does.

If I were to contrast Danielle’s book with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, I would be somewhat grateful that hers (Danielle's) is shorter and less descriptive and therefore more to the point, but disappointed that it offers less insight into the female psyche. And it is therefore less educational for men. There were only a handful of useful high points and you had to be watching for those.

I’ve heard that romance novels are the equivalent of girl pornos if you will. So that when I read the love scenes I was… well, it wasn’t what I was expecting. It was far less graphic than I imagined, but perhaps the perception of naughtiness comes from the fact that other book types avoid such scenes completely.

And maybe when I read more romance novels I will alter that guess.

Many of my comments hinge on Danielle’s writing style. Which I will describe at the end of the book podcast.

As I said, there were two lead characters in the book: Amanda and Jack. Amanda was the widow and Jack the playboy. Amanda’s husband died abruptly and unexpectedly and this threw her into a serious depression. During the early scenes in the book, we learn that her first husband was meticulous a tyrant of a man who made all the decisions effectively treating his wife like a monkey. Then after he was gone she had no idea how to cope and what to do.

Amanda was described as a beautiful actress who hadn’t aged a day after nearly 30 years of marriage.

Jack the playboy savior character was a gorgeous former moviestar filmmaker who, after a botched career entered the fashion world. And he opened a design and clothing business that he named after his daughter Julia.

Jack’s son Paul was married to Amanda’s daughter Jan. And Paul and Jan were trying to have a baby. Hence the name of the book. And here again is yet another connection to her story called, Journey. In Special Delivery Jan and Paul couldn’t get pregnant, but in Journey Janet and Paul got married because she was pregnant. It was a surprise. I don’t really view that as range. But I digress…

Jan and Paul were concerned about Amanda who hadn’t left the house in nearly a year after her husband's death. Both Paul and Jan at one point seemed to think it was a good idea to fix their parents up in the beginning, but they seemed to hate the idea after they discovered the two were dating.

If I didn't make it clear: Paul's dad was Jack and Jan's mom was Amanda.

That struck me as weird and inconsistent writing, the fact that they'd set them up and then get mad when they were dating, but I let it go.

At first Amanda and Jack met casually. Like when Jan brought her mom to Jack’s Hollywood fashion party and then left her there because Paul’s car broke down. Jack, pledging to send her home, in one of his limos freed Jan to go collect her husband while allowing her mom to live a little and get out of the house.

Amanda having lived a repressed life at the hands of her abusive horrible dead husband, loved being in the limelight again and being at a social gathering. And so she and Jack closed the party down and he accompanied her home in the limo. Jack mostly talked to her about the kids and otherwise safe subjects and they both agreed to help each other help their kids in the background. Meaning that since they couldn't have children and Paul didn’t want to see a doctor to investigate what was the cause, they wanted to do whatever they could to be helpful.

The rest of the story describes two grown adults, Jack and Amanda, reverting back to childhood, dating secretly and bonding because Jack, lost the love of his life. And  so they had something in common. He understood Amanda and she understood he loved women. But he was an honest player and she decided to trust him. She was so beautiful that his voyerism came to a screeching halt because he was smitten with her incredible awesomeness.

I do like the banter in the book, though there's not much of it. To me dialog is everything. In my fiction, I spend less time describing scenes and backgrounds, etc... and more time focused on the action that is in inherent in the dialog. It's always the two characters talking with a brief description of where they might be. In her case she spends far more time in narration and far less time in dialog action. I would estimate that Danielle's narration is about 80 percent of the book. Maybe 70 possibly 65, but it's a lot.

What confuses me is that she seems to be able to describe good scenes in one place in the book, but then she narrates the good scenes away in other places. Which for me was the the whole book. Meaning I read very little action and a ton of narration.

Instead of reading about Jack picking up these beautiful starlets, reading the dialog, learning his style enjoying the story. She simply just said that women loved him because he was so smooth. So I was expected to take her word for it instead of witnessing it myself.

And this is where my comment comes in about her either keeping the same writing style and partnering with a male author, or changing it completely and masking her male cheuvenist guesses with actual action.

So allow me to illustrate in broad strokes what I mean:

There’s an expression among book authors and editors called show, don’t tell. Danielle has skills and she can show, but she mostly tells. First let me illustrate what I mean by show, don’t tell. I made this illustration up myself, it doesn't come from Danielle’s writing. It’s mine. Here we go:

As an author you have at least two options when you describe a scene. You could write a paragraph that says, “Tom was very rich, impolite, and aggressive. He had a strong left hook and a sour attitude.” That’s option 1. 

Option 2 is you could write, “Tom saw an open parking space and made a mad dash for it mashing the accelerator to the floor of his Lamborghini because he noticed a man in a Volkswagen Bug activate his blinker and incline toward the space. In an instant, Tom cranked the steering wheel and mashed the brake, after darting into the spot. All of this happened before the old man knew what hit him. And it was in fact, Tom that hit him tearing off his front bumper dropping his jaw. The man emerged from his vehicle yelling “Are you crazy? You would hit a beat up old Volkswagen Bug with a million dollar car simply to beat me into the parking space?” Saying nothing, Tom hit him with a left hook, lifting him in the air and knocking him to the ground unconscious. While walking into the store, Tom placed a call to a towing company that he had on speed dial reporting that the Volkswagen Bug for blocking traffic because he didn’t want his departure delayed after concluding his shopping trip. And then he tossed his phone to the ground for his assistant to collect and return to the vehicle, which she did without hesitation.”

Now remember, Those were my words not Danielle’s. I made those two scenes up. And so I’ll remind you of Option 1: which was you could write a paragraph that says, “Tom was very rich, impolite, and aggressive. He had a strong left hook and a sour attitude.”

But I ask you: which scene is more interesting? Generally readers prefer option 2. Hence: show don't tell. Option 1 might be efficient, but it’s boring and it’s controlling. Meaning I’m telling the reader what to think about Tom instead of showing Tom in action and letting the reader form their own conclusions. And there’s a ton of option 1 in Danielle’s writing. She editorializes everywhere.
I get it. Since she wrote the story and the story is hers, she thinks she can tell us what to think about her characters. Because who would know better than the author? It's her story. But as a reader, I dislike being told what to think. Show your character in action and let me form my own conclusions because telling me what to think implies that you’re controlling me and that I must be too stupid to think for myself.  It implies I’m a dumb reader and there is no such thing as a dumb reader. Reading itself is a filter that distinguishes smart people from dumb. So assume your audience is brilliant and if they miss a clue you dropped, let it go.

But I’m not going to tell you what to think. I’ll read you an example so you can decide if my criticism has merit.

Early on in the book right after Mr Kingston’s death. There is a conversation between Amanda and her kids, where they’re advising her to move on with her life. "Go to France, do something," they say… And she, meaning Danielle the narrator, is about to tell us things we’ve never heard or imagined yet. I’ll read that to you now. Beginning with an introductory comment from her character for context and then diving into Danielle’s narration. Here we go:

“You have to do something you can’t give up on life mom. Daddy, wouldn’t want that.” But it was obvious just talking to her on the drive home, she wasn’t ready to do it. She was still too deep in mourning for her husband to want to go on living or think about doing anything constructive or amusing.

“How’s she doing” Paul asked when he flew back from New York on Sunday night and Jan drove him home from the airport.

Did that confuse you at all? That confused me.
So I have two criticisms here: while I knew Amanda was depressed, this was the way I found out she was suicidal. And then right after dropping that bombshell, with no warning whatsoever it cuts to a new scene with new characters and bad writing. I have all sorts of problems with that.

The next paragraph was attempting to show a scene cut. Whenever I cut scenes I not only break for a new paragraph I also use a distinct symbol 


{{{{{}}}}}

that signifies to the reader that a scene change is coming. Meaning new characters, new location, new dialog. But it is related because it’s in the same chapter. Otherwise I would have made a new chapter for it.

The way that Danielle does it though is she builds the scene change into the text: 

“How’s she doing?” Paul asked when he flew back from New York on Sunday night and Jan drove him home from the airport.

There's are a bunch of queues in that horribly worded paragraph. It’s Sunday night now, though we didn’t know what day it was before. Paul flew back from new York. So new day, new location. And Jan is driving him home from the airport. So new circumstance, but there’s still a connection and a disconnection in that paragraph and that’s confusing.

The connection is that Jan told her mom to get out and live a little. And then the narrator tells us Amanda is suicidal. And then Paul asks how she’s doing, so that’s the connection. But then clues are  dropped in the paragraph that Jan is now driving, Amanda isn’t here, Paul has returned from the airport, and it’s Sunday.

And worst of all the wording in the paragraph is horrible.

Allow me to reword it so you can see the difference. Here we go:

On Sunday night Jan collected Paul from the airport and was driving him home. “How’s your mom?” he asked.

Now I would still interject the symbol before I wrote that I would use that to illustrate a scene cut, but the sentence is far cleaner.

I’ll remind you what Danielle wrote: 

“How’s she doing” Paul asked when he flew back from New York on Sunday night and Jan drove him home from the airport.

It’s not that I only have a problem with that one paragraph, by the way, it’s that so many of her paragraphs are just like that. So that you experience confusion until you reconcile it. But you can do that. We're smart. We're readers. And so that's myissue with the rating. The story is good. It might even be great in the case of this one book, but this writing style is killing her delivery.

Readers are smart. We can bridge the gaps of the mistakes made in writing. So what irks me is that on the one hand the implication is that she thinks I’m way too stupid and I need her narration in order to understand her characters and know what they think. But on the other I’m expected to reconcile her bad grammar. Implying I’m being insulted by someone less intelligent than me. And that just bugs me. All of that is compounded by the fact that I'm suspicious she hates me because I'm a man.

And once again, the themes from one story spill over into the other. In Special Delivery, Amanda contemplates suicide and in Journey, Janet actually commits suicide. In both cases the suicide is because of a man. In Amanda’s case the man had the nerve to die prematurely and leave her alone without support. In the case of Journey, Paul was so abusive that clearly Janet's only recourse was to commit suicide.

I was being very generous with the four star rating because I decided to judge this one book on its own merits and let go of my issues with the grammar and the writing style problems. In the case of Special... Special Delivery is a good story, it's just bad form. 

Is it worth reading? It depends on how much time you have. It took me four hours to read the book. I enjoyed the story, but I gleaned a couple useful concepts from the story that I would refer to as techniques that could be useful in a relationship, somewhat.

This book is clearly for a female audience. Especially those that hate men.

I will look for romance novels by other authors to review because I don’t feel like this was a fair representation of that genre. ANd I don't feel like it did you my listeners the service I was hoping to do in the area of Valentine's day and relationships and romance, etc....

As always: thank you for listening. Have a brilliant week! And ya’all come back now, ya here?

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