Where I Fall, Where She Rises follows two women on opposite ends of a terrorist kidnapping. While one suffers at the hands of her captors, the other exploits the event to secure her financial future and that of her unborn child.
I read a social media post at an online writing group – one woman’s strongly-worded request that men stop writing first-person women characters, outlining why they invariably fail. I would’ve rolled my eyes, but it was morning when my eyes tend to be dry, and excess movement causes discomfort. So instead I wrote it off to sexism and got on with unfriending people.
Reading Dean Serravalle’s Where I Fall, Where She Rises I recollected the woman’s demand, the online author’s broad-brushed accusation. This book has good writing. Very good writing in fact, but a nagging lack of gender empathy – a man writing as a woman using words no one would use, unless during a medical exam. Or poorly executed sex ed. Examples are few but still glaring. I wanted to apologize to the online critic even though I hadn’t commented, merely had unkind thoughts at the time.
An author buddy of mine explained most editors guarantee ninety-seven percent accuracy, that is, once they’ve combed the work, there’ll be no more than three percent errors. Which left me wondering, would you work with a bank that screws up your account three times per quarter? Pardon me, only three times per quarter? I can’t imagine submitting a manuscript with a three percent error rate. However. It happens. And perhaps these lapses simply got missed. They’d be an easy fix. I’d point them out but what’s the fun in being told in advance where all the Waldos are?
Again, this writing is good. It’s a creative story, well structured and told. A page-turner, with timely social commentary. The cast of characters, I find, are remarkably unlikeable but each has traits we can relate to.I could’ve done a better job in bookending my negativity (what we used to call a “shit sandwich” in managerial lingo) but I’ve presented my findings in the order I found them. Serravalle can, and should, feel good about his work. I enjoyed the read. I recommend it. There’s a certain Graham Greene quality to it – a fast-paced read in a slim volume, with plenty of detail left to interpretation. Which I like. Being given credit as a reader and not spoon-fed back story or character motivation. In other words, find the Waldos for yourself.
If this were a TV Idol show, and I was the affable one, the less beautiful one of the group behind the desk, I’d move this book on to the next round. But I’d complain about the editorial team, leaving clinical words in the mix of narrative and dialogue. Years ago I read Stephen King’s On Writing, not as an author, but simply because I read everything he wrote. What landed was his insistence you call something what it is. Assuming you’re no longer writing in the nineteenth century, never say “unprintable,” and for god’s sake don’t use words like defecate. It’s shit. Just say shit. (You won’t find these specific examples in King’s book, but the sentiment – the message – you will find, in the clearest of terms.)
So in maintaining my “kind one” persona on our imagined TV Idol panel, off-camera I’d tell our author to listen to conversation. Write dialogue and narrative using words people say. Maintain your exceptional storytelling. You’re skilled. Your care and effort are evident. Admirable. Ensure you write what you know, in a manner that makes sense. And don’t be afraid to add some tougher editors to your already competent team.
About the Author: Dean Serravalle is the author of the novels Reliving Charley and Chameleon (Days), a national award-winning teacher, and the founder of Writers4peace, a non-profit organization which aims to mentor students interested in publishing writing aimed at social justice issues. He lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
About the Reviewer: Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Dromomania, and Allan’s Wishes. Bill’s work is published in Canada, the US, UK, Europe and Asia. When not travelling or hunkered in a library, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making friends and stirring up, well, you know. @billarnott_aps
Where I Fall, Where She Rises by Dean Serravalle
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