Sunday, December 22, 2013

Downward Dog by Edward Vilga

Downward Dog by Edward Vilga is a novel about a man who is his own worst enemy.  A womanizer who revels in his “bad boy” image, he is on the outs after taking some professional risks and letting his personal mistakes destroy everything.  His only solace is in his yoga practice which he is not above exploiting to get another woman, or two, into his bed.  But he’s beginning to realize that his choices have consequences beyond his professional reputation and maybe he’s beginning to feel remorse. 

If this description sounds derivative of Shampoo, don’t let that deter you.  Vilga himself is fully aware and even uses a quote from the movie as an epitaph to this charming novel.  And don’t let the title and the presence of yoga be the reason you would avoid this novel.  Sure, the author intersperses the story with descriptions of some yoga poses but these are written from the protagonist’s perspective and some of the characterization Vilga creates in these non-traditional explanations of the asanas is commendable. 

The main character being the exception, most of the other characters are cliché, two-dimensional.  This is not unusual for this type of romance novel.  It’s a light read, something that doesn’t invite a lot of thinking; yet I found myself caring for the protagonist, even when I knew what was coming, what personal disclosures some of the extra characters would inevitably make, and could easily see what mistakes the main character himself was making and where they would inevitably lead.

But I don’t think the author’s intention is to break the mold and he writes a novel that fits in nicely.  Unfortunately, he was incredibly careless with his editing.  And I’m not talking about mistakes only an English major would recognize.  I’ve helped edit manuscripts and one of the elementary pieces of advice I give to any writer is to read your writing aloud.  You will hear mistakes in structure, like repetitive words, noun-verb agreement (or lack thereof), and other obvious and careless errors.  I am surprised he would allow these mistakes to get through to a draft that would be published, frankly.  I assume he will make the time to fix the more egregious ones. 

Yes, in spite of this I’m going to give this novel 3 stars, mostly because, in spite of this, I did keep reading.  It was a fun and easy, the type of book to take on a vacation.  Hopefully, Vilga will respect his craft and his audience enough to at least read his manuscripts aloud before publishing them.  Better still, I hope he hires an editor who can polish up his prose, correct syntactical errors, clarify the vague pronoun references, and point out where a careful read through would clean up so many careless mistakes.  If he chooses not to do so, I don’t know how many fans of this novel will follow him through more books.  I know Vilga can do better because I love his other book but, if going the self-publishing route results in a poor final product, I don’t know how long even I will be able to recommend his books. If this sort of sloppiness is unforgivable in your eyes, skip this novel or hope for a revised (or new and improved) edition.  After all, that is one of the advantages of self-publishing.

Full Disclosure: Edward Vilga gave me a copy of this novel to read and I emailed him after doing so, offering my suggestion to read the novel aloud.  However, I never heard back from him, which is a shame.  I think I could have helped him polish up this and any future manuscripts to near flawlessness.  Whether he hires me or someone else, I hope he invests in a good editor.  My biggest complaint about writers who choose to self-publish is that there is an implied carelessness that is a direct consequence of "ugly baby syndrome" where even a talented writer, someone who is typically careful, allows careless mistakes to get through to the final draft.  You can see this all over my blog, where I make a weak word choice (how many times did I use "careless" in this blog post?) or edit part of sentence which results in the whole sentence being a syntactical mess.  That's because I haven't revised these posts; they are raw and I like it like that.  But when a writer self-publishes, the reader assumes that there was some editing done.  I could blabber on more about why all of this matters; however, that is beyond the scope of this review.  Still, Edward Vilga, if you should happen to read this review, you know where I can be found, and I'll be happy to read your next manuscript before you self-publish.  I think my editorial services are worth the investment and I know my prices are fair.  

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