Oleaginous Mush

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force. Dorothy Parker

The following two paragraphs comprise the first page of a book by a “national bestselling author,” Mariah Stewart, who has about 30 books published. I don’t get how people can plow through this—it’d be better than Ambien for getting to sleep if it weren’t so annoying.


Here’s the first page:

Outside the courthouse , sleet hissed softly, striking the front of the old stone building at sharp angles with muffled plunks. From a narrow first-floor window, Curtis Alan Channing watched water spill from partially frozen gutters to overflow in icy waterfalls onto the frosted ground below. His eyes flickered upward to a sky the color of cinders, its low clouds hovering over the naked trees that lined the main walk leading to the courthouse steps.

News vans from competing television stations were parked side by side along the one-way street. He stared for a while, hoping to see if one of the pretty young reporters might surface, but no one emerged in the face of the storm other than a cameraman who occasionally poked his head out to check the readiness of his equipment before ducking back into the shelter of the vehicle. Channing wondered idly what event could be of sufficient interest to bring all those media types out so early on such a morning.


ENOUGH—I get it already! It’s shitty outside and a guy’s looking out the window! There’s some media outside! 166 words to say this? No writer should ever, under any circumstances, say “his eyes flickered upward.”  Does Ballantine not have editors? I’m surprised this book doesn’t have stretch marks from the glut of lard that binds it.

The only enjoyment I got as I labored through the first page was editing it as I read:


Sleet hissed outside, striking the front of the old stone courthouse at sharp angles. From a narrow window, Curtis Alan Channing watched icy water flow from the gutters onto frozen ground. He looked up at a gray sky, its low clouds hovering over naked trees.

A crush of television vans jammed the one-way street before him. Channing watched with curiosity for a while but no one emerged. He wondered what would cause the media to converge so early on such a bleak morning.


Can you blame me for enjoying the satisfying thwump a flatulent paperback makes when it hits the wall? I had to pick it up though, so I could type the first page here. Otherwise, the dogs would have hijacked it. I still might let them.

19 responses to “Oleaginous Mush

  1. If you look at the NY Times “Bestsellers” list you will see a long list of poorly written crap. Sadly, this isn’t the worst of the bunch.

    Someone recently gave me a book by Pat Conroy saying it was “brilliant” and I was so shocked at not only the repetitive nature of the descriptions but the plot read more like a daytime soap opera. Ridiculous.

    I’m also surprised at how many “young adult” books are market to adults and vice versa. It is so damn hard to find a decent book I’m starting to lose hope for the future.

  2. She should have stuck with “It was a dark and stormy night . . .”

  3. A group of people I know trade boxes of books. I rarely find one in ten that I can stand. They’re the same old crap, long rambling boring sentences, stupid romance, with a single mom named Cassie or guy named Aiden.

    I don’t understand young adult books. The only ones we were forced to read were the tearjerker animals stories which destroyed me for any future animal stories, then we went right to Charles Dickens, who I also hated. The best books were old-fashioned adult fiction, from the library or parents’ bookshelves.

    It’s hard to find a good book to read, it really is. I don’t want to read sad books about horrible childhoods, or romantic drivel…I just want to read lean, mean books that tell a good story without a lot of the author’s bloviating.

    Honestly I’d rather read Raymond Chandler than modern bestsellers.

  4. The same vomit reflex happened to me a couple weeks ago with the much-raved-about “Second Wind” by Cami Ostman, a woman who got into marathon running in middle age and was said to be transformed by it. I love these stories and read and re-read them, but I couldn’t even finish this one. There was stuff about running but most of it was a journal of her convoluted ruminations about her inner self and her inner life and personal growth and bla bla bla and after getting about 1/4 of the way thru it I just plain lost interest. So much for rave reviews!

  5. I think publishers would do us all a favor if they posted the first few chapters of a book (without the authors name) on the web, before they decided to publish it. Readers could then vote whether they thought the book should go to print or not. It would level the playing field. Famous authors would have no better chance of being published than unknowns.

    • Hi Margie, that is a great idea. People buy bestsellers simply because of that “honor,” which seems to generate a cycle of undeserved success.

      Seems unlikely this will ever happen but we should voice our opinions in letters to publishers.

      Also I think some writers would have a recognizable imprint from their style of writing. This would probably work against them because readers wouldn’t be duped into buying another crappy book by a recognized author.

      This is the best solution to getting ripped off that I’ve heard in a long time.

      Thanks for writing. You’ve got me thinking.

  6. I’ve been following a lot of the Kindle/self-pub frenzy lately, and I too am amazed by the Young Adult genre and the supposed success people have. I wasn’t aware that many young adults even read! What is a young adult? 30? 21? 13?
    Once advantage I see of the new ebook formats is that people can tell stories at their “natural” length. It almost seems as if some of these stories are written to a certain page count that the marketing department wanted!

  7. Hi Harry,
    Damn I wish I had a Kindle. Someday. Since I don’t, I’m a little confused by this. Can you explain? Can you self-publish on Kindle? Is YA fiction the new rage? What does ‘natural length’ mean in terms of ebook formatting?

    I’m not a gadget girl so please enlighten me so I can pretend I know what I’m talking about!


  8. Debra: Not sure I’m the source to do much explaining, but I’ll give it a shot!
    You can self-publish in the Kindle “format”, either on Amazon or other places. I don’t know what the current rage is, but as far as the blogs I read from people who say they are very successful in self-publishing, the majority are either writing thrillers or YA. Amanda Hocking is the current heroine of the YA crowd from what I can tell.
    With “natural length”, I merely meant that people can write to whatever length they need to tell their story. They don’t have to stretch what might have been a good short story out into a crappy novel just because the publisher told them there isn’t a market for short stories.
    I don’t think it is as much about the gadget as it is the fact that after years of hype the technology to make ebooks viable is finally gaining some traction with readers.

  9. Thank you for this post! You had me laughing out loud just for posting that first page of Oleaginous Mush. I am with you!

    Your edit was great. How much do you charge? 🙂

    I also just read your post about BSG and I am also with you on that. We rented the DVDs and watched them that way too. Also disappointed with the ending. I think the show started to get too full of itself at the end. All the god talk was a bit of a distraction from the real story which started to get lost… kind of like authors who get full of themselves and start writing Oleaginous Mush.

    I probably shouldn’t recommend any books because my taste can be a little weird sometimes, but if you like BSG type sci fi (more about people than spacecraft), you might like a book called Warchild by Karan Lowachee. It is the best book I have read in a very long time and haven’t yet read one as good. I read it about a year ago. It does have some childhood tragedy in it, but it’s not overdone and not gratuitous. The author’s use of POV changes and tense changes are very creative and a real breath of fresh air for fiction (although the book itself is about 10 years old).

    I also recently read Ender’s Game. Have you read that? It’s a classic. I know Orson Scott Card is a wacko, but he’s a great storyteller. There’s a whole series of Ender books. I’m trying to get into the second one but having a hard time. People rave about it though, so I’ll keep trying.

  10. Pingback: Read a Bad Book, Improve Your Writing | Kay Camden

  11. Hi Kay. I don’t read much science fiction, but I do like sci-fi movies. The books just don’t do it for me, though I’ll check out the ones you mention next trip to the library. I want the same raw writing that was in BSG, and, say, Lee Child books, and that’s hard to find in ANY book.

    So much excess in these bestsellers! How on earth do they get by editors? Maybe when an author hits the bigtime, editors leave them alone? These books are three-quarters bullshit and one-quarter story. Blah!

  12. I wrote two posts on an old blog about the first sentences of books, and one of the things I said NOT to do was to open with scenic description. No matter how poetic, it’s dull.

    I agree on having a hard time finding good books. That’s why I rarely read modern stuff – I read dead authors because if they’re still famous now, it must be for a reason, right? I just finished Around the World in 80 Days and freaking LOVED it.

    I also read a fair amount of YA. There’s some very good stuff out there if you know where to look. Currently I’m on the third book in the Inkheart trilogy (there was a Brendan Fraser movie a while back – not as good as the book of course) which I am really enjoying.

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