Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review for fun! For information! For love.

When Amazon was new and I was unpublished, I used to read a lot of reviews. They were informative and well-thought-out and helped me pick my next readable. I trusted them, and they rarely steered me wrong.

Nowadays, Amazon's algorithms for visibility have made reviews into a commodity, and since I have a couple of books out with my name on the covers, I abstain from reading reviews.

 So many funny Amazon reviews on this Bored Panda article! Lost it on the Gummi Bears one. Oh man.
SO many funny Amazon reviews 
on this Bored Panda article! 
I lost it on the Gummi Bears one.
Not reviews of my books because neither my ego nor my self-loathing are developed enough to take that hit directly.

Not reviews of my friends' books because I get all angry and defensive and chupacabra, and it's on someone else's behalf, which makes the fury feel righteous.

Not reviews of books that are doing really well in my genre because all my attempts to replicate the success of those books have ended in manuscripts sacrificed to the dark gods of Why Even.

Not reviews of books that are clearly not selling well because, dude, someone put effort into typing all those words and then made the (foolish?) decision to go ahead and share the resultant opus. With everyone. For money. That's... kind of precious. Definitely brave. I don't want reviews to spoil that for me.

Nope, instead of putting my eyeballs on book reviews, I have a couple of super-kind friends who screen them for me. They cut and paste the reviews of my books that I'm allowed to read, send them to me, and then I print them out and frame them and ... well, they make me happy. Intensely, tearfully, gratefully happy.

Now, this isn't a foolproof system, so if you've reviewed a book of mine favorably and I haven't sent you chocolates or gifs of people hugging, feel free to message me. You really want this gif-storm. If you've reviewed unfavorably, I don't know about it but I will tell you this:


Seriously. Regardless of whether you loved my work or hated it or meh'd it, you took the time to read, to leave your thoughts out there for someone else who just wants advice on picking his or her next readable. I've been that person and would be still. You make that person's world better. So, thank you from prepublished-me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Reviews? Yes, Please!

Image result for reviewsReviews. We need them. We love them. Okay, we might not love the one-star reviews, but if the book moved a reader to the point they felt compelled to warn the public that our advertised 350-gallon tank only holds 35 gallons, then...well, hopefully, potential readers will have their expectations appropriately set.

For the record, my books don't hold 350 or 35 gallons. 3.5 ounces, possibly, and that's only because I use matte covers instead glossy. Glossy isn't as absorbent.

(FWIW, don't leave your print proof in the wine-glass spill zone.)

In all seriousness, I love getting reviews. I'd like to get more. I very much appreciate everyone who leaves a review. I really, really appreciate those who leave reviews encouraging others to buy the book (especially the non-spoilery reviews). What? That confession should surprise no one. Good reviews make me feel good. Less-than-awesome reviews, I skim to see if there's anything useful in them, then move along. I go back and re-read the good ones on days when my confidence falters.

As the author, I am not the target audience for a review.
I am a beneficiary.

A book review isn't written for me. It's written for other readers who presumably like the genre. Doesn't mean I don't read the reviews (let's be honest, it's not like I have hundreds of them; though, that would be cool). It absolutely means I don't respond to them because it's not my sandbox.

Let me say it again, I appreciate reviewers 
for taking the time to leave a thoughtful review.

Reviews are important to sales. For consumers, they're tied with price in third place as a deciding factor for purchasing. Cover and back copy/blurb are the first two. In a digital market where there are millions of books available and new ones constantly being released, the options are overwhelming to a consumer. The more choices, the higher the expectation (and, potentially, the lower the satisfaction). Reviewers are critical to helping buyers overcome Paradox [Paralysis] of Choice effect.

So when it comes to reviews, I'll take 'em. The good, the bad, the meh.

For all you who leave reviews, thank you!

Monday, March 19, 2018


So, reviews count on in as much as people read them and can be influenced by them. They are, much as with fiction, only as good as the writer in question. A bad review that says nothing doesn't help much, unless there is an overwhelming level of enthusiasm.

That said, I have no time for a proper review of reviews this week Deadlines!

So here's a slightly older article on the importance of emotions in fiction.

Have a great week!

So, let’s see: You’ve listened to me rant on about reviews, characters, pacing, setting, dialogue, body language, the time it takes a story to come out from idea to publication and the lack of legitimate rules to follow. What’s next?
How about emotion? Not just the emotions of the characters, but also the emotions of the readers and the writers as well. Let’s be honest here, there isn’t a damned thing you can do about the state of mind of a reader who picks up your work, at least not on the surface.
When it comes to getting an emotional response from a reader, however, you better be able to get something or your story is screwed beyond all hopes of repair. Everything that I’ve rambled on about here, and that the other writers at Storyteller’s Unplugged have discussed, comes from experience. Right or wrong doesn’t even come into it. There is no right or wrong when it comes to writing. There’s just observation and experience. And the same simple fact is true when it comes to the process of putting the words down on paper and convincing people to read them.
But believe me, from my own experience, if you can’t get a person to empathize with the characters in your story, that person is not going to become a fan of your stuff.
Emotions are what make us who we are, and what differentiates us from the buildings nearby—well, okay, ONE of the things that separates us from the buildings.
What the hell does any of this have to do with writing? Well, if your characters are going to properly portray the illusion of life, they will need to actually display emotional depth. More importantly, they will have to react differently to situations. If every member of a military outfit could do as well as Uncle Sam wanted them to, the average war movie would be a great advertisement for joining the Armed Forces, but the movie itself would suck eggs. What fun is a good shoot ‘em up if an occasional soldier doesn’t freak out when he gets a Dear John letter from Betty Sue back in Montana? If Lou over there doesn’t spaz a few times when the bombs are falling, how can Sergeant Joe interact with him and remind him to be a man? Not the best examples, maybe, but I suspect you’re getting my point.
Only a handful of writers can make a story interesting when there isn’t emotional depth, and frankly, most of those particular scribes passed away back at the end of the Pulp Era. (Conan doesn’t cry, he just kicks ass, but he’s still fun.)
I’m not saying that every character needs to become a drama queen (or king, let’s not be sexist), I’m saying that even the ones who don’t like to let their emotions show still need to have them. Even if the sole emotion the bag guys feels is a constant state of pissed off, the writer has to reveal that in one way or another, or the person reading the story will get bored. 
There’s a balance in this as in all things. Like most of the subjects I’ve discussed, emotions can be overdone very easily. Mention the words “Vampire novel” to a lot of people and they roll their eyes, sick to death of the “angsty” vampires.  I tend to think that in most cases, monsters should be allowed to be monsters, but that’s just me. It doesn’t take too big a push to slide from sensitive he-man action hero to whiny little snot nosed brat.
Having said that, however, I will again repeat myself (because to me it bears repeating) and point out that a hero with out emotional flaws is most likely going to come across as have, at best, two dimensions.
Wait, did I say flaws? Yes I did. Nobody is perfect. Not only should the people you’re trying to create have emotions, they should probably have a few flaws. I don’t mean like kryptonite to Superman, I mean like occasionally getting upset about traffic. It’s just damned hard for most people to root for a good guy who never makes mistakes and never has issues to deal with. What the hell, I’ll keep with the superhero thing for a minute. Bruce Wayne is financially successful, good looking, and could just about pick and choose from the eligible ladies in Gotham City. Instead, he dresses up like a bat and goes around beating the criminal element into submission. Not only is this his driving ambition in life, it is also his number one flaw. The man is obsessed. His parents were murdered I front of him and he took it personally. The end result is Batman. Believe me, any good shrink would put his butt on some serious medications and ship him off to a special school for anger management. But it’s that obsession that makes him interesting.
Victor Frankenstein spent a little too much time dealing with death on a daily basis and became obsessed with life and the artificial creation of it. Something inside his head went ping and the next thing you know, he’s working on building a better human being. His flaw is what makes him extraordinary.
Every hero, every villain, every bit character in a novel should have emotions and flaws. Without them, they have as much depth as the four hundred extras in a Bruce Lee movie.
So what sort of emotional flaws can be used to your advantage? All of them.  Hatred is a powerful motivator. So are greed, love, paranoia, lust, longing, happiness, envy, depression…You get the idea. All of them are important in adding depth to a character. All of them are just plain important. That doesn’t mean you have to examine them to the point where they interfere with the flow of the story, but they should at least be mentioned in passing.
On a more localized level, I’ll point to a few books where the emotions of the characters made all of the difference in the world. Cujo by Stephen King would have just been a book about a dog with rabies if he hadn’t breathed emotional life into the characters. The son had a serious issue with the monster in his closet. The mother and father were dealing with a marriage that was falling to pieces and marital infidelity. The father was also dealing with a little problem at work that was bordering on costing him his entire career. Then, while you’re trying to handle the issues of a family that’s already splitting at the seams, along comes a 185 pound rabid dog to add to the stress. Without King’s exceedingly skillful hand painting in the added dimensions of the characters, the book would have been boring. Dear Lord, without the agony of the family falling apart, who would have cared about the little boy dying by inches in the summer heat while Cujo kept mother and child trapped a broken down car?  How much of the story would have been different if James Stewart didn’t have a fear of heights in Hitchcock’s Vertigo?
Once, long and ago, I co-wrote a novel with another fledgling writer. It was a learning experience and one of the first things I learned was that he and I would likely never write together again. The main reason for that was simply because, despite his truly beautiful prose, he couldn’t quite grasp a few of the intricacies of the human psyche. In one scene that he wrote a secondary character was raped. First, I didn’t see it as important to the story, but I could let that slide. But in the next scene, said character was just as happy and cheerful as could be and actually passing witty banter about the incident. Now, I don’t have any personal experience along those lines, but I’m betting those unfortunate enough to go through such trauma wouldn’t be wisecracking about it fifteen minutes later. My co-author’s response when I brought this up was “Well, I don’t figure it’s the first time it’s ever happened to her.” What? So the second time it’s just par for the course? I don’t think so. There were arguments and rewrites galore. Forget as a writer; as a reader, I simply couldn’t buy that scenario. For me the scene would have completely ruined the experience as a reader and I would have probably put the book down and never bothered with it again.
Just for kicks, here’s an exercise for fledgling writers: think of a scenario with mild trauma—a mugging, witnessing a crime, a fender bender—and then try to decide how five different people will react to it. If you want to take it to the next logical level, you can write down all five scenes and then wait a week or so and read them. See what similarities there are and what differences. What should shine through, if you’re doing your part as well as you’d like to, is how radically the scene is changed by the emotions and reactions of the characters. IF they all read the same except for the name and physical description, it’s time to seriously reassess your techniques.
In the horror field especially, we deal with traumas and phobias. If the characters react unemotionally (With exceptions, granted) or improperly, we’re not going to keep readers coming back for more.
In the fields of horror/science fiction/fantasy or just plain speculative fiction, writers are asking people to often take monumental leaps away from the norm. That’s all good and well, and a decent number of people are willing to take the trip with the writers, but only if the writers can help them along by making the characters at least a little believable. A little human. That first step is a doozy, and without the help of a little emotional empathy, it’s a step that can completely alienate the reader and anyone the reader discusses the book with.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Reviews Are for Readers - Or Are They?

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is on our calendar as "Reviews - I'm rubber, you're glue."

Which gave me pause, I'll admit. The phrase comes from US playground taunts among children (do other countries have this one?) where the teased child will reply "I'm rubber, you're glue. What bounces off me, sticks to you." In other words saying that any insults hurled at us bounce off and stick to the the one flinging them.

So, I imagine whoever phrased this topic was thinking of how authors have to allow less-than-complimentary reviews of our books roll off of us. Which is true. But I disagree with putting it this way for a number of reasons.

  1. A review is of a book, not the author. It's different than teasing and taunting in that we are not the target, but rather something we produced. And put into the world for people to take part in. We're not quietly eating our brown-bag lunches (while reading a book) when Billy the Bully comes up and questions our worthiness to use up oxygen. While some reviews do go so far as to insult the author, those are unprofessional and not worth noticing.
  2. Even a terrible review isn't the same as an insult. Sure a bad review is painful, but that's on us. It's just not a personal attack. If someone wishes us harm, then it's reasonable to imagine the fair thing is for that harm to ricochet and instead the person inflicting it. That's not the intent of most reviewers. If it is, that's unprofessional, etc.
  3. Reviews are for readers, not for authors. We're not even the subject of the playground discussion. No more so than if we brought a fine ball from home (which we maybe painstaking decoupaged with Guardians of the Galaxy images), kicked it out there for everyone to play with while we retire with our bag lunch and book, and then the other kids weigh in on whether it's really good for dodgeball or not. It's really not about us.

The big EXCEPT here, is that in this Rate-and-Review-Every-Damn-Thing Economy, reviews have become critically important to sales. I really think Amazon (and other, similar, retail sites) have dug a pretty deep hole for us all. They want honestly reviewed products, so their customers get what will satisfy them, but then they want us to not care about reviews. Even though the number of reviews affects all aspects of a book's saleability, from whether customers even SEE it to obtaining highly sought advertising slots like in BookBub. 

So, sure, reviews are for readers. I read reviews all the time to see if I want to buy a book. But they've also become a key marketing tool for authors and publishers. Which moves the game off the playground and into the big leagues. 

Of course, for authors the answer is still to let them slide off. Leaving out the "sticks to you part." I included the cover here of THE SHIFT OF THE TIDE because I thought of different reviews I've gotten of this recent release. This book is a little different than the rest of the series, because the heroine is other - she's a shapeshifter and doesn't think like a person who can't shapeshift. Spending time in animal forms makes her wild in some ways. 

Some readers have loved it, exactly because Zynda is so different. Others rated it their least favorite of the series because she is so other. Some say it's their favorite.

Since I clearly accomplished what I set out to do - capture her otherness - I can't complain. There are other balls waiting for decoupage. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Motivation by Slogan

I have no favorite inspirational or motivational quote.

I read them, I may nod and say yup, but I don’t retain them, much less energize myself into any action based upon one.

Quotes, like poetry and jokes, go in one ear and out the other for me. I may appreciate them a lot while they’re passing through, but the next time I hear them, they’ll be brand new to me yet again. Just not my thing! Now book plots and movie plots and ancient Greek or Egyptian myths – those I can talk about in great detail, with quotes of dialog.

“Seventeen days.”

“None taken.”

“Nuke the whole site from orbit…”

Yeah, those are lodged firmly in my memory but not exactly motivational for writing.

I have two desk calendars of quotes and I start each day with taking a moment to reread yesterday’s and then to peruse today’s. One is a Mary Engelbreit calendar because I love her bright, colorful and whimsical drawings, especially the tea pots, and she definitely has some good sayings, like “Bloom where you’re planted.” (And maybe she didn’t invent that one – I have no idea but I associate it with her.) The other is photographs by Deborah Dewit, whose work I love. I keep one of her prints above my writing desk in fact. The quotes on this “Simplicity” calendar not so much – some of them are long and dry. Others are fine. Today’s was “Simplicity is the nature of great souls” from Anonymous. It pleases me to start the day with something to ponder briefly, plus the pick-me-up cheery moment of Engelbreit art.

We had quotes in my family - My mother's favorite was "In a hundred years it won't matter." My grandfather's ironic quote was "Pets are no trouble at all," usually said right after one of my grandmother's Boston terriers had destroyed something. I say "Count to twelve" when I get upset or anxious, because counting to ten is too short for me to really calm down.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day by the way! Did you like my hair and hat in the photo at the top? My family is Irish-American descent, so I definitely appreciate the wearing of the green.

I hope you find your pot of gold!

Author's own collection of shamrock-y items for St. Patrick's Day

Friday, March 16, 2018

Look to the Stars

Humanity and the world of science lost one of our brightest, sharpest minds. Professor Stephen Hawking made some of the most arcane concepts of physics accessible. So when I seek inspiration, this is where I turn.

"It matters that you don't just give up." Professor Stephen Hawking

PS: If you haven't checked out the Roddenberry FB page, do, and scroll to March 14, 2018. 100% worth it.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

My Favorite Line for Inspiration

Quick post here, as I'm pretty busy this week, but the question of the week over at SFF Seven is for favorite inspirational quote.  And mine is my perennial answer whenever this comes up, Jimmy Dugan's response from A League of Their Own when told that baseball "just got too hard".

"It's supposed to be hard.  If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it.  The hard is what makes it great."

That's a line I remind myself of whenever I need that push, whenever things feel too much of a challenge, too unsurmountable.  And with that, I push through.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Motivated by the positive

When I read the topic this week – writing quotes that are inspirational or motivational – at first all I could think about was that Steven Wright quote: “I’m writing a book. I've got the page numbers done.” Which, you know, isn’t extremely motivational. (Even it is so true.)

Then I thought about Dr Seuss. If Seuss isn’t a kick in the hiney, I don’t know who is. So I read through Oh the Places You’ll Go and … it was actually a bit of a downer. Every time he builds up to a “yeah, you rock, kid,” he follows on immediately with, “except, no. Just kidding.” I think the thing we’re supposed to take from the book, overall, is that life ain’t easy, but it’s worth it? Or something like that?

I’d like to be the sort of person who stubbornly, spectacularly defies criticism, is fueled by rejection, who gets knocked down but then gets up again, just like in that song (which may now be in your head for the rest of the day; sorry). But I’m not that person. Negative sucks the motivation right out of me and leaves me a pile of donut-eating who-even-cares.

So, what does work?

I’ll be honest, I don’t have a wall-sticker over my desk that motivates me, and I’m not huge on personal goal-making and aiming for the bleachers and peppy stuff like that. What I do have is a file folder with a bunch of emails and screenshots in it. In those files are comments from contest judges, critique partners, agents and editors who rejected my work kindly and had nice things to say, agents and editors who didn’t reject and also had nice things to say, professional reviewers and all their pretty stars, readers who were entertained enough to tell me about it … basically, a bright, blooming collage of positivity.

This is my go-to treasure box when my self-confidence gets low. I can pull out these priceless words, read them, and think, hey, maybe I don’t suck. Maybe this adventure is worth it. Maybe someone, someday will want to read this steaming pile of work-in-progress. That person might even like it. Might even like it so much that they sit down and type out a note to me, letting me know the pile isn’t quite so steamy. Or at least the in-a-good-way kind of steamy.

I guess that’s it for me, then. The good. I celebrate all the good, even several times, because once is never enough. Every nice word, I tuck it safe in my file folder of happiness, and it motivates me for days, weeks, years, always.

In other words, if you’ve taken the time to send an email or to leave a review or to contact me at all, Thank You. You have no idea what your gift has meant to me.

p.s. - This has nothing to do with the topic, but a super cool thing happened yesterday and I am celebrating -- BECAUSE WE MUST CELEBRATE ALL THE THINGS: my debut book, Wanted and Wired, was released as an audiobook. The narrator, Johanna Parker, performed the Sookie Stackhouse books and is so amazingly talented. I've grabbed a copy and can't wait to see what Ms Parker has done with the interpretation.