This is how it happens

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I took my son downtown to see a movie and we missed the start. So, to kill some time, we wandered into the Barnes & Noble to browse around and pick up some books. This is what we came back with:

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EX-HEROES was for my kid; I’ve been pretty upfront about my distaste for zombies in all forms. The others were for me. You know what I didn’t realize until later that night when I took them out of the bag? They were all books by dudes.

It’s just too easy to stay in a comfort zone. It’s easy to stick with habits that we don’t even recognize as habits. I don’t talk about it much, but some time ago I decided that I was going to be more mindful about my book purchases; it’s super-easy to just buy books by all men. It’s pretty much the path of least resistance. Oops.

So I’m going to pull Dark Places off the shelf next. And I’m not doing it because it’s the right thing to do (although it is) or that it’s what other people think I should do (they don’t actually care). I’m doing it because carelessly limiting myself will weaken me when I need to make my writing stronger.

If you’re someone who only reads one type of writer, you should try new things, too.

“Klausner” became a verb. Now we need to coin the word “Anti-Klausner”

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For folks who don’t know who Harriet Klausner is, a brief introduction. Here’s the full text of her review of my debut novel, CHILD OF FIRE:

In Hammer Bay, Washington, the ecomony is booming due to the toy factory; however, residents even those who work at the prime employer fail to realzie that some of their offspring can use magic.

Twenty Palace Society field agent Annalise Powliss hunts and kills rogue magic practitioners. Convicted felon Ray Lilly is her chauffeur, but they share a not so kind past as he betrayed her so he knows she plans to kill him at the most opportune time. The Society learns of the goings-on in Hammer Bay and led by take no prisoners Annalise plan to destroy the factory and kill anyone of any age who uses magic. However, the execution fails and Annalise is hurt; Ray must finish the assignment against a much more powerful sorcerer who sacrifices humans especially children to gain incredible amounts of power.

The key to this small town fantasy is the use of magic as collateral damage is not only acceptable it is preferable if needed to complete a mission. That premise ties the rogue and the Society together as innocent bystanders die in high numerical waves, which in turn brings a sense of realism to the exciting story line. The dysfunctional relationship between the driver and his boss enhances the tension of an exhilarating High Noon paranormal thriller.

Harriet Klausner

All spelling infelicities in the original; this is just a cut and paste.

As Klausner’s reviews go, this one is better than average. Yes, it appears to have been written as quickly as possible with little regard for spelling or how it reads. Yes, some details are wrong; Ray isn’t anyone’s chauffeur, although he is driving the beater van at the start of the book. However, most of the plot details are correct, which isn’t always a given in Ms. Klausner’s reviews. However, she did give my book her lowest review: only 4 stars. For her, that’s practically a slam.

So, yeah. Her reviews are not insightful and some this year she will post her 30,000th on Amazon.com. That’s, er, a lot. I’ve heard that some times she posts as many as six reviews a day; how many books could you speed read in a day?

But whatever, right? No harm done… unless you’re the sort of person who’s Bothered By Things. See this 2012 “investigation” into Klausner’s reviews, which discovered that she received free ARCs from publishers, gives them positive reviews, then hands them off to her son to sell for COLD HARD CASH.

Nevermind that The Strand bookstore is floor to rafters with resold ARCs from other book reviewers. Nevermind that there’s no difference in what Klausner does and what other reviewers do besides scale. Apparently, she’s a woman reviewing badly for nefarious purposes and a group of people have begun to follow her around and badmouth her reviews. That link takes you to Sharon Lee’s new book Carousel Sun; how pleased would you be to discover that, on the week your book comes out, Internet Melodrama is breaking out on the book’s Amazon page that has nothing to do with the author. (Buy her book, folks, to help soothe that pain.)

[Edited to add: There are, as of this writing, 46 comments under Klausner's review, many justifying the decision to follow Klausner from page to page to taunt and mock her including one comparing her to Timothy McVeigh(!). Ugh.]

And if you think that’s the only review this self-appointed posse has hunted down and attacked, you would be wrong!

You might think I would be upset about what Harriet does–write universally positive reviews so she can continue to churn out incomprehensible reviews on books she’s barely skimmed for a few thin bucks, but once again you’d be wrong. My take is this: It’s a hard hard world. If she can make a few bucks (nobody is getting rich selling ARCs on fucking half.com) for herself and her family, and if publishers want to keep sending review copies to her, let them. As sins go, this isn’t half so terrible as the moving flame war hitting the Amazon pages of author after author.

Klausner-stalkers, find something useful to do. Advocate. Make something. In fact, Instead of reviewing Klausner’s work (fish -> barrel) write your own, and make them good. If your lives are so comfortable that a minor transgression like this annoys you so much, give thanks to whatever deity you worship and go volunteer at a food bank.

Because this thing where you follow a woman from page to page to insult her? That’s just sad.

#SFWApro

Reviewer Expects SEO Payback From Authors She Reviews

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You know how it is: you write things, you put them out into the world. Sometimes people like them, sometimes not. Worst of all, sometimes people just don’t seem to care.

But let’s imagine you’re a book reviewer who is becoming frustrated by the fact that you aren’t becoming as prominent as you used to be: What’s the next step? How do you give yourself the boost to prominence you’re hoping for?

If you answered: “Write better, more insightful book reviews and dare to be honestly controversial in a way that gets people talking,” you clearly need to be more entitled. Try this instead:

I operate on a Quid Pro Quo system. I will continue to promote authors that do the same for me. Not only that, but the more times promoted, the more buzz you will see. Tweet to your followers, post on Facebook, etc.

See, getting a review is a service provided to the author. If you mark her Amazon reviews as “helpful”, sign up for her newsletter, like her Facebook page, circle her on G+ and… oh christ time to start skimming this ridiculous list.

Anyway, “Bookiemonster” is frustrated that authors just aren’t meeting HER needs.

What I would (gently) suggest in response is that reviews are for the benefit of readers, not writers. Sure, it’s publicity, and yeah, it sells a few copies, but not many. Not many at all. I can see my own sales, and I know what the bump from a review looks like (spoiler: not large). Reviews are not for writers. In fact, a great many writers never ever look at their reviews. Not ever.

If you doubt that reviews are for readers, not writers, consider reviews in other fields: are film reviews just unpaid publicity? Nope, they exist to drive filmgoers to a newspaper (or whatever) so they can decide what to watch. Same for theater. What about critiques of art galleries? Nope. they’re an attempt to say something worthwhile about art, and to engage the aficionado on the subject.

It’s the same for books. Reviews are there to share an enthusiasm for the written word with other enthusiasts; in fact, a decent reviewer should excite readers with their expertise. This is about an exchange of ideas, not moving product.

You write reviews because you think there’s something worth saying to other readers. Maybe you think a book is wonderful. Maybe you think it’s toxic sludge. Maybe you think it’s emblematic of the sort of toxic sludge we see all too much of lately. Maybe it’s part of a movement that no one other than you has noticed. Maybe it reflects a certain kind of cultural change. Maybe you could talk about those things.

Or you could just write stuff like this:

The novel is witty, intense and keeps your interest from start to finish. It reads fast, I mean super fast and not that the book is short, it just reads that well. Nothing stumbled me. And that rarely happens. While some Zombie snobs may not like this book, I certainly did.

or

I also felt that prior to Mary becoming a prisoner in a walking dead corpse, her conflict with Azrael the Angel of Death was vague and undefined. More details on how Mary discovers Azraelā€™s scheme to take over the spirit realm would justify him sentencing her to an undead dungeon as well as her rage toward him.

or

Dead Boys was a welcome departure from what I find myself usually reading. Would I have picked it up had it not been submitted? Probably not. Why? Because short stories aren’t my normal thing. Simply because I enjoy investing the time to get to know the characters and follow a story through it’s arc. Penkas succeeded by giving me the appetizer, but I still wanted the main course. Thankfully, his concepts were intriguing and thought provoking enough to make the read satisfying.

(all sic)

You say your book review site is not as prominent as you’d like? Inexplicable.

I’m a writer. I put non-fiction on the blog and fiction in my books, and when they don’t sell or languish in obscurity, it’s not because someone didn’t hold up their end of the quid fucking pro quo. It’s because the thing I wrote didn’t earn it.

The same goes for reviewers. Your words will bring you the attention you deserve. If you feel you deserve better, do better. Be more thoughtful and original. Write with care and style (advice I could certainly bear to take myself). If some of your reviewers can’t manage that, let them go and put less (but better) content on your site.

But don’t come around with some quid pro quo, because ugh.

OMG, you won’t believe what a bastard I am

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Christmas was pretty great. Everyone was surprised and delighted by their presents to one degree or another, we got to spend a whole lot of time together, and the fact that we got new computers (and had terrible issues with Migration Assistant–come on, Apple, wtf) none of us had our noses pressed against glowing screens, which I guess goes back to spending time together. Nothing better than that.

However! The day after Christmas is my son’s birthday (the answer to the obvious question: 12). Since my wife has to work today, he blew out his candles and opened his presents first thing.

Boy was he disappointed. Here’s why:

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It’s been our family tradition that he gets toys on Christmas and books on his birthday; I always thought that was better than “half your gifts one day, other half the next” but let’s just say he feels differently.

Did I say he was “disappointed?” Because I meant that he asked us never to buy books for him again, and he told us books are only for when he’s bored, and he thinks I’m trying to force him to read books that he “ought” to read (the Myke Cole novel prompted that, because wut), that books are “okay, but…”, and why didn’t we get him something he would actually *like*, too. Of course most of those were chosen by me because I thought they’d suit his tastes so I’m the guy who ruined his birthday.

A couple nights sleeping in the yard should change his attitude, though.

For the record, the only books he was excited about were: The Minecraft history, The Oatmeal, Hyperbole and a Half, the Bacigalupi. The rest he views as work. I don’t even.

It’s a Cyber-Monday Non-surprise!

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The day when everyone, supposedly, starts their holiday shopping online. Try not to be surprised by what I write next:

I have a new book out that you can order.

The short version is that it’s the pulp adventure game tie-in I wrote. If you’re reading this on my blog, the cover is just to your right at the top of the sidebar. If not, click through that link: it’s full of pulp adventure nonsense like shrinking beams, infra-purple light, Aztec mummies, and a certain giant ape movie from 1933. Fun!

If you already have that one, don’t forget that I have a page full of books for kids recommended by my own son. Nothing in that list is there because I thought it should go there; everyone got the thumbs up from the incredibly fussy kid who sleeps down the hall from me. As they used to say: Kid-tested, kid-approved.

What’s more, there are new entries on the list. Check it out.

Want a free copy of one of my books?

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Are you a reader who writes reviews on your blog? Or maybe Goodreads? Or somewhere else?

Well, you can get an early copy of KING KHAN just for the asking, and when you do, you’ll also get a copy of Stephen Blackmoore’s KHAN OF MARS, the prequel to mine. That’s two books about the adventures of a fussy Oxford professor who’s also a gorilla.

All you have to do is sign up at the publisher’s site before September 30th. They’ll pick 15 names from the people who contact them, and send out both books.

You guys know Stephen Blackmoore’s work, right? His debut novel was one of Kirkus’s “Best of 2012.”

Free books, you guys. Check it out.


I know I keep promising to talk about the stretch goals for this, but I just need a little more time to nail things down.

New page on my site: Kid Reads

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You know how some parents are always talking about what prodigious readers their are? “My little eight year old just loved 100 Years Of Solitude! Now she’s moved on to Russian poetry, but that’s fine. She’s entitled to her beach reads.” What books their kids read and how many they consume are like ornaments for their parents.

My kid, he’s not like that.

He’s fussy, easily-bored, and emits a high, uncanny keening when forced to read something against his will. That noise isn’t a whine; it goes beyond whining into a kind of shared pain that only parents truly understand. He doesn’t impress people with his books. He just enjoys them.

So we often have people ask us what he reads. I’m guessing they think that, being the son of a writer, he will walk away from a Minecraft session of his own volition for his love of books.

Nope. He wants books that are fun, funny, and fast-paced. So when people ask what sorts of books we recommend for their own reluctant readers, those are the books we recommend.

Anyway, to make things easier on us, I’ve put together a page called “Kid Reads” which contains lists of books he really enjoyed.

Check it out.

Writing about PTSD and more than PTSD

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The Public Insight Network has posted a comic called Moral Injury, Beyond PTSD (well, they’re calling it an “illustrated story” but so what). It’s incredibly powerful stuff and I recommend everyone read it. I’d originally planned to drop it into a Randomness post, but it felt too big for that.

Seriously, you’ll want to read that.

I’ve seen this sort of thing addressed in fantasy before, but not in a way that satisfies me. Not in a way that breaks out of the hero/villain paradigm.

Part of it, I think, is the incredibly powerful appeal of the dehumanized enemy and the heroic capable figure. Is Aragorn supposed to have nightmares about all the orcs he’s killed? Is he supposed to change his most basic self-concept after all that killing? Frodo returns from his adventure a ruined man who can no longer live in his own community, but that’s due to the proximity to and temptation of the power of evil. It’s not because he recognizes that he did evil to an enemy that was very like him.

I’m also revisiting Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (by watching the dvds). The whole thing plays like a parody of the superhero genre written by someone who wants to call out its most fascist aspects. And yet, even while I’m disgusted by, for example, Miller’s contempt for peaceful protest, I’m also feeling the powerful pull of the narrative of justified violence.

It’s incredibly affecting and entirely artificial. Reading that comic I linked to above makes me a little ashamed of it. #SFWApro

Why does a reader pick one book over another?

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Chuck Wendig hosts a discussion on what gets people to buy a book and (this is one of those times when you should read the comments) the results are interesting. A lot more people rely on blurbs than I would have expected, and several people say that glance at the first page or paragraph to decide yay or nay.

I reminded me of kicking back with my son to watch movies from the 80′s. When ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK starts, there’s nothing but a black screen, synth music and the credits, because it was made for a time when you bought the ticket and sat down in a theater. Nobody was holding a remote in their hand, thumb over the FF button.

When I pointed this out to my son, he asked to skip the credits but I wouldn’t. “This is the movie,” I told him.

Anyway, I understand the value people place on first pages, but sometimes they can be misleading. I really enjoyed THE NAME OF THE WIND but I only persevered past the “three kinds of silence” opening because people assured me the style would change.

For myself, I buy books mainly because of the author, the book is a classic of a genre, or a recent(ish) book is so widely lauded that it seems likely to become a classic. I read very slowly, so I can’t just be grabbing stuff willy-nilly.