I make no secret of loving Joss Whedon’s work. My appreciation started with Buffy, went on to Angel, includes Dollhouse (which really needs time to admire) and soared highest with Firefly. I adore Firefly. More accomplished in one season than some shows achieve over several years. Impressive story threads, wonderful casting, fabulous camerawork and editing. Then there’s his feature film work, which I won’t bother to list here. I’ve yet to discover something of Joss’s I don’t at least like. I understand his storytelling, what he’s trying to achieve even when he doesn’t convey all he sets out to do. What writer or creative artist ever does?
And then there’s his fight for equality. If I never thought Joss could go up in my estimation, I was mistaken when I realised his views on equal rights. Not clued in? Then sit down and watch the following when you have 8 minutes to spare. This is one man likely to put a smile on many a woman’s face for all the right reasons.
Many years ago I wrote an amusing and eyebrow-raising short piece of prose called My Parents Will See This. It was in answer to an exercise someone set on a forum about how people have a mistaken view of writers. Although many laughed and were possibly slightly scandalised by my offering, there was a lot of truth in it. People DO look at something an author has written and raise an eyebrow or two; maybe they even whisper behind said author’s back. Or, these days, get up in their face.
My first published novel was a gay fantasy romance. I wrote it because the idea nagged at me. I had no other agenda in mind other than I had chosen a publisher I wanted to write for, and I had found the perfect idea to fit them. Even if I hadn’t a publisher in mind, I would have written the story. It bugged me, kept me awake, distracted me, begged. The only way to get this story out of my head was to write it down.
The publisher I had chosen produced erotic romance. I knew the story had to be explicit. Talk about a jump in the deep end. My first full-length novel and I made it not only explicit but at heart a gay romance. Try explaining that to the relatives.
Writing anything in the least sexual is probably the most difficult to contend with. People will come to peculiar conclusions. The romance genre has expanded in recent years to include cross-genre writing from paranormal through to erotica and even BDSM. Some writers have experience in some of these categories, but not all. So how does a writer ‘write’ a BDSM story without being involved in the life? How does a straight woman write a gay romance?
Research. The writer reads. The writer asks questions. The writer studies how other writers are doing it. The writer dissects a book he or she enjoyed in that genre, and although I’ve mentioned explicit content here as a prime example, these basics apply to any work. It never ceases to amaze me people can get so fired up over sexual content, yet those same folks won’t say a word against the latest horror novel or film. Some do, of course. I’d like to protest and claim no one approaches the crime or thriller writer and asks them where they hide the dead bodies, but they probably do. Crime or horror writers get asked as many peculiar questions as erotica authors. I know they have asked King how he sleeps at night and he has apparently answered, “Very well, thank you.” Still sex seems to receive the highest negativity. What two consenting adults do isn’t okay, but a ski-masked killer hacking up young virgins is? Many an erotic romance writer shakes a head over this—just not one they’ve decapitated.
Sex is another part of the human condition, same as death, same as fear, or joy, any other experience or emotion. Writing sexual content does not mean the author spends the weekend trying out the latest ‘toys’ for review or even as research. It does not mean the writer is a nymphomaniac. Not all erotica writers wear corsets on the weekends. A roundabout way to get to my point.
BE TRUE TO THE STORY.
It doesn’t matter what you are writing, IMHO the writer needs to be true to the content. If the story needs sex, then consider in what context. Same for anything explicit—there shouldn’t be gratuitous sex, same as there shouldn’t be gratuitous gore. What counts as gratuitous is another argument. The quick answer is everything in a book has to propel the story. Everything a character experiences must change that character. If writing for an erotic romance publisher, the writer has to include sex so the trick would be to come up with an idea that allows sex to occur, but includes the other elements of story and plot. Another genre might approach this from the other direction—the story may require sex and the author will include it only if needed, but if writing for a market that requires such content, it’s the writer’s job to work it in as part of the storytelling. The same with horror. The writer knows it’s necessary to scare the audience.
There are distinct styles required for different books, and various markets, and if the author wants to write for them he or she must accept this. Don’t worry who will read it. No one need read it until the author is ready to put the story out there. Even then it can always go out under a pen-name, although be aware this does not guarantee anonymity, especially these days.
I’m saying, don’t be afraid—if you want to write, you can’t be—and that applies to whatever the author is writing. Maybe it’s not a sexual scene. Maybe a character needs to die horribly. The writer just knows his or her mother will be terribly turned off by it, even sickened. Who and what should the author be loyal to? The parent? The story? One could say the writer should be true to the reader, but before that the writer needs to be true to the writer. Put into a story everything it requires, regardless of what others might think. No more, but definitely no less.
Not convinced? Try it. If the writer is lucky enough and has found the right genre and the right voice to work with, that’s wonderful. If not, then write something with all those worries and barriers in place. Then write it again with those barriers lowered. No one need see it. See if that changes the outcome. I know it did for me.
The last dragon I posted was my smallest, though this one isn’t much larger. It’s nothing fancy, just a minor item I picked up one day in Tintagel because I wanted to bring another dragon home and they weren’t selling the HUGE one in the window (which I probably couldn’t afford and definitely couldn’t house).
It’s supposed to be the stone of our anniversary month, but I don’t know in what universe because I’m sure it’s wrong. Still, it’s hard to say no to the dragon hoard.
AT HOME: This would usually start with ‘Out and About’ but as none of us who are sensible are doing much if any of that I’ve not much to share. Most of my ‘out’ was related to food shopping and a couple of local walks for fresh air, exercise, and to post a birthday card. Truly hate shopping at this time, not just because of the need to be careful but because we can’t shop the way we like: together and doing a large monthly shop with a small top-up. We’re having to shop more than we’d like and it’s costing a little extra because we can’t always go where we want, which makes it more annoying. Still, we’re doing our best to remain safe, especially as my other half is a key worker. We’re feeling lucky right now to have some small local suppliers, a front and back garden, and somewhere to walk; not the best — I’d really appreciate being more coastal right now, but there is a view well worth seeing when things get too much.
FILM/TV: We’ve started watching The Rookie and so far so good. Not through the first season yet, but they’ve kept the stories going. Been watching, or I should say, re-watching an old British favourite: Only Fools and Horses. Some great lines with memorable characters and comments, references, and slang only a Brit might be likely to laugh over. I quite enjoyed October Faction but, seriously (and this is a note to all writers), when someone has a massive knife shoved into their gut or side unless you’re healing them by supernatural magical means don’t have them walking around within minutes or even hours. I’m so tired of programmes supernatural or otherwise where someone is stabbed or shot and they shake it off as though it’s nothing. You might — only ‘might’ mind you — keep going a short while in the heat of the moment in a life-threatening situation with the help of an adrenaline rush, but that won’t last long and the pain is liable to be crippling.
READING: The Eyes of Darkness, Dean Koontz A re-read, this book reminds me of why I’ve been a longtime reader of this author whose work is best described as supernatural thrillers. Though sludgy in places plot-wise with a few coincidences this is solid plotting. More than that, Koontz must be one of the first in this genre who regularly started producing drop-kick heroines. More recent reviews seem to connect this book as being precognitive considering the troubles of 2020, but this is simply coincidence, and a subject written about by many authors; would be a pity if this happenstance puts anyone off an excellent read, although this novel is one to read for the journey more than the outcome. My only negatives is a wish to have connected to the character of Danny more and the ending feels a little abrupt after the investment of a great build-up.
The Last Wish, Andrzej Sapkowski After watching the first season of The Witcher, I understandably wanted to read the books. Though the writing isn’t fancy the narrative works well for this story making for a warm, comfortable read that lends itself to the creation of a world that feels real from the outset. There are storylines that will be familiar for those who watched the series, and others that diverge from what they know but they all work. Like the non-linear story telling of the show, the book breaks up the various storylines making for especially interesting reading, and the first leaves on a perfect cliffhanger of note. I read a review calling the characters soulless and perhaps seeing the show makes me feel otherwise but I wouldn’t call reserved the same thing as soulless and find the details and inventiveness of The Witcher and the world he inhabits captivating enough to make up for anything the book lacks. While some depth may be lacking this still brings the world of The Witcher to life and I’ll read the rest in the series.
The Siren, Tiffany Reisz This is a difficult book to review without spoilers. First, the writing and plotline is superb, yet, while I far from dislike this book the BDSM elements were unexpected from the simple blurb but it pleased me the erotic content is far from lascivious and often not even graphic. The story tears the reader apart in so many places, pulling in so many directions, it should win hands down. But it’s toward the last quarter of the book the story lost me. I couldn’t see what there was to love about Soren, though I see this is now part of an 8 book series and hear we learn more about him as the story progresses. And when I thought one or more character should be content with a chosen path, they surprised me. I’m unsure whether I was satisfied with any of the decisions and I ultimately found the character of Nora frustrating, even fickle, though some might view her way of loving more forgiving. Perhaps too forgiving. I felt this is really Nora’s story and I would have preferred she were the first introduced to make this more obvious. I’ve read the blurbs for the series and, though I doubt I’ll commit to reading more, this works as a standalone novel and was worth the time spent with it. I couldn’t fault the world this author weaves or her writing.
WRITING: I signed a contract with JMS books to re-release my (personally re-edited) novella, An Act of Generosity. I still cannot believe how much my writing and editing has changed. I also completed a few minor edits on a short story that will appear in an upcoming edition of Night to Dawn. Meanwhile, I’m working on another project I’ve been asked to write for, but I’m unable to say more at this time.
Having heard about a writer getting an unfair review the other day (I read it and agree) this seems as good a time to talk about reviews from a personal perspective that I hope applies to both writers and readers, (who are both potential reviewers), and professional reviewers who assess books and stories regularly. All writers dream of receiving great reviews, but negative feedback affects everyone differently. I can only tell you how I handle the subject.
I forget exactly where I read this statistic, but as a guide, 20% of readers will hate your book. Don’t believe me? Read this wonderful take on negative reviews by author Beth Revis: How to Respond to Negative Reviews. She puts it so eloquently. Once you read some statistics, you’ll have a clearer picture.
Another occurrence, brought to my attention by an acquaintance, was of someone who had compared Dracula to Twilight and said they felt Twilight was the better book. No, I am not here to argue or dissect either work. I will say that IMHO no one can compare the two books. I am 99% certain that the author of Twilight might even agree with me. I don’t care whether you love or loathe either work or both: they don’t belong in the same sentence. They are two different fictions, written with distinct styles, at distant points in history, with a difference of purpose in mind, and with different influences. My acquaintance felt quite upset readers were touting Twilight as the best book of all time. Again, I, and the author of said book, would probably understand where my friend is coming from. There are many books I love in all genres, but ‘best book of all time’? Think of that phrase for a moment, of what it truly means.
I have to say for me to choose such a book would require more thought than I have time to spare. It would have to be a classic. It would have to be something that has already outlasted the test of time. Conversely, maybe such a book has yet to be written, doesn’t even exist yet. Be careful when rating books. It’s fine to give a book 5 stars on its own merit, but if you’re *comparing* it requires more thought.
How fair is it to compare one work to another, though? I give out 5-star reviews for good reads, but if I was giving stars to my personal library judging by those I loved the most, the grading would be noticeably different. I don’t put that classification *out there* when reviewing other authors. I would feel I was doing them a disservice.
It’s all subjective, anyway. What one person loves, another hates—wouldn’t it be a boring world if we all liked the same thing? It might be one thing to downgrade a book owing to poor presentation, but a story that isn’t one person’s ‘cup of tea’ may be the favourite read of another.
When writing a review I would urge to remember whether one is grading a book by the level of enjoyment or against other books. I would keep in mind that while I might have quibbles with the book, it has already passed inspection—in most cases a team has worked on it (not just the author) and have decided it is good enough for publication. Some ideas in the book may not have come from the author at all. Edits happen. There may be something in the book a reader dislikes the author also didn’t want but had no choice other than to accept after signing a contract. Yes, that is a fact of publishing. Or, the part the reviewer hates may be the part the writer most loves. In the words of J.K.Rowling, “I’m not taking dictation.” There’s little point wishing a book had *gone another way*. Don’t enjoy the books coming onto the market, then go write ones you like. Maybe you can become a writer yourself, maybe you already are. Either may ‘discover’ a new brand of fiction with fresh ideas.
If you’re a writer and receiving a bad review…well, this is how I deal with them. Set it aside. I read it and put it down for twenty-four hours. I put it completely out of my mind and let my blood cool. Then I read it again. Then I take the time to consider it. I judge whether the reviewer had a point. If so, I try to learn from it. If not, I dismiss it.
A bad review can be very helpful if the reader has something constructive to say. Equally, a reader can miss a point you were trying to make. I’m not saying the reader is *wrong* when that happens. I’m saying — And This Is The Important Thing — we are all influenced by our life experiences. We all have our own likes and dislikes.
I once received a bad review that neither I nor my editor agreed with. My editor at the time told me the reviewer couldn’t have understood the pressure one of my characters was under. Even though my editor felt the same way I did, that review stung…for about two days when I received a message from a reader gushing in delight over the very thing the reviewer had hated. That distinct point made the book for the reader where it killed the story dead for the critic. Neither was wrong, but nor was I. I had written that scene for a good reason. The reader *got* it; the reviewer didn’t. It came down to preference and ‘personal experience’, and that’s something both writer and reviewer have to keep in mind.
Try to learn from negative reviews. Take them seriously. Consider the points raised and decide whether you would have written the story any differently. If the answer is no, then dismiss it. To do so can be harder than it sounds sometimes, but I urge every writer to practise it. If there are issues the writer does not have answers to, keep those points for the next book, or use them should the book ever get the opportunity for a revision.
NEVER respond to a bad review. There have been too many public meltdowns of authors getting into arguments with reviewers. Who is in the wrong or who is right doesn’t even come into it. Online trolls write too many bad reviews and there’s no getting through to them; often the tone of that review reveals their intentions, anyway. Such simple disagreements can ruin careers. Then you have writers such as James Scott Bell who advise the writer not to read reviews at all. I understand that thinking equally, although I also know sometimes reviews can be useful. There are reviews of my work that I read, and others where I do not.
I will leave readers and potential reviewers with one last thought. Many times those who hate a work are more likely to say so. If you love an author’s work, truly the best way you can help them is not to contact the author—although that’s always wonderful and much appreciated—but to tell the world. Do you love a book? Review it publicly. There’s really no better thing a reader can do for an author whose work they love so much—for the author and for the reader who wants that person to keep writing.
At this time I thought to share something a little brighter so chose another of my dragons. In this instance, my smallest dragon. He’s maybe an inch long made from natural stone. At the time I bought this one from a gift shop in Boscastle, there were many available in various types of stone and I considered buying a few more then the next thing I knew they seemed to disappear. Plenty of other animals are still available but the dragons appear to have vanished back to myth and legend.
OUT AND ABOUT: Well, without the need of hindsight, we’d have preferred not to have gone away. Alas, rules stated that holiday companies have the right to insist you go so at the time of travelling we had little choice other than to lose a lot of long-saved money for a holiday we’ve been planning over several years and trying to take for the last three. The first year we couldn’t get a flight, the second I was too unwell, and, this time, though I’ve issues I now have to deal with the rest of my life, I struggled through and reached the Caribbean…only to have our holiday cancelled mid-trip. The good news is they brought us home on time and no one became ill. I still didn’t reach the islands I hoped to and now don’t know if I ever will.
On that note, and in this bleak time, I’ll leave you a view of what certainly looks like paradise.
FILM/TV: As we’ve been away, we’ve not done much viewing but as we’re spending a great deal more time inside we quickly caught up with The Outside, Avenue 5, and Locke & Key. I enjoyed Locke & Key but had to cringe a little in episode 9 over several characters’ stupidity, and in episode 10 I guessed the outcome and all the ‘surprises’. Maybe it comes from being a writer, although I think I’ve always been a little like this.
READING: Lanny, Max Porter While it may not be for everyone, there’s no denying Max Porter has his own style. Written in an abstract, patchy way, Lanny reveals the story of a child gone missing, throwing an ugly light on the duplicities of human emotion and reaction. Though I found this style of storytelling a little too fragmentary, the book’s ultimately unsettling and effective in parts. Yet I can see how the style will frustrate many rather than seem artistic. Either creative or pretentious and difficult to choose which. Good for those who don’t mind the surreal, a departure from traditional narrative, though I would urge reading a sample before purchasing.
I’ve Got Your Number, Sophie Kinsella My first read by this author, though it may not be my last. I’ve seen some reviews about the implausibility of the plot, but with this style of book I’m happy to hang up any sense of disbelief at the door. It’s light, fun, well plotted with characters well developed enough for the story. I found the footnotes annoying at first, but soon got used to them. I’d happily pick up another book, though this isn’t the type of story I often read.
Don’t Point That Thing at Me, Kyril Bonfiglioli The first of the Mortdecai novels, though fun, was a little slower in pace than I expected and with sidetracks and wanderings as without restraint as Mordecai himself. I’ve never read what someone ate or the copious amounts someone drank (made my liver wince) to such a degree in a novel. Still, this is undeniably classic and I couldn’t help warming to Charlie Mortdecai and loving his thug of a servant, Jock.
WRITING: None to report though now I’m back I’m diving into several projects. And don’t forget my short story, Bead Trickling Laughter, is in April’s edition of Night to Dawn, available from Amazon (print), search Night to Dawn 37, or directly from the publisher (print or pdf) https://bloodredshadow.com/ . “Carol Ann never expected to return to Aunt Margaret’s old house on Church Hill, but when her adopted sister, Cheryl, dies upon the stairs outside, a greater mystery than death calls her home.”