Category Archives: reader opinion

When the end is not the end

In my last post, I said I was worried that people hated the ending of the A to Z story [link to beginning] posted here on my blog. If you’ve been reading the comments, you know some of us have been discussing the issue. I’ve also been discussing it privately with a few people.

Truth is, regardless of what anyone else thought, I hated that ending. Just took me a while to realize I did. And why. Here’s part of one comment I made:

“I’m honestly feeling very undecided about the whole VR thing right now. The classic Hero’s Journey begins in the normal world, adventure ensues, and ends by returning to the normal world with the character somehow changed. This story didn’t do that. It finished in a world the reader didn’t know existed. There’s a difference between a plot twist and a betrayal of story premise. After a lot of thinking, I realize the latter is what I did here.”

So, due to the power of editing, that ending no longer exists. Didn’t happen. That entire “Z” post — POOF! Gone from the book. The story does not end that way and does not happen in a VR game. Never did. It was a figment of your imagination. Or mine. Whatever.

You make mistakes, you fix them.

Not that I have anything against VR games or stories about them — I still think that’s a cool concept — but that’s not what this story is. This is a story set entirely in a world where there are dragons and magic. Period.

Interestingly enough, once I made that decision, new stories and new adventures in this world started to tumble around in my brain. In fact, even while I’m refining and fleshing out Zoey and Anton’s story, I’m having to pause occasionally to take notes about the next story pushing its way up into my consciousness. It’s pretty exciting.

But for those of you who LOVED the original ending, no problem. You can still believe that was how it ended. Just, um, maybe don’t ever read the final version I’ll be publishing. Or only read up to the last chapter or two. You’ll be fine.

As for me, lesson learned.

This is the real reason you shouldn’t write fiction, in real time, on your blog. Not because you’re worried about what people might think of your rough unedited writing. Not because people might think your unvetted ideas are ridiculous or that you’re being unprofessional and taking stupid risks. And certainly not because it makes you feel uncertain and vulnerable and afraid– those are good things for a writer to feel.

No, the real reason you shouldn’t do this is because most readers don’t realize just how drastic the editing process can be. Frankly, they shouldn’t have to. Readers get vested in a story and its characters, and that’s good. You want that to happen. Sure, you can go back and change minor details, add a few things here and there. But change the entire ending? That’s a problem.

Once you tell a story, it’s damn near impossible to convince someone it didn’t happen that way.

With that in mind, I’m going to delete most of the “Z” post over here. Not the entire thing, as I don’t want to also delete the comments, but most of the text. Believe it or not, I’m still getting new blog followers every day [hello and welcome!] and it occurs to me it might be a good idea to limit the damage to those few who have already read the story with the crappy regrettable ending. So, I’ll be doing that.

Never fear, I’m hard at work on the final version. I’ve written most of the new ending and I think it’s a vast improvement. I hope you all will agree.

Also, I have an online appointment with a cover artist in a couple weeks. She is amazingly talented and I’m excited about working with her. Except . . . we all know how well I do with anything related to arts and crafts. Probably I should hurry up and finish the story before then. In case she decides to reduce me to ashes.



Filed under Anton and Zoey, reader opinion, writing

Fan Mail from Prison and Other Milestones

I’ve heard several writer friends say you know you’ve “made it” as a writer when you receive fan mail from prison. It’s a thing. A bit of black humour, obviously, as I’ve never known any writer who seriously thinks they’ve “made it.” It’s an intriguing idea, fan mail from prison. Especially these days when ebooks are gaining in popularity over print books. Are inmates allowed internet access to download ebooks? I have no idea.

I haven’t received any fan mail, let alone from prison, but two things happened recently that hit near the top of my own personal squee-o-meter and that feel like milestones in my writing career. Mind you, this stuff is subjective. Pretty sure you could find a writer or three who would disagree.

The first thing was getting an alert that showed one of my books [How Did This Happen? Lunch with Imaginary Friends and Other (mostly) True Stories] was listed on a piracy site. My initial gut reaction was something along the lines of, “What. The. Hell. That’s my book. I created that and you– you– fuck you, man– you just took it? You stole my book and decided you could offer it up over there for FREE? You slimy goddamned bastard.”

Ahem. What can I say? Probably it’s a primal human emotion, possessiveness.

That outrage lasted for about thirty seconds. Okay, maybe a full minute. I’m surprised it lasted that long, or even existed at all, because I decided a long time ago that piracy is not a bad thing. That it is, in fact, a good thing. As a fledgling writer, my greatest enemy is obscurity. Piracy is a nice boost in visibility for someone in my position.

I’ve come to think of (free*) pirate sites as sort of like a library, only without express permission. God knows, I wish I could interest libraries in carrying my books. A Pirate Library increases my exposure to readers. Readers who, for whatever reason, might someday decide they want to or are able to pay for the books they read. And even if they don’t ever become paying customers, I’m thrilled any time someone reads a thing I wrote. That’s sort of the whole point of putting your writing out in public.

*To be clear: piracy sites that take other people’s work and SELL IT and PROFIT FROM IT are engaged in indefensible black-hearted gutless thievery and deserve every particle of bad karma and aggressive legal action aimed at them.

I found it amusing that part of their shtick was, “There used to be a book called…” Like it was no longer available and they were doing everyone a favour by finding it and once again making it available. Clever. But the icing on this particular cake was the blurb they wrote:

A First Opinion: A Book that Realistically Describes Teen Life

Imagine a book that inspires you to stand up and act out scenes at lunch to your co-workers! Imagine a book that you mark pages to read to specific people in your life: your husband, your friends, your students, your siblings …

I love that. Even though it’s the extent of what I could see without logging in.

Honestly, I can’t tell whether someone actually read the book and wrote that or whether they just have a really good algorithm that picks up on keywords and writes relevant reviews. Either way, I thought this blurb was awesome. Way better than anything I’ve managed to come up with. Do you think I could get away with posting it on retail sites as an editorial review? I’m sure they wouldn’t mind me stealing it sharing it with others.

Another thing that sort of made me go “awww” was a comment after the blurb (I can’t access it anymore, so probably someone targeted the site for takedown) that said, “Thank you so much for posting this book!” I think it was from someone named Jenny B. Or maybe Julie T. I’m so bad with names. Whichever, Jenny or Julie, you’re most welcome. I hope you enjoy it. I also hope you share it with a friend. For free.

The second thing that happened is that I finally got a two-star review. Of that same book, actually. I didn’t even need to pause to gather my thoughts on this. My immediate reaction was, “OMG! YES! This is SO awesome!!” And then I laughed — literally, out loud — in sheer delight.

I’ve been hugging it close since I first saw it, keeping it to myself, savoring it like a secret treasure. It felt too precious to share.

You think I’m kidding, perhaps being sarcastic? I assure you, I am not.

I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for someone to write a one- or two-star review of one of my books. I can’t even tell you how much I’ve wanted this to happen. I’m surprised it just now happened for a book I published three and a half years ago. Ebooks really are an equalizer of time.

This book has gotten a couple two-star ratings on Goodreads, along with one three-star rating. Those made me smile too, but those are just ratings, not actual reviews. I’ve been waiting and hoping for someone who was underwhelmed enough to bother with a review. Here it is:

2.0 out of 5 stars

ended up boring, April 15, 2014

By TMS (Texas) – See all my reviews

Verified Purchase (What’s this?)

This review is from: How Did This Happen? Lunch with Imaginary Friends and other (mostly) True Stories (Kindle Edition)

This book had some funny spots, it’s a bunch of short blog notes. But, after awhile it got really boring. I got about 75% done and just quit.

Boring. She thought it was boring! Tee hee. I giggle every time I read that. It wasn’t anything personal. She wasn’t angry or vitriolic. She simply didn’t enjoy the book. It’s ridiculous how happy this makes me.

Okay, I shouldn’t have to say this, but DO NOT go over there and harass this person or down-vote her review. I mean it. That’s not cool and I’d be very disappointed with you if you did. In fact, don’t go over there at all. Well, unless you want to buy the book.

I’m halfway convinced that every time someone looks at a book on Amazon and ends up NOT buying it, Amazon gives it a higher (worse) rating. I imagine a wizened little man wearing a transparent green visor sitting in the back room over there with a creased scorecard and a stubby golf pencil, taking note, “Another visitor, another NO SALE. Tsk. Black mark for you, my dear.” People look but don’t buy and the ranking goes higher and higher until they simply run out of known numbers and then the book quietly implodes, turning into fairy dust, never to be seen again.

I figure I’m only a half-dozen views away from that fate as it is. So. Just don’t.

How can I explain this happiness? I know darn well there are a ton of people out there who wouldn’t like that book. Or any book I write, but especially that one. If you like my blog posts, you might like that book. Because that’s what it is, blog posts. Personal essays. I think they’re some of my best pieces. I selected them carefully and I’m proud of that book, but I never expected to reach beyond a very small specific audience with what was essentially an experiment in self-publishing.

The people who enjoyed that book are people who have been following me on the internet for a while now. People who say they love my voice and who get my dry sense of humour and claim they’d read anything I write. I’m humbled by their faith in me. I am incredibly lucky to count them as friends. But they’re a minority. As they should be.

Thing is, I know those “other” people are out there, the ones who think my writing is boring or just not their kind of thing. And I love it that one of them decided to say so, publicly. It feels like a major accomplishment just to have finally reached one of those others. That one of their vast number picked up a book written by a stranger and gave it a try.

I was starting to think it might never happen. I mean, every other writer I know has one- and two-star reviews of their books. Several of them, in fact. What was wrong with me, that I couldn’t get even one?

Now, I’m not suggesting you all should go rush over there and write disappointed reviews of my books to make me happy. Well, unless you really truly feel that way. Then, you know, go right ahead.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate people who do enjoy my writing. I treasure them more than I can say. They keep me sane and motivate me to keep on writing when I want to throw my hands up in frustration and say to hell with it. And it’s not that I think they’re less than honest in their opinions. Not at all. But opinion is subjective. It should be wide-ranging.

Sure, I want people to enjoy my stories. I hope the people who do enjoy them continue to outnumber those who don’t. That’s why I write, to entertain people. Well, and also with the hope that I might make some money. So, yes, I want people to like my writing. But not ALL people. In the same way that I’d be very concerned, even alarmed, if EVERYONE liked mint chip ice cream. Or rollercoasters. Or cats. That would be disturbing as hell.

I don’t want my writing to be universally loved. The thought of that kind of unanimity of opinion makes me feel all snarly. I’d begin to suspect I was doing something horribly wrong if that happened.

So it feels like an affirmation to have finally found this person — or have her find me, whatever — who took a chance on reading something that wasn’t to her taste. Something she found boring. I’m unreasonably proud of her for taking that chance, for reading something outside the norm. I hope she tries some other new thing some day soon and really does enjoy it. Or maybe not. Maybe someone else is even now impatiently anticipating her next two-star review, just as I was.

So, there you have it. Two recent events that made me outrageously happy. I guess the next milestone will be garnering enough reviews of a book that they number in double digits. A small thing, I know. But hey, there are a lot of little steps on the way to that ultimate writerly accomplishment: having a book banned and/or burned. That would make me pretty damn happy too, although I’ll have to really step it up before that’s even a possibility. I’m working on it.

Disapprobation and piracy. Way better than fan mail from prison.



Filed under book reviews, deep thoughts, reader opinion

An update and an excerpt

Well, here we are, approaching the last week of the 30 days of NaNo, and I thought it was time for an update. Words so far: 26,058. A bit behind, according to their timeline, but I’m happy with it.

My goal is not so much to write 50,000 words as it is to write as many words as I can, consistently. Not to write faster, necessarily, but to spend more time doing it. To get better at not letting myself be distracted by all the Shiny Things on the internet — something I’ve been horribly guilty of the past couple months.

After YEARS of wishing I didn’t have a day job to intrude on writing time, I’m finding it difficult to make the transition to having all the time in the world to write. I’m not accustomed to having more than an hour here and there to focus on writing. It’s tough, forming new habits.

I know, I know. Let’s find the world’s smallest violin and play a thin weak tune to accompany my ridiculously inappropriate whining.

So I’m getting better at focusing and spending more time writing each day. Well, most days. Because there are distractions. There was the day last week when the plumber was here. And I wrote, “And then he kissed her, hard. With all the passion– [pause to answer doorbell] –and longing . . . um, yeah, so then they . . . oh hell . . . finish this scene later, because I am NOT going to write a sex scene while some stranger is messing with my plumbing.”

No, that is not a euphemism.

But the plumber didn’t finish that day and the dispatcher called and said Ray (not his name) couldn’t come the next day and was it okay if his brother Steve (not his name) came instead and, after I reminded myself she didn’t mean it the way it sounded, I was all “sure, as long as he can get the job done.” Did I just say that? And then Steve shows up the next day and HE IS RAY’S IDENTICAL TWIN BROTHER. And then my mind exploded. I swear, you can’t make this stuff up. But you can perhaps imagine how difficult it is to write steamy romance with people spouting double entendres in your general direction and with strong sweaty clean-cut romance tropes flexing their lean muscles all over the place while they do things to your pipes. So to speak.

I mean, c’mon. My imagination is a fearsome and filthy thing.

Anyway. I suspect it might take more time to edit this “fast writing” than it did to actually write it. [Note to self: delete all random references to ménage with twins; save for next book.] When this month-long experiment is over, I’ll have to evaluate whether the benefit of increased quantity [ahem] is worth the loss of . . . what was I saying?

In the meantime, since I know this talk of process is boring, here is an excerpt for your amusement. It’s rough. It hasn’t been edited. Well, maybe a little. Probably it needs to be completely re-written. Or maybe deleted. But I’m posting it anyway BECAUSE I AM FEARLESS. Um, wait. No, not that.

I’m posting it because it has been tough getting back into the mindset of writing romance. I keep wanting to add a conspiracy. Or maybe kill someone. In the story. Obviously, I hope you enjoy it. But also, if you feel inclined, I’d welcome any feedback. Please let me know whether I’m doing this right. Does this sound like the set-up of a steamy romance? Is it something you’d want to continue reading? Do you care about these people? I’m close to being done with the first draft, but it’s not too late. I’m sure I could knock off one or both of them in the edit.

It’s ridiculously long– er, lengthy– um, there are a lot of words, so I’m inserting it after the– oh hell. The excerpt is after the jump. If you want to read it, click the “continue reading” thing:

Continue reading


Filed under goals, reader opinion, writing

What’s the worst that could happen?

There has been a good bit of noise on the internets lately about book reviews. Mostly this has consisted of writers accusing reviewers of being mean and snarky or inappropriately critiquing the writer along with the book, causing reviewers to tell writers to sit down and shut up because they weren’t even talking to them. This kind of argument is unfortunate and the type I used to resolve by sending my kids to time out.

As far as I can tell, everyone is behaving badly.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” -Kurt Vonnegut

But this post is directed at all you offended writers out there. Because I think your perspective is a bit . . . off. You’ve decided you should be up in arms because your work has been disrespected or your reputation has been besmirched? That a “bad” review is the worst thing that could happen to a writer? Seriously?

You are mistaken. In fact, you’re not even close.

Here is a list of all the things that could happen out in the big bad world of being a published writer, starting with the worst:

1.  The worst thing that could happen is that no one reads your book. Ever. Write this down somewhere: Obscurity is your worst enemy.

2.  The next worst thing? Nope, NOT a bad review. The next worst thing is that someone reads your book and feels nothing. Or they stop reading somewhere in the middle because they’re swamped with “meh.” Completely ambivalent. Bored out of their fucking mind. They don’t love it and they don’t hate it. They set it down in a dusty corner of their ereader — out of sight, out of mind — and never mention it to anyone. Ever.

3.  The next worst? Again, NOT a bad review. The next worst thing is that someone reads your book and is incredibly moved — and by this I mean they either love it OR hate it — and they hoard this opinion like it’s their very own precioussss and never tell anyone, not even the cat. This is actually a very good thing, but we’re talking here about things that have an effect on you publicly. And remember? Obscurity is not your friend.

4.  And now we’re getting into territory that is more accurately described as “best” rather than “worst.” The second best thing is that someone who is full of the “meh” feels compelled to go online and post a middle-of-the-road three star review that says your book wasn’t the best they ever read, but hey, it wasn’t the worst either. Probably this person’s favourite ice cream is vanilla. Without sprinkles. But you love them anyway because they read your book and made the effort to say so. That’s a big deal.

5.  Finally, here it is: the BEST thing that could ever happen is that someone read your book and it made them FEEL something or THINK something and those thoughts and feelings were so strong that person went online and told everyone they know, and a bunch of strangers too, all about it.

You love this person. You love all their five-stars and all their one-stars equally. Why? Because you got to that person. You struck a chord, evoked a response. Your words made them feel and think and they were compelled to share that reaction with others.

“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.” -Edwin Schlossberg

It does not matter whether the things they say are “good” or “bad.” It is none of your business whether they loved your book or hated it. And it is not your job to judge or provide commentary about what people think and feel. Your job is to tell the story the best way you can and put it out there for people to read and hope it evokes a response. Period. That’s it.

You want to obsess over what people think and how they react and why? You’re in the wrong profession. Go back to school and become a psychologist.

You want unconditional love and acceptance? Get a dog. A dog will love you no matter what. You could create the worst piece of driveling dreckitude ever written and pepper it with bad grammar and egregious typos and even run-on sentences and a dog won’t care. The honey badger won’t care either, but a dog will love you. And not try to kill you. While you sleep.

Sure, you hope people will enjoy your books. Of course you do, that’s human nature. No one likes to hear negative criticism or be the target of snarky personal remarks. [And honestly, reviewers? You want to be taken seriously, review the damn work.] But as a writer, you need to be as immune to and oblivious of the criticism of readers as you should be of their accolades. Really. You can’t let the praise get to you either. That stuff is lethal.

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” -William James

Frankly, you shouldn’t even be reading reviews of your own books. That’s not why you’re writing. Reviews are not the end product of your work. Your goal is to tell stories. People are not like dogs, in case you haven’t noticed. Most of them don’t even have fleas, let alone big brown adoring eyes. No, people are difficult and ornery and unpredictable as hell. Some will love your work and some will hate it. Some will react so strongly to your stories they will decide they also love or hate YOU, the writer.

But it has nothing to do with you personally. Neither the love nor the hate. Those reactions have everything to do with each individual reader in the same way that once they read your story, once they process it through their own unique filter, it belongs to them in a way you can neither imagine nor control. Granted, the “meh” is sort of a ringing indictment of your abilities, but you’ll get better at evoking a reaction the more you write.

So go write another book. And if you happen to accidentally stumble across someone who has read your book and is talking about it AT ALL, smile quietly and congratulate yourself and be grateful. Because that’s the best thing that could ever happen to a writer.


Filed under book reviews, health and well-being, reader opinion

Who supplies your habit?

Ack! I’ve been neglecting my blog again. Been kind of busy here. Trying to turn this rough draft into something that sort of resembles that product called a book, even though I suspect the only use people are going to find for it is to line their birdcage.

But I’m trying to think positive thoughts. Uplifting confidence-inspiring thoughts. Mostly they consist of things like, “The whole entire world is not going to read your book and think it sucks and that you can’t write, because only ten people are ever going to read it.”

And along those lines, I’ve been wondering about “promotion” [shudder] and how to let more than ten people know I’ve written a book and it’s going to be published. [<—You see? That right there was a deluded positive thought.] More specifically, I’ve been wondering where people get recommendations about what to read. I started thinking about this after I read a post last week on the Lifehacker blog in which they listed what they call the “Five Best Book Recommendation Services,” and they are:

Do you all use those sites? I’ve heard of most of them, but the only one I’ve ever visited is Amazon. Unfortunately, not all of what I’ve heard is positive. Several people on twitter have complained that at least one of those sites is full of irritating self-promo and spam generated by authors rather than limited to recommendations from readers. Anyone have experience there? Maybe those are sites authors should just avoid?

I know all of you have favourite writers whose books you read (and re-read) with admirable loyalty. I have my list of auto-buy writers too. But I assume you also read books from new-to-you writers. How did you hear about them — either the books or the writers? Whose recommendations do you trust? Friends, co-workers, librarians, the guy sitting next to you on the subway? Bestseller lists? Do you read blogs or online reader forums to get suggestions? When trying a new writer, do you buy the book or get it from the library? Is your decision to try someone new influenced by format and price — that is, whether the book is hardcover, paperback or an ebook?

I can’t really go by my own experience because I’m a bit of a book slut. I’ll try any writer at least once. But I’m not always (or even often) reading for pleasure. In fact, I can learn more from a badly written book than from one that’s so good it sucks me right into the story. So I read all sorts of stuff.

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity. -Christopher Morley

I’ve probably tried 20 different writers so far this year. And my TBR pile is full of books by writers I’ve never read. Some of them I’m hesitant to read because I’ve gotten to “know” the writers online and I really like and admire them and I’m afraid to discover I might not like their books. I know, I’m a wimp and a chicken and shouldn’t be allowed to socialize at all, ever. But that’s off topic.

Let’s see, half of the last six new-to-me writers I read were the result of blog interviews, one was suggested via twitter, and the other two came from an Amazon recommendation — you know, that thing where they say, “if you like that, you might like this.” Sometimes they’re way off base. But sometimes they’re right.

I appreciate Amazon’s “try it free” feature for Kindle books that allows you to read the beginning of the book before you buy it. The vast majority of the time, that’s how I decide whether to read a book. I read the cover copy and skim the first few pages. I can tell a lot in those first few pages. Not unlike an agent or editor, I guess. Oddly, I never read the reviews at Amazon. I don’t really care to hear what some stranger thought about a book. Although that might change once it’s my book. Sigh.

What about you? I’d love to hear what influences your book reading decisions. Pro and con. For or against choosing one. Just pleasepleaseplease don’t tell me you never read anything from someone new. Because if that’s true, I’m screwed. Then again, at least that would mean I’m only going to have to worry about the opinion of those ten people referenced above. All of whom read this blog and are too nice to tell me I suck. I think.

I am SO going to notice if you all rush out and buy birdcages.

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Filed under marketing, reader opinion