Thursday, June 12, 2014

SM Johnson ~ Review dilemma

So... here's the thing. I read a lot of books. And I've always read a lot of books. I was the kid leaving the library with my backpack bulging and my arms aching from the weight of the books that wouldn't fit inside. Sometimes I had to stop and rest on the walk home.

And once I arrived home, I'd spread all the books out on the floor of my room and sit in the middle of them, consumed with the deliciousness of choosing which one to read first.

I love books.

But here's the other thing: I read a lot less these days than I used to. Sometimes I tell myself this is because I'm so busy. And if I have time to read, then I really should be writing. Or my kindle is too full, and it's so hard to pick which book to read next. The kindle is not nearly as tactile or as visual as an array of books on the floor, and often I can't remember just from the title in a long list of titles what made me purchase a particular book. There might be wonderful stories lingering on the list, and I have no real idea what they are.

But - and here's where I get myself in trouble - the primary reason that I read less, I think, is because there are so many truly crappy books out there, and I get frustrated trying to invest my attention and interest in them. And then I start to think reading is boring, and maybe I don't like to read for entertainment anymore.

And then bam! An awesome book really grabs me, and I wolf it down, hardly able to set my kindle aside for any reason whatsoever. And I remember, Oh, yeah, THIS is the reading experience I'm always looking for. Grab me by the throat and never let me go. Please.

Us Three by Mia Kerick, for instance. Or King Perry by Edmond Manning. Or The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater.

These are books that I blog about, tweet about, shout about wherever I can. When I love love love something, I want everyone to share in the experience. It's so much good clean fun to share pretty sparkly things, isn't it?

And then... there are the books that I think are putrid stinking bombs.

Oh dear.

What to do with these?

I have an instinct to share these, as well, if only to warn my beloveds away from them, especially if the bombs are in my own genres of erotica, vampire, and dark fiction. And the instinct goes as far as... me writing a review in my head, well rehearsed and soaked in sarcasm,  vitriol, and vehemence. Arrogance. Entitlement. Mean-spirited snark. Oh, I sound so funny, I tell myself, such amazing wit have I! I will crack up my tens and tens of followers...

And then of course... I rein myself in, because, um, well. Reality.

Reality #1: I am not a mean person, and it doesn't make me feel good to shit on other people and hurt their feelings.

Reality #2: I was a baby writer once. And I thank the gods that self-publishing wasn't an option for me back then or I would have published terrible work, too.

Reality #3: I am a writer. I am a professional. Yes, I maintain the right to review any book that I have paid for - I don't think being a writer myself disqualifies me from writing reviews, despite what others think about this. I've been a consumer of books long before I became a producer of them. I would not write a negative review out of professional jealousy, I truly would not. Unless the book really did suck, then I might (grinz).

My dilemma here is that I just really want to COMPLAIN, and be wholly non-constructive. Am I allowed to do that?

Yeah, probably not. But I'm still going to.

I just read a thing that was a compilation of things, and I'm not going to say anything more specific about the thing than that. But it was a thing I should have loved. I kept thinking... well, the next one has to be better. Um, nope. Well, maybe the next next one?

Sadly, no.

There is some perception that for something to be called Dark Fiction, it has to contain some kind of kidnapping or capture of the main character by some person who is wholly disgusting, and then rape must ensue. Detailed, non-erotic rape, with fetid breath and groping fingers and revolting body odor... and an ending that not only borders on hopeless, but IS hopeless.

I like Dark Fiction that has an element of the psychological, where the antagonist has purposeful control, where the main character falls down a rabbit hole of dark and depraved, and is trying to either climb out of the hole, or reconcile his or her love for the darkness with the person he or she always thought himself to be. I don't mind bittersweet. In fact, I love when  a book makes me cry. But there should still be some element of hope in the ending, some note of character change or growth.

So, okay, back to complaining.

First off... let me just say... I'm old. I'm older than 40. And I am just DONE with the adult virgin trope. I don't mind it when it involves a genuinely young male or female - but even then, I want seduction and foreplay and the tension of apprehension. I don't want "I screamed as he crammed his gigantic member into my virgin hole," because... seriously? Ugh.

Second - I don't like disgusting rapists who have beer guts and bad breath and greasy hair and don't shower on a regular basis. Unless the MC is going to kill them in the end, and the story is more about her inner strength and character rather than rape scene after rape scene after rape scene...

I can't stand exclamation points, in general, in a narrative. An exaggerated amount of exclamation points is often my first clue that a writer is a baby writer. Why be subtle when you can use lots of exclamation points? Especially main characters who use them when they are thinking... they come across as bobble-headed college co-eds that are kinda dumb. And usually blonde. With large tits. His fingers pinched my nipples and it felt so good! "Don't stop! That feels great!" I wouldn't even care if my dorm roommate or her mother walked in right about now! He's so hot! And he's so rich! "Keep doing that! After I cum, I'll suck you off!"

See what I mean? Bobble-head.

Let's see... what else do I hate? Oh, I know.

Juices.

I hate the following phrases: my juices were flowing; he made my juices run down my legs; my pussy juices flowed, he really got my juices going,  etc. feel free to create your own. I especially hate this when ALL of these phrases are used in one book, every time a pussy gets wet. I mean, I can over look one juicing, but when I start to feel like your pussy is craving the opportunity to squeeze oranges... just... please. Stop it.

Try for some variety of language, but at the same time, try also to avoid over-using "moist" and "cream" (gods, I know, I'm such a picky bitch).

Another one... I appreciate that there are stories about BBWs (big beautiful women). But a phrase like, "I leaned my 18W bulk against his strong, manly chest," just isn't sexy anywhere, ever. Gods. Your characters don't have to be supermodel thin by any means, but to tell me the character's dress size? Ugh. (This annoys me when the dress size is a 2, btw, so I'm not picking on larger characters, not at all). But for BBW characters, please find another way. She can be sensual, curvy, lush, soft. She can describe herself as "I'll never be a stick," or "I know I'm heavier than the average gym addict, but he makes me feel delicate..." or  "He sighs his content as he melts into my pillowed curves..."  blah blah blah. You know what I mean, right? We get to use language in many beautiful ways, and as a writer, you need to reach for the better ones. And another quick note on character description, including size... you don't need to KEEP telling us what the characters look like. Once we're sucked into the story, we have a general sense of the character, and if you keep hammering at me that the character is "larger than life", that pulls me out of a story that I'm trying to be busy enjoying. Skilled authors (and I'm still working on learning this myself) - describe what a character looks like very briefly, and then most of what we learn about the character herself is internal or as projected by other characters.

I'm really bad at dressing my people. Honestly, I'm so bad at it that half the time you'd think my people were running around nekkid. I'm a tee-shirt, jeans, hoodie sort of gal, so I pretty much want my clothes to be clean, and that's good enough. But for the rest of you - it's great to dress your characters, just remember that you're not writing an LL Bean catalogue. (Is that really the wrong way to spell catalogue? Huh. I have no idea what will make spell check happy here...)

I recently read the most bizarre anthology ever. I liked maybe two of twelve stories, and those two felt like the ones that didn't belong, both in writing quality and story quality. The oddest thing was, this set was a mixture of word-counts, and included prequels to other works, novellas, full-length novels, and short stories. I had no idea what to expect from each story, ever.

I'm not going to write a review. One of my conscious decisions is to only write review for books that I like, and to never review books I feel bitchy about. And I'm lazy about reviewing even books that I adore, so yeah, I'm going to skip the specific snark.

Oh. Baby writers. I do love you. This is just the one instance where indie publishing is not serving you well - ya'all don't even know that your work isn't ready yet, and you can just fling it out to Amazon etc. which damages not only your own reputation, but the reputation of independent authors in general, and makes it harder for everyone to find good books that ARE ready.

There's a thought that a writer isn't ready to publish until they have written a million words. Overall, I think this is true. It takes time and a lot of words to learn to write with finesse, to learn to stay in a single point of view and not hop from one person's head to another, to learn how to not have your dialog feel stilted and formal, to write sex scenes that are more than just mechanics. To show versus to tell.

I'm not perfect. I'm not the best writer in the world, or even the best writer I've ever read. I like my own stories because I write what I can't seem to find anywhere else, and maybe because the stuff that I perhaps neglected to transfer to the page is still sitting there in my head, so for any given scene, I already know well the past and the future. But I also give myself the benefit (arrogance?) of having worked hard and earned some skills - both by writing lots of words myself, and attempting to analyze the techniques of people I consider to be great writers.

I mostly don't enjoy reading the work of baby writers - but even as I say that, I hope these newbies get a chance to improve their craft before negative or hurtful reviews make them believe they aren't good writers. They have every potential to be GREAT writers. They're mostly just new and publishing before they are ready.

Have a safe and happy June, my beloved darlings. I'm leaving Wisconsin and heading to Maine for the rest of the month, where two of my favorite people are getting married (!)

~SM


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