Thursday, June 23, 2016

SM Johnson ~ Do reviews help readers?

How do I find great books to read?

How do you find books to read?

Amazon makes a lot of suggestions to me, and I get tons of book blurb promos from Facebook. If something gets my attention I usually follow a link to Amazon and check out the reviews (starting with the low star reviews) or see what people have to say about that title on Goodreads.

Five star reviews are meaning less and less to me, as a reader, at least.

It feels like every writer has sisters, friends, fans, and god only knows who else spewing out so many five star reviews that it's impossible to judge a book by its star rating. It's as if reviews are no longer geared toward readers, and are now just a mechanism authors use to game the system.

I can't even tell you guys how many terrible books I've given up on because the characters are flat, the narrative is boring, and the overall quality of a good read just isn't there. I really don't want to be with a character from the moment the alarm goes off, they roll out of bed, brush their teeth, shower, get dressed, drink coffee, put their cup in the dishwasher, etc etc etc. Unless they're thinking really strange and wonderful things, I don't need to be present for the drivel. I also don't need the same three sentence description of every person our character runs into on the street or in the office.

It is a task and a skill to leap into the narrative, to keep the pace moving, to allow your readers to assume that characters shower and dress and eat and poop.

I know it's a task and a skill because I work at it every day - the editing out of drivel and building smooth transitions from scene to scene. Keeping to the important bits is not as easy as it seems.

But the five star reviews of drivel are starting to get on my nerves. Give me a good solid wordy three star review - tell me what worked, what maybe didn't.

Not every book is a five star read. One good clue is when every single review starts with "This is the hottest book I've ever read." I start reading, kind of excited, only to be disappointed by an amateurish effort. There might be a really hot or perverse sex scene at some point, but if the narrative is shallow and poorly executed, I'll never get to it. When on page one, the main character divulges, "There are three things about me that are utterly true: I detest the alarm clock, and I love coffee more than life."

Pages later I'm still wondering what the third thing is. Maybe that the narrator doesn't know how to count? And the problem is... if you give me an idiot main character on page 1, I'm probably not going to make it to page 15 before I give up.

Sometimes I feel like authors are putting more time and energy into marketing and promotion than they put into writing their books.

So how do we find books that are actually good? The John Sandfords or the Stephen Kings of the erotica genre? That's what I want. A fascinating narrator who won't allow me to leave until the full story is told. A story can have a thousand great reviews, but if the narrative is boring, I'm not going to keep reading. I just don't have that kind of time. I've started downloading the samples from Amazon, and that does help me know what I'm getting into before I pay for a book.

I would like to find reviewers to follow who have liked books that I also liked. I enjoyed the Dear Author site, but there was some crazy blow up over there, and I haven't been back for awhile.

I've stumbled into some YA reads that have been great, and I'm finding that I typically tend to like books by the big publishers, too. Not because of the marketing, but the actual content of the books, the quality of the writing.

I am by no means a perfect writer. I'm the one who had a gay guy get a straight girl pregnant, remember?  So my characters have had their share of TSTL moments. It's an art, not a science, and sometimes we miss the mark.

None of my books have hundreds of 5-star reviews. And that's okay. The only time I've worked to solicit reviews was for the UnCommon Bodies anthology, and requesting reviews was part of the deal. Other than that, if they loved it or hated it, almost all of my reviews come from an organic response on behalf of the reader. And I have to say, I prefer it that way. They are honest. Sometimes brutally honest, but you know what? I can take it. And quite often there's some merit in a critical review.

I'm still learning how to write great books.

Monday, June 20, 2016

SM Johnson ~ Say Their Names

Listen, I'll be honest. I have been attempting to articulate a response to the The Pulse murders during the Pride celebration in Orlando... and I just... can't.

I don't have the words.

Please search out the names and photographs of the murder victims. Look at their beautiful faces, look into their eyes. Say their names out loud. Give each of them a moment of your respect and love. Give each of them a piece of your heart. It could have been my best friend. Or me. Or you. My daughter, your daughter or your son.

Just searched out a link for you. Someone else is asking you to say their names, too. Please do.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

SM Johnson ~ Love Letters ~ Intensity

Life should be intense.

Not every day or every minute, but intensity makes us feel deeply, care deeply, and work passionately.

Whoa. I am loving the adverbs this morning. Allow me to revise that sentence.

Intensity makes us feel, care, and work with passion.

And passion makes life worth living.

I have spent the last 10 months rushing through my life in a mad dash from place to place, rarely able to be still, relax, or settle. I have written a half a million words of academic papers, which feels somewhat insane now that I am back to noveling.

Noveling is so much easier.

And yet academics have allowed me to experience growth in areas I didn't even know I was lacking. My awareness of the human condition has expanded, as well as my understanding of many things good, bad, and ugly. I had one wonderful professor who adroitly challenged me in things I already believed I did well, and made the challenge in such a way that she brought me to self-reflection rather than making me feel defensive.

That's talent, let me tell you.

The most valuable lessons for me all involved self-reflection. I am not always wrong, but I'm not always right, either. I went into my Master's program with some degree of arrogance. I believed I had more years and more legitimate experience than most of my co-students. I believed, in fact, that my level of experience in my day job put me about level with my professors.

Today this notion is absolutely laughable.

I had a lot of experience in one tiny arena. My professors have a wealth of experience in many different arenas, and minds that are capable of thinking well outside the box, far beyond what I was capable of. I hate boxes, and yet I discovered that I had put myself into a really tiny one.

The discovery of all that I didn't know was exhilarating. Terrifying.


And all of this I hope to bring into my books.

Have a great week, my lovely Darklings. And be sure to pay attention to all of the things in your life that make you feel, care, and work with passion!


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

SM Johnson ~The New Dungeon ~ Excerpt

Excerpt from The New Dungeon, Dungeon series book 5


 He wasn't quite asleep at a little after three in the afternoon when Thomas crawled into the bed and curled up around him. "Cry, mamá del gato, you'll feel better if you let it out."

The endearment was an insult, but an affectionate kind of insult. Zach was mama cat and Dare was kitten, and Zach wasn't sure if that made Thomas the alley cat or the panther or what. He snorted. Duh. The Tomcat, probably. He was so dense sometimes. "I can't cry. I don't cry. Not for them. I have to keep my distance or I can't do my job."

"But you all locked up, lover. I can feel how tense you are. Tight in this curled little ball. Hurt. You need to break this silly no crying rule."

Thomas' fingertips pressed into the muscles of Zach's back, digging hard through his thin t-shirt, kneading ten small circles, at first so focused that it was painful, and Zach groaned out loud, gripped the edge of the mattress on his side of the bed, and started to pull himself away.

"No, mama cat." Thomas said with a stern tone. "You get more comfortable, maybe, stretch out on your stomach. Otherwise, you be still for me."

There was a sudden tension then, maybe in the room, maybe in Thomas' voice, and it was a the command of a Dom to a sub. But Dare is the sub, said a little voice inside Zach, though he let himself think about it for a few seconds, how nice it would be to just shut off his brain and obey. And so he rolled to his stomach, stretched out his legs, and waited.

Thomas straddled Zach's hips and started on Zach's upper back again, his strong fingers insisting the tightness away. Zach closed his eyes and hummed a little as Thomas moved on to the muscles of his shoulders, and then that particularly pained area in between his shoulders and his neck. The massage was so painful right there that he cried out, didn't know if he could stand for Thomas to continue, but Thomas shushed him, ordered Zach to move his arms from folded beneath his head to straight along his sides, fingers pointed toward his toes, and kept on with the massage.

"I thought a massage was supposed to be relaxing," Zach said through gritted teeth. "It feels more like you're killing me."
"Oh, you a regular comedian, Zach," Thomas answered. "This is deep muscle work. It doesn't always feel good, no. But you be loose like an overcooked chili when I'm done."

By the time Dare got home from work, Zach was definitely loose, almost dozing. Dare's voice from the doorway was soft, questioning. "Zach? Are you okay?"

Zach opened his eyes.

Dare stood at the bedroom doorway, his suit coat over his arm, his crisp blue dress shirt wrinkled, his tie already loosened. He looked more rumpled than usual. And, well, he looked stressed. Or worried. Worried about Zach? Or worried about Zach and Thomas having been together without him?

"Not okay," Thomas answered before Zach could get words out. "I got his body relaxed, but his head's still locked up, spirit's still gone. Our mama cat's not right at all."

Dare dropped his suit jacket on the floor and crawled onto the bed, cuddling in so that Zach was now surrounded by his lovers. Dare stared into his eyes. "What can we do? How can we help?"

Zach shook his head, and closed his eyes, shutting Dare out, shutting both of them out. He didn't know. He needed, he needed… sleep, or food, or sex, or laughter. But he didn't feel like any of that. He didn't feel like moving. He felt empty. Or what Thomas said, locked up. Frozen. Yeah, Thomas was exactly right. He couldn’t think what to tell them, much less make his brain formulate sentences that he could spit out his mouth. He tried to think. Nothing. I don't know. I don't care. I can't… I don't know. There was just… nothing. Blank. "Make me…" he got that much out in words, then nothing else.

"I can make you," Thomas said, and his voice was so strong, so sure.

"Make you what?" That was Dare. "Dinner? A drink?"

Zach shook his head. My head. My heart. So empty. But he found the right words all of a sudden. "Make me feel something."

Everything happened in slow-motion, then. Thomas, tugging his hair, turning his head. "Open your eyes, Zach. Look at me."

Zach obeyed.

"Do you mean it? You want me to make you feel something? I have a beautiful flogger here, and believe me, chico, I can make you feel it."

Was that what he was asking for? Physical pain? For Thomas to take him like Thomas took Dare, bring him to submission, bring him, maybe, to tears? "Will it help me?"

Thomas shrugged, but when he spoke, his voice had the confident rolling cadence of the Hispanic gangster-dominant Thomas had been playing when Zach and Dare first met him. Arrogant. Dangerous. "We haven't done this before. It might. I think it would be good for you, chico, mi novio, but what do I know? I'm just a kinky bastard, and we all be different. Dare loves the flogger, you might hate it. And you never wanted this from me."

"But you want to do it."


Zach held his breath, staring into Thomas' eyes. Yes, Thomas wanted to flog him. And order him to his knees. And bind him, and scare him, and push him, and dominate him. All of it. Zach knew it. Thomas never made any real secret of his wish for both Zach and Dare to submit to him. But Dare's the submissive one. Zach let that thought spin around in his head for a few seconds. And Dare liked it. And Zach liked watching it happen for Dare, liked how it made Dare's eyes soft and his cock hard, liked how being submissive made Dare able to relax and stop thinking and stop worrying so much.

"Do you want me to flog you, Zach? Yes or no?" The Hispanic playact was gone, and now it was a serious question.

Zach pulled his head away from Thomas so he could look at Dare. Would Dare see the question that Zach wanted, no, needed, to ask? He'd never know, not exactly, because the moment he turned his head, Dare's lips were pressed against his, and Dare's hand cupped his cheek, and the kiss was sweet and tender. As Dare pulled away, he whispered, "Thomas is good. Don't be afraid."

Zach rolled his whole body to face Thomas. "Yes."