Behaving Badly and Bathing Suits

shoppingIn the hoopla of amazon.com’s new stance on ARC reviews, and the goodreads blacklists of Authors Behaving Badly, and even Anne Rice’s taking offense to a woman using her book in a craft project, the wisest thing a writer can do is keep her mouth shut when she gets a subpar review.

Accept it, be grateful that one’s book has been read, appreciate that someone took the time to voice their opinion, maybe even take some criticism to heart. And, above all, grin and do a little happy dance that the number by the little stars under your book went up.

Because, especially to a new author, reviews matter. Most of the good book promoting websites with affordable advertizing for self pubbed writers jury what they endorse. Many won’t accept books with less than 25 reviews. The contests for the “breakthrough novel” often require more than that.

But what happens when a review  makes statements that go against everything in your gut, as a woman, as an artist, as a mother, as an educator?

Keeping your mouth shut feels like cowardice. Like you are perpetuating a stereotype that you’ve fought all your life, that was part of the impetus that drove you to write the book in the first place.

Angel and I received a review for Odin’s Murder that contained the following statement:

I felt like the book was written by someone who was imagining what happens at the sleep-away camps for smart kids at their school, and imagines how smart kids must act and feel. Since I was in this crowd at school myself, the whole thing rang very false. All the ‘chicks’ (author’s word, not mine, and it puts my teeth on edge) were totally hot and in bikinis and ready to get a little naughty. *facepalm* That’s really not what happens with smart kids. I promise. And also, quite a few of the people in my gifted and talented classes were… uh…. let’s go with NOT the pretty people.

And yes, I can defend our characters and their actions and language and get bitchy about the reviewer’s generalizations and do all the things that authors shouldn’t do, but that’s just silly and not the point.

My umbrage: Why can’t smart girls be pretty?
Should romance books for young adults only be written about people with below average intelligence? Where is it said that kids with brains don’t have a libido? At what IQ score is a young woman not allowed to revel in her sexuality?

And most importantly, what is the cutoff number on the SAT’s that demands one wear a one-piece bathing suit?

For the record, I was a smart kid. I wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a pretty person. I was awkward and poor and underdeveloped and had issues with authority. But the Vermont Governor’s Institute for the Arts was an incredible program, and going there threw me into a huge mix of kids from all over the state just like me. And for those 3 weeks, where I was judged by my creativity and my talent and my brains, I was beautiful.

A bit of history:

smallFive years ago I started writing a book. Then I realized I knew absolutely nothing about writing, jumped on line, and wandered into fanfiction.
I met amazing people, and got incredible feedback on some unlikely stories. I learned about discipline (no, not that kind. Well, yes, okay, I learned some about that, too), about maintaining a voice and a theme, and a great deal about what women want to read. I learned to knit, too.
Even better, I discovered what I like to write.
Three years ago I stuck a snippet from my old WIP in a crit blog. An agent was lurking and asked the host to have me send a partial. I rushed to finish, sent it; she asked for the full immediately. A nail biting month later, I got some extremely encouraging criticism, and a request for revisions. I revised. I polished. I ate chocolate. I sent it off. Six months later, a polite rejection.
So I ate three king size Snickers to drown my sorrows, read up on how to write a query, and sent off the MS to a dozen agents all asking for submissions to the genre. Nada. Some were polite. 3 of them, immediately after sending their rejection emails, mocked my book’s title openly on twitter.

Did you know you can get a subscription for chocolate on amazon? It just shows up on your doorstep. This is genius.

I threw myself into new projects. A year ago, I wrote ODIN’S MURDER, with Angel Lawson. She gave me a crash course on self-publishing; I’m still reeling.
yarnBut I don’t like leaving things unresolved. The halfdone cashmere basketweave cowl at the bottom of my knitting bag haunts me; I feel guilty when I cast on something new. The finished, rejected MS skulked, a monster under the bed when I tried to take a new lover. So I hired two editors; smart discerning freelancers I knew wouldn’t blow smoke up my ass, and with their advice, turned THE SCENT OF FLAMES (yeah, new title. It really was bad) into something I didn’t have to hide anymore.
Now I’m thigh high deep into several new projects; a witchy dystopian, a sexy cyberpunk thing, and a few secret projects that make me grin and rub my paws like a gargoyle.
Now if I can only finish that cowl.

The Scent Of Flames

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Something is rotten in the town of Hortonville.
Lars Fjorden just wants to talk to Violet without making an idiot of himself. But keeping cool isn’t easy with a mother overwhelmed by grief, a brother bullied at school, and a best friend unable to get past the accident that killed both their fathers. Add arson and recurring dreams of an awkward angel, and he might not survive his senior year–at least not sane.
Seraphima is called down to a tiny Vermont town of unusual girls, unpredictable weather, and unresolved tragedy. Her mission: to keep her nephew safe as he discovers his powers, while getting used to her own mortal body, college prep classes, and boys who ask her to dance.
Sera must teach her charge there are more things in Heaven and Earth than he’s ever dreamt, as Lars battles the fires that threaten those he loves.

Available at amazon

Angelic Questions

angel crowAngel Lawson’s third book in her Wraith series, Grave Possession, comes out next week. These books are dear to my heart, and I’m so excited to know how this trilogy will wrap up. Angel let me pick her brain a little with a few questions.

Give us a summary of the book:
Jane’s grown up a lot since Shadow Bound. She’s going to college away from home. She has a new boyfriend. And she’s no longer afraid of her ability to connect with ghosts. In fact, she’s using her connection in a deeper, scarier way that ends up with dire results.

Grave Possession is third in a series, but can it stand alone? Do I need a spoiler alert for those who haven’t read Wraith and Shadow Bound?
Honestly? I don’t really think so. It definitely builds on the other books and at the request of some of my pre-readers they did not want a lot of background description. You don’t need a spoiler alert but you may not be able to follow it as easily.

Jane has gone through so much in the last two books. Can you tell us her state of mind at the beginning of Grave Possession?
She’s happy. And very confident. Maybe a little too confident.

What do you like about writing a protagonist Jane’s age?
I’m pretty sure I’m perpetually 16-18 years old. Somehow I got stunted in that age range. Girls that age are transitioning a lot. Growing up and maturing. Learning about themselves and life. Love, school, work…how to feel out boundaries. It’s an exciting time and place.

Several of your books contain imagery or a theme involving crows. Are they apart of your everyday life, too?
I have 5 crows that follow me everyday. And they are everywhere near my home. I love that they are more and more common in every day life. I want to stop writing about them but I can’t.

You’ll be at the GA Indie Author Event April 5th. Will the Grave Possession paperback be available for signing?
YES! Along with all my other full-length books!

Reveals!

I’m so excited for Angel! The conclusion of her Wraith series is out soon, and she’s revealing the cover today:

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I love this image! The Ruins behind her, the way the dress floats around her, and the way she’s looking back- You’re not sure if she’s running to, or running away.

Here’s the summary:

Strong.
Loyal.
Independent.
These aren’t the words Jane expected to use to describe herself, but in
the years since she first began seeing ghosts things have changed. A lot.
Jane has spent the last two years losing one person after the other. Both
dead and alive. But this year things will be different. She’s entering her
freshman year of art school, rooming with her best friend Ava and she has a
new boyfriend. Oh, and she’s no longer afraid that she’s Shadow Bound with
a direct connection to ghosts. In fact, she’s learned to use her abilities
for her benefit.
Jane soon discovers she can’t walk away from her past. The wounds from her
battle with Charlotte are deep and no matter what she tells herself, the
break up with Connor weighs heavy on her heart. Balancing these emotions
prove to be a weakness for her and Jane finds herself in a fight against
the most dangerous spirits she’s encountered yet.

Awakening

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about intellectual property and public domain.
It’s a very grey area. (sorry. I’m typing at 4:30 in the morning.)

Recently, I got a very nice letter from a young person asking if she could rewrite a certain derivative work that I wrote as Justin Bieber fanfiction. My gut reaction was oh-god-please-no. But what if Stephenie Meyers or JK Rowling had not let folks play in her world? Hundreds of thousands of fledgling writers would not have had a place to stretch their wings. And what part of the story I wrote can I actually consider mine? If you take away the setting, the characters and the music, you’re left with a Halloween party, two iPhones and some poetry. That’s not much.

So what happens when there is a LOT of story, and once you pull away the derivative copyrighted elements, you are left something that can stand on its own? Are those naked bits yours to make private? I’m not talking Cassandra Clare’s City-of-Draco-draw-dark-marks-on-me-with-your-uh-wand. Or West Side Story. Or even JRR Tolkien’s rework of the Kalevala.

sleepers-awake-eden-barber-paperback-cover-artBut what about Eden Barber’s gorgeous story Sleepers, Awake? This book may have had some roots in other places (and still has some strong ties to Neil Gaiman’s A Game of You, which owes much to Bones of the Moon, by Jonathan Carroll) but the story itself is original and unique, and in fact, stripping the borrowed stereotypes has made for a richer discovery of the characters.
It’s a complicated story, and beautifully written. Agnes grows on you, becomes you, and dares to dream and love the way you wish you could. And her best friend is the absolute best. All the people grab you as real, and the main character’s choices and her obsessions and her wolves are flawed and perfect at the same time.
Sleepers is a book that takes brains; and is not for the faint of heart or those wishing for a mindless forgettable read.

So maybe I’ll tell the Bieber girl to have fun with it. Who am I to stifle creativity that could lead to greater things?

Super Question

Talk Supe Updated Header - 7.3.13Braine runs a fantastic book blog, and earlier this month posted a great question:

“What is the lesser of two evils: a “DNF” (Did Not Finish) or a low rating?”

My response:

As a writer, I do prefer a “DNF” over a poor review, especially if the book is not a genre the reviewer would normally enjoy, or if the plot or tension moves differently than one prefers. A “not for me” doesn’t hurt ratings for what seems like personal tastes; and I love the critic that suggests who the book might appeal to, or passes it on to another reviewer who might be more likely to finish it.

As a reader, I appreciate the warning of a low rating on a book with bad writing or grammar, or an inconsistent plot or characters, especially on a traditionally published book that I’m expected to pay more money for.

As a reviewer, I do judge self-published books on a different set of criteria than trad-pubbed. When I go to the local handmade pizza joint in the neighborhood, I don’t complain when the crust is a little lumpy, or the sauce has a stray chunk of tomato. I’m looking for a fresh unique taste and the rustic service adds to the experience. If I’m driving “uptown” to the four star restaurant, I expect the linen tablecloth and the fancy garnish. And yes, I’ve cancelled the entree and left if the appetizer was awful.

Excellent question!
Anybody else want to weigh in?