Friday, August 28, 2015

Is That a Bad Review or Just a Ham on Rye?

How do you react to negative reviews?

by Paul D. Marks

I call up my friends in the Mossad and tell them to seek out and destroy all negative reviewers in the shank of a dark and stormy night. Oh wait, no, that’s what a producer said he was going to do to me when we got in an argument about a script.

Take 2:

Some people say never to read reviews and that’s probably good advice, and probably what one should do. But it’s hard not to. Why? Because, I’m sure, we all want to have our egos stroked. And we’re looking for the positive reinforcement that says we haven’t wasted our lives working on something that nobody likes. So our expectation—our hope—is to get good reviews for that and other reasons. When we don’t our egos are shattered. And those who say it doesn’t affect them, well, let’s just say I think they’re most likely doing that stiff upper lip thing.

I’ve been gratified by most reviews, whether by professional reviewers or consumers on Amazon and the like. But every once in a while...

bill-murray-1984-razors-edgeEven big stars like to check their reviews. I was on the Warner Brothers lot (though it may have been called The Burbank Studios at the time, now it’s back to Warner Brothers [long story]) one day and saw Bill Murray leaning against a car reading a review of “The Razor’s Edge” (1984) that had just come out (and based on my tied for favorite book along with The Count of Monte Cristo). It wasn’t getting rave reviews to say the least, but as I say above, we all want to be validated and maybe also get some constructive criticism as to what went wrong. And I remember thinking even Bill Murray, with all his popularity from “Ghostbusters,” etc. still must feel the sting of a bad review like everyone else.

Hell, even Bob Dylan doesn’t like the sting of being booed, as when he first went electric andBringing it All BAck Home  D1 5701847_147 rock from strictly acoustic folk music. Check out this YouTube clip. It’s less than a minute long:

So let’s focus on Amazon reviews because they’re there, for good or ill. I don’t like reading negative reviews, but how I react depends on the review. Not everybody can like everything. I get that. Of course, one is tempted to remind some reviewers what their mommies told them, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” But that isn’t the real world, is it? So for me, it depends on what the reviewer says. Does it seem like they actually read the book? Do they have an axe to grind? Are they offering constructive comments about what worked or didn’t for them or are they just off on some kind of tangent? Did they get what I was trying to say and, if not, is that my fault or theirs?

LA Late @ Night ebook Cover -- Paul D Marks FD1I got a couple of one star reviews for my short story collection “LA Late @ Night”. And they did piss me off. I had gotten some lukewarm reviews on “White Heat” and lived with them. But these two reviews for “LA Late @ Night” just didn’t make sense to me. These two reviewers, who seemed cut from the same cloth (literally), both hated the book and the stories in it. But their comments made little sense.

One said: “Uninteresting, choppy writing. No plots. I wouldn't waste my time reading this series of books as they are rambling writings.”

Where do I start? With the fact that it’s not a series. Uninteresting, well, that’s your opinion. Choppy, well that’s my style on some things. But each story had previously been published in a magazine or anthology, so somebody found them interesting. No plots, see previous response. Bottom line, I wonder if they even knew what book they were reviewing—But Wait: There’s More. The Kicker is yet to come. But First:

The other crappy review:

“Not that great of stories and the writing is stilted...I didn't even finish them all!”

Oh, where to begin: How ‘bout them criticizing my writing as being stilted when their sentence is grammatically incorrect? So maybe someone who doesn’t know proper grammar criticizing my grammar is actually a compliment.

Okay, here it comes. Hold your breath. The Kicker:

Being a glutton for punishment, I of course had to check each person’s profile to see why they hated my book so much. What I saw were reviews for muffin pans, muck boots, kitchen gadgets, children’s books, religious/inspirational books and very few mystery books, and no noir or hardboiled books. So I wondered why they even bought my book? Judging from their other reviews I could have told them they wouldn’t like it and would have saved them the time, aggravation and money.

It made no sense to me why they would even read a book like mine. So I had to assume there was an agenda going on. I called this to Amazon’s attention, asking them to remove these reviews, which they wouldn’t. I still think there was some kind of agenda happening here, though I couldn’t say exactly what the motivation is and these are the kind of reviews, totally baseless, that really piss me off. And I know authors are not supposed to say that, we’re not supposed have emotions or respond, but hey, you asked, that’s our question this week.

And here are some other One Star Amazon reviews for your entertainment pleasure, only the names have been removed to protect the guilty.

Reviews from Amazon – yellow highlights and purple comments have been added by me.

200px-RaymondChandler_TheBigSleepReviews of The Big Sleep:

One Star
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
The book is a big sleep. (Paul’s comment: Well, some of us who liked this book must just be insomniacs.)
One Star
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed

Reviews of Crime and Punishment:

One Star
By Amazon Customer
Very slow & plodding. (Paul’s comment: That damn Raskolnikov, why didn’t he just get it over and confess? On “Law & Order” Briscoe and Curtis would have had him spilling all in 2 minutes flat.)

One Star
Too Long
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
Long and pretty boring I don't like the old timely language they use in this book I know it's translated from German or Russian maybe but I was bored to tears and there was never any payoff really just goes on and on.

Reviews of 1984:

One Star
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I love a good dystopian but this was just such a…
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
I have always heard about 1984 being the father of all dystopian novels... I love a good dystopian but this was just such a hard book to read because in the entire story, there is no room for hope.
(Paul’s comment: Maybe Katniss from “Hunger Games” should show up and rescue Winston and Julia from O’Brien.)

Canter's Collage D1One Star
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
….must be a book only an English teacher would like. I classify this a worse than "Catcher and ...
By XXX/Reviewer’s Name Removed
This must be a book only an English teacher would like. I classify this a worse than "Catcher and the Rye" (Paul’s comment: Is that a new book, Catcher AND the Rye, or is that something you get at Canter’s Deli (or Katniss’ Deli) – or maybe Canter’s and the Rye, or maybe Ham on Rye – h/t Chinaski.)

Damn! I’m hungry now.

So, overall, you have to take both the good and the bad with a grain of seasoned salt, a quesadilla and some damn good and spicy hot sauce.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]
Vortex: My new Mystery-Thriller novella coming September 1st. Available for pre-order now.

“...a nonstop staccato action noir... Vortex lives up to its name, quickly creating a maelstrom of action and purpose to draw readers into a whirlpool of intrigue and mystery... but be forewarned: once picked up, it's nearly impossible to put down before the end.”

—D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Please join me on Facebook: and Twitter: @PaulDMarks

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

La-la-la . . . can't hear you.

How do I react to negative reviews? By Catriona

Okay first, I need to make a distinction between A. a review, by a reviewer, in a publication or on a website where reviews are published and B. a rating, possibly anonymous, by a private individual in the role of a consumer.

I have no beef with B. When I'm operating as a fellow consumer, I look at the yellow bars on Amazon. If the numbers are large enough you can sometimes draw conclusions. (On the other hand, if a book has eight to eleven five-star reviews, all beautifully composed, and nothing else . . . I tend to assume the author is in a writer's group. And brings cupcakes. Call me a cynic.)

But I don't look at my own books on Amazon, so I've never seen any good or bad star-ratings to react to. The upside of this speaks for itself, the downside is that when people write glowing testimony and then I meet them at events, I never say thank you. Ahem. THANK YOU!

And the reason I don't look at my own books to find out what people are saying? They're not talking to me. They're helping readers decide whether to buy a book. Or, if they are talking to me, it's kind of weird, isn't it?

But what about A? The press and trade reviews feel different to me. They're one of the ways our community expresses the fact that it's a community. (Does that make sense? My one year of social anthropology was a long time ago.) So how do I react to negative reviews in newspapers, trade journals and websites? Well, I can tell if the review is good or bad from the subject-line of my publicist's email "ANOTHER KIRKUS STAR!!! YAYYYY!!!!!"  or "Here is the PW review for your files".

So I either click the link, cross-post, share, put a quote on my website and redesign my bookmarks
Of course, if someone reads that publication or follows that website, they'll hear the thoughts of the reviewer. But they won't hear it from me.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Macavity Short Story Nominees Blog Tour

I’m going to deviate from this week’s question as I’m turning over my post today to the Macavity Short Story Nominees Blog Tour.

The five Macavity nominees are Craig Faustus Buck, Barb Goffman, Travis Richardson, our own Art Taylor...and me. I’m honored to be among these people and their terrific stories.

I want to thank everyone who voted for us in the first round. And the second and final round of voting is taking place right now. So if you’re a member of Mystery Readers International I hope you’ll take the time to read all of the stories and vote. The deadline is September 1st and you should have received your ballots by now.

Macavity logo d2But even if you’re not eligible to vote, I hope you’ll take the time to read the stories. I think you’ll enjoy them and maybe get turned onto some new writers, whose bios are at the end of this post.

All five of the stories are available free here—just click the link and scroll down.

So without further ado, here’s our question and responses:

Do you return to certain themes or ideas in your writing? How does this story fit in or differ from your other stories?

Craig Faustus Buck: “Honeymoon Sweet” (Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014, edited by Dana Cameron; Down & Out)

The common thread in my stories has more to do with character than theme. The people I create are all gasping for breath, struggling against the current in the sea of life.

In “Dead End,” for example, my protagonist Johno Beltran was an LAPD detective whose tiny misjudgment, while handling evidence, allowed a vicious killer to walk free. We meet Johno four years later. He has lost his wife, home, and career, and now lives in his car and works as a restaurant parking attendant. One night the freed murderer drives up to Johno’s valet stand in a $100K BMW and we’re off and running.

“Honeymoon Sweet” (current Anthony and Macavity nominee) stars a couple of low-rent con artists, newly married, who break into a mansion on the beach for their honeymoon. The woman is smarter than the man, and they both know it, creating an uneasy tension in their relationship. This issue rears its head when their plans go south.

One of my favorite stories, “Pongo’s Lucky Day” (to be reprinted in Kings River Life in September), stars a bumbling competitive snowboarder who can’t land the triple-flip he needs to be a serious contender or even to get laid. He stumbles on an ATM-gone-wild that spits out money. Of course, his apparent lucky day turns into a nightmare.

So in terms of recurrent themes, I’d have to say that I’m attracted to likeable low-lifes and underdogs, and the foolish decisions that doom them. Doom is, after all, the touchstone of noir.


Barb Goffman: “The Shadow Knows” (Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Barb Goffman Cleaned-up version cropped2Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley; Wildside Press)

I don’t write with a theme in mind. My only goal is to tell a good story. That said, there are some ideas I’ve returned to repeatedly:

Child molestation. I’ve had four stories published involving child molestation. I don’t, thankfully, have any personal knowledge of this subject. So why did I revisit this topic? A crime writer is often looking for a good reason to justify murder. Child molestation more than fits that bill.

Sibling rivalry, particularly between sisters. I’ve also had four stories published in which one sister tries to kill another sister or get her sent to prison. This topic also makes sense: No one can get in your craw like your family, making murder believable. (Moreover, these stories bother my own sister, who doesn’t believe that they’re not about her. So they’re a win win. Kidding!)

Humor. I like writing funny crime stories. When I write something humorous, I don’t worry that the reader will think, “Who cares?” Everyone likes to laugh. I had this idea in mind when I began writing my Macavity- and Anthony-nominated “The Shadow Knows.” I knew I wanted to write about a man who believes his town groundhog controls the weather and has caused his area’s excruciatingly long winters, so he decides to get rid of the groundhog. That’s an odd idea, but adding humor can turn a weird story into a fun one and make a reader smile. And that’s a great thing to do.

Paul D. Marks: “Howling at the Moon” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014)

Paul_D_Marks_bio_pic -- CCWC-cropped

One recurring theme in my writing is that most of my characters are damaged, often dealing with or “recovering” from some physical or psychic wound. Another is the theme of memory and the past and how those things affect the characters in the present.

Ray Hood in “Dead Man’s Curve” is a man who’s lost his focus, his dreams and his purpose, and is desperately trying to get them back. The question is, how far will he go to get all of that back? Duke Rogers in White Heat is battered from growing up with an abusive father and that affects the actions he takes. Winger, the Weegee-like photog in “Poison Heart” is so desperate for recognition that he finds pleasure in doing photo recreations of grisly murder scenes...until it all gets out of hand and becomes too real. Darrell Wood in “Howling at the Moon” is jaded by war and life in general. He’s lost touch with his roots, causing him to question his priorities. He also shares a collective memory with his native American ancestors and that shapes his actions in the story. And in my upcoming novella Vortex, available on September 1, 2015, Zach Tanner is physically wounded by war and mentally changed by it. This sends him on a collision course with the past and decisions he made that he deeply regrets now.

All of these characters have to overcome their issues to survive and come out on the other side...if they can.
Travis Richardson: “The Proxy” (Thuglit #13, Sept./Oct. 2014)

Travis Richardson_5x7_300dpi cropped

“The Proxy” fits into my rural noir stories which constitute about half my writing. Most of the other stories take place in Los Angeles or other urban areas. Of my rural crime fiction, a few have been set in the fictional town of Lynchwood. I don’t exactly know where Lynchwood is located, only that it’s east of Oklahoma and in the American South. In a lot of my writing, I try to focus on the morality of crime. I often write about criminals who are very much human, not stone cold psychopaths. They may be in way over their heads or burdened with knowledge that their actions have devastating consequences, yet they cannot leave the life or ever undo what has happened. There is sadness combined with a sense of duty. Life continues for my characters as their wounds harden into ragged scar tissue. They must trudge on… unless they are killed in the end. I don’t think I’ve ever overtly preached that crime is bad, but I don’t make it sexy or positive either.


Art Taylor: “The Odds Are Against Us” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014)
"Art Taylor"

Many of my stories seem to hinge on the idea of relationships taking a bad turn. I like to explore the kinds of responsibilities people have in relationships, the duties to others, and then look at the factors that might cause that sense of responsibility to fracture, that might threaten to cripple or even shatter those relationships (or in some cases maybe make them stronger—there’s that too). Betrayal is a common theme, the tests and temptations that we’re all subject to, and there’s a moral weight to all of this, I hope—at least that’s the thing I respond to in the short stories that have had the strongest impact on me, so I can only hope that my own stories might have a similar effect on my readers. “The Odds Are Against Us” falls pretty squarely in the middle of those themes. Two old friends seem to be having a simple conversation, remembering old times, but there’s trouble beneath the surface of that talk—and heavy stakes for everyone in the decision that one of them has to make at the end of it all. Part of my focus in the story was on how and why that decision got made—how and why the odds might ultimately be against both these characters—but beyond that what interested me was their friendship and the legacy of that friendship, the way the memory of those old times will cast a long shadow on the narrator, well beyond the close of the story.


Author Bios:

Craig Faustus Buck’s debut noir novel Go Down Hard was published May 5, 2015 (Brash Books). His short story “Honeymoon Suite” is currently nominated for both Anthony and Macavity Awards (free at He lives in LA, where noir was born, and is president of MWA SoCal.

Barb Goffman is the author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Even (Wildside Press 2013). This book won the Silver Falchion Award for best single-author short-story collection of 2013. Barb also won the 2013 Macavity Award for best short story of 2012, and she’s been nominated fifteen times for national crime-writing awards, including the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Barb runs a freelance editing and proofreading service focusing on crime and general fiction. Learn more about her writing at

Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning mystery-thriller White Heat. Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a “taut crime yarn.” His story “Howling at the Moon” (EQMM 11/14) is short-listed for both the 2015 Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best Short Story. Vortex, a noir-thriller novella, is Paul’s latest release. Midwest Review calls Vortex: “…a nonstop staccato action noir.” He also co-edited the anthology Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea (Down & Out Books).

Travis Richardson has published stories in crime fiction publications such as Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, Spinetingler Magazine and All Due Respect. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime Los Angeles newsletter Ransom Notes, reviews Anton Chekhov short stories at, and sometimes shoots a short movie. He has two novellas Lost in Clover (rural coming of age crime) and Keeping the Record (violent baseball roadtrip comedy).

Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories. His short fiction has won two Agatha Awards, a Macavity, and three consecutive Derringer Awards, among other honors. He writes frequently on crime fiction for both The Washington Post and Mystery Scene.


In other news, but having consulted with a “higher authority...,” I have a couple of announcements:

Vortex: My new Mystery-Thriller novella coming September 1st.Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]
“...a nonstop staccato action noir... Vortex lives up to its name, quickly creating a maelstrom of action and purpose to draw readers into a whirlpool of intrigue and mystery... but be forewarned: once picked up, it’s nearly impossible to put down before the end.”
—D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Akashic Fade Out Annoucement D1a--C w full date
Fade Out: flash fiction story – set at the famous corner of Hollywood and Vine – coming on Akashic’s Mondays Are Murder, Monday (big surprise, huh?), August 17th. Here’s the link, but my story won’t be live till 8/17:

Please join me on Facebook: and Twitter: @PaulDMarks

And check out my updated website

Click here to subscribe to my Newsletter: Subscribe to my Newsletter

Monday, August 10, 2015

Lazy Summer Days (Not)

"It's summer! Do you take vacations from writing? What vacation spot has been most inspiring to your writing?"

 -from Susan

My vacations and writing life spill happily back and forth. I am never – and always – on vacation, a perception that stems from having had desk jobs and a consulting practice for a few decades and feeling that life these days as a writer is an amazing gift to myself.

Right now, I’m polishing the revisions my agent asked me to make on a new manuscript set in rural France. The inspiration came during a visit to the village where two of my American friends went to live permanently on a whim. The first time I visited, strictly for fun, I learned about a petty scandal that was causing rifts among the people who lived in the town. It reminded me so much of a Jane Austen plot that bells and lights went off in my head.

It was while on another supposedly pure vacation, this time in Kauai, that I finished the first draft of the book. Barred from the beach between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to preserve some skin health, I wrote for six hours every day for almost three weeks.

Ah, you’re saying, you got to write off your vacations! Clever you! Actually, I didn’t attempt to do that for either of these, although I later spent lots of time in the area my story is set in, photographing things like the town dump, the abandoned quarry, the little streets that peter out, the white cows. And tasting and collecting examples of the food that region – the Yonne in Burgundy – produces and what my characters would eat every day, the lucky people. For the true research trips, my accountant agreed some deductions were legitimate. He did suggest, mildly in his appealing Irish accent, that I might better focus on earnings so that there was something to deduct from.

Right now, I’m working hard, no trips in sight, two different deadlines in front of me: the French book revision to the agent in a few weeks; planning the new upcoming Dani O’Rourke mystery rollout for a February 2 launch. But this work is vacation compared to sitting in endless meetings with academic deans, university presidents, and anxious fundraisers.

I hope your summer is at least as much fun!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Oh, you noticed that?

By Tracy Kiely

By the time I turn in my “finished”* manuscript, I have read it and re-read it so many times that not only can I not find minor misspellings, but I would’t be able to spot a major plot hole even if it came up and introduced itself. (But to be honest, they rarely do. They are a secretive group of bastards.)

I honestly think that if you were to somehow access my book and then randomly insert an obscenity laced rant on the stupidity that dictates that batteries are packaged in thick, bullet-proof plastic that apparently is also designed for space travel, while lightbulbs are left to fend for themselves in a thin piece of cardboard which has also been helpfully left open at both ends, I wouldn’t notice. At all.

When I finally turn in a book, I am heartily and utterly sick of it. I not only think it’s a utter pile of crap, but I am quite sure that once it is read, I will be asked - nay, requested - by the publishing community en masse to go away. Forever.  Of course, this is why writers are assigned editors. Or at least, that’s why I am. These lovely people read my work and then gently mention such facts as “Wednesday” has two “e’s” in it and that the description “burning flames” is a tad redundant. They also will point out that the character “Susan” who you so cheerfully introduced on page 14 as a “thin blonde,” has not only inexplicably morphed into a buxom brunette by page one hundred and ten, but now calls herself “Debbie.” 

Luckily, I have been had some really great editors work on my books. I mean, really, let’s face it, they have to assign me their A Team - until they inevitably throw up their hands in justifiable frustration and quit the business. But before they do, they catch all sorts of goofs. Yes, I’ve done it all. Time line mistakes, unexplained wardrobe changes, unexplained gender changes, you name it. But one of my “best” goofs was in my last novel (Murder With A Twist, perfect for hostess gifts, door stops, or plugging nasty leaks).

At the end scene, all the characters are helpfully gathered for dinner so my protagonist can cleverly reveal the identity of the murderer. (Don’t you love it when that happens?  So convenient that everyone was in the mood for Italian that night!) Except, in my original draft I had a police detective by the name of “Marcy” present. After chatting with my agent, we agreed that it was best that Marcy not be at this dinner. (I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s nice and all, but it was more of a family affair.)  So I removed her. Or so I thought. As I read the final review - the one where the exhausted publishing team kindly reminds you that “THIS IS IT, TRACY! NO MORE CHANGES! SERIOUSLY, WE HAVE OTHER CLIENTS!” I noticed that Marcy had suddenly - and without invitation, I might add - inserted herself into the dinner scene. Rude? Yes. Stealthy? Undoubtedly. But, there she was. Eating her shrimp scampi and chiming in about the case. I politely and quietly removed her from the scene.

Now, granted there are always errors in books - well, let me rephrase. I hope there are always errors in books, because it sure makes me feel better about my lousy editing skills. This sentiment is also behind my need to watch Hoarders and Dr. Phil, but that’s another post. 

* “Finished” is a term that I’ve been told, repeatedly, in no way accurately describes the mess I submit. 


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