Friday, April 30, 2021

Don't Make Me Punch You in the Face

 by Abir Mukherjee

When a reader takes the time to find your email address and compose a letter telling you they don’t like your books, how do you respond? How would you like to respond, if that’s different?



Right.

 

Morning. Friday again. Lots to do, so let’s run through this quickly. 

 

No one has ever written to me saying they don’t like my books. This is understandable because really, life’s too short to go to the trouble of looking up some hack author’s e-mail address and writing them a mail telling them how bad they are. I mean, why would you? I don’t look up Eddie Murphy’s e-mail address and write him a missive saying why did you bother with Coming to America 2, and exactly what happened to you after the eighties? No. I don’t do that because I’m not a nutter and I have better things to do, at least most of the time. 

 

That’s not to say I haven’t had bad reviews (Oh Lord, have I had bad reviews), but that’s fine, cos they are on forums like Goodreads and Amazon and I don’t look at them any more cos one bad review can destroy my confidence for about a week.

 

But I have received some reviews (and these are all real) which I am proud of, including:

 

    “This book reads like it was written by a bank teller.” 1 star


    “Package arrived quickly and in good condition.” 5 stars


    “I didn’t order this and I will not read it.” 1 star

    

    “This book was the perfect thickness to balance the wobbly leg on my table.” 

    5 stars

 

At least they tend to balance out.

 

Occasionally, someone will write a bad review and tag an author on Facebook or Twitter, and in my opinion that’s pretty bad form. It’s been said before, but an author’s book is like their baby. You don’t like it? Fine. But don’t feel the need to tell us about it. How would you like it if an author tagged you on a tweet that said your toddler looked like Alfred Hitchcock had a fight with a frying pan?

 

What readers need to realise is that most writers are borderline crazy – many would be certifiable if they ever left their houses. We are people who spend the day locked up in basements or attics concocting ridiculous lies in our heads which we then try to pass off to people as being believable. Do you really want to pick a fight with the likes of us?

 

Here’s a couple of examples of authors tracking down people who gave them bad reviews:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-34775814#:~:text=An%20author%20tracked%20down%20a,%2C%2018%2C%20at%20her%20work.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/18/am-i-being-catfished-an-author-confronts-her-number-one-online-critic

 

 

Seriously, authors be crazy.

 

But some kinds of authors are more mental than others. If you do fancy taking your life into your own hands and writing an e-mail to an author telling them how one dimensional their characters are, or how you don’t think their hero (let’s call him Wam Syndham) would ever act that way, then here’s a handy guide to which authors are more or less likely to cause you grievous bodily harm or hunt down members of your immediate family.

 

 

Literary fiction authors – because of the zero-sum nature of literary fiction (in that people only buy these books if they’ve won prizes or are praised to the sky by Julian Hamptons-Smythe in the New Yorker or the London Review of Books), your pathetic criticism of their masterpiece means nothing to them (unless you’re a Booker Prize judge or Julian Hamptons-Smythe). They are far too busy bitching about other literary authors in the hope that it’ll improve their own chances of winning an award to care what you might think about them. Just go back to your plebian little life and let them get on with their navel gazing and existential angst.

 

Authors of biographies – These guys have the will-power and perseverance to write a thousand page hardback on the life of Pope Gregory the Ninth. You think your five line, poorly punctuated and grammatically incoherent e-mail is going to phase them? Seriously? These guys will send you a fifteen page reply that will bore you to death.

 

Ghost writers – They really don’t care what you think about a book they wrote for minimum wage for some gormless, illiterate celebrity who gets all the credit for their work. They’re phoning it in while working on their techno-thriller about a sentient toaster that destroys mankind that will make them famous one day.

 

Crime fiction – These are idiots who literally spend their days coming up with new and ingenious and /or gruesomely horrific ways of murdering you and getting away with it. But arrogance and their need for an audience means these authors WILL get caught for murdering you because they want the world to know about their crimes. Seriously, do you really want your life to end up as a plot point? No? Then don’t criticise them.

 

Romantic fiction – The most violent sort of authors. Don’t be fooled by all the love they show on the page, these people are pure nutters who would scratch your eyes out if you even looked at them funny. 

 

Sci-fi authors – ‘Mostly Harmless’

 

 

So there you go. If you really feel like you have nothing better to do than upset an author, make it a sci-fi author, cos they’re the nicest of the lot and probably won’t kill you. But I don’t really need to tell you that, because you’re not the sort of person who would do that in the first place. 


Because you’re lovely.

 


 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

If You Can’t Say Something Nice... from James W. Ziskin

When a reader takes the time to find your email address and compose a letter telling you they don’t like your books, how do you respond? How would you like to respond, if that’s different?

Two Stories:

1. The Case of the Nitpicker

I’ve never received an actual e-mail saying the reader didn’t like my books, but I have received critical feedback. One time a reader wrote to me and expressed his admiration for Styx & Stone, the first book in my Ellie Stone series. He noted the things he thought I’d done well and how the subject matter appealed to him. But he also offered a couple of quibbles he had with my research. 

One, he wrote, was that the word “pheromone” was coined in 1959, and, therefore, it was unlikely that Ellie Stone would have used it in January of 1960. He was right, of course. 

The second suggestion he made concerned a fictional LP I’d included in the story. It was a collection of excerpts from Rossini’s William Tell, conducted by Toscanini. My eagle-eyed reader pointed out that Toscanini had only recorded the overture (of course) and one other piece from the opera. That was not enough for an entire LP. Some folks might think it a forgivable error on my part, but I wished I had done better research. My correspondent was absolutely right.

His third point was that he could find no evidence that Van Cliburn had ever recorded Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto, another fictional album in my book. On the whole, however, he pronounced himself satisfied with Styx & Stone and went on to read—and critique—the next six books in the series.

I have continued to correspond with him all along, and we have become good friends, even if we’ve never met in person. We share similar interests and tastes. I even enlisted him as a beta reader for my last two books because—I told him—I’d rather he find the anachronisms and errors in my stories BEFORE they were published rather than AFTER. He’s an immensely thoughtful, educated, and intelligent guy. I’m so glad he wrote to me. I’ll identify him here only as Fred, though I gave him a full acknowledgement in my latest book, Turn to Stone.


2. The Case of the Brutally Frank Critic

My mother taught me if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

The second story involves a reader who spoke to me at an author event hosted by a large library in Southern California. Many writers participated in several panels that day, and we all enjoyed lunch at our tables with ten readers each. After the main event and our meal, we writers repaired to the book room, where we waited for readers to mosey past and perhaps buy a book and get it signed. One lady strolled by my table twice, eyeing my books as if debating whether to buy one. On her third pass, she stopped and informed me she’d read my first Ellie Stone mystery, the very same Styx & Stone Fred had written to me about.

“That’s very nice,” I said. “Thank you.”

She fixed her gaze on me for a moment then added, “I didn’t think much of it.”

I probably blanched. But, remembering the solid advice I’d received never to argue with reviewers, I told her I was sorry she hadn’t enjoyed it. What I really wanted to say would have qualified as ungentlemanly.

Having made my day, she moved on, surely to spread more sunshine to the other authors.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

You’ve got hate mail

Image: Robin Olson

When a reader takes the time to find your email address and compose a letter telling you they don’t like your books, how do you respond? How would you like to respond, if that’s different?

by Dietrich


I haven’t had anyone write and tell me they didn’t like my books, although I’m aware they’re out there. But, like most authors, I have received those one-star reviews along with the unkind comments. As far as responding to such a letter, I guess it would depend on its tone. If it’s meant to be constructive, I might write back, but if the letter was rabid and mean, I probably wouldn’t finish reading it. What would be the point of responding with:


Dear stalker,


You had me at talentless boob. And how did you get this email address anyway? No, please don’t answer that. Okay, I understand you don’t like my books, which makes me wonder why you would read them all the way through, or better yet, read more than one. That’s just rhetorical too. But seriously, have you tried another writer, or a different genre, comic books maybe? Again, please don’t answer that either, just think about it, okay?


Stay frosty.

Yours, TB


I think writers are better off not to lash back at unkind comments the way a comedian might handle a heckler.


“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Orc.” — Brendan Dodds


Commenting back would likely just encourage another letter or have the whole correspondence go online and quickly downhill from there. 


"There's loads of problems with social media. People say things they would not say to your face. They're braver. They're anonymous. It's not a real conversation, it's a terrorism. Trolls or hecklers, which is what they are, don't want a conversation. They want you to have as bad a day as they're having.” — Ricky Gervais

 

Like any writer, I’m aware my style is not for everyone. If someone doesn’t like my stories, that’s fine, but it doesn’t require a letter of retaliation on my part. There’s no need to switch the ego to self-righteous mode; it’s better to just get back to whatever I’m working on. Nothing messes with the muse like an ego on fire.


“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

How Did You Like It?

 

Terry Shames here, answering our question of the week: 

When a reader takes the time to find your email address and compose a letter telling you they don’t like your books, how do you respond? How would you like to respond, if that’s different? 

 Since I’ve never had that happen, it’s a strange question to answer. I don’t know what I would do it someone took the trouble to write and say they didn’t like my books. Usually it’s the opposite—I’ve read all your books, now when is the next one coming out? 

Cover of the last Craddock book!



 But that doesn’t mean people don’t like them. I don’t often read my Amazon reviews, but I have seen a couple in which readers gifted me with less than sterling reviews because the books are “slow.” The fact is, they’re right. I write a small-town Texas police procedural. Samuel Craddock is an older protagonist. He’s methodical and thoughtful. 



There isn’t a lot of action, if you don’t count murder as action. I’m more interested in relationships, and how things go so bad for someone that murder seems their only way out. I’m also interested in how gossip and secrets work in a small town. I want to explore social issues in a setting in which people know each other well and a small shift in attitude can affect a lot of people. I’ve addressed issues of hypocrisy, greed, how the past affects the present, family dynamics, violence, and police brutality. I’ve never had anyone write to tell me I shouldn’t do that. 

 I’ve only had one really unhappy review, and I discovered it two years after the book was published. The reviewer thought the events in the book couldn’t possibly be true. I guess he’s never known a woman who was abused by a family member. The odd thing was that with that negative review, I felt as if I’d finally arrived as a full-fledged writer. Bad reviews are part of what we invite when we put our work out there. 

 Although I’ve never had a reader tell me they didn’t like my books, occasionally I get an email in which the writer tells me I’ve gotten something wrong. I had one from a man who wanted me to write more thoroughly about motorcycles. He went on for two pages about what I could have put into the book. But he wasn’t angry or upset, and he seemed to like the book—he just wanted more motorcycles. 



Another reader took umbrage with my description of alfalfa fields, telling me that alfalfa didn’t grow in Texas. I wrote back and thanked him for his correction, telling him that I relied on my daddy’s information. And, in fact, alfalfa does grow in Texas, but I decided not to argue. Yet another reader declared that I couldn’t actually be from Texas, and I actually knew nothing about the state because my characters didn’t use the terms “y’all” or “ain’t.” I didn’t use the terms because in my family the two terms were used ironically rather than in everyday speech. But she was right; those terms are widely used. In my next book, as an homage to her, I had a character who used both. 

 I recently had a talk with a book club whose members had carefully read my first book. They asked some tough questions about motivation and about the psychological life of the characters. A couple of them said they had “problems” with the motivation of one of the characters. I guess that ‘s the closest I’ve gotten to someone saying they didn’t like a book. And I hope it will always be that way.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Cups of Tea

When a reader takes the time to find your email address and compose a letter telling you they don’t like your books, how do you respond? How would you like to respond, if that’s different?

Good Monday morning. Brenda Chapman at the keyboard.

All authors get one-star and negative reviews, but it takes a really disgruntled reader to track down an author's contact information in order to tell them how much they hate their books. I'm  fortunate to never have received an entirely negative email about my books although some have included negative elements. 

The criticism has generally been about the audio tapes for Cold Mourning and Butterfly Kills. Several listeners haven't liked the actress's voice on the tapes. (However, to be fair, others have found her voice to be fine.) Another type of criticism I've received concerns the grammar errors in my books, Since the buck ultimately stops with my publisher, I always send the observations to them so that they can correct the errors in future editions and in the ebooks. 

I'm always appreciative when a reader takes the time to go to my website to track down my email address and send a note to me, no matter the content. I'm delighted when they do this to tell me how much they like my books and my writing. I respond to each and every one and thank the person for their comments. Sometimes I let them know that I'm sharing their email with my publisher if it concerns the grammar or audiotape issues.

I prefer to receive a reader's criticism privately rather than on a social media site, such as Goodreads. Recently, my Stonechild and Rouleau series has been receiving multiple reviews and ratings every day on Goodreads. Most are positive, some are heart-warming, a few are negative or one-star. Some reader reviews don't like my characters swearing. Others aren't fans of any violence (although these are crime fiction so ....) It's amazing to me how the same book can illicit such widely divergent responses. Taste truly is subjective.

Earlier in my writing career, I was thrown by the negative comments, letting the criticism simmer and replay in my head. Some would make me wonder why I was even writing ... why I even got out of bed in the morning. I've learned to weigh the few bad ratings and comments against the multitude of positive and often glowing reviews, to take everything with a grain of salt or honey :-)

Another decision I made early on was never to comment on a public review, no matter how egregious the comment or off-base the observation. I don't respond to any reviews although I do read them! Of course, if someone sends a private message to me, I'll respond to them directly. Usually though, what I say in my head to a negative review on a social media platform is: Please don't read any more of my books. They obviously aren't your cup of tea. Strangely though, some of these readers go on to critique the entire series, book by book.

All this to say, I never take a reader's interest in my writing for granted. Every time someone takes the time to email me or post a review or a rating, I'm inwardly tickled. I'll close with a few lines from reviews that make me smile because why focus on the negative?

"Brilliant murder/mystery fleshed out to perfection." (Bleeding Darkness)

"It is rare that I read a book that makes me feel as though if I don't write my review the second I finish it the wonderfulness of it may escape me. This was one of those." (Butterfly Kills)

"When you turn the last page and are disappointed there is no more - 5 stars!" (Tumbled Graves)

"Excellent case, excellent characters, and I couldn't be happier with the conclusion." (Closing Time)

"Turning Secrets”challenged my preconception of police procedurals and has emerged triumphant. Chapman has, without doubt, taken the genre to a new level."

"It had me until the very end. I had no idea how it would all come together. Great read!" (In Winter's Grip)

I mean who wouldn't feel energized by such praise? Yup, focusing on the positive works for me.

Website (with my contact information if you want to send along your comments :-)  www.brendachapman.ca

Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, April 23, 2021

I’m a selfish writer, until I’m not. By Josh Stallings

 Question: Do you have a particular, typical, or ideal reader in mind as you write?

Answer: No… Yes… Wait… Maybe?


I read every night before I go to sleep. Sometimes I drift off mid page, and keep reading in my dream unaware that my brain has taken over the book and is writing new chapters. That is the closest I can describe what writing feels like to me. After all the research and muddling about, I crank up some music and set about typing while I read a book that has yet to be written. In that way I write for myself. 


If I had the skillset to write what I thought other readers would like, I’d still have two problems. 

1) Publishing moves slowly. If I started typing the moment a trend is noticeable, I’m still a year or two away from publication and by then the trend would be played out. 

2)  I’m really bad at judging who and why folks choose books. Point in case, when I started out I had a foolish idea that I wrote stories men would like more than women. I was dead wrong. My early books would have never been noticed or read if they had not been championed by three women reviewers — McDroll out of Scotland, Sabrina’s Call Me Kate, and Elizabeth A.White. In early book signings I found many more women than men had embraced my suicidal bouncer. I learned it was a bit sexist on my part to think there is such a thing as male or female fiction. Gender isn’t a genre.




My operating principle is that if I write a book I want to read, one person will dig it. If I write a book I think a bunch of people will like, maybe no one will.


Writing is a personal journey into a world that starts as a glimmer of an idea. I need to love that first thought enough to battle with it until it is molded into something worth reading. At that point, my “perfect” manuscript in hand I begin editing and thinking about marketing, and discovering all those not so perfect parts. I work with my agent and editor/publisher to define who would be the ideal readers for the book. On Tricky, Chantelle Aimée Osman, Editor at Agora Books saw that readers engaged in the neurodiversity conversation might also like Tricky and our handling of neurodiverse characters. With perfect rear-vision I can see that one of the reasons I wrote Tricky was I hadn’t seen anyone like my son in books, so I could say that parents of neurodiverse children were my ideal readers, after the fact. On an early edit my agent Amy Moore-Benson pointed out that my protagonist was using the R-word a lot. She knew this was for effect, but thought we would lose readers. I took some out. After Agora acquired Tricky, Chantelle pointed out that most readers will give a book 20 pages at the max to decide to read or dump it. The R-word would turn off the very readers who might love the book. I did a deeper culling. Once I thought about editing for a reader, who was a dad like me, it became easy to see my blunders. I had always thought of myself as a member of the special needs community, but I’m not. I’m an ally. And that’s very different.  


Circling back to the question, I guess I write for myself. But I edit for readers who share my love of this wild wonderful complicated and very diverse world.


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Must love pets (and maybe needles) - a guest post by Annette Dashofy

Catriona writes: This week's question is Do you have a particular, typical, or ideal reader in mind as you write? But I'm not going to answer it. 

I'm going to answer the question Do you have a particular writer in mind when you choose an outfit for an awards dinner? The answer to that is YES. Annette Dashofy.

(Here we are at Malice Domestic a few years' back, after a lot of dress, shoe, and jewelry planning. Annette was nominated and I wasn't, so I'm being Vanna and she's being FAAAAbulous). 


And now, here to answer the real QotW . . .

Annette writes: Early in my writing career, one of my mentors brought up this subject. She has ONE reader in mind when she crafts a novel. She can tell you this reader’s age, job, and even her name. I tried to do the same thing. I really did. I created such a person, but then I received an email from a reader who was NOTHING like that fabricated “typical” one. My thoughts on the matter shifted. Can I really laser focus on just one person?

In a sense, my typical reader is me. I write the types of books I like to read. But I try to write for someone who is much smarter than I. [CMcP - that cuts me out; I'd have said "smarter than me"] That keeps me on my toes. No slacking. No getting lazy. I can’t let my main characters be stupid. At least not without good reason. My main character returns home to find the door open. Someone has been in her house. She left her phone in her friend’s car, so she can’t call 911. The smart thing would be to get in her vehicle and go for help. Instead, she goes inside. Stupid? Yes. But she’s a veterinarian and her cats are somewhere in that house. She has to rescue her cats. If my reader is an animal lover, and I believe they are, they’ll understand and be right there with her.

From conversations with my readers, I’ve learned many of them are teachers. Many, but definitely not all, are women. Some are nurses or are otherwise part of the medical field. Again, this keeps me on my toes. Since Zoe Chambers is a paramedic and Jessie Cameron (of Death by Equine) is (as previously mentioned) a veterinarian, medicine plays a big part in the stories.

I was an EMT decades ago. And I owned horses for twenty-five years. Our farm vet was awesome, but it could take hours for her to arrive. In the case of an emergency, I did some of my own vetting. If a horse required ongoing treatment, I couldn’t afford to have the vet back for daily shots. So I learned how to inject medications, how to bandage injuries, how to do a wide variety of procedures. But still, times and techniques have changed. I had to do a lot of research. Occasionally, I get something wrong, and oh, do I hear about it. Those are the worst kinds of emails. Those readers’ voices echo in my head as I write.

Let’s see. My typical reader is a nurse who loves dogs. Or a teacher who loves cats. Or a pharmacist who loves horses.

Okay, maybe I don’t have just one. But no matter what profession occupies my reader’s work hours, what I am sure of is they want to be entertained. And that is what I always keep in mind as I write.

Bio: 

Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the multi–Agatha Award nominated Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. Her latest release, a standalone, is Death by Equine, about a veterinarian at a second-rate thoroughbred racetrack seeking the truth about her mentor’s mysterious death. Annette is a member of Pennwriters and is the vice president of the Pittsburgh Sisters in Crime Chapter. She and her husband live on ten acres of what was her grandfather’s dairy farm in southwestern Pennsylvania with their very spoiled cat, Kensi.   www.annettedashofy.com



 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Mum's the word... by Cathy Ace

Do you have a particular, typical, or ideal reader in mind as you write?

When I was writing my first novel, The Corpse with the Silver Tongue, I sent chapters to my mother over the internet each night, and she was my first, eager reader, literally watching the story grow as it left my fingertips. By default, therefore, she became my visualized ‘particular’ reader. This process continued for a few books, but then it became more difficult for her to read this way, so now she waits until my books are published, and I make sure she gets the earliest possible copy. But she’s still inside my head as I plot and write…though I know I have many readers who are a) not female, b) not in their eighties, and c) not Welsh!

With Mum at Brynhyfryd Library (my childhood library) in 2018


Fortunately for me, Mum has been an avid reader of mysteries for about sixty years, so she knows a good plot twist, or an unresolved red herring, when she sees one, meaning I felt ‘professionally’ safe in her hands. And, of course, I want Mum to be proud of everything I do; she’ll always be the one reader in the world I truly hope enjoys my books (plus my sister and husband, too!). The other good thing is that Mum’s not afraid to ask questions, point out problems, or even typos (to prove this, she gave me notes yesterday about typos in one of my books published in 2014, which she’s rereading), and that’s all very helpful. And it’s these aspects of Mum as a reader which I do think makes her more similar to most of my readers – they are likely to be people who have read a lot of mysteries over the years, and are likely to spot problems/issues in a flash. (Author/Editor beware!)

Mum in Swansea Library with the book she read almost literally as I wrote it 


Other than that, I try to not have a vision in my head of the person I am writing for, other than myself. Honestly, I don’t think I could write for any particular person other than me, because that mythical other person is changing all the time without my knowledge or understanding, so I couldn’t keep hitting the mark. Of course, I’m also changing all the time too, and am trying to square that circle each time I write a book. While I don’t write for a particular or more-than-generally-typical reader, what I do believe – and absolutely respect – is that readers come to a series of books with a set of expectations. I know I do, as a reader, and I want “my author” to deliver against those expectations. That means, as a writer, I have to acknowledge that I have aged (and hopefully improved!) almost ten years since I wrote my first Cait Morgan Mystery, but Cait’s aged less than three years…so there’s a lot less room for personal development/changes in habits etc. for her than for me.

TWINS!! Me and Mum, July 2019 (haven't been able to see her since then)

In the tenth book in the series (The Corpse with the Iron Will – pub date June 3rd) Cait’s at home for a change (each Cait Morgan Mystery takes place in a different country) and this time, solving a puzzling crime is not something she tackles while surrounded by people she’ll probably never meet again but it’s almost literally on her own doorstep. This is allowing me to examine issues like “what does home mean?” and “what does community mean?” at a time when I think we’re all reconsidering those questions for ourselves. Cait needs to grow, she needs to develop, but the plot still needs to be a traditional puzzle plot, the characters still need to be fully formed with believable psyches and motivations, and there still need to be twists and turns on the journey the reader takes with Cait and Bud…some which I know experienced readers will probably guess, some I hope they won’t. So, while I cannot say I have a typical reader, I can say I do my best to respect what I believe are typical expectations of my books (whichever series/standalone in question) by readers who have every right to get what they hope for when they shell out their hard-earned pennies for my books.

I hope they are happy, and I hope Mum is proud.



I hope Mum's proud of her little girl...and, yes, I am missing her like crazy!



Coming June 3rd - Pre-order now... or catch up with any you've missed


Find out about all my books here: http://www.cathyace.com/


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Who Do You Write For?

Do you have a particular, typical, or ideal reader in mind as you write?

From Frank

I think so. I mean, this is different than the mythical first reader, right?

If so, then I do. I think of several die-hard River City/Frank Zafiro readers, and I write in a way that I think will interest them, will excite them, will satisfy them, will validate their faith in me as a writer.

I pay attention to what they like, what they want, and how they respond.

I make an effort to engage with them outside of the work itself, with social media and a newsletter (plus conferences - remember those?).

If I were to distill down who that reader is, I'd say it is the person whose eyebrows go up in delight when there's a new release. Someone who cares about the characters, not only just in one book but their trajectory of the course of a series. I don't want to let that reader down, so I think about them while I write.

Now, if we're talking first reader, then we're talking Kristi (my wife). 

I think that a spouse or partner serves as first reader for many writers - in fact, show of hands, please?

Yeah, thought so.

Thing is, I don't actually write with her in mind exactly. I worry what she may think about a piece of work when I'm done but don't sweat it during. I think this may be a by-product of bouncing thoughts and ideas off of her during the creative process at times. I don't always do that, but fairly often - she's pretty smart. Plus even when I don't like whatever she comes back with, it is still frequently a catalyst for arriving at an idea I do like. So it's worth it.

I think that frequently involving her in the creative process mitigates that "will she like it?" angst. At least until I hit the end. Then... well, let's just say that no matter how hard I try, every time I ask her to read something, it's, "Hey, will you give this a read. You'll probably hate it."

She no longer shows me any mercy where this ridiculous habit is concerned. She used to. Years ago, she'd say, "Don't be that way - I'm sure it's great. You're a great writer." Nowadays the exchange is:

Me: Hey, will you give this a read?

Her: Sure.

Me: You'll probably hate it.

Her: You're probably right. I'm sure I will.

Me: [stunned silence]

Her. I mean,  it's probably dreadful.

Me: [lip begins to quiver]

Her: You should probably stop writing, to be honest. I mean, if you don't have the hang of it after thirty books, maybe you're just not good at it.

Me: [tears of anguish flow]

Her: When do you need it back?

Now, time for a pair of confessions.

Confession #1: She's not quite that brutal in real life but she also doesn't indulge my tender author sensibilities anymore either. Most of the time, in reality, she just says, "You're a great writer" or something along those lines and she means it. But occasionally she does drop the flat-toned, "Yep, probably gonna suck" line on me just to remind me that, spoiler alert - artistic insecurity isn't sexy.

Confession #2: While everything else I wrote above (and below, for that matter) is true, here's the deeper truth on the topic of the day: the ideal reader one, you know?

The truest answer to this question is no. The truest answer is that I write for myself.

Sorry to be so self-centered. My wife points out that I'm a Leo, whatever that means.

And maybe "myself" isn't quite right, either. I think I am actually writing more for "them." And by them, I mean the characters and their story.

How pretentious is that, huh?

I'll close by saying this, though - to be fair, I definitely edit with those ideal and/or first readers in mind... but I suppose that's a different post, isn't it?

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Blatant Self Promotion (with some other authors being promoted, too!)

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I'm excited to be part of a cool anthology coming out in May, along with some names you may recognize.

The Eviction of Hope is the creation of my sometimes collaborator, Colin Conway. I'll let him describe what it's about:

It’s eviction day for The Hope Apartments. The residents have known about it for over a year. It’s too bad they ignored all the warning signs.

More than a century ago, developer Elijah Hope constructed a state-of-the-art hotel. As the generations passed and tastes changed, The Hope spent two decades as an underutilized office building before conversion into a low-income housing project.

Rundown by years of human occupation, The Hope has become a hollow shell of its once great self. It is home to drug addicts, petty criminals, and those hiding from others. The city has long turned a blind eye to The Hope as surrounding neighborhoods gentrified and pushed their disaffected in its direction.

But now The Hope is preparing a return to its original glory. The current owners plan to convert it into a boutique hotel. The only thing standing in their way is the eviction of over one hundred units.

Each resident knew this fateful day was coming, yet most chose to believe it would never arrive. They ignored the posted signs, the hand-delivered warnings, and even the actual notices.

Many stayed until the bitter end.

These are their stories.

My contribution to this anthology is “The Rumor in 411,” a story of loyalty and the power of rumors. 

The Eviction of Hope is already available for pre-order at a reduced price of .99 cents (regular price will be somewhere in the $5.99 range, I imagine). 


Monday, April 19, 2021

Pssst...Remember Me!

 Q: Do you have a particular, typical, or ideal reader in mind as you write?

-from Susan

That’s an interesting question and I haven’t got a clear answer. Definitely not an ideal reader, some made up person who loves my stories and writes to beg me for more. The ideal ideal reader buys multiple copies of my books to give to her friends, invites me to talk to her book club, and reviews my book on Amazon and Goodreads. But I don’t know exactly why she loves my book, so I can’t conjure her up while I’m bent over the laptop pounding away.

I’m not sure what a ‘typical’ reader might be. Are readers of my kind of crime fiction typically enjoying a respite from the real world, or determined to read a book a day, or read only fiction written by women, or read everything from historical sagas to the backs of cereal boxes? We know they are literate, have decent vocabularies, and buy or borrow books, pretty basic for a start. I do think some readers wind up liking or not liking my mysteries because my stories start slower than do many others. Oh, there’s a body soon enough, but the pace is – deliberately – slow enough that the characters can breathe and show their personalities. Not sure if that’s the typical reader these days, though.

But, a particular reader? Yes, I sometimes do have an individual in mind. It might be someone who was the inspiration for a character. It might be a fellow writer whose work I like and who, I hope, will read my book and let me know it was a treat. It might be a close friend or family member whose personal approval I want – not that I’d change what I write to get it, but that I simply want that person to say, “Hey I loved this. Well done, you.” 

If my editor is on my mind, I try not to freak out because what if the editor (or agent) doesn’t like the manuscript? That’s serious, so I guess I have that person in mind if she’s given me a bit of feedback what suggests a shift from what I really want to do. It’s a bit of a quandary, and I can’t let myself get pulled to far off the path I’ve taken. However, as we all know, agents and editors can often make the book better (not just more marketable) so I try to stay open when I hear the critique and see how I can respond to it in my writing without losing my way. 

Frankly, it’s enough to keep the characters, the plot, the setting, and the style in mind as I write, so these shadowy people I might want to please have to stay in their corners most of the time.



 

 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Why Do You Hate Your Kids So Much?

 By Abir

Do you ever read children’s books (not including reading them to your children)? Do you think children’s books have changed from when you were a child?

 


 

Right, today we are talking about the worst things in the world, the gateway to a messed up life.

 

When I was three, and illiterate, I was fearless and careless. A happy little free spirit. Three years later, and having acquired the dubious benefits of literacy, I was a brow-beaten, conformist, neurotic; chain-smoking my way through packs of candy cigarettes. (At one point, I was a 30 a day man.)

 

What possible calamity could have turned that wonderful, beautiful boy into a grizzIed, nervous, cynical six year old? The answer, I hate to say, is Children’s Literature. 

 

I grew up in the seventies, when the genre was still ruled by unscrupulous king-pins. Shadowy figures like Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, who controlled pretty much all of the UK’s supply of children’s literature with a vice-like grip, burning warehouses of their competitors’ books and bribing corrupt librarians up and down the country to stock only their own merchandise. Rumour has it that when faced with the possible release of work by other authors, Enid Blyton once threatened to break the wings off the original penguin at Penguin Publishing and to kidnap its child, the Puffin. 

 

These were terrifying individuals who knew no moral boundaries, as is evidenced by their work. Let’s take Beatrix ‘The Bull’ Potter. Her most famous creation is Peter Rabbit, whose first story opens with the horrific slaughter of Peter’s father by a sadistic farmer called Mr McGregor, which sets Peter on a path of criminality from petty theft (stealing from McGregor’s vegetable garden) to violent revenge. And that’s before the blatant anti-Scottish racism - McGregor is portrayed as dour-faced, penny-pinching, violent and oafish – a category which less than half of Scots actually fall into.

 

But let’s move on. Let's talk about Roald Dahl. Some believe that he hated the letter ‘n’ so much that he had it surgically removed from the middle of his own Christian name. A close inspection of his works, such as Charlie Ad the Chocolate Factory and James Ad the Giat Peach, suggest that this story might be more than just apocryphal. 


And let’s look at the first of those books: Charlie’s dad is dead, just like Peter Rabbit’s in Beatrix Potter’s works (coincidence? I think not). Charlie lives in a hovel with his mum and four grandparents who share what can only be described as a geriatric, octogenarian love-nest. To escape this trauma, Charlie develops a chocolate habit which leads him into the clutches of a strange man called, and I’m not making this up, Willy Wonka, who owns a ‘chocolate factory’. For the North Americans amongst you, ‘Willy’ is British slang for ‘penis’. The whole thing seems to be modelled on Michael Jackson and his Neverland ranch. I guess Jackson was too scared to sue, such was the power of Dahl and the criminal children’s literature fraternity.


And then we have Enid ‘Razor’ Blyton, with her stories of five privileged white kids, going on adventures with their dog, Timmy. Where’s the diversity, Blyton? Where are the working class kids? Where are the ethnic minorities? We never see that side of things, do we Blyton? Your England is all tea and crumpets with lashings of jam and cream and ginger beer. You don’t mention the police brutality, the terrible working conditions, the prejudice that the working classes face. You’re a reactionary, Blyton, and in your novels, the trains always run on time.

 

But it gets worse. From simply seeking to corrupt our youth with stories of masochistic rabbits, messed up kids with a chocolate habit, and the denigration of the letter ‘n’, things turned really dark with the political writings of Roger Hargreaves.

 

For those of you who haven’t come across him. Hargreaves wrote a series of titles called the Mr. Men books. (Here’s the website: https://mrmen.com/ - but I'm warning you, it might trigger you.)

The books were a staple of 1970s kids’ literature with the brightly coloured Mr. Men getting into all sorts of scrapes, and I must admit that at the age of five, I loved these books. It was only when I was six, and more politically aware of how ‘the Man’ tries to brainwash you, that I realised the true horror of these novels.

 

Let’s take the case of Mr Messy. Now ostensibly this is the story of an untidy character who lives in a broken home, whose life is turned around my two men who one day turn up at his house. They make him see the error of his ways, and by the end of the book, Mr Messy isn’t messy any more. He’s really neat.

 

Lovely story, eh? Except it’s not. It’s the story of a free-spirit, a non-conformist, living his life the way he wants to, not bothering anyone else, and suddenly, these two men in suits turn up, calling themselves Tidy and Neat (made up names for sure – what are they hiding?) and they brainwash him into conforming to their social mores. By the end of the story, Mr Messy is basically a soulless automaton, a sheep, just like everyone else.

 

Then there’s Mr Upity – a crusty, curmudgeonly sort, who’s a bit rude to people, but to be fair, the people he’s rude to are idiots. But what happens? A bunch of leprechauns cast a spell on Mr Upity so that every time he’s rude, something happens to cause him tremendous pain, until, lo and behold, by the end of the book, he’s physically incapable of being rude to anyone. This is basically the plot of a Clockwork Orange, but whereas Burgess’ classic is a warning against state sponsored Fascism, Hargreaves’ Mr. Upity is a celebration of it. And we let kids read these books.

 

And don’t think you Americans are any better. Dr Seuss. What is that? It’s basically just bad poetry. But because American culture is only 26 years old, Seuss has become part of the American literary canon. And then there’s Goodnight Moon. I mean, what? Seriously? It’s not even a story! And yet the damn thing has sold billions. We even have two copies of it in our house (my younger son attempted to eat the first copy).

 

So, have things improved? Can we say that children's literature has evaded the pernicious clutches of evil monsters? There’s certainly more representation these days. Books that show the world as it is. My personal favourites include The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Rauf. Onjali's books are witty, inclusive and a great read. 


But we still have problems. One of the biggest sellers of kid’s books in the UK these days is David Walliams. I’ve never read his books, but there are people who’ve called out the ‘horrific racism’ and ‘sneering, fat-shaming nonsense’ of some of his work. (https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/author-david-walliams-jack-monroe-18551788 ) . And he’s sold 37 million copies.

 

So there we have it. If you love your kids; if you don’t want them becoming unhinged revenge monsters, Fascists, or automaton conformists; if you want them to learn to think for themselves, I’d urge you to keep them away from children’s books. You’d be much better getting them started on the modern classics, like the works of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Abir Mukherjee.

 

I’ll leave you with the words of poet, Philip Larkin, who, along with his mistress, also seems to have been a bit of a ghastly racist (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/philip-larkins-muse-monica-jones-revealed-as-a-racist-thpnz73ms ) , but the poem’s still good.

 

 

This Be The Verse

 

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   

    They may not mean to, but they do.   

They fill you with the faults they had

    And add some extra, just for you.

 

But they were fucked up in their turn

    By fools in old-style hats and coats,   

Who half the time were soppy-stern

    And half at one another’s throats.

 

Man hands on misery to man.

    It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

    And don’t have any kids yourself.


Let's break the cycle, my friends. Let's not fuck up our kids any more. Let's wean them off the crack that is children's literature.



(It shouldn't have to be said, but just in case, this piece is tongue in cheek and does not completely or accurately represent my actual views on children's literature, and I am fairly sure that Enid Blyton never did actually threaten to break Penguin's wings.)