Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Say it ain't so

Taking negative/critical feedback isn't often heralded as a skill but perhaps it should be. How do you handle it when it comes your way? 

From Frank

Let's face it -- sending out your story or novel for feedback is like walking into a roomful of people at a party while naked, motioning up and down your exposed form, and asking, "Well? Whaddaya think, huh?"

Yeah, it's vulnerable.

I learned early on in my career that there are two kinds of negative feedback -- constructive and destructive.

Destructive feedback can take on many forms but can be summed up thusly -- the person giving the feedback is tearing you down to make themselves seem superior. The feedback is purposefully mean, and ofttimes petty, and replete with examples of "how I would do it."

For the latter, I'm not talking about suggestions to make the story better but an attempt to essentially rework the story to resemble something that critiquing writer may have penned. 

I've often said a good editor helps the writer reveal his/her own voice and tell the story they're trying to tell rather than imposing the editor's voice and will on the work. The "how I would do it" move is essentially the opposite of that kind of good editing. It's egocentric and rooted to that strange need to tear someone down that I, frankly, don't understand. The psychology of that behavior is a whole other post.

Fortunately, after taking a couple of these teeth-kickings, I figured out how to identify this type of feedback and stopped asking for it from those people.

That's not to say I don't want hard, critical feedback. Quite the opposite. But the difference is, I want it from someone who is on my side. Someone who has the goal of helping my story succeed. As a result, they are honest, thoughtful, and yes, critical. But the motivation comes from a very different place -- to lift me (and the work) up rather than stomp me down.

I am fortunate to have a corps of beta readers who are quite honest and point out errors without hesitation. I have a couple of writing friends who are brutally, lovingly honest. The last few years, I've enjoyed a close working relationship with my friend and co-author, Colin Conway. We review all of each others' work with a critical eye and we have some especially hard conversations, but those conversations are possible (and fruitful) only because we both know whose side we're both on. It's all about serving the story, making it the best it can be.

My wife and first reader is another example of this. She has shown incredible support and is very complimentary of my work but also doesn't hesitate to call it straight if she thinks I made a mistake or could simply do better. 

She might be the only one I struggle a little to take that healthy criticism from (remember the naked guy at the party?) Even if it is delivered kindly, her not liking something I wrote stings a little. So I usually have to take a moment to let the emotional response pass before examining the criticism. More often than not, it's on point.

So while taking criticism is certainly a skill (as is learning which pieces of criticism to accept and which ones to reject) but it becomes rather simple once you figure out that one simple fact about the person doing the criticism.

Are they on your side, or not? Is the criticism for the good of you and your work, or is there something else going on there?

I'm sure most of us have encountered the latter, just as I'm certain all of us value the former.

Also, as an aside.... if you can't identify with the embarassed, naked, vulnerable person at a party analogy at the beginning of this post, then you most certainly go to more interesting parties than I used to attend! I'm sure hot tubs were involved.


BSP! I was fortunate to have a story included in an anthology called To Serve, Protect, and Write: Cops Writing Crime Fiction, Volume 1, edited by A. B. Patterson. 

As the title suggests, all of the authors are current or former law enforcement who write crime fiction. 

My story, "The Last Cop," is a near future take on the profession. It is also an idea that has been on my hard drive in some form or another for about fifteen years. I'm glad for it to finally see the light of day!

"The Last Cop," fittingly, is the final story in the anthology.

As I write this, the book isn't quite yet available but its release is imminent. If there aren't links in this post when it goes live, you will eventually find them on my website.


Monday, January 17, 2022

Listening with an open mind

 Q: Week of Jan 17 (Group 1): Taking negative/critical feedback isn't often heralded as a skill but perhaps it should be. How do you handle it when it comes your way? 


- from Susan


Leaving aside troll insults (“I hated your book so much I didn’t even read it!”) I’ve never had feedback that was nasty-negative. Ever since the writing group I was part of, I’ve only gotten thoughtful, useful feedback sincerely aimed at helping me improve my manuscript. So why would I not listen?


At times, the feedback changed my work. Other times, I listened with an open mind but ultimately decided I needed to stick to my own path. I’ve asked for and gotten very specific feedback at times, have asked for and received more general comments. One great critique I got of my first 20 pages, and I know I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, was from best-selling author Rhys Bowen, long before we became fast friends. She kindly but briskly pointed out that my story started not on page one but on page nineteen! And she was right. 


It makes a difference who you ask and what you ask them for. My only crit group, formed after we met as students at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference in 2006, consisted of five, then six, writers who all had full manuscripts and who all agreed our shared goal was to be published. In other words, we had no interest in sitting around digesting and re-digesting the same pages over and over. While we didn’t know it at first, it turned out each of us had a specific strength for critiquing: plotline, character consistency, line editing, humor, marketability. Everyone’s work improved and several of us went on to be published within a couple of years. 


Because almost every manuscript I’ve written has been under contract, I now focus on what my agent and editor say. Crit groups no longer work because I have immutable deadlines and writing groups have to schedule their reads so everyone has an equal amount of time. But I do miss the camaraderie and the variety of perspectives.


I relish the feedback I get from fellow writers, agents, acquiring editors, copy editors, and professional reviewers. I consider myself lucky that I haven’t blundered into some of the less useful situations I’ve heard about. But if I had, I’d deal with it by limiting the engagement, but also by remembering that while no one can write your book for you, among even the dross there’s likely to be a nugget of something I should listen to carefully before rejecting it.


Friday, January 14, 2022

Eyes on the Prize

 by Abir

Awards for crime fiction from year to year ride a line between subjective merit and a popularity contest — agree or disagree? And what is your personal philosophy on awards — their impact on readers (and you, if you've won any) and on subsequent award years?



Happy New Year!


2022 Eh? It’s like 2021 but with added Prince Andrew.


But let’s be positive. Let’s look on the bright side. Let’s talk about the most important thing in the world: literary awards and why I don’t win enough of them.


Having read the posts of my esteemed colleagues from earlier in the week, I have to tell you, sadly, that they are ALL wrong. Such great writers, so much talent, and yet when it comes to the politics of awards, they haven't a damn clue.

The simple truth of the matter is that any award I win, is, by its very outcome, objective, fair, insightful and a sign of natural justice. By the same token, any award which I lose is obviously rigged, short-sighted and quite possibly racist. And finally, any award for which I am not even longlisted, whether eligible for it or not, is definitely run by a cabal of shadowy forces answering to Trump and/or the Clintons.


Now that we’ve got the truth out of the way, let’s look at the impact of awards.


They make a difference…at least to authors outside of the A list. They provide the oxygen of publicity and credibility, which helps attract more readers and can help with sales of foreign rights. Awards help you stand out, and more importantly, help to pad out both your resumé and that blurb that they use to introduce you at book festivals.


On top of that, it’s always nice to win something, isn't it? Until I started writing, the last thing I’d won was the Ugliest Baby competition at Butlins Holiday Camp in Bognor in 1974. The only thing I had to show off on my mantlepiece was a framed certificate from having completed 10 lengths of the school pool back when I was nine (an imperious performance on what was a truly magnificent day), so when some people decide that I merit an award for writing, it makes me feel like I’ve finally found something I might be good at (other than the backstroke).


I think even the A list authors appreciate awards. I mean, when you’ve sold 100 million books, an extra million sales probably adds less to your levels of satisfaction than a piece of shiny metal and plastic with your name on it. 


People, regardless of their line of work, appreciate recognition for their efforts and awards are simply part of that. Having said that, I’d happily trade all mine for a few million of Lee Child’s sales.

Here's a photo of me not winning an Edgar, along with James Ponti, who did win won


Have a great weekend, and stay safe.



Thursday, January 13, 2022

Awardability from James W. Ziskin

Awards for crime fiction from year to year ride a line between subjective merit and a popularity contest — agree or disagree? And what is your personal philosophy on awards — their impact on readers (and you, if you've won any) and on subsequent award years?

I approach this week’s topic with equal measures of eagerness and trepidation. Let me explain.

In recent years, the annual round of crime fiction awards has been an exciting and gratifying time for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to see my novels and short stories shortlisted for several prestigious awards, including the Edgar (twice), the Anthony (six times), the Barry (twice), the Lefty (six times), the Macavity (four times), and the Sue Grafton Memorial (once). Even better, through some dumb luck, I somehow took home four of those twenty-one awards. 

Now I realize the previous paragraph might come off as bragging but, in all honesty, I feel humbled and tremendously lucky. Yes, it’s natural to be proud of nominations and awards, but I’m also acutely aware that so many deserving books and stories have been overlooked in the process. Look, it’s impossible for readers and juries to read everything, so how can a book be crowned “best” of the year? I’m conflicted because, let me tell you, it’s an amazing honor when your book actually wins. But did I truly deserve it? Over so many great books? Certainly not. Yet I am honored and grateful and proud just the same.

Because of my mixed feelings on this issue, each year I compile a list on this site of several books that I truly enjoyed. I call it “Some Really Great Books I Read This Year.” It’s not a “Best of” list, because I don’t read enough to make such a proclamation. (And who cares what I think are the best books anyway?) Furthermore, I purposely omit works by bestselling authors because they don’t need my praise to sell another book or two. Even though I admire and appreciate those writers and their books. Instead, I hope to promote some talented authors who might not have the same fame or commercial success as the “big names.”

As to whether awards are based on merit or simply a popularity contest, I can’t say it better than Terry did earlier this week. (Please read her post from Tuesday.) A few of the awards—the Edgar, Barry, and Macavity—are decided in whole or in part by committees or juries. I don’t believe the popularity of the author is the deciding criterion for those awards. For the Anthony and Lefty, does popularity play a part? I simply can’t buy into the argument that a book wins because the author is the life of the party. I’ve lost too many times to wonderfully written books for me to believe that. And I hope that when I actually was fortunate enough to win, others didn’t grumble that it was because I’m a good guy. I’d like to think my books had more to do with it than my social skills or—even worse—my hair.

On the subject of “popularity contests,” I feel compelled to tell the story of my first nomination ever. It was Bouchercon 2015 (Raleigh), and my second book, No Stone Unturned, was a finalist for the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original. I was absolutely glowing from the honor of being nominated, feeling on top of the world. Then a friend introduced me to a man and let him know I was a finalist for an Anthony. The guy wasted no time in killing my joy. He stood there and poo-pooed the honor, informing me that the Anthony Awards were nothing more than a “popularity contest.” Thanks, pal. You couldn’t have just said “That’s nice” instead? By the way, our own Catriona McPherson took home the prize that year, and deservedly so. I’ll never forget what she told me before the awards. She squared up, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “I’m rooting for you, Jim. Thirty-three percent. The other sixty-seven percent, I’m rooting for myself.”

And that’s perhaps the point of my post today. Yes, it’s okay to root for yourself, to want to win, to relish the acknowledgment awards bring. And to crow a little bit if you’re lucky enough to be recognized. As I mentioned above, so many great books are left out every year. So I worry about sounding arrogant or insensitive to the brilliant writers who did not get the accolades this time. Still, I wouldn’t trade the thrill of being nominated—and even winning a few times—for anything. I’ve been truly surprised, thankful, and humbled that readers felt my books and stories were worthy of any accolade.



Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Guest post by Patrick Whitehurst

I’ve asked my friend Patrick Whitehurst to answer this week’s question. Patrick writes both fiction and nonfiction, the latter of which includes the books Haunted Monterey County and Murder and Mayhem in Tucson. His stories range from true crime to thriller fiction and can be found in Punk Noir, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Modern, Hoosier Noir, and Switchblade Magazine. His writing’s been featured in the anthologies Bitter Chills, Wild Violence, and elsewhere. You can also find his author interviews and book reviews in Suspense Magazine, and you can more about him on his website at patrickwhitehurst.com. — Dietrich

Awards for crime fiction from year to year ride a line between subjective merit and a popularity contest — agree or disagree? And what is your personal philosophy on awards — their impact on readers (and you, if you've won any) and on subsequent award years?

by Patrick Whitehurst

Social values, which are ever changing, are factors in determining what has merit (what’s considered as an award nominee) when it comes to crime fiction awards. One person’s idea of worthiness may not be the same as someone else, however.

This isn’t to say the criteria for awards aren’t met, but the relevance of the material does play a part. To me, this is interpreted as whether a particular story brings current social issues to the forefront. Judges for awards may pay attention to the process, and check off the procedural boxes, but I have no doubt they’re also paying attention to the plot and how it breathes life into the current political and social climate.

While merit, and how it is scored, has evolved over the years, the publishing industry hasn’t always kept up with the times. Recently publishers have begun to look at a variety of factors, such as racial diversity and gender, in determining merit. Gender discrimination laws lay clear rules for determining merit in the workplace; they’re designed to benefit everyone regardless of gender. There are no such laws when it comes to winning an award, which may be where the popularity contest comes into play. 

I often congratulate friends, and other authors, who have won awards and am very happy they’re happy. My philosophy as a writer is to expect nothing in the way of accolades, or from story submissions for that matter. You’ll never be disappointed that way. In fact, you may be pleasantly surprised when you do get a story published or win an award. Moving forward in the writing industry, getting offers from agents and publishing houses, can depend on those awards. It inches the door a bit wider at any rate. For those folks it may be more important.

As a reader, if I hear good things, or like the author, or like the premise, I dive in. I may notice whether it won an award later, but it rarely determines if I’ll buy it.

I was recently nominated to be a speaker at the 2022 Tucson Festival of Books, which is a big deal in writing circles. My publicist at The History Press made the motion thanks to my 2021 book, Murder & Mayhem in Tucson, and to be honest I thought I would be considered. Of course, I failed to make the cut. This I discovered when the festival published their list of presenting authors and saw my name nowhere on it. Being from Tucson, writing a book about Tucson, led to my assumption I had a shot. It soon dawned on me these things don't hold much water when it comes to festivals of this size. Was I disappointed? A little. Those who made the list are featured in the NY Times, TV, and have national exposure. I’m not at that level, so I moved on. I share that story because, like awards, accolades are a way to recognize a writer’s hard work, which is always sweet. But for every author recognized a handful of others are not.

For those writers, and for myself, I say keep writing. Write because you love stories. Write because it keeps you sane. Should it eventually lead to recognition, pop a cork. Should it not, pop a cork anyway.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022



Happy New Year, everyone! From Terry 

 This week’s topic is AWARDS. We’re discussing whether award nominations are due to subjective merit or are they a popularity contest? What affect do the awards have other than to make an author feel good. Do awards make for more sales?
I remember before I was published hearing an author say that awards were nothing but popularity contests. I didn’t know one way or another. It seemed to me the books I read that were nominated were usually pretty good. Plus, when I was able to nominate books, I took it very seriously. 

 And then, my first book was nominated for a few awards. And the question took on a whole new meaning. I knew that the book must have been nominated on merit, because I didn’t know enough people to be the winner of a popularity contest. Instead, it seemed to be the result of “buzz.” A few influencers in the writing world praised the book, and their opinions seemed to matter. Buzz can also be created by good marketing.
“Buzz” Is probably one reason why some authors’ books get nominated repeatedly. People read their first book and like it and that leads them to read the next one, which is equally good. Was it as good as another book written that year? Maybe. But the point is, once an authors’ books are in the limelight, the author tends to get read again…and again. 

 Which brings me back to the question of popularity. Since my first book was nominated, I’ve gotten to know a lot more people, and my books have been nominated for various awards, so the answer is murkier. So what constitutes “popularity?” Is it a popular book, or a popular person? I’ve read some great books that never got nominated for awards, and also read some books nominated (and even winning) awards that I didn’t care for. I’ve known some delightful authors whom people really like personally, but whose books have never been nominated for awards. And I’ve known some people who seemed “chilly,” shall we say, whose books consistently get nominated for awards. I suspect part of it is not so much popularity, as name recognition.  

 The one award I think has little to do with popularity is the Edgars. A few years ago, I was on the Edgar committee to judge the Best Paperback Original. It was a sobering and enlightening task. There are some really bad books out there, but there are also many, many good ones. The nominated committees aren’t looking for name recognition or for “good books. They are looking for the best books (or short stories, or films) published in a given year. Before I was a judge, I shrugged off Edgar nominations as “the opinion of a few people.” 

I learned that committee members are chosen for as much diversity as possible (men, women, people of color, types of books they write, geographical diversity, LGBTQ diversity). And I also learned that committee members take their task very seriously. I was surprised that in the end the committee members almost all agreed on the top ten books. In our category And in the end, blind voting easily produced the top five (or in our case, six, because two of them tied). 

Even more surprising, after some short discussion, blind voting came up with the winner in the first round. “Buzz” turned out to have nothing to do with the choices. There were a couple of well-known authors in the mix, and some unknowns. What counted was the quality of the books—according to the committee members. It’s likely that another group of people might have chosen a different set of books. But the important thing is that we read with different backgrounds, different likes and dislikes, different viewpoints, and yet came up with a common list. 

 The Edgars would seem to be a special case in awards, but I wonder. When I receive ballots for nominations for awards like the Left Coast Crime “lefties,” or for the Anthonys, which are reader-driven awards, I very seriously consider my choices. And personality never enters into it. 

I can’t imagine voting for a book I didn’t much like simply because I like the author. I don’t nominate books in categories that I don’t often read. For example, if I’ve only read two humorous books, I will still nominate in that category only if I think the book were good. I don’t know if others take it that seriously, or if they nominate merely on whether they “know and like” an author. I do know that a couple of times I’ve been approached by authors for “quid pro quo” votes—you vote for my book and I’ll vote for yours. Nothing doing. I don’t blame the authors who do this. It’s hard to get your books recognized. But “best” for me, means “best.” And I hate to think that someone is being nominated just because they manipulated the vote, or because they are “popular.” 

 I spoke with one author whose view on the subject was that it’s sad that so many authors get nominated again and again, while some perfectly good writers never get that “tap on the shoulder” that tells her that she has done a great job. I wish there were more ways of recognizing authors who write really good books. 

 I went into the whole “award” business glowing from recognition, but also at first thinking awards might lead to greater readership. I still don’t know if it does. What I do know is that it feels good, and I’m grateful for the pats on the back—whether it meant more sales or not.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

And the Winner Is

Awards for crime fiction from year to year ride a line between subjective merit and a popularity contest -- agree or disagree?. And what is your personal philosophy on awards -- their impact on readers (and you, if you've won any) and on subsequent award years?

Brenda Chapman chiming in. Happy New Year, all!

The Oxford Dictionary defines an award as: "a prize or other mark of recognition given in honor of an achievement". A neat and tidy action on the surface but one fraught with problems. How does one decide which achievement warrants recognition over another? Can an objective evaluation of a piece of writing ever be truly objective?

I love awards, don't get me wrong. Recognition is always welcome and gives a warm, fuzzy feeling. It's nice to have one's hard work get some love. An award signals to readers and those in the book industry that this book is good and worth purchasing or taking out of the library. It gives the author a boost in an industry that can be humbling and hard.

The downside though is that not all judging is the same, and how could it be? Everybody has different tastes and standards. I learned this while being on a panel of three judges for a short story contest. The best piece of writing was obvious to me as were second and third place. Imagine my shock when the other two judges didn't even have my winner in their top three. That's what we call an eye-opener.

Not to mention, deciding one book is the year's best in a specific category is false by its very definition. The judges do not have every book written that year -- publishers and authors could not possibly submit a book to every single contest. So naming one the year's best doesn't take into account all the books not judged.

I was also shocked to discover at book conferences I attended that some of these awards are determined a great deal by an author's popularity. To support this observation, I've been asked on several occasions to fill in a voting form even though I hadn't read a single book on the list. That was a second eye-opening moment. I've even been at a conference where I watched an author in contention 'work the room'. for votes. I'm not saying I blame them or that their book didn't deserve to win, but this doesn't further the idea of objectivity in judging.

I've been fortunate to have a book shortlisted seven or eight times although unfortunate enough never to win. I can't say that I've noticed any appreciable uptake in sales or recognition from making these lists, but I believe librarians and booksellers are aware. I recall someone telling me once about being considered for a speaking engagement at a particular event that unless I'd won an award not to even bother applying. I believe this gives too much credence to these awards, not all of which are executed equally. 

Now, I did have a nice surprise that kept growing over the past two weeks. My Cold Mourning audiobook made top ten lists around the world for most borrowed audiobook from public library systems in 2021. It placed second in Great Britain and first in Australia with the Butterfly Kills audiobook coming in seventh or eighth on the same lists. The most recent Publisher's Weekly post has Cold Mourning finishing third in 94 library systems ( 76,000 libraries and schools) for 2021 behind Barack Obama's A Promised Land and Delia Owen's Where the Crawdads Sing, both books I've read and admired. So while not an award exactly, an honour certainly.

I have a bit of news to start off the new year. Blind Date, first in the new Hunter and Tate Mystery Series, will be released March 1st, and the Kindle version is now available for pre-order on Amazon. I'm excited to release my latest work into the world!

Website: www.brendachapman.ca

Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Friday, January 7, 2022

How I Stopped Throwing Books by Josh Stallings


View from my desk

Q: When reading a book, how long do you give it to grab you before giving up?

A: There is a time and space for most any book. When I was much younger and considerably more touchy I would hurl books at my bedroom wall. 

“No good?” Erika would say without looking up from what she was reading. I would give logical (I thought) reasons for my dislike of the text.

Over the years I’ve come to see that I react to a book for multiple reasons.

1) Book just isn’t my cup of tea. 

My wife likes Caol Ila single malt, I like Topo Chico mineral water. Anything as subjective as taste can’t be declared good or bad, it’s personal. My first dram of Laphroaig tasted like Listerine, a few years later it became smoky heaven in a glass. Then thirty years ago I realized I had to give up drinking or embrace a short life full of handcuffs and regret.

2) A book isn’t my cuppa, at this moment.


Taste changes over time. A book I don’t like today, may be just the book I fall in love with tomorrow. So I may stop reading after one page. I try not to write the book off for all eternity. I remember my son Jared at 10 asking me “Why can’t I see The Wild Bunch?” He knew it was an important film to me. I explained “You’re too young, if you see it now you’ll steal the experience from yourself of seeing it the first time when you’re ready for it.”

“I am ready.” He said, but I held my ground. 

When he was 14 I took Jared to see a restored print at Grauman's Chinese Theater. He got it. We had a great chat about Sam Peckinpah’s film-making style and his views on honor. We loved Pike’s line, “When you side with a man, you stay with him! And if you can’t do that, you’re like some animal, you’re finished! We’re finished! All of us!”

3) I’m in editor mode, so everything sucks.

When I’m editing a manuscript my brain switches from dreamy creative into hyper critic. I’ve told friends, “Don’t give me your WIP right now, I’ll hate it. I’ll either think it’s better than anything I can write, or worse, in either case I won’t like it.” 

Edit mode makes me a better writer, but a bad reader.

4) I’m in first draft mode, where my needs are very specific. 

When I was writing early drafts of Young Americans I could only read books written before 1976, the year the book is set in. I needed to keep my perspective in that time. I read newspapers from 1976. I listened to Bowie and Donna Summer. So if you’d handed me a modern book to read I might have chucked it. 

I also need to stay away from powerful voices when writing. Powerful, is a completely personal thing, meaning voices that I lean towards, and can change my own voice. James Crumley is fantastic, but reading him will pull my work into his cadence. I love Tom Waites, but can’t listen to him or my work takes on a be-bop vibe. On the other hand Jamie Mason has one of my favorite voices, but she writes in a completely different style from me, so I can read her without fear of it pulling my voice off  course. I have loved John Steinbeck since I was a teenager, but I have no fear of it changing my voice. I stay away from Hemingway when writing.


A page, a chapter, until I realize this isn’t the time for me and this book to meet up. I am aware I may never be at the right time and place to read some books. That doesn’t make them bad or poorly written. 

I’m trying to not define myself publicly or privately by what I don’t like. I’m trying to not yuck anyone else's yum.

“I like strawberry ice-cream.”

“Yeah, yummm. Chocolate's my favorite.”


“I love the Chief Inspector Gamache novels, Louise Penny is the greatest.”

“She’s fantastic. I’m reading Stephen Mack Jones' August Snow books right now, and I’m freakin loving them.”

I want to think in a less binary way about everything. Taste, like affectional orientation, or sexual identity is all on a spectrum, and they shift throughout our lifetimes.

What I don’t want to do is make any writer and by extension reader wrong or bad. Readers are my favorite people. They're deep thinkers. They're curious by nature. They travel freely around the universe gaining knowledge from all they discover. Taking cheap shots at other’s taste to prove how smart I am, won’t and it’s a waste of time that is better spent looking for points of intersection, sharing our common love of books. 

If you know me, then you know I sometimes fail to meet this ideal, but if you tell me you love a certain author and I say “Why? What about them do you like?” Don’t take this as criticism. I really am interested in how readers connect to books, what we enjoy and why. For a long time I only liked short concise books, other dyslexics may understand this. Neurodiversity isn’t just about writers, it’s also about readers. So, what makes you stop reading a book? More importantly, what is it that makes you fall in love with a book? 


Shameless self-promotion


Thursday, January 6, 2022

On The Day I Die, by Catriona

Q: When reading a book (or watching a movie or TV series), how long do you give it to grab you before giving up? Is your tolerance level different in the different mediums? Has it changed from where it was ten or even twenty years ago? How much of this tendency has to do with your reader/viewer self and how much is due to the writer self?  Do you wish you were different in this regard, and if so, how?

Sliding into homebase footfirst here with a late post - I came back to work after the hols this morning and so today feels more like Monday than any Monday could. Sorry. The long wait for basic competence enters another year.

Funnily enough, it's a timely question. This was my Christmas reading:

(amazing what you can get tnrough when you knock off on the 17th of December and don't go back till Epiphany, eh?)

It's the usual mix of "How did I miss this"? - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Girls of Slender Means - hot new releases I only just managed to save till the holidays - Billy Summers, The Heron's Cry - and delicious treaty bankers - Big Little Lies (how did I manage to miss this, mind you?), Rachel's Holiday (ditto).

I didn't give up on any of them. I never do on the couch at Christmas, with fairylights and mince pies. So I think the thing that makes me give up on books is definitely me, the non-Christmas me, twinkle-less and eating celery.

And I do give up on a few. Maybe a handful a year. I give them fifty pages and if I'm still checking to see what page I'm on at p.50 - buh-bye. Why? Because on the day I die the bookshops and libraries are going be full of wonderful books I haven't read. It's a no-brainer.

There are exceptions. I gave up on a book after the first sentence recently. It had a grammatical error in it. I gave up on a book once because the first word was a typo. But usually, fifty pages.

There are some books I would give up on if they were my first time with an author I love, who might be past their peak but are so much part of life that I will read every word until there are no more. I don't think anyone would argue that the blessed Mary Higgins Clark's final novels were the equal of her earlier work, but I couldn't have cared less and I wouldn't have missed them for a pension.

I'm quite a sticker when it comes to films. I've only walked out of two in my life. I tried to watch both of them again on the telly and still hated them, by the way. Eraserhead and The Prince of Tides. I could never tell you what my favourite film is but my least favourite is one of those two. And I watched the second Sex and the City. I'm no slouch when it comes to knuckling my way through dross and piffle.

Neil - husband and frequent fellow pictures go-er - has a simple test for a film. He asks himself if he'd rather have the twelve dollars back. He's been asking himself since it was "Would I rather have the  three pounds back" and the answer is hardly ever yes. He reckoned even Yellow Earth was worth it, back in 1984. Yellow Earth is Neil's Prince of Tides. He says he's made of sterner stuff than me because he stuck it out through all four hours. It's eighty-nine minutes long.

Happy New Year and may you have twelve months full of great books, wonderful films, and I haven't even talked about telly because this post is late and I need to get it up. But did you know all of The Repair Shop is on Amazon Prime now?


p.s. And now for the sales pitch: SCOT MIST is now out on Kindle (1st Feb, hardback) and SCOT FREE (book 1 in the series) is $1.99 for the month to get new readers started. Click here

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Should I stay...or should I go? by Cathy Ace

Q: When reading a book (or watching a movie or TV series), how long do you give it to grab you before giving up? Is your tolerance level different in the different mediums? Has it changed from where it was ten or even twenty years ago? How much of this tendency has to do with your reader/viewer self and how much is due to the writer self?  Do you wish you were different in this regard, and if so, how?

A: First of all, this is my chance to wish everyone good health and great happiness for 2022…so I send my best wishes to you and yours!

As for the question, it’s an interesting and complex one, and I’ve given it a good, long think…

As many of you who are regular readers will know, I use this blog as something of a confessional, so here’s today’s admission: I make up my mind about most things quite quickly. To be fair to myself, I’ll add that I’ve learned to TRY to be more patient than my instincts might otherwise dictate, so now give things like books, movies, and TV a little more time than I would naturally choose to do before I abandon them.

In all honesty it’s impossible to say how long I give a “thing” before I bail on it…it varies tremendously: I try to give a book long enough that I can come to terms with the rhythm of the author’s writing, and the nature of their voice – if I like those, I’ll keep going, even if the plot/characterization disappoints along the way, or at the end; a movie will keep me watching until I can tell that the plot/look/characterization is letting me down – I have, however, continued to watch an entire movie in which neither the plot nor the characterizations appeal to me simply because I enjoy the way it looks; for TV, if it’s a series I’ll give it maybe one and a half episodes, if it’s a mini-series maybe one episode, if it’s a one-off maybe a third of its running time.

Yes, this has changed since I started writing, because I get cross more quickly when the plot has gaping holes, or if the characters just aren’t up to snuff. My first book came out just a little less than ten years ago, so I can’t say if my increased impatience is to do with the passing of time or an insider’s view of constructing a story, but it’s probably a mixture of the two. I find that, for books, I use the Look Inside opportunity offered by Amazon, because I can usually tell by reading a sample if I want to spend a) my money and b) my time on the book in question…so that’s helpful. As for movies and TV, I don’t find trailers as useful, because sometimes they are so well edited that I think it’s going to make for good viewing, but it turns out that ALL the best bits were in the trailer, or that there’s a tension suggested there that isn’t conveyed by the actual movie/series, so I give it some time, then bail, or stick with it.


Do I wish I were different in this regard? Well, not really – I have so many other faults that I would attend to them first! But I do acknowledge that the mood I’m in when I “sample” something, or begin to read/watch impacts my level of like/dislike, so I’ve found that I return to books/movies/TV at different times and feel differently about them, which might also be a reflection of my age…I’ve always believed in second chances, and am living proof they can work out well, so – because I have benefitted so much from a second chance being given – I endeavor to do the same.

Have you tried one of my books from one of my series and it didn't appeal? Sorry about that - but let's just admit that not everything is everyone's cup of tea; it's true that you cannot please all of the people all of the time. But...if you'd like to give my work a second chance, you can find out all about it at my website: http://www.cathyace.com/

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Grab Me

When reading a book (or watching a movie or TV series), how long do you give it to grab you before giving up?     

From Frank

I used to be a completionist. If I started a book, I finished it. Same with a movie. Maybe not so much with a TV series but definitely an episode. And if I invested in it for a few of those episode, I was seeing it through.

No longer.

Now, if you don't grab me in a reasonable amount of time, I'm gone. 

What's a reasonable time? Well...

Is your tolerance level different in the different mediums? 

I think so. If you're a movie, the first fifteen minutes better be interesting. A TV show, I'll usually give it one episode. If it's a video game, I'll go an hour. A book? You get one chapter, pal. One. If I'm not still interested after that, adios.

Has it changed from where it was ten or even twenty years ago?

Definitely. As I said, when I was younger, I hung in no matter what. No longer. I'd say this changed for me about a decade ago. Why? Read on.

How much of this tendency has to do with your reader/viewer self and how much is due to the writer self?

It's both, and more. The 'more' part is my changing philosophy on time. My time, to be precise. I'm 53 as I write this. When I was 23, I didn't really think about how much time I had left on this earth. That's a concept that has wormed its way into my consciousness in the last few years. So I don't want to waste time doing anything I don't love doing unless it's a necessity. 

As a consumer, my attitude is that there is so much content out there that I will never get to all of it that I will enjoy. So why spend any meaningful time with something I'm not enjoying. Move on and invest that precious resource of time into something worthwhile.

As a writer, I look at it this way: I'm held to a high standard by the reader. I have to grab the reader early, provide a compelling story, rich characters, and so forth. So there's no way I'm letting you off the hook. I'm not buying or reading your work if it doesn't meet that standard. Why should you get a free pass when the rest of us are working hard to toe the line?

Do you wish you were different in this regard, and if so, how? 

Absolutely not. I am wholly comfortable with this approach. And I don't buy into the complaint that some artists have expressed that this is about short attention spans or a need for instant gratification. It isn't. I'll watch a three-hour movie if it grabs me. I'm in the middle of reading a fantasy series that is currently eight books (I'm on number seven). I recently finished the entire run of Justified and by the time this post goes live, I'll have binged Deadwood. I don't have a short attention span nor do I need instant gratification.

But I do need quality. It is my time, after all, and my subjective preference. 

Note that I fully endorse the YMMV doctrine at the same time, so anyone else is free to approach things however they prefer. This works for me and I'm unapologetic for it. That doesn't mean I expect anyone else to adopt it (although I suspect I am in no way unique).

We live in a world where people sometimes seem to resent people having different opinions. I say, take 'em as they come. You're a completionist? Salud. You're more along the lines of my approach. Also salud.

And if I didn't grab you with the first paragraph of this post, and you're not even reading this final line:  well, good for you. I feel ya.

Monday, January 3, 2022

So many books, so little time

 Q: When reading a book (or watching a movie or TV series), how long do you give it to grab you before giving up? Is your tolerance level different in the different mediums? Has it changed from where it was ten or even twenty years ago? How much of this tendency has to do with your reader/viewer self and how much is due to the writer self?  Do you wish you were different in this regard, and if so, how? 

- from Susan

 Less and less time, no matter what medium. 

I started stockpiling books in my 40s against the imagined day when I would be completely housebound from old age. I have a fairly impressive, multi-room library and have only read about two thirds of the books in all genres, fiction and non-fiction. A number of already-read books are so admired that I intend to read them again in my dotage (wishful thinking?). I browse for fresh reads, greedily fingering the spines as if they were varieties of Sees chocolates. Periodically, my habit forces me to cull some books to make room for tastier volumes. Today, it’s restocking some Joan Didion essays that I read and passed along ages ago. Watching the documentary about her and reading some trenchant reviews of her work, I think I plan to revisit it. 

 All of this – I refuse to see it as hoarding – means I have zero tolerance for books that don’t engage me pretty quickly. If they’re fiction, I now quit at about 50 pages if it’s been heavy slogging or eyebrows raised in disbelief at the characters or plots. I don’t mind slow as long as the author has me in her capable hands for the journey. If it’s non-fiction and I realize the dive into science or history is too deep for me to follow after about four chapters, I acknowledge to myself that I’m not going to get a passing grade in that topic. 

It’s more dramatic with movies and TV/streaming material. Most of that, if it even engages my interest by looking at the trailer or seeing the snippets that the streaming services push at me, is dead to me within ten minutes. Ninety-nine percent of rom-coms, so-called comedies, “family” fare…just no. Bad writing, bad acting, trite plots, mediocre directing. I do not have enough time left on this planet to waste on tripe. I graze, then give up, grumbling about why I spend money on streaming services anyway when I could be reading. The why is that every so often something surfaces that I love.My fallbacks for visual storytelling are the small, highly curated DVDs and streaming purchases that I enjoy so much that I screen them at least once a year. The newest among them, to give you an idea how picky I am, is “Moonlight.”

Was I always like this? Probably not. Until a few years ago, I seemed to have more patience with run of the mill fiction, especially in the genre I also write in. But the more I write, the more I read crime fiction – everything from soft to seriously hardcore – the more I understand about what makes a good book shine. I want to leave room for those and respectfully set aside the rest, honoring the work that went into them and the author’s pride, but saving space in my personal library for the works that I fantasize will sustain me, enlighten me, challenge me, make me laugh or cry to the end.