What Makes A House A Home

July 28, 2013 at 5:45 pm (General) (, , )

Family is what makes a house a home, but when we don’t live with family, when we’re out on our own either by ourselves or with roommates, there are little things that make a place truly ours. Sometimes it’s making the first meal in the new kitchen, or hanging up the pictures, or putting out a collection.

For me, it’s setting up the library.

After the physical and mental stress of moving, there’s something incredibly soothing about the act of sorting, unboxing, organizing, and shelving the books that makes a place feel like mine. Having my hand on every single book, seeing them all correctly in place, that’s when a place becomes mine.

I’ve always called it the library, even when it was just a tiny stack of books on the floor. I’d tell my mom I was going to the library, and I’d go into the closet, close the door, and curl up in a nest of blankets with a book and a flashlight, and I’d disappear for hours. I’d go walking through wardrobes with the Pevensies, talk to animals with Daine in Tortall, or sail the high seas in Amy’s Eyes.

For the most part, though, books really were from the library, either the public ones or the school ones. Money was tight, and with as quickly as I read, books would have been a serious investment. But then when I was…fifteen? Almost fifteen? I earned some money for babysitting all day every day for two kids for two weeks. They were great kids, and we had a lot of fun. I’d read out loud to them after lunch, so the food could settle, and for the first time they were actually enjoying books, which was almost worth everything right there. Mom and I struck a deal- as long as I put a third of it into savings, I could spend the other two thirds however I wanted.

We made a trip to the bookstore.

Surprise, right?

But thirteen years later, I can still tell you which books I bought, because they were ones I had checked out from the library so often I almost had them memorized. Everything Tamora Pierce had out at that time, the full Belgariad and Mallorean series by David Eddings, plus the side books, whatever Brian Jacques paperbacks I didn’t have yet. I came home with two enormous bags of books, plus the materials for a little bookcase. I put it together completely by myself, and when I had it up and organized all the books and put them up, I just sat there in front of it and smiled.

Every time I move I tell myself I have too many books, but then I get them all up on the shelves and suddenly this brand new apartment, with everything else still in boxes, the still unfamiliar floor plan, becomes home.

I’m still in the middle of the current move, but it’s been plagued with daily heavy rains, so process has been somewhat slower than I’d’ve hoped. However, those rains have meant that I’ve had more time in the new place to organize and unpack as I go. Today’s rainy hours project was my YA books.

My books have been in storage since January, so in many ways it was like reuniting with old friends. Seeing trilogies completed by books that have come out in the past couple of months finally sit all together was awesome. I’m the type of nerd that loves to recognize patterns, so it’s fun to see where authors’ names cluster within certain letters. It’s a weird mix of having a lot of books by particular authors in those clusters and having a lot of different authors in those clusters, but I have a ton of books whose authors’ names start with C. And M. And R and S.

The Tamora Pierce books have been joined by more- since I bought Alanna and Daine’s sets, I’ve added Keladry’s, Aly’s, Beka’s, and the Circle Opens and Circle Reforged sets. She takes up a full shelf and a bit. My Cassandra Clare hardcovers take up most of a shelf, and I’m not sure if they look impressive or terrifying all lined up together.

Every book, though, as I sort it by letter, as I shelve it, I remember why I bought that book. Someone I trust told me it was amazing. The characters sounded incredible. The setting seemed unbelievable. I remember why I was intrigued enough to buy them and I remember what my reaction to them was.

And that’s what makes it coming home. These are the friends I escape to in bad times, celebrate with in good times. They take me away from my own world and I come back to understand it better. They challenge me, change me in ways I can’t always even encompass until years later.

Then there’s the fact that I got to put my own book up on the shelf for the first time. It sits right between Tara Hudson and Eva Ibbotson, and seeing it up there legitimately is MIND-BLOWING.

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Reviews, Impulses, and the Mental Censor Button

January 8, 2012 at 12:00 pm (General, Industry) (, , , )

So there’s been a kerfuffle recently (isn’t that a surprise). Bookalicious Pam has a good recap of it, including a link to the review and a screenshot of the rant that started it all. Long story short, a blogger posted a review of a book she disliked, the author freaked out on her, and the internet exploded.

It’s got a lot of people talking, mostly for the positive. A lot of what’s come out of this is authors reminding each other to cool their t**s and reviewers supporting each other. Plus the authors supporting the bloggers and the bloggers supporting the authors, which is one of the amazing things about the YA community. Sometimes the drama makes me feel like I’m back in high school, but the overall support system can’t be denied.

Last week I talked about my resolution-ish-type-things for 2012.

Now I’m going to talk about a few things that go deeper than resolutions and are meant for far more than the coming year.

Reviews are, when pared down to absolute bone and blood, opinions. Everyone who reads a book forms an opinion about it. Some of us share those opinions with friends, or with customers, or with people in a book club. Some of us share them with the internet. Sometimes we gush, sometimes we skewer, sometimes we analyze, we go over books in every possible way, but the method of sharing never changes the fact of what we’re sharing: opinions. Everyone is entitled to them, and everyone is entitled to share them.

It is an actual impossibility for every person to love or even like every book they read. Anyone who says they’ve never disliked a book obviously hasn’t read enough at all. People who read inevitably find books they don’t like. Maybe even books they hate. Books that leave them with a lingering sense of ‘meh’. This is a thing called “life”. Just as everyone won’t want to be your friend, not everyone will love every book.

And for authors, this can be heart-wrenching. By the time a book gets into our hands as readers, authors have put their blood, sweat, and tears into the thing for years. This is their brain-child, their baby. This is all the most vulnerable pieces of themselves, bound and packaged for your convenience. When an author puts a book on the shelf, it’s like tearing their heart out of their chest and putting it on display.

And as readers, we judge that.

We judge the books, evaluate them for merit. We compare them to other books by that author, to other books by other authors. We compare them to our expectations, to the hype, the reviews. We compare and we judge.

THE BOOKS.

A good reviewer, a good blogger, judges THE BOOKS. Not the author.

A review, even a negative one, is not a judgement about the author personally. We may mention something publicly available about the author (like the fact that Maureen Johnson is absolutely crazy in the best possible way on Twitter) but we are not addressing their worth as a person. We are not insulting them, we are not challenging them, we are not stomping all over them. We’re talking about the book.

I hate Wuthering Heights. Hate it with a passion, and I can go on and on and on about all the reasons I hate that book. One of my best friends from high school? LOVED IT. As I Lay Dying? I loathed it. She put quotes from it all over her backpack. She and I had differing opinions about pretty much everything we read for classes. Even the ones we both liked we liked for different reasons. Same for the ones we both disliked. And we’re just two people. Here’s the thing, though: when I told my junior English teacher that Going After Cacciato wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on, I wasn’t saying anything about Tim O’Brien. When the only thing that made me finish House of Spirits was the very real need to get a good grade in that class, I wasn’t leveling insults at Isabel Allende. Maybe a few at my teacher for making me read it. None at the author.

I read a lot of books. A LOT. Between new reads, re-reads, and manuscript reads, I read almost 300 books last year, in addition to a full time job, starting the blog, and researching/writing/editing/querying. I do a review a week. The math isn’t difficult- I read a hell of a lot more books than I review here. I pick and choose what I review, and because of that, I’m able to make a few choices about what I want to review.

For the most part, the books you’ll see reviewed on here are ones that I liked, really liked, or loved. I don’t tend to do negative reviews for a very simple reason: with all the books that I enjoyed to talk about, why would I waste my time talking about books I didn’t like? I’m a reader and a writer, but I’m also a bookseller: when I’m talking about books at work, it’s generally for the purpose of making a sale. I’m not going to try and convince someone not to buy a book.

Well, sometimes, but usually only because I’d rather they not give an eight-year-old a book with a graphic blowjob in the first sixty pages. And then I hand them a different book.

When I do a negative review, I try to make sure it’s balanced, not just because I like to be fair but also because if I’m spending the time on writing a negative review, it’s because there were other pieces that I really, really liked. Because I really wanted to love the book and there parts that did win that love, which made it all the more frustrating that I encountered pieces that didn’t work for me. A recent example of this? Legend, by Marie Lu. I really wanted to love that book and there were a lot of things about it that I do love, and because of that I hold it to a more exacting standard.

It’s that whole school thing again. A teacher expects more out of the students who routinely work hard and get good grades. A student who always gets Cs? It’s not going to cause any surprise or unexpected or strong emotion in the teacher. A student who always gets As and then gets a C? Then the teacher isn’t just surprised- they’re disappointed. Because they expected more. Because they know everything that student has to offer, because they’ve seen it before. Because they expect to see it again.

I don’t do many negative reviews. There are so many other books to talk about that I just don’t spend the time on negative reviews unless I can give equal attention to the things that blew me away, not just the things that disappointed me.

That’s a personal choice, and I fully respect the choice of others to do negative reviews. I learn a lot from other people’s negative reviews. And the thing about a negative review is that it doesn’t necessarily stop me from reading a book. Sometimes if a person’s general taste runs counter to mine, I find that what they dislike I’ll probably like, and vice versa. Sometimes the dislike comes down to a specific point that I don’t mind. There are only two conditions that lead me to not read a book based on a review:
1. It’s one of a slew of reviews, from people whose taste I generally trust, that all dislike the book. Maybe it’s just that there’s comfort in numbers, but if a number of people I usually agree with don’t like it, chances are decent that I won’t either, and I’d rather put my time towards books I’m probable to like.
2. I’m already waffling on the book. If I’m looking into a book and I’m leaning more towards not reading it, a negative review is only reinforcing the idea I already have. It’s not planting the seed.

When I post a negative review, I’m still only talking about the book. When I discussed what I didn’t like about Legend, I wasn’t calling Marie Lu any names. I was not making rude comments about her antecedents or background. I wasn’t being personal. It’s just about the book, and about my reaction to it.

And not everyone will agree with it. I understand that and more, I respect that. Even more, I like that. What a boring place book communities would be if everyone thought the same things! So when I post a review on Mastiff and people comment about how they really didn’t like Farmer, I’m not taking that as an insult on my ability to review. It’s not that I’m wrong. It’s not that the commenter is wrong. Guess what, there’s isn’t a right or wrong answer with this kind of thing. Sometimes a comment agrees with me and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s fine either way.

As long as the comment isn’t an attack about me or the author.

There are people who can skewer books so thoroughly I can’t safely drink anything in front of the computer for fear of sneezing soda over the keyboard and screen. Cleolinda, for example, whose Twilight recaps make me giggle and snort in public, can be absolutely merciless when it comes to the books. THE BOOKS. I lack the talent to be that funny so I don’t try. I stick to what I do well, which is talk about books I love.

If it’s a review I’m proud of, on a book I loved, I’ll usually tag the author on Twitter. They’ll either read it or they won’t. If it’s a less than glowing review, I don’t tag them. Why would I? That’s just being hateful. But remember the whole “book as baby” concept; just as mothers really love to hear that thier children are cute and wonderful, authors really love to hear that people enjoyed their books.

But every time an author clicks on a link to a review, it’s a crap shoot. Positive? Negative? Fun? Mocking? Glowing? Hateful? An author never knows what they’re going to get if they click on that link. Being an author, being published, doesn’t change the fact that an author is a person, with all the normal instincts and reactions as all the other people. It doesn’t matter that the negative things are being said about the book; it’s still their baby, and it still hurts. An author is a person with feelings that can get hurt by what we have to say.

But an author is also a step removed from a person, in that an author is also a business. People who review books? Buy books. People who read reviews? Buy books. As readers, we are directly playing into the continued life of an author’s career. As a business, authors cannot publicly rant about bad reviews. Not convinced? Check out the fairly recent drama with Ocean Marketing. It’s the oh-holy-hell-I-probably-shouldn’t-be-laughing-but-this-is-unfrickingbelievable story of a man who decided to piss all over someone buying his product. And, of course, given that this takes place in the real world in which we live, it’s also about the consequences of such an act.

Authors are a business, a name brand and a product and a public image. They’re still people, but ranting and pissing and moaning about negative reviews? Need to be private. Not public.

Because the simple truth is, reviews aren’t written to flatter the author. That’s what Twitter is for, to gush and to compliment. That’s what events and signings are for, to be able to walk up to an author and say how much you love their book. To them. Reviews are meant to share opinions about a book, and they’re meant for other readers. They’re meant for people who may not have heard about a particular book, who may be curious about the book, people who aren’t sure whether or not they want to read a book, people who want to talk about a book they’ve read. Reviews are for readers and for booksellers. Not for authors.

As a reviewer, do I love when an author reads my review and likes it? ABSOLUTELY. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like a Hallmark card. But I’m not writing the review for the author. I’m writing the review because I have an opinion to share about a book, because I want to share that opinion with fellow readers, and because I hope other people with share their opinions with me.

As a writer, I understand the pain of negative reviews. I’ve gotten negative reviews for fanfic, and some of those negative reviews are so badly written they’re practically a joke, easy to brush off, but the ones that are even-keeled and calm, the ones that are well-written and intelligent and well supported from the text…those can hurt. Even if the person isn’t being hateful. It hurts when someone doesn’t like what you’ve labored so long and so hard to create. When someone dislikes something you’ve put your whole heart into, it feels like they’re disliking you personally.

But it’s NOT PERSONAL.

And shooting off at the mouth as if it was- ranting and insulting a blogger who may have just put hard-earned money towards your book- is the same as telling people you don’t want them to buy your book.

In retail, one of the first things we’re taught is the Rule of 3 and 30. The average person who has a fantastic, amazing, above and beyond customer service experience in your store? Will tell three people. The average person who has a crummy, insulting, or generally negative customer service experience in your store? Will tell thirty people. And in the age of facebook and blogs and twitter, that can quickly multiply to hundreds or thousands. People talk more about the bad experiences than the good ones.

So when an author rants about a blogger who gave their honest opinion about a book (and in my opinion, wasn’t hateful or inappropriate at all), the end result isn’t that people think that blogger must be wrong.

The end result is that people think that author is an asshole. And then choose not to buy that author’s books.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Everyone is entitled to share that opinion, and while it could certainly be hoped for that people will share that opinion politely, it’s not mandatory.

Reviewers are allowed to write and post a negative review.

Authors are allowed to feel hurt by a negative review.

But take a moment, take a few deep breaths, and conquer that impulse to rant and rave about it in a public space. Call your best friend, your parents, your significant other. Write a journal entry. Bake a cake and write the words in frosting. But keep the reaction in a private space.

I call it my Mental Censor Button.

It’s the thing that keeps me from getting fired. When I have a PITA customer, the Mental Censor Button is the thing that keeps me from informing them that they’ve just made my day hell. The censor button is what allows me to smile (however strained it may be) and tell someone to have a nice day in a voice that at least approaches sincerity. it’s the thing that lets me bite my lip against cracking an inappropriate joke when someone doesn’t realize how they just misspoke. It’s the thing that lets me be polite and sociable, it’s the thing that lets me give stellar customer service even to the people who piss me off beyond the ability of words to describe.

And it’s something we all need.

So I’m making you a promise: my reviews will never attack an author. Whether I love the book or hate it, my review will always be focused ON THE BOOK. No matter what I think of the final product, I respect the time and effort that went into crafting it, and I respect the author for having the courage to put it out there, for having the determination and drive to pursue their goal past all the obstacles. I respect the strength it takes to put themselves out there. I respect that, whatever my opinion, it is just one opinion, and that there will be others who disagree with me. I respect the opinions of my fellow bloggers, whether I agree with them or not, and I respect a person’s right to post a negative review.

Fortunately, this is the standard. The drama happens because one or two or a handful of people on either end misbehave, but we’re lucky to be part of a community that, for the most part, fully embraces the wide range of opinions and the right of people to express that in whatever way they choose.

And I’m grateful for it.

Until next time~
Cheers

Added 1.10- a really good, insightful post about the author/reviewer positions on Dear Author.
-a fabulous post by Veronica Roth over on YA Highway.

Added 1.11- Stacia Kane weighs in from an author’s side of things as well, in a series: Something in the Water; Freedom of Speech ; and I’m Not a Reader

Added 1.17- a post from Maggie Stiefvater in response to the Guardian’s ridiculosity.
-Cleolinda’s take on reviews
-a rather hysterical take on the drama- TONGUE IN CHEEK– sarcasm doesn’t always come across in writing, so please don’t think this author is actually advocating the behaviors portrayed.

Added 1.20- a post from Lisa Schroeder

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The Discipline To Get Things Done

March 23, 2011 at 12:06 am (Writing) (, , , , )

The other day I mentioned that- in addition to math- fanfiction claimed a great deal of credit for turning me from a distracted scribbler to a writer who actually gets things done. To some this may sound strange; after all, isn’t fanfiction written by people who can’t come up with their own worlds and characters? Those poor people who can’t write their own stories, and so have to piggyback on someone else’s success?

Not so much.

I was introduced to fanfiction by a friend who wrote it as a stress relief through pre-law and law school. Some of her stories were silly and funny as anything, some heart-wrenching, and some truly epic tales that were full novels in their own right. They were well-paced, well-plotted, and wonderfully written, but they were still fanfiction- which means there was absolutely no pressure to try to publish past posting them online. There were purely for fun, for stress-relief, for the sake of curiosity.

That’s really what most of fanfiction is: the ultimate “what if”. Yes, there’s some degree of people wanting to put themselves into the story, but most is curiosity. People love the books (or whatever the source material is) so much that they keep thinking about them and wonder what would happen if. What if Prim had gone to the Hunger Games? What if Cassia never looked at the microcard? What if Voldemort had won? Or even something more simple: what if Ron had danced with Hermione at the Yule Ball? They start with a question (or an argument), grow into a train of thought, and then mature into a story so entranced with the original author’s creations that we can’t help but play in their worlds.

On its own, fanfiction might not have much of an effect. Within a community, however, oh holy hell. As soon as you post a story, you have readers- you have feedback. Granted, at least three-quarters of this feedback is absolutely useless as far as constructive critiques go. They’re nice to see, because they’re usually gushing about loving it, but it doesn’t actually tell you anything helpful. then there are the other ones, the reviews that speak very specifically to what works for them and what doesn’t, what they love, the way you write, comments on aspects of story and character. If you have someone step too far ooc (out of character, for the less privileged geeky), or break a basic rule of the world, people are up in arms about it in the reviews. If your story isn’t going anywhere? They’ll let you know. Have an annoyingly perfect character who represents everything you could possibly want to be? Reviewers are not at all shy about calling shenanigans on a Mary Sue.

They also want the rest of the story, they want it now, and they’re not shy about demanding asking for it. THIS was what made fanfiction so invaluable to me. As soon as I posted a chapter, I had people hounding me for the next one. I actually had to write every day to keep up with these bizarre new things called goals. I was posting a chapter about every week- every other week on some of the more complicated ones, or when real life intruded- and if I started slacking off, I had people on my ass about it. It was incredible! I was actually finishing stories, for pretty much the first time ever. Not short stories for class assignments, but novel-length projects.

It created a sense of discipline. I set goals and actively worked to meet them. Before, I had notebooks galore full of started stories that I could never manage to finish before I jumped to a different idea, a different obsession and fascination. It was a lot harder to do that when I’d get daily emails asking me why the next chapter wasn’t up yet.

The more unexpected benefit was a matter of style. Before fanfiction, my writerly voice (I don’t care if it’s not a word, I’m using it anyway) jumped all over the place based on what I was reading or watching or even just the kind of mood I was in. Strangely enough, readers expect this thing called consistency. They allow for how a voice has to change across different projects, but within a single story, they want an identifiable voice. If they don’t feel like they’re getting one, they’ll flat out ask if you’re actually a group writing under a single name. Which…can get kind of embarrasing if you see it more than once.

There have been other benefits to writing fanfiction, too- you have to really study the characters and the world to do them justice, you learn to pay attention to the bigger picture, and (in my case) learn about these bizarre contraptions called chapters- but discipline and style were, for me, the most significant. I know time, experience, reading habits, and supposed maturity have all gone into my growth as a writer as well, but looking back on what I did before fanfiction and what I’ve done since shows a staggering difference. I don’t write it anymore because I’ve been focusing on original ideas, but I still get the what if’s and I have to admit, I really kind of miss it. Not just the writing but the reading- there is some amazing stuff out there.

There’s also a painful amount of crap, but hey, with practice comes improvement.

…usually.

There are, however, boundaries that should be respected. If you read or write fanfiction, PLEASE DO NOT forward them on the source authors. Yes, fanfiction is a form of flattery, and yes, many of them have said they wrote fanfiction where they were younger, but they are not legally allowed to know it exists. Most publishing contracts require authors to protect their copyrights, of which posted fanfiction is technically a violation, even if you don’t seek any renumeration from it. Most of the time this can balance out in a don’t ask don’t tell situation: if you don’t bring it to the attention of the authors or publishers, they’re not going to actively seek you out. No worries. There’s also a basic respect thing in not telling the author how you think someone else did their idea so much better.

The other piece of that is the fear that something an author writes may be ever-so-slightly similar to a story a well-meaning fan sends them, even if the author never read the story, and grievous trouble can ensue. Just…don’t do it, y’all. Be happy with your fan base online, acknowledge the source material, but leave the author of it.

Still, fanfiction is an amazing way to practice your writing, to try out new techniques, or even just experiment. The feedback is helpful (well, some of it), and the simple fact of getting things written on a regular basis, creating that sense of discipline, is invaluable.

It certainly was for me.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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