Authors behaving… like human beings

So there is yet another author who got upset over a bad review and blogged about it, and readers who were angered by an author telling them how to review.  I’m not going to link to the disaster.  But I do have some things to say about this issue.

  1. I hate the distinction between “readers” and “writers.”  It’s a false dichotomy.  Every writer is also a reader.  Not every reader wants to be a writer, but many do.  The distinction is muddy, and this isn’t a conflict it’s possible to take sides on.  Unfortunately, it’s still a real conflict, and it’s difficult to talk about it without saying “readers” and “writers” (or “authors”).
  2. Self-publishing has it’s upsides and its downsides.  On the upside, it’s allowing a lot of talented people who can’t get into the hallowed halls of traditional publishing to get their work out to the world.  Some of them are brilliant, but they weren’t writing what publishers thought would sell.  On the downside, it also allows people with little talent or skill to put their work out there.  And this has caused a lot of readers (not all) to think writing doesn’t require any skill or talent, and to view our profession with derision.  They no longer think books are worth paying for, and they begin their relationship with a book on a note of hostility, already angered by the fact they had to spend money on “crap.”  This makes me very sad.
  3. Writers have no choice but to suck it up, when it comes to bad reviews.  It doesn’t matter if the review was nonsensical, it doesn’t matter if the reviewer hated the book for a stupid reason.  It doesn’t even matter if the reviewer didn’t read the book.  None of that matters.  Do you know why?  Because absolutely nothing a writer says in retaliation for a bad review will improve the situation.  It will make it worse.  Guaranteed.  Sure, a few people will rally to your defense, but just as many or more will attack you for it.  And it will cost you readers.  The worst thing to do with a bad review is draw everybody’s attention to it — people who would never have even glanced at the original review — and spew commentary about it all over the Internet.  Do you really want the first thing that pops up on Google when people search for you to be twenty blog posts about how whiny you are?  If you don’t care about people buying your books, fine, but if you do… take a breath, and let it go….
  4. Having said that, I am not on the side of readers who beat their chests and wail about Authors Behaving Badly whenever an author blogs about how hurt they are by a review.  There are two arguments I see over and over again:  1) Authors are “oppressing” readers, and 2) Readers have the real power, because they pay the author’s salary, so to speak.  The second argument is largely true.  Readers pay for our books or don’t pay for them, and that affects our income.  There are a number of authors out there who don’t really give a rat’s ass whether people buy their books — they’re in it for the art — but most of us do.  But that renders argument one invalid.  I cannot have power over someone and claim to be “oppressed” by them.  That’s nonsensical.
  5. Words are not “oppression.”  An author ranting about a review does nothing whatsoever to “oppress” the reviewer.  It’s just words.  The review was words, and the response was words.  Nobody’s freedom has been infringed upon — they both got to have their say, even if what they said was childish and inflamatory.  If anything, it’s the author who’s at a disadvantage, since an inflamatory blog post or response to a review on Goodreads can ultimately cost him or her income.  But I have little sympathy for people who equate hurt feelings with “oppression.”  As my friend and fellow author, F.E. Feeley, Jr. said in his much more ranty blog post today, that’s a “first world problem.”  There are people out there who are really oppressed.  This ain’t it.
  6. There’s no need to bring ridiculous levels of paranoia into this.  Yes, we’ve all heard the story about the author who flipped out and tracked down a reader at her home and then at work.  But have you heard the story about the reader who showed up at a book signing to splash ink on an author because her novel was “about her?”  Yes, whackjobs abound.  But these people don’t represent authors and they don’t represent readers — they represent whackjobs.  For the most part, authors don’t show up at reviewer’s houses and try to kick the door down, and readers don’t attack authors.  So chill.

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Happy New Year!

Cassini_NewYears_2010_fullHappy New Year!

The picture is actually from the NASA website, and was used for New Years in 2010, but I thought it was perfect, since it looks a lot like the cover of my novella Saturn in Retrograde.

2014 hasn’t been a bad year for me.  It was my first year writing full-time, and I saw two new novels published, along with two stories in the Gothika #1 and #2 series, as well as a story published for Brent Hartinger’s The Real Story Safe Sex Project, and a free story for the Love’s Landscapes event on Goodreads.  I’m also finishing the first draft of a new novel, and I’m about 2/3rds through another YA novel.

Not bad.

I don’t really know what to do for a New Year’s resolution.  Not that I really have to have one, but, you know… it’s traditional.  I’d love to lose some weight, but we all know how those resolutions tend to go.  I suppose a more practical resolution would be to increase my writing output.  I didn’t do too badly, but I tend to waste a lot of time on the Internet when I should be writing.  I often don’t get anything accomplished until the last couple hours of the day—then I crank.  That could definitely be improved.

I know a lot of people will say, “You shouldn’t worry about putting more out.  You need to worry about producing good stories first.”  Well, I do worry about producing good stories.  But the simple fact of the matter is, in order to make any money at this craft, you have to produce.  We don’t live in a society that favors artists of any kind.  A few make it to the top and bring in a lot of money, but most have to survive by having a large output.  The trick is to produce more and still have it be good.

So that’s my New Years Resolution: to write more without the quality of my writing suffering.

What’s yours?

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When nobody reads your writing

386200_2673280425520_1061443511_32785704_1832786642_n.jpgWhenever an article or blog comes out in which an author grumbles about lack of sales, as author Michael Henderson did in this recent article about Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, it’s common for people to slam them as whiners who don’t respect reader’s choices to buy other authors’ works, or worse, to claim it’s because their work is obviously inferior.

I don’t like this.

Michael Henderson will probably do just fine thanks to the boost his sales are likely to get from the article—he’s at least picked up one good review from it—but I’d like to address a few points:

  1. Amazon has over 3 million eBooks available.  It’s illogical to assume that any reader is able to go through that morass of brilliant and god-awful novels and decide which are good and which are not, in his or her opinion.  Readers — and that includes every author I’ve ever known — gather data from other readers they know, advertisements, reviews, and what-have-you to select books.  They also browse categories and look at blurbs and covers, but none of these techniques will ever give a reader more than the tip of the iceburg to choose from.  That’s just a statistical fact.
  2. Given what I said above, there is no way to correllate the quality of an author’s writing with how many books they sell, especially if we’re talking about the low end of the spectrum.  Nobody even knows what that means, frankly.  I often think a book is brilliantly written when nobody else seems to like it, and vice versa.  And it’s impossible for any reader to decide a novel is bad if he or she hasn’t read it.  Period.  So if an author’s book has only sold ten copies, it could mean the author can’t string two sentences together (as one reader claimed of Murder on the Mountain), but it could just as easily mean only ten people have read it and they don’t have a large enough influence over other readers to make the book take off.  Assuming a book is bad because it didn’t sell is just another form of blaming the victim:  “It happened to him because he did something wrong.  Therefore, it won’t happen to me, because I know what I’m doing.”
  3. Not all authors are good at selling themselves or their books.  The nature of the profession tends to attract introverts who prefer to be by themselves, writing or reading—not running around to cons and bookfairs chatting readers up, or even getting too social on social media.  Most new authors have no idea this is even part of the deal.  It’s like getting on a flight around the world, being yanked out of your seat, and shoved into the cockpit.  “Didn’t anyone tell you you’re the pilot?  Good luck!”

Having said all that, my advice to authors who aren’t selling well is this:  Don’t bitch about it.  Okay, you can grumble a little, but whatever you do, don’t attack popular authors and complain that their books are crap.  Don’t insist your own books are brilliant—that’s not for you to decide.  And don’t insult readers by claiming they have no taste.  Just realize they need to see you and your work before they can read anything you’ve put out, and the competition for reader attention is insane.

So get out there and be friendly!

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Mrs. Sutherland’s Eggnog Recipe – Redux

I posted this last Christmas, but I love the recipe, so I figured I’d post it again this year.

My story The Healing Power of Eggnog deals with a family torn apart by the mishandling of their son Will’s coming out, and their attempts to patch things up years later.  Will’s mother, Mrs. Sutherland, always does Christmas up big, with homemade cookies, cakes, pies, and everything else imaginable.  And of course, she always makes up a batch of quite potent eggnog.

eggnogAs much as she loves eggnog made with raw eggs, she really prefers it to be cooked.  We tend to associate cooked eggnog with the thick, syrupy eggnog bought in stores, but homemade eggnog isn’t nearly as heavy, and its sweetness can be controlled by the chef.  At it’s heart, it’s a custard, made from egg yolks, milk, and sugar—but drinkable!

You can cook this in a heavy saucepan directly on the burner, but I prefer a double boiler, or placing the saucepan in a slightly larger pan with inch or so of water in it.  This distributes the heat of the burner better, so you don’t have a hot spot where the nog starts to burn before it’s cooked.

Ingredients:

12 egg yolks
1 quart (4 cups) milk or 2 cups milk and 2 cups whipping cream
1 to 1 and 1/2 cups sugar , depending on your sweet tooth
1 or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (2, as might be expected, gives it a strong vanilla flavor)
nutmeg

Alcohol:

1/2 cup golden rum
1/2 cup bourbon (Southern Comfort)

Prepare a large pan or bowl of cold water you can set the pan you’re cooking into, when the eggnog is done on the stove.

Separate the egg yolks and place them in the double boiler, along with the sugar.  Whisk this together.  Then add 2 cups of the milk.  The tricky part about cooked eggnog is that it has to be stirred or whisked constantly while you bring the temperature up to the point where the hot custard coats the spoon, but not beyond.  This takes fifteen or twenty minutes, but you really just have to keep a close eye on it.  If you cook it too long, the egg starts to separate out of the liquid and this gives it a grainy feel.  It also works to use a cooking thermometer.  In that case, cook until the temperature reaches 160 degrees.  If necessary, you can strain it to remove any large bits of cooked egg.

Immediately mix in the remaining milk or whipping cream, and then set the pan into the bowl of cold water. Continue stirring until the eggnog is cool.  Add the vanilla extract and sprinkle in nutmeg to taste.

Alcohol:  The alcohol mix is an art form.  A good basic mix is half rum and half bourbon (Southern Comfort), which produces a mellower mix than just plain rum.  Using Irish whiskey in place of the Southern Comfort is a little more harsh, and of course a good scotch adds a distinctive—and strong—flavor.  Mrs. Sutherland also likes to add a splash of cognac, but not a lot.  Overall, a cup of alcohol mixed into four cups of eggnog produces a mix with a bit of a bite, but not so much alcohol that the eggnog is overwhelmed by it.  But of course that’s a matter of taste.

900x1350_TheHealingPowerofEggnog-FSThe Healing Power of Eggnog

Will Sutherland hasn’t been home to see his parents in four years—not since they reacted badly when he came out. This Christmas, he’s finally worked up the courage to go home, where he’s surprised to find they’ve taken in a boarder. Ryan Bennett is just a couple years younger than Will, cute, sweet… and openly gay. 

As Will deals with his jealousy of the man who’s been receiving the love and acceptance he was denied, Ryan finds himself falling for Will’s brooding good looks. But Ryan also suspects the Sutherlands may be using him as a pawn in their long-standing conflict with their son. Will this Christmas finally tear the family apart, or is there a chance they can put their hurt and anger behind them? 

A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2013 Advent Calendar package “Heartwarming”.

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Love Without the Words

Jamie Fessenden:

Some good advice from the Huffington Post, with some commentary from author Thorny Sterling. :-)

Originally posted on Thorny, Not Prickly:

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say “He never says he loves me” or “I always have to say it first.” I shake my head every time because, chances are, he’s saying it all the time. Just not with words.

The list below comes from Winifred M. Reilly’s article on Huffington Post, “25 Ways to Say ‘I Love You’ Without Saying a Word’ from the end of October. I’m sharing the full list as she wrote it, but adding some of my thoughts in bold, just because I can.

  1. Do the stuff neither of you wants to do. Someone has to call the plumber, resolve the mystery charge on the credit card, figure out what in the refrigerator is making that smell. Go ahead. Be the one. I think, for some, there are tasks we naturally gravitate toward and handle with ease. These tasks would be easy…

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Sex Positivity Blog Hop – My experience with slut-shaming

spbhbanner-3I’m posting today as part of the Sex Positivity Blog Hop created by Grace Duncan.  The idea behind it is for romance authors to share positive views about sex, as opposed to the negative views presented so often in the media and in our culture.  I’m a story-teller, so I prefer to discuss things like this as they relate to me personally, as part of the story of my life, rather than in the abstract.  And I’ll use kittens to illustrate my points, because… well, they’re cute.

To see the other stops on the blog hop, go here.

black catI’ve always had a very casual attitude toward sex—it’s fun and I enjoy it, but I’ve never connected it to love.  Love is how I feel about a very select few people in my life, including my husband, of course.  But sex?  I’ve had a lot of it.  Some of it was with friends, and some was with people I didn’t know.  I’ve tried nearly every position I can think of, and quite a few kinks.  Some of it was special, some of it was incredibly hot, some of it was awful.  But only when it was with someone I cared about deeply did it have any emotional power.

I’m not saying this is the way everybody should feel about sex, but it’s the way I’m wired.  Love is love, and sex is for fun.

It surprised me to learn, as I grew older, that some people found me disgusting because of this.  One of the most hurtful things that happened to me when I was dating was when I was on a second date with a man I was very attracted to.  We ended up back at my apartment, making out passionately on my bed.  I assumed this meant we would be having sex soon, so I joked, “I’ll warn you—I’m easy!”

386200_2673280425520_1061443511_32785704_1832786642_n.jpgHe jerked away and said in a disgusted voice, “I’m not!”  Then he left, and I never saw him again.  All calls to his number went unanswered.

I ran into more men like this over the years—men who initially found me attractive, but quickly dumped me when they found out I’d had a lot of sex in the past.  I was now “damaged goods.”  And because they saw me as worthless—certainly not as someone they could have a relationship with—to offer to have sex with them seemed to insult them.  “How dare you think I would stoop to having sex with someone like you?”

Once, when I went to look at an apartment, the landlord accosted me, pulling me into a dark room and yanking down my pants.  I didn’t want it—I was dating someone, at the time, and I found this man to be repulsive—so I struggled to get free of him, and ended up fleeing with one hand pulling my pants up as I ran.  I told my boyfriend about it that night, and he responded by sneering at me and saying, “That figures.  What did you do to encourage him?”

So, needless to say, by the time I met Erich, I was used to people thinking I was a “slut.”  It wasn’t so much that I thought badly of myself for my sexual history, but I was convinced I’d given up whatever chance I might have had for a permanent relationship.

kitten cuddleThank God for Erich.  Our first “date” was more of a geeky study group for two.  We were both interested in Old Norse, the language spoken by the Vikings, so we met at my apartment to go over some lessons.  When we got tired of that, we ended up making out.  I came onto him, and he didn’t play hard to get or act offended.  He acted as if he was lucky to have found me.  And I quickly realized I was lucky to have found him.

We’ve been together for thirteen years now.  We’ll be celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary this week, in fact.  During this time, Erich has always enjoyed hearing about the sexual antics I used to get up to in my youth.  He hadn’t been quite so adventuresome himself.  But whenever I mention how men used to make me feel there was something “tainted” about me for being so experienced, he pulls me into his arms and laughs.  “Then they missed out,” he tells me.  “I love hearing your stories.  I think they’re hot.”

So I may not be the type of guy every man wants to marry.  But that doesn’t matter anymore, because Erich wanted to marry me.

I wrote about some of this, fictionalized, in my novel Screwups.  What happened to Danny isn’t true—not for me, at least, though sadly it does happen to some high school students.  Some have committed suicide over it.  But his feelings of being sleazy and not good enough to be Jake’s boyfriend—of having screwed up his life—I understood all too well.  And many of the events that occur in the dorm really did happen to me, though of course I’ve inserted my fictional characters into them.  Eaton House did in fact have nude pizza parties, people chasing each other through the dorm naked, and residents posing nude in the lounge for art students.

One thing I left out of the novel was the time I streaked the dorm covered head to toe in nothing but marshmallow fluff.

Ah… good times….

To buy a copy of Screwups, look for it at Dreamspinner Press or Amazon.

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Filed under Bloghop, College, Contemporary, Jamie Fessenden, Life, Nudity, Sex, Sex Positivity

“The Book of St. Cyprian” – Part of the “Bones” anthology

The second Gothika anthology is coming out today!  This one is called Bones, and it features stories by Eli Easton, B.G. Thomas, Kim Fielding, and me, all based around the theme of voodoo.

Bones is 25% off from now until October 31st!

http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=5564

My story is called The Book of St. Cyprian and it’s a contemporary, somewhat lighthearted story about two teenage boys who bite off a little more than they can chew.  The tone of this story is pretty much YA, so don’t expect lots of raunchy sex.  Expect a horror story with a thread of sweet romance running through it.

Alejandro is the grandson of an old woman who runs a botanica—a shop that sells herbs, powders, and religious/magical supplies—in a largely Latino neighborhood in Manchester, NH.  When his grandmother (whom he calls “Abuela” (“grandmother”)) sends him to New Orleans, where a friend has recently passed away, he rescues a number of items from the man’s botanica there to send back home.

Alejandro2One of the items he uncovers is a copy of El Gran Libro de San Cipriano—”The Great Book of St. Cyprian.”  An old book of black magic, it was rumored to contain so much evil that to merely touch it endangered one’s soul.  According to magical tradition, the book is sealed in a wooden box wrapped in a chain and padlocked shut.

Alejandro knows Abuela would never allow the book to be in her shop, or even in her home, so he sends it to his friend Matthew for safekeeping.

MatthewMatthew isn’t Latino, but he’s been living in the neighborhood since he was thirteen, and he and Alejandro are best friends.  They would both like to be more than best friends, and that wouldn’t seem like much of a problem, since they’ve been out to each other for years.  But it’s a big step to take, and one that has the potential to destroy their friendship.

So they just stay… friends….

SpartacusThings come to a head when Matthew’s beloved pit bull pup, Spartacus, chews his way through the package Alejandro entrusted to his friend, unleashing a dark spirit that takes control of the animal.

At this point, I would like to assure everyone that I adore all dogs, including pit bulls.  Spartacus is loosely based upon my friend Carmella’s pit bull, Neela, who is extremely mellow and affectionate.  So this isn’t a story about how evil pit bulls are.  It’s a story about how Alejandro and Matthew work together to save their little buddy.

Older Mexican womenOh… and it’s also about how Abuela is not particularly amused by this mess her grandson caused.

Not at all….

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