Monthly Archives: June 2011

How to keep writing when people tell you you suck

Overall, the reviews for We’re Both Straight, Right? have been positive.  But there have been a few readers — there always are, I suppose — who don’t like the story.  And even though I know, intellectually, that bad reviews are inevitable, it’s hard to shake them off.

The most recent one seemed to be implying that I wrote a cheap imitation of another book by a popular author, and people should just go read that book instead.  Of course, I’ve never read that book myself.  If I was “copying” anyone, it would have been Kevin Smith, but really I was inspired by porn clips I’ve seen online of supposedly straight college guys masturbating on film for money.  It seemed like a fun idea for a story, and several readers have agreed.

Even if this other story is mind-blowingly brilliant, is that a good reason to tell people not to “waste their time” with my story?  They’re both short novellas, for god’s sake!  It would take someone an evening to read mine.  What if someone reads this other story and says, “Boy, that was great!  I wish I had another story like it to read.”?  Well, then, they can read my story!  I know I do that all the time — finish something I really like, then immediately go looking for another story that’s similar.

And who knows?  Maybe they’d like it.  Yes, I know it’s the job of a reviewer to give other potential readers some idea of whether a story is worth reading or not.  But there’s a difference between “I didn’t think this was funny,” or “I found Larry to be pretty offensive,” and “I liked this other book better — go read that.”

That’s just crass.

Then there’s the other 2-star reviewer who not only didn’t get it the first time, but felt he absolutely had to go back and expand upon his review to try to convince other people to completely misinterpret the motivations of the characters.  Let’s go ahead and spread that misinformation like a virus.  Why not?

So my fellow authors at Dreamspinner have all been through this with their own books, and they keep telling me to take a deep breath and ignore the critics.  They know that isn’t easy to do, of course.  But there’s nothing else to be done, really.

It can be very difficult to keep plugging away at your current novel or story, when people are making bitchy comments about your published works.  It takes a lot of self-confidence to be able to keep writing, when there are people out there telling other readers not to bother with your stuff, and writers tend to be insecure by nature.

As Erich is fond of telling me, whenever I’m upset at the world, “I want you to take a deep breath.  Then I want you to imagine a glowing circle of white light surrounding you.  And in that circle of white like, you can see several tall spikes.  And on top of each of the spikes, you can see the severed head of one of your enemies…

“There.  Doesn’t that make you feel better?”

NOTE:  I don’t really collect severed heads.  But here’s an interesting bit of trivia — the ancient Celts had a word for “pile of heads outside my front door”.  It was, in Latinized spelling, “cenar.”  Have I mentioned that Erich and I make horror films for a hobby?

NOTE 2:  I got a 4-star review for We’re Both Straight, Right? today on Goodreads, so I’ve calmed down somewhat.

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“Meet the Author” chat with Jamie Fessenden (me) at Goodreads on Saturday!

Tomorrow (Saturday, June 25th), I have a “Meet the Author” chat scheduled on Goodreads, from 1pm to 6pm EST.  Basically, I’ll be hanging out there, waiting to answer any questions people might have about my stories or life as a famous soon-to-be-fabulously-wealthy author. 

If you’d like to join me, follow this link and click on the chat with my name on it.  You’ll have to register with Goodreads, but it’s free and it’s not a bad site to have an account on, anyway, if you like to read.

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Filed under Christmas, Cyberpunk, Drama, Fantasy, Japanese, Mystery, Occult/Paranormal, Romance, Victorian, Viking, Writing, Young Adult

“We’re Both Straight, Right?” gets a B+ at Brief Encounters!

After a wave of (in my opinion) rather toxic user reviews on the Goodreads site, which I’ll get to in a bit, We’re Both Straight, Right? received a B+ at Brief Encounters!  You can read the entire review here.

So, what do I mean by “toxic” reviews?  Well, I certainly don’t mean that people aren’t entitled to dislike my story.  The first couple bad reviews I got, I just shrugged off.  But then someone posted a review that used the word “coerced.”  She disliked the story, she said, because Larry was coercing Zack into these sex games.  Then later, Zack and Larry allow the porno director to coerce them into doing things and she found that to be “sick.”

This was upsetting.  But clearly this reviewer just didn’t “get” the story.  I don’t generally believe in engaging people who dislike your stories (or films), but this review seems to be having an impact on reader perception of the story.  Since she posted it, three or four other readers have mentioned the same reason for disliking the story, whereas the reviews had never mentioned that point at all in the first two weeks that the story was out there.  It really upsets me to think that some people may be forming a negative opinion of the story before reading it. 

So, even though this is just going out to the people who read my blog, I feel that I should at least address the issue of character motivation in the story.  At least, as I see it.

WARNING:  If you haven’t already read We’re Both Straight, Right?, there might be some spoilers below.  I tried not to give too much away.

At no point is Larry coercing Zack into anything.  He states quite clearly what he wants and that Zack doesn’t have to go along with it — but he wishes Zack would.  That’s not coercion, in my book.  That’s laying it all out on the table.  If Zack feels guilty and goes along with it because of that, as the reviewer seemed to be implying, well then, he’s being foolish.  But he’s not being coerced.  Are friends never allowed to tell each other that they would like to have sex?  Becuase I can’t really conceive of a way of doing that without the possibility of someone feeling guilty, if they reject the advance.

The other implication here is that Larry knows that he’s making Zack feel guilty, and is using that to manipulate him.  This is simply incorrect.  Larry is socially inept and not really capable of manipulating anybody.  Self-centered, perhaps, but not manipulative.  He’s basically a big dumb ox — a bit on the crude side, but incredibly loyal and devoted to his best friend.  I knew he would be a bit of a hard sell, when I wrote the novella.  Some of us love guys like that; some of us don’t.  But the one thing he is not, is conniving and manipulative.

As far as the porno director goes, he lays it out when they arrive, telling them what sex acts he’s paying them for.  When Zack realizes that there was some miscommunication and they won’t get all of the money without going “all the way,” well, that’s not coercion, either.  That’s negotiation.  He has the option to just take the pay for the sex acts he’s comfortable with, or push himself a little further to get all of the money.  It’s his decision, and nobody is forcing him to do anything.

I worked very hard to have my characters communicating throughout the story, rather than rely on misunderstandings for comedy, as so many bad sitcoms and films do.   When Zack and Larry get angry with each other on occasion, they may brood for a while, but then they talk about what’s bothering them and try to find a solution they can both be happy with. 

To my mind, that makes them good for each other.

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Channeling Dan Brown

Well, not really.  The only Dan Brown novel I’ve read was his first, Digital Fortress, and I wasn’t exactly blown away by it.  I am, however, a fan of the film adaptations of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.  And the occult thriller I’m working on has some things in common with those films — in particular, the piecing together of obscure clues in ancient occult documents and a monastic setting (of sorts). 

There, the similarity probably ends.  Murderous Requiem (my novel) doesn’t have much action.  I’m actually one of those freaks who finds action sequences dull in both novels and films.  Putting the pieces together is what I loved in Da Vinci Code — the action sequences just interrupted the interesting stuff, in my opinion.  I do have a bit of action planned when the hero confronts the killer, but the story is more brooding and mysterious (I hope) than “thrilling.”

Whereas Dan Brown has been making a name for himself by dredging up things the Catholic Church would rather not see dredged up, then putting them together in bizarre ways, my novel is centered around an enclave of ceremonial magicians, loosely modeled on the writings of Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawn. 

The research is a blast, connecting the works of Plato (5th -4th century B.C.), Marcilio Ficino and Johannes Ockeghem in the 15th century, John Dee and Ned Kelley in the 16th century, and, of course, Crowley and the Golden Dawn in the 19th and 20th centuries.  I’m digging into Plato’s Theory of Forms, theories of the bodily humors in the Renaissance, Ficino’s theory of musical influence on the soul,  and John Dee and Ned Kelley’s channeling of the language they called “Enochian” — the angelic first language, which Dee claimed was spoken in the Garden of Eden. 

This type of research can go on forever, of course.  But I learned long ago that you can generally write the story, if you have the major points of your research laid out.  The details can always be used to polish later, and rarely change the story drastically, so not having the research completed is no excuse for not writing.  Anyway, I read about all of these things when I was a college student, so I have a general idea what I’m talking about, even if the details are fuzzy. 

I’m at about 40,000 words now.  I’m shooting for at least 60k with this one, because I’m hoping Dreamspinner will publish it and I’ll get a paperback out of it.  This is assuming it doesn’t come out to be a boring, incomprehensible piece of crap. 

If that happens, I’ll submit it to Hollywood.

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“The Dogs of Cyberwar” has been accepted for publication by Dreamspinner!

Some of you may recall that I finished a short novella about a virtual reality “netrunner” and his bodyguard, and I submitted it to Dreamspinner about two months ago.  Well last night, at just a little past midnight, I received a contract for it in my Inbox!

This will make my fourth story published through Dreamspinner, and I’m beginning to feel like a “real writer” now. 

“What,” you might ask, “would it take for you to actually feel like a ‘real writer,’ Jamie?”

Well, I think the next step is to get a full-length novel published.  To date, only The Christmas Wager approached novel length.  By some definitions, it was a novel, at 47,000 words.  But Dreamspinner defines a novel as 60,000 words or more, and a story that’s at least that long also gets a paperback edition.  Imagine holding a paperback of your novel in your hands!

So that’s my new goal: a 60k-plus-word novel submitted by the end of the year.

I have two nearly finished novels, already:  Seidhman and By That Sin Fell the Angels.  But Dreamspinner isn’t the publisher for either of those.  Seidhman is YA and By That Sin Fell the Angels isn’t really a romance.  I still have no idea where to submit either of these novels.

However, I’m halfway done Murderous Requiem, the novel I started for last year’s NaNoWriMo.  I began it with Dreamspinner in mind and I still think it will be perfect for them…as soon as I finish it.  Since last November, it’s undergone some revision and tightening, which is all well and good, but it really needs to start moving forward now.  I know what the next few scenes are, so I just need to sit down and write them.

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Filed under Cyberpunk, Romance, Writing

Reviews, Readers and Fart Jokes

After receiving a very nice review from Lasha at Jessiewave, and seeing the reader comments that have gone by on Goodreads, I’m beginning to see a pattern emerging.  In an online chat about M/M erotic romance not long ago, someone asked if characters burping and farting was acceptable in these stories.

I don’t recall a consensus being reached.  Some writers/readers felt that it was disgusting and others thought it could be funny.  Well, that’s what I’m seeing in the reviews and comments for We’re Both Straight, Right?  Not that people are saying, “I can’t believe Larry farted!  I had to stop reading right there!”  But it does seem to be mentioned more than I anticipated, and I suspect it’s putting some people off. 

On the other hand, other people, including Lasha, seem to feel that it makes the characters more realistic, and there have been comments to the effect that this is a refreshing change from standard m/m romance heroes. 

The latter impression is more or less what I was aiming for with this story, although I don’t think I intended for the fart scene to leave such a lasting impression on people.  Ah, well.  This story was a little bit of a risk for me, since I don’t usually try to write humor.  I’m happy to see that a number of people find the book very funny.

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Manic-Depressive Writer

This has been a very up and down week for me.  Finishing a novel is always a combination of relief that it’s finally done (the first draft, anyway), exhilaration that this might be a great novel, and anxiety about the fact that it might actually suck.

My husband, Erich, has learned to avoid reading my work as soon as I’ve finished it, because I’m far too emotionally volatile and defensive about it.  My first reaction to anything he says that’s critical is, “What are you talking about?  I thought it was perfect!  You said you loved me!!!” 

So he prefers to give my stories a wide berth, until I’m a little less wrapped up in them. 

On the other hand, I do tend to send the stories out to friends for feedback right away.  Since they can’t see me marching out to the back yard with the intent to build a volcano and throw myself in, because they e-mailed me that my dialog sounds like it came from an episode of Scooby Doo*, I have a little time to calm down and respond to their e-mail without the melodrama.  It’s not that I can’t take criticism — it’s just that I’m prone to theatrics.

By That Sin Fell the Angels is actually getting some great feedback from readers, so far.  There have been some valid criticisms to take into account for the next draft, but overall the reaction has been very positive and encouraging. 

On the other hand, We’re Both Straight, Right? was released by Dreamspinner Press on Wednesday, and the reception has been somewhat mixed.  After an initial 5-star rating from a reader, someone else gave it 3 stars a few hours later.  Then it got hit with a 2-star review from a reader who said it was “okay,” but she didn’t really like it. 

*sigh*

Well, it’s only been two days.  Maybe it will get some more good reviews.  I don’t think any professional reviewers have had a look at it yet.  But I was spoiled with my first two publications, The Christmas Wager and The Meaning of Vengeance.  Both got a lot of good reviews right away, and the few bad ratings kind of came in under the radar. 

On the other hand, I was afraid that We’re Both Straight, Right? might be too crude for the M/M audience.  Unlike my two previous stories through Dreamspinner, the dialog is raunchy and the characters are realistic college guys — which means they’re occasionally sexist, not always terribly sensitive and one has a pretty low-brow sense of humor.  There is a subtle distinction between M/M romance and gay romance, and it’s not in the level of raunchy sex — it’s in the crass behavior that gay men often find sexy, but women often find repugnant.**

Still, some (female) readers have liked these characters and found the romance to be sweet, so maybe there’s hope.

I suppose I should give it a month to see how the general reception is, before I give up writing forever, change my name to Brother Iocabus and become a trappist monk. 

*NOTE — I was, in fact, told this once.  But by an editor, rather than a reader.

**NOTE — Okay, that’s a broad generalization.  I’m sure some women like crude men and I’m even more certain that many men find crude behavior in a guy repugnant.  But I often find M/M romances written by women to have main characters that seem overly…polished…to me.

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