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Publetariat Dispatch: On Idiot Reviews

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author Alan Baxter talks about the injustice of reviews that aren’t really about the book in question at all. Editor’s warning: strong language.

I’ve said many, many times here that reviews are the lifeblood of an author’s career. And reviews can mean literal reviews, posted at places like Amazon, Goodreads and so on, as well as reviews in newspapers and on dedicated reader blogs. But reviews can also refer to readers simply talking about a book they enjoyed with friends, family and colleagues. That may lead to those people buying the book, so it works just like reviews are supposed to. But not all reviews are created equal.

In essence, any review is valuable. Even if you didn’t like a book and you give it a bad review and a low star rating, it’s still useful to potential readers and it may lead a different reader to think, “Well, the problems that person had with the book don’t sound like problems to me, so I’ll give it a go.” And besides, you can’t please all the people all the time, so a good spread of reviews and ratings shows honesty and means we don’t start to suspect that Auntie Mabel and the Sockpuppets are the only people reviewing the book.

For example, American Gods by Neil Gaiman is a book universally recognised by readers and awards alike as being quite excellent. But not everyone likes it. On Amazon it has a 4-star average rating, but that includes 92 1-star reviews. (I’d be ecstatic with 92 reviews of any kind, but that book has over a thousand in total!) Anyway, my point is that not all reviews are going to be good ones and giving a one or two star review is fine. If you’re reviewing the book.

Wondering what I’m talking about? Look at this fucking idiot:

sea horse 1 star On idiot reviews

In case you can’t read that, it says:

Taming a Seahorse was good. However, Monday I purchased another Spencer book, and it took sooooooooooooo long to get to my Kindle, I was 20 pages into another book………………..

And the idiot gives the book a 1-star review. I’ve deliberately blurred the name, as I’m not here to witch hunt. It’s just one of many reviews I’ve seen that are like this. This “reviewer” is directly damaging the author’s career by reducing their rating average for reasons that are nothing to do with the author or the book and for things over which the author has no control. The “reviewer” even says they thought the book was good, but they’re giving it a one star review because the Whispernet service was slow delivering a completely different novel by the same author. The degree of stupid here is staggering. What the fuck did the author do to deserve this one star review, exactly?

It’s just petty hollering because the person wanted to have a moan about something publicly and arbitrarily tacked that whinge onto one of Parker’s books. If anything, they should have simply complained to Amazon directly (which, admittedly, is like trying to water a garden bed by pissing on the roof).

This is not an isolated, or even uncommon, incident. These fuckknuckles are everywhere. There are even blogs set up to collect all the reviews that are small nuggets of human idiocy distilled into illiterate paragraphs. This is one of my favourite examples of blogs like that, but I can never get past a few entries before the red mist of rage descends: http://leasthelpful.com/ Seriously, it starts off quite funny for the first one or two, then I begin to despair at the stupid, then, after half a dozen or so, I just want to go out and block the blow hole of a dolphin until it drowns. Then hit stupid people with the dead dolphin.

Reviews are awesome and anyone who takes time to review a book is a fantastic person who will be rewarded with cookies and whisky. But only people who review the book. If you’re using a review and slamming an author’s work in order to whinge about postage times, delivery networks, the fact that your dog shat in your bed (which you deserved, by the way) or anything else, then you’re a broken, stupid person and you should have your internet privileges revoked. Please, won’t someone think of the authors?


This is a reprint from Alan Baxter‘s Warrior Scribe.


Publetariat Dispatch: Writing to Heal Grief

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, Diane Morrow shares resources for using writing to work through grief.

This post, by Diane Morrow, originally appeared on her One Year of Writing and Healing blog. It is reprinted here in full per the blog’s Creative Commons licensing terms, and seems especially appropriate at this time, in the wake of the Newtown tragedy.

There’s a story by Anton Chekhov entitled, simply, “Grief”–also sometimes called “Misery”–which speaks beautifully, I think, to what grief may require–and to how the process of writing might contribute to the healing of grief. Not so much the erasure of grief. And not, certainly, the erasure of memories. But the healing of grief.

I’ve included a brief piece about this story below. I’ve also included links to a brief summary of the research on writing about grief, several writing ideas, and a list of resources–both books and websites.

I. The Chekhov Story

When the story begins a cab-driver waits at twilight in the snow for a fare. His son has died the previous week. He waits a long time in the snow, and then finally—a passenger. As the evening wears on, the cab-driver attempts conversation with three different passengers. Three different times he attempts to tell his story—what has happened with his son. Each of the three interrupts him. One closes his eyes to stop the story. One informs him that we all must die. One simply gets out of the sleigh. Still later, the cab-driver attempts to stop and speak with a house-porter, but the house-porter tells him to drive on.

There’s so much that the cab-driver needs to tell. Chekhov writes:

One must tell it slowly and carefully; how his son fell ill, how he suffered, what he said before he died, how he died. One must describe every detail of the funeral, and the journey to the hospital to fetch the defunct’s clothes. His daughter Anissia remained in the village—one must talk about her too. Was it nothing he had to tell? Surely the listener would gasp and sigh, and sympathize with him?

The details must be told. And then—that gasp—that sigh—from the listener.

At the end of the day the cab-driver returns to the stables. He begins to speak to his horse:

Now let’s say you had a foal, you were that foal’s mother, and suddenly, let’s say, that foal went and left you to live after him. It would be sad, wouldn’t it?

The horse munches his hay and breathes his warm breath—and does not interrupt him. And that is how the story ends—with the cab-driver telling his story, finally, to his horse.

Perhaps what grief requires, as much as anything, is that the process not be interrupted. That it find a time and a place in which to unfold–with a companion (when possible) and without (too much) interruption. And, perhaps, at least for some of us, writing can play a role in this process.

Writing as a companion that does not interrupt? Writing as a prelude to telling the story to a companion?

II. Research on Writing About Grief

An Introduction to the Research on Writing About Grief

III. Advice about Writing to Heal Grief

A Word of Caution About Writing and Healing

IV. Writing ideas for Healing Grief

Falling Apart


Considering a Package

Listing What Remains

V. Resources for Writing to Heal Grief

Here I’m including brief pieces I’ve written on selected books and websites that can offer company in the healing of grief. (This list is a work in progress and I plan to continue adding to this list.)

On Broken Vessels.  A collection of essays by Andre Dubus.

On When Things Fall Apart. A collection of brief essays by the Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron.

On Grief, Loss and Recovery. A website.

On Writing the Heartache. A Website


Publetariat Dispatch: What Do I Know?

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author Gayle Carline discusses the challenges involved in writing about things she’s never experienced personally.

This post, by Gayle Carline, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective blog on 12/6/12 and is reprinted here in its entirety with that site’s permission.

The first piece of advice given to any writer is to write what you know. Actually, the first piece of advice is don’t quit your day job, but that makes a depressing post and tis is the season to be jolly.

When I decided I wanted to write a novel, I took that write what you know business to heart. I wrote about a Midwestern girl who jumps in her car and travels to the West Coast, something that I had done. The problem was I didn’t know how to write a novel. To my great surprise, the characters all revolted, and the girl’s car broke down in Amarillo.

What the hell did I know about Amarillo? I’ve been there once, long enough to visit the American Quarter Horse Museum, and eat at Cracker Barrel.   That (really sucky) novel sleeps peacefully on my external hard drive, where I use it for spare parts.

After writing what I knew turned out so abysmally, I threw caution to the wind and tried writing what I wanted to know: a mystery. Much like Amarillo, what the hell did I know about writing a mystery story?

Not much. But I knew how to read and enjoy them. I knew what to expect when I watched them on TV. I had to have a crime, and a plucky character who would poke around in all of the corners, looking for the solution.

As far as writing what I knew, I used a few familiar things to help me. For example, I made my private investigator, Peri, a former housecleaner. I like a clean house, and know how to do it. Having that little background story gave me a bond to her. I like dirty martinis, so I made that her signature drink.

I also know my hometown of Placentia, California. It’s a small town squished between other towns. I know its streets, its neighborhoods, and its feel. I know how it tastes and smells. Setting a mystery there meant I didn’t have to create someplace else.

I now had a protagonist and a location that I knew.

As for the mystery part, well… how does a bland little Midwestern gal inject suspense and thrills that she’s never experienced?

In the end, I used two of my own hobbies: puzzle solving and communicating with my husband. Mysteries are a lot like puzzles. There are pieces that you must gather, data you must analyze and slip into the correct slot. This translates to clues, alibis, and information that is collected by the protagonist and the reader in order to come to the “AHA” moment.

As far as my husband is concerned, I am married to possibly the most laconic man on the planet. He also possesses a soft, deep voice, which is sometimes inaudible to me due to some hearing loss at the lower registers (yes, too many concerts in my youth). If I want to know anything, I can either chase him down and hound him until he speaks clearly, or just follow the clues he leaves behind.

I remember one day, when we were supposed to meet friends for lunch. It was in the days before cell phones and there was a mix-up at the restaurants, and we were trying to figure out whether Dale would be able to find us. I mentioned that he had taken clean clothes with him that morning, so he was probably changing at the tennis club, making it useless to leave a message on the home phone.

One of the women looked at me, agog. “Don’t you two ever talk?”

Well, not that much. I make assumptions about where he’s gone, what he’s doing, and what my next move should be, if any. Maybe I am a private investigator. A very private one.

I’ve now written three Peri mysteries (and one short), and a lot of times I feel like I’m in the weeds and don’t know why I’m not writing what I know. That’s when I remember my horrible first novel, and I go do a little research until I can move forward.

I hope this gives other writers the encouragement to take what you do know, write it into what you don’t, and stop stressing about the rest. It’s fiction, people. You don’t have to get it right. You just have to get it believable.

And if readers think that I make writing sound like it’s as unknown as most of life in general, well, it’s true. We don’t just want to tell you a story. We want to lead you through an experience.

If we knew where we were going, it wouldn’t be half as much fun.


Publetariat Dispatch: What Is Steampunk?

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, Steampunk.com offers a definition of Steampunk.

This is a good question that is difficult to answer.

To me, Steampunk has always been first and foremost a literary genre, or least a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy that includes social or technological aspects of the 19th century (the steam) usually with some deconstruction of, reimagining of, or rebellion against parts of it (the punk). Unfortunately, it is a poorly defined subgenre, with plenty of disagreement about what is and is not included. For example, steampunk stories may:

– Take place in the Victorian era but include advanced machines based on 19th century technology (e.g. The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling);

– Include the supernatural as well (e.g. The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger);

– Include the supernatural and forego the technology (e.g. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, one of the works that inspired the term ‘steampunk’);

– Include the advanced machines, but take place later than the Victorian period, thereby assuming that the predomination by electricity and petroleum never happens (e.g. The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling); or

– Take place in an another world altogether, but featuring Victorian-like technology (e.g. Mainspring by Jay Lake).

“It’s sort of Victorian-industrial, but with more whimsy and fewer orphans.”

– Caitlin Kittredge

There are probably plenty of other combinations I’ve forgotten, but that’s steampunk as a genre in a nutshell. Steampunk has also cross-pollinated its way into other genres, so there is steampunk romance, steampunk erotica, and steampunk young adult fiction. I haven’t spotted any steampunk picture books yet, but I won’t be surprised when I do.


Read the rest of the post on | Steampunk.com.


Publetariat Dispatch: We’re All Thriller Writers Now

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author LJ Sellers discusses the vanishing distinctions between genres of fiction.

Thrilling: adj., producing sudden, strong, and deep emotion or excitement

Doesn’t that pretty much describe all great novels? Yet according to librarians and bookstore owners, traditional labeling defines thrillers as fast-paced, realistic books that focus on plot more than character and have a high-stakes conflict as the heart of the story. And by high stakes they mean a lot more than a single life—or a series of selected lives—must be at risk. Whole cities or ways of life must be in peril.

But now, with many writers labeling their own work, just about any story with a crime or an element of suspense is called a thriller. Just as one example, Amazon’s #1 book on the thriller list is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, a story of a marriage gone bad and a missing wife. It’s all about the characters. Readers love the story and many have labeled it thrilling, and being a fan, I plan to read it. But it’s not technically a thriller.

(Above: My new book sure looks like a thriller)

As a member of International Thriller Writers, I’ve written many features about new releases for the Big Thrill newsletter. With some, I’ve scratched my head and thought: Why is this called a thriller? The stories usually sound terrific, but still, I would call them paranormal suspense or historical mystery.

But I’m guilty of thriller labeling too. My Detective Jackson series falls under crime fiction, police procedurals, mysteries, and suspense. But a year ago, I added the word thriller to the subtitles (Detective Jackson Mystery/Thrillers) to let readers know that they aren’t traditional mysteries that can be solved at a leisurely pace and that there is plenty of action and a major element of suspense.

Also, labeling the novels thrillers expands their metadata and allows more readers to find them. But are they really thrillers? Traditionalists would probably say no. Murders, assaults, and robberies in a midsized Oregon city don’t represent high-stakes conflict. My new publisher, Thomas & Mercer, doesn’t plan to use the thriller label. So in January, the series goes back to being the “Detective Jackson Mysteries.” But I hope Amazon lists the books in the thriller category, anyway.

Because I want to reach as broad an audience as possible. Still, I wonder how much readers care about labels. Some readers love thrillers of every kind, and they judge a book by its cover, description, and word of mouth reputation, rather than by its category. Other readers actively dislike thrillers, and won’t bother with any book labeled that way. Further discussion reveals that what they mean is they don’t like spy stories or novels with big explosions or long chase scenes. So for some readers, thriller can have a negative connotation.

My website says “Author of provocative mysteries & thrillers” and I’m happy with that. In addition to my Jackson series, I have three standalones—all highly suspenseful, but with no spies, explosions, or car chases.

What does the term thriller mean to you? Does the label make a book more enticing?

This post, by L.J. Sellers, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective blog and is reprinted here in its entirety with that site’s permission.

Publetariat Dispatch: Tools to Use to Recreate the Past: Annie Fuller’s Boarding House

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, indie author M. Louisa Locke offers a peek into life in 1800’s San Francisco, the setting for her historical mystery novels.

I am working on Bloody Lessons, the third book of my historical mystery series, which means I am wrestling once again with how adequately and accurately to portray the past, in this case 1880 San Francisco. This led me to the idea of describing some of the tools I used in creating the historical background for my protagonist’s home, which appeared first in Maids of Misfortune and will continue to play a role in all of my books, a boarding house in the 400 block of O’Farrell Street of San Francisco, between Jones and Taylor.

First of all, as Susanne Alleyn points out in her clever and very readable book, Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (and Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myth, an author of historical fiction needs to recognize that the city of today can be vastly different from the city of whatever time period you are writing about, and this is true even when you are talking about a relatively young city like San Francisco and a time period that is only 132 years in the past.

Sometimes cities change for man-made reasons. Street names are changed, new streets laid out, hills graded, wetlands filled in, residential areas become commercial and commercial areas become residential, and railroads, subways, and freeways are built, destroying existing property. Neighborhoods change, expand and contract, and sometimes disappear.

And then there are natural disasters. Hurricane’s Katrina and now Sandy have demonstrated the ability of natural forces literally to obliterate areas, wiping the structures, even the ground the structures are on, off the face of maps. Sometimes these streets and blocks are rebuilt, sometimes they are not, but a good historical fiction writer of the future, setting their stories in New Orleans or New Jersey shore towns anytime after these disasters, will have to take the impact of these disasters into consideration. In short, I needed to take both man-made and natural disasters into account when I set Annie Fuller’s boarding house in the 400 block of O’Farrell Street to make sure that the street existed in 1880, that it was an area of the city that would have had a boarding house, and that the physical environment would be the same (grade of the hill, etc).

So, how did I determine this was an appropriate place to put the house, particularly since I wanted the house to have been built in the 1850s when Annie Fuller’s aunt and uncle first settled in San Francisco? As Alleyn recommends, I started with historical maps. Sally Woodbridge’s San Francisco in Maps and Views, was most useful. O’Farrell Street did not exist in 1847, but it existed by 1852, as determined by a series of surveyor maps of the city streets, and it was named for the first surveyor and map-maker for the city, Jasper O’Farrell. In 1852, however, there were no buildings past the 100 block of O’Farrell.

Yet, by 1859, another map shows at least three structures existed on the south side of the 400 block, making it historically accurate for me to write that my protagonist’s house was built in the mid 1850s. In addition, since the block was so sparsely built up at the time the house would have been built, I was able to a create a house that was a little wider and in a different style than the narrow Italianate houses that would come to predominate in the 1870s and 1880. I used this fact to help me determine that the house would be constructed in the Greek revival style, which was briefly popular in the 1850s, and in my second book in the series, Uneasy Spirits, I used that fact to support the rather large back yard to the boarding house where a Halloween Party was held.

According to historical maps and histories of San Francisco, by 1879, when my first book opens, the streets north of Market and between Van Ness and the financial district to the east were built up with a variety of residential and commercial buildings representing a variety of architectural styles. For example, see Burchell’s The San Francisco Irish, 1848-1880. O’Farrell Street was no exception. Obviously one of the ways I could try to get a feel for what the block was like in 1880 would be to go look at it today,  hoping that some of the buildings are still standing.

However, this isn’t possible because in 1906, between the earthquake and the fires that came after, the 400 block of O’Farrell, along with most of the buildings east of Van Ness, were destroyed. After reading a detailed account of these fires, it looks like the 400 block may have been spared the first day after the earthquake, but the afternoon of the second day, April 19th, it was engulfed by blazes coming from all directions.  If I wanted to get a feel for what Annie’s boarding house would have looked like in 1879-1880, I was going to have to do more research.

Census records (which I had analyzed for my dissertation) gave me information about the size of homes and boarding houses in this part of the city in 1880, and newspaper classified ads not only confirmed that there were boarding houses in this residential area (including on O’Farrell Street), but also gave me a range of prices people were paying for room and board. This all helped me plan the size and number of servants and boarders that would be found in her house. Architectural histories of the city told me what styles predominated in the 1850s, when the boarding house on O’Farrell was supposedly built.  See for example, Kenneth Naverson’s West coast Victorians: A Nineteenth-Century Legacy. In addition, photographs of the city in the 1870s and early 1880s were another enormously helpful source, confirming what I had been reading about. For example, this picture shows how residential and commercial buildings of every shape and style could be found in houses in the same neighborhood in the 1870s. One of the most useful historical sites on the internet links historical photographs by time and place on a map of the city, so you can begin to see what the neighborhood looked like over time.

Since Annie Fuller’s Uncle Timothy, the man who built the house she inherited, was a successful businessman, he would have made improvements in the original 1850s house, including the installation of a bathroom on the second floor, upgrading the woodwork, and putting in new wallpaper and furnishings. I consulted books such as Victorian Interior Decoration: American Interiors 1830-1900In the Victorian Style, and a wonderfully illuminating book, Death in the Dining Room: And other Tales of Victorian Culture, to help me determine what Annie Fuller’s boarding house would have looked like by the time she inherited it in 1878.

While Susanne Alleyn cautions historical fiction authors about depending on historical movies as sources, a well-researched movie can provide a useful visual impression. For example, the 1993 movie based on Edith Warton’s Age of Innocence, and the companion book that compares stills from the movie to paintings of the period, were wonderful sources, although the movie portrayed much wealthier interiors than would have characterized Annie Fuller’s boarding house.

While houses from O’Farrell neighborhood don’t still exist, there are examples of Victorian architecture that did survive west of Van Ness that also helped. The Hass-Lilienthal House in San Francisco, built in 1886 and open for tours, has been a wonderful place to visit to for this purpose.

Finally there is simply the tool of my imagination. As I have written elsewhere, forty years ago I lived in a house built in the 1870s or 80s in Ohio, and I used my memories from that house and my own imagination to picture and then describe the interior layout of Annie Fuller’s boarding house.

Are my descriptions of the O’Farrell Street boarding house a hundred percent accurate Who knows. But if I have done my historical research sufficiently and used my imagination and writing skills effectively, I will make my readers believe in this house, picture it in their own imaginations, and want to revisit it, book after book.



This is a reprint from M. Louisa Locke‘s blog.


Publetariat Dispatch: Call Me Chicken

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author Gayle Carline shares her mixed emotions about putting her protagonists in the line of fire.

One thing all fiction writers must do is build tension in their stories. No matter the genre, the main character must have a goal and be thwarted at every turn from achieving that goal. The cop wants to catch the serial killer, but is given false leads. The sleuth opens a cabinet that holds an important clue, but is conked over the head with a teapot. The handsome cowboy is set to ask out the cute barmaid, but is told by her psycho-stalker roommate that she’s a lesbian.

It’s always something.

One of the things I have to do is put my P.I. in dangerous situations. I don’t like danger myself. I don’t walk down dark alleys, don’t snoop around where I’m not wanted, and have never been in a physical fight, unless you count the time my mare bit me and I smacked her with the hose. I don’t even open other people’s medicine cabinets when I’m visiting, unless I’m looking for dental floss to dig out that piece of overcooked brisket wedged in my molar.

Honest, that’s all I’m looking for.

If I made a horror movie, it would last exactly five minutes. When I heard the weird noise outside, I would not go out looking for the source, carrying a candle and wearing a negligee. For one thing I don’t own a negligee. What I would do is call 911, turn on all the lights, gather every weapon and sharp object in the house and barricade myself in the back bedroom. And… credits roll (police sirens in the background).

So putting Peri in the line of fire is not easy for me. I like Peri. I don’t want her to be injured or killed. But I’ve read armchair detective stories and I’m just not as interested in the action if the main character is not in the thick of things. Secondary characters in danger don’t get me as involved as when it’s happening to the protagonist. So Peri must go where I don’t want to tread.

Apart from my own fear, I confess, when I begin to write a scene where Peri is going down the dark alley or snooping around, I am actually afraid that the scene is going to get out of my control and Peri will be boxed into a corner with no escape. I have written plenty of scenes where I want them to go in one direction and my characters revolt and march off the opposite way. What if the danger doesn’t go the way I plan? What if the villain is a step ahead of her and she walks into an ambush?

I know what you’re thinking: just rewrite the scene. (Okay, you’re probably thinking I’m loony as a Toon, too, but let’s leave that for another post.)

I’d like to think I can rewrite the scene, but I can’t. I mean, I can, but the original version will haunt me. All the time that I spend revising that chapter so that she gets a phone call just before she opens the door, which delays her enough to figure out that she’s being set up, I’m still thinking: nice dream but I know she really walked straight into that gunfire.

So when I begin an action scene, I decide on the outcome first. Is Peri left unconscious? If she gets shot, where? Once I know how she will survive, then I imagine rewinding the scene and playing it backward, so to speak. This way, I can direct the action from the start so it ends my way.

After all, I can’t depend on my characters to do it for me.

So, writers, how do you thrust your characters into the line of fire? And readers, how much do you trust an author to take you to that edge without driving you over it?


This post, by Gayle Carline, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective blog and is reprinted here in its entirety with that site’s permission.