The Snark is Unbecoming

So….

I first interacted with Sarah Chorn last year when Pilgrimage to Skara was a finalist in the 2017 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (still tickles every time I say that).  Sarah runs the blog Bookworm Blues, which was then, and is again this year, one of the SPFBO judges.

Sarah didn’t particularly care for Pilgrimage, which is fine, she was hardly alone in that.  The book polarized opinions and it is what it is.  She was never personally impolite to me.  We became friends on Facebook and it’s all good.

Sarah recently released her novel Seraphina’s Lament, a grimdark tale which has received a large number of positive reviews.  Full disclosure:  I have not read it yet but only because my TBR is about a mile high right now.  It’s on the Future TBR list.

Anyway, things seemed to be going well.  And then apparently Sarah received this email from a reader.  She posted it on FB.  I asked if she minded me using it here and she was okay with that.  The text read:

I looked up your email address on your website.  I did not finish that Seraphina’s book.  I bought it without realizing it is liberal propaganda.  Why is everyone gay, black, or disabled?  I was looking forward to this book but now I’m disgusted.  This liberal message is offensive and everything that’s wrong with fantasy and I thought you should know.  I’m getting my money back.  I wanted a fun adventure, not this bullshit message.  Maybe next time you’ll do better.  This is why SJWs shouldn’t write.  CFX

Yeow.

Muse:  Yeah, yeow.

I have to admit, this is bothersome.  I am not going to defend or attack any particular political ideology or slant here.  I think this kind of behavior isn’t really about your opinions.

It’s about contempt, and how modern society is overrun with it.  This is rudeness, plain and simple.

What goes through someone’s head when they send an email like this?  What’s the point?  The desire to lash out and inflict pain?  The desire to make damn sure that person knows how wrong they are?  I think this kind of action can only be borne of contempt for one’s target–lack of basic human respect, in other words.  “I wanted you to know,” the reader wrote.  Translation?  “I want to be able to spit in your eye because I don’t like the theme of your book and since you’re obviously a horrible person, that’s my right.”

What happened to polite disagreement, or even just keeping your fucking opinion to yourself?  It’s gone, dead as the dodo.  Some might want to blame our current president for this state of affairs, but I have been watching it deteriorate for three decades.

No, I actually put most of this on the internet and social media.  The internet is a wonderful tool but it is also a shield of semi-anonymity.  And some people feel safe lashing out from behind that shield.  That’s not the only thing, of course.  In general, I believe our culture has gotten a lot more confrontational and I have had people verbally attack me in ways they never would have forty years ago.  (Of course, me being who I am with the temper I have, forty years ago I would have busted most of them in the mouth.  Age and legal liability have added layers of restraint and probably stripped the offenders of accountability but that’s another post.)

I read once that arrogance and self-righteousness are two of the most common and least attractive facets of human personalities.  By observation, I think that is true and it seems consistently so across age, gender, and cultural boundaries.  In order to send an email such as the one above, I think someone has to be both arrogant and self-righteous.  The latter because without that, they wouldn’t have such a visceral reaction (“They dare disagree with what I believe?”) and the former to think their opinion matters that much to the recipient in the first place.

Muse:  Yeah but people being what they are…I think they tend to amplify their own importance.

Exactly.

When Sarah critiqued Pilgrimage, she critiqued the work.  She covered characterization and plot issues she didn’t care for.  She never once made it about me.  There were those who did.  I recall reading someone stating that I must entertain latent rape fantasies.  (This makes me wonder what kind of hate mail George R.R. Martin or Mark Lawrence get.)  This was from someone that had never interacted with me, yet felt free to comment on my personality in an insulting way.

You know, here’s a thought:  if you read a book with something you find profoundly objectionable, don’t buy any more from that author.  Leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads and call it a day.  Or just keep your flap shut and move on with your life.  If you find you are easily triggered, don’t buy a book until it’s been out a month, a video game until it’s been out for three, or see a movie until it’s been out a week.  By then, you will likely have all the information to know whether you should partake or not.  It’s really no more complicated than that.

And yes, I know that if you do that, the author won’t get the privilege of hearing your “unique” wisdom and insight.  You know what?  You’ll both live.

I know, for example, Terry Goodkind is a polarizing author.  I’d be equally opposed to people sending him nastygrams about him being an Ayn Rand disciple or misogynist or whatever.  Stop stroking your egos…just don’t fucking read his work.  I can think of a few authors over the years who wove an inherent message I didn’t like into their books.  I just stopped.

Anyway, I would tell Sarah to let it roll off her back and she seems to be doing that.  The general buzz on her book is good and that is frankly the form of medicine to counter this particular kind of troll.

And lastly, just as an aside….

The person who wrote that never identified themselves, in gender or race.  Yet it was telling, in the FB discussion, how many people said something to the effect of, “That guy’s triggered,” or “What a manly man.”  I even saw someone say, “Poor triggered white dude.”  Only Sarah seemed to go with the “he/she” identifier, though I may have missed others that did so.

Of the five most conservative people I know, three of them are women, one of whom is hispanic.  One of the three is definitely acerbic enough to write the above.  Yet most everyone assumed it was a dude and more than one assumed they were white.  Sometimes our biases crash to the forefront without us even trying.  Just sayin’….

Anyway, friends, be well.

 

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The Drying MMO Pond

So….

I was in Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) this evening.  It’s my go-to RPG-type game when I just want to bum around a bit and talk to some old online friends.

Well, there was a discussion about MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Online games) in the “global” chat channel (meaning all players could see it no matter where they are).  I made the…ahem…mistake of postulating that World of Warcraft (AKA, WoW) was killed not by other games but by time.  This induced a handful of snarky comments about how saying WoW was a dead game was factually inaccurate and foolish to even question.  The general consensus was that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

That in and of itself is nothing unusual.  But not this time.

WoW reportedly had 10 million-plus subscribers at its peak, circa 2010.    Leaked numbers from last October put the subscription base around 1.7 million.  If correct, that’s about an 85% reduction in subscribers over that period.  Don’t get me wrong; 1.7 million is nothing to sneeze at.  WoW is still the biggest MMO ever made and no other MMO has ever come close to knocking it off its perch.

It’s just the biggest fish in a slowly-shrinking pond.

MMO–and specifically in the case, I am talking about MMORPG-type games–are fading in popularity, across the board.  I don’t think they will go away for good but they’ll become much more of a niche market.  Like I said, 1.7 million subscribers is a lot…but it’s two orders of magnitude less than the folks that play battle-royale games like PuBG and Fortnite.  It’s less than the number of folks who play Minecraft.  It’s less than the number of folks who play fucking Candy Crush, for Pete’s sake.

I know Blizzard has and is making tons of money off WoW.  I also know they just laid off eight hundred employees worldwide within the last month.  So clearly, despite its success, WoW is no longer the financial juggernaut that allows Blizzard to pretty much do as they pleased on the gaming scene.

Most other MMORPG developers aren’t in much better shape.  Most have moved to the business model of microtransactions–that is, providing the base game for free or a nominal charge, then nickel and diming in the game itself, for cosmetic and frills (if you’re lucky) or game content itself (if you aren’t).  The old “$15/month subscription and play everything all you want” just doesn’t feel as viable as it used to.

And in a world where someone can toss up a mobile app for under six figures and return millions of dollars, how many developers are going to risk a multi-million dollar budget on a WoW-style game these days?  Not many.

What does this have to do with writing?

Well, MMORPGs (RPG’s in general) are home to some of the best examples of world-building I can find in any fantasy medium.  Obviously, a game like LOTRO, which is based on Tolkien’s seminal works, is going to have a rich lore foundation.  But games like WoW have a rich and developed history.  Sure, it is full of fantasy tropes, like a new omniverse-ending threat emerging every ten minutes.  But imagine having a lore and a world constructed across multiple games, over two decades, and worked on by dozens of people–and still keeping it generally consistent.  That’s impressive and something I believe authors can note, study, and even emulate.  I never like turning away from potential sources of inspiration, no matter how tangential.

Or you can think I wrote this long babbling blog post because I was bored and tied together a tenuous thread.

Muse:  I vote for option two.

Shut up, you.

The Long Slow Slog of Life

So….

Been six months since I populated this space and … well, lots has happened.

Real life has been an adventure.  On a down note, health concerns for close family members have eaten up a lot of time.  I’ve been helping with health care–which is a) exhausting and b) gives me new appreciation for health care professionals.   The outlook is hopeful but the day-to-day challenges are real and it’s added a lot of stress.  Car problems, maintenance on the property, some business issues., navigating the holidays.  I won’t dwell on the fact that this is the snowiest winter I have seen since I moved here five years ago, which has had an impact on travel and had us going through our firewood at an alarming rate…and that has sent the ole’ stress levels soaring to new heights.

Muse:  Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

I won’t say it’s been fun, so I have to take a Nietzchean approach and pray it’s made me stronger.

Muse:  Did you get any writing done?

Well, yes actually.  In spite of all that, I did.

For one, I gave Daughters of Andoya, the first book of my near-to-my-heart project, the Princess of the North saga, to a well-read and well-placed colleague in fantasy review circles.  That person was generally complimentary in broad terms.  I have a rough draft of book 2 (Empress In Waiting) done and need to start revisisons.

But I took some time off from that and started a new series, which I’ve really been enjoying.  That book, titled Rumble in Woodhollow, is done and having some beta reads right now.   The story centers around two faery sisters, Sydney and Marla, who run a criminal gang.  I tried to keep the tone snarky, the action brisk, and the humor dark.  So far, it seems to be working.  I’m looking at pushing it out this summer.  I’ve about got the plot synopsis for the second book of that series (The Mauler) worked out and am going to start working on it soon.

I’ve also turned out a short story or two and finished another just today.

So, things are going okay.  Life knocks you down and you have to get back up, right?

Seeing Rumble in Woodhollow on the shelves will go along ways to keepin’ me on my feet.

Birthday Blues

So….

Birthday today. Forty…something. Another year of cheating death. Another year older.

(Muse: And uglier, don’t forget that.)

Yup.

Sorry for the misleading title. My mood isn’t blue as much as it is reflective. Thinking back over the past year and where I stand, writing-wise.

On the upside, I entered the SPFBO (written about in previous entries), with mixed results. Learned a lot from that. I have finished two books in what I hope will be a five-book series, though starting to question whether it is, and I quote, “good enough.” Feedback on that project has also been mixed.

I’ve written a few short stories and started another fantasy series, which should be three books when I finish. Reeled off 10K words in the last week, which is pretty good for me.

On the downside, it’s been two years since I pushed Pilgrimage to Skara out for self-publishing and I haven’t put out anything since. Looking at the state of my projects, it will probably be next year before I do get one out. I also got some feedback on a non-novel project that basically let me know that I was pissing in the wind in that particular venue (if that sounds vague, it is deliberately so, because I’m not trying to call anyone out right now). I still love writing but I have gone through periods of self-doubt this year and really wondered at my end goals.

And keeping up with this blog has been abysmal, though I blame that on the amount of time I’ve been busy this summer in the gardens and what not. That’s not the real reason, but that’s what I am blaming.

Like I said, very reflective.

Mid-forties. I probably have twenty to forty good years of life left. What do I want to do with my writing in that span? I guess just one step at a time and see what we see.

Meeting Your Heroes — Why Author Interaction Matters

So….

I was brought into mind on this topic by a post made by Petrik Leo, a prolific reviewer for Booknest.EU and Goodreads.  It came about in the SPFBO Facebook group, on a discussion about reviewers.  Petrik had a sidebar sub-thread on brutal reviews where he stated, “I was called a huge jerk and an asshole by the author himself for giving his book 4/5 stars.”

Wowsa.

That got me thinking and that is, of course, always dangerous.  I’m no stranger to harsh reviews but it’s never occurred to me to attack someone for stating their opinion about my work.  Why not?  Well, for one, no book is going to appeal to all the people all the time and I don’t expect mine to be any different.

But more than that, I see no upside in this business of doing so.  It just doesn’t feel like a good idea.

There’s that saying out there:  you should never meet your heroes, with the idea being that even heroes are flawed, imperfect human animals, and once exposed to those imperfections, it will cast an indelible stain on your perception–your idealized notion–of that person.  In short, you’ll come away with a poorer image of them than you started.

While there is a fragment of truth to the notion, I think it’s a bad philosophy to live by.  Moreover, it’s incumbent on said “heroes” to not make it self-fulfilling prophecy.  Allow me to explain.

(Muse:  Would you please?  Your circular babble is making my head hurt.)

Shaddup, you.

I think there is nothing better than meeting an author you like in person.  You don’t have to get a book signed or praise them up one side and down the other.  Just having a few moments to converse with that person gives them a feeling of….tangibility, I guess.  You can make a connection, even if just a fleeting one.

I think it goes without saying it helps if they make an effort too.

I’ve met a number authors.   By and large, they were mostly positive experiences.  For example, I met Brian McClellan (Powder Mage trilogy) last year and had a chance to chat with him for several minutes.  Down-to-earth, easy-going guy.  He was happy to chat a bit and just put me at ease immediately.  I had a very brief interaction earlier this year with Fonda Lee (Jade City).  She never stopped smiling, was very, very nice.  Over the years I’ve had similar experiences with Terry Brooks, Beth Cato, Gini Koch, and others too numerous to mention.

I attended the San Diego Comic-Con in the mid-90s and met author/artist Frank Miller   Frank Miller has a reputation as being prickly but he was polite and open and seemed genuine.  I met Mark Silvestri and talked to him a few moments and came away thinking he was absolutely the nicest guy in the comic industry at the time.  (I also nearly ran over Stan Lee the same day but that’s another story).

You know what the commonality between all these interactions was?  It made me more inclined to support the authors.  For those whose work I hadn’t already purchased, I did so.  Those I had, I talked up to friends and fellow readers.  Something about a positive personal interaction makes you (well, me, at least) want to be more supportive.

Of course, none of these people knew me from Adam, so I wouldn’t expect any of them to remember those meetings.  I am certainly not at all famous in the writing community–

(Muse:  Based on the reviews for Pilgrimage to Skara, you might be infamous, though.)

–but that didn’t matter.  They engaged with an fan of the genre (me), if not of their work specifically, and did so without expectation.

Now there is the other side of the coin.

I have also had a brief interaction with an author who won a Nebula Award in the last decade.  They were arrogant, condescending, insulting, and generally full of themselves.  I am embarrassed to say but were we in another era, I would have punched them in the face.  Suffice to say, I will never buy one of their books.  I don’t care how many accolades that person receives.

At that same aforementioned Comic Con, I met a comic writer I greatly admired–and came away disappointed.  I loved the person’s writing and storylines but in person, they were sarcastic, short-tempered, and generally unpleasant.  I stopped reading books written by that person.

Some authors act like jerks.  How’s that work out for them?  At least with me, not well at all.

Look, I don’t pretend negative reviews hurt.  Of course they do.  But acting like an idiot and yelling (verbally or in print) is a lose-lose situation for an author.

Some authors prefer not to interact with the public at all.  That’s probably the safest course….and least rewarding.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?  Besides, how much effort does it take to be polite and pleasant?  Very little, IMO, and the rewards from the fandom are well worth it.

I fully think that keeping my chin up and letting negativity sluff to the side has led to more people being willing to take a chance on Pilgrimage and on me, personally, as an author–and indirectly, a few more sales.  That kind of goodwill is hard to build and easy to squander, so I look at it as a gift and I intend to nurture it.  And honestly, I do appreciate that they took their time to read my book and offer their thoughts.

So to that anonymous person Petrik referenced in the quote above:  lighten the fuck up.  4/5 stars?  You should be falling-on-your-face thankful.  If it was 1/5 stars, politely thank the reviewer for his time, put the review away, and read it a few days later after the sting subsides.  See if there is any kernel of truth you can use to improve.  Separate criticism of your work from criticism of yourself.

And when interacting with your readers, you’re going to get bored.  You’re going to be tired.  Some people will be annoying.  You’re going to hear, “I have an idea for a book” or some variant at least once every ten minutes.  It will get old, I know.  Don’t get mad.  Smile and nod.  Answer questions thoughtfully.  Pay attention to what your readers tell you.  Readers will appreciate the effort.  I always did.

Seriously, keep it on an even keel.  Giving attitude directly to your readers is the fastest way to turn them off.

And if you want to be a writer, that’s the last thing you need.

State of the Pembroke

So….

Pilgrimage to Skara, my second completed novel (the first shall never see the light of day), continues to garner, uhm, “stellar” reviews.  See here, here, and here, for the latest reviewer feedback.

Muse:  You did earn all those reviews, you know.  It’s your own damn fault.

By the way, if you have morbid curiosity, you can check out Pilgrimage right here on Amazon for Kindle.

Anyway, nothing to do now but move forward.  Here’s kind of a list of ongoing projects:

I started a four-book series with a working title called Princess of the North.  Not sure if I am going to keep that title or not.  The series is told in alternating POVs between a woman and her granddaughter.  The draft of book one (tentatively titled Scion of Andoya) has been done for a few months and I have one more beta reader from which to collect feedback.   It will undergo some major changes.  I am about 3/4 of the way through the first draft of book two (Empress in Waiting).  When I finish that, heavy revision time on book one.  And I admit, I am going to try and agent/trad-pub this series.  Goal is to get it out by the end of June.

Muse:  When you submit to agents, are you going to mention Pilgrimage making it to the final round?  Given the feedback, you might be better off not.

Good question, and I have not decided.

On that point, I am going to do a few things to clean up Pilgrimage.  Going to get assistance with line edits, put a new cover on it, and make it available for print.  It won’t make it more palatable for those who don’t like it but at least it will be cleaner.

And on that note, does anyone have a cover artist they love that works with independent authors?  I’ve looked at a few but nothing has jumped out at me yet.

MuseThat’s–

Yes, that’s all shit I should have done in the first place.  Live and learn.  If I self-pub the Princess series, I will do it right.

I also finished a short story called Five Hours to Lake Champlain.  It takes place in a universe where demons, angels, vampires, imps, and other mythical creatures walk among us openly.  I have two stories set there and am thinking about intertwining a series of episodes around the same handful of people who experience it when all the visitors go nuts at once.

I also tore out a 12K word story in two days that could only be called erotica.

Muse:  You mean smut.

Yes, and it was awkward as hell to write at first.  It was something totally different for me and not sure yet how I feel about it.  At least I tried something new.

Lastly, I started outlining a series involving an epic war and conquest but told from a common footsoldier’s perspective.  Of course, he doesn’t stay common forever, but we’ll see how that goes.

Ambition and ideas.  I got that going for me.  Now if follow-through and execution would keep up, I would be in business.

POW! Right in the Kisser.

So….

I posted almost three months ago on the great review I received at Booknest.eu for Pilgrimage to Skara.

Since then, things have been…different.  For the SPFBO contest, I’ve had six total ratings (with five reviews so far).  My composite rating so far is 4.1.

(Muse: Out of five stars?)

No, out of ten.

(Muse:  Dang, you suck.)

It’s by a long ways the lowest combined score of any of the finalists.  It is also the lowest score (if it holds) of any SPFBO finalist, of any year.

So, notoriety….I got that going for me.

I kicked this around in my head for a while to figure out why these reviews bothered me so much.  I wasn’t upset over low ratings or people not liking it, or even snarky commentary (of which there wasn’t much).

I love characters.  I think they are the hallmark of any spec-fiction book.  Plots and tropes are worn and reused.  Settings can be unique but often aren’t, and writing styles can be near-literary to colloquial without raising a book’s memorability.  But I think characters are what really makes a book both relatable and memorable.

And this is exactly what the bad reviews focused on:  my characters and why they were terrible.

That realization–that is, for someone who is so focused on characters and character development, I apparently failed to make my characters appealing to a wide swath of readers–is like a punch in the nose.

(Muse:  That sounds pretty dumb.  You would think you would be able to see that before you published it, you dim bulb!)

One might think that but sometimes, it is awful hard to step back and look from an unbiased perspective at you own work.  This is why good beta readers are so important–something not lost on me in working on Scion of Andoya, where beta-reader-input is is (in the current revision) leading to some major changes in the narrative.

Granted, the dislike of the characters hasn’t been universal but it has been a far more common issue among reviewers than, say, plot, setting, writing style, or dialogue.  Specific criticisms have been varied but I really can’t argue with most.  Even in places where I believe things were misunderstood or taken out of context, that’s still on me, for not communicating the intent more clearly.

I’m still disappointed in myself over this but nothing for it now but learn from mistakes and to move on.