Category Archives: book review

Fairy Tales and Wishing Wells

If you are on a writer’s journey like I am, you have my sympathy. I am not saying it is not worth it. But if it is going painlessly easy for you, you are not doing it right.

If you are doing it right, you are dredging your soul deeply with a huge jagged-edged bucket to find those small gemstones of truth and life and meaning, and then trying to arrange it all into patterns and genres and stories that are artful enough not to just look like a pile of random rocks. If you do it for a lifetime, you may be lucky enough to create a masterpiece or two, a finely-crafted jeweled creation that dazzles the eye and captures the heart of the reader.

I have always been cursed with high intelligence and a vividly over-active imagination. So, in some sense, I was always destined to be some kind of a fantasy writer with dragons, unicorns, wizards, and such crap dancing in my head, and polluting it by farting rainbows too often. Fiction-writing, by its very nature has to tell a lot of lies to get to the truth. It also has to be, in large parts, autobiographical in nature to be any good. You have to write about what you actually know. Because making stuff up without real-world references will only produce crap that you yourself (meaning you, the writer-you) can only see as mud-brown dhrek.

Therefore, my stories have to be the thing that I label as Surrealism. Many experts would call it that too. It is expressed in highly metaphorical imagery, as in a boy moving in with his father and step-family at a nudist park where everybody is naked most of the time, and the boy sees practically everyone as a faun from Greek myths. (A Field Guide to Fauns) ‘Where a boy loses his whole family in a car accident in France and must rebuild himself in the US with family he has never even met before and he does it by putting on clown paint and singing sad songs, and visiting a dream world inhabited by clowns who might actually be angels. (Sing Sad Songs) Or a girl recovering from the grief of her father’s suicide during a once-in-a-lifetime blizzard where she is saved from snow-ghosts by a magical hobo and runaway orphans from a stranded Trailways bus. (Snow Babies) The reality of these stories depends on a willing suspension of disbelief challenged by a myriad of disparate things thrown together into a kaleidoscope narrative.

I have been thinking deeply about the nature of my own writing experience as I spent most of a year working to promote my books through an online author-review exchange called Pubby during a pandemic unlike anything seen in a century.

The author-review exchange thing has been a very mixed blessing. More than half of the reviews I have gotten on my work are done by authors seeking to earn points for their own books to be reviewed by cheating. They don’t actually try to read the books. Instead, they look at other existing reviews and try to cobble together some lies that don’t show any original thinking and merely parrot what other reviewers have said.

And while some reviews come from reviewers like me who work hard at reading and understanding the book and giving honest reactions that delight me by pointing out the things they actually connected with and understood in my books, other reviewers react with unexplained horror at something they found offensive to their own world view in my books, painting them in harsh terms, in one case even calling the book child-pornography and ridiculing the authors of the good reviews as someone who didn’t understand what they were reading.

But even the bad reviews are a blessing, in that they prove that someone has actually read my books. I cannot explain why that is so important, but it is.

So, hopefully you see now why I am talking about fairy tales. A writer’s journey is hard. It burns your very soul. And you are not very likely to see any rewards but the intangible ones. If you are a fellow writer on your own writer’s journey, well, I sympathize. And I can only wish you well.

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Filed under autobiography, book review, goofy thoughts, humor, novel writing, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, writing

“Oh, no! Not Dr. Seuss!”

“And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “The Cat’s Quizzer,” “If I Ran the Zoo,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!” and “Scrambled Eggs Super!”

Apparently, according to conservative-minded friends and cousins on Facebook, evil liberal Democrats are out to cancel and get rid of Dr. Seuss. They are taking seriously the warnings of the good-hearted, common-sense broadcasters at OAN and Fox News and rushing out to buy copies of Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, Green Eggs and Ham, and Oh, the Places You’ll Go before the communist-leaning book-burning enemies of the people get ahold of them.

I say to this dire warning, “Okay! Great! Buy every wonderful Dr. Seuss book you can get your hands on! That’s the right thing to do!”

But I would be remiss in my duty not to also say, “Don’t spend a thousand dollars on e-Bay to get a copy of And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

Let me say this, as a teacher who taught reading skills in all of my thirty-one years as a public school teacher, I always made use of Dr. Seuss books whenever and wherever possible, even reading Fox in Sox aloud to gifted students (and reading those tongue-tying tongue-twizzlers as fast as it is possible to read aloud without wrapping my tongue around my eye teeth and crashing into my molars because I couldn’t see what I was saying.) (Which the kids always found profoundly entertaining.) And I celebrated Dr. Seuss’s birthday every March since that became a thing in 1988.

But I also think that we have to recognize that Theodore Seuss Geisel, Dr. Seuss, is a man from a different time. Some of the tropes and techniques he learned and employed in the 1940s as a political cartoonist and ad illustrator are no longer appropriate in the time of George Floyd and Asians being attacked over the “Wuhan Kung Flu.”

Remember, his cartoon skills were developed back when America was fighting propaganda wars with the Axis powers.

So, in some of his works, he may have been guilty of some outdated thinking and is unintentionally racist in some of the things he cartooned and thought were funny.

And of the books that will no longer be published, I admit that I read and enjoyed If I Ran the Zoo while I was learning to read in the first grade. And I think I read McElligot’s Pool in school in 1965, but I don’t really remember what was down there at the bottom under the protagonist’s fishhook. I looked up a hard-to-find copy of And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street in 2009, and saw that it was not really right for my ESL class at that time. The other three controversial books I haven’t even heard of before this whole thing first outraged Fox News reporters. These six books were not available for purchase from either Barnes and Noble or the Dr. Seuss website before the controversy.

So, I love Dr. Seuss. But I am not worried. Democrats and liberals like me are not trying to do away with Dr. Seuss. In fact, Random House publishers are not even the ones who decided. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author’s legacy, announced it would cease sales of these books. So, this is purely editorial in nature and certainly within the rights of Dr. Seuss’s family, friends, and promoters to do.

But by all means, buy up more Dr. Seuss books! Give them to kids you care about! I can’t think of anything I would rather have conservatives, Republicans, and Fox News viewers doing than reading about Horton, the Grinch, Sam-I-Am. and Daisy-head Maisy.

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Filed under angry rant, art criticism, book review, commentary, Dr. Seuss, politics

Why Real Writers Go Mad

Yes, you heard right. (Well, you did if you read the title out loud.) Real writers are subject to madness. I decided this because I found the pattern in real writing that I actually value as good writing.

Case in Point; Ernest Hemingway

The first book of Hemingway that I read in high school was For Whom the Bell Tolls. It is a book about World War One, being an ambulance driver on the battle field, the transformations that combat experiences have on the soul, and trying to deal with the love of a woman, unsuccessfully, while the soul-sucking of recovery from battle is still taking place in your head. The story has a first-person narrator. It is told in a journalistic style that only presents the facts and doesn’t do any of the thinking and feeling for you. It makes the meaning of the story all happen in the reader’s head, as if the writer is not telling you what to think. But he actually is. And doing it masterfully. Of course, it captured me horribly because at the time I read it, the Viet Nam War was winding down, I had a draft number after turning 18 in 1974, and the Khmer Rouge attacked and took control of the SS Mayaguez in May of 1975, threatening to reignite the war and expand it into Cambodia. A wonderful book to read when you are faced with grim reality and the unfolding path to madness before you.

I also read The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and the Sea while in college as an English Major. I defy you to read either of those books and not see the madness gnawing at the writer.

Ernest Hemingway went mad from the post traumatic struggles he underwent as a consequence of WWI. His life ended when he put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Deep depression is a form of madness.

Case in Point; Edgar Allen Poe

Of course, I chose the portraits of these authors on the basis of which ones are the most haunting I could find. Poe’s stare captured here reveals a pair of eyes that have seen the dark depths of his own soul, a horror you can’t compare to anyone else’s except through the words of a writer, because you can’t see into someone else’s soul in any other way. Your eyes weren’t built to do that.

And we all know the kind of stories and poems he wrote. My first encounter with Poe’s writing was either The Black Cat, The Tell-Tale Heart, or the poem, “The Bells“, all of which are deeply disturbing, and all of which I read in the Eighth Grade in Mrs. Erdman’s Class.

Poe became mad due to life-long grinding poverty brought about by foster parents who loved him and had money enough, but were too firmly devoted to the idea that helping someone out financially is a weakness not to be contemplated. His young wife died an early death from lack of funds for things like heat in the winter and food on a daily basis.

We don’t fully know why the madness caused his mysterious death. He may have had rabies when he died. Or it may have been a toxic reaction to large quantities of alcohol. Or he may have died from brain injuries due to an unexplained kidnapping and beating. But what we do know is that he loved certain people passionately and hated certain people passionately through his literary criticism of their writing. In fact, one of the authors he hated may have killed him as a murderous act of revenge.

Case in Point; Charles Dickens

When one thinks of Charles Dickens as a writer, madness is rarely the thing that comes first to mind. He wrote socially-observant comedies that emphasized engaging characters and detailed understandings of the settings and the times. There are a large number of clowns and comic villains in his stories. And his works seem a bit overbalanced against the darkness of the soul.

And yet he has his dark moments. I first read Dickens in Seventh Grade through The Christmas Carol. But Marley’s ghost and his ilk, especially the spectral Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come chilled me to the bone. I wept at the death of Tiny Tim even though it meant the other boys in my class could see me crying and would make me pay a price outside of the classroom.

On my own I went on to read more Dickens, including The Old Curiosity Shop in high school, Nicholas Nickleby, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield and Great Expectations in college. I further read Oliver Twist while teaching Eighth Grade English. I also read my first author-biography of Charles Dickens, shortly after reading The Old Curiosity Shop.

I soon realized how much of his stories were autobiographical. Wilkins Micawber is a portrait of his own father and his time in the poorhouse. Wackford Squeers and other unflattering depictions of education reflected his own time in British boys’ schools where the odds of being molested by upper classmen were high. And the fact that a beloved young female relative died in his arms when he was barely out of boyhood probably caused the infamous death of the character Little Nell in the final installment of The Old Curiosity Shop.

There is madness in Dickens too. I mean, how can your writing reach the very heights of the Himalayas if it has never experienced the deepest depths of the ocean?

Case in Point; J.D. Salinger

Yes, I read The Catcher in the Rye in high school. It was a right of passage in 1974. It was one of the three books that set me on my lifelong quest to find the best book ever written. (The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy and the Little Prince by Saint-Exupéry are the other two.) It is a book that first captured me by the feelings in the brain with the central image alluded to in the title. Holden Caufield (Salinger later confessed that this narrator was really him) dreamed that he was in a field a rye where children are playing and romping with abandon. Behind Holden is a bottomless cliff. As children occasionally run towards him and the cliff behind him, heedless and not seeing the danger, he decides he must catch them and turn them back the other way. And this is what the book is, Holden’s adventures for the first time in the adult world, experiencing the possible dangers, and then turning the readers around, back into the field of rye.

I of course read Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof-Beam, Carpenters afterwards in college. Buddy Glass, who narrates the story of brother Seymour’s suicide, is also an admitted character-identity for Salinger himself.

Has Salinger, too, gone mad? You can ask that about a man who suddenly stopped writing at the height of his success, and then ran away to a small shed in the woods where he wrote mash notes to teenage girls for twenty years?

Final Case in Point; Mickey

And why would I ever think Mickey is mad?

Well… this list is long.

Mickey was sexually assaulted by an older boy at ten. You can see the effects of that in all of his writings, including this one.

He’s fool enough to think he might be a real writer.

When he is in his cartoonist’s head, he portrays himself as a purple mouse. When he’s in his teacher head, he’s Reluctant Rabbit.

He thinks he can recognize great writing when he reads it.

He understands the books of H.P. Lovecraft far too well.

And he seems to recognize that same madness that can be found in Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, JD Salinger, Mark Twain, Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, and too many more that could also be named… in himself.

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Filed under artists I admire, autobiography, book review, characters, foolishness, humor, writing

Being Kind to Myself

Paying for reviews is not going well for me. I go to a lot of effort to read and review the works of others. Pubby gives you four days. Four days to read a book that may be as much as 75,000 words. You also find some books to be a mind-numbing slog because many writers are simply not as good as they think they are. But there are ways to cut to the chase and evaluate a book quickly and accurately. It definitely helps if the author follows a recognizable genre pattern, but most of the reviewers on Pubby have never heard of a picaresque novel, and have poor conceptions of what a hero’s journey is, or misunderstand the basic structures in a coming-of-age story. So, you make the review pointed, simple, and give the highest rating you can justify.

But the work I put into the process is not reflected in the reviews I get in return. The last review I got on my book, Snow Babies, was supposed to be a verified purchase review. That means the reviewer is supposed to buy a copy of the e-book. $0.99 is not too much to ask. I spent $3.95 on the last book I reviewed. But the reviewer turned in a review about three hours after taking the assignment and did not buy a copy of the book. It’s a five-star review because the reviewer read the other reviews and all but one of those is five stars. So, I am cheated out of the sale, and I did not get an honest review because it does not take a Sherlock-Holmes brain to figure out, “HE DID NOT READ THE BOOK!”

I need to keep going with Pubby at least for the rest of the year-long subscription I purchased because it does give me a chance to get read. And I am not the only honest reviewer on there who will read all night to get a 75,000-word novel or book read in only four days. And a Kirkus Review costs more than a thousand dollars, and if you get an unlucky choice of semi-insane reviewer, the Kirkus Reputation can be the kiss of death even for a good book.

So, in order to be kind to myself, I may need complain to the powers behind Pubby even though it is a five-star review. We shall see if Pubby and Amazon really accept this review that was not done the way we are directed to do them.

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My Bookish Journey (Finale)

by Maxfield Parrish

Like every real, honest-to-God writer, I am on a journey. Like all the good ones and the great ones, I am compelled to find it…

“What is it?” you ask.

“I don’t know,” I answer. “But I’ll know it when I see it.”

“The answer?” you ask. “The secret to everything? Life, the universe, and everything? The equation that unifies all the theories that physicists instinctively know are all one thing? The treasure that pays for everything?”

Yes. That. The subject of the next book. The next idea. Life after death. The most important answer.

And I honestly believe that once found, then you die. Life is over. You have your meaning and purpose. You are fulfilled. Basically, I am writing and thinking and philosophizing to find the justification I need to accept the end of everything.

Leah Cim Reyeb is me, Michael Beyer written backwards.

And you know what? The scariest thing about this post is that I never intended to write these particular words when I started typing. I was going to complain about the book-review process. It makes me think that, perhaps, I will type one more sentence and then drop dead. But maybe not. I don’t think I’ve found it yet.

The thing I am looking for, however, is not an evil thing. It is merely the end of the story. The need no longer to tell another tale.

When a book closes, it doesn’t cease to exist. My life is like that. It will end. Heck, the entire universe may come to an end, though not in our time. And it will still exist beyond that time. The story will just be over. And other stories that were being told will continue. And new ones by new authors will begin. That is how infinity happens.

I think, though, that the ultimate end of the Bookish Journey lies with the one that receives the tale, the listener, the reader, or the mind that is also pursuing the goal and thinks that what I have to say about it might prove useful to his or her own quest.

I was going to complain about the book reviewer I hired for Catch a Falling Star who wrote a book review for a book by that name that was written by a lady author who was not even remotely me. And I didn’t get my money back on that one. Instead I got a hastily re-done review composed from details on the book jacket so the reviewer didn’t have to actually read my book to make up for his mistake. I was also going to complain about Pubby who only give reviewers four days to read a book, no matter how long or short it is, and how some reviewers don’t actually read the book. They only look at the other reviews on Amazon and compose something from there. Or the review I just got today, where the reviewer didn’t bother to read or buy the book as he was contracted to do, and then gave me a tepid review on a book with no other reviews to go by, and the Amazon sales report proves no one bought a book. So, it is definitely a middling review on a book that the reviewer didn’t read. Those are things I had intended to talk about today.

But, in the course of this essay, I have discovered that I don’t need to talk about those tedious and unimportant things. What matters really depends on what you, Dear Reader, got from this post. The ultimate McGuffin is in your hands. Be careful what you do with it. I believe neither of us is really ready to drop dead.

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My Bookish Journey (Part IV)

Once I settled into a publishing plan where I was basically in control of the whole process, the center of my world became the execution of my overall plan to commit acts of actual literature. I had to decide what I wanted to write and the reasons why I was going to write it.

Surrealist Reasons for the Season.

I began the most serious part of my journey into authorship once I was fully retired from my last teaching job. And the darkest part of that truth is that if I weren’t ill enough to be forced to leave teaching, I would still be doing that. It is what God made me for, if there is a God. But since I am stuck in this retirement reality, I really have to use fiction for what fiction-writing is for.

And let me assure you, I know what writing fiction needs to mean for me. I need to rewrite the story of my life in the surreal reality of perceived truth. And what does that mean in simple words? I have to lie a lot. Because fiction is lying in order to reveal the truth.

Two of the most important books I wrote tell the same story for the same purpose.

The Two Stories are really One Story.

I had a childhood full of monsters. And who I became in adult life was not done in spite of what those monsters did to me, but because of it. I was sexually assaulted as a ten-year-old. What he did to me was not pleasurable in any way. He tortured me because causing pain turned him on. I was severely traumatized by the experience. So much so that I experienced PTSD-induced amnesia for a while. These two books are about my fear of monsters and evil, and the deeply embedded fear that when directly faced with evil, I would not know what it really was.

Things in the two novels are not exactly what they seem.

Torrie Brownfield, the Baby Werewolf, is not a monster. He is a boy who suffers from a genetic hair disorder called hypertrichosis, the same disorder that caused the star of Barnum’s freak show, Jojo the dog-faced boy, to have excessive hair growth.

He looks like a monster, but he is really the sweetest, most innocent character in the story.

..

..

..

The Cobble Sisters, both Sherry and Shelly, are nudists. That is a detail that was both kinda true about the real twin girls that inspired the characters, and true enough about these characters in the story to make fans of my fiction from real nudists I befriended on Twitter.

The nudism, however, symbolizes innocence and truthfulness. Sherry labors in both books to get the other members of the Pirates’ Liars’ Club to accept nudism and try it for themselves. Sherry tells them repeatedly that nudists are more honest than other people because they don’t hide anything about themselves.

The ultimate villain of both novels is, ironically, one who hides everything and manipulates from the shadows.

Grandma Gretel is the main character of Recipes for Gingerbread Children. She is a story-teller that has to come to terms with her own monsters from the past. She is a survivor of the Holocaust during WWII. She lost her entire family to the monsters of the Third Reich.

Ironically, she is the one who, through stories and her own keen perceptions, reveals the ultimate villain and his evil. She also, through stories, is coming to terms with her own trauma and loss.

So, what I am saying about my bookish journey at this point is that I have to write the novels I am writing because they allow me to rewrite the world I live in and the facts of my past life in it. I am rewriting myself. I am becoming the me I need to be by writing.

Of course, I am not yet done talking about my bookish journey. Keep an eye out for Part V.

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When One Door Closes…

I confess I do not know anything when it comes to marketing my books. I have worked at it hard now for the past six years. I have managed to make about five dollars a month this year… up from nothing while spending twenty dollars a month on various marketing services. So, by my limited math skills, I am now losing only $180 a year,

I recently got another excellent review on a book I feel good about having written, and I think it bodes well that when someone who actually read the book, a belief that I have because it is a verified-purchase review, seems to confirm that it really is a good book. At the very least, it really did connect with this one reader.

I got a very unexpected boost from a fellow author and book-marketer on Twitter. I am the second of three authors featured in the blog post linked to below.

I don’t know exactly how this came about. I am not used to having success on Twitter from any quarter besides Twitter nudists and Twitter fans of Tom Hiddleston. She, as a WordPress blogger, doesn’t seem to be a member of either of those groups.

One of the books that the Blogger Bookstore highlighted was Laughing Blue, the book I had already chosen for my January free-book promotion. It will begin being offered for free on Friday of this coming weekend. That fact, combined with the way the blog has filled my Twitter notifications this morning may cause the promotion to reach more readers than any previous promotion has managed.

The other book highlighted in the blog post was my very best novel, Snow Babies.

That couldn’t have been a better door to be opened if I had written that post on the other blog myself.

So, as I was getting more and more depressed as my health worsens and the pandemic has been grinding more on more on my soul,, this door to possibilities opened.

Believe me, I appreciate it. It is timely.

More than once a new door has opened, letting light into my life to help me battle the darkness just as the darkness seemed to be winning.

I am glad that when one door closes, two or more open.

I know it’s a cliché. But it is a good one.

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Ugly Christmas Sweaters and the Criticizing of Them

In the Midwest

where I spent my childhood and early youth, there is a great tradition of making fun of the exceptionally eye-bonking ski sweaters and Norwegian-middle-layer clothing that dads and grandads are given as presents less often than only neckties.

Yes, they are functional in the land of 100-degree-below-zero wind-chill. And they also work as defenders of your male virginity when you are in college in Iowa. But we make fun of them not out of derision, but of love. These are gifts, after all, that are given on winter birthdays and Christmas because the giver loves you. And the creative criticism of them is given only as a sign of appreciation for what they are truly for.

And if you tried to click on the X’s on this sweater of mine, and it did not immediately close on your screen, that’s because this one has special meaning. I didn’t get this as a Christmas gift. I inherited it from my father who died in November 2020. And it will keep my heart warm now until it falls apart, or until the time comes to pass it on to my own eldest son.

What…

this essay is actually about is the nature of good criticism.

The fact that this one is a red Christmas tree decorated with lawn flamingos is not the actual point. One has to look past the flaws and try to judge the effectiveness of how it achieves… or fails to achieve… its intended purpose… apparently to keep rats and small birds out of your yard… or from within a hundred yards of the thing.

And…

if I were to be offended by the revelation of Santa’s sexy black thong, then the thing to do as a proper critic is not to use my power to condemn it, but not to take up the critique of it at all. I mean, if you are actually offended by the thing, you would not want to offer an opinion that some would take as a challenge.

“What? You are telling me that I can’t like Santa’s sexy black thong? I will not only like it, I will love it! And I will buy one for myself.”


Following…

the philosophy of the uncritical critic, I would only review this green nightmare sweater of a Christmas mutant demon-dog if I really liked it. Of course, since you are seeing a review of it here, it means I am actually quite charmed by the sweater itself, and amused by whatever seventy-plus-year-old grandmama that has the kitsch-defiant attitude that allows her to proudly wear it… even if it was given to her as a gift by a relative she probably doesn’t really like but, never tells them so.

Doing book reviews one after another (as I have been doing for Pubby in order to get reviews on my own books in return) I have done a lot of the uncritical critic bit. Some of the people I have been reviewing the books of should never have tried to write a book in the first place. But do I tell them that? Of course not. If I have taken the trouble to read the whole book, even though it may be horrible, I am not going to pour cold water on their flame. I have done reviews with innumerable editorial suggestions of what would make it a better story, or a better non-fiction book, or children’s book, or poetry book, or self-help book… I have read terrible books of all of these kinds. And I know the authors did not rewrite the books as I suggested. But in my many years as a writing teacher, I have learned well that you must always point out the fledgling writers’ strengths and ask them to build on those. And some will. Besides the points I earn to spend on reviews of Mickian books, that is reward enough.

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According to Mickey…

I have been using the book-reviewing service called Pubby to get readers to actually read and review my books. I have barely gotten any readers to pick up and read one of my books since I first started publishing my work in 2007. And I get it. Beginning authors, no matter how good they are going to be later, are not so very good on the first, second, or even third try. My family is reluctant to read anything I have written because I pester them too much about it. My children are all creative in their own way, and consumed more by their own projects than by anything I have done. And when my wife reads anything I have written, she becomes laser-focused on what is unusual about how I use grammar and how things are spelled.

“You can’t spell that word like that!” she insists.

“But honey, it’s a made-up word that I made up myself.”

“That makes it worse, because the word it makes me think of is a bad word in the Philippines, even though it is spelled nothing like your word for butterflies thinking of ear wax.”

“Okay, I guess I have to change it then.”

Not my wife and me… but close.

But Amazon doesn’t like your relatives writing book reviews anyway. And their rules knocked out a couple of reviews I got from other writers with whom I had a deal for exchanging reviews. So, this review service was supposed to help with the problem. You read books from Pubby’s list and write a review to get points that you can put toward getting your own books reviewed. That seems both reasonable and equitable to me.

So, I started with some of the best books I have written and began getting them reviewed. So far, Snow Babies has gained four five-star reviews. Sing Sad Songs and Recipes for Gingerbread Children have each added three five-star reviews.

And it began to concern me.

It seems that some of the truly terrible writing that I was reviewing were getting overly-generous amounts of five-star reviews, along with their twos and threes. And the closer I looked at some of the comments in the reviews of my books, which were somehow read in only one or two days, were merely restatements of what other reviewers had already written. It was entirely possible that I was getting reviews like I was because writers were slapping an empty five-star on there to justify earning their points to get their own books reviewed. They weren’t actually reading the stories themselves.

I am not going to complain about mere suspicions over a five-star review. But I was looking for proof that people read and like my books. And I expect to see some lower grades on my work. That’s part of how you know things are real. Not everyone likes every good book. The best books ever written have their detractors.

That is an ordinary tractor in the background, not a detractor.

So, I went with my most recently published book, Laughing Blue. I chose the free-review-copy option and gave the reader every opportunity to dislike my book of boring old essays. And I got back a five-star review with some actual proof that the reader did read it and enjoyed it.

Now I feel better. But I would still like to see some three or four-star reviews, and I would definitely survive a one or a two. It would make me think the whole thing is a bit more honest than it has seemed at times.

And that’s how it’s supposed to be… according to Mickey.

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The Uncritical Critic Rides Sidesaddle

One difficulty with doing the whole book-review-on-Pubby.com thing is that to get a book reviewed you have to give a book review or two.

This comes into conflict with my uncritical critic philosophy. You see, up until now I have done book reviews only at my pleasure, only reviewing books I know I am going to enjoy. I am used to giving five-star book reviews because the books I choose to read are really that good.

But now, on this book-review forum that I paid an expensive membership to join, I am definitely running into books written by authors who only think they are writing the Great American Novel. Some of them have a lot to learn about how to tell a good story, let alone the ones who don’t even know some of the basics about how to write in English.

I recently came across a book that had a number of four and five stars in each review. But I could only give it a two-star review. Bummer. Why is it up to me to bring the hammer down? Some of the reviewers who weren’t mostly incoherent in what they said about the book were obviously being overly kind because it was this person’s first novel. How do you deflate someone’s balloon without breaking their heart while they are holding tightly to the string?

And is it fair to give someone a balloon-inflating five-star review if they haven’t earned it?

As a writing teacher, you have to begin every review of an assignment with the positives you find in the work. The suggestions for improvement that come after may far outweigh the two good things you found in the piece to get them re-started.

I recently read a “novel” by an author who had only written about 8,000 words and was calling this the beginning of an epic series. There was practically no dialogue. The actions were brief and as simplistic as a fairy-tale adventure with demonic possession in another dimension where time-travel was common could possibly be. It makes me cringe about my own unpublished first attempts a whole lot less than before. So, I had to give a two-star review that began with the sentence, “You certainly are an enthusiastic young writer.”

I worry too about all of my own reviews so far being pure five-star reviews. Some of those reviews seem to reveal that the reader actually read the book and identified some of the strengths it has that I believe are there myself. But some of them could too easily be from reading what other reviewers have said, parroting it, and giving me a review based on their assumption that the other reviewers are right. I need to see some of that criticism and argument about what I have done that indicates a thoughtful reading of the book and really disliking it for a valid reason. I am not a perfect writer. Even the guy who wrote Shakespeare’s plays and poems had some flaws, prejudices, and foibles.

And since we are reviewing each other’s novels, how soon before someone gives me a one-star review out of a lust for vengeance? We are probably not all doing this in order to make each other better writers.

Ah, the book-reviewing life! Can you name even one reviewer you think is right more than they are wrong? I can’t. In fact, who besides me ever reads book reviews? I do not know that answer well enough to even guess.

But I paid the money. And someone is actually reading and reviewing honestly, even if it is only me. I mounted the old unicorn of book reading an writing tutorials sidesaddle. That way I’m not likely to get hit where it really, really hurts.

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