SF Morgue Tour (Dead Man Toga Party)

A couple months ago I had the chance to take a tour of the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s facilities. I made an appointment with the director and he was gracious enough to allow me to come and walk through their morgue and generally ask him anything I wanted, for which I am eternally grateful.

I began my “day in the crypt,” not in a the crypt at all, but running around 850 Bryant Street bugging cops and administrators. Well, I really had to. I simply could not have my characters going to the wrongs floors and divisions.

The first thing I learned is that they don’t want to talk to you, generally speaking. Well, Homicide had no interest in seeing my face. They just gave me a flat out “No.” All right, fair enough, I can take a hint.

I did, however, meet one police officer who took the time of day to explain the set up of the departments a bit. I asked him, jokingly, if they had a paranormal department. Quite seriously he explained to me they take reports from people who call in complaining of ghosts or paranormal activities. He cited one incident wherein the caller complained of dead police officers going through his drawers. Such reports eventually make their way over to Special Victims unit where they do a follow up on the reporter to make sure everything is A Okay, as in, they’re not going to jump off the bridge or something.

So, if you see a ghost in San Francisco, call the cops.

My appointment for the morgue was at 3:30. Chris, the director, greeted me and showed me the ropes. I didn’t know this, but as recent as the late 80’s the old Medical Court was still in practice. This is where, in order to “determine” cause of death, they would call the decedent’s family and friends together and just sort of talk it out.

After that we made passage to the viewing room. The decor was akin to the greenish overlays of the Matrix universe. A lot of green actually and old paneling. Contrary to movies and TV shows, people don’t go into the crypt. And when I say people, I mean, if you’re not a doctor you don’t go in there. Cops aren’t just waltzing in and looking under the sheet at the mauled dead guy. Nor are family members going into the crypt to stand over the decedent to identify their son or daughter.  That’s what the viewing room is for. There is a big plexi-glass window and a small chamber on the other side where the corpse is displayed. The family member stands in the other room and identifies or, more likely, grieves.

Next stop: crypt. You ever smell a dead mouse? How about 15 of them? The decor looked to me like a 1950’s high school locker room. Greenish tile on the walls, cement floors and white porcelain sink tables. I’d say there were about 6 of those tables, where you had a sink at one end with the table tilted to drain into the sink. When we walked in, two techs had a cadaver laid out, partially obscured with a sheet. The big, strong looking tech began zipping up a body bag and shoving the head inside, slightly reminiscent of packing luggage.

They really don’t want you seeing the dead when you go in there. Not totally sure why. The doc made this comment: “Oh come in, you’re not going to see anything, well, other than this poop.”

Chris explained it very aptly. “This is a messy job.” You just don’t appreciate the meaning of those words until you perform an autopsy or, perhaps, three hundred.

Anyway, he showed me the scales where they do some detestable things like weigh brains and hearts and livers. All the body organs. Then came the industrial bone saw. And what is this used for? Cutting around the head and phlewlck off comes the skull cap.

Every sink table had a big pair of branch clippers hanging off the side. Those, my guide said, are the best tools for opening a chest plate. Home Depot employees have no idea why I buy so many.

The air filtration system is set up with vents in the floor so that the air flows downward. In other words, to ground airborne diseases.

Piles of implements commanded one side table. Lots of scalpels and knives and scissor-like objects. They were clean, of course.

We discussed the various storage techniques. They don’t have those oh so sleek morgue freezer drawers you always see in the movies. You know, the stainless steel kind that slide open like the newest Frigidaire. Nah, just a big refer, like in a commercial kitchen where they might keep the lettuce. The gurneys stand side by side, a bunch of stiffs laying around under sheets, feet sticking out, like some fucked up toga party. They can fit 16 gurneys in there at the same time.

We examined the drying chamber. It sits in the corner like an enclosed shower stall. It’s for drying off the dead found in the bay. And they get some doozies from the bay. You see, marine life are awfully fond of fingers, toes, noses and wait for it, penises and testicles. Yeah. What else can you say? Yeah.

In the end, we stood there in the middle of the morgue, the scent of decaying flesh all around us, discussing the hard realities of what it means to be dead. Nothing quite spoils human dignity like death.

If the death wasn’t expected or obvious, these folks are there to find out why. These folks have a hard job and as Chris said, a messy one. And when they’re not carving up cadavers, they’re dealing with survivors and that can’t be easy.

I asked Chris if he got a lot of requests for tours. He said he did and that he almost never grants them. I wondered why he toured me. Whatever his reason, I am glad he did.

Expecting to be horrified, have nightmares, or at the very least, lingering thoughts, I was struck with something else entirely: the sentiment of “it’s not so bad.” Quite simply everyone dies. What a terrible thing to say, and yet, when you can admit it, you find a kind of peace with it.

 

Why do Serial Killers Fascinate Us?

What is the obsession we have with serial killers? Well, maybe obsession is a strong word, but we, as a society, are perhaps overly interested them. Last night I watched the Zodiac film for the first time. Aside from being a good movie, I found the whole case fascinating.

Afterwards, my wife got online and started researching all of the serial killers in the world. She found that more than 50 serial killers are active in the country at any one time and, of course, because she was on the internet, she found out that most serial killers come from the Pacific Northwest.

Somebody once made a joke about the Green River killer living in a shed and then, of course, she found out that the Green River killer was real and did live in that shed–not really, but he is real. He’s in prison trying to claim more kills that he didn’t do to get more infamous than Ted Bundy. Speaking of Ted Bundy, we love that a sleazy guy in a sitcom is named Al Bundy (Married with Children) and we love watching movies like Silence of the Lambs where he makes a skin suit from plus size beauties. We are endlessly fascinated with Charlies Manson and his strange prophecies and weird antics. Our skin crawls at the tales of Jeffery Dahmer and his freezer and bathtub. In Katy Perry’s song Dark Horse they draw a comparison on “she’ll eat your heart out like Dahmer” or some horrible analogy. The list goes on.

Well, why is that? In the movie the Zodiac guy wanted a movie made of him, wanted promotional buttons that people would wear and otherwise wanted infamy. And dare I say, he got it.

Perhaps it is because the sane man or woman simply cannot fathom the depths of depravity such personalities have gone, or perhaps we just don’t understand that there isn’t a even a person there at all. Just a machine or an animal, but no soul, and we look in vain to understand how someone that looks like us, can destroy us.

Statistically, they don’t kill that many people. They kill a handful. Compare that with, oh, Hiroshima, and you see the disparity. Compare it with highway accident deaths in any given month and, well, then again. So, it’s not the number of victims that gets us, but the way its done.

The worst crime is murder. It is the worst crime because is takes away another individual’s right to play the game. I can almost envision these dedicated killers as some kind of urban decay, come up from the sewers to level out the playing field, a nightmare clothed in human flesh.

But really they are just men gone mad and if they have a soul left at all it must be so small and so very lost.

How to Handle an Infested Manuscript

I am always in search of techniques to make self editing easier and more effective. Because, let’s face it, if you write more than a book or two, paying a couple grand a pop breaks the piggy bank. 

So, between myself, wife and my English guru friend, we tackle the subject armed with Chicago Manuals of Style and an assortment of dictionaries and self editing compendiums. And we flank our maneuvers with full tanks of caffeine.

We also go over the manuscript many times, about six or seven before we put that baby to bed. Needless to say, this takes time and since lack of time is the biggest enemy of today’s indie author, I am always looking for ways to speed things up and increase quality. Because you don’t want to speed things and decrease quality, do you?

So in the interest of community and assistance to my fellow authors, I would be remiss if I did not mention here what I have found. If you already know all about this, it wouldn’t be the first time I am late on the chain, but as they say, better late than never got out of bed.

This method I am about to expose, is based on a the principle that writers have crutches they don’t know about. Subconscious word smiths who are so dull they make Eeyore look like Bozo the Clown. Yet these sluggards have one very strong trait. They never drop a ball.

They go to work day in and day out, tirelessly pounding in the nails. These boys have no life. 

They construct pet phrases and little words that, when trouble sets in, at least get the job done and take the story where it wants to go regardless of weather conditions. These workman verbs don’t give a rat’s fanny pack how it gets done, just build that road.

I call it the Wyrm Method. “Wrym” is a cool way of saying “worm.”

These repetitive words and phrases can infect a manuscript like a tapeworm, sucking out the life while making you think you’re just hungry.

A couple of these ageless parasites are: Seems, stood, nodded, sighed. When the terrain becomes slightly more rocky, the Eeyore homunculus in his yellow plastic construction hat opens his thermos and really pours on a double dose of dull. Stopped and stared, looked and smiled, thought and realized.

Some other construction site parasites might include: cocked his head, spun on his heel, smelled the fear and that Mack Daddy of them all: between forefinger and thumb. Its just not a good book unless someone can hold something with his forefinger and his thumb at the same time, as if he would do it any other way!

Oh, its nothing to be ashamed of. We all need to walk on a sidewalk and when you can’t cross the river, you better build at least a rope bridge. The problem with these utilitarian words and cliches is not even so much that they are as tasteless as stale baklava, but that they are used time and again, like that Chicago pothole that just won’t stay filled after the next rain no matter how many times they come and pour in loose asphalt.

There is another problem. These boredom inducing bits posses a camouflage component that is more effective than a Trojan rocking horse. Around these manuscript murderers I daresay you will find whole nests of pathetic prose, passive voice and in general sleep inducers better than Ambient, but far less addictive. Find the wyrm and you find his brood of dullards in overalls and hard hats. Have no mercy. Exterminate.

So, if you think your manuscript might have wyrms, use my extermination technique. Pick a colorless modifier, load it into you search and find matrix and root those suckers out. And I daresay once you begin, you’ll find more and more and more, until they wither up and die and your manuscript will be that much closer to health. 

Happy hunting.

State of the Union in Indieville (for those who care)

I’ve fallen off of all social media bandwagons and online interactive platform thingies. I haven’t missed it at all. I am happy like hell not to be posting status updates on FB, sharing photos of my eyeball or tweeting buy links for a .99 specials. Oh, yes, I am. 

I do like writing a blog, sometimes, so you’ll see me flapping my gums on this soap box. 

I decided to close the door and concentrate on getting my work done. I also decided it was time to read some instructional books on writing. And I am so glad I did. It used to be that reading books on writing would just fuck with my head. I would get all screwed up and not be able to write anything. I’m a big boy now and I can trash the stuff that isn’t true for me and run with the stuff that is. That’s important to do as a writer. It’s huge because if you don’t, the road to learning craft is blocked and that’s a recipe for stale bread.

I started by re-reading Self Editing for Fiction Writers. That was a much needed re-visitation. I had forgotten so much of the timeless advice in that book. I feel awakened to bad writing habits. I also read How to Write the Break Out Novel and am in the middle of Indie Publishing No Luck Guide. The Break Out Novel was great, such a good take on writing fiction that appeals to everyone. Not what to write, just how to write it. Happy with that book. And the No Luck Guide to Indie Authorship, indispensable. These guys are my new heroes.

Oh, here’s the real title: Write. Publish. Repeat. I love these guys. Really. They are making me feel so empowered and able to succeed at this. No joke. This book is very needed.

I should give a little recap on what has transpired since the last installment of Indie Author Digest on this blog. As you may know, but probably don’t, last summer I decided to “go Indie” with my novel Prizm: Dominatrix of Sulan. I had gotten a killer cover for it and then was planning on doing a little clean up on the manuscript. That turned into a major surgical overhaul, that, thank God I wasn’t working for two months, I cranked out in a sweaty little room in Los Angeles. 

I finally got it posted on Amazon sometime around March, I think, of 2014. No, February. I posted it for 2.99, then frantically changed the price to .99. At the time, I was doing free giveaways on KDP with all of my short stories and so with all of the hubub, I sold a few copies. Not anything more than soda money, but hey, better than nothing!

Anyway, painfully and forlornly I watched the Prizm sales peak at like 5 a week, then slowly drop. I frantically changed the prices all over the place and then, when it was obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to prevent a crash, I just let it go. Now, Prizm still sells, a handful of copies a month. Last month I sold two in England and one in Germany. No new reviews, so not sure if its being read or enjoyed or what. I did send it to a couple of reviewers who gave it 4 and 5 stars. 

The thing is, it sells a few copies a month without me doing anything and it’s not at the garbage price. It’s up for 4.50 and well, it should be at least that. I even sold a hard copy book. It’s all pretty lame in terms of book sales and numbers, but it’s a start and I cheer every time I sell a measly copy. All my other books have flat lined though and that makes me feel dejected. Or frustrated. But what can you do? Perhaps they will sell once something else takes off. 

Since then, I have completed Thomas Hunter, a paranormal occult mystery staring a cross between Corwin of Amber and Philip Marlowe. I have also gotten Poppycock: A Midsummer Night’s Mare into shape and will be ordering the hard copy book print this week. I am excited about this book. The whole series actually. I have the sequel about half done on the first draft. I am envisioning a ten book series, each book being about 60,000 words. So, a fast read urban fantasy horror series with serial killing fairies, occult shit and tons of pretty girls and blood. The second is called Rutlinger: A Mid Summer Night’s Hunt and I am really digging it right now.

They will all be “Something: A Midsummer Nights Blah.” Or a Midwinter Night’s Blah. You know, like Poppycock: A Midsummer Night’s War. It’s a take on, of course, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, duh, and it’s about the war between humans and faeries and what it might be like if all that crazy faerie shit was real. 

So, Poppycock should be up this month, June. 

It all just takes so much longer than I expect, but once you get into the manuscript, you kind of have no choice but to burn out the underbrush. On Poppycock, after re-reading Self Editing for Fiction Writers, I found all manner of screaming banshees flying out at me and me going, “really, I did that?” or “Shit, I was really lazy.” For instance, I went through and did a word search on the word “Seemed.”

Oh God. Everything “seemed” to be and nothing was or was not, black or white, true or false. It’s really interesting to see what kinds of crutches you use. Another one: “stood.” All my characters had these horrible moments when they were just standing around staring at the walls. Some were doing a combination action of “stopping and standing.” I was like, what a dope, he just stops and stands there. There were others and I am glad I had the sense to search and destroy all that stuff.

You live and you learn.

I am hoping to speed this process up. My goal is to get 3 trilogies up and get into a book a month velocity. It’s going to take a while. Prizm, I figure, since it’s selling a trickle without me doing anything, is worthy of a sequel. Poppycock of course, the sequel is underway and Thomas Hunter is also sequel primed. Those are the three I am putting all my bets on. But, I have other manuscripts to get up, too. A New Weird fantasy sea voyage called Godsign that must go up this year, well, this summer. Must! And it also deserves a sequel.

I have another manuscript that I got a cover made for, but I cannot bring myself to do anything with it. I know I am going to have to just trash it and start over. Or maybe not. The ambivalence is killing me. Is it good enough? Does it suck? Couldn’t it be so much better? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, I can’t bring myself to even look at it.

I am also working on ways to work my day job less and write more. I have got to get a million words on Amazon and elsewhere. I have got to crank this thing up and hit critical mass where the books are selling themselves and my promo action is to release the next book. I am not going to rent booths at flee markets. I would like to do readings, but not to empty rooms, please God, no. I still see the last guy who stumbled in on my reading and glared at me for making noise in his favorite coffee table. Honestly, I don’t have the time if I want to keep writing.

It’s a trade off. If you go and sell at fairs and conferences and push the one book like Sisyphus and the boulder, you won’t write new material. Well, maybe you will if you don’t have to work a day job, but probably not.

It’s a long haul. The funny thing is I don’t mind the long haul anymore. I really don’t. I think it’s because I know where I stand, I know what I am doing. I am getting better and better and learning and reading and writing and so, I know, it’s just a matter of time. I know it depends on me just doing the work, getting the manuscripts up to publishing standard, always striving to write a better tale and simply doing it.

I used to slowly go crazy, sink into apathy, think I needed other people. Not anymore. Well, readers, I need them, but that’s different.  

Well, I don’t plan to go back to Facebook for more than the occasional Like. And I feel liberated. I always felt it was a government surveillance strategy anyway. 

Until next time. 

 

 

Gothic Romance Survey

Hello Blogosphere, this is a formal request for (but not limited to) female readers . I am looking for the title of your most cherished, most beloved Gothic romance novel. It doesn’t have to be a Classic, but could be.

If it happens to be Twilight, that’s fine, just list your second favorite Gothic romance novel along with it. That way, I can get a rounded answer, if that makes sense.

If you want to say why, go on and expound away. But only if you want to.

Thank you!

gothic-castle-1024x618

Goat Bones

I had been trying to meet Neil Gaiman for a long time. I admired this  genius of a man for many reasons. One being his work, of course. I found such wonderful things in a Neil Gaiman story, but truth be told, more for his career. Oh, what a career. Yes, the Rock Star of the Literary World, but more than that was the fact that he had made his own brand into a kind of genre all by itself. 

Nothing quite like a Neil Gaiman book. 

So, being a fan I wanted to meet him and being a writer I hoped for some of the magic to rub off. A “Look, Andy, I believe in your story telling so much, that I’m going to endorse you.” Or, “I’ve decided that you and I should write a book together!” 

When I lived in Chicago I went to “A Night with Neil” to celebrate the release of the Graveyard Book. There he read chapter three from the stage and delighted one and all. Ever the showman, his thick mop of black hair, his deep English accent and of course, the wondrous prose. 

Well, there the cost of admittance was one book and the book came autographed. No line up for autographs because when Neil does a signing too many people line up and he is there until 5 o’clock n the morning. Damn! 

Anyhow, after the reading, he did a Q and A with questions from the crowd, he pulled the questions out of a hat that were written before the show started, because if he were to take them directly from the crowd, we would have been there until 5 o’clock in the morning!

Someone (not me, I didn’t put a question in the hat, because I almost never do what everyone else is doing, since birth I am like this) asked him what the secret is. You know “the secret” to being, well, like Neil. He said “Goat bones! Goat bones! Propitiate the gods with goat bones.” And we all had a wondrous laugh and then he, of course, said, “to write and keep on writing and to start with short stories because you can complete them and when you complete things, you see how they are to be done and then after awhile, you can complete bigger things and see how they are to be done, too.”

At the end of the night, I walked away feeling like I had just had a very nice time with a great writer and great speaker. And I had. 

But, I had already written short stories AND novels, and so, not being like anyone else, I endeavored to meet Neil for real. Not just a member of the crowd, but really. 

Some time passed when I saw that Neil was going to be in Montreal for World Con. Holy Moses, I packed my things traveled three thousand plus miles and went. 

Aside from Montreal being a fantastic city and me being thrilled just to walk its streets, I plotted and schemed on how to meet Neil face to face, up close and personal whereby he was sure to say something like, “You know, Andy, I’ve read your manuscript, and I have to tell you, its bloody good and what’s more, you’re bloody good and you’re going to be my new co-conspirator and write American Gods, The Sequel with me!”

Yes, yes, yes!!!

The problem was one didn’t just walk up and talk to Neil. Hell, no. There was protocol,

One morning I was walking, getting my coffee and scheming, when I happened upon a huge line for a Neil Gaiman book signing. Shit! Quick. What to do? Go and buy that Neil Gaiman book right there and jump in line and meet this demigod mug to mug. And that’s exactly what I did. With Unread Neil Gaiman Book tucked under my arm, I got in line. Waiting and waiting.  And then the guy in front of me turns around and says “what number do you have?”

“Number? Number? Ah, what number?”

“Well,” he says, “you gots to have a number, you see like this. And I don’t know if me number is small enough to get into the signing before Neil has to be at that panel discussion.” 

“Uh…”

“Don’t you have a number?”

Nope. The Big Dork didn’t have shit. And no raffle number = no signing by Neil. 

Crappola. 

That’s fine. I got schemes and I got plans and I got backbone. 

When Neil entered the panel room, standing room only, but I was lucky enough to get a seat, everyone clapped. I remember watching him walk up, shaking his mop of bushy black hair and I thought–no, actually said to my friend who I had dragged along, “Maybe that’s what I have to do, get a big head of bushy black hair.”

Anyway, the panel was very Neil of course and all very charming. 

But, time was running out and I had yet to get my personal meeting with Neil. Oh, you could have coffee with him! But no, you had to win that too. 

No, no. That wouldn’t do. I need a sure fire thing, I needed an inside track. 

The night when the Hugo was given Neil won, of course, for The Graveyard Book and gave a speech wherein he said, “Funny that I won this, because I don’t even write Science Fiction” and of course, no one cared! Anyway, with that night came all the after event parties. So many parties and so many opportunities to meet Neil. 

My friend and I wandered the parties, one hotel room to the next, looking for the one with Neil in it. After a good hour, we finally got the punch line, Neil isn’t at these parties, dude. 

Then came the big question: where’s the real party? You know, the Neil party?

It was fated, a fortuitous stroke of amazing luck, that shortly after that, we got onto the elevator and told the guy operating it that we wanted to go to the “real party where Neil was” and he took us. 

The bottom floor. Ding, the door opened and here was the gala. 

Ah. Yes, where all the New York editors were, yes, oh, hello, that’s a luminary in the literary universe, oops there’s another one. I tried talking to a girl who was happy to talk with me the night before at a common party and who very purposely and visibly stuck her nose in the air when she saw me at this party. 

Yes, my dear, I see how its done now. 

Well, needless to say. It was now or never. My friend had left shortly after stepping out of the elevator, because, he said, he didn’t want to be somewhere he wasn’t wanted. No bother, the road to Neil must be walked alone. Begone, traveling companion, you have served me well, but we are at journey’s end.

The golden chalice was near at hand and I carried with me the favor of the gods. 

After some more milling about, some eating of the food, I was feeling pretty good that no one was bum-rushing me, no bouncer kicking me out. Yes, well, like I said, the gods favored me this night. 

And then, as if a spot light shone down, I saw Neil. 

Amidst a flock of his Clarion students (missed that one) he posed for a photo. Yes, it was Neil alright. I waited just out of sight, lurking for the right moment. Plan? Pure bravado. Just walk up and stick out my hand and…

And…

And…

And what? Say, “I’m your biggest fan”, “Hi, I loved Neverwhere”, “Hey, sir, um, can we write a novel together?” 

No.

I’m not going to crash this party anymore. I’m not going to be “that guy.” No. What is he going to do for me, that I cannot do for myself?

Make me famous? Hahahahahahahhahaha. 

“Goat bones, Andy, goat bones.”

Enough. 

I backed away. I turned and walked out. I left the hotel. I left the con. I walked to my hostel, yes, hoStel, where the beds were cheap and the beer cheaper and I smoked a cigarette thinking, I didn’t meet Neil Gaiman. tonight, or today, or this week. No, but I met someone else. He doesn’t have bushy hair or an English accent, but he is someone who really can help me in my career and who really will write the next book with me.

I traveled all this way to meet myself. 

I’m still a Neil fan, but I’m a Anne Rice, Stephen King, China Mieville, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker fan, too. A so-many-others fan. And more importantly I am an Andy Schwarz fan. 

 

So You Got a Bad Review…

Yeah, we all get them. No matter how good you are, no matter how brilliant a story you have written, someone is going to give it a bad review. And though we try not to care, try not to think about it, try not to let it bring us down, we do and it does.

But why?

We have other reviews, perhaps lots of other reviews raving about what a wonderful book, and yet this one lousy one, just makes us think all the good ones were fake or those people writing the good ones were somehow embellishing their enjoyment and being somehow false in their praise.

Oh, woe and strife shall be thy lot.

Well, I will give my take on this horrible subject. It goes like this: reviews are nothing if they are not biased. I don’t really believe a single review means anything. Every author, the greatest authors of our time get bad reviews, one and two star ratings saying “Drivel!” “Crap!” “Hack!”

You say, yeah, that doesn’t help, I still feel miserable about my crappy review. Bear with me for a moment, this is a slow dig.

Someone might say to you this unhelpful statement: “Not everyone is going to like your book.” Yes, we already knew that, thank you. Or this fruitless advice: “Suck it up.” Sure thing, coach.

The reason those kind of statements or commands don’t help our Bad-review-osis, is because they don’t really get at the meat of the problem. As an artist creating something (a book) that book is a baby and that baby, no matter how ugly, is beautiful to its creator-mother-father. So, anyone calling your kid and ugly bastard is apt to get you down.

More to the point: if Mr. Bad Reviewer would just do this one little favor, just this: be specific, maybe, just maybe we could understand and let it go. Apparently this is too much to ask for, however. But if it could be done the review would read something like this: “I thought the characterization of the step-mother was too stock, falling into the old and tired cliche of the evil step-mother who is trying to ruin the family and I would have preferred a fresher more modern approach.” Well, at least you would be able to understand where this reader was coming from.

Instead you tend to get things like: “The step-mother was just a throw-away character” which leaves you with two hang-ups: 1) what is a throw-away character and 2) who says?

In other words you have two problems: a vague comment that is meaningless because it is vague and an opinion masquerading as a fact.

Now, maybe this all some Utopian view of reviews and is totally unreal to expect a reviewer to take the time to explain himself, and to you I say, you’re right. My point here is how to take these uncomplimentary reviews and figure out why they’re torturing you so you can get over them and back to writing.

Okay, so you have a big problem in reviews in that almost nothing in a review is an actual fact. Take this wonderful statement: “The book was uneven.”

Huh? If you could just get a specific, a “In chapter 3 the move from first person to third person jarred me out of the story” or “I felt the authors voice kept going in and out, from Old Time Story Teller to Radio Announcer style.” Something, anything to let you at least understand what the problem was, at which point you could a) decide if you care enough to change it b) change it or not.

It’s as equally bad to say: “this book was good.” I have actually gotten “good” reviews that I felt disappointed with because they didn’t really say why the book had merit.

One way to evaluate a negative review is on the basis of: is there a specific and is there an actual fact. One review I got, a two-star said they didn’t like this dark story, but if you did like dark stories with dark characters doing dark things, you will probably like this dark book. Yes! This is the truth! So, in a way it was a complimentary “bad” review, because if I were looking for a dark and sinister tale about evil and magick and some church lady told me that The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker was a terrible, terrible book about dark doings, I would run out and buy that book right now.

What does it all come down to anyway?

Once you get past the opinions stated as if they were scientific fact and the ambiguous statements about quality, you are prepared to enter the next tier of enlightenment. Let’s face it. Reviews–all reviews, good and bad–are little more than biased, opinionated statements of one person’s tastes. And that’s not a slam on reviews or reviewers, it’s just that that is all any review can ever hope to be.

There is no “good review” or “bad review” because “good” and “bad” are not factual qualifiers. There are only reviews written by people who liked or did not like your book.

And then you must consider that tastes change with the culture. When I was fifteen, we used to pin the bottoms of our pants with safety pins and somehow, with our big feet being accentuated and our pants pinned to our skinny calves, we looked good. Now, I know that if I did my pants up like that people would think I looked really dumb and bad. So tastes can change.

So, now that we have dispensed with good and bad morality as regards reviews, we can see that we have people who liked the book and people who didn’t. Here’s where reviews start to have meaning, but it is a quantitative, not a qualitative significance. How may people “liked” or loved your book versus the haters. You should run somewhere along a 80% favorable (3 star and above) versus the 20% unfavorable (1 and 2 star) with some variance, but this is really what you should have and honestly, in the opinion of this author, what you want. Why? Let’s take a look:

All five stars? Really, every single review is a five star? Okay, so that’s not even real. Stephen King doesn’t get that ever and I’m pretty sure he’s good at what he does, so…bullshit.

Really, it must mean that the reviews are cooked or, more likely, the book doesn’t have enough reviews from the general public. So, in order to even get a picture of whether a book is (old system) “good” or “bad” you need quantity. Conversely, you can’t get one five star review and throw a party because you have written the best classic of the century. That’s pretty obvious how insane that would be. So, neither can you get a shit review and head for the Golden Gate Bridge. You need quantity and only then will you enter the next stage of literary Nirvana.

What are you looking for with this quantity? Whether the book is “good” or “bad?” God, no. We’ve already established that good and bad are meaningless statements of Puritan hypocrisy and a moralist based logic system. No, we want to see the only thing that matters. Ready for this?

What makes Twilight a wonderful success? The excellent prose? Nope. The amazing characters? No, no. What then? What makes Wool so wow-wow. Is it the author’s ballet videos? Nah ah. The fantastically realistic sci-fi technology? Not even.

One word to bind them: resonance.

If you got it, you have success, whether or not you write “good.”

It sucks, I know. What is it? Some could call it the zeitgeist. Heinlein did, about Stranger in a Strange Land when fans in the 70’s tried to actually practice the religion in the book. Twilight resonates with 17 year old girls everywhere, even if that 17 year girl is in your past or somewhere deep down inside. Twilight hooks you with Bella’s “voice.” Hunger Games, Wool and that new one, Divergent, all play on the fascination we humans have with our world becoming a dystopian concentration camp that we have to overcome and restore hope in.  Zombie stuff…somehow we love the idea of the end of the world coming by making everyone a soulless animal that we then have to blow holes in. Gothic vampires will never go out of style because the dependence on human blood with the eternal damnation makes for wonderful love stories that make us ponder the meaning of life and our role in eternity. Etc, etc.

Many things resonate with many different groups. Some groups love Rocky Horror Picture Show. The trick is to write something that resonates with the majority of people, but the REAL trick is to write things YOU LOVE that resonates with ENOUGH people to sell copies and pay the rent or buy that Aston Martin you’ve been eyeballing.

For me, I don’t like the big blockbuster books. They make me so bored. I read them to see why they’re such hits, but they’re soporific to me. Wool. It took me like 5 hours into the audio book to even get remotely interested, and then I admit, I did start really liking it, but I still haven’t finished it, because every scene in this Dean Koontz book stirs up the wildness in me. In other words, while Wool is a beloved masterpiece of the masses,  it doesn’t resonate with me like a good dark fiction fantasy story, like a 800 page Anne Rice back story, like a Weird as all get out China Mieville story, like a–you get the idea.

So, we now have a yardstick by which to rate the ratings and review the reviews.

1) Any facts in this review?

2) Any specifics in this review that you can actually grasp?

1 & 2) No? Dismiss as taste and preference. Yes? see if you agree or weren’t aware of the issue and whether or not there is something to learn from it.

3) Do I have enough reviews to even see a pattern? Or do I need more exposure before I can see an overall picture?

4) What is the ratio between favorable versus unfavorable reviews? If it’s swinging outside of the 80 “good” and “20 bad” you can:

a) review to see if multiple people are saying the same thing.

i) fix or not fix as you see fit or (better)

ii) don’t make the same mistakes in your next book.

4A) If you’re getting nothing but 5 stars, double to check to see if you really did just write the newest classic of the century, or if you need to send your book to people who don’t know you and don’t give a crap if they make you sad today.

5) If its something like 80 to 70% “good” then don’t pay attention to the haters. It didn’t resonate with them, because their head is wrapped around and fascinated with the zombie apocalypse, or  Bigfoot erotica, or vampire saints, or quirky girls who can’t stop shopping or solving crimes with their dad or, or, or ad infinitum.

Now, do you feel better? Get back to writing!

 

 

 

 

New Review on Prizm: Dominatrix of Sulan

These kinds of things just make your day. After all, this is what its all about. Making people happy while making yourself happy too. And that, my friends, is more important than all the money in the world.

Piers Anthony says it on the cover “Starts mundane, and then gets wild!” The “mundane start” doesn’t last long and then it gets wild and keeps getting wilder!

A young American girl thrown willy-nilly into worlds of Werebears, naked Amazons, clones, “Flying Scotsmen” … I thought of Alan Dean Foster, then I thought of Heinlein – Glory Road, then Ron Hubbard, Mission Earth. And a little Farmer’s World of Tiers. There’s room for a sequel or a series …. what I want to know is “When is the next?”

If you enjoy any of these fine authors, Andrew Schwartz will resonate with you, and if you enjoy fantasy at all, this will definitely entertain you!

A word of warning: you may find it hard to put down so be prepared for long reads!

Prizm Review