A Reflection on My Reaction to My First Negative Review

Note: As you read this post, you may notice I’m vague about the content of the review. You could probably go on Goodreads and figure out what I’m referring to, but I don’t want this to be seen as a response or rebuttal to the review. My goal is to capture my thought process as a new author seeing a negative review of their first novel.

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At some point over the past day, Link’s face was an accurate reflection of how I felt.

Up until this week, all the reviews that I’d seen for Power Surge have been positive, which of course, made me skeptical. Inevitably, someone was going to burst my bubble.

It finally happened. Someone who didn’t finish the book left a review without a rating.

I disregarded advice I’ve heard across the internet and read the review. I’m glad I read it, even if I was surprised by my reaction.

At first, my brain processed it like feedback from a CP or beta reader. I had to squash my instinct to explain why I wrote something the way I did, and then I had to squash my urge to reply thanking the reviewer.

I thought about what I could’ve changed in a scene the reviewer alluded to. I came to the conclusion that in general, I need to be more careful about how my main character and my narrative voice react to characters who say problematic things or hold problematic opinions.

After a day, I realized that in my mind, the review had shifted from what it actually was something completely different. I had latched onto to a specific phrase the reviewer mentioned and made the whole thing about that scene.

Early in the morning when I just wanted to go back to sleep, I took it personally, as if the characters flaws were my own.

I realized one assumption the reviewer made was literally wrong.

I thought that it was the only review people are going to pay attention to. No one else would buy my book. No agent or publisher will represent future works of mine.

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The Meowditor-In-Chief is good at keeping me from writing things I shouldn’t. Sometimes.

I thought the reviewer was wrong. I thought the reviewer was calling me out on an important issue. I wanted to thank them. I wanted to argue. I wanted respond, to know more, but I didn’t because writers need to leave readers and reviewers alone.

Instead of  filing the feedback aside for future work and moving on, as you can see, I obsessed over it.

But something good did come out of it.

It reminded me that just says they don’t like a character or can’t connect with a character in a published work, I’m shouldn’t think much of it, especially when I know other readers have connected to that character. That type of thing is subjective and varies from person to person.

If a character makes someone uncomfortable? That’s okay. I’ve read books with characters that made me uncomfortable too, but that didn’t mean that book was bad.

Different people react differently to different characters. A good chunk of this bad review was based off of things I think of as subjective, and some assumptions the person made because they stopped reading too soon.

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The Meowditor-In-Chief does not approve of something I wrote.

However, when I see a reviewer mention something harmful, like misogyny,  it is worth reflecting on. The reviewer mentioned a phrase a character used in a scene, and I think I could’ve done a better job showing the main character and the narrative voice’s disapproval of that attitude.

Now, that might not have fixed it for the reviewer, who might have perceived an overall tone that I’m somewhat oblivious to, but to me, that change would’ve helped.

If a reviewer calls an author out on problematic or harmful ideas, then the author needs to listen. They need to take that into account and reflect. Maybe the reviewer is onto something. Maybe they are misconstruing it or their reading is being influenced by some outside factor. Either way, it’s something for me to keep in the back of my head when I’m revising the sequel and other works, especially since I do tend to include characters who hold problematic opinions or say harmful things in some of my works.

Sometimes those characters change.

Sometimes I kill them.

Sometimes they don’t actually mean the things they say, but feel they are expected to act that way fit a certain mold…or they are just trying to piss someone off.

In future science fiction and secondary world fantasy, I’m open to leaving those characters out and writing about societies that have out grown a lot of the problems that plague Earth today. On the other hand, when I write books like Power Surge, urban fantasy with a contemporary setting, the nasty side of present-day humanity rears it’s ugly head.

Sometimes problematic ideas creep in unintentionally, stemming from things I may not realize I internalized. Other times, I think I am deliberate exposing the dirt and raking up the muck, yelling “Look! This is a problem! Do you see why?”

I need to careful that the narrative voice isn’t endorsing their harmful words and to remember that silence equals endorsement. I need to acknowledge that some readers don’t want to see certain harmful concepts represented on the page in any way, shape or form, and that if those readers pick up a book like Power Surge, they might have a problem with.

Books that ignore problematic concepts and try to show us a better way to live and think and act are incredibly important. Books that get messy and roll around in humanity’s, books that acknowledge harm ideas and punch them in the face are also important.

Reading a critical review of my book ended up being a thought provoking excercise that was worth the stress it created.

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Sometimes, I just need to keep swimming against the current, whether it is made of rejection, reviews, or anxiety.

If you are interested in reading Power Surge, for yourself, here are some buy links.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2TodlCV

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/power-surge-sara-codair/1129616729

NineStar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/power-surge/

Book Review: The Year of the Knife

A few months ago, Meerkat Press had giveaway running: sign up for their newsletter and get a free ebook. I signed up and got a copy of The Year of the Knife  It sat on my kindle for a while, on my growing list of things to read. After a big stretch of reading YA, I finally wanted to read something “adult” again, so I picked up this. I started it just before dinner and finished a little after midnight. I loved the explosive magic, a hard boiled lesbian witch main character, and the fast paced plot with a mostly well set up twist.

The magic system in the book was my favorite kind.It had well established rules, limits and costs, and an almost mathematical set up, but the way the author showed it on paged in a way that didn’t bore me with the technical details of actually showing all the calculations. There would be a sentence or two more focused on what was going through Sully’s head while she did calculations, but the reader didn’t actually see the numbers or symbols.  

Speaking of the main character, Sully, is quite the badass. If you ever read the Dresden Files, picture if Harry Dresden and Karin Murphy were actually one character only more Irish and queer.

Throughout the book, Sully is following a string of murders where victims don’t stay dead. The middle of the book, when Sully is knee deep in zombies and demons, was my favorite part. Sully was strongest when her back was against the ropes and she was grasping for leads. 

The opening wasn’t fantastic, but it did its job. It showed Sully’s strength and battle madness with one serial killer hunt, set something up for the end, and then introduced the case shortly after. 

I was a little disappointed that the one non-binary character, the only character with a they/them pronoun, was in the book for a few pages then died.

There were frequent mentions of the sexism the Sully faced, but it never seemed to affect her much, and just seemed there for the sake of being there.

Most pieces of the twist and the end were well set up for, but a couple things seemed a little too convenient, and one thing I was expecting never happened, even though a few things early on almost promised me it would. Still, there are two more books in the series, so perhaps some of the breadcrumbs left uneaten are just setting up for things yet to come. I’m willing to wait and see.

I really am looking forward to the next installment in this series, which comes out later this year. 

So if you read Year of the Knife now, you won’t have too long to wait!

Book Review: The Winter of the Witch

The worst thing about The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden  is that it means the series is over. I could read another trilogy about Vasya and Morozko even though this book clearly wraps up the conflicts that began in the Bear and the Nightingale.  Now, before I wind up spoiling something, I’ll get on with my review.

The strongest features of The Winter of the Witch are definitely the characters and world building.

I love how Vasya resists the gender roles of her time, how she grows into herself and figures out who she really is. Her persistence, pain, wildness, courage, and dedication are tangible things. I loved struggling and succeeding and navigating a myriad of complicated relationships through her point of view. Morozko was my second favorite character, perhaps made more intriguing by the fact that readers really did not get to see much from his point of view. The others were okay, but every time the narrative shifted to them, I just wanted to get back to Vasya.

I did find myself annoyed at the way the book shifted point of view. This varies from reader to reader, but I prefer to read from one point of view for a whole chapter and get annoyed when scene breaks indicate a switch in point of view. On more than one occasion, I found myself rereading to remind myself which character’s eyes the world was being filtered through.

The world building was fantastic. I was smelling, tasting, touching, seeing, and hearing right along with the characters. And it wasn’t boring or overwhelming. Every detail Arden chose to focus on was relevant and added to the tone or mood of the scene. I loved that the magic system and creatures were based off of actual myths, and that some of the characters were named after people who actually existed and fought in a battle the one in the book was based off of.

One downside of historically accurate fiction is that it is often loaded with sexism and misogyny the contemporary world is struggling to shake. Throughout this trilogy, were there was no shortage of sexist men treating woman like inferior beings or objects. However, I was happy  that there were less of those in this book and that Vasya had earned the respect of men who previously looked down on her.

As much as I enjoy escaping to worlds without sexism, to worlds where gender isn’t a rigid binary thing people are judged by, I do believe there is plenty of room for those books to co-exist with novels like this that don’t censor the shitty parts of history. Historical fantasy has it’s value too. It makes me appreciate how far society has come.I’ll certainly miss Vasya, Morozko, and their complex, slow burn romance, but I’ll look forward to reading whatever Arden writes next.

Click here to buy The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Awards Eligiblity Post 2018

Broadswords and Blasters

Because all the cool kids are doing it, here’s the list of work Broadswords and Blasters published in 2018. This doesn’t include the blog posts, twitter rants, or other nonsense we may have engaged in. We would love to hear what your favorite story was from last year, and you can use this if you are thinking about nominating any of the stories below. Stories are listed by issue and by the order they appeared in the table-of-contents. All stories fall into the short story category.

2018 saw Broadswords and Blasters publish 4 issues:

Issue 4 (January 6, 2018)

  1. “Commander Saturn and the Deadly Invaders from Rigel by Richard L. Rubin
  2. “Demons Within” by Karen Thrower
  3. “Monsters in Heaven” by Steve Dubois
  4. “A Brush With Death” by Benjamin Cooper
  5. “Granny May Saves the Day” by Freddie Silva, Jr.
  6. “Regarding the Journal of Jessix Rutherford and Its Connection to the Beacon’s…

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Book Review: The Disasters

The Disasters  is a treasure. After the last future-set, sci-fi book I read, The Disasters was like a breath of fresh air.  The Disasters had  a narrative kept me glued to kindle, only taking a breaks to do necessary things like eat, use the bathroom, and walk the dog until the book was done.

Thankfully, I’m a fast reader, and this was a fast book (in a good way).  

So, what is the story?

A group of teens who just failed out of an elite space academy survive a attack that takes out their classmates, flee the system, and fight to stop the terrorists from killing more people.

Said group of teens is pretty awesome.

The narrator, Nax,  is a bi pilot coping with anxiety from a wreck he was in a few years ago. I loved seeing how he decided to say things that made him seem like a classic, cocky, hotshot pilot while being very scared and insecure.  I was rooting for him from the start, and loved his interactions with a crew that was diverse in terms of gender, sexual orientation, race, and nationality.

Terrorist attack aside, this future was super optimistic.

For the most part, humans weren’t fighting each other. There was peace on Earth and in the “the colonies.” Most people were getting along…except for this one group that wanted to kill everyone…but that group was a small portion of the population. Most groups got a long way better than they do today.

The word “colonies” made me cringe a little the first time I saw it on the page, however, it’s un-inhabited planets, not cultures and people, that are being colonized. This universe is similar to the one Firefly was set in, where humans have found habitable worlds and terraformed others to make them habitable, but have not yet discovered other sentient life in the galaxy.

I also loved how the book handled diversity. It wasn’t about diversity. It wasn’t about being bi, muslim, trans, black, gay, white, or straight. It was about teens trying to save the galaxy. Their identities were part of them, added richness to their personalities, made them unique, and made them feel real. The book gave me hope that one day, things like racism, transphobia, islamophobia, and  homophobia will be things of the past. This future is the kind I seek out in science fiction.

I’ve read books like this before, that do all the amazing this one does, but most of them have been from small presses. I’m happy to see that larger publishing houses are finally catching on.

Next time you are in the mood for some great science fiction,  read The Disasters! 

Writing Questions: The Good, The Bad, and The Awkward.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

January 2:

What are your favorite and least favorite questions people ask you about your writing?

 

The Good:

I love answering questions about writing and publishing.

How did you decide to write a book? What did you have to do to get published? What type of things do you do when you revise? What are your favorite editing strategies? What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

The above questions are among my favorite conversation topics. I love talking about the hows and whys of writing and publishing.

As a writing teacher, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and researching how to help people (including myself) improve their writing. I’ve found one way to do this is to develop a good writing process, and as a result, I spend a lot of time observing, analyzing and tweaking my writing process. I love hearing how other people write as much as I love sharing what I do, what works about it, and what bugs I am still trying to work out.

Publishing is another topic I’ve spent countless hours researching. I still have a lot to learn, but I have a good base of industry knowledge that is growing every day and love answering questions about it.

Whether I’m talking about process or publishing, I find that I learn though explaining. Answering questions helps come to new  realizations and see things I didn’t know I knew. It prompts me to fill in gaps in my knowledge, to look at things from different perspectives, and to synthesize in new ways.

The Bad:

How is your book doing? How many copies have you sold?

If you have a writer friend or relative you care about, just do not ask them these questions. It might be okay if the book is on the NYT or USA Today Best Seller List. In any other situation, it probably sucks.

First off all, the writer probably doesn’t really know how their books are doing, especially if they are not self-published. Amazon tells the “publisher” how many copies were sold, so if a writer isn’t self published, they have to wait for monthly, or in some cases, quarterly statements to see how many copies sold in a set period of time.

It’s frustrating enough not knowing how many copies I have sold. It’s worse when I constantly have people asking me about it.

Friends and family have been asking me about Power Surge’s sales since a few days after it came out in the begining of October. I can make some guesses based off of the Amazon sales rank. For example, if I looked on Amazon and saw Power Surge ranked around 100,000, I could assume I sold one book today on Amazon. However, I have no clue if someone buys a book from iBooks, from Barnes and Noble, from my local indie book store, or directly from the publisher’s website, until I get my royalty statements.

The Awkward:

In the face to face world, I get pretty awkward pretty fast when people ask my what my book is about.

Online, if asked the same question, I can refer people to the blurb or take my time adapting a pre-made pitch for the question.

But ask me face to face? You get mubmled fragments about teenagers, Maine, and Demon Hunters, and my most awkward of all: “paranormal things.”

I’m pretty sure I’d sell more books if I got better at talking it up to the people at the dog park.

However, the most awkward questions of all are things like:

Are any of the characters based off of youself? What parts? Is anything in the book based off of something that really happened? The main character self-harms. Is that something you do?

Now, a more general question, like “what inspired you to write this?” is perfectly fine. However, when people start trying to use the book as a way to learn private things about my personal life, it gets very very awkward.

I know by calling the book “own voices” I am acknowledging that some the things that marginalize the narrator are also things I’ve experienced, but that doesn’t mean I want people walking up to me at a party and grilling me about which parts, especially if they are family. The last thing I want is people to think is that they can some how psychoanalyze me through my fiction.

Wrap-Up

If you want to talk to me about writing, I’m always happy to answer questions about writing itself, about the process and different ways to publish. I’m working on getting better at pitching Power Surge face to face. However, I prefer not to have to answer questions about sales I can’t really answer, and don’t want people using my fiction as an excuse to pry into my personal life.