Monday, February 29, 2016

Provoked by Christopher Nuttall on "According To Hoyt": about reviewing

You can find the original post here on According to Hoyt::

Sarah et co. are just down the road a spell from me at the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop in Chattanooga. Therefore, Chris did a guest column, and it punched my buttons.

This originally was just going to be a comment on his column, but since it addresses some specific points about reviewing that had been on my mind, I found it impossible not to let it blossom into a complementary blog post. So, my comment over at ATH is just the intro; this is the entire beast.

I feel celebratory because this column validates most of my practices, gives me a new idea, and provides a forum where I can spit in the eye of one who first attacked, then attempted to sabotage my reviews.

First of all, those of you who read my book reviews on Amazon and on my blog have told me that you like my reviews because they are detailed, and show that I have paid attention to the book, not just read the summary and dashed off a line or two.  Validation point one!

The next point has to do with indie books, and those, plus books published by Baen, comprise nearly all of my reading.  If I encounter plot holes (rarely) or problems with word usage and sentence construction (which is unfortunately a more frequent occurrence), I bring this to the attention of the author.  However, story and characters always, always trump improper use of commas.  In one case, Cedar and I combined forces and the author removed his book; but that is ONE book out of the 203 reviews I have written over the past year and 1/2, and it's entirely possible that I have read, but not reviewed, anywhere from 200 to 300 additional books.  Clunky sentence formation, poor word choice, but good story and characters: in my opinion, that's four stars, because "I like it." (The Amazon definition.) Validation point two!

The last area in which I feel my practices have been validated has to do with the fact that I feel that my mission is to get good books into the hands of readers.As of 8:53 Eastern today, February 29, 2016, at Amazon there are 210,237 Sci-Fi titles; 226,439 fantasy titles; and 12,963 gaming titles.  Those are books in all formats.  It's very rare that I deal with anything other than Kindle; there are 192,205 Kindle titles.  In the last month alone, there have been 11,062 new releases.  The best way that I know of to get good books in the hands of readers is to find the books I like and tell other people about it as well as I can.  Validation point three!

And now, Christopher gives me a NEW IDEA: I feel painfully stupid to have overlooked it.  However, as I have had occasion to rediscover lately, largely through the ministrations of my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, currying black grand mother of Woodstock, Georgia: I am not the source of all knowledge.  So, even though it may be a simple idea, it's new to me: join the author's forums/blogs/etc, and make comments.  I do that with the Mad Genius Club, but I could do much better than that.

And finally, Christopher Nuttall's column provides a forum where I can spit in the eye of one who first attacked, then attempted to sabotage my reviews.

Last week, for the first time, I was contacted by Amazon vendors who wanted me to review a product.  I wasn't really certain about how the stated ethical reviewing guidelines applied in practice, so I went to an Amazon review forum, and asked a question about shipping and handling fees on the items submitted for a review.  I did, eventually, get the answer to my question, but not before at least three different people complained about the way I was reviewing.  Evidently, the fact that most of my reviews are four or five star ratings causes some to think that I'm not honest.  When I responded that only bought the books that I thought was going to like, another person said that they were so tired of hearing that excuse.  Finally, I was castigated for stating that provided feedback to authors, and was told that my reviews were not trustworthy and worthless.  I thanked them for their input, told them it didn't seem worthwhile for me as a book reviewer to try to expand into product reviews, and on my second attempt was able to stop following that thread.

But then the plot thickened.  Most of my reviews received at least one "helpful" vote; some receive as many as five, but it's rare that someone will vote "not helpful" on one of my reviews; it's so rare in fact, that I'm inclined to believe that the author has an enemy, or that I have inadvertently stepped into something political.  Imagine my surprise then the next time I checked my reviews and found that each one of (then) last three reviews, published on February 19, February 25, and February 26,  had all been given a down vote!  I suppose someone felt I must be punished, and took it upon them sales to do so.  Why would they not down vote every one of my reviews?  Evidently, Amazon has safeguards in place to prevent that from happening.  It's still seems rather childish to me; I can almost hear "nanny-nanny-boo-boo" echoing through cyber-space.
One person's snit doesn't matter, and that's all this appears to be. I just checked, and they haven't troubled themselves to go any further. I'm not certain what advantage they felt they were gaining in doing that, but it IS true that when Amazon is rating a n author's BOOK, a good review by a highly rated reviewer has more impact on how many places the book moves up the ladder than a review by a low rated reviewer. There are other factors; for example, a person who shows up as a Verified Purchaser will have a bigger impact than one who does not show up as a Verified Purchaser. A bit aggravating to me, since I pay for the privilege of reading these books through the Kindle Unlimited program, and yet am not a Verified Purchaser.
So, to the unknown down-voter: phooey on you!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mornings Are Still The Worst!

I can't believe I EVER tried to do this with a hangover!

It's not even the pressure of what has to be done that makes mornings a hassle, it's just…  Mornings.  I am of the age where the following statement is true: if you wake up in the morning, and nothing hurts, it's a sign that you died in the night.  Actually, that's been true for a while.  I can recall making the observation, back in the day when I was still gainfully employed as a school counselor, that now it took me longer to take my morning medications than it used to take to get dressed.  That's only a slight exaggeration, by the way: blood pressure pills, blood sugar pills, prescribed vitamins, fish oil, a combined anti-pain, anti-depressant, ADD medicine, and something to combat hiatal hernia; the only thing that's not prescribed that I take is a vitamin C when I think I might be in danger of getting a cold.

And lately, it seems that every morning I have to take 1/2 pain pill, to supplement the patch I wear, almost every day.  Getting old ain't for sissies…

I don't even notice it most mornings, because most mornings are school days for the kids, as well as office days for my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after, trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, Georgia.  The morning routine takes over, and we get everything done without anybody getting bent out of shape (most mornings; Kenneth lost his shoes last Monday, so Vanessa bent HIM out of shape).  But this morning, Saturday morning, for a brief moment, I thought I was going to die, and I was afraid I wasn't.

When you have elementary school age children, there is no such thing as sleeping in late on the weekends.  Somebody is certain to have something to do, and for the past several months, Alicia has had dance practice every Saturday morning.  All the girls in the house, except for the cat, use this as an opportunity to go somewhere, and do something, with some other girls, some of whom we are related to.  (I don't ask questions, and try not to look too closely.) That's a good thing, as it leaves the boys in the house to do whatever we want to do.  Or it would be, if Vanessa weren't so cheerful and energetic as she is making preparations for the women to walk out the door.

First, she has to fuss at the cat.  Sugar Belly, our fat black Manx cat, loves Vanessa with an unholy glee, and celebrates life by walking on Vanessa before she gets out of bed, licking her arm, pushing her books off the bedside table, talking to her continuously, and following her into the bathroom.  And while Sugar Belly is doing that, Vanessa is instructing her.  It isn't just "stop that!  Be quiet!  Can't you give me some privacy?", although those phrases do figure greatly in the morning noise level.  In addition to that bit of interaction, though, Vanessa instructs Sugar Belly that when she returns, she expects the mess around the cat food bowl to be cleaned up.  And that Sugar Belly had better learn to start obeying her, or they are going to take a trip to the pet donation center.

And all the time that Vanessa is talking, Sugar Belly is following her around, and talking back.  It's quite amusing.

Meanwhile, I'm still lying in bed, waiting for the meds to kick in, when I hear the dreaded words: "When I get back home, I'm going to clean this house from top to bottom!" And that's the point when I start to get just a teensy bit nervous.

You see, the only cleaning that I have planned for the day, is cleaning out my E mail inbox.  And you may not think so, but that can take a lot of Time.  I have to read things, I have to respond to things, and most of it requires more than just hitting the delete button.

The e-mail is just the smallest task I have, though.  I have books I have to review, which means I have to read them first; I have this blog to write; and today I had a self-imposed wikipedia assignment I really needed to finish.

This sounds too much like whining.  I'm not whining; I love what I do.  That's why I do it.  It's rather the perfect way for me to make a contribution, and to keep from becoming stagnant.  I just need a certain amount of quiet while I'm writing, because I'm not really writing at all; I'm dictating.  I use speech recognition to compose everything I do now, because the keyboard and I don't always get along.

So when Vanessa told me of her plans to clean the house from top to bottom, I knew right then that I was going to have to finish any writing before she got home.  I wasn't sure I could do it.

That was 4 hours ago, though, when I was still in bed with an unfocused brain and painful joints.  I wish to announce that the medicine kicked in at some point while I was still sifting through my E mail, and I've finished that, researched and submitted the article for wikipedia, and now written today's blog post.  The women of the household are still out doing their thing; Sugar Belly is contentedly sitting on me, taking a bath; and I am ready to start reading my next book.

Morning is officially over.

I can't believe I ever tried to do this with a hangover.

Friday, February 26, 2016

What If The Roof Leaks Tears?

The joke goes something like this:

"Daryle, why haven't you fix that leaking roof yet?"
"Haven't found the occasion."
"What do you mean?"
"Too dangerous to get up on the roof in the middle of rainstorm, and if it ain't raining, it ain't a problem."

Well, that pretty much describes the problem I have had writing this post.  When circumstances called for it, it was too painful to write; and, when things were going OK, it wasn't on my mind.

I knew I was going to be writing this post about a year ago, when a precious friend of ours suffered the tragic loss of her infant son.  I had just lost an old and dear friend at the same time, and the combined grief had me sitting on the edge of the bed, staring into space for a while, imagining this huge mountain of pain and loss, and wondering how I was going to get through.  But then, in my imagination, I found myself holding a shovel; and I looked around, and from every direction here came other people, and each one of them was holding a shovel too.  And I realized that was how I was going to make it through, that's how we always make it through; everybody helps a little, and we cut a road through the mountain.

That describes the mechanism of how we get through grief, but it doesn't go to the deeper issue: Why did this happen?  That hasn't been the only tragedy suffered by the various communities I happen to be a member of; people have lost jobs, been hospitalized, marriages have dissolved, family members have died, the list never ends.  And in every case, at some point, a wounded person sits in the dark and wonders why.

Now, in one sense of the word, the question of WHY is easy to answer.  Why did this fatal car accident happen?  It happened because it was night time, the driver was going too fast for conditions, it was raining, he had failed to replace his windshield wipers even though he had been told about it, the county hadn't seen fit to repaint the stripes on the road or install lighting, and that's WHY the accident happened.  It is a complete and accurate answer, and it is totally unsatisfying.

It's unsatisfying because when we ask "WHY?", the question isn't "what are the reasons, the circumstances that led to this event," the question is " what does this mean?"  More specifically, "what does this mean to me?" We don't care about causes, as much as we care about significance.  We want to know, we NEED to know, what difference this is going to make in our lives.

And here's the kicker:

We get to decide this ourselves.  And we won't have the answer for about a year.

The meaning of grief is found in the changes that it makes in our lives.  I need to give an example here, and the only way I can do that with integrity is to have it be a personal example.

In 1975, while I was stationed overseas in Germany, my grandfather had a heart attack.  I had been very close to him; for the first five years of my life, he was the only father figure I had.  I flew back to the states on emergency leave, and spent about two weeks with him while he was in the hospital.  At the end of that time, his condition had stabilized, so I returned to my duty station in Germany.  When I left his hospital room for the last time, I said "I'll see you in August when I get out of the army."

Granddaddy said, quietly, "I don't know about that."

And in my foolish, exuberant, 21 year old enthusiasm, I said "oh, yes, I will!", and I walked out the door, and that was the last time I ever spoke to my grandfather.  He suffered his last, fatal heart attack about two weeks later, and I wasn't able to make it home for the funeral.  For a while, I beat myself up for not having the last, honest conversation with my grandfather.  But later, I was able to process, and learn; and so, when my stepfather died, and later when my father died, with both of them I was able to talk realistically about their health, and about the past, and about the future.  That brought times of healing and forgiveness.

And that is what my grandfather's death meant.

But I could've made a different choice.  I could've decided, "it's just too painful to lose people that you love.  So I'm not gonna get close to anyone again, because they are gonna die."

And if I had made that decision, then THAT would be what my grandfather's death meant.

We always decide what grief means, even if we don't know we're doing it.  At some point, after the immediate crisis has passed, whether we think about it openly, or just process it at an unconscious emotional level, we decide "because that happened, this is the way I'm going to think about things, and act about things." And the result of that is the way that particular grief event changes our lives, and that will be what the loss means.

We get to decide what grief means.  It will take a year to tell what our decision is.

We can change our decision, too.  It's hard work, but if we find that we are much worse off, if we're feeling lost and afraid, and we don't want to be that way anymore, we can decide that we want to change.  Sometimes, we can't make the change by our self, and we need to get others involved.

We can make a memorial, without living in a tomb.  You don't have to establish a million dollar foundation in order for your loss to have a healthy meaning.  Foundations are really nice ways of helping others, but they aren't the only way.  For most of us, being able to say "I understand" to a person who is freshly wounded is about as far as it goes, but that happens to be a million dollar statement.

For some of you, this post is timely.  For others, you still need people with shovels to come help you dig a road through the mountain.  If that's where you are, file this away for a month or two.

And check on me, to see how I'm doing, in about a year.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

An Incredibly Short Blog Post

(Why is my computer running so slow?)

I've got another post which I should be writing instead, but I'm not gonna do it right now because it's too painful.  I'll try it tomorrow, I promise I'll try it tomorrow.  I've owed it to you for almost a year.

This post is about the three rules.  Many years ago, it was suggested to me that every profession has three core rules  (thank you, Kay Burkalter, wherever you are).  Apparently, these were first proposed by a physician; I will relate them to you as they were related to me.

The three rules of medicine:
Rule one: air goes in and out.
Rule two: blood goes round and round.
Rules three: oxygen is good.

The three rules of emergency medicine:
Rule one: all bleeding eventually stops.
Rule two: everybody eventually dies.
Rules three: if you drop the baby, pick it up.

The three rules of counseling:
Rule one: everybody needs a hug sometimes.
Rule two: everybody needs to forgive sometimes.
Rules three: if they can't read your handwriting, it doesn't make any difference if they subpoena your notes.

The three rules of plumbers:
Rule one: it flows downhill.
Rule two: payday is Friday.
Rules three: don't never eat Kentucky fried chicken, because it might be finger lickin' good.

OK, that's it for this post.  I'll see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Start With Mud Plus Misery, End With Gratitude And Joy

It is my considered opinion, based on my own experience and that of others, that civilization is a thin veneer which can easily be scraped off, when we are deprived for any significant period of time of one or more basic utilities.  I'm not really talking about Internet or telephone service here, although the loss of those can be disconcerting.  At my house, the basic utilities include gas for heating, cooking, and hot water, and to date, that service has never been interrupted.  However, the electricity has gone out during ice storms; we've had quite a few problems with the septic tank over the years; and yesterday and the day before, we were without water due to a break in the line between the house and the meter, i.e., my responsibility.  We didn't quite become feral human beings, but it was close.

My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, Georgia, was upset by the water break.  As she is THE MOTHER, I suppose this is both her right and her duty.  Her position is understandable, as she went downstairs early Sunday morning to find the ground level flooded, which includes the apartment where Liz, Vincent, and most importantly, baby Trey, live.  She immediately did the things that had to be done, that she could do: she moved Baby Trey and his parents upstairs, woke me up, and notified our church group that we would not be there that morning.

At that point, it became my responsibility, but I'm not sure that helped at all with her concern level.  Fortunately, I've had experience with this.  15 to 20 years ago, the water line broke, and so I knew what to look for and how to fix it.  On the other hand, physically I am not as capable as I was 15 to 20 years ago.  Let me give you, in abbreviated form, what happened over the next 36 hours:

I enlisted son-in-law Vincent and 11 year old son Kenneth in the repair project.  I showed them how to turn off the water at the street, and we located the break in the line by the presence of standing water.  We excavated.  We pumped out muddy water, several times.  We bought things from the hardware store.  We attempted the repair, and were 90% successful (which means we could temporarily turn the water back on so that we could flush the toilets).  We realized when we reached our limit, and called the plumber.  He showed up 20 hours later, and because of our prep work in excavating, was able to complete the repair in 2 hours.

Thus ends the Mud Plus Misery; now we go to Gratitude And Joy.

Gratitude and Joy item number one: Vanessa had been telling me for a week that she could hear water running, but I had consistently blown off her concern.  That's just the sound of the furnace, I said.  If you can't find trouble, you'll make trouble, I teased.  Now, a lesser woman would have begun and ended all subsequent conversations with "I told you so!" However, not one single time did Vanessa say that, or even anything close to that!  Not even "I thought that sounded like water running!" That gave me a number of perfect opportunities to point out to her and to others that she had been right, and I had been wrong.  Therefore, she gains recognition and appreciation not only for her perception in hearing the water running, but also for her calm and restraint in the way she handled the entire situation.  In addition to that, I received a refresher course in the reasons I should listen to my wife, as well as a reminder that I don't know everything.

Gratitude and Joy item number two: I received immediate feedback on the wisdom of not making impulse purchase decisions.  Saturday night, I received an advertisement for a product I would very much like to own, for the bargain price of $439.  I sat at my computer, knowing I had enough money in the account, and listened to myself convincing myself that I owed it to myself to purchase this item.  In the end, my frugality held out, and I didn't buy anything.  That's good, because if I had made the purchase, I would not have been able to enjoy it, since I needed that money to go somewhere else, namely fixing the water leak.  So, I made a good decision, and found out IMMEDIATELY that it was a good decision.  Usually, it's not that fast.

Gratitude and Joy item number three: although we're very happy having baby Trey and his parents live with us, their goal is to have an apartment on their own.  That means coming up with deposits in addition to all the life expenses that come with having a baby.  The broken water main provided Vincent with an opportunity to help the family, and earn some money at the same time.  Although there is a time and a place for giving presents, I think a man is happiest when he can provide for his family by working.

Gratitude and Joy item number four: I was wet, cold, and pretty much covered in mud.  It was Sunday evening, and we didn't have running water.  Another grandson and his parents live close by, and his daddy, who happens to be my firstborn son, has a birthday this week.  So I called, explained about the water, and asked if I could come over to their house and take a shower.  And I took the opportunity to put together his birthday package, which is a family heirloom, the first Patterson Boy firearm ever, a Mossberg 500 12 gauge pump, with accessories.  He was pleasantly surprised.  My grandson was pleasantly surprised too, because he got to talk with his Papa about being covered with mud.  He really wanted to see the mud that I had left in the bottom of the bathtub, but I had to disappoint him there, because I had cleaned up after myself.

As I explained to Vanessa, if you have the resources to deal with them, problems aren't really problems; they're just incidents or opportunities.  The key to keep from being overwhelmed when bosses yell, cars break, or water floods the basement, is to determine what resources you need, and then use them.  That's not to say we need to run around smashing water pipes; in fact, that's a really bad idea.  Instead, spend your money on buying a high quality wet-vac, good shovels, and never miss an opportunity to learn something.  That will increase your resource base immensely.

And that's always a good idea.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


Last night as I was getting ready for bed, I discovered the charging adapter for my telephone and tablet was missing.  As always, when faced with circumstances I do not understand, I knew what to do.  I turned to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after, trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, Georgia, and said "What did you do with my charger?"

"I didn't do anything to your charger. Are you sure it's not there?"
I mutely direct her attention to the empty socket.
"Nope, it's not there.  One of the kids probably took it."

As luck would have it, at that very moment, One Of The Kids (Alicia, the nine year old) was lurking outside the bedroom door, to see if she could hear some juicy Parent Conversation.

"Alicia, do you have Papa's phone charger?"
"No," she sweetly replies.  "Look in Kenneth's room."
Isn't it amazing that the youngest child always knows everything that's going on in the house?  I suppose that's part and parcel of lurking outside the bedroom door, eavesdropping on juicy Parent Conversation.

"Kenneth, do you have Papa's phone charger?"
"Do you mean that white power thing?"
And all of a sudden I can't help myself. Right there, in front of God and everybody, I yell

"Yes!  White power!  White power!  White power!"

Vanessa looks at me as if I'm an idiot, which I suppose I am.  "I can't believe you just did that," she replies calmly.  "I'm gonna tell the pastor."
"I can't believe I did it either, but it was kind of fun," is the only reply I can make.

I'm not saying that this story makes any sense, but you'll miss the significance of it if you don't understand our family.  In our Walton-style extended family house in the suburbs, out of four adults, two preteens, an infant, and a cat, I'm the only white guy.  Yes, even Sugar Belly, the fat Manx cat, is black, and I am utterly cool with that.  Vanessa was exactly who I was looking for to help me return to the Land of the Living, and everything else is simply bodacious fringe benefits.  Except the cat.  She's a fringe benefit in the same way that a sore throat is a fringe benefit when your nose is running.

Because I am an iconoclast, and have an utterly depraved sense of humor, I don't miss many opportunities to say something outrageous.  I do try to discriminate between the sacred and the profane, but for me, "sacred" means "God" and everything else is profane, and I find most of it ridiculous if not downright stupid.  So, Vanessa often looks at me as if I'm an idiot, and says "I can't believe you said that."

I'm not sure that this would have been worthy of blog post, except that I just found out that Harper Lee died.

"To Kill A Mockingbird" was published in 1960, and the movie was released in 1962.  My mother took my older sister and I to see it in our hometown of Macon, Georgia; I was nine years old and my sister was twelve.  Boo Radley terrified me, the aftermath of the trial broke my heart, and I wanted Atticus Finch to be my daddy.

I was assigned to read the book at age 17, in my second go-around as a high school sophomore.  My English teacher was the first black teacher I had ever had, transferred into my school from her previous all-black school, by the school board in their final, desperate, and futile attempt to comply with Supreme Court decisions without fully integrating the student body.  (It didn't work.  At the end of that school year, every high school was required to have a student enrollment of 60% white and 40% black, matching the demographics of the school system as a whole.)

If there's anything more disgusting than a radicalized 17 year-old white middle-class high school student trying to suck up to his middle-aged black schoolteacher, I'm not sure what it is.  Permeated with white guilt, I feel relatively certain that the paper that I wrote was even more infantile than usual, but the only thing that I remember about it was that I chose Dolphus Raymond as the character I would most like to meet.  (In the event that your memory of the details of the book are hazy, he's the white guy who was married to a black woman and had a bunch of biracial kids.)  What a pathetic attempt to prove that I was not a racist, and was, in fact, a cool white guy...

1.  When I hear the squawking of social justice warriors today, I can't help but remember that my own squawking arose from a core of self-hatred, a blind rejection of the Establishment, and a pathetic belief that if we just burned it all down and loved each other, it would be wonderful.  I believe their motivation to be identical.  So, I think they're a bunch of stupid morons who don't understand anything about life, and they need to get a job.
2.  45 years later, have I become Dolphus Raymond?  I don't think so.  Every time he came to town, he carried a bottle in a brown paper bag and drank from it periodically so that people would think he was drunk.  It wasn't really whiskey in the bottle though, it was Coca Cola.  Acting like a drunk was his way of avoiding other judgments by society.  As for me, I carry a pistol.  I have convinced Vanessa to carry a pistol.  And I'm training my children in firearms safety.  Go ahead!  Say something stupid, and it's not very likely to bother me, because I know you're an ignorant moron; and also know that if you cross the line, I can always shoot your dumb ass.

Rest in peace, Harper Lee.  Your legacy lives on.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Another Post About Short Fiction

I write two different things for public consumption: Papa Pat Rambles, which you are reading right now, in which I wander all over the place; and my book reviews on Amazon, in which I write about, well, books.

Evidently, I sometimes get them confused.  It's not that big of a deal on the occasions in which I include book reviews in my blog, because those are extended and expanded; sort of a Director's Cut of my book reviews.  However, I have been told that when I get particularly chatty on Amazon, it interferes with the book review.

I think that's what happened with a book review I did recently for "Cold Hands And Other Stories," by the polymath Jeff Duntemann.  Here's my evidence for that statement: after nearly a month, the review has not received a single " helpful" vote, and I almost always get at least one vote (that single helpful vote might come from the respective authors, but I have no way of knowing that). A couple of times a month, maybe as much as once a week, I check my ratings out, and part of that is vanity.  When I started reviewing, my reviewer rank was  14,360,604; I like moving up just for its own sake.  However, I also have altruistic motives.  I stated my motivations for writing reviews from the very beginning, and that was to promote the works of good writers, and to provide them with meaningful feedback.  That hasn't changed.  And since Amazon uses the rating of the reviewer to assign a book's ranking, I am a more effective promoter of books if I have a higher reviewer writing.

(By the way, I discovered another benefit to my reviews about a year or so ago: it actually makes a wonderful outlet for my need to write.  I couldn't tell you if there is a novel, or even a decent collection of short stories inside me, but there is a powerful urge to write.)

Therefore, it was with some chagrin that I discovered my review was a pitiful little orphan, drifting away in the cold vacuum of Things Ignored.  And, with some reflection, I believe I know why: it's because the first half of the review isn't a review.  Instead, it's a reflection on why I like short fiction.  Now, I still believe that what I wrote is worth writing, but I wrote it in the wrong forum.  And that's what I'm trying to correct now.

Within the limitations of speech recognition software, I'm gonna try to combine some new material with some of the material in the review, and come up with two separate documents.  This document is going to talk about why I like short fiction, and the other document will be the condensed review over on Amazon.

And if there is any bizarre if wording to be found, it's because my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grand mother of Woodstock, Georgia, is in the kitchen rattling pots and provoking the children to go to bed.  Yes, I did say provoking, and upon reflection I believe that's the best term.

I was extremely fortunate to be born into a home where parents and stepparents alike were readers.  There were always books around the house, and with a sister who was four years older, there were lots of age appropriate books as well.  That's a blessing I was glad to transfer to my children, and it's no accident that Vanessa is a bit of a bookworm herself.

A love of short stories lasted long enough to raise me up to the point where I could read longer works. This is no easy task, because all throughout school I was dragging around the chains of undiagnosed attention deficit disorder. In the late fifties and up into the early seventies, no support was available in school, because it wasn't recognized as a legitimate issue.

I always loved reading; but was turned off by heavy thick books. I just didn't think that I would be able to handle reading novels. Now, if all there had been to read was novels, maybe I would have been able to persevere. But fortunately for me, in the late fifties and early sixties there were a lot of excellent short stories that were available. I grabbed every collection I could find, turned to the table of contents, and did the math, subtracting the beginning page of one story from the beginning page of the next story, because the first story I wanted to read was the shortest story. Can you tell a story, complete on one page? Those were the ones that I loved the best. The Third Galaxy Reader, which one of my parents purchased, will forever hold a place high on my list of memorable informative books. I keep meaning to grab up one of the hard copies that are available on Ebay, but just haven't gotten around to it yet.

I LOVE reading a short fiction.  However, REVIEWING short fiction is HARD.  Some of the best short fiction turned upon a gimmick or a pun.  You just can't say anything about the story without giving it away; in fact, I have heard authors of short fiction complain about changes in the title imposed by editors, because the new title gave away the twist.  Even if the kernel of the story isn't a gimmick, you can blow away the visceral impact of a short story by an ill considered sentence: "a soldier in a post-apocalyptic world discovers he has been guarding books."  Last September, I had to review a short story and the only thing I could write was "gay zombie bluegrass band," and even that might have been too much.

Even with the drawbacks to the reviewer, I'm hoping indie publishing results in a proliferation of short fiction.  I know that there are some constraints due to amazon's pricing guidelines, but why can't 10 of us, or 20 of us, come up with the First Annual Indy Short Story Writers Collection?

Awaiting your replies!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Another Post About Reviewing Books

This is the first blog post I have attempted since I got the new computer.  Why?  It's simple: I couldn't find the bookmark that all out me to write.  But just a few minutes ago, I got lucky!  It's bookmarked now, you betcha!

A fellow reviewer had a bit of an ethical dilemma.  He was given a book to review which was written by the 16 year old son of a friend of his.  He found the book to be better than what he would have written at age 16, but it still wasn't a good book.  So, rather than write a negative review in his column, he provided feedback to the young author, identifying areas that needed work.  His two little was this: never before had he given an author of the option of not publishing the review.  Had he handled this appropriately?

The consensus around the campfire was that he had done exactly the right thing.  The point of the spear is that a young, new writer needs every bit of encouragement and support and mentoring they can get.  Everyone agreed on that.  The area in which there was some degree of disagreement was on whether negative reviews were helpful at all, and in what context.

For example, consider the case of an established writer of lots of great books, who then turns out a real stinker.  A couple of people made the point that a negative review can warn readers off, so they don't waste their time and money.  I think there's a lot to be said for this position; and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Any time I write a review, I have an expectation that the review is going to be read by the author.  That's because almost none of the books that I review sell millions of copies, and the authors who writes them are interested in what the readers have to say.  I want my reviews to tell the author that I understood the story, which parts of the book worked particularly well, and to GENTLY point out areas that need some work.  That's my approach, because I need books; if I am harsh and punitive, I am dropping another brick on their head.  I don't want to do that, I want them to write more books.

So, what do I do if I read a book I don't like?  In what might have been my last blog posted before this one, I talk about the value of having a really horrible book to read.  The topic came up because Amazon recommended a bestseller book to me, and it was awful, awful, awful.  They said it was a million seller.  Maybe so; but it was still awful.  Awful science, awful conspiracy theory, awful story, awful characters.  And they even threw in a NAZI submarine for good measure.  Awful.  So, what did not raise you say about THAT book?  Nothing, because I didn't review the book.  I didn't see the point; there were hundreds of preexisting reviews, and they were all positive, so it was sort of like voting for Mcgovern in 1972.  (except that I did vote for Mcgovern in 1972, with an absentee ballot, in basic training the day they taught us how to use the claymore mine.)

Now, in the case of books which are not 1,000,000 Sellers, but are severely lacking in some particular area, I contact the author if possible.  I detail the problems I have, and engage in a dialog.  This doesn't happen a lot, because I don't read books that I don't think I'm going to enjoy.  For example, I don't do horror; except, of course, when I get sucked into it by accident (I'm looking at you, Twisted Breath Of God).  I had a lengthy conversation with the author of a time travel novel one night, after which he withdrew the book from publication.  Now, that was a tag team operation; one of my cohorts in crime, who had asked me to look at the book, had already ripped him a new one in a review, had what I had to say to him just expanded and extended those remarks.  I don't know if that book will ever see the light of day, it had potential.

So, do I ever write a negative review?  Well, yes, I did one time.  But I really don't want talk about that one; if you search my  reviews you can find it.  I've only written about 200 of them, so it shouldn't take you that long.

And here's some breaking news: I checked earlier this evening, and my Amazon reviewer ranking is 9,100!  I want to thank everyone who has read the reviews and given them a helpful vote.  Since my goal is to increase the circulation of writers, a high ranking is a good thing.  I started out at 14,000,000, about 18 months ago.