Let’s review (well), shall we?

I’ve had this idea in the back of my noggin for a while. It’s kind of a pet peeve of mine from way back, and I’ve held it there because of my own terrible reviewing habits. Well, as I endeavor to become a better reviewer myself, I thought I might finally get this black stain off my mind as well.

Periodically, I’m tempted to write this because of some article that pops up – usually, a mention of coordinated efforts to one-star review something into oblivion, or I’ll be reading product reviews and come across a number of unhelpful reviews, which prompts me to consider this again.

I’m worried that people do not understand how to do for-real reviews anymore. Maybe they’ve forgotten how. Maybe they never knew and are just copying what they see. Maybe they’re trying to be clever in the wrong venue. I’m looking at you, Mr. Takei.

The point is that reviews are supposed to help the rest of us ignorant consumers make wise, informed purchases. It’s hard to do that when you have to wade through bad, misinformed, or satirical reviews to find the relevant ones.

A book review, for instance, is supposed to review the book. What was the pacing of the story? Was it written well? Are there any glaring errors or plot holes? These are the sorts of questions you should answer for a book review, not “Ugh, the stupid book didn’t even get here until after my vacation so I didn’t bother reading it. 1-star.” That’s not a direct quote.

We’ve all seen them. Whether it’s books, movies, kitchen products, or anything else, some reviewers seem to forget they are supposed to review THE PRODUCT ITSELF and another part of their experience.

Allow me to cite an example of my frustration:
John Green’s new book Turtles All the Way Down is expected to release October 10 (according to Amazon and Goodreads). Yes, in the future. Yet, GoodReads boasts 198 reviews and 525 ratings – for a book that hasn’t been released yet.JG_Turtles

Yes, a lot of them are, “I don’t even know what it’s about, or what it’s called BUT IT’S BY JOHN SO IT IS FIVE STARS!!!” That is a direct quote.

Now, yes, this falls to GoodReads for not locking down their review board until after the book has been released, but that would just be delaying the inevitable. This review would still happen, whether it was before or after release, whether it had been read or not.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the rallying cry of the unified for one reason or another. Whether it is Milo Yiannopoulos, Laurie Forest, or Lani Sarem, people (both for and against) are reviewing based on their beliefs, their opinions, or their feelings. Sometimes they are even basing their reviews on other reviews rather than firsthand experience.

That’s not how this works.

Now, let me get into a little fear-mongering so I can explain why this change needs to happen.

The less we use review boards the way they are supposed to be used, the less likely it is that people will use them for actual reviews. We will (and on some platforms, already have) become a society dependent on Likert scales to base our opinions. Behold the Likert scale:

Likert-scale-option-importance-response

We’ve all seen or taken something like this. Amazon’s five-star rating system is a basic Likert question. If you are anything like me, there is no way accurately explain your feelings about something into a single dot on a five or seven point system. It seems easy: “How much did you like this product? A lot, kind of a lot, sort of a lot, not a lot, or not at all.” Sure, you might be able to quantify your feelings about your coffee maker, or veggie slicer into one of those five dots, but can you honestly explain your feelings about a book or a movie with just those five dots?

I think Henry Cavill is a great actor, and he played a wonderful Superman. He deserves five stars. I also feel that Man of Steel wasn’t that great (don’t get me started), so I’m definitely not going to give the movie five stars. Can you honestly tell me that if I rate it two, or three, or four stars, that you actually understand what I am communicating?

I can’t. I honestly have no idea what you are thinking when you rate something. I assume you understand the scale the way I do, so when you rate something in a way I disagree with, my instinct is that you don’t understand what you experienced, and therefore your opinion is flawed. An actual written review might still be argued, but at least I can understand, without confusion, what your opinion is.

But let’s keep going down this rabbit hole of rating systems.

So, let’s assume that people are using the five-point system, and they frequent three points the most. Namely: most, least, and the middle. Why bother with a five-point system then? We could make things so much easier for the users by just reducing it to a three point system – but wait. That middle area is just “I don’t know how I feel” anyway. If we reduce it further – to a two-point scale – we can get actual data on people’s feelings!

No, we can’t.

A two-point scale is exceptionally misleading. It’s the internet equivalent of “Do you like me: Yes or No?” Dating apps thrive on the simplicity of this rating scale. It’s a binary scale that lumps you either with the love-its or the hate-its, regardless of your nuanced thoughts on the matter. It’s okay to not want such simplicity to define your opinions, as Netflix is finding out.

This brings me back to my original point (yes, I still remember what that is, and thank you for following me this far into the murk): we need to be better about reviewing. We need to remember that our reviews are less about grandstanding and soapboxing (although those are certainly incentives) and more about helping people make informed decisions for themselves.

Get out there and review, or we’re going to get stuck with Like buttons for everything.

Oh! The places we’ll go…

We are just over a week away from NerdCon in Portland, MI. If you haven’t had an opportunity to check out NerdCon and all of it’s wonderful offerings, please do so.

In the meantime, I felt like now is a proper time to remind you of all the other wonderful events that I will take part in for the rest of the year. You can also find all of this information at any time on my Events page.

August 12, 2017  Portland, MI
NerdCon – Author Panel  11:00am – 11:45am
NerdCon – Table  12:00pm – 4:00pm

September 10, 2017  Ann Arbor, MI
Kerrytown Bookfest  10:00am – 5:00pm

October 22, 2017  Clawson, MI
Books & Authors  11:00am – 5:00pm

December TBD, 2017  Lake Orion, MI
Giving Season Author Fair  1:00pm – 4:00pm

I am also working on a potential three events that are not listed yet. They’ll likely popup sometime in the last quarter (October – December) and I’m very excited to tell you about them… but I’m not going to until they are official.

I know, the anticipation is overwhelming.

No one talks about the research…

Actually, they do. Lots of them do. I tend to avoid those conversations because I don’t like to be distracted by research. A lot of my stories tend to be based on anecdotal experience and not proven facts, because that is how I live. My experiences are my own, even when other people have them as well.

In fact, there’s been more than one time in my life where I have that “I thought it was just me” moment. Sometimes it is a blessing, sometimes it is a bummer. Depends on the situation.

But research is both. I hate having to take the time away from the flow of my writing to look up that one word or object or something that I *need* for this part of the story. But it usually isn’t something I can just skip over, either. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m a pantser (as in they who fly by the seat of) and not a prepper. I don’t do the research ahead of time. I brew stories in my head, and when they start boiling over, they go onto the paper.

I’ve tried to explain this to more than a few people over the years and often, I’ve gotten that same look from people. You know the one, it says, “That seems like an awful way to do things.” And maybe they are right, but this is how it has always worked for me.

I don’t say that as in “this is how it’s always been, why should i change?” I have tried many different ways of writing. This process works best for me. But I digress…

I just finished the first draft on an 8k story submission and thought I would share the things I bothered to stop and look up. Mostly because I find it fascinating all the things that come together in a story:

  • Population density in cities
  • Average square space of a city
  • Emergency first aid
  • Symptoms of blood loss
  • Handyman tasks
  • Storefronts (pictures of)
  • Blinds
  • Leaded glass
  • Grip tape
  • Firefighter’s helmet
  • Fire ax
  • Ax or axe
  • Work shirts
  • Padlocks
  • a host of synonyms and antonyms after the fact

…and I’ll be honest, a majority of this research was all for minute details for a single scene. A ridiculous amount of detail that most people will simply move past as the tension builds. I’m not offended, it’s what has to happen.

Writing, like filmmaking, is supposed to look easy. You want the audience to think about the story, not the amount of work you put into it. If they’ve been thinking about how much research you did to come up with that one object a secondary character is holding, then they’ve lost the story and you’ve lost them.

Anyway, I hope to have more news on this story in the near future. For now, you’ll have to be entertained by your own imagination.

The Next Page on the Calendar…

Around this time last year, I was one-third of the way into At Calendar’s End. April was newly published and I was hard at work at the keyboard working on May. At that point, I cannot say that I knew I would finish. It was an intimidating, dare I say daunting, task to look ahead to.

And yet, here we are a year later, come through the other side not only successful, but surprisingly better for the experience. I think I’d like to do another serial in the future, but I have other projects I’d like to accomplish before that.

First on the docket is to bring At Calendar’s End to print. All twelve installments of Calendar are currently available in serialized format, both ebook and now print. Relatively soon, I’ll also be producing an omnibus that collects all twelve episodes into a single binding – which will also be made available to both digital and physical realms.

If you haven’t started reading At Calendar’s End yet, and aren’t sure why you should, maybe this wonderfully insightful review by friend and author Parker J. Cole will help.

Also (and probably most excitingly) Brian Ritson, the brilliant and creative mind behind all of the art that graces my books, has taken the line art from the Calendar series (as well as some new beautiful designs) and incorporated them into a coloring book!

Coloring Book Cover

This is truly a must-have for any fan of the Calendar series – and coloring books!

And finally, I will be showing off the newly-printed books in person at Leon & Lulu on April 30! I’m looking forward to being part of Books & Authors again, and am excited to be able to show off some spectacular art, as well as my newest accomplishment. I’ll be sharing a space with a number of friendly authors – including friend and event companion J. Thomas-Like! I hope to see you there!

In the meantime, you can find all of my books here.

Happy reading!

 

Humblebrag…

But not really. Or at least, not in the actual definition of the word, but the etymological breakdown of it. A humble brag. Because I cannot possibly fathom not sharing this with you all, as it is equal parts amazing and wonderful, but it is still a humbling experience.

So, the long story short is that a friend bought my book for her cousin, an avid reader. Sometime after that, the word comes to me that not only did she like the book, but she has a YouTube channel and is going to do a video review of my book. (At this point, news of such things is as terrifying as it is exciting, as you might imagine.) Time goes by and I hear nothing. Then, all at once, there is a link in my email. “Book Reviews #40: House of Thirteen” it says.

It’s another couple of days before I can bring myself to click the link.

Reviews are scary. They can build you up, or demolish you. Sometimes both at the same time. What you hope the readers will love is sometimes built up too much in your head and they need to point that out to you. Sometimes I rush into reviews like a masochist, but those are always just words. As I learned long ago, “words can never hurt me.” Yeah, right.

This is not just words, though. This is video. This is words with pictures. 1000 words for every picture. 29.97 pictures every second of the video. It adds up to a mountain of intimidation.

But I finally suck it up and click the link, bracing myself for the ugly truth… and what waits there for me is not the reason I will quit writing, but the reason I will persevere. There’s an excitement in her voice that we’ve all heard before: that sound we make when we are excited and want to share this amazing thing we’ve discovered. Except she’s not talking about some random interest – she’s talking about my book!

It’s a walking-on-clouds kind of feeling, and it will last until I realize that I have to somehow raise the stakes in House of Thirteen, Book Two in order to meet expectations.

And that brings us back to terrified, because that’s what I’m trying to write now.

I thought this was a nice segue to announcing the follow-up to House of Thirteen. Book Two will continue the story, and take us further into the mysteries that revolved around out beloved Delaneys. I’m looking very forward to figuring out what kind of trouble Ren and Joe are getting themselves into, as well as what sisters we’ll be introduced to next. And I hope that it will fulfill my expectations, and surpass those of my readers.

To answer Gabby’s one question that I am able to (but not really) in a bit of detail: I do plan on addressing what and why the Delaneys are what they are in more detail. I hope to answer every question I have threaded into the story before I end the series. Unfortunately, there are going to be more questions that answers for the time being, but I’ll get to them all in time. If I don’t, feel free to ask me again.

You can view the House of Thirteen review below. You can follow Gabby on Facebook and Twitter.

If you haven’t reviewed House of Thirteen (or any of my other stories) yourself, please do.

Finally, thank you, Gabby. This means a lot to me.curiousowl

 

Silver Linings…

It’s been an interesting year.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about 2016, be it good or bad. Political turmoil and celebrity tragedy aside, I have found that a number of these moments have kind of tainted my year end. With that came a skewed view of the year, retroactively. It became a dark cloud that threatened to envelope the last three hundred sixty-five days when in reality, it’s been a pretty good year.

Truly, it’s not an epiphany I came to on my own – no emotional realization is ever my own doing. It’s the work of a lot of different sources talking me off a lot of simultaneous (and metaphorical) ledges. But eventually, I usually come around.

Like always, when I finally do, I strap on the optimism and redouble my efforts to be a positive influence. Really, that is my favorite thing about this time of year. The unbridled love and kinship for our fellow man, even and especially in the face of adversity. It’s so easy to be bleak, but to cling to optimism and look with blind hope toward the coming year, that is magic. It’s a wonder we haven’t found a way to manufacture this sense of togetherness and optimism at other points of the year. It really is something we should work on.

Obviously, that ball drop at midnight is not some magical eraser. The new year doesn’t come as a clean slate that forgives and forgets. Pain and loss will still be there, depleted savings will still be depleted. But there is hope. There is always hope. And like last year and many years before it, here I am again, ready to draw back the curtain on a coming year.

I wish that you have all the best things happen to you this next year.
I hope that you find joy in all things, no matter how small.
I pray that you not only feel the goodness in the world around you, but that you push that goodness forward into all those around you.
And I hope that even if none of this happens to you, if nothing good happens to you at all, I hope that you still have a silver lining to gaze upon.

I wanted to track down some sort of inspirational quote to sign off the year with, but I kept thinking back to something I wrote myself. It’s self-serving, yes, but it’s also something I mean with all my heart. It was the first taste of holiday goodness to reach out to me this year, and I hope it instills you with the same fire that possessed me to write it in the first place.

SONY DSC

Thank you all for a wonderful 2016.

Happy New Year.

A Cold December…

It’s here. The milestone I’ve dreamt about for an entire year. A milestone I’ve been dreading all November, but it’s too late to stop.

December is out today, which means that it is time to say goodbye to Ember. Time to lay the Intercalary to rest.

It’s hard to let go of characters, regardless. Whether you’re reading them or you’ve written them, you travel a distance with these people. You get attached to them.

(Yes, even when you’re killing them off systematically.)

So today is the day that I send the last of them off into the world.
december_standin
The cover is a placeholder. Brian has been unfortunately overwhelmed with real world responsibilities. The black and white cover will be updated shortly. The remaining color covers will follow. I hope you’re looking forward to seeing his work realized as much as I am.

But it’s certainly not the end of surprises.

With December out, I will be turning my focus to physical copies of the serial installments. If you happen to be in Lake Orion this weekend, I’ll be at Orion Township Public Library for the Authors and Illustrators Fair and I will have copies of January on hand.
screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-11-08-56-pm
I’ll be releasing the series throughout the beginning of 2017.

As if that weren’t enough excitement for 2017, January will find me seeking comfort with familiar company. I will be returning to the Delaney House to start writing House of Thirteen Book Two. I can’t reveal much just yet, but I can tell you that it will be nice to catch up with Ren and Joe again.

There will definitely be other surprises along the way. 2016 has been an interesting year, and I feel like the only respectable response is to raise the bar for myself once again.

Get December, and please remember to review online. It’s much appreciated.