Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Author's Guide to Reviews

Before I begin, don't forget about the Aberration Blog Hop which will be held on June 6th and 7th to celebrate the release of my second book!  Prizes, people!  There will be prizes!  Go here to sign up.

And now for today's topic, The Author's Guide to Reviews

The Incredibly Awesome Review.  This is the 4 or 5 star where the person has only great things to say about your book.  They loved it.  They've put a great deal of thought into writing their review and even the things that they may have taken issue with are put forth tactfully and constructively so that you find yourself nodding along and saying, "That's a fair assessment."  These are reviews that put you on Cloud 9 for the rest of your week.

The Short but Sweet.  It accompanies 4 or 5 stars and goes a little something like this:  "This book was great!"

The Token Jealous Author Review.  This is a low-star review that is usually scathing and calls into question not just the skills of the author but the mental competence of the publisher for publishing your book.  It is usually posted under only a first name or some other clever name so that you can't Google the person and find out who they really are.  The reviewer has usually joined the review site within the last 1-3 months and yours is the only book they've reviewed--or it is one of only 3-5 books they've read and/or reviewed.  Finally, the writing, grammar and punctuation are perfect.  I suspect that these are from another writer who actually knows you and may even be friendly with you, and they are in a jealous rage that you've been published (to good reviews no less) while they're still languishing at some pre-publication stage.

The Inexplicable Shitty 4 Star:  The reviewer gives you 4 stars which is great!  But then they have nothing positive whatsoever to say about your book.  They go on at length for several paragraphs about what an awful book you've written.

The I Never Read Books In Your Genre But I Read Yours and It Wasn't So Great Review.  This is usually a mid to low star review wherein the reader prefaces the review by saying they never, ever read books in the same genre as your book, whether it's romance, mystery, YA, fantasy, etc.  Right up front they say that they don't even like books in your genre.  But for some reason they've given you a chance, and although your book wasn't totally horrible, it did not live up to their expectations.  It was kind of sucky.

The I Usually Don't Read Books In Your Genre But I Really Liked Yours.  Usually 4 or 5 stars wherein the reviewer talks about how pleasantly surprised they were to pick up a book in a genre they don't normally read and enjoy it thoroughly.

The I Didn't Like This One but I'll Give You The Benefit of The Doubt Review.  This is usually a 3 star review where the person did not really connect to your book but they recognize that you've got some talent, and they'd be willing to read another book by you to see if that one resonates with them.

The I Got Nothing Out of This Reading Experience Review.  This is a 1 or 2 star review where the reviewer basically says that your book didn't change their life, cure their incurable disease, transform their world or catapult them into some other intellectual stratosphere--even though your book never purported to do any of those things.  They are apparently of the opinion that reading for entertainment is a complete waste of time, and that all books should be life-changing on an unimaginably grand scale.  Damn you for writing such a droll and pointless book.

The Personal Attack Review.  This is pretty self-explanatory.  The reviewer focuses less on the actual book and more on what a waste of a human being you are for writing anything at all, ever--even your name.  These reviewers are of the opinion that you pretty much should not be allowed to exist.  And oh yeah, your book sucked too.  They wouldn't even use its pages to wipe their asses in an emergency, it's so awful.

The Passive Aggressive Review.  This is a mid star review by someone you actually know--a friend or relative you don't see very often, a former co-worker or school mate.  They read your book to be supportive of your writing career but they're very sorry to inform you that your book sucks.  Inexplicably, they actually will be able to look you in the eye the next time they see you.

The It's Not You, It's Me Review.  This reviewer usually gives you 3 stars and simply says that they just didn't get what you were trying to do.  They just never got into the book.  They tried.  They wanted to--really badly--but they were never sucked in.  They recognize that the book has merit, it just wasn't for them.

The Plot Recap Review.  This review says absolutely nothing about the merits of the book.  All it does is tell you what the plot was which you could get just by reading the book's synopsis.  It gives no indication as to whether the reviewer liked the book or not or what the reviewer thought about it.  The only indication you will get is the number of stars that accompany this review.  So you could end up with a 1 star or a 5 star (or anywhere in between) but no explanation why, only a recap of what happened in your book.

What do you think?  Did I miss any?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Post-Release Post #4: FAQs

Before I begin, don't forget about the Aberration Blog Hop which will be held on June 6th and 7th to celebrate the release of my second book!  Prizes, people!  There will be prizes!  Go here to sign up.

Now that that's out of the way, welcome to the 4th installment of my Post-Release Series.

So now that my book has been out for six months, I've had enough time to field questions about it and about being an author and surprisingly, many of them come up over and over again.  Here are the most frequently asked questions and yes, they are in the order of the frequency with which they are asked:

"Oh, you have a book out.  How much did that cost?"

For me, this just reinforces my observation that the average reader just assumes that everyone is self-pubbed these days.  I'm beginning to think that actual publishers really only hold weight among other publishers, writers and major reviewers like Publishers Weekly or Kirkus.  Readers just want a good story and they don't really care where it comes from.

Anyway, the answer is that it didn't cost me a dime.  My publisher does all the work and incurs all the cost.

Most people look vaguely confused when I tell them this.  I'm not sure why.

"Is it available in e-book?"

It is actually shocking to me how many people are no longer interested in real books.  I don't know why I find this shocking since I have both a Kindle and a Nook and cannot live without either one of them.  But yeah, this is important to people.

The answer is of course it is!

"This seemed so real.  Did this happen to you?"

Obviously, this is only from people who've read it.  I take it as a huge compliment that so many people have asked me this.  To me, it means I did my job.  I wanted to put readers inside the mind and world of an abducted teenager who stays in spite of opportunities to escape, and for many readers, it appears that I did.

The answer is no, this did not happen to me.  I was not an abducted child.  Everything you read in the book is simply a product of my tortured imagination.

"Is it scary?"

I never really know what people mean when they ask me this.  Are they wondering if I write in the horror genre?  I don't know.  So my answer is:  it depends on what scares you. If demons and ghosts and vampires scare you, then no, it's not scary.  If crime scenarios based on real life situations scare you, then it's terrifying.

"Are you going to write another book?"

I'm not going to lie.  It really does make me gleeful to answer this question by saying, "I already have-it comes out in June."  Hee hee hee.  I love the look of surprise/delight on peoples' faces when I tell them.  Hopefully, book two won't tank on an unimaginably grand scale.  Anyway, yes, I did and I am.  Aberration comes out on 6/6/13 and I'm hard at work finishing a second draft of my third novel and making notes for my fourth novel.  If I can ever again squeeze some writing time out of my hectic life, I will actually finish one or both of those and try to sell them as well.

You can add it to your TBR on Goodreads here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Getting Behind the Violence (in my book)

I've often thought about doing a post explaining why I chose to include so much violence in my novel, Finding Claire Fletcher.  I haven't done this post because I'm not in the habit of defending my own work.  As I've said many times in the past, not everything is for everyone. But now I feel this post is necessary--not in defense of my book, but in defense of people like the three Cleveland women who were recently rescued from captivity after ten long years, because Claire's story is my fictional exploration of what people like these women may have been through.  It was meant to ask and possibly answer the questions that so many people have when they hear about stories like this:  why didn't they just leave?  Why did they stay so long?  Why didn't they ever try to escape?  How could another person possibly keep someone enslaved for so long?

Before I begin, let me say this:  I abhor violence.  I really do.  I don't understand it, and I don't condone it except in exceptional circumstances like when it is necessary to defend your country, your child or your life.  This may seem strange since I'm a crime writer.  I write about crime because I am trying to understand it and how victims recover from it.  I know, that doesn't seem right either.  What I can tell you is that a decade ago, my family was shattered by violence--the worst possible kind, if you ask me--and I spent years trying to understand how it could have happened.  How a person could do what this person did to other human beings and why.  From this side of a quadruple murder trial, all these years later, I can tell you that you will never fully understand it, or even accept it, but some things will make it easier to deal with.  For me, it was reading true crime books and crime fiction.  I devoured every true crime book and crime novel I could get my hands on.  Knowing that other people had gone through what we went through--understood what it was like and survived it--made me feel less alone.  The problem was that after awhile, reading true crime became far too upsetting.  These were real people I was reading about and my heart ached for them.  So I turned to crime fiction.  It was easier to read and a really good crime writer will be able to get across all the difficult and conflicting emotions that everyone involved have to deal with from the victim to the families to the law enforcement trying to make it right.  For many people who have been victims of violent crime, they have the exact opposite reaction--they can never again read those types of books. But I'm not one of those people. So yes, even though I abhor violence, I write books in which violence plays a very large part.

Part of the problem I had in selling Finding Claire Fletcher was my portrayal of the extreme amount of abuse that Claire endures during her captivity.  And let me tell you--feel free to cringe--the final product that you can hold in your hands today was actually toned down.  If you've read the book, you'll find that really hard to believe.  Whenever a reader tells me that I spent too much time on the abuse, or it was too graphic or gruesome, or they couldn't finish because it was too disturbing, then I know for sure I've done my job.  Because for children or even adults in these situations, believe me, the abuse takes place far too much, it is far too gruesome and they wish it would be finished.

My feeling was that as a society we've become so desensitized to these types of stories that the only way to really make people cringe when they read the book--and for it to have real impact--was to show this type of violence for exactly what it was.  Think about it.  I don't know about you, but every night when I watch our local news there are a dozen or more stories of people being raped, beaten, maimed or killed.  Violence--even against children--has become so commonplace that we, as a society, don't even flinch when we hear these stories.  A news story about extreme, horrifying violence--even against children--has no impact on us anymore.  None.

People have become so desensitized that when they hear stories like Claire's or like that of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, many of them--not all, I'm not saying all, but many--react with little more than puzzlement and exasperation.  There is a pervasive attitude toward these stories that goes a little something like this:  "She was beaten, starved and raped?  So what?  Why didn't she just escape?"  In the case of grown women this attitude is even more prevalent, "They were grown women and they couldn't escape from one guy?  Puh."

Do people not understand what the words beat, rape and starve mean?

Obviously they do.  I just don't think these words have any impact anymore.  What I wanted to do was make readers have a visceral response to Claire's story.  Why?  Because maybe if the story gets to you on a visceral level, then in real life you'll be more sympathetic, more empathetic and more sensitive to real crime victims--especially those in the types of situation portrayed in my book.

This week, I did an interview on Kellie Larsen Murphy's blog which you can find here.  I'm going to reproduce a paragraph from that interview because it goes to the heart of why I chose to include so much violence in my book.

When I started writing this book, I kept asking myself:  what would make a person who was forcibly torn away from everything they knew and loved and systematically tortured on a daily basis stay in that situation?  What would make that same person unable to reach out for help when all they had to do was walk up to the nearest person and say ‘my name is so and so, I was kidnapped, I need the police’?  I think people find this phenomenon so hard to wrap their minds around, and yet it happens to varying degrees all around us every day.  Women stay with men who are physically and emotionally abusive.  Children don’t breathe a word when a trusted adult is abusing them.  Rapes go unreported every single day.  I did a lot of research on these three issues–domestic violence, molestation and sexual assault.  I think the key for me was the idea that if you torture someone on a daily basis–and I do consider repeated sexual assaults to be a form of torture–every moment of their lives becomes only about survival and nothing more.  They are unable to think past that.  I’ve always likened these children to prisoners of war, and I think that is a good comparison.  Also, if you strip away every single thing down to the most basic dignities like using a toilet, the person becomes completely dependent on their captor.  Where freedom should be their dream in life, something as simple as having a blanket instead becomes all that they strive for.  When Shawn Hornbeck was recovered, I read an article that talked about how children in his situation are infantilized.  That was exactly what I had written about without ever knowing there was a word for it.  Finally this idea that their terror is so great that they cannot reach out for help even given the opportunity–first, what people forget is that usually captors will threaten the person’s family.  From the outside it is easy to say, oh but if you just go to the police then he can’t hurt anyone else.  But if you’re the person he is torturing, I think your thought process is more along the lines of, “He got me, didn’t he?  He’s hurting me, isn’t he?  If he can do this to me, he can do it to anyone.”  The captor becomes all-powerful, and the captive is so beaten down in every sense that their fear is paralyzing.  I think if you’re in it and you’re living it, your perspective is vastly different. 

No one looks at Prisoners of War and says indignantly, "Why didn't he just go all Rambo on those guys and escape?"  I don't think it is fair to look at children like Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart or even adults like the three Cleveland women and ask, "Why didn't they just leave?" without some long, hard consideration of what it means to be tortured on a daily basis.  If you don't believe that being starved, chained, deprived, beaten and repeatedly raped (i.e. tortured) can break a person down then I invite you to revisit the definitions of these words.  I can assure you that when someone is merely trying to force themselves on you or when someone merely has a knife to your throat, the last thing you are is calm, cool and collected.  (Yes, you should read the merelys as sarcastic). You'll be lucky if you can see straight or even hear anything.  When these things and worse happen to you over and over and over and over and over and over again--it changes who you are and it severely cripples your ability to "go all Rambo".  (Until you've known true terror, I would ask that you not judge these women and children.)

My hope was that for some people, reading Finding Claire Fletcher would give them a more sensitive view of people in Claire's situation.  I did not believe I could achieve that by glossing over the violence.  As I've said before, you wouldn't write a book about a Prisoner of War and never touch on the torture they endured.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Returning with Lots of News

I hadn't planned on returning till next week, but two things happened in the last 24 hours.  One was that three women who had been missing for 10 years were found alive in a house in Cleveland.  Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. At the time of their abductions they ranged in age between 14 to 20.  The similarities to my debut novel, Finding Claire Fletcher were, to say the least, chilling.  I started receiving countless messages from friends, family and readers about this news story and how eerily similar this real life story is to my book.  We have almost no details as to what happened to these women at this point, but I will say that I'm so happy they've been freed and I will be praying for them for a very long time, that they are able to effect some kind of recovery from all the trauma they must have endured and go on to live happy, fulfilling lives basking in the love of the friends and family they've been reunited with. I'm heartened that their families will finally have answers after a decade of wondering what happened to them and hoping that they were still alive, in spite of the high probability that they were not.  I wish that more missing children and adults would be reunited.  If you know me at all, then you know that cases like these hit close to home for me--otherwise I wouldn't have written a whole book about this very subject.

Second, on a more buoyant, less grave note, I discovered today that Finding Claire Fletcher has been nominated for the eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Awards in not just one, but THREE categories!

Best Novel
Best Thriller
Best Hero/Heroine (Claire Fletcher)

Pretty amazing stuff. I can't tell you how much this means to me and how excited I am. To think that my little book--the one that took me six years to get published--has been nominated for an award?  That is crazy!  It is the best kind of craziness!  I'm so flattered and humbled that someone considered my book good enough to nominate for these awards.  Words actually fail me right now.  I just want to say to the person or people who put Finding Claire Fletcher down as a nominee for these categories:  thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Truly.  This business is so incredibly hard, so when something like this happens, it really puts you on Cloud 9!

Finally, if you look up at the tabs along this blog you'll see one for The Aberration Blog Hop:  Finding the Most Aberrant Characters June 6-7, 2013.  That will stay up until after the hop and people can sign up there.

For the release of my next book, I'm hosting a blog HOP instead of doing a blog tour.  I think it will be way more fun.  

Here is the definition of aberration and the details of the blog hop:

Definition of ABERRATION
1 : the fact or an instance of deviating or being aberrant especially from a moral standard or normal state
2 : unsoundness or disorder of the mind
3 : an aberrant individual
— ab·er·ra·tion·al  adjective
From the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

What:  The Aberration Blog Hop: Finding the Most Aberrant Characters

Where:  Sign up below or here, feel free to spread the word about this blog hop on your own blogs

When:  June 6 & 7, 2013

What to do:  All you have to do is list your top 5 choices for the most aberrant characters in fiction, television or movies.  Also, if you're a writer, you can then include a short paragraph about who you think is the most aberrant character from your own work.

Where do I sign up?  Below!  I'd also ask that you use the lovely blog hop button you see here which the incomparable Carrie Butler designed for me.

All participants will be entered to win one of the following:

Amazon Gift Card $25.00
Amazon Gift Card $15.00
Amazon Gift Card $10.00
Signed copy of the paperback, Aberration (3 copies for giveaway)
Aberration the ebook (5 copies for giveaway)

Please feel free to spread the word on your own blogs!  

Winners will be chosen at random and announced on June 10, 2013.

You can check out the book and put it on your TBR on Goodreads here!