SpecFic 2012--Cover Reveal

I'm excited to give this project a pump, mainly because Justin Landon of Staffer's Book Review (and Occasional Musings) puts on one hell of a great blog. I enjoy his reviews, and I especially enjoy his thought-provoking takes on SFF in general.

Justin and Jared Shurin have gotten together to preserve some of the finest SFF reviews and essays across the web. Justin tells you all about it and gives you a first peek at the cover right here.

Go on ... take a look ... you know you want to ...

how genre reviews can fail the reader

This is a response to a comment on another post written by Mark Lawrence, Strangely Narrowed Horizons, which I highly suggest that you read before continuing here.

I had already written one very lengthy comment and I don't want to dominate Mark's comments section. The more I responded to Paul's remark, the more I realized I had more of a blog post than quick comment. This will all make a lot more sense if you read Mark's post and some of the comments, then come back here.

For clarification purposes, the comment that I am responding to is by Paul, someone whose opinion I respect, and someone who will take this post in the constructive manner in which it is intended.

Paul's comment regarded two points and here it is in its entirety:

I use the word "fantastika", Teresa, as a shorthand and a synonym for the more inaccurate phrase "genre fiction".

I also think that book reviews and literary criticism are disciplines that touch, but are not as intersecting as people think.

And my response follows:

It’s not that I dispute your (or Clute’s) definition of the word, Paul, it’s just that I don’t like it. It looks ugly and rings hard on the ears and I really don’t feel fantastika is any more accurate than the term genre fiction. It’s a personal thing and very open to interpretation, which brings me to your next point that book reviews and literary criticism are disciplines that touch but don’t intersect as much as people think.

I will respectfully disagree with that last point.

People who review for Locus, PW, Library Journal, etc. are giving readers a highly subjective snapshot of a novel. A novel that rings true and beautiful to one reviewer will be stinky-poo/turgid to another (one has only to look at my Library Journal and PW reviews for Miserere to see the stark difference in opinions).

These reviews are opinions--nothing more. The same is true of literary criticisms; they are opinions; however, in a literary criticism the critic spends a great deal of time, not just analyzing the structure and verse, but also in supporting his/her analysis with convincing arguments. Literary criticism envelops a wide perspective that encompasses the totality of the work in question.

The people who review for Locus, PW, Library Journal, etc. are usually graduates of literary programs and while they're not dissecting a novel publicly through their reviews, they are evaluating novels and stories based on the criteria that they learned. When they evaluate a novel, they are looking at prose, structure, and … wait for it … theme, but they don’t have the time or space to give you a convincing argument as to WHY they feel the way they do about a certain novel.

Does everyone have to graduate from a literary program to be a good reviewer? No. The trick is to read broadly enough to acquire an instinctual feel for story and structure. These are the bloggers and reviewers who I read.

However, some genre criticism has a tendency to veer off the path. The reviewer is widely read and other reviewers pick up the same motif in their own reviews, because they believe this is the way it should be done. When I read a review that only talks about the number of women/minorities/young adults in a novel, I realize that I am not getting a clear picture of what this book is about--I'm getting a census report followed by a lengthy digression on what the author should have done to make this book more palatable to the reviewer/reader.

These reviewers tend to wield large vocabularies, which gives them a semblance of intelligence, but they have very little understanding of literature in any form. They limit their reading to genre fiction, or fantastika, if you will, and review everything within the very narrow scope of social issues that they deem important. It is the equivalent of saying that all fantasy novels should become a terrible plethora of stories that reek of sameness and sterile utopias. Then the review descends (as I posted on Mark's blog) into a miniature political rant, which is fine if that’s what your blog is about; however, these reviewers purport that they “review” books.

These reviews fail the reader because they don't intersect closely enough with literary criticism.

Let me say that one more time: These reviews fail the reader because they don't intersect closely enough with literary criticism.

Do I think that all bloggers and reviewers should cough out reviews of the same quality as the Times Literary Supplement? No.

I love reading comments about novels. I love it when bloggers evaluate what works for them when they are focused on story and technique and prose. I love reading about what magical systems work for you and why. I enjoy seeing what Ria Bridges calls her "fluff reads"--books that she reads and enjoys for no other reason than these stories tickle her fancy. I love all these things and there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with these types of reviews.

But ...

BUT ... BUT ... BUT ... BUT ...

If you host a site that claims to review novels (SF Signal, Strange Horizons, etc.), I am expecting a higher quality review that intersects more closely with a literary criticism. I am more forgiving of an occasional off-beat review, nor am I expecting TLS quality; however, I want to read about prose and story and structure.

Any reviewer who makes an honest attempt to understand a novel based on those criteria wins points with me. Even if I disagree, I believe that for a reviewer to make an effort to evaluate a novel on that level means the reviewer is reading deeply.

If I read a site that consistently publishes reviews that turn into a political platform for a reviewer's beliefs, then I quit that reading that blog, because then the "review" isn't about the story, it is about the reviewer. I can only assume that by continuously publishing those types of reviews that the blog in question supports that type of criticism, which simply does not appeal to me.

Everybody misses the mark on occasion, or has a difference in opinion which sometimes brings about spirited debate on a story's quality. I love those blogs. I don't think for a moment that we need to be a mass of trolling zombies.

However, if we want other people to take genre fiction seriously, then we--the readers and the authors--need to take our craft and our reviews very seriously too. So, yes, I believe that reviews and literary criticisms should intersect much more closely in order to convey the quality of genre fiction. No one else will take us seriously unless we take ourselves and our works seriously.

Review of MISERERE at My Bookish Ways

Just had an awesome review of Miserere at Kristin's book blog, My Bookish Ways:

Miserere is a hard one to review. Not because I didn’t like it, actually, I adored it, but it is simultaneously one of the most complex, yet compulsively readable novels I’ve ever read. Topping out at just under 300 pages, Ms. Frohock manages to pack a wallop of a story into her pages. Lush and emotional, it takes the reader on a journey about betrayel and redemption, and leaves them gasping ... [READ MORE]

And don't forget: you've got several chances to score a free copy of MISERERE:

  1. At Brenda Drake's blog where you can win a copy of MISERERE by commenting;
  2. At the Night-Bazaar this week, you can comment for a chance to win; and
  3. RIGHT HERE, where your super writing skills can win all kinds of cool prizes including a query critique or a 25 or 50 page critique from my rock-star agent Weronika Janczuk!

Party on ... it's the 4th!

LEC Book Reviews calls Miserere "a fine ... debut"

He said some other very nice things about Miserere, but I can only get so much in that title line.

Truth be told, I've been scared to death, waiting on reviews for Miserere.

(OCD about the whole thing is more like it--checking, checking, checking, worriedworriedworried--which is perfectly normal or so other debut authors have assured me.)

So I'm very pleased with the review I've garnered from LEC Book Reivews. I have to be away today, but I did want to pop in long enough to share this: LEC Book Reviews: Miserere: An Autumn Tale.

authors and reviewers

If you missed yesterday's blogosphere brouhaha between an author and a book review site, consider yourself lucky. I won't be posting links here, because truth be told, both sides have gotten a bit shrill and it's turned into a cat-fight.

I do have a couple of thoughts on the matter, and I feel qualified to speak, both as a reviewer and as an author with a debut novel. I read both the review and the author's rebuttal. The review was not professional, but the site never claimed to be a professional book review site. It appeared to me that these individuals were reviewing and discussing books they liked or disliked. Period.

The author really should have let the whole thing go. It was obvious from the review that the reviewer was basing her opinion on personal issues she had with the characters. Now, instead of one bad review sitting out there in cyber-land where it would have eventually shuffled to the bottom of the heap, the author has turned everyone's attention to that one bad review. Unfortunately, it will be the review that everyone remembers when this author's name is brought up.

I've been reviewing books for our library's book blog since 2007 (and no, I had no idea I had been doing it that long until yesterday). Most of my reviews are for books I like or love, and I do that for two reasons: 1) I don't see the point in promoting bad books; and 2) there are too many good books out there for me to waste my time writing about bad ones.

I also read other book review blogs and subscribe to quite a few. When I read other people's book reviews, I look for the objectivity of the reviewer. If the review is snarky and sounds more like a rant than a review, I blow it off and don't pay any attention to it. I think most people are like that. The author who went off on her own rant would do well to remember that.

As an author, I would be kidding myself to say there will be no bad reviews for Miserere. Not everyone is going to like my novel and that's okay. I will be reading reviews, because I want to know what flaws the readers see in the story. I'm smart enough to know the difference between someone's personal opinion and a serious technical flaw in my work.

Most authors are.

I think we all need to take a deep breath here and realize that while not all book review sites are going to provide a balanced review, they are entitled to their opinions. Likewise, authors have complete control over how they respond to those opinions.

Usually, it's best just to stay silent.