Shadow of the Vampire--another spoilerific movie review (#SFWApro)

When I wrote my review of Snowpiecer, Kate Elliott made an interesting comment. She said, "Most of my trouble with this film as I watched it came about because I went in with expectations that it was going to be a science fiction film about what it would be like to live on Earth after the world froze, and it is actually (as you so carefully discuss here) an entirely different film."

I experienced the same feeling with Shadow of the Vampire. I initially went into the film with the mindset that the movie was horror (thank you, Netflix, for that erroneous marketing) ...

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Snowpiercer ... here there be spoilers (#SFWApro)



Oh hell, who am I kidding? Everyone has already seen this movie. As usual, I'm the last one to the party, because NO CAPTIONS AVAILABLE at the theater, and haven't we all heard THAT song enough times, so I won't sing it again here.

If you haven't seen Snowpiercer, turn back now. Go watch the movie, then return to discuss it, or not, whatever pleases you. This is your last chance ... okay, you were warned.

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Timecrimes [Los Cronocrímenes]


Um ... if you're like me and really enjoy a book or movie that gives you a nice little mind-fuck, watch Timecrimes [Spanish title: Los Cronocrímenes].

The plot and characterizations reminded me of the old Twilight Zone series. You know, the really good ones that left you staring at the screen in a mild state of wonder as the end credits rolled?

Yeah that.

Timecrimes was just ... yum.

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.

Reviews at The Founding Fields and Bookworm Blues

Sorry I've been so quiet, I'm eyeball deep in edits and hoping to see the light of day soon.

I'm just popping in long enough to acknowledge (and say thanks!) to two awesome book review blogs for their reviews for Miserere.

Over at The Founding Fields, Shadowhawk reviews Miserere:

"Miserere is also not for the faint-hearted. While the pacing isn’t fast-paced, the action is quite relentless and the various developments and intrigues progress quite swiftly. There is a good balance in keeping the reader hooked. Aside from the excellent characterisation is the fact that the setting of Woerld unfolds in a very striking manner. It is a world that runs in parallel to ours, and is directly connected to it. The religions in our world have a direct counterpart in Woerld and they all work together for the most part as Woerld is the last defence against the powers of Hell. So much so in fact that a rather large historical conflict in Woerld was reflected back on Earth as World War II. Now that’s something."

Sarah at Bookworm Blues talks about the use of religion in Miserere:

"Now, since religion tends to be a hot-button issue with me, that’s what I seemed to keep my eye on the most. It’s far too easy for some authors to use religious influences in their books as a way to preach and I’m just not into that. In fact, that sort of thing tends to be a deal breaker for me. Frohock, bless her heart, uses religion but not in any sort of preachy let-me-tell-you-an-important-message sort of way. Instead, religion in Miserere is incredibly plot driven, and it’s not just Christianity that she focuses on. In fact, Frohock peppers the book with plenty of references to varying world religions like Hinduism, Islam and many more. Though the main thrust of the book deals with Christianity, it’s set strongly in a secondary world that it reads more like myth than anything else. In fact, if Frohock decided to change the word “Christianty” with some made up religious title, I don’t think anyone would know the difference."

And finally, this is super cool if you're a fan of Alex Bledsoe's Eddie LaCrosse series. You can buy a cool t-shirt and have the chance to be a part of a great cause. Check out the full blog post on Alex's blog. The cause is Protect, a lobby for legislation to protect children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Okay, I'm going back into edits, but stay tuned. There will be more giveaways coming soon, and something extra, extra special.

Soon you might get a peek inside The Garden ...

Miserere is Unboxed at Reader Unboxed

Everyone knows about Writer Unboxed, a consistent winner of the Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites Award for the last five years. The founders of Writer Unboxed, Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton, wanted a more direct line with the readers, so they partnered with book bloggers and Larramie from The Divining Wand to start a sister-site to Writer Unboxed, called Reader Unboxed.

Reader Unboxed uses two rating systems to rate their reviews: 1) an overall book rating; and 2) an unboxed rating. The unboxed rating is for:

... a book that does something new. Fresh. Takes an idea and places it, firmly, unequivocally, out of the box. It is the road less traveled. It is the place beyond what we know, the place where the dragons be. It is evidence that an author brought a machete out with her into the wilderness and not just a pair of sunglasses.

Lots of things can make a book unboxed. A startling twist. A transporting voice. A unique setting or story structure. A character who does exactly the opposite of what we expected.

Vaughn Roycroft reviews Miserere: An Autumn Tale and gives Miserere a 6-star UNBOXED rating:

I feared the themes would be too Calvinistic for my taste. I pressed ahead, and was rewarded for my diligence. By page 30, when Lucian escapes his evil sister and is set upon his quest, I was all in. I was also delighted to find that all of the religions of Earth were represented in Woerld, united against their common foe: evil. The very things I initially felt hesitant over ended up being the most unboxed (fresh) elements of the book. [READ THE REVIEW HERE]

While you're over at Reader Unboxed, check out the other reviews. The Reader Unboxed reviewers cover several different genres, so no matter your reading tastes, you will find a book that will take you to new places and new thoughts.

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!

reviews, wednesday madness, and more ...

Miserere has a couple of reviews online now. One is over at Tor.Com by Alyx Dellamonica, A Setting I Hope They Revisit, and Robert Thompson reviews Miserere over at The Fantasy Book Critic.

So, where have I been this week? WRITING! (Amazing, huh?)

Okay, here's the deal: Starting Friday (June 24) I'm kicking off a blog tour. I'm working out the last minute details, but we'll be having a giveaway and I'll be bouncing around the Internet talking about Miserere, writing techniques, what possessed me (no pun intended) to write a story and use real religions (short answer: I'm a masochist, you'll have to wait for the long answer), and other little known facts about Miserere and my nocturnal writing habits.

I'm still creeping through my current WIP, other things have taken precedence, and I'm also working on a synopsis for Dolorosa: A Winter's Dream, Book 2 of the Katharoi.

So that's what I've been up to. What about you guys? What's going on in your neck of the woods?