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review 2017-11-11 22:17
Excellent historical perspective on the genre
The Tale Of Terror: A Study Of The Gothic Fiction - Edith Birkhead

Disclosure:  I acquired a free Kindle edition of this public domain work.


Although a bit dry at times, Edith Birkhead's 1921 study of gothic fiction is still a valuable resource for anyone wishing to understand the evolution of the genre.  Her insights remain relevant even a century (almost) later.


She starts with Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto and moves forward into the novels of Mrs. Radcliffe, Matthew "Monk" Lewis, and others at the end of the eighteenth century.  The connections she makes between the authors and the books they read as well as the books they wrote was interesting.  Too often, literary analysts seem to assume the books write themselves and evolve one after the other without human intervention.


Many of the books and authors cited have of course been classics for a very long time, but others are less well known and less available even in this age of digitization.  It's going to be fun tracking down some of these unfamiliar titles.


One aspect I found particularly interesting, and again given that this was written nearly a hundred years ago, was that Ms. Birkhead recognized the integration of aspects of the gothic story into other genres of fiction, whether bringing elements of the supernatural into the mundane setting such as The Picture of Dorian Grey, or allowing natural fear and terror to heighten the reader's excitement and interest, as in The Prisoner of Zenda.


The edition I obtained is complete with footnotes and index, which will be very useful.



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text 2017-11-07 19:17
Task for Square #4 -- Penance Day -- Theses for Book Bloggers!

1.  Be Honest.


If you give a bad book a good rating because you want to keep getting free books to review, that's okay, but at least let your followers know that it's all about you and you don't really care about readers.


2.  Be Honest.


If you give a bad book a good rating because you just can't bring yourself to hurt the author's feelings, that's okay, too, but at least let your followers know that it's all about the author and you really don't care about readers.


3.  Be Honest.


If you give a bad book a good rating because you think all books are wonderful and you  can't tell the difference, that's okay, too, but at least let your followers know that it's all about fluff and you really don't know enough to care about the reader's experience.


4.  Be Honest.


If you give a bad book a good rating because you don't know how to identify the flaws, that's okay, too, but at least let your followers know that you don't know what you're doing and you don't care enough about the reader's experience to find out.


5.  Be Honest.


If you give a bad book a good rating because you just want to be a positive person whom everyone likes, that's okay, too, but at least let your followers know that it's all about YOU and not even about books, let alone readers.


6.  Be Honest.


If you give a bad book a good rating because you're a writer, too, and you want everyone to like you and like your book in return, that's okay, too, but at least let your followers know that it's all about you and your book and not about them at all.


7.  Be Honest.


If you give a bad book a good rating because someone paid you to do so, that's okay, too, as long as you make it very clear to your followers that you were paid and it's all about the money, not the reader.


8.  Be Honest.


If you give a bad book a bad rating because it's poorly written and you don't think your followers would like it, GOOD FOR YOU!

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text 2017-10-27 01:07
An all-day rant/blather on writing, reading, reviewing, etc., probably TL/DR but anyway. . . .
To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction - Joanna Russ

The past two days laid up with back spasms have given me the opportunity to cogitate at length on a lot of issues.


Including omens, which I don't believe in.  (Shut up, Shakespeare!  No one believes that bullshit about protesting too much any more.)


When I was writing up my blog post about the Kindle Unlimited scammers yesterday, I referenced an old review of mine.  In the process of looking up that review, I came across another old post, this one about back spasms that attacked right after last year's first art show of the season.  Without going through diary entries and more old blog posts, I'm still pretty sure of the cause of the back spasms: strained muscles from lifting the canopy in and out of my car.


The first show of the season is always the worst, because it comes after a summer during which physical activity is severely curtailed by the heat.  I can't be outside on the rock saw or in the studio working on rocks and other projects because it is simply too hot.  So I stay in the house and don't get nearly as much exercise as I should.  Hence the first show - which is outdoors and requires the canopy - is a shock to all those lazy muscles that haven't been exercised properly for six months.  Even though I try to spread out the physical labor by loading the car during the week before the show and unloading it (usually) over a few days afterward, the effect of unloading and setting up, then tearing down and reloading the car within the space of eight hours for a one-day show is way too much for me to handle alone without the risk of inevitable back muscle injury.


Something has to give.


I don't have another outdoor show until early December, and I'm going to try to a.) get some more exercise to stretch and strengthen those muscles; and b.) enlist some assistance even if only in the loading and unloading of the damn canopy.


I'm not, after all, getting any younger.  Or any taller.  Height equals leverage, and I ain't got much.



I do anywhere from eight to eleven shows per season, usually four between October and early December, the rest late January through the first of April.  Five of them are outdoors and require the canopy; I declined to even apply for another outdoor show that involves more physical effort than the others, because it simply wasn't worth it.


Financially I do reasonably well at these shows, bringing in the supplemental income that means the difference between barely subsisting and actually having something of a life. 


And that's where a good part of the cogitating came in:  If not the shows, then what?


I could conceivably skip the outdoor shows and eliminate the issues with the canopy, but two of those events are among my most successful.  So I have to take that into consideration.


Enlisting at least some assistance could also alleviate as much as half the risk of injury, or perhaps even more.  This is a topic for dinner conversation, so we'll see.




I've loved rocks since I was a toddler.  The bottom step on my grandparents' back porch was concrete, and I remember sitting on that step and being fascinated by all the little stones revealed where the cement had worn away a little bit.  My mother once told me, rather vehemently, that I must be mistaken because she had grown up in that house and the porch was all wood with no concrete steps, but alas, photographic evidence bore out my claims.


 The penciled notation on the back of the snapshot reads "11 mos." and that means it was taken September 1949.  That's my grandmother Mom Helene behind me, and behind her is the concrete step.  (My dad is at the far right.)


So my fascination with rocks is almost as old as I am, literally.


Another photo, perhaps taken the same day, shows me at the fish pond my grandfather had built in the back yard . . . in the middle of his rock garden.  Pop and I had a lot of fun together in that yard.


The house is still there; so is the fish pond.


(Photo courtesy Redfin real estate site.)


I love my rocks.  I love playing with them, cutting them to see what surprises lie inside, turning them into gems and making jewelry out of them.  I'm not giving up my rocks!


But neither can I continue to risk the kind of injury I've been dealing with the past roughly two weeks and especially the past two days.


Up until the past two days, however, I was unaware of some other challenges I face regarding some alternatives.


Now, I know you're wondering -- if you've been foolish enough to read this far -- what all this nonsense has to do with Joanna Russ and To Write Like a Woman.  I'm getting there.


The end of my first writing career in 1995 was followed by my third (or fourth?) college career in 1998, which was in fact prompted by my discovery of another book about women and writing titled The Writing or the Sex, or why you don't have to read women's writing to know it's no good by Dale Spender.  Though Dr. Spender had written numerous books on women and writing and feminism, I was surprised to learn that most -- most -- of my women's studies professors at Arizona State University - West had never heard of her.  Hmmmmm. . . . .


But there were many authors I had never heard of, and to whom I was introduced over the two years of my undergraduate study and three years in the MAIS program at ASU-West.  One of those authors was Joanna Russ.


I learned of Russ when I was working on my undergrad honors thesis about romance novels.  One of my professors remembered a humorous article she had read years before, something about gothic romances and husbands killing their wives.  Research turned up Russ's article "Someone's trying to kill me and I think it's my husband," published in The Journal of Popular Culture in Spring 1973.


I had no way of knowing how far in advance of the "bodice ripper" boom that began in 1972 Russ had written the essay.  I only knew that she was absolutely spot on with her observations.  I obtained an authorized photocopy of the article for my research files.


I also bought Russ's book What are we fighting for? as well as Susan Koppelman Cornillon's Images of Women in Fiction: Feminist Perspectives, in part because it contained another of Russ's essays, "What Can a Heroine Do? Or Why Women Can't Write."  Both of those books, as well as several by Dale Spender, became part of that "personal canon" I started compiling here on BookLikes several months ago.


When the fiction writing bug bit me in the spring of 2016 and infected me enough that I actually finished The Looking-Glass Portrait (begun in 1994 or thereabouts) and then published it via Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, I had no real expectations of any kind of success with it.  It ended up shocking the living hell out of me by making some money.  Not big bunches, but frankly more than most of my print titles ever earned back in the 80s and 90s.  Almost immediately after finishing LGP, I began work on another contemporary gothic tale -- not so much with a menacing husband/lover as with hints of ghostly doings and dark family secrets -- and was having great fun with it and making steady progress. 




And then it stalled.


What stopped me?  Simple answer:  Art show season.


Oh, there were other reasons, too nebulous and complex to go into here for the sake of this particular musing, but the main reason was that I had to devote a great deal of energy and time and creative effort to my other artistic product lines, if you will, and there wasn't time for the writing.


Writing novels, unfortunately, does not provide immediate return on investment.  Or rather, the investment is very long, though in fact the return (thanks to digital self-publishing) can be fairly quick.  The return on an art show is almost instantaneous.


Well, it is if the show is successful.  And not all of them are.


But they were successful enough that in the short term, they provided that necessary supplemental income the longer term investment in writing just couldn't.  When the beginning of 2017 slapped me upside the head with several very large and very unexpected cash expenditures, I had to opt for the rocks and jewelry and other artsy-fartsy stuff that generated quick revenue.


The writing would have to wait.


And mostly it did.  Once summer arrived and shows were over and the outdoor temperatures relegated me to the house and the air conditioning, I tried to pick up where I had left off with Forgotten Magic.  Again, I made slow, but steady, progress.  The book and characters began to move in a slightly different direction that suggested this single story might evolve into a threesome -- no, not that kind! -- but it was going to take a lot more work.  And a lot more time.


In the interim, of course, there was the artsy-fartsy stuff.  To a certain extent, it was a kind of catch-22.  But the bills have to be paid, y'know?


The writing, of course, was going to take something else, something above and beyond, something I hate and don't have the financial resources for: Promotion.


My original writing career in the days when "traditional" publishing was all there was meant that the writer relied mostly on the publisher to get the word out and promote the book.  Cover art and blurbs were about all we romance writers had to stimulate word of mouth and get our books talked about.  In the early 1980s, Romantic Times came along, and Romance Writers of America, and from those two main sources came the push to promote, promote, promote.  Bookmarks and ads and all the other bullshit that takes money and/or makes my stomach turn.


So when I began reissuing my print titles via KDP, I didn't do promo.  I couldn't afford the paid stuff -- ads and such -- and I hated doing the rest of it.  Oh, I did my little blog and I posted a few times on Goodreads (once I found it) but I just can't shake my personal loathing for PR.  I still rely on the "if you write a good book, people will read it and talk about it," even though I know that's never really been true.  I did all right with the reissues, though not spectacularly, but I was never going to get rich from them.


The Looking-Glass Portrait was therefore a huge surprise.  I did no promo for it, took out no ads, sent out no ARCs, contacted no reviewers.  I think I posted a couple things here on BookLikes and a few short things on Facebook, but that was it.  Then I sat back and waited. 


I don't have a separate Facebook business page for either my arts & crafts stuff or my writing.  To be honest, I don't know how to do Facebook pages and I'm so afraid of doing it wrong and getting kicked off that I don't even try.  Don't even mention Instagram.


But . . . .  .  .  .   .   .   .    .    .       .


Then came The Secrets of White Apple Tree Farm. 




Suddenly I was writing three, four, six thousand words a day.  The story was writing itself, it knew where it was going even if I didn't. 


Halloween Bingo was less a distraction than a motivator.  The more I read of gothics and horror and ghost stories, the more I wanted to write.  The more I did write.


Production cut back, of course, as art show season approached.  I had to get inventory ready.  I had to clean the tables that had been sitting on the porch since last April.  I had to load the car.  But I still managed to write, even if it was only a few hundred words a night scribbled in a spare spiral notebook after I'd gone to bed.  There were things I wanted to say with this book, not just entertain.


What are we fighting for, anyway?


I've always believed there is untapped power in popular fiction.  Yes, even in romance novels.




Then came the first show of the season.  Financially, a success.  Physically, a disaster.  A catastrophe.  And a warning of what to expect in the future.


Even now, as I've started to recover today, the pain isn't gone.  Writing this has been enough of a strain -- along with fixing a sandwich for lunch and washing a few dishes -- that the twinges are becoming more painful and reminding me that I'm pushing it too far.


But the revelations of yesterday, of learning how Amazon allows writers to be screwed over, and how the only path to writing success seems to be promotion, promotion, PROMOTION, discourage me.  Indeed, they frighten me.


No, that's not right either.


They anger me.


David Gaughran preaches co-operation, but he practices competition.  Phoenix Sullivan, of that ghastly "romance" Spoil of War, practices high level, high tech promotion.  She has the extensive backlist of a top tier romance novelist to support her efforts, in terms of both finances and quality/visibility of product.  So where's the absence of competition?


Anne Rice and her alter ego Anne R. Allen preach kindness to authors, but only at the expense of honesty to readers.  They seem to have forgotten that some of the stuff being published is just plain terrible.  Is it kind to readers not to warn them when their hard-earned money is at stake, let alone their time?


Gaughran -- and Sullivan -- lament Amazon's favoritism toward readers at the expense of writers, but they seem to forget that Amazon's failure to protect readers from scams is just as bad as allowing scammers to scam writers.  It's all about what benefits Amazon, and screw the rest of us, writers and readers alike.


The co-operation needs to be not (just) amongst writers but between writers and readers.


If it's not about providing quality product, then it's not about co-operation; it's about competition.


If it's just about who gets the highest ranking on Amazon or who gets the most five-star reviews on Goodreads, then it's not about quality of product and reader satisfaction.  If it's about who buys the most ads on FreeBooksy or sends out the most ARCs via NetGalley or assembles the biggest street team -- whatever that is -- then it's not about writing a good book, it's about promoting a commodity of dubious quality.


I want to write.  I want to write good books that people will enjoy and that might subtly teach them something, too.  Not preachy like that stupid Terror in Tower Grove, but with a few laughs, a few chills, a few ohs and aaahs and aaawwwwws.


I won't become famous and I won't have an extensive backlist and I won't be invited to guest post on big book promoting blogs, but that's not the name of the game to me.


My back felt pretty good last night, so I crawled in bed and took To Write Like a Woman with me.  I skimmed through the table of contents, and skipped over the essay on gothics to the last entry in the book (before the index):  A Letter to Susan Koppelman.


It's dated 1984.  It mentions (feminist writer) Helene Cixous, about whom I had never heard before I entered the Women's Studies program at ASU-West in 1998.  It mentions Dale Spender, about whom my Women's Studies professors had never heard in 2000.


I started to cry.  Not from the pain of the back spasms, but from the anger that after 33 years the issue still of women's writing remains almost untouched.


And then came the real anger, because it wasn't just mine.  It was Joanna Russ's, too.



Part of the letter is available on Google Books here. The intro Russ supplies is amusing for its reference to Ursula K. Le Guin's response to a critic.  But the important part of this 1984 letter was about the anger.  That part of the letter isn't in the Google Books selection, but there's a reference to it here:


Russ's writing is characterized by anger interspersed with humor and irony. James Tiptree Jr, in a letter to her, wrote, "Do you imagine that anyone with half a functional neuron can read your work and not have his fingers smoked by the bitter, multi-layered anger in it? It smells and smoulders like a volcano buried so long and deadly it is just beginning to wonder if it can explode."[6] In a letter to Susan Koppelman, Russ asks of a young feminist critic "where is her anger?" and adds "I think from now on, I will not trust anyone who isn't angry."[13]


So, I am angry.  I have been angry before, but I have not had the kind of outlet for it that I have -- or at least think I have -- now.


Gaughran and Sullivan, Rice and Allen, and all the rest have a small bit of it right, but they have missed the essence by a mile.  The pact, the contract, the cooperation must be between the writer and the reader.  Not the writer and other writers. Not the reviewers and the writers.  Not the ARC suppliers and the advertising websites and the bloggers and the bundlers and the scammers.  It has to be the sacred bond between writer and reader.





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text 2016-09-15 20:11
This. OMFG, THIS. (Or, I think I'm in love.)

If you are a writer -- successful or not; good, bad, terrible, or worse; frustrated or confused -- you need this. 


If you are a reader still SYDH over the latest horrible excuse for a book you spent time and/or money on, you need this.


If you are a reviewer still screaming over the latest rant from a precious snowflake whose book got a negative review, YOU NEED THIS.


The video



His blog



The current edition:



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text 2015-02-19 18:41
To be, or not to be . . .
Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective - Peter L. Berger

. . . a gatekeeper.  That is one helluva big question.  And it is posed with alarming frequency.


The publishing industry still has gatekeepers.  They're called acquiring editors, and they have both the power and the authority to open the gates and welcome the favored author in, or to slam the gates shut on anyone they don't want to let into their particular enclosed estate, otherwise known as a traditional publishing house  They don't have to give reasons; a form-letter rejection slip of thanks, but no thanks, is sufficient.  That hasn't changed in the 50 years since I entered the book writing business.


The publishing industry also still has what I call gateminders.  They're called literary agents, and while they don't have quite as much power and authority to open the gates, they can hold them pretty tightly closed.  Unlike acquiring editors who actually have a publishing company to back up the contract they offer, agents can be and sometimes are wildcatters.  They can make promises they have no power to enforce, and there is pretty much no one to take them to task for it.  Though there are professional associations for agents, the freelancer does not need a license or credentials to call herself a Literary Agent and begin collecting clients.  That also hasn't changed in the past half century.


What has changed, of course, is the nature of publishing itself.   The traditional publishers continue to operate in their protected enclaves, but through the medium of digital self-publishing, the rabble have broken down the barriers to publication.  Some might even say they've over-run the entire industry.


The result has been a classic case of what sociologist Robert Merton called the "manifest" and "latent" functions of a segment of society.  To quote Peter L. Berger:


The former are the conscious and deliberate functions of social processes, the latter the unconscious or unintended ones.


Berger, Peter L., Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective.  Anchor Books, 1963: p. 40.


The gatekeepers and gateminders served the manifest function of limiting access to the publishing industry to those who "qualified" for publication, through some mysterious formula of writing quality and potential profitability.  The latent function was to provide a warranty, if you will, to the reader that the book would be readable.  It might not be to the each reader's individual taste, but it would at least be professionally written, edited, and published.  (The egregious duds are outliers, but usually result from the over-application of that profitability factor at the expense of writing quality.)


The manifest function of digital self-publishing, on the other hand, has been that anyone who has written anything can "get it published."  The latent function is that readers no longer have that implied warranty of readability the traditional publishers provided.


It's what you might call the sociological equivalent of Newton's third law of motion.  Concisely stated, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. 


What appears to have happened as a result of this is that those who are uploading anything and everything that comes out of their keyboards -- Merton's "manifest" function -- regardless how well-written or horribly-written it may be are forgetting the second part of the equation.  (Then again, perhaps they can't forget that which they never knew.)  The reading public will have a reaction -- Merton's "latent" function -- and it may not be the kind of reaction the uploaders intended.


This latent function on the part of readers has manifested itself (pun of course intended) in various ways, two of which are of immediate concern. 


The first is that readers who have been burned too many times by the poor quality of author-published books simply stop buying and/or reading other author-published books.  Regardless of the price, these readers choose to avoid reading material that comes without any warranty at all.


The second is that readers who never had the opportunity to voice their opinions about the books they read now have that opportunity -- through an avenue analogous to the digital publishing platform -- and they are making their opinions heard.  Or, more correctly, they are making their opinions available to be read, by other readers.


Inevitably, this has sparked controversy, which may more accurately be termed bruised ego defensiveness on the part of the self-publishing authors.


Again, however, there's been an ignoring of the manifest/latent functions of the traditional publishing model:  By bypassing the gatekeepers and choosing to self-publish (manifest), the SPA has also bypassed the readability warranty (latent) that comes with traditional publishing.


In other words, they can't have their cake and eat it, too.


But they want to.  They want to be able to publish with no restrictions yet at the same time restrict readers to giving only positive responses. 


For the most part, non-writing readers have a distinct advantage in the reviewing arena.  Although they risk a certain amount of backlash for expressing their opinions, there is very little a disgruntled writer (or fan thereof) can do other than verbally protest.  And it should be pointed out that most backlash comes as a result of negative reviews, with only some generated by positive reviews.  In rare cases the backlash escalates; fortunately those cases remain rare and they should be reduced to never at all.  Readers have been subjected to online harassment and even physical stalking and attacks.  But even mild backlash happens in only a tiny fraction of cases.


While non-writing readers come under criticism for leaving negative reviews, writers who do so are subject to a distinct and particular condemnation.  And they are particularly vulnerable.


The author/reviewer must be cognizant of that manifest/latent duality more than the non-writing reader simply because she is in the same commercial arena as the writer whose work she is evaluating.  Her chips are already, as it were, on the table in the form of her own books put out for digital sale.  Her intention may be to inform other readers that a book is poorly written or contains numerous errors of fact; the unintended consequences may be that her own book is rated or reviewed negatively in retaliation.  (She may also be harassed and stalked like any other reader as well.)


She could -- and many do -- justify her silence as professional courtesy and avoid the risk.  And it should be noted that Amazon in particular expressly forbids (following Federal Trade Commission guidelines, sort of) negative reviews from authors in the same genre as the book they're reviewing.  This is a convenient and legitimate fallback for those who don't want to risk retaliation.


For the self-publishing author/reviewer, there are more risks, again in that same manifest/latent paradigm, to complicate the issue.


Without a publisher behind her, she has to rely on herself for promotion and publicity, and she has to become her own "brand."  There again is yet another argument in favor of being nice, being polite, being professional.  What could possibly be the latent negative function of such courteous behavior?


The simple answer:  The flooding of the market with horrendously bad material.  That's the market she's trying to make her own mark in, as well as her fellow writers who do care about the quality of their product.  Her silence in the face of badly written books hurts her by increasing the competition as well as increasing the odds that those who might have taken a chance on her book will instead avoid it as just another piece of the mass of self-published dreck they are already avoiding.


Unlike doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who are admitted to their professional associations only after meeting certain professional criteria, writers are not automatically colleagues or fellows simply by having a book in digital publication.  Bar associations, for example, do hold their members to professional standards, and they can disbar those members who fail to measure up.  Writers have no such protection, no such certification, no such validation.


Most of the clamor in the authorial ranks demanding professional courtesy in reviews (aka silence) comes from those writers who are the most likely to be on the receiving end of negative reviews.  As with virtually all demands for limits on reviews -- only if the whole book is read, only if there is proof of purchase, only if the reviewer is "qualified" -- the manifest function is to silence negative comments.  One of the latent functions is that such clamor identifies the writer as afraid -- and probably with good reason -- of receiving those negative comments.


Perhaps because a good part of my formal education -- I hold a master's degree from Arizona State University -- is in sociology and related fields, I approach reviewing with a full awareness of both the manifest and latent functions of doing so.  As one Amazon poster recently observed, my books have been "one-starred into oblivion" in direct retaliation for my refusing to back down on negative reviews.  But I continue to believe that my professional courtesy, if I have any, is owed not to those who would foist dreck on the readers we all want to reach but to the readers themselves and to my true professional colleagues who also put readers first, and uploaders a far distant third.


I cannot be a gatekeeper or even a gateminder.  Will my review prevent the sale of a badly written book?  Perhaps.  Should that badly written book have been put out for sale in the first place?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  Does the reader still have a choice to buy that book?  Of course she does.  She also has the right to read it, enjoy it, and post a review to that effect.








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