Monday, October 11, 2010

Sigh, Rant.... I'm Back


Sorry about that.... the hiatus was as prolonged as it was unplanned. And just about as unproductive.

Is it too early to sigh again?

Anyway, part of my long slow crawl back to doing what people seem to expect me to do is to once again start cruising the crime fiction mailing lists, and I swear some things never change. In fact, they may have gotten worse.

For example, after all these years some prima donna authors are still bitching about "bad reviews." And now it's not just POD/vanity press newbies. It's also the ebook brigade. It's also more established writers who really should know better. As the publishing pie continues to be cut into more and more slices and it gets harder and harder for non-superstar authors to make a decent living writing fiction, we're bound to see more attacks on criticism -- just as criticism should theoretically become more and more important in separating the great from the good, and the good from the horrid.

Now, granted, there are some genuinely "bad reviews" out there -- poorly written, incomprehensible self-styled "reviews" that betray no understanding at all of the considered work (or even the genre or the context). I'm against those sort of reviews myself. They drag down everyone who takes criticism -- or good writing -- or civilized discourse -- seriously.

But those reviews -- which may be either positive or negative -- aren't what these overly sensitive scribblers on the lists are moaning about. Nope. What they're really griping about when they say "bad reviews" are actually "negative reviews." As in, someone had the audacity and gall to disparage their literary genius, to question a weak plot or a lazy characterization. Most of these overly sensitive artistic types would be all be in favor of "bad reviews" -- just as long as they were favorable.

But unfavorable reviews? No, we can't have those. Of course, there's never anything wrong with the work in question -- no, it must be sour grapes on the part of the reviewer, or ignorance or stupidity. In fact, one of their most tired old saws is that critics and reviewers review other people's work because they can't write themselves -- which is bullshit.

An ability to write well in one field is no guarantee one can write well in another field. Nor is the ability to write fiction well any indication that one can just as easily write non-fiction or criticism. Sure, some people can write well in many fields; but most cannot.

In criticism, an understanding of and ability to discuss what constitutes good fiction is far more valuable than being able to write it.

I write reviews because I -- possibly mistakenly -- believe I'm good at them. And because people are willing to pay me to write them. And other people for some bizarre reason want me to write them.

I may have fooled a lot of people, but sometimes I do dig up something I think more people should read and sometimes I let a little air of the tires of some writer's over-inflated EgoMobile. But whether it's thumbs up, thumbs down or a bit of both, I always try to express myself in an honest (and hopefully entertaining) fashion.

So it vexes me that many of these buffoons who call themselves writers really don't understand criticism at all -- and have so little respect for critics. They really think critics are there solely to help them sell their books. They want flag waving, breathless raves and hyperbolic praise.

But I don't write for writers. I write for readers.

Alas, some authors, some after years of being published, still don't get it. I just read yet another ill-tempered rant (ironically, from a writer who generally gets positive reviews from some pretty impressive sources) who's been known to carry grudges for years, and is now publicly indulging in torture fantasies about what would happen if he ever gets his hands on anyone who ever writes a "bad review" of one of his books.

Worse, this Paragon of Pettiness claims he represents the yearnings of authors everywhere.

Sorry, toots. I know a lot of writers. I even live with one. And you don't represent "every author" on that one. Not even close. Most writers have tougher skins. They don't hiss and spit about "bad reviews" for years and years or daydream on a public forum about going all Gitmo on someone who displeases them. That's kid stuff.

Every writer occasionally gets a negative review. It's part of the job. The good ones, the tough ones, the ones with true grit -- they shrug it off and keep writing. Oh, the word "idiot" or "asshole" may pop up now and then in unguarded conversation (like I said, I know a lot of writers) when they consider the lowly critic who did them wrong, but that's about it.

Not that I write a lot of negative reviews (life's too short to devote so much energy and attention to truly bad books), but I've received more than a few notes from writers who (obviously) may have disagreed with my opinion but appreciated my taking the time to review them.

Perhaps it's because they were savvy enough to have figured out that even a negative review -- particularly if it's sincere and in a legit forum -- is better than no review at all. Someone taking your work seriously enough to weigh its worth -- publicly -- is something to be desired. But it's not a given. As many a frustrated writer -- myself included -- can tell you.

In other words, the mere act of a legit critic seriously considering a work makes that work -- and by extension the author him or herself -- appear to be worthy of serious consideration. Crazy, huh?

So, it's not a legit reviewer's job to bolster the flailing self-esteem of writers by withholding negative opinions. Nor is it their duty to enable and prolong the literary fantasies of writers who just aren't that good.

That's what those sub-literate five star Amazon "reviews" and gushing raves on some of the more dubious ass-kissing atta boy mailing lists are for.

* * * * *

Yeah, I'm back. A new, revamped version of the Thrilling Detective Web Site may just make it online in the next few weeks. Or maybe not. And I'm doing a drive-by to Bouchercon this coming weekend to attend the PWA dinner. Anyone going?

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