Today I didn’t feel good, so I didn’t do (much) day job work on my work-from-home-day. (Not much of a sick day if you spend your waking hours checking email and doing work, which is what happened . . .) Anyway, when I woke up after going back to bed this morning, I still felt like crap so I started reading this book. A Romance. Because I do enjoy Romance a lot. And this was one I bought because it’s clear my historicals need to be lighter in tone if I’m to continue publishing them. And this one had the elements that have been under discussion.
This book started out well. The writing was rock solid. But the whole thing kind of took a left turn quickly and I soon realized that the very early signs of a conflict between logic and Authorial Need weren’t just minor issues I could overlook, but signs of a writer who was not in control of the internal logic of her story.
In the opening, the heroine is being kidnapped and she’s running through an internal monologue that has nothing to do with fear or worry. Nothing explained or hinted at why she wasn’t in fear for her life. Then later when she’s mostly naked, drugged and tied to a bed in a brothel, the hero comes in. And for the entire rest of the scene, despite being drugged, she is able to converse with him with absolutely no sign of mental impairment. She is witty and amusing!
I admit I kept thinking, but she’s been drugged! The bad guys wouldn’t send the Hero up to have his way with her if they didn’t know the drugs would have taken effect by then. They were experienced bad guys. It was obvious they’d done this sort of thing before.
But the hero was kind of cool and awesome and I kept thinking all of this would be explained somehow. It wasn’t. And this disconnect between logic and what the author needed to happen continued.
Characterizations were horrifically shallow. The characters all felt about two inches deep and I was fast loosing interest. I began to actively hate the hero and the heroine was giving me a sugar high. In a not so good way.
Then I had to take my son to tennis because Mom duty doesn’t stop just because you don’t feel good. So I sat in the car and read the book until finally, I’d had it. I tweeted that I hated the book I was reading. (Without identifying the book.) Then the hero did something so tremendously stupid and illogical that I tweeted about that, too.
Long story short, I ended up tweeting about the parts that struck me as lacking interior consistency; a plot that hinged on motivations that were thin as air or actions that made no sense. Sometimes the characters’ convictions changed from one chapter to the next without explanation.
And people were following along, asking questions or otherwise remarking. Many wanted to know what book it was. Because of this feedback, I actually finished a book I was planning to throw away unfinished.
At no time did I tweet the title or author of the book.
A lot of people asked what book I was reading. And therein lies my dilemma. To tell or not to tell?
I have to say that on a personal level, I don’t care to see someone pointing out perceived flaws in my books. Even when I realize Ohh, point! (Maybe even especially then.) As an author, I’ve have had my share of bad reviews. I’m pretty confident in saying every author gets them at some point, probably for every book. Few books are universally and unreservedly loved. You shrug and move on. You have to because the other way lies madness. Few books are universally loathed, by the way.
I read a lot of books. All kinds of books. And I often talk about them on this blog. If I read and did not like a non-Romance book, I have no problem saying so and identifying the book and author. I thought the Gargoyle, for example, was a breathtaking bit of writing yet so horrific in the details of the protagonist’s near fatal burning and recovery therefrom that I very nearly had to stop reading. I also thought (think) that the book’s heroine was an example of how male authors can fail to see the world from any point of view but that of their privileged gender. Their books suffer when that happens. And this heroine was, I felt, particularly stereotypical, cliche and shallow, which you’d think shouldn’t be tolerated in Literature. The heroine was nothing more than a male fantasy of female sacrifice on his behalf. I was, in fact, offended. But he’s still a brilliant writer and his was a debut. He can only get better and, one hopes, more mature in his portrayal of women.
So, see? I can say that because when you write a book, you’re inviting readers to respond. Some of us do respond in writing or on a blog or in other formats. Reader response and opinion, by the way, is not always sweetness and light.
I don’t do this with Romance novels I didn’t like. I blog happily about Romances I loved. There are a lot of them. Some of the finest, edgiest, funniest (you name it) writers today are writing Romance, only no one’s paying much attention because hey, it’s Romance. But if I don’t like a Romance or think it’s flawed or unfinishable, I don’t blog about it.
Because I know (or know of) a lot of these authors personally. I might well meet them at RWA one day or end up sharing a publisher with them. I have had wonderful conversations with authors who wrote a book I did not care for. I’m not a professional reviewer, rather, I’m their colleague, and it doesn’t feel right to me to blog a negative response to a colleague’s book.
I understand that opinions differ. There are people who loved books I didn’t and who hated books I’ve loved. I don’t usually hold difference of opinion against people. The more reasoned and thoughtful the analysis, the less I hold it against them. As for Amazon reviews, hey, readers are always entitled to their response to a book.
Authors are readers too, though. In fact, they’re some of the most die hard readers around. They read far more than average. Romance authors in particular read far more widely than most authors — in part because they’re not excluding Romance from their reading. Authors read with insight into the minutia of craft and that expertise can make for rich reviews and responses.
But I don’t want to hurt a colleague’s feelings and that’s why I don’t blog about Romances I didn’t like. It’s why I didn’t tweet the author or title of the book I didn’t like.
But should I? Should I have? That’s the dilemma.
If a non-author had done that (and Jane at Dear Author has, naming the book and author as well) that can only be a legitimate response of a reader to a book. Readers are entitled to say what they think no matter what platform they use to express that opinion. What is the difference, really, if the flaws or merits of a book are reported in a review or in a series of tweets? There isn’t one that I can see.
The distinction drawn has been between complimentary and not-complimentary remarks. It’s nonsense to say the line is different depending on format (blog, tweet, etc.) Let’s be up front and say people are getting all twisted about negative opinions. Makes sense. Girls especially are supposed to be nice. Those of us who are parents spend a lot of time explaining to kids why you have to care about other people’s feelings. But that doesn’t mean you don’t get to express an opinion, particularly when it’s invited. Publication is, de facto, an invitation to respond with one’s opinion.
I’ll have to write another post on the situation with Jane at Dear Author. RWA made a mistake, that’s all I’ll say right now.
Obviously, in my role as a reader, I had a strong response to the particular book I read today. The author in me was thinking about the how, why and how not, of what I felt were major flaws. The author’s book was out there in the public forum, I bought it with my own money and I am entitled to my response. The reader in me was pissed off that I’d paid good money for a plot with holes big enough to hold New York City. My opinion!
I also think Romance gets more than its share of criticism, often from people who’ve never read a Romance in their life.
What do you think?