Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Who's a Sad Puppy?

An interesting thing happened this month: Salman Rushdie rated a bunch of books on goodreads. No, come back! They've all been taken down, now, so you don't need to rush over there to look. He was very honest with his ratings, because, well, he didn't realize they were public. He thought it was something like Netflix where you get suggestions based on your ratings. Needless to say, he got a lot of, shall we say, feedback based on his ratings, not all of it good. There was a lot of, "How could you not think [for instance] that To Kill a Mockingbird was the best book ever!" Because he didn't think that. However, there was also a lot of, "He's entitled to his own opinions," which he is.

And that brings us back to the topic of reviews. [And, trust me, I am more tired of talking about this than you are of hearing me talk about it.] One of the things Pat Dilloway said to me repeatedly over my review of Lyon's Legacy is, " what your mom always said: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." [When I say "repeatedly," I mean repeatedly. He said it on my blog in the comments, emailed it to me more than once, and called me out on it in a post on IWM.] And, you know, I get that. It seems reasonable. Just hold back the critiques and let the market be flooded with... whatever. Because, you know, art is hard. Just like math. [That's a Barbie reference for those of you that remember that fiasco.]

BUT, as Claire Fallon said in her Huffington Post article on the Rushdie goodreads topic, "A sweeping policy of 'if you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all' means that every book is deemed an instant classic by some, and an artistic failure by none." Or, as I like to say it, "If every book is special, then none of them are." Basically, "public flattery and mutual back-scratching [of indie authors to other indie authors (my insert)] undermine the entire artistic community." That was, again, Claire Fallon.

Which brings us to the Sad Puppies...

But, first, really, who would name themselves that? [And they did name themselves.] It's pathetic, not cute.

Rather than try to explain the whole Sad Puppy thing in detail (that would take several posts, I'm sure), I'll just say it like this: The Sad Puppies are a group who have sabotaged the Hugo Award nominations for this year by rigging the process so that only the pieces that they have chosen (pieces by conservative writers) received nominations. Basically, it was a couple of guys (but mostly Vox Day, a racist, sexist asshole [Seriously, this guy believes that women shouldn't have the right to vote and has referred to African Americans as "half-savages."]) who were upset at not being nominated in previous years who, rather than just accept that their stuff wasn't up to nomination quality, started making excuses and coming up with conspiracy theories as to why they were being "blocked." [The major theory being that John Scalzi and his cabal of SJWs (social justice warriors) were behind the scenes keeping upright, conservative citizens such as themselves out of the ballots.] So they cheated...

Which is very like indie authors giving other indie authors 5-star reviews because, you know, "art is hard" and all of that crap.

Here's a thing that happened:
I posted my review of Pat Dilloway's Where You Belong to Amazon (because that's where reviews belong), and he immediately began challenging the review in the comments and saying the things I pointed out where just plain fabrications and I would need to point them out to him and prove their existence. He's not paying me to be his editor, though, so I declined. However, another reviewer came along and pointed some of them out. So Dilloway switched gears from "those things don't exist" to "oh, no, those things are legitimate" and proceeded to get into it with the other reviewer. I suppose he didn't like having concrete evidence of his tense lapses posted right there in the comments, though, because those comments by the other reviewer "mysteriously" disappeared thanks to Amazon (and, I'm sure, someone's liberally use of the "report abuse" button (because we all know that the truth is abuse, right?). [Fortunately, the other reviewer posted his own review, though that review is not as detailed in its examples as the comments were.]

So I was talking about all of this with a buddy of mine, Bryan Pedas, about both the Dilloway thing and the Hugo thing, and he read this post by John Scalzi about the mess with the Hugo awards, a post that I also read, and he sent me a quote about Vox Day that he said summed up Dilloway perfectly, which is actually exactly what I thought when I read the same piece of the post:
...he’s the sort of person for whom any scenario will be seen as a victory condition; if he were to be set on fire and pushed in front of a speeding train, he would cackle about how this was exactly what he had planned right up until the moment of impact turned him into flaming bits of kibble. In the grand pantheon of People Acting Like Children..., he’s the Grand Baby, and attention is what he wants.
...Fuck that dude. If everything is a victory condition for him — and it is — then worrying about what he’s going to do is sort of pointless. What is he going to do? Why, declare victory! Regardless! ...He wants you to see him as a mastermind, rather than as a general failure whose only successes lie in being terrible to other people, and encouraging others to be the same.
The fact that I'm making another post about all of this is, I am sure, a victory condition for Dilloway, but, then, not posting about it is also a victory condition, so I might as well do the thing I'm inclined to do, which is to out the person being terrible to other people, since Dilloway has been harassing me daily in emails and comments for the last month (since the Lyon's review went live) and has made it an ongoing practice to 1-star rate other authors' books as a way of expressing his dislike or anger. In light of all of this, the "Dilloway situation" and the Hugos thing, I am going to sort of redefine "sad puppy" to this:
A Sad Puppy is anyone who makes a habit out of whining or complaining about how they don't get the respect they deserve (in whatever capacity that takes: no award recognition, poor reviews, whatever) and, then, go on a rampage and do revenge-y things to get "even" with other people (or to, in Dilloway's words, "let [them] have a taste of [their] own medicine").
As Dilloway himself says, "I complain all the time about people [who give my books low ratings]."

What I really want is for people like this to just get over themselves. No one is out to get you. No one has a conspiracy against you. No one is going to any trouble to make things more difficult for you. Do you know why? Because you're not worth the effort. The only reason Dilloway is even still on my map is that two to three times a day, I get a notification that he's left another comment in which he calls me names (because Dilloway can't seem to tell the difference between actual literary criticism and name calling). [Actually, at this point, he has literally spammed my comment feed with hundreds of comments calling me names (just ask Lee or Jo, who both got caught up in his spam).] Oh, that and that he has down-rated another of my books. I supposed that is meant to provoke some kind of reaction out of me. And, maybe, this qualifies as that, since I've brought him up, but it's really more about the idea of these kinds of people rather than about Dilloway himself.

The most important thing to remember is to not let people like this push you into doing something you don't want to do. Remember, they're going to claim the win no matter what you do, so just go on as if they aren't even there and do what you would do. I'm going to leave you with another John Scalzi quote:
Just a thing to remember when a Sad Puppy puffs himself up in a blog post or comment thread near you: You're looking at a failure trying very hard to convince himself -- and you -- otherwise.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Growing Up In the Race Divide (part 5c)

Note: Probably, you should go back and read at least parts 5a and 5b before reading this one.

Now, we arrive at the problem.

Everything probably -- okay, not "probably," let's say "might have" -- would have been okay if I had just kept the kids out of sight, but, after youth group, I would open up the gym to the kids and let them play basketball. Or whatever. But, you know, basketball. Because it was always basketball. Sometimes mixed with skating. Don't ask. The gym was directly across from the chapel, which was where the adults met on Wednesday nights (the sanctuary, where Sunday service was held, was in the other building). So, basically, I flaunted my youth group in front of the adults. Not that that was the intent, because the intent was to let the kids have some time having fun.

Let me make one thing clear: At this point, the problem wasn't just the black kids; it was almost all of the kids. 90% of my group were kids from low-income or lower middle class families. They weren't the demographic the church leadership wanted. And it was just the kids, meaning that they didn't bring tithing parents along with them. However, it was the black kids that stood out. And, to make things more complicated, they couldn't tell me they didn't like what I was doing because how would that sound? So the message I was receiving was, repeatedly, "Great job! Keep it up!" And I did, because, well, I was young and naive and trusted them.

All of this took place over a few years, and there were other things going on that affected the eventual outcome, but it's way too much to try to cover, so I'll give you the basics:

1. While I was in high school, we (the church) had begun a Spanish mission church. They met on Sunday mornings in the chapel while the main church happened in the sanctuary. The pastor of the Spanish mission was part of the church staff, and his daughter (one of them) was in youth group with me. What I failed to see as a teenager was that having the Spanish mission kept Hispanics segregated from the main church. There was never any overlap or joint activities between the two groups.

2. During the time I was acting as the youth director (because they wouldn't call me "pastor," but that's another story entirely), the church opted to start -- I don't remember what they called it, but it wasn't "African American" -- another mission a few blocks away, one for blacks. They hired a black pastor with the intent of paying him until the church could stand on its own. This, of course, pulled the black kids I had in my group out of it, and they set up a separate night for the mission to use the gym. I think it was Thursdays, the point being that it was a night when the church was not normally in use by any white people. Effectively, they eliminated any "black element" from Wednesday nights. And, actually, from Sundays, because there had been the occasional black visitors on Sunday mornings as the black population around the church grew. They couldn't legitimately just turn them away, so they gave them somewhere else to go and patted their own backs while doing it.

3. Because the "core" church membership was in such a decline, they began to have talks about what to do about that and how to grow the church. Of course, what they wanted was to return it to the state it had been in in the late 60s/early 70s: 1500 white, middle class members including lots of families with children. They had started trying various tactics meant to spur that kind of growth in the mid to late 80s, including hiring a pastor who was supposed to be an appealing preacher, but, despite their efforts -- because they didn't make any substantive changes -- the membership had continued to dwindle. By the early 90s, they were beginning to worry about sustaining the money as the older, rich members died off and ceased to tithe. It's always about the money.

Which brings us close to the end.

As the leadership saw it [I should point out that I was not considered leadership because I was not, technically, on staff. To be on staff and go to staff meetings, you had to be salaried, and they wouldn't do that with me (again, long unrelated story). However, my mother was on staff (church cook and all), so I got to know everything that went on during these meetings. The other leadership was the deacons: old, rich, white dudes one and all.], at the end of it all, the church had two options:
1. Merge with the church that originally planted my church more than 75 years prior. That this even came up as an option should tell you something, but it did come up as an option, and that church pushed for it, because it, can you guess, wanted our money.
2. Open the church to neighborhood surrounding it, which would include absorbing the black mission that we had planted, at this point, somewhere around two years before. That this was spoken of in those terms should also tell you something. "Open the church to the surrounding neighborhood."

"Open the church to the surrounding neighborhood." This all makes me sick and mad just to think about it. I mean, that this ever even had to be a consideration is... wrong. And the debate, as it came down to it, especially among the deacons, was that they would have to share leadership with "those people." And "those people" couldn't be trusted. And won't we lose all of our members if we let "those people" into our church.

And I wanted to scream, "What members?" At this point, it was normal to have less than 200 in the congregation on Sunday mornings, and 30 of those were my teenagers!

Believe it or not, this all resulted in what can only be called a final showdown. Which I'll tell you all about next week.

Friday, April 24, 2015

If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor (a book review post)

I didn't come by Bruce Campbell the normal way. That is to say, I didn't come by Bruce via The Evil Dead or anything related to it. Sure, I had heard of it. I had plenty of friends during high school who were big fans of the Evil Dead 1 and 2, and I even saw Army of Darkness when it came out, probably opening weekend, but, honestly, I wasn't all that impressed. Also, honestly, I got so tired of all of the "boomstick" jokes. Not that that had anything to do with Bruce; I just had this one friend, Tad, who could run anything into the ground.

I came to Bruce through The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., one of the most underrated shows ever. Back in a time when I never watched TV (I still don't "watch TV"), I made sure to video tape every episode of Brisco. It made me a true Bruce fan, and I spent years looking for his low budget flicks just to see how they were. Things like Mindwarp, Maniac Cop, and Lunatics: A Love Story. One of my favorites, and one I actually own, is Bubba Ho-Tep; of course, that one came later.

And, yes, I love Bruce Campbell's chin. Almost as much as I love Patrick Warburton's (but we're not talking about him).

Which brings us to the book, If Chins Could Kill. While I frequently see it termed an autobiography, and while it is in fact autobiographical, it would be a mistake to call the book an autobiography. "Autobiography" implies that it is the story of the person's life, and Chins does contain stories, but it's more a series of anecdotes rather than being a story. Anecdotes that aren't always even in chronological order. They more follow along thematically as sections of Bruce's life, so they sometimes shift out-of-order as he changes topics. There's nothing wrong with the book not being an autobiography; I'm just saying that it doesn't really fit into that category as you might expect "the story of someone's life" to fit into it.

As a series of anecdotes, the book is well worth the read. Well, if you like Bruce Campbell, it is. There are amusing stories from his childhood, even more amusing stories from his days when he and Sam Raimi were first getting started, and, well, just amusing stories, at least one of which has to do with Bruce and his own "boomstick." And lots of photographs. Then there's the stuff when he goes to work on Hercules and kind of doesn't come back. Not that he didn't come back, but he chose to spend time doing that and Xena for a long while, much to the chagrin of his agent and others. But, hey, I loved the character of Autolycus; he was the only reason I ever watched Hercules or Xena.

I actually have what I guess is the second edition of the book, and it contains an added section about the book tour itself. That was the section that I found most interesting. Maybe it's because I'm an author or maybe it's because he talks a good bit there about his interactions with his fans, but, whatever it is, I'm glad they threw that section in.

What it all comes down to is this:
If you like Bruce Campbell and are interested in getting a look behind the curtain at how bits of Hollywood work, you will most likely enjoy this.
If you're not a fan of Bruce or you don't know who he is from a can of Campbell's soup, you should give this a pass.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Growing Up In the Race Divide (part 5b)

Note: Go back and read the last entry in this series before reading this one.

There I was, all of 20 years old, officially the unofficial youth pastor (or unofficially the official youth pastor; it's hard to know which) at my first night of youth group, and I had two kids. Middle schoolers whom I didn't know from Adam.

Initially, I couldn't even find them, because they weren't where they were supposed to be. They were down in the game room. You might think, "well, what else would you expect from middle schoolers," but that they were middle schoolers wasn't the reason. The reason they were down in the game room was because it had been weeks, at least, since they'd had any kind of teaching or, even, a leader down in the youth area. Basically, they just came each week to hang out because it was better than being at home. [And, man, I don't even know how to feel about that. I didn't then, and I still don't now. Just... how horrible is that, to have a home life that is so unenjoyable that you would rather come and just be ignored at church with nothing to do than to stay at home (because, sometimes, it was only one of them there).]

Now... You might think that the problem here was that the youth group was practically non-existent (however, we did have a few more, maybe 10 (including the two from Wednesdays), that would come on Sunday mornings, kids who had to come because their parents made them), and that was a problem, but that wasn't the problem. No, the problem was that I didn't have any of the prejudices held by the church at large and didn't care about the "acceptability" of the teenagers who came.

So let me give you some history:
My church was started as a mission of another church around 1915. At the time it was founded, the neighborhood it was planted in was a fairly well-to-do, up-and-coming middle class neighborhood. Big Southern houses and all of that. I think it probably reached its peak in the 50s and, by the 70s, was on a steep decline. The "founding fathers" of my church had all lived in the area around the church when it started; by the 80s, all of their families (and, yes, there were old men in the church, deacons and such, who had grown up in it) had moved to the outskirts of town to get away from "urban blight." [The actual definition of that term has to do with buildings (and that was true: once stately homes in the area around the church were falling into disrepair), but, when they talked about it in my church, it had to do with people.]

As the members moved farther away from the church, fewer and fewer people from the actual neighborhood around the church attended it. So, where it had once been a church that people walked to on Sunday morning, it had become a church that people drove to. And, sure, that's how churches are now (and were in the 80s), but churches didn't start out that way. Protestant churches in the US, I mean. But I digress... The point is that the church was still a mostly upper middle class/lower upper class congregation when I walked down the steps to the youth room in 1990. The people in the mile or so radius around the church weren't welcome there, and they knew it. [Which isn't to say that anyone would have been turned away (despite the fact that we had "guards" at the doors), but no one from that area, having come to the church once, would have ever come back.]

The real problem, I suppose, was that the church hired the wrong guy when they hired me. I mean, they didn't hire someone who was going to play their game. I'm sure they thought they had, but they should have known; I'd given them plenty of clues. The biggest one was that I refused to be a ministerial student despite the fact that they tried to bribe me to do it then tried to extort me to do it. They were very disappointed that I was majoring in English (so was my college faculty, except for the English department, who had tried to coerce (force) me into math). But those are other stories. I think they forgot that, although I grew up in the church, I was not ever one of them. I was part of the "hired help," and my family was, at best, lower middle class (and I'm not sure we were always that).

However, with their stated desire of hiring someone to revitalize the youth group, they definitely hired the right guy, and that's what I set out to do. [The issue here is that their stated goal was incomplete. It should have been "to revitalize the youth group with 'our kind of people.'"] And I did it by focusing on the neighborhood around the church. Because why? They were kids, and that's what I was there to do: minister to kids. I didn't care if they were rich or poor or black or white or, probably, even if they had been Martian, but I never had a green-skinned kid show up, so I guess we'll never know about that.

To make a long story short, we'll just say that I succeeded. Within a year, I was running over 30 kids on Wednesday nights and, by the end of two years, more than 50. Most of those kids were from lower income homes, and more than a dozen of them were black. Almost none of these kids had parents who went to the church. Or any church. And, now, we arrive at the problem: I thought I was doing a good thing. The right thing. But I was causing some problems higher up the food chain; I just didn't know about them.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ghost Story (a book review post)

Here's the warning right  up front:
This review will be full of spoilers. Not spoilers about this book, specifically, but about the series in general. If you even think you might want to read these at some point, you do not want to read this review. At all. Any of it. If you are reading this series but aren't this far, yet, stop reading right now. Seriously, go find something else to do. Just be satisfied with me saying that this book is good, and go away. You will only be mad if you go farther.

Is there anyone left? Just Rusty? (Because he's read them all.) Oh, well, I'll just go ahead anyway.

The end of book twelve, Changes, leaves us with a major "cliffhanger." I say "cliffhanger" because it's not really a cliffhanger. A cliffhanger is when a story ends before the climax is resolved. In Changes, the climax is resolved, but a horrible thing happens during the denouement: Harry is killed. At least, as far as we can tell, Harry is killed. I can understand why people who were reading these as they came out were really pissed by the ending. I would have been pissed, too. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait, because I had Ghost Story (and Side Jobs) sitting here waiting for me when I finished Changes.

As the story hints, Ghost Story opens with Harry's ghost. He has, evidently, been killed. Why else would his spirit be roaming free, right? And that is the $64,000 question. And it's a question the book asks almost right away, but it takes Harry some time to figure it out. Which was, all things considered, kind of surprising. I mean, when someone tells you, "There were some irregularities with your death," you ought to start thinking things.

My big issue with the book is the whole "ghost whisperer" angle, and I mean Ghost Whisperer just like the TV show. Butcher even acknowledges it within the book, but I can't help but think, "Really? That's what you had to go with?" I don't know; maybe, that whole "unfinished business" notion is so pervasive that it's the only reasonable option you can go with, but it annoyed me.

Other than that, though, the book is, as the Dresden books tend to be, a very captivating read. You want Harry to figure out what's going on, because you want Harry to figure out that there's a way back to life. And I'm not saying that there is a way back to life, but you want Harry to figure that out. You want that to be a thing. I mean, how can the series go on if the protagonist is dead, right? Except that Butcher shows us that that's also a possibility. And that could be interesting, a dead protagonist. And that's the struggle of reading this book. And, of course, finding out who killed Harry.

I have to say, I didn't see that coming as more than a "nah, that couldn't be it" possibility in my head, and I kept trying to figure it out. I was surprised when that "nah" thought was the correct one, so that was pretty well done.

Look, this is what it comes down to:
If you've gotten this far into The Dresden Files, you must like them. Why would you read 13 books into a series you don't enjoy, right? If you like Dresden, you're going to like this book. It shows us a whole new side of the Dresden world despite the ghost whisperer issue. There's not much else to be said about it.

Oh, and I didn't see the end coming. I don't mean the answer to the "who shot Harry" question; I mean what came after that. That's going to make you happy that book 14 is already out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It's Time For You To Grow Up (part 3)

It has been my general policy since I started doing reviews and stuff to only review books that I've finished. Mostly, I made that decision based on the reading of one book many years ago. It was a horrible book (an author requested review), but the very end was just good enough to take it from a 1-star to a 2-star rating. Because of that, I figured I ought to see a book all the way through before reviewing it. So I've slogged through many terrible books, the L'Engle time quintet, for example.

However, for the most part, a book that is a struggle to read is not going to redeem itself at the end. I mean, a step up from a 1-star to a 2-star doesn't mean that I liked the book. It was still bad, and I would never recommend it to anyone. And, honestly, as a whole work, the book was probably still just a 1-star, but I was surprised enough that the author pulled his threads together at the end that I bumped the rating up to 2.

Anyway... All of that to say that I have read some bad books over the past several years. Really bad. When I start a book, almost always, I will finish it.

But there have been two books during this same time period that I have not finished. Yes, two books that weren't even as good as Many Waters, which stands out to me as the worst book I've read (all the way through) in years. Or maybe that was An Acceptable Time; they're both so bad it's hard to tell which is worse. At any rate, having made my way through both of those, I think it's significant when I say that there are books that I actually couldn't make myself read.

One of those, I will share with you.

Initially, I decided to pick up Where You Belong by Pat Dilloway because he said it was the very best of his books. He said he was inspired and that he would never write anything better than that novel. I think that's what he still says about it. I figured that sounded like a good place to start. I mean, if an author says about one of his books that it's the best thing he's capable of writing, you may as well start with that, right? Yeah, that's what I thought, too.

It didn't take me very long to realize that if this was the best that Dilloway had to offer, then I wouldn't be reading any of his books.

First, it's written in first person. I'm sure you all know by now how I feel about first person. But it's worse, because it's written in first person omniscient and, well, that's just not a thing. I mean, unless your protagonist is God (or, maybe, Charles Xavier), omniscient and first person do not go together. That's the whole reason for writing in first person, to have a limited view of what's going on. A view limited to only what the protagonist knows and observes. That's why first person works so well in detective fiction, because the whole point of that is the protagonist trying to work out what he doesn't know from his rather limited perspective. This issue of allowing the first person protagonist to know too much is very pervasive in first person stories, but I'd never seen full-on first person omniscient before. Yes, it set me against the book right from the start, because, again, first person omniscient is not a thing.

[Note: Dilloway has spoken on his blog and various other places that the book was originally written in third person and that he later went back and converted it. I think he must have done this through a simple replacement of pronouns, because he didn't do anything to adjust the viewpoint. I'm saying this based on my experience with my middle schoolers. There have been many times when I have given writing assignments to write from a particular perspective. It is not infrequent that I will get stories that were originally written from a different perspective so the student just went in and changed the pronouns. That's not enough when making a perspective shift and, anytime I have asked, for instance, "Did you originally write this in first person," the answer has always been "yes."

So that would explain the omniscience problem. He originally wrote it in third person omniscient but didn't narrow the viewpoint to first person when he converted it to a first person story. I'm just going to call it what it is: a middle school mistake.]

The next issue with the book is that it shifts back and forth from past to present tense, but not in a way that makes sense. For instance, it would make sense if part of the story was being told "now" and part of the story was being told "then." However, what we have are clearly places that are "then" that are being told in past tense, followed by a section that is still "then" but now in present tense, followed by a section that is still "then" but back in past tense. These are chronological events, so the shift in tense didn't work for me.

[Note: This is a thing I am extremely sensitive to, because it's an issue my middle schoolers struggle with a lot. The most common reason I hand a story back to a student is because of an issue with tense shifts. My comment is generally, "Pick one, past or present, and stick to it."]

Then there's the issue of the voice, and this, also, is probably related to the shift the author made from third to first person. When you write in third person, the voice can be whatever you want it to be, because it's the narrator's voice, not the character's. When you write in first person, though, the voice needs to be the character's voice and, thus, reflective of the character. The protagonist starts out at age three or four, but the voice is definitely that of an adult. That would be okay if it was clear that it was an adult reflecting back on his childhood, but the feel of the story is that it's being told by the kid, especially since some of it is in present tense, but not in a kid's voice.  Now, I get that writing from a child's perspective can be difficult but, if you can't do it, don't choose to do it.

I put the book down. At the time, I decided it wasn't worth the effort to wade through it when there was no indication that it would get any better. Sure, the kid grows up to fit the voice, so to speak, but it was already messed up for me by that point, and none of the other problems were going to work themselves out. And I haven't even talked about the editing issues (and being years ago that I read this, I don't specifically remember what they were; I just remember being bothered by things). [Note: It should tell you something that these other things stood out to me so much that I still remember them now. I did not go back and re-read this so that I could do this review.]

Basically, if I want to read stuff with these kinds of... issues, I get plenty from my students, and they don't cry and go on a rampage when I tell them they have things that need to be fixed. They take the manuscripts back and, mostly, do the best they can to fix the problems. And, honestly, some of the stuff I get from my middle school students is of a much higher quality than I see from a lot of adults. Not much of it, granted, but I have had a handful of very gifted writers over the last few years. The point, though, is that if you can't handle criticism of your manuscript with at least the grace of a middle schooler, you have no business putting your manuscripts out for public consumption. And I have never had any student, to be blunt, lose his/her shit over me handing back a story and saying, "It needs work." Sure, the middle schoolers I teach aren't trying to make a living at writing, but some of them are very invested in their stories, and middle schoolers are emotional volcanoes, and, yet, all of them have taken criticism better than Dilloway does.

Now, Dilloway will probably take this as a "revenge review" for what transpired in this post but, really, it's not (which is not to say that I won't take some amount of satisfaction in posting it; I am only human). This is an example of "my medicine," a review reflecting my experience of a product with the actual reasons for the response that I had. The reasons have nothing to do with how I feel about Dilloway nor did my dislike of the book. For instance, from what I know of Orson Scott Card, I would not like him as a person, but Ender's Game is, at the very least, a very good book. On the other side of that, I like the person of John Scalzi quite a bit. I like the things he has to say and I follow his blog; however, I did not enjoy either of the books I read by him despite the fact that I really wanted to like them. The product is not the person and should be evaluated separately from any feelings having to do with that person. At the time I tried to read Where You Belong, I had no particular feelings of antipathy toward Dilloway. I did know that he was petty and disliked my notion of honest reviews, but I didn't, yet, know he was one to go around down-rating books out of some erroneous stance of righting the wrongs done to him, real or perceived. [Because, as in the case of Alex Cavanaugh, there was no wrong done to him other than that Alex is more successful and more liked than Dilloway.] I just knew that I did not want to fight my way through Dilloway's book, so I made the decision to not finish it.

Now, it's not that I think it's only authors who have maturity issues, because, actually, I think people in general tend to have maturity issues. Or maybe it's just Americans. I can't really speak for the rest of the world. However, the writing profession does seem to have more than its share of people who can't maintain a professional detachment from their work. Rather than go into it again, though, I'll just refer you back to part one of this series. If you feel offended at any part of it, you probably need to grow up.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Growing Up In the Race Divide (part 5a)

I was 15 when I started working at my church. It started out with small tasks, I suppose you'd say. I'd help in the kitchen, which was an easy job to get because, well, my mom was the cook, so, if they were shorthanded and needed someone to do the dishes or something, I'd get drafted. I mowed lawns for the building superintendent. Sometimes, I got the oh-so-fun job of cleaning the bathrooms. Things like that.

But I was good with kids so, somewhere in there, I transitioned to working in the various children's programs, and I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school (when I was 16) working in the gym assisting the recreation director with all of the summer programs, including the ones for teenagers, which meant I was in charge of my friends. It wasn't a big deal. I mean, I never had to go get someone higher up to enforce the rules because people wouldn't listen to me. Not even when I was in charge of adults during the evening programs. And, as time went on, I was left in charge more and more often.

During my junior year of high school, the recreation director left to go somewhere else. The church didn't hire a new one; they just put me in charge of the recreation programs. Nominally, I was under the auspices of the youth director, but, really, it was just me. Basically, he just had to sign off on whatever it was I wanted to do, but he never said no. [This was a good deal for the church, by the way. We were in a decline, at the time, and they replaced a salaried staff member with an hourly worker. A minimum wage hourly worker, at that. I'm sure they pocketed at least $25,000 off of the deal.]

During my senior year of high school, I started teaching Sunday school. Not to little kids, to my own age group. Sometimes, I also taught on Wednesday nights, too, to the whole youth group. And, sometimes, I taught the college group on Sunday nights. These teaching gigs were not because they didn't have anyone else to do it. They were because the youth director acknowledged that I was the most qualified. To put this in context, any time there was a disagreement about anything in the Bible between my youth director (who also taught Latin, so a smart guy) and myself, when we got into it and did the research, he always had to come tell me that I was right. [This is not me bragging. This is me giving you the necessary contextual background to understand what's coming up.] The only thing he didn't fully concede to me was our disagreement on Revelation to which he said, "I'm not saying that you're right, but I am saying that I was wrong."

All of that to say that I was fairly integral to the running of things "downstairs" (where the youth stuff was located) well before I graduated from high school. But, then, I graduated from high school, and, then, I went away to college. During the summer after my graduation before I left, the youth pastor quit. It was very sudden, but he got a (much) better offer from another church in the city and, basically, just walked out the door. Sure, he gave, like, the standard two weeks notice, but that doesn't mean much in church work. Needless to say, I was pretty pissed at him for bailing, and we didn't exactly part on the best of terms.

Now, let's jump ahead a couple of years.

Where I went to college, although in another state, was only about an hour away from home. My mom didn't much like having me out of the house, but freshmen were required to live on campus, so that's what I did. As soon as I became a sophomore, though, she started urging me to move back home and commute to school. The thing that decided me to do that was that opportunity to become the acting youth director at my church, the church I had mostly not been to for the past couple of years (other than the summer between my freshman and sophomore years). Hmm... maybe "acting" is not quite the word I want. Technically, there was a youth director, but they had rolled a whole bunch of stuff up into one position, so he was about six different things: youth, recreation, college/career, education, and... well, I can't remember what else. At any rate, he wasn't much interested in teaching the youth, so he offered me a spot under him in which I would be over the youth (and, mostly, the recreation) program. I was still not on staff, though, and still being paid by the hour. [Yes, it's like the crummy deals that authors take from traditional publishers when they are first starting out because 1. they don't know any better and 2. they are just happy to be being published.]

Just to make this point clear, when I left to go away to college not quite two years prior to that first Wednesday night I walked down into the youth room to teach, we had been running 40-50 teens on a Wednesday night. But I and the youth pastor had both left at the same time, and he had been replaced with a guy who felt like the teenagers were a burden and didn't really want to have anything to do with them. I knew there had been deterioration, but, still, I wasn't expecting the sight I was greeted with: two kids. Two. Both of them middle schoolers. I didn't even know who they were.
Well, then.

[So, yeah, I know that this doesn't seem to fit into this series, but, trust me, it does. Just come back next week.]

Friday, April 10, 2015

Empirical Evidence (a book review post)

I mention a lot about how I don't much care for first person, but that's actually not really the truth. It's not the first person that's the issue; it's the poor writing in most first person stories. And that's probably because so many authors start out in first person, these days, before they've really learned to write. There are too many shortcuts and traps for the beginning author in first person, and, if you start with that, it's easy to make those things into habit.

However, Meyers and Pedas do not have that problem. Having been following them for a while, I know that their first person stories have not gotten stuck using the same voice over and over again. They do not have their characters tell us what every other character is thinking and feeling. They do not tell us things that their characters wouldn't know. [Yeah, just to say it: Your first person POVs should never be omniscient. Unless it's God.]

I'm also not a fan of present tense, but that might just be because it is so often used clumsily and that it rarely adds anything to the story. Putting your stuff in present tense does not automatically give it an added boost of tension.

All of that said, first person present is quite enjoyable when written by someone(s) who knows how to do it. Meyers and Pedas are those people. In the case of "Empirical Evidence," the present tense is used to show us the protagonist unraveling the confusion of what he is discovering his life to be rather than the orderly routine that he thought it was.

"Empirical Evidence" is a great little story, basically, showing us a day in the life of the protagonist. The day his life comes undone. In fact, the worst thing you can say about the story is that it's short. There is so much room for more, here, but, then, that would ruin the one-day snapshot of the character. Okay, actually, it's two days, but you need the first day so that you understand what's happening on the second. It's a basis for comparison.

I do love the portrayal of the protagonist. His enthusiasm and blind loyalty. It's really great.

And that's about all I can say without sliding into spoiler territory. At least than $1.00, though, that should be all you need to convince you to go pick it up.
What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

It's Time For You To Grow Up (part 2)

Truth is the greatest enemy of the small minded. --me

Back in January, I wrote this post about... Well, you should probably just go read it, but the short of it is about being more offensive, in both connotations of the word:
1. tackling subjects that tend to upset people (hence my current series on racism)
2. not backing down from a fight or, in other words, going on the attack
I think this post will do both of those things.

I get that authors reviewing other authors is loaded topic. Honestly, I'm tired of talking about it. I believe what I believe about it, views which you can find scattered through numerous posts on here, and it's not likely that you're going to change my mind about it. I'm going to add one further thought, though, that I don't think I've stated before:
Authors reviewing authors is a longstanding practice. What do you think it is when a publisher solicits blurbs from authors for book covers? Those are encapsulated reviews meant to support, usually, a newer author and help sell books. And, sure, they pick the good ones, because they want people to buy the book. It doesn't change the fact that "negative" reviews are just as valid.

Go back and read part one of this (if you weren't here last week) if you want my full take on the subject.

All of that said (including the stuff in the older posts), and no matter what your opinion is on reviewing, here is a thing that is never okay: It is never okay to threaten someone with a negative rating/review in order to elicit a positive one in return.

So here's what happened:

I recently reviewed Lyon's Legacy by Sandra Almazan. Now, Sandra is someone I "worked with" on the mostly abandoned Indie Writers Monthly project. [I say "worked with" in that I never actually worked with her other than that we both contributed to the same blog. It's only "working with" in the very loosest of ways since we all contributed individually and never really worked on any joint projects other than the magazine, which Briane coordinated, so I only worked with Briane on that.] However, what I think of a book I read has nothing to do with whether I know the person or not. I'm reading a book then reviewing the book I read, and none of that part of the process has anything to do with whether I know you. [The only part where knowing you comes into the equation is that I am much more likely to read your indie book if I do know you. Once I've picked the book up, though, none of that continues to matter. It's all about the book at that point. (As it should be.)] I happened to not like this particular book (but you can go back and read the review).

As it happened, Pat Dilloway (also part of the IWM group) had posted a review of "Tiberius" (one of mine) about a week before I posted my review of Lyon's, or, at least, that's when I noticed it. It was a review he just slid in there without ever mentioning it to me. It was a short, respectable review with a 4-star rating.

However, as soon as my review for Lyon's posted, Pat attacked it and changed the rating he'd given "Tiberius" to 1 star. To be honest, that pissed me off. Especially when he told me that he would change it back if I would either pull down my review of Lyon's or change it to be favorable. In short, he tried to extort a positive review from me by preying on what he assumed would be my fear of having a negative review on one of my books. That pissed me off some more. That's playground bully behavior.

Needless to say, I didn't change the review.

Now, I understand that some of you feel that negative reviews are... inappropriate, but, again, I'm going to say to go back and read part one of this to get my full thoughts on that.

At this point, the thing that actually makes me mad is the hypocrisy of Pat Dilloway and his supposed belief that indie writers should only give other indie writers positive reviews because "selling books is fucking hard." And, you know, he's right; it is hard. But lying in book reviews/ratings for what can, at best, only be a short term gain (and usually isn't even that) hurts everyone in the long term. There's no better way to convince readers to stay away from indie books than for indie writers to lie in their reviews/ratings just to get the same favor back. Which is Pat's goal, as he fully admits:
"I do it because I'd want them to help me should I ask for it."
Just to say it, I don't help people for the goal of getting them to help me in return. That's not called "helping;" that's called "quid pro quo." If I'm going to help someone, I'm doing it either because it's the right thing to do or because I just want to help the person, not because I'm trying generate future favors. But I digress...

We're supposed to be talking about hypocrisy.
Dilloway's stance about only giving positive reviews to other indie authors goes back years. At least as far back as when I first declared my policy about honest reviews. Since then, however, he has been in at least one feud with an indie author he said he considered a friend and to whom he gave a 1-star review. I suppose it must be one of those things where it's okay for him to do it but it's not okay for anyone else.

I've seen him give 1-star ratings to indie authors where he admitted to not reading the books. I think those were all "revenge ratings," though, so I suppose that makes it okay. Which would apply to what he did to me.

He gave a 1-star rating to a recent ABNA winner, an indie author, but I suppose the fact that the guy won a contest and got a pocket full of money from it then got an Amazon publishing deal made that one okay. Here's what he had to say about:
Just last week I gave 1-star to a book being published by Amazon.  And you know what, it won't fucking matter!  That book has hundreds of reviews already; mine is just crying out in the wilderness.  There's no harm to it.

Oh, and he also gave Alex Cavanaugh a 1-star rating on his book Cassastar for the sole purpose of not liking Alex.

All of that to say that Dilloway actually has no standards about whom and how he reviews and rates; he throws them out based upon his mood. You just better hope to never end up on the wrong side of him, because he may just go toss a bunch of 1-star ratings at you for not liking you. Kind of like this guy:
The best part, though, was that Dilloway presented what he did like this: "...I changed an overly generous 5-star review of his book to 1-star to let him have a taste of his own medicine." I love the phrase "his own medicine." If he paid attention at all to anything that I do or say, he would understand that my medicine is to read a book and offer a rating and review based upon my experience of the product. My medicine is never to go over and give someone a bad review because I'm mad at him. A more accurate way of putting that would be for Dilloway to just admit that he was giving me his medicine. Or, more accurately, his brand of poison.

On the other side of all of this is a post that Briane Pagel posted. I strongly recommend that you go read his post. Yes, it's long, but it has a very interesting take on the two sides of this controversy. Not the controversy between me and Dilloway but the controversy about reviews in general and whether we should just give out positive reviews to fellow indie authors. In that post, he excerpts from several reviews I've given his stuff. Um... He excerpts negative things I've said about his various books (and I like Briane's stuff!). More interestingly, he talks about how me pointing out the negatives in his writing helped him to grow as a writer. You should just go read the post.

I suppose the question, the real question, is "How do you deal with people like this?" The first way is what I'm doing here: You shine a light on the bad behavior. Of course, he has a belief that I behaved badly by giving Lyon's a negative review, and it's his right to say that he doesn't believe indie authors should be truthful in their reviews of other indie authors as long as it's "supporting" the author in question, but that's a far different thing than going around downgrading ratings of authors' works because you don't like them or because you're mad at them. Basically, you should let people know of whom they should be aware, so I'm letting you know.

The second way is to not let these kinds of people bully you. You don't adjust what you're doing to accommodate them, because, once you start doing that, you can never stop. It's like negotiating with terrorists. There's a reason we don't do that.

The third way is to show support for each other when someone is faced with dealing with a down-rating bully. So, you know, if you want to help out, go pick up one of my things (specifically "Tiberius" in this case), read it, and leave an honest review/rating. Seriously, I'd much rather have an honest 1-star rating than someone just giving me a 4 or 5 to be "nice" or to, hopefully, garner my favor for the future.

[Next week, I will actually have a review of one of Dilloway's works, something I read way back and never reviewed because I didn't, at the time, want to get into it with him, knowing how he is. But, then, I suppose that was a bit like trying to slide by the notice of the playground bully, and no one can do that indefinitely, because you can't ever tell what will set one of them off.]

Monday, April 6, 2015

Growing Up In the Race Divide (part 4)

Probably, you should go back and read part 3 of this series before going on. The two are somewhat related.

As I said last time, the reason my mother gave me for not allowing me to invite my black friend to church was that "it wasn't a good idea." At the time, I couldn't really figure that out. We were told every Sunday in Sunday school that we should invite our friends to church with us and, the very first time I wanted to do that, I was told it wasn't a good idea.

Needless to say, it was a long time before I ever wanted to invite anyone to church with me again. A really long time.

So let's jump ahead to high school. And I'll try to keep only to the relevant data.

My church employed a number of janitors; they were all black. The building superintendent was white, but all the guys that worked for him were black. Also, my mom was the cook at my church, and all of the help they ever hired for her was... I'll say non-white. I'll also say that, as part of the "paid help," my family, as with the building super, was barely passable, and that's just because we were white. The non-white employees didn't actually attend my church, and the janitors (because we still called them janitors, at the time) were specifically forbidden from entering the sanctuary during services. They could only come in to do the clean-up afterward.

I didn't know about all of this until later, but it all has to do with why it wasn't a "good idea" for me to invite my friend.

One morning, I was walking with the guy who was in charge of the bus ministry. He was helping a little, old lady from the "gym side" of the church to the "sanctuary side" of the church. When I say "little, old," I mean it, too. She was at least in her 80s, unable to walk without assistance, and what you would call wizened. Without any of the wisdom that came with it. As we entered the connecting hallway (the church was laid out in a large U), one of the janitors was leaning against the wall near the intersection. He was supposed to be doing this. They were stationed at what were considered the rear doors so they could open them for people (and to keep out "undesirables" (seriously)).

I liked this guy, and I wish I could remember his name. He was taller than me (not surprising), in his early 20s, had a big smile, and laughed easily. By this point, I was already working at my church, so, sometimes, when I was doing work in the gym area and he was around, we would joke and stuff. Plus, he played basketball with my brother who was only in the 10-12 year old range, at the time, and he treated him like a person, not a kid.

So... there he was, leaning against the wall, as the three of us came out of the other hallway. I went to say hi, the bus guy went to say hi, the old lady... She didn't let us say hi, because she -- pardon the language, but there's really no other way to say this with the same meaning -- lost her shit. Right there. She started screaming that there was a "nigger in the church!" She had a cane, and she, this lady who could barely walk, raised it and tried to go after him screaming about the "nigger" the whole time.

I think my brain froze up, because I just stood there not knowing what to do or how to respond. Evidently, the bus guy had dealt with this kind of thing before, because he just guided the old lady around the corner and off down the hallway while looking back over his shoulder and mouthing an apology. In what I'm sure she thought was a whisper, the old lady was saying, "Did you see that? There's a black person in my church!"

And the janitor? He just shrugged and waved it off. He even chuckled about it. But I stood there, mortified. I hadn't done anything, but I went over and apologized. It was the first time I felt, well, shame at being who I was. Because I was white. I felt soiled just from having walked down the hall with the old lady, not to mention that I had helped her off the bus and into the building. I wanted to go wash my hands. But he said it wasn't a big deal and not to worry about it. It wasn't me, and she was old, and it didn't matter.

To some extent, he was right. I mean, it wasn't me and she was old, but I couldn't get behind the part where it didn't matter. I thought it did matter. I mean, we were in church! What kind of person acts like that to begin with, but what kind of person acts like that at church? Which made me wonder what she'd been like when she was younger and that kind of behavior and been acceptable. And not just acceptable but expected. And I got all sick feeling again and ashamed of being white.

And that's when I understood why my mother had told me that it wouldn't be a good idea for me to bring my friend to church. I never came to a conclusion, though, as to whether it wasn't a good idea because she was concerned for my friend or if she was concerned about any potential labels that might have gotten attached to me or our family over it. After all, "nigger lover" was still a pretty common term in those days.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Side Jobs (a book review post)

This is Dresden book 12.5. At least, that's usually how it's listed. It falls in between Changes (book 12) and Ghost Story (book 13), but, as suggested by the ".5" designation, it is not a novel. It is, in fact, a collection of short stories that fall within the series as a whole with only the final story falling in between books 12 and 13.

This book is a good reason why I don't generally tend to care for short stories and why I don't generally care to like first person very much.

So let's have a writing lesson (yeah, I know it's a book review, but I can't talk about this issue without the writing lesson):

First person is seductive, especially to the beginning writer. It's easy and it feels natural. But, see, it's a trap. When you're writing in first person, the author isn't writing from his/her voice, s/he's writing from the character's voice. The problem, then, is that most authors can't differentiate between their own voice and their characters'. And, you know, that's fine as long as you only ever write the one character in first person. But that's not what usually happens, and it's not what happened here.

Butcher's been writing Dresden a long time. Dresden's voice is distinct. But, see, it's that seduction of the young writer to write in first person, and Dresden's voice is really Butcher's (which is why we get the occasional preachy episode in the Dresden books). It hadn't occurred to me nor would I have ever noticed if Butcher hadn't decided to write from some other characters' POVs in these short stories.

There's a story from the POV of Thomas and, other than that Thomas reminds us that it's him, the story reads just like it's from the POV of Harry. Sure, it's an interesting story with all of the Oblivion War stuff in it, but Butcher should have switched to third person so that it didn't feel like Harry talking.

And there's a story from the POV of Murphy which is only differentiated by the fact that she spends a lot of time talking about Harry and that there are sections describing her hand-to-hand fighting. However, those sections have the exact same feel as Harry describing how he uses magic, essentially making it the same voice. The only other thing is the reference to men speaking Martian, but it's not enough to set the piece apart from all of the Dresden pieces.

A first person character voice should be as distinctive as listening to someone speak in person. Butcher doesn't pull that off, which was more than a little disappointing.

Then, there is the issue that the stories are of vastly variable quality with only a few feeling like they actually added anything to the Dresden world. And when the heck did Georgia become Butcher's Lois Lane? Really, we had to have two different stories about her getting kidnapped? I get that Will and Georgia are the only characters that Butcher has allowed to have any kind of long term relationship and they have to be the default for that kind of story, but, sheesh, damsel in distress much?

All of that said, if you're a fan of The Dresden Files, you'll want to read the book. "Day Off" and "The Warrior" were both very good and, actually, so is "Something Borrowed" (despite the Georgia kidnapping). And, then, "Aftermath" is almost essential reading. Almost. You could get by without it, but it's worth the read to fill in some space between books 12 and 13. And, of course, you get rescue Georgia again.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

It's Time For You To Grow Up (part 1) (an IWSG post)

Let's start with a story:

My wife is a data analyst. It's a job that requires some math skills. Not a lot. Not like calculus or trig or, even, all that much algebra, but it does require some maths. There's a lot of working with percentages and fractions. There are a few months each year when her job is really busy and requires lots of overtime. Last year, not long before the rush, one of the people in her department retired. Like any good company, to get through the busy time, they hired a temp. A temp with the potential to stay on. That was rather than hire someone permanent for the position at the point when they still had time to do that and provide adequate training, but that's another story entirely.

Now, the temp they hired seemed qualified for the job, which was not the full job, just some of the lower level routine stuff that required a lot of time. She looked qualified on paper, anyway, and got through all of the interviews and stuff. However, when it came time to do the job, she couldn't math. At all. It was almost immediately apparent that she wasn't going to work out, and there was still time to hire someone else. But, guess what, that's not what happened.

What happened is that they kept her on. The initial hope, I think, was that if they kept working with her that maybe she would "get it" and be able to do the job they hired her to do. But, no, that didn't happen. She never "got it" and, in fact, for a while, she made more work for everyone as she continued to not get it, because she would spend time doing a task (more time than it should have taken) and, then, someone else (usually my wife) would have to go back and re-do the task because it hadn't been done correctly. Eventually, after weeks of this, she became a kind of glorified filing clerk, because that's the only thing she could do.

I want to point out at this point that she was, as my wife put it, "a perfectly nice person, very sweet." She liked her. Everyone liked her. There was no one that thought she was a bad person or a dumb person or anything like that. But she couldn't do the job. And, yet, the people who should have told her that she couldn't do the job were unwilling to do their job of letting her know that she wasn't working out. Nothing positive came out of the situation.
1. It created more work for everyone involved.
2. It caused the marginalization of the temp as they looked for tasks to keep her busy because they couldn't give her any real work.
3. It created a false sense of hope in the temp as the message she received was, "you're doing fine," even though everyone knew that wasn't the case. But, you know, they kept her on, so she must have been doing something right, right? No...
4. It caused resentment toward the people who should have stepped in and said, "Hey, you're not ready for this work, yet. We need to let you go and find someone else." And, maybe, she never would be ready for it or, maybe, she just needed to get reacquainted with her math skills. No one will ever know, because no one ever told her that she wasn't doing the job. They just kept decreasing the level of the tasks given to her.
5. She was never told in what way she failed at the job. When the time was up on the job, they just didn't retain her. There was never any feedback on what she could have done to be kept on.

And, see, that's the real issue. No one ever told her what she was "failing" at, so she never knew what to get better at. Well, other than my wife explaining the same errors to her everyday, to which she would always reply, "Got it!" in a way that seemed the first few times that she really had gotten it. But that, having a coworker try to show you what you're doing incorrectly, is not quite the same as having your superior, the person who has the ability to tell you they need to let you go, sit you down and explain to you where you're not meeting expectations.

See, no one wanted to be the one to hurt her feelings.


So I'm just going to say this:
Screw your feelings.
And, yes, that sounds more harsh than I really mean it, but, still, screw your feelings.

The problem is twofold:
1. Indie writers who hold their friendship for you hostage in order to get good reviews.
And, man, have I run into this one. I've lost count of the number of "friends" I've lost over negative reviews, but I'll just say this: If our "friendship" is conditional upon me saying that I like what you write, then we have no friendship. If I can't say to you, "You know, I don't like this one," without you yelling, "Well, you're not my friend," then we're already not friends. Or, likewise, if I can't say that about something some friend of yours wrote. It's the same thing. All I have for you is this:
It's time for you to grow up.
2. Indie authors who are unwilling to give honest reviews to their friends because they are scared of losing their friendships.
I know you "think" you're supporting your "friends" by giving them positive reviews of their not-better-than-average books, but, really, you're just making it harder on everyone, yourselves included. Every 5-star rating you throw out there that should have been a 3 or a 2 or, even, a 1 is destroying the credibility of the indie book market in general. You know how I know? Because I see it said repeatedly by book reviewers who refuse to review indie books and by readers who will not buy indie books (sure, they'll download free stuff because who cares if it's free). They see all the false positive reviews out there and have learned that you can't trust indie authors. I'm sorry, but the fact that you are out there lying (because you are lying) about the quality of your "friends'" books is making my job more difficult. And, you know, it's encouraging them to continue to write the same crappy stuff rather than working on getting better. What I have for you is this:
It's time for you to grow up.
 Here's the thing, people say it all the time, "If you want to be a writer, you better develop some thick skin," and that's true. Except it's not about having "thick skin." It's about learning separation. The things people say about your work are not things they are saying about you, and someone can very validly say, "I don't like this thing you made, but I like you." When you flip out about that and do the virtual equivalent of yelling, "Then, I'm not your friend," you're acting like a first grader. At best. And, well, if that's where you are developmentally, then you need to go find something else to do with your time, because, frankly, writing is not for you. Or, at least, writing for anyone other than yourself. You need to do what Dickinson did and store it all in a trunk and leave it for someone else to sort out after you're dead.

But here's the other thing about being a grown up, and maybe this comes from having spent so much of my life as a teacher, you have to be able to tell people when they haven't done a good job. If the only thing you can do is tell people "good job" because you're worried about hurting someone's feelings, you need to grow up, too. This is not a dinner party where you nod politely and tell the host that the substandard food is "wonderful" and "delicious." In fact, that behavior at a dinner party will lead people not to come back and leave the host wondering why. You know, since everyone said they loved the food the previous time. The problem here is that in this "dinner party," we're all responsible for the food and, when we go around telling each other "oh, I love that" when you actually want to spit it out then that's the food that gets served. But, see, we're not the guests. Readers are the guests and, when they keep coming to the indie writers' banquet only to find a bunch of crap food that the all the "cooks" are saying is wonderful, well, then, those readers will decide that ALL indie food is crap.

Basically, if you are unwilling to give a negative review, you shouldn't be giving any reviews at all. The whole thing where you opt out of reviewing the books you don't like and only giving reviews to books you do like would be like me only giving As and, maybe, Bs in my classroom and leaving all of the other kids gradeless. It doesn't help the situation.

So, no, when I read a book that I don't like, for whatever reason, I get to say I don't like it and, even better, I get to explain why I didn't like it. Other people can then come along and figure out if they want to try it. So, if I say, "This one is too sweet," someone who likes sweet things will go, "Oh! I like sweets! I'll try this one." Or, if I say, "This one was too salty for me," someone else has the option of saying, "Oh, yeah, I don't like lots of salt; I'll stay away from this one."

Honesty is important in reviews. Period. It's not about treating my "friends" like they're five and saying, "Oh, it's beautiful!" and hanging it on the refrigerator. So sorry if you think that's what this is all about. There comes a point when even parents quit hanging those things up. Usually right about the time the kid realizes the drawings are actually pretty crappy.

So, just to reiterate, if you're approaching this whole indie writing thing as if it's some weird support system of giving good reviews to your buddies so that they won't feel bad, well, just grow up. Actually, and excuse the language (or not, I don't really care), it's time for you to grow the fuck up.

[This post has been brought to you in part by Alex Cavanaugh and the IWSG.(But, mostly, this one is just me.)]