I can’t sleep. This is not good, I have an optometrist appointment in eight hours. C’est la vie.

Instead I will chatter on, as is my wont.

I’ve always been fascinated and a bit wary of user reviews. Yes this was prompted by my recent reception of one, but not about it. My feelings on that are neutral or confused, this post is just my sleep deprived brain unloading old thoughts. Thoughts from before I ever wrote anything that wasn’t for school.

So, back to what I was saying, I’ve always been wary of them. I’d worked customer service too much. I knew people really do think it’s the cable company’s fault when a show is cancelled, preempted, or a lineup change takes place (programming lineup, obviously, the channels lineup IS the cable company, yes); that people call their ISP when their favouite site isn’t working; or ask for a manager when, standing in a Burger King, they are told “we don’t sell Big Macs, do you maybe mean a Whopper?” – a very important question as a Big Mac and Whopper have few toppings in common. I was worried about anything that ranked products by entrusting this ranking to ordinary people. This wouldn’t be bad if we had a, largely, educated populous; but we don’t, at best we have a rather thoroughly schooled populous with most education being quite accidental – Thomas Jefferson and Mark Twain could and did make far more eloquent comments on that subject than I have the capacity for, I quite recommend reading them.

I do find it interesting how different people perceive the ratings, in much the same way I’m morbidly fascinated by how people use Like buttons. Take, for example, the reviews for a heater I was looking at buying. It actually had a positive review, five star if I recall correctly, for the item arriving intact, and quickly. Sweetheart, you just reviewed UPS, not the heater. Another was a negative review that had something to do with Amazon’s shipping costs. Again, dear, not the heater – take that up with Amazon.

Then there’re reviews for books not even out yet, and in more than one case not yet written (oh, the rant I could make about the unfairness of only select publishers being able to set pre-orders). I find it fascinating that people feel inclined to review products and admit they’ve never owned the product, nor used it, nor bern in thirty kilometres of one!

These are why I was made ill the day I first saw a site with a user review option.

It’s also, though, fascinating in ways that are less train wreck syndrome. Take book reviews.

It’s fascinating to learn, though hardly surprising, that authors tend to (when not being petty and childish – a few have, they were figured out. The internet was not a kindly community to them in many places) have a particular approach to ranking other people’s work. For one thing many authors will not rank a book they do not finish. Secondly, they will not rank below either two or three stars. The exception in the case of not finished or to no 1-star is horrible writing. Examples often given are certain RPG books that seem to have not even got a spellcheck treatment, Twilight, and 50 Shades. Basically they reserve being that hard one someone for no technical merit.

No twos is a matter of taste, though it seems more typical that three is the normal minimum. It would seem that, to an author, not finished because not enjoyed is nothing to criticise … no reason to hurt another writer’s livelihood over it not being your cuppa. They also, essentially, give A for effort. They see merit in good editing, and proper proofreading, as well as prose that doesn’t look written by a toddler. In short they know how much hard work a book is, and so reserve harsh reviews and low ranks for serious transgressors; in short, for those who did not work hard.

It’s so odd to see the reviews of a writer juxtaposed to an armchair literary scholar, and a common joe. The writer will always find something positive to say, and offer technical criticism – something applicable to the next book. The armchair lit geek will generally criticise to no end about various details that no one cares about, often using literary terms incorrectly, acting like there’s One True Way to tell a story, and generally being pretentious … The number of stars in their rating seems to rely on some mystic astrological charts and passed through a complex mathematical structure; the worst part about these reviews is their habit of offering “advice” relevant only to the title in question, a perfectly useless thing since anything short of fixing typos is almost guaranteed not to be changed after publication. The average joe … sometimes the reviews are thoughtful, insightful, and articulate – other times you really have to wonder how much paint they ate as a child, there is rarely advice, but when it is there’s a trend toward armchair lit geek form rather than writer form, and their star choices seem to use a mix of convoluted (but “explained”) logic and a dart (or possible Ouija) board.

Frankly, I do advise you all to rank and/or review books you read. Even major publisher published authors. Those rankings and reviews are important to the author’s visibility, and their chances of that publisher picking up their next book. Do be considerate, though. Remember – ask yourself who is responsible for your beefs. If it’s a publisher produced work, the author had little to no say in the cover and/or blurb – forgive them those, and redirect those complaints to the contact link on the publisher’s site. Print quality and physical flaws? Printer error. Few authors print and bind their own work. Excise taxes? (Yes, I’m serious, an author got a 1-star over this) This is something to take up with your government. Is the book something you simply couldn’t get behind the premise of? Why? Maybe, not absolutely but maybe, the book is fine … no story is likely to resonate with everyone. Take Twilight. If your beef is simply that the vampires sparkle, but the narrative didn’t bother you – and your only complaint is vampires sparkle, that’s a poor excuse to rank low. Four maybe, three if it bothered you that much. If, like me, you’re fine with the vampires sparkle, but the prose itself is grating … Well, probably a good time to look at that 1 or 2 star button.

Remember, video games, movies, books, art of any sort (and yes, programming is as much an art as a science – especially in games) are people’s blood, sweat, and tears presented to you with trembling hands and heavy hearts. Consider how you would feel if your hard work was blasted over UPS’ drivers, or a glitch in Amazon’s ordering system. Consider if the trouble with the product is simply that you don’t dig what it is – so long as it is what it claims. Movies are tricky in this regard: do you hold it against the movie, and thus the actors and director as well as the studio that the trailers for Stealth and SWAT were terribly misleading, and thus review them poorly (or worse than you otherwise would) for it Or do you review the movie on the cinematic merits, thus leaving studio out and focusing on actors and director, imply leaving in the TEXT that the trailers were deceptive (maybe an angry email to the producer, too)? That’s up to your own conscience, because it’s a legitimate point either way you see it.

Yes I’m disappointed in my one review, but I promise, I’d have said all of this the day this blog appeared (and possibly have said a lot of it here and there in other posts). This is just a point I felt I should make in general, and to the mind of someone ho was sleepy at four and crashing at dinner but now finds itself unable to get to sleep … this was a sensible time to say all of this. I concede it probably is a bad time, actually – for reasons other than how ashamed I’ll be of the typing and English quality in the morning.

I won’t deny I’ve had these items on my mind because of the review, but any post directly related to it wold target the reviews points. Anything less is uselessly passive-aggressive and petty (which is probably redundant … I tend to see passive-aggressiveness terribly useless and rather childish in the first place).

Maybe I’ll make a rebuttal someday. It could be an interesting exercise. Though here – arguing with reviews of ones own books on Amazon’s site is agreed to be bad form, and I can perfectly understand why.

My eyelids are starting do as they’re meant to at half-bloody-past two. So I will say good night to you all.

Release date selected

Love or Lust coverAfter carefully considering my rate of proofreading, the rate I ought to be proofreading, and the amount of work it will take to make the book ready for publication I have decided that the release date for Love or Lust will be 29 June 2013.

I will be making the final uploads on the evening/afternoon of the 28th so it’s possible that some sources (e.g. Smashwords) might have it sooner — and, sadly, a few (e.g. iBooks) might show it a bit later than that.  It can’t be helped, but Amazon, Nook, Kobo, CreateSpace, etc. should all take about 12 – 24 hours to actually make the book available, so we’ll call it the next day.

Keep a careful watch on the blog — the folks reading regularly may get a discount/free copy from one or more of the sources in the form of coupon codes or redemption vouchers.  It might just randomly be at the end of, or in the comments of a post one day.  Just a little gift from me to you.

I will probably, at some point in the year, do both a sale or two or an outright giveaway.  These will be announced as their own post.  I also intend to create a Goodreads give away (in fact I should have done that yesterday, but I kind of forgot about it).

I’m also looking around for reviewers.  Feel free, please, to recommend your favourite ones in the comments below, or here.  I was going to tackle a place I’ve discovered called The Indie View which looks fairly promising.  I don’t believe they actually do reviews, rather they’re more of a portal to fine reviewers more easily in much the same way as QueryTracker acts to help one find an agent or publisher.

I’m so excited I feel ill.  I wonder — did Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, or any other prolific author feel like this on every book?  I assume, naturally, we all feel like this on our earliest works, but after 25?  50?  100?  I guess I shall have to try to attain such a lofty back catalogue to find out.

Can anyone write a novel?

We’re approaching another WriMo event.  They’ve got this ‘anyone can write a novel’ attitude and philosophy.

But is it true?

Hard to say, for one thing, how do you define a novel?  For my purposes I like Wikipedia’s answer of the moment:

novel is a long prosenarrative that describes fictional characters and events in the form of a sequential story, usually. The genre has historical roots in the fields of medieval and early modernromance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter, an Italian word used to describe short stories, supplied the present generic English term in the 18th century.

Further definition of the genre is historically difficult. The construction of the narrative, the plot, the relation to reality, the characterization, and the use of language are usually discussed to show a novel’s artistic merits. Most of these requirements were introduced to literary prose in the 16th and 17th centuries, in order to give fiction a justification outside the field of factual history.

Now, I’m going to say no … and yes.  This isn’t GATTACA, anyone can fly a plane, but not anyone can fly with the Blue Angels.  I’m not talking about eyesight and other requirements, I mean some people simply lack the reflexes, the neurological circuitry to do that without killing themselves or others.  In some cases, timing is something you’re born with, not something you learn.  I think everything in life is this way.  Some people have talents that guide them one way or another.

In this vein, no, not anyone can write a novel.  Not everyone possesses the talent to tell a story well, to build endearing and enduring characters, to entrance and enthrall the reader.  Am I such a person?  I hope so, but who knows?  I suppose in the end only time can say.

Anyone can be taught written language.  Even severe dyslexics can learn the ideographic writing of China or Japan, and the corresponding languages, and tell a story in them.  You can then learn about structure, characterisation, plotting, and all manner of other things I can’t name because I neither think about them or even know about them (I never paid attention in Lit class … well, twice.  Once we were reading works by Edgar Allan Poe, and the other was Romeo & Juliet).  They would have a technically perfect novel when they were done.  They would have a long work of fiction, but is it a novel?

That depends.  Let’s leave the world of fiction and writing for a moment and go to another bit of art:  Music.  Did you know that study after study says that people don’t like computer generated music?  I don’t mean MP3s, I mean programming a computer to reproduce a piece of music.  Why not?  It’s Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Jimmy Hendrix, but without the flaws!  It’s perfect, each note exactly the right length, each chord exactly the right pitch and key; the frequencies guaranteed or your money back.  That’s the problem though.  It’s soulless.  That perfection, that exact timing, that exact frequency, it’s … wrong.  Music has life, has spirit, and the people playing it adjust accordingly.  It might say an eighth note on the paper, but it really needs to be a 31/256th note, but that would be silly to write down.  It might say C♯, or B♭ but really it needs to be something just … not exactly that.  Then the music is perfect.  And that’s something that can’t be taught to a computer, nor to a human being who lacks that talent, lacks that ear and sense for when to make a ‘mistake’.

Is what the computer makes music?  If it is, then yes … anyone can write a novel, make music, paint a portrait, write a sonnet, and so on.  If not, then no — they can put words on paper, paint on canvas, make sound out of an instrument, and put 14 lines in a rhyming pattern on the page.

The most endearing, the most well loved stories are ones that don’t follow ‘The Rules of Writing’ as a lit major might refer to them.  Have you ever noticed how the things that lit majors and their ilk go on and on about in rapt adoration are the things no one else reads, no one has heard about unless they had to endure it for a literature class, and/or are things that, have you read them, are known to cause you to wake up years later in a cold sweat going on about giant dung beetles?  At the time, Mark Twain’s stuff was not well liked, Robert Service wasn’t considered a Real Poet, and J. R. R. Tolkien told silly children’s stories (when he wasn’t reinventing the study of Beowulf, of course).  These people broke The Rules!  They didn’t do things Right!  Good God, for one thing, they wrote stuff that was popular!  Accessible!  And, horror of horrors, entertaining!  Cardinal sins, one would think from the way some go on about them so.  But perhaps novels, short stories, poems, paintings, and many other things need that little bit of instinct, that little voice and connection that says ‘no, that’s not exactly right, I’m going to do it this way instead’.  Maybe a technically good novel … isn’t.

So yes, I think anyone can write a novel.  Anyone can learn to put words on a page, get enough of them together to have plot, characters, a beginning, a middle, and an end.  No, I don’t think just anyone can write a good novel.  Not everyone has the knack for telling a good yarn, and keeping the audience’s attention; to breathe life and soul into the words.

A good novel is one you read and you think, This wasn’t bad, not my cuppa, but I can totally see why people who’re into this kinda thing would like it.  For me that’s Seanan McGuire‘s October Day series, too dark for my tastes, but well written and a good novel nonetheless, just not one I’m in a hurry to read.

But what do I know?  I said, I found more interesting things to do in my literature classes, both high school and college, than paying attention.  I can’t even name the rules of writing.  I couldn’t really give a definition of theme, nor could I find the theme of most things I read with both hands, a GPS, and a pack of bloodhounds.  I just love to read, love to explore the worlds of imagination; to sail the high seas with Long John Silver, to explore the Yukon and Alaska with Mr London, investigate the stars with Heinlein, fight heroic battles with John Carter upon the vast plains of Mars, and face dragons with a little burglar named Bilbo Baggins.  Maybe I don’t know a good novel from a bad one, but I know what I like.