What Do You Do With A Bad Review?

I’ve been getting mostly good reviews for my books, so it came as a shock when I noticed that one woman on Goodreads downrated them. She rated more than 100 books, giving all of them five stars except for a couple of 4-star ratings and three 3-star ratings. And guess whose books were all rated three stars? Mine. I couldn’t understand it — first, because most people who have read my books like at least one of them, and second (and the point that really bothered me), if she didn’t like my writing, why read all three? Why not stop after one or two?

I’d never met the woman, only know of her because we have an acquaintance  in common — someone I met because of my books, not a pre-publication friend. “I doubt she read the books,” this acquaintance told me, “she couldn’t possibly have read them and not liked them; your books are fabulous,” which made the whole thing even more incomprehensible. 

Until . . .

I got a really bad 2-star review for A Spark of Heavenly Fire, which made those three stars seem benign:

Not a bad story…but but but. I love post-apocolyptic stories – but a common mistake authors fall into with it is to immediately lose the sense of horror – their characters hardly react to dead bodies piling up around them – Bertram did this from the get-go. And this book was so badly edited that it is astonishing. Someone made the author chop this up without any concern for the reader’s ability to follow the story and understand the characters…fortunately, I didn’t care enough about any of them to worry about it.
Made me doubt myself.  Did I lose the sense of horror? But I never intended there to be a sense of horror (or at least not a sense of ghoulish horror). Nor did I intend to write a postapocalyptic story, which shows you the danger of genre expectations. The whole point was the lack of  bodies. After the first dying, when people died in their cars causing a city-wide traffic jam, people stayed in their houses, so that is where they succumbed to the red death. The only way my characters knew of the continued dying were the orange fluorescent markings appearing on the doors of houses where people had died. To me, that was even more horrible than bodies piling up — just this one simple reminder that people were still dying. Even more horrific was the silent city with soldiers patrolling the streets. That would spook the hell out of me! And no, people would not continue to react to the horror. They would become inured to it. It would become the new normal. And how could the reviewer have missed the hellish scene when two of my characters discovered what was being done with the dead human bodies . . . and the bodies of beloved pets?

Besides, the story was seen through the eyes of a soul-dead nurse, a gung-ho reporter, a self-centered, world-famous actor, and a woman who had that star in her eyes. Would any of them have continued to react to the dying? I doubt it. Still, I did wonder. Should I have shown more bodies piling up?

Then . . .

I was out walking along a residential street yesterday, and there was not a single other person in sight. Not a single vehicle on the road. And I knew I was right. No one would see the bodies if all the people in those houses suddenly died. And maybe they had expired — I had no way of knowing.

So, what does one do with a bad review? Blog about it, of course!! 

Humor Metamorphosing into Horror

My work in progress, a tongue-in-cheek apocalyptic novel, is metamorphosing into a horror story. I study my words trying to figure out where I went wrong, but they seem to be behaving properly. Does this mean that I am losing control of my story? No. The problem is in the details.

Plausibility in a story depends on the accumulation of consistent, accurate details. Those details are even more important for a fantasy than they are for other types of books, such as police procedurals. An author of a police procedural can summarize or even skip some of the boring details. After all, any person who reads crime novels, follows detective shows on television, or watches documentaries about modern forensic techniques knows many details of a criminal investigation, and can fill in the blanks. For example, early police procedurals gave details about taking fingerprints from a suspect, but today most readers know how fingerprints are taken, probably even had one taken for a driver’s license, so few authors waste words on that particular detail.

On the other hand, only the author of a fantasy knows all the details of his or her world. For those details to seem real, the characters must act consistently with their history, experiences, and psychological profiles.

Although I might find it incongruous and therefore amusing to have a saber-tooth lion spring out of a dark alley in modern Denver, the character experiencing this is not amused. To him, it is unimaginable horror; therefore, to the reader who is experiencing the world through the eyes of the character, it is also horror. A character who finds an attacking saber-tooth lion to be funny is not a believable character, unless somehow I can make the reader believe that the character will react in such a way, which still proves that plausibility is in the details.

Since I am writing to my specifications and not to a publisher’s, it does not matter whether I am writing humor or horror. That the details are consistent and accurate within my story world does matter, and of that, I am in control.