#BeBold Sharing Critical Content

image from openclipart.org from J4p4n

“I think it would be therapeutic for me to write a post for our blog where I tear the shit out of movie x.” Zach said.  

I smiled and nodded, happy he planned to contribute to our NAWG blog.  

“But would a negative post benefit our blog in the long run?”  I wondered.  

Another group member and I resolved we would keep our blog a positive constructive place.  Then again, Zach is our resident curmudgeon, if anyone can get away with a grouchy post, it’s him.

As I‘ve been viewing more content, I keep coming back to wondering if critical content is part of a healthy blogging habit.  And if “negative” or “rant” content has a place, what’s the correct ratio to add it into a blog?  Should ever blog or blogger share all opinions whether negative or positive?  Am I as positive as. I portray, or is that a persona shown for approval?   Even in some of my perky posts, on the edges lingers this acknowledgement of themes I don’t like.  

Today there will be no dodging the question.  Should we blog critical, negative, snarky, or tea spilling posts?

The Concerns

-Being seen as petty/mean/opinionated/loud/aggressive/bossy

-Being seen as a person who views writing as a competition and your review as a way to tear down the competition

-Risk of hurting the feelings of another human being

-Burning through the community’s goodwill for you

-Bringing you own work forward for scrutiny as you’ve scrutinized others

-Making an error or oversight in your analysis could cause you being on the end of critical content.  Or you may see your own oversight, go to adjust your post and learn you’ve created an audience not open to evolving opinions.

-Negative attention is still attention and if a book/technique is damaging, you may choose not to mention them at all so you don’t accidentally drive sales to something you don’t support

-Closing venues for conversation and becoming a place to come bash an idea

-Crossing the line and getting personal in an attack (and this is NEVER) good.  

-Depending on what you don’t like, risking the chance you’ll stand in the company of other opinions you find offensive or wrong

The Pros

-People love drama/controversy.  There is a reason videos and posts labeled “spilling the tea” or “throwing shade” rank so high and it’s because everyone loves to watch a fight.  

-As Zach said, rants are therapeutic

-Sometimes critical or negative reviews are a person’s truth and I believe authenticity is more important than being nice. 

-Others can misinterpret silence as approval and I don’t want to support something I didn’t like.

-Bringing critical opinions forward presents a whole and balanced person.  Not someone full of eternal praise

-A negative element of an otherwise good work should be called out.  A person can love something that isn’t perfect and acknowledging flaws is part of a full discussion

-The things I didn’t like may help a crowd of people who like those elements find a new favorite.  What I didn’t like might be something you love about a book

The Outcome 

This conversation is more personal than the other #bebold articles because I present as a positive person.  Get to know me better and I’ll spin out into a rant on X or Y and I like to think it’s funny.  People laugh, whether from the shock of me going from sunshine to dark in a blink of an eye or because I have a strong delivery, is hard to tell.  The thing is, I like to read a room before sharing, and you can’t read a room in the internet.

Unlike the “silence is approval school” I’m from the “if you have nothingnice to say, then say nothing” school.  I’m sensitive to even small gestures of disapproval in others and worry over their reactions if they find out I don’t enjoy their favorite show.  In the past, I’ve compromised under the guise of kindness.  I post all reviews to Goodreads but don’t make blogs from bad books.  Recently I’d considered writing a bottom 5 books of 2018 and dismissed the idea.  Three of the books were from a single author and it struck me as excessively mean spirited to single out an author this way.  

 I’m dipping my toes into critical reviews while blogging.  First, I wrote a post on why I stopped reading Daily Science Fiction.  It’s not mean, but it expresses that I didn’t like the site or most of the stories on offer.  My 2018 book year in review shares both positive and negative thoughts on books.  Even then, most of my critical feedback revolves around non-fiction books that present bad/dangerous science.  I feel like giving them lower scores is a public service.  Do your research world!

  I wrote a critical review on a writing class I took.  There I spoke out because I’d paid money for the class.  If it had been free, there would be no post. The posts gathered the low end of average views.  

Currently I’m brainstorming a series of posts called “Writing Cliches” where I discuss overused techniques in genres and why they bother me/what else you can do.  I think it will be snarky fun with a goal of helping writers avoid played out scenarios and offering other ways to move the story. 

Should you write a critical post?  I don’t really know.  

  I love reading critical posts where the writer explores what worked, where they suggest how idea x could come across better, or where they pitch a “better” story.  Occasionally, I even enjoy a certain level of mean snark.  That said, I’m not comfortable with the format.  Even as I enjoy consuming some of this style of content, I prefer to create the helpful, glass half full kinds of posts.  More than the other posts discussed in this #BeBold series, I suggest moderation.  A few critical posts go a long way after all.  

Looking for more like this? Try the other #BeBold posts “Posting Metrics” and “Sharing Fiction for Free

Best of “Kindle Unlimited” Sara C. Roethle “Tree of Ages” Series

image from Goodreads.com

 

It has been a while since starting one of these recommend blogs.  In reviewing the others, it seems I always pick up a book with hesitation.  Tree of Ages is no different.  While I was fascinated with the idea a tree becomes human (I have a love for plant stories and non-traditional sentience), I was worried it would be one of those “chosen one with amnesia stories.”  We’d find out it wasn’t a tree becoming human but a human who became a tree and then returned human for— reasons.  It’s a fantasy trope.

And Tree of Ages is about a human-ish character who became a tree returning to her original form with amnesia.  So, if what I feared is true, why did I enjoy the series?  First, because tree girl insists for the first third of the story arc she IS a tree and if she is not a tree, she prefers being a tree.  It explores all the tree sentience vs human sentience desired, plus readers get to hear about tree superiority.  I enjoy stories where human forms are not the default “best” choice.  Through fantasy speculation of this variety, I think we invite conversations about different levels of humanity, and observing what may be just different instead of better or worse.  It also creates compassion and likeness to the rest of nature.

Tree of Ages has a HUGE ensemble cast and all of them are developed with story arcs.  There are fifteen characters I can think of just off the top of my head who connect with readers.  Granted Sara C. Roethle has five books to make these connections, but she starts strong in book one with eight characters and she keeps adding.

I appreciated that the story in these pages was about characters.  Yes, a bunch of action happens around the characters, but the action never drives the story, the characters decisions/desires/weaknesses move the plot forward.  It’s refreshing to have a solid sense of place, history, and change while also allowing the characters to use personality to move forward.  

Is the series perfect?  No.  I have conflicted feelings on how gay and bi characters were represented.  Kudos to Roethle for including diversity of gender and sexuality.  I loved how women were portrayed, but there are flaws in her portrayals of gay and bi characters.  All of her gay/bi characters start off or remain villains.  The one bi character is first portrayed as a lesbian and she falls in love with a male character as she “lightens” and becomes more of a good guy.  I don‘t know this was intentional, but I recoiled from that effect. 

 A gay sailor dies in pain from poison in the swamps and he dies cursing the protagonist.  This is sad because his death did not reflect his life.  While we, the readers, had minimal interaction, it was clear he had longstanding relationships with two of the cast and he was developing a friendship with Finn, our lead.  The bitterness he displayed in death didn‘t match his tone in life.  

Aed’s daughter (whose name I can’t recall) appears to be a lesbian (she uses sexuality on both genders but her attraction seems to be fore women), and she is the antagonist for most the series.  Even when she‘s not the antagonist, we have sympathy for her without ever liking her.  She has a superiority complex and manipulates family and lovers in ways I find abusive.  

Belinda, is the lesbian lover of Aed’s daughter and part of her guard.  Her arc feels glossed over and rushed in the book, like Roethle couldn‘t figure out her motivations or place within the story.  She becomes Finn‘s friend with ease, but she never connects with the crew on any side of the skirmish.  She has the opportunity to form lasting relationships with five of the characters and never does, which leaves her an odd and floating in space character.  

I’d overlook some of these messed up relationships but the straight counter parts are more healthy.  There‘s the ever present annoying love triangle and there is a lot of unhealthy baggage with it.  So much, I thought the characters would end up in a threesome (and note to writers, just add the threesome if that‘s what you want, don’t dance around it with a love triangle where everyone respects each other and is friends afterward).  Having deep relationships with both people at the same time feels a little like exploiting each person since it lacks an open conversation, but each relationship makes sense and appears to have the right give and take.  There‘s a marriage where the development seemed abrupt but over all healthy.  The bi character‘s straight relationship is healing for her (which portrays straight relationships as a positive WHILE implying that gay relationships result from trauma so double bad).  Even the villainous pair end up in what appears to be a loving straight relationship.

Overall, I recommend the series.  It’s a series where the goals change as characters learn more and evolve, but where readers are always rooting for their favorites.  I like that no one person’s destiny seems carved in stone and the cast changes rolls as the novels progress.  I wish the inclusion of gay/bisexual characters was handled more mindfully, but there‘s so much unique going on in the series, I can still recommend it as a whole work.

Take Aways from Sara C. Roethle’s Success:

1. Women have a place in high fantasy and you do not have to make them special or otherwise justify their presence.  Let male and female characters exist as they are without an exposition dump. (this applies to any “minority” character in any genre) 

2. While a strong sense of place and world building is necessary to creating memorable and lasting fantasy environments, it does not have to drive the plot.  Set the story, let it present options, but don‘t fight if your characters pick a third path the setting doesn‘t seem to offer.

3. Make your story about the character relationships.  It’s not “wishy washy” for characters to change their minds, become heroes/villains in their own right, or to decide something they never would consider 100 pages back.  So long as the change develops during those 100 pages it becomes a compelling full study of the decision along with the results that come from making certain choices. Write a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an ending.  Be confident in your characters and larger world building.  People will read more because they like what you wrote not because you left them on a cliffhanger.

4. Relationships can develop without a lot of angst or sexual tension.  While there are problems with how Roethle portrays relationships like some of the people who end up together show what I consider friendship without the push to romance (this is bad because it perpetuates the idea that close relationships=sexual elements and that’s NOT true in real life or in fiction), she does a wonderful job creating loyalty and tenderness in her characters. As someone who skips sex scenes and rolls my eyes when there’s too much “attraction” build up in a story, I appreciated that she chose to skip it.

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on T.A. White  or  Amy A. Bartol.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

What do I want in a book?  Here’s 9 elements I enjoy.

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews. Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer? Or consider “9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me), or “7 Steps I take Before Writing a Bad Review.”

Best of “Kindle Unlimited” T. A. White “Dragon Ridden Chronicles”



Cover from goodreads.com

 

I am always skeptical when I pick up a book.  There are too many deceiving summaries and too many bad books with high reviews.  To make matters worse, I’m someone who has to finish a book once it’s started.  Because there are so many unpleasant tropes in high fantasy, the books are often long and lack resolution.  I HAVE to see things to the end, so I avoid reading them, even though I like fantasy.  

Despite all my hesitation, Dragon Ridden drew me in and left me charmed.  The first book is a perfect story.  Tate is loud, sassy, and smart.  I love following her around.  Her best traits: intelligence and suspicion are also the traits that get her most in trouble.  She’s inquisitive, loyal, and never gives up.

The world T. A. White depicts is familiar but different.  In many aspects, it reminds me of a scifi/fantasy crossover like Anne McCaffrey‘s Dragonriders of Pern.  Humans exist, but it divorces them from the history and geography of our world.  Also, there are other species we associate as “magical” that these works frame as science born.  Ancient lost technology and knowledge pepper the Dragon Ridden series and speaks to the inner seeker in all readers.

Can I gush “girl power” for a moment and just say how amazing it feels to read a strong female lead who doesn’t ooze femininity?  Tate is what I’d consider a “brawler” type character.  She lets her mouth run away with her and finds herself in fights.  Tate can’t take two steps without finding herself in some kind of trouble.  I love there is no moment where we have to hear about how Tate is “not ladylike” or where she’s “not like other women”.  The others tease her for what a trouble magnet she is, but that’s who she is not what her gender prescribes.

I love she never uses her “feminine wiles” to get information, sneak into places, or gain allies.  I love she never looks at a dive bar and thinks “I have to be careful cause I’m a girl and men are drunk and rape-y in there”.  I love she expects equal treatment from captains, kings, negotiating delegations, and barkeeps and they treat her the same as her male compatriots.  And all this happens without us ever enduring a scene about Tate being “unusual” for a woman “more level headed” or whatever that sets her apart and lets her be one of the guys.  T. A. White just writes her in as an equal and lets us enjoy that without feeling compelled to justify it.

To be fair, there are few other female characters surrounding Tate.  Their lack implies something “special” about Tate (at least in the human side other races have powerful female players).  But it’s so refreshing that no male character addresses how “improper” Tate is that I don’t care if other human women are more “traditional”.  The closest anyone comes to telling Tate to “fem it up” is when she’s going to formal events, they shove her in a dress.  Truthfully, I could do without the “women clothes are uncomfortable and restrictive” bit but when that’s the most bullshit your character gets for being a woman in what seems like a male dominated world, I’m in.  Aspiring writers, do you want to know what you do when you’re writing a female character in a man’s world?  Do this, don’t address it, act like her presence is normal and accepted.  Don’t make her some special snowflake we have to keep addressing in the narrative, just make everyone accept her without blinking.

Beyond world building and character building, the plot pacing in these stories is perfect.  There are not parts in any of these books I skimmed, looking to pull through to something interesting.  Everything T. A. White includes feels important to the narrative and engaging to the reader.  She often has multiple mysteries and sub plots going on in a single story and she adds red herrings along with peppering character development in across the books. I read during my breaks at work, and this series became difficult to read during those times because I wanted to sit in the break room and keep reading.  It was one of those books I’d take home and read instead of coming home and writing as I’d planned.  

Even better than perfect pacing, each book comes to a conclusive ending.  While I tore through the series, it is because I wanted more delightful writing.  I couldn’t get enough of what T. A. White was doing, not because I NEEDED to know the ending.  For the record, the third book in the Dragon Ridden Chronicles has such a conclusive ending, I had to go online to see if there are plans for a fourth book.  Amazing news: T. A. White plans to write a 4th book!  

Take Aways from T. A. White’s Success:

1. Women have a place in “high fantasy” and you do not have to make them special or otherwise justify their presence.  Let male and female characters exist as they are without an exposition dump. (this applies to any “minority” character in any genre) 

2. Sprinkle in world and character building across the series.  I need not know everything all at once.

3. Give characters nicknames if they are catchy and encapsulate an element of the character.  This is the one series where giving the same character multiple names didn’t confuse me, and it worked because we all call the character one name and that nickname is based on their attributes.

4. Mix fantasy and scifi elements together.  Tech and magic are not exclusive.  

5. Write a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an ending.  Be confident in your characters and larger world building.  People will read more because they like what you wrote not because you left them on a cliffhanger.

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. Bartol or Sara C. Roethle.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews.  Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer?

Or consider 9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me), 7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review

Author’s Blogs and Websites

This isn’t really an exhaustive list. I’ll dig up some more and add them later or post in a separate post. Most of these authors I’m friends with or follow and Facebook and they cross post or link their blog articles to their Facebook pages. I really need to find more blogs about writing itself – the posts in these vary between promotion, cross-promotion, reviews (not just of books), and some politics (but I’ve omitted the ones who are mostly political).

Adam Troy-Castro is a novelist and short story writers who writes most SF and horror. He also writes book review columns. He has a huge Facebook following because he’s witty, opinionated, and likes to engage people in discussions. In fact, he posts occasionally to remind people who’ve followed him for other reasons that he is a professional writer. There are a lot of good, in-depth movie reviews here.

Steven Barnes is a writer I’ve been reading a long time, starting with his collaborations with Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in the 1980’s. He teaches Lifewriting seminars and writes a lot about life coaching, Afrofuturism, and martial arts.

John Scalzi is a hugely successful SF writer. He isn’t very active on Facebook, but is all over Twitter. His blog, Whatever, is extremely popular and often controversial. One of the cool things he does is to use his large audience to let others promote their books (look for the posts titled The Big Idea:)

Ari Marmell‘s blog, Mouseferatu, is mainly used to keep his readers up-to-date with what he’s working on. Ari has written for RPG games and has quite a few novels as well, including one of the funniest fantasy novels I’ve ever read, The Goblin Corps, and an urban fantasy series set in the 1930’s about a Fae detective named Mick Oberon. He has a Patreon which gives his supporters free stories, beta reads of chapters as they’re completed, and a few other perks.

Stephanie Osborne is a local Huntsville writer who is retired from NASA. Several of her books are small press published, including her latest series, the Displaced Detective, which are about Sherlock Holmes transported to the modern day United States. She’s also collaborated on several books with Baen authors, including Travis Taylor, another Huntsville native (and star of the show, Rocket City Rednecks).

As far as what I read online about the process of writing, I’d say it’s most often Reddit’s r/Writing or some of the other subreddits about fantasy and SF writing, reviewing, etc. Maybe that should be another blog post to go over the various writing subreddits.

BONUS:

John Picacio is a cool artist and an acquaintance of mine from a few conventions. I like his art (I have two framed prints of his at home and several of his Loteria series cards) and he’s a cool guy. I used his Loteria painting La Sirena as a partial inspiration for “The Rusalka’s Embrace” story I wrote recently.