Friday, July 31, 2015

Blogtalk Radio: The Women Show

I just finished listening to The Women Show with Bennett Pomerantz. His guests yesterday were Valerie Douglas and Mary Ann Peden-Coviello. A third author was supposed to be on, but canceled at the last minute because of a family emergency.

The topic was Amazon reviews and it is worth listening to even though the authors involved did not stay on topic the whole time, veering off into cover art (professional or amateur) and editing, choosing genres, etc. I had imagined that the co-hosts would get into the topic of Amazon's policy book reviews, algorithms, and why certain authors cannot review the books of authors they know, but that was not touched on at all. Maybe a topic for another time.

Since I was unable to post a comment on the show, I've decided to do so here regarding some of their discussions. As I said, the show is worth listening to. I applaud Bennett Pomerantz for being willing to disagree with his co-hosts. Bravo!

Now on to my comment:

As a reviewer, "honest reviews" are not always honest. One of the reasons I quit reviewing professionally is because I was told I had to make all my reviews positive. My reviews were always polite, but always honest. If I didn't like a book I said so, and vice versa. Polite is one thing, but telling me I had to leave a positive review wasn't honest and was not going to happen.

Having said the above, not all reviews are honest reviews. It's easy to tell. I have read reviews where it was obvious the reviewer had not read the book at all and the ignorance showed in what they wrote about the book. I have a few of those on some of my books. There is no guarantee the review will come down even though it is not honest or accurate and obvious the reviewer either had an axe to sharpen on the author and had not read the book. Like Joe Konrath said, ebooks are forever. So are reviews: good, bad, and indifferent.

I do not believe that asking family members or friends to read and review one's book is dishonest or a bad practice. One of my cousins, who up to this point is "...not a book reader," read one of my books and loved it. I urged her to write a review. I didn't specify what kind of review, just that she should write a review. The same goes for anyone, friend, family, or stranger, who reads one of my books. Write about what you read and how it affected you. One's first critics are often family and friends. It's not asking them for a review that is dishonest, but asking for a certain kind of review that's dishonest.

As writers, we must use our words carefully and, as Anne Rice demonstrated amply when she went off on an Amazon reviewer after a negative review a few years ago, responding to reviewers personally is always a mistake. So is not differentiating between the kinds of reviews a writer asks for.

Yes, it is wrong to stack the deck. No, it is not wrong to request that the people who have read a book review the book, whether they be family, friend, or stranger. I am all for readers taking the time to review a book they've read -- and review it honestly, but, as has been mentioned, they should READ the book first. The whole book and not just a blurb or regurgitating what someone else said about a book before reading it. And reviews are not the place to settle a personal score. If one cannot separate the person from the author/book, then one should not review the book. /end of comment
Many people read books, but few ever write reviews. The reviewers often are writers. I review books of people I know personally, and often people with whom I have had differences, but my personal feelings do not enter into the review process. If I find my anger or dislike of someone is too strong to remain neutral in a review, I don't post the review. I have had that happen with only one or two authors over the years. I recused myself on those occasions. Luckily, it does not and did not happen often. 

Amazon has become a bit draconian in their review process, especially with regard to authors not reviewing the books of authors they know personally. There is no accurate algorithm for sifting out the axe-grinders and the boot lickers and banning all authors reviewing personal friends who also happen to be authors is not necessarily the best policy. If Amazon cannot write an algorithm to get rid of negative reviews from people who have not taken the time to read what they're reviewing, they should step back and let nature -- and the Internet -- finds a level. 

Good and bad reviews come and go. Yes, they are forever on the Internet -- as long as there is technology available to access the reviews -- but ultimately reviewing a book is subjective, a personal like or dislike (not necessarily of the author) of the reviewer. There will be ugly reviews. Count on it. Get used to it, writer. Take it like a duck in the rain. Let it roll off your back and then go write another book or story -- or even review. Keep it clean. Keep it honest. Be real.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Death and Immortality Before 30

I've been reading about the Persian empire, Sparta, Greece, and all things ancient. I even took a little while to watch some of Troy, which I have already seen, in 2004 when it debuted and several times since then. I like the scene where Achilles (Brad Pitt) kills Boagrius with a single sword thrust into his shoulder. Pure poetry, and not just because the 41-year-old Pitt was very buff and cut. That brings me to the point of this post -- the age of the actors and modern perceptions of what constitutes maturity and responsibility.

In ancient times, about the 4th or 5th century BCE, people didn't live as long as they do now. They were promised 3 score and 10 (70 years) because Christ has not been born and his words reported until several decades after his death in the early 1st century. Christ was 32 when he began his ministry, a mature man of his time, and at an age when most men had married, had children, and were probably expecting grandchildren. Thirty-two was well advanced in years even then. Even before he was crucified.

The world was a violent place. Wars were fought not from drones and but remote control in armored vehicles, but on the ground, face to face, and sword to spear. Men died early and they went to war early. Hollywood would have us believe that men were still children in their teens when in fact many men had been blodded at 16 or even earlier. Brad Pitt, no matter his physique, would have been an old man.

Think about it. If Ulysses had gone to war at 40, he would not have returned to his wife and 20-year-old son until he was 60. Not possible. He would have been in his late teens early twenties when he went to war and his wife barely 16. Even in the Middle Ages, women were given in marriage at 14 to 16 and were often betrothed before they could walk in many cases, but usually around the age of 3 in royal families. The poor married early as well and were often dead by 35. Forty was ancient in times when work was hard and food scarce during lean times. Even among royalty, women were worn out by childbirth, often having a child every year or two. All that birthing and nursing and breeding took its toll and childbirth was dangerous for child and mother, both often dying of fever, unsanitary conditions, or simply the luck of the draw -- or the favor or disfavor of the gods.

People in today's world equate maturity and responsibility with age, usually above 30, and often not at all in the 60s and 70s if current social conditions continue. Children are coddled until well into their 20s and often not released from mama's apron strings even in their twenties. Life happened much earlier -- and lasted all too little.

Men didn't need to go to the gym to get buff; they worked out with sword, spear, shield, and fighting from the earliest ages, going to war as soon as they were men, usually between 14 and 16. That is not something considered or even countenanced in our modern world. Children fighting other children or men in their 20s that have survived a war or three. Kings were younger as well, though some did live to the ripe old age of 40 and even fifty if they didn't actually fight on the battlefield but stayed behind the lines. Men -- and women -- learned early about life and began living it as soon as they could stand up and prove they could hold a sword. It is likely the real Achilles was in his late teens or early twenties when he sailed for Troy and fought during the 10 yars of the siege. He probably looked a lot more like the Brad Pitt who starred as Chris on Another World and would have been dead at the age he starred with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise at 28. Young as he looked in those days, he would have been a dead man come the end of the seige at Troy, or very nearly the end.

The world is so different from the one that Hollywood portrays with old men like Sean Bean and Brian Cox playing the kings of Ithaca and Mycenae. It was a very different world. Helen would have been barely 16, or maybe even 17 or 18 when she wed Menelaus, Agamemnon's brother, and he not more than 2 or 3 years older. Those facts put a very different face on things as they were instead of how we see them.

And think of the cost of provisioning an army of 50,000 men for 10 years. They would have drunk rivers dry and descended like a plague of locusts on the fields around Troy. Foraging parties would have had to invade the surrounding countryside and relieve the peasants of their livestock and harvests, and may even have had to settle in and sow the fields around Troy and tend the crops while fishing the sea and surrounding rivers. The countryside would have suffered as the army foraged farther and farther afield to supply the men with sufficient food to keep fighting for 10 years. And there would ahve been children born to the women captured as slaves or brought in as camp followers. An army 50,000 strong would have had great needs and been none to polite about filling them.
It doesn't bear to think on the cost of war in those times, the great distances traveled, the hardships, the loss, the disease, and the devastation to the countryside where they fought. On foot or in chariots in the mud, the blood, and the sand beneath the ever present brazen stare of the sun. Troy is part of modern day Turkey and a long way to row from Greece to their shores, which is why it took 10 years for Odysseus to get back to Ithaca.

War is not the magnificent spectacle we thrill to watch on the big screen and war in ancient times was a far more brutal undertaking. It is obvious we cannot put things into ancient perspectives and all those old actors must either get jobs in the private sector or work behind the scenes while children fight their pretend wars and romance their pubescent lovers on the screen. The world has grown up, but our view of the ancient world has been twisted into something beyond our understanding.

I like movies as much as anyone, sometimes even more than most, but at least I understand it is make believe and only the stuff of modern day dreams. The truth would be far more difficult for many to take, especially as people seem to be intent on keeping the children irresponsible and childish well past the age of consent -- at least in terms of ancient social mores and practices. Still, it bears keeping in mind. The world then is far different than we imagine in the insulated and protected bubble in which man -- and woman -- lives.

That is all. Disperse.