…So that’s what I’m doing today.
Today is the official release day for UNHOLY GHOSTS in the US, and I guess it’s being released in the UK/Ireland/Australia/New Zealand as well? Yes, it seems that way. And I’m frankly terrified. Excited and elated and terrified.
We had a couple of new reviews come in, and they’re good ones. Not just, or not necessarily, because they’re positive, although they largely are, but because they’re thoughtful. Because they read the book and really considered it, and really put that consideration into the reviews, and really?
It’s not my place as an author to ask reviewers or readers for shit. It’s not my place to tell them how they should think or feel about my work, or how they should express those feelings. But I won’t deny that it pleases me immensely and makes me feel good when they do put that consideration and thought into their reviews. It’s gratifying, and I appreciate it, and if I could ask for something, that would be what I would ask for.
So first we have Michele Lee’s Book Love:
Unholy Ghosts is a thrilling ride, textured and vivid, a powerhouse of fantasy. Brimming with characters that aren’t quite heroes but aren’t quite bad guys either, it shows the hard core, broke down parts of the world other stories skip over, the dark side of reality that comes not from magic, but from the poor, desperate and disillusioned trying to make it through a hard life.
Seriously? I got a little teary when I saw this one. It was so close to how I think of the books; Michele understood so clearly what I was trying to do and express. It’s absolutely amazing to feel understood like that, and like you’ve truly connected with someone through your work.
Another reviewer who I think truly understood what I was trying to do, even if her understanding came more about the larger concept than the characters themselves, is KMont at Lurve ala Mode. She featured the book in her “Books With Balls” segment (which, how fucking cool is that?!) and rated it 5 balls, out of a possible 5. That’s ballsy, y’all, which is (to me at least) a huge compliment:
Why is this book ballsy?
1. Quite frankly, its because the heroine is a unrepentant drug addict. Because of this aspect, and how it’s portrayed, the author takes a big risk and really puts herself out there. I think this alone, whether or not one likes how it all plays out, is pretty darn cool.
Unholy Ghosts is to be commended for the risks it takes, while at the same time deserving of being held in check for them. I honestly think some will be turned off while others will eagerly embrace a book that does take risks like this. As for me, I honestly struggled with how to rate it. On one hand, I’m glad to have read it and experienced a truly unique urban fantasy.
I strongly recommend you read the entire review. While I don’t necessarily agree with some of KMont’s opinions/conclusions (like that Chess’s only motivation for defeating the bad guy was her own self-interest, and not to protect the rest of humanity and the Church) and while there is one small factual error (Chess’s pills–Cepts–are opiates, not speed) that’s nitpicking on my part, frankly. What matters to me is that KMont understood what I was trying to do–create something unique, create a world of moral ambiguity and in doing so explore just where our boundaries are and whether our concepts of good and bad are fluid, and explore just what the limits of the genre truly are–and seemed to really connect with that attempt, although there were things about the book that didn’t thrill her and she does make an excellent point about the climax of the novel.
Last is Shuzluva’s review at Dear Author. Shuzluva is not a fan of horror or horrific elements and felt much more strongly about Chess’s addiction; it was a major problem for her before picking up the book, and she was unable to really get past that in the reading. However, she did say this:
The pacing of the book is excellent, and definitely gave me some of those “put-the-book-down-before-my-heart-explodes” moments. The characters are vivid and even the secondary characters get fabulous treatment. I can’t say enough about the wonderful worldbuilding. Triumph City and The Church of the Real Truth are tangible and downright scary, gritty and dark.
(The discussion in comments is quite interesting, as well.)
So what is my point, and what am I thinking of today?
I’m thinking of how, as every reviewer above touched upon whether they elaborated on it or not, it is apparently pretty obvious to readers with intelligence that this is a deeply personal book, and that it is a challenging one, and that is amazing to me. Would I rather they’d all said, as others have, “This is challenging in some ways and also fucking kicks ass” instead of just two of them? Of course. Am I nervous as hell that people will see all of this and think the book is too deep or something and skip it in favor of something they think will be more fun? Of course.
Because it is a fun book, guys, at least I think so, and a lot of reviewers have thought so. Yes, I wanted to play with the boundaries of the genre. Yes I wanted to challenge myself and the reader. Yes I wanted to ask some questions and make people think.
But what I mostly wanted to do is what I always want to do, which is entertain the hell out of you people. I wanted to show you a good time. It’s what I always want to do.
I also didn’t want to preach to you. I’m frankly surprised at how many people either would expect the first book in a series to have a full and complete character arc away from addiction; what the hell is fun about that story, again? Does that seem like an exciting urban fantasy plot to you, especially for a first book?
And while I expected some people to be turned off, I didn’t expect the Puritanical vitriol* I’ve gotten from a small minority who seem to think addiction, or writing about addiction, is a moral crime on a par with baby murdering, and that to even buy a book with an addict character is akin to standing in the corner and cheering while that baby is murdered. I guess fiction is not after all a place to explore different lives and situations; buying a novel is a political and moral act, and buying a book about an addict is a moral wrong. Ohh-kay. Perhaps it would be better if we just shot our addicts? Especially the functional ones? Maybe from there we’ll move to people who take antidepressants; after all, that’s a daily pill to make you feel better, and if you stop taking it you’ll go through very uncomfortable withdrawals, and it does have (IMO) more dangerous side affects than most opiates…
I guess also that addicts are not people like you and me who got caught up in something too big for them, but are in fact the human equivalent of slime found at the bottom of a pond. Apparently it’s okay for a heroine in an urban fantasy to kill people, to beat them, to make stupid decisions that lead to the deaths of others–sometimes even her own children–but for her to pop a few pills every day…now THAT is wrong and evil.
Anyway, while those who are obviously our superiors in every way and have never made a mistake sniffle and judge, let’s you and me keep talking.
Fiction isn’t about being safe, at least good fiction isn’t. Not as far as I’m concerned. It’s about telling the truth. It’s about showing other people the world as you see it. It’s about exposing yourself.
You know the saying “Writing is easy. You just sit down at the typewriter and open a vein?”
I always thought that was about how hard it can be to get the words to come, and how long it can take.
I was wrong. It’s about how much we expose of ourselves when we write. It’s about how fiction–truly good fiction that touches people, not that I’m claiming to be Little Miss Excellent or anything like that, I just know how proud I am of these books and the response they’re getting–can’t be accomplished if you’re afraid, if you’re hiding yourself or aspects of yourself or especially your characters from your readers. You cannot lie to them and still have a truly worthwhile book. You just can’t. It simply isn’t possible. You can’t be afraid. You can’t refuse to share things with them. You can’t hold back.
Sure, people may not like it, and they may not like you. You may put your heart on a plate and hand it to a reader and have them turn up their nose and walk away, or spit at it. It happens. That’s life, and that’s writing, and that’s the way it goes.
Remember last month, when I went to Eight of Swords tattoos to get a new tattoo? Here it is:
(I took the picture myself, and it’s on my right bicep running upward, so it’s a little crooked in the photo, sorry.)
And that’s my vow to myself, and my promise to myself, and the words I try to live by.
So what am I feeling today, when my book is released? I’m nervous, and excited, and proud. And I want you to buy it, and love it, and be entertained by it. And I want you to close it feeling like you’ve experienced something unique and you haven’t wasted your money and you’ve just read an awesome story. I don’t need you to analyze it or be all intellectual about it, I just want you to enjoy it. I want you to be excited for the next book on July 6th. And I really, really hope you are.
And that’s it, really. But I also want you to know how very much I appreciate every one of you, those who comment and those who don’t. I hope I don’t let you down.
Tomorrow we’ll be back to having fun, okay?
* It has come to my attention that the comments in this paragraph have been misconstrued to mean that I believe anyone who has a problem with a drug addict heroine, or who expresses discomfort in the idea, or doesn’t like it, is being evil and Puritanical and whatever. I sincerely apologize to anyone who might have thought this was the case. I thought my comments in the past, and my other comments in this post, would make it clear that I do not think or feel that way at all. In fact, because of my comments in the past it honestly never even occurred to me that anyone would take my post that way.
I certainly do not see a negative review as “vitriol.” I guess I can see how some people–who are accustomed to authors freaking out and attacking over a less-than-glowing review–would feel that I might, and therefore would classify my comments that way. I wasn’t thinking of that when I wrote this post and I absolutely should have been, so I apologize genuinely to anyone who might have felt I was referring to them or their feelings. Quite frankly, in all of the stress and anxiety of a release day I simply wasn’t thinking the way I normally would.
You are entitled–as I have said before here and elsewhere numerous times–to dislike my characters or my books. You are entitled to be uncomfortable with the very idea. You’re entitled to express that feeling (although I would prefer that you not aim that expression at readers who want to read a book, and tell them they’re supporting drug abuse by purchasing a book. They don’t deserve that). As I said in my response to Shuzluva’s review yesterday, I’d be a moron if I didn’t expect that some people would have an issue with that.
None of those feelings are vitriolic. Nor is expressing them tantamount to vitriol.
What I mean when I say “vitriol” are the comments I’ve seen aimed at reader, implying they are morally bankrupt for wanting to read, for reading, or enjoying a certain book. What I mean when I say “vitriol” are the three emails I have received in the last week calling me names and telling me I am evil for encouraging drug use. These did not come from one person alone, although it is possible it was one person with more than one email address and IP.
Yes, I have reported them to their email service, and no, I don’t want to discuss it further, and no, I am not particularly frightened or freaked out (they weren’t threatening, just, well, vitriolic) so if you are someone who would normally be inclined to worry please don’t. I had this happen to me once before–long-time readers may remember the short period of time where comments on my old blog went screened–and this is simply something that happens to people online.
But I did get one this morning, and it made me angry, and that small section of my post was in response to that.
Obviously, I need to get used to, or realize, that I may start getting new visitors here who aren’t familiar with my previous comments on issues like these and the very strong stance I have always taken in support of readers and their right to their opinions about books and the expression of those opinions (and yes, I suppose decrying the “You’re evil” comments may be seen as telling them they can’t share an opinion, but there’s a difference between “this book sucks” and “hey, you, reader, you personally suck, so burn in hell.” Attack the books if you want. Please don’t attack the readers; they are people with feelings, and have just as much right to choose books they enjoy as you do).
That I did not think of that is wrong. That I may have unwittingly or inadvertently hurt someone who took the time to read and review my book is unforgivable, and believe me when I say I feel absolutely sick about it. I am so, so sorry.
Which is another point, too: my warning about the content of the Downside books re drug use. My warning was largely intended for readers of the Demons books, who may have been expecting the new series to be more of the same. The Demons books have sold very well, and I get in general a few emails about them each month.
My desire to make sure fans of that series knew the differences between the two series, and did not buy something they wouldn’t be happy or comfortable with simply because it had my name on it was just that. I was attempting to not violate the trust my current readers, who often visit here and mention the blog in their emails, have or had in me.
The two series are very different, that’s all. I wasn’t attempting to control anyone or tell readers what to do or think. I simply didn’t want them to pick up a book by an author whose work has to that point been light-hearted and amusing and discover that it was something else entirely, something which might upset them. I wanted them to know that in this instance my name may not mean what they think it means. That’s all. Again, I apologize if that was the wrong thing to do, but it felt like the right thing; it felt like taking care of my readers and making them aware of something they might not have realized. It felt like not misleading them by claiming the books are something they aren’t.
That was the spirit in which it was meant, anyway.
I guess I’ve just fucked up all around, and I don’t really know what I can say or do about that.