Saturday, January 16, 2010

Creating Characters

Much has been made about the chronological discrepancies in the Sherlock Holmes stories. As I'm reading the first collection of short stories, Leslie Klinger, in the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, notes all the problems in the timeline. It's lucky Conan Doyle didn't have a rabid, online fan base to nitpick every new story like we do now.

Pulp author Robert E. Howard conceived of his most famous character, Conan, in 1932, while traveling around Texas. While I haven't read any but the first, "The Phoenix on the Sword," I know enough to write that Howard wrote and published the Conan stories as they occurred to him. That's why, if you read a collection of Conan stories arranged by publication date, the great barbarian is a king in one story, a young warrior in the next, and so on. One writer somewhere stated that the publication order of the Conan stories is like Howard telling you stories while sitting around a campfire.

The thing is, unless a writer makes a conscious effort to have certain characters firmly fleshed out before the first word is ever written, the process of writing reveals aspects of a character the writer never thought about. In addition, an author might have certain ideas about a character ready to go when the first word is written and, yet, never return to them in the course of writing the stories. Such is the case with the new Sherlock Holmes movie, the first Holmes novel, and the fact that Holmes was listed as an expert boxer.

I encountered something akin to this type of thing recently in my own writing. Last year, in a one-sitting fit, I created Calvin Carter, a railroad detective. I wrote his literal first adventure as a detective and the good folks at Beat to a Pulp thought the piece entertaining enough to publish it. You can find the link over there on the right. The things I had Carter say and do just came to me, as my fingers pecked at the keyboard. I can't say where they emerged only that the sheer amount of stuff I've consumed over the forty-year span of my life embeds things that just bubble up from time to time.

When it came time for me to write Carter's second story--now completed and in the editing process--I realized a template had been created for him. I hadn't set out to create one--like Charles Ardai did with Gabriel Hunt--and, frankly, still haven't. I knew one thing: the way he revealed his deductions was both intellectual and slightly show-offy (how's that for a fancy word?). I knew, as I approached that particular scene in Story #2 that Carter would present the facts in much the same way. And so he did. Interestingly, in the writing of Story #2, Carter revealed a few particulars about himself I didn't know. I've decided to start taking notes as I interact with Carter and create for him the Carter Bible, the tome where I can collect all the passing references I write for him. It'll be great fun to look back on in the future, especially if he takes me in a different direction.

How do you create your characters? Do you have them fully fleshed out ahead of time or do they grow and change as you write?

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Some will live and others die..."

It was my dad who awakened my love for crime fiction. He was the one who, for years, kept pushing this book called Mr Majestyk under my nose. Now, sure, the first Leonard novel I actually read was Get Shorty, but I like to think I came to the author because of my dad’s near fanatical love for his work (something which soon passed on to me).

I mention this because it was my dad who introduced me to a lot of great authors (and a lot of great music) as I got older. He had a kind of instinct for what I’d dig (and if my mum is to believed, its because we’re essentially the same person, but one of us has more grey in his beard).

Which is a roundabout way of telling you how this Christmas he got me Crime Story on DVD.

Crime Story, for those of you who don’t know, was a cult 80’s crime show starring Dennis Farina (and his ever brilliant moustache) as hair-trigger Chicago cop Michael Torrello. Which doesn’t sound too unique until you consider that what Mann and the show’s other creative forces were trying to do was tell a story over the course of a TV show.

Does that sound surprising?

In the pre-Wire world?

Hey, shouldn't all shows be doing that now?

In the eighties, of course, it just wasn’t something you did. You reset the show week after week to try and catch a new audience. You didn’t expect them to remember what had happened, didn’t expect them to cotton to changes in the characters.

This was the era, after all, that was to give us The A-Team.

All the same, Crime Story was ambitious for its era as it attempted to tell the dual story of Torrello’s obsession with catching criminal thug Ray Luca while at the same time detailing Luca’s rise to the top of the American Mafia (while never answering the question of how Luca’s hair so consistently defied gravity episode after episode).

Now, I’m a fan of Mann’s work but I’d never come across this show before, so I was intrigued to see it. Of course, I came in fully prepared for the limitations of 80’s network TV, and in some cases, I was right to prepare myself. There are some bizarre and unlikely resolutions to certain cases, and sometimes you can see the censors stepping in, but on the whole Crime Story is surprisingly gritty, particularly in its presentation of the Chicago Police Department of the 1960’s. Torrello and his boys get drunk, get laid, make mistakes, beat up on suspects, fly into rages and do all kinds of shit you just don’t expect from a network show of that era. Torrello himself is a particularly complex character and while you can chart Farrina’s finding his footing as an actor, he brings a kind of raw intensity to the role that works surprisingly well.

And then there’s the fact that the bad guys seem to get away most of the time with the shit they do. Sure, there are stand alone episodes like the TV killer that play out like a particularly dark version of almost any TV cop show, but when the focus is on Luca and Torrello’s back and forth, there’s a real sense of danger and that the balance of power could shift in either direction.

The show is packed to the brim with actors who were either already famous (the wondrous Pam Grier appears in a brilliant subplot that deals directly with racism and mixed-race relationships as well as the unique nature of the American “ghettos”) or would become so (David Caruso, Julia Roberts, Gary Sinise, Michael Madsen and Ving Rhames all pop up over the course of the show), and the sixties setting means the soundtrack is absolutely incredible, with particular love going to the title theme, Runaway, a song I’d heard before but never really appreciated.

But yes, there are problems. A mid season slump kicks in around Paul Guilfoyle’s appearance as a hostage-taking psychopath with a particularly implausible plot to sleepwalk through (it is one of the shows weakest episodes and nearly made me give up) while the plot recaps reach ludicrous proportions – nearly six minutes in one episode to get through the “previously on” while one particular mid-season episode is nothing more than a recap of the story so far. But then the show kicks back into high gear as it focuses on the Torrello/Luca dynamic and moves the action to Las Vegas. From there we get a string of brilliant episodes including a particularly surprising instalment which deals directly with a man raping his teenage daughter-in-law and does so in a way that deals with the issue as upfront as it possibly can given the restrictions of the time, and re-affirms Crime Story as the fore-runner to complex and gritty dramas such as Homicide and NYPD Blue and then, of course, The Sopranos and The Wire.

I’ve just kicked into the end of season one this evening, with a particular WTF moment on the very last disc. It’s an insane plot twist, I think, utterly out of left field (if you can avoid spoilers and haven’t seen the show before, it’ll really kick you in the nuts), but by this point I was so invested in the characters and the snaking arc of the show that I was just going with it, and trust me, I’ll be slipping season two into the player tomorrow.

Of course, if my agent’s reading this, only after I’m done with that work I should be doing…

Thursday, January 14, 2010


by Dave White

Got an ARC of this book in the mail a few weeks ago, and after I was done with Charlie Huston's SLEEPLESS, I decided to pick it up.

I didn't know what to expect when I started the book.

The book is about a Finnish Investigator who stumbles on the case of a murdered Somali actress. With nothing but a Swierczy recommendation, I opened to the first page.

I haven't been able to not sleep because of a book in a long time. What works about this novel is the voice. The narrator, Investigator Vaara, tells the story in present tense first person. The delivery is very matter of fact. Despite all that is going on in the first few chapters, the narration feels emotionless. Vaara tells you about his wife, his past, his family without flinching. He goes deep into Finland's culture and even though there is tragedy all around, you still feel that Vaara is apart from it all.

Until the novel keeps building. It took me over a hundred pages to realize what was going on. It wasn't that there was no emotion in the voice. It was that the voice was doing it's best to hold the emotion back. Much like all the Finns in the novel Vaara doesn't talk about his emotions. He tries his best not to even show them.

And when it all boils over... Man, that scene is fantastic.

The mystery is spot on too. There are plenty of red herrings and plots so fantastical, you want to believe them, but know better. Even Vaara gets sucked into the POSSIBILITY of what's going on.

There are incredible moments of violence. The book never shies away from what's going on.

I read it in two days. While revising and working.

It's a fantastic book and I can't wait to see what happens next in the series.

Highly, highly recommended. This book rocks.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Bloody Muddle

John McFetridge

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of James Crumley. Great stuff. I’d never read Crumley before so I started at the beginning with One to Count Cadence and he was really good right out of the gate. The novel has a great voice.

The one that gets mentioned the most, of course, is The Last Good Kiss and people usually talk about its great opening line, "When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon," and the book is full of those kinds of lines.

This one stopped me:

“Stories are like snapshots, son, pictures snapped out of time,” he said, “with clean, hard edges. But this was life, and life always begins and ends in a bloody muddle, womb to tomb, just one big mess, a can of worms left to rot in the sun.”

Now that’s just a great definition of a story – a snapshot with clean, hard edges.

From now on when I think of where to start the story I’ll think about the snapshot with the clean, hard edges. I won’t start the story in the “bloody muddle” before and I won’t keep going out past the hard edge.

It’s a little trickier than just that, of course. The temptation in crime fiction would be to start with the crime and finish with the solution – those would be the easiest clean, hard edges. But most crime fiction, most literature, is trying to be more like life, so there’s probably going to be a little of the “bloody muddle,” a little of the, “big mess,” that is life.

But how much?

It’s always a personal choice, of course, so finding the right balance is part of finding your voice.

On an unrelated note; CBS announced its schedule until the summer and there was no sign of The Bridge.

A news report said:

CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler said the fact that "The Bridge" missed this latest chance to join her schedule is simply a factor of CBS having "more content then we had real estate for." She says CBS has 18 episodes of "Flashpoint" and 13 episodes of "The Bridge" to draw on when a time slot opens up.

The Bridge should air in Canada sometime after the Olympics. It may yet show up on CBS in the summer, or maybe even on a cable network, the way Southland is now on TNT.

Here’s hoping.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Four Colour Crime

By Jay Stringer

Crime fiction in comic books has been resurgent lately, with some of the highest profile creators turning to noir and hardboiled tales. Next week I'll be taking a look at the classics of modern crime comics. But first up, i want to take a look backwards. Have you noticed how many of the reviews for the new Sherlock Holmes movie have mentioned that Holmes was one of the first superheroes? Y'see, capes and cowls might seem a million miles away from hardboiled fiction, but they’re both part of the same twisted pulp family. Blood brothers, in fact.

There was already a long tradition of serialised crime fiction before the explosion of pulp in the 1920’s. The dime novels of America and penny dreadfuls of Britain had been full of detectives and villains, from Nick Carter to Fu Manchu. Two other key characters to appear at this point were The Shadow and Doc Savage. These two characters helped shape what would eventually become super hero comics, but it didn’t happen straight away.

The hardboiled adventures still reigned supreme at this point, with Dick Tracey appearing hot on the heels of The Maltese Falcon. The two regular titles, Action Comics and Detective Comics, were anthology titles that depicted the four colour adventures of Slam Bradley and Speed Saunders. Self contained detective stories that were largely derivative of Chandler and Hammett.

The real change came right at the end of the 1930’s. In the space of 18 months, with the debuet’s of Superman in Action Comics and Batman in Detective Comics. They both owed debts to Doc Savage, and Batman was a direct descended of The Shadow. The industry was turned on its head and has never looked back, almost straight away the two new super heroes had taken over the anthology titles they had appeared in, and the detective stories were relegated to backup material. More and more costumed superheroes followed, and the pulps were being replaced by a new medium.

Crime still had a strong hold in the medium, but it was second fiddle to the brighter and bolder hero comics. Even Batman’s dark pulp world was giving way to bright colours and rocket ships. Key hold outs for crime fans were Crime Doesn't Pay (1942-1955) and Crime Suspenstories (1950-1955.) The stories became increasingly lurid, and a key difference emerged between comics and prose; It’s one thing to describe a dark deed in prose fiction, but comics had the ability to show the event happening. Parents started to show concern.

The genre was driven further from the mainstream in the 1950’s, when Dr Frederic Wertham released a damning report called ‘the seduction of the innocent’. As well as stating that Superman made children feel inferior, and that Batman and Robin promoted homosexuality, Wertham spared his true wrath for crime and horror comics. Following the senate subcommittee that followed, crime comics were pushed almost underground, and any realistic portrayal of crime vanished from mainstream books for a generation. We might like to think that the report was purely the product of the McCarthy era, and that such ideas would get laughed out of court today. But look at the press given to video games and violent films, and musicians getting blamed for the acts of every maladjusted teenager.

There were sporadic attempts to bring crime fiction back to the forefront of the comic book medium through the 1960’s and early seventies, when Warren (home of Vampirella) started publishing Creepy in 1964. The title would hold a massive influence on mainstream superhero books, after breaking in talents such as Archie Goodwin, Doug Moench, Neal Adams, Steve Ditko and Frank Frazetta. Many of these stories are collected now in the Creepy Archives, and I recommend them for a great mix of horror and crime.

At the same time, even in these titles there was a lack of real urban hardboiled crime. Artists and publishers still shied away from anything to realistic or gritty, and certainly didn’t want to be accused of telling anything from the criminals point of view.

Second chances can come from the strangest places. America had been through Vietnam and Watergate. The world didn’t look quite the same, and it was the superhero books that started to open the door to crime. Writer Denny O’Neil teamed with artist Neal Adams to bring Batman back to the shadows. The streets were mean enough for a generation of readers who were getting Chinatown and The French Connection. Cinema trends in blaxploitation and Kung Fu movies were bleeding through; characters like Blade, Iron Fist and Power Man, while not especially gritty at the time, were showing a new breed of street level character could make it into the four colour world. Frank Miller took the influence of crime fiction and film noir, and ran a hundred miles with it when he started his run on Daredevil. Hidden away on a low selling book with a minor character, he crafted true superhero noir. If you want to see the perfect marriage between capes and crime, I recommend you find this run. It’s available in omnibus editions direct from Marvel Comics. After decades of dancing around each other, it was getting harder to ignore the obvious; that the hero books and the crime books were kin.

Next week, a Jim Gordon gets down and dirty, Ms. Tree kicks some ass and Marv forgets his medication. There will be criminals, sleepers, goldfish, and a brand new private eye on the block. I'll probably gush about Scalped again, too.

Same bat-time, same bat-channel, right?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Interviewing Hilary Davidson - The MacGyver of Murder

By Steve Weddle

What do David Foster Wallace, New Orleans cemeteries, and Pompeii brothels have in common? Hilary Davidson. (I figured I'd just tell you, right? I mean, c'mon.) Davidson's debut fiction, THE DAMAGE DONE, is due out in October, but it's hardly her first book. The Canadian New Yorker has written about 20 nonfiction books and a gazillion travel articles, interned at HARPER'S, and is now one of the busiest freelancers around.

Oh, and she's a heck of a crime writer. But to say Hilary Davidson writes about crime is like saying Casablanca was a war movie. The characters and stories she develops transcend any genre, digging their fingernails into the back of your soul, dragging their way down into the core of your being.
Her stories have appeared in CrimeSpree, Beat to a Pulp, Thuglit, and many others.

Steve Weddle: Though THE DAMAGE DONE, due October 2010, is your first novel, you’ve written 20 non-fiction books, articles for 40 magazines, and gobs of stories. How is the anticipation for the novel different? Does it feel all new all over again?

Hilary Davidson: I've been excited about getting work published in the past, but the thrill from fiction is the greatest. Aside from some essays and interviews I've done, the journalism has a limited shelf life. Most of the books I've written have been travel guides for Frommer's, and while I love finding new places to write about and mapping out walking tours, I know that people eventually toss those books away. I'm really hoping that they don't do that with THE DAMAGE DONE!

SW: Did you begin thinking about writing violent, brutal, murderous fiction when you worked as an intern at HARPER’S MAGAZINE in the 90s? What was that like?

HD: Working at HARPER'S was an incredible experience, because I got to work with people who were at the top of their game. Lewis Lapham was the editor-in-chief then, and the magazine was publishing pieces by writers like David Foster Wallace, who would come into the office to work and hang out. He was writing what became his very famous piece on cruise ships then, and I was supposed to help him out by doing the extra bits of research. It turned out that he didn't need a researcher but a sounding board, as he'd written a 40,000-word story. Listening to him talk and watching him cut pages of gorgeous prose was an education in itself.

But hanging around with geniuses made me see my own writing dreams as completely out of reach. I wanted to be practical, and I figured that, if I were lucky, I'd go home to Toronto and get an editing job. That's exactly what I did, but things didn't work out as I'd planned. Magazine editing was interesting, but I wanted to write. I pitched stories to my magazine, and they laughed at most of them. Then, one day, I scored with an idea that they loved... and they assigned it to a freelance writer. Frustrated, I started freelancing for The Globe and Mail, a national newspaper in Canada. The more I wrote for them, the more I felt like I could make a go of a writing career.

I was terrified about quitting my job, because I was single and had no idea how I'd support myself if the writing didn't pan out. I waited to quit until I lined up steady gigs with different magazines. I ended up being really fortunate as a freelancer, but being too busy was my excuse for not writing fiction for years. I'd write bits and pieces, but until I started treating fiction the way I treated journalism, I got nothing finished.

SW: What have you learned as a freelancer that has helped you with your fiction?

HD: The most useful thing is the most boring: routine. I've been self-employed for 11 years, and if I didn't stick to my very dull writing routine, I'd get nothing done. When I started working on fiction, I waited for inspiration to strike, and it took me a long time to acknowledge that my inspired days were few and far between.

I also learned to deal with rejection, because I’ve had so much of it. Everyone tells you not to take rejection personally, which is easier said than done. The key thing is not to let a story rot in your computer because someone said no. My rule is that a rejected story gets sent out again within 24 hours.

SW: In addition to your travel writing and your fiction, you also write about celiac disease. What the heck is that?

HD: It took me a long time to find out. Celiac disease is a genetic disorder that roughly 1 in 100 people have, but hardly anyone has heard of it. It causes an autoimmune reaction when you eat gluten, which is in wheat, barley, and rye. I was sick for years with headaches, stomach problems, ulcers, and joint pain, and finally got tested for celiac in 2004. The only treatment is a gluten-free diet. My health problems cleared up after being on the diet for a few weeks.

The months after I was diagnosed were an odd time. I was overjoyed at feeling well for the first time in my life, but sad because I assumed that my career as a travel writer was over. I felt like I'd never eat out at a restaurant again, let alone visit another country. But as I got used to eating gluten-free and learned what to avoid, I got bolder. The irony was, when I started traveling again, I learned it was easier to eat gluten-free in Europe and South America than it is in North America. I started a website in March 2008, the Gluten-Free Guidebook, to help other celiacs who wanted to travel. I shared things I'd found, and that led to people from different countries sending me tips and writing up reports about their cities or countries. It's been incredible. Now that the gluten-free diet has become trendy, there's a lot of interest in the subject.

SW: What is in the room with you right now that you could use to kill someone? In a story, I mean, since you’re no longer an intern and, presumably, aren’t as keen to murder anyone.

HD: Let's see... there's my antique letter opener, which could double as a dagger, and I have some cables lying around that I could use to garrote someone. There are a couple of gargoyle bookends that would deliver quite the blow to the head, and a brass picture frame with sharp edges that cut deep. That's just at my desk, for starters. Think of me as the MacGyver of murder.

SW: Did you learn anything as a restaurant reviewer for Toronto Life that will make my life easier when I’m dining out? Tips? Tricks? Secret code words?

HD: I wish! The key to being a truly good restaurant reviewer is never to let the restaurant know you're writing a review. I've written chef profiles for dining magazines, and I know what tricks they pull when they see you coming. It's not like they can magically cook better food, but they will have waiters fussing over you, they'll send little amuse-bouche plates out of the kitchen, and your wineglass will never be empty.

SW: When you toured the cemeteries in New Orleans, were you impressed by the number of crypts, as opposed to dug graves? Did you get a chance to tour any of the crypts?

HD: You've just hit my little secret: I love cemeteries, and I seek them out wherever I travel. I have a soft spot for New Orleans, because my first-ever freelance feature was about St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. I got a full dose of the folklore -- including the tale of how voodoo priestess Marie Laveau's daughter was struck dead by a bolt of lightning in the middle of a midnight ceremony -- and got to see inside a few crypts. Creepiest fact? Crypts could be rented. It takes about a year for a body to be "naturally cremated," as they put it. Then you can rent the crypt out again.

I try to work my fascination with cemeteries into my work, both with fiction and nonfiction. I put a tour of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn into my New York guidebook, and there's a lot about graveyards in the Toronto guidebook I write every year. I blame my cemetery love on the fact that I grew up in Toronto. There's a huge cemetery there called Mount Pleasant, and people use it like a public park. You can't visit it without seeing cyclists and people with those jogger baby strollers. Toronto is a strange, gothic place.

SW: I read somewhere that you did some work in a brothel in Pompeii. Is that something you can discuss?

HD: I have to admit, I got there more than 1,900 years too late to see the place in action, but even the post-Vesuvius scene was very interesting. The brothel had great frescoes, including several that were painted above certain doorways. The frescoes advertised the sexual specialty of the lady working in each room. Outside, down the street, a penis was etched into the stone to guide travelers there. You can't beat ancient Rome for decadence.

SW: What makes crime fiction appealing to readers and writers?

HD: There are probably as many different answers as there are readers. For me, there's something elemental about crime fiction. I mean that when you take a character and strip away the normal social mores and conventions, what remains is raw and unpredictable. As a reader, I want to see them get there -- or else learn how they got there.

When I think about the novels I enjoyed reading last year, I remember characters more than I do plots. I'm thinking of books like Megan Abbott's BURY ME DEEP, Jason Starr's FAKE I.D., Sophie Littlefield's A BAD DAY FOR SORRY, Dave Zeltserman's PARIAH and Sean Chercover's BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD -- I'd follow their main characters anywhere. Ken Bruen's LONDON BOULEVARD grabbed me the second I picked it up, like all of Bruen’s books do, because of the character's voice. Their characters live on in my head.

As a writer, crime fiction lets me put characters into extreme situations and access powerful emotions. When THE DAMAGE DONE begins, my main character, Lily, has just come back to New York because she's been told that her sister, Claudia, is dead. Then Lily discovers that the body belongs to a stranger who'd stolen her sister's identity, and that her sister is missing. Claudia is a grifter and an addict, and Lily doesn't know whether she's playing a deadly con game or if she's in trouble. Hunting for Claudia forces Lily into some ugly situations, and makes her dredge up parts of her past -- like their mother's suicide -- that she'd rather keep buried.

SW: What’s your favorite room in your house?

HD: My husband and I live in a one-bedroom apartment in New York, so I don't have many rooms to choose from. But my favorite place to be is at our dining table. We have a row of south-facing windows that make me feel like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. I haven't bought a telescope to watch my neighbors with... yet.


For more on Hilary Davidson, check out her site.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Seeing Stars

by Mike Knowles

As time goes on, I think I’m getting a thicker skin. Good reviews don’t make me jump up and down and bad reviews don’t bug me much. I wrote before on the blog about how I hated reviews that didn’t clearly give an opinion on the book, but this week I have decided that I hate something more. I hate the anonymous star reviews that pop up on different websites. Now to be fair, I haven’t done that bad in the star department. It’s usually hit or miss for me.

My issue with the star system is it’s ambiguity. The stars are there, but not why and the why makes all the difference. When I was thinking about this topic, I was reminded of an episode of Frasier I saw once. Frasier watched a panel of people listen to his show and everyone liked him except one person. The one guy had only one thing to say, “I hate him.” Frasier completely disregards all of the positive comments and begins stalking the one negative reviewer until he can get him to clarify his statement. The stars make me want to do the same thing.

Let’s be honest, the stars are dual purposed. They are to let the members of whatever site they appear on have a voice. But, the stars are also a marketing tool for the writers. There isn’t a lot of ways to make someone read or buy your book if you are an unknown and so writers hope that the presence of a few stars under their titles might sway a passerby into a purchase.

Problem is, not everyone reviews what they have read and those that do often do not justify the number of stars they graded the book with. I’ve never reviewed a book online. I buy plenty, but I don’t go back after I’ve read a good book and let the site know. I usually let the market know by buying more of the same writer’s stuff. I think that is a pretty common response to online book buying.

I think people are really more likely to make it a point to go back to report on something if they hated it. Think of a really good meal you had in a restaurant. I mean really good. Good food, good wine, good service. How often do you pull the manager aside, or the chef, to give him a fist bump? Conversely, how likely are you to speak with the manager if your meal is terrible. I’d say unhappiness breeds more criticism than satisfaction.

The lack of detail of a star review is also an issue for me. I’ve done this before, and not to get on a whole food rant, but let’s take my wife’s cooking for example. Last Sunday, my wife made orichetta with walnuts and broccoli topped with a parmesan and a butter sauce. If I were going to rate my wife’s dish, it would be a one star plate of food. Doesn’t sound like she can cook from my review does it?. But what if I told you that I hate broccoli, I find hand made orichetta pasta to be too small and its texture slimy and creepy, and that I don’t like butter on pasta. The dish was never going to be a winner with me. Never had a chance. It could have been the best possible representation of the dish in the world. I don’t like the components, so how would I like the finished product?

In the same vein, if a cosy reader or a James Patterson fan picked up one of my books, it probably won’t be what they are used to or even what they may like. Their star review will be as low as mine was for my wife’s cooking. But if they put a comment in like “too violent” or “too dark” or “not for cosy lovers.” Other people might see the review differently. I wouldn’t mind a book that would shock a cosy lover. In fact, I might buy a book that someone else thought was too dark.

When you read this, keep in mind my whole take on the star thing could be just one guy’s bitter reaction to criticism. Maybe my book sucks and I just hate hearing it, and I am being petulant. But for the sake of argument, and this blog, let’s just go with the assumption that I rock and everyone else is wrong.