Sunday, September 15, 2013

Unforgivable Curses

There have been some interesting discussions on the author-critic dynamic of late.

This appeared on a now-defunct forum and I'm reposting with permission of the author.


Unforgivable Curses

Because I’m such a muggle I can’t get myself a life sentence simply by uttering one of three different words or phrases. You know, crucio, or that one that sounds like abracadabra. As a writer though, I can get myself chased by a sizable horde of internet villagers, complete with pitchforks and torches, with a simple unforgivable phrase. For the wizard it’s all about the exact wording and pronunciation (it’s not leviosa, it’s leviosa), for the writer it’s less about the words and more about where you put them. If you place them in the comments section of a negative review... bang!

Now common sense and anecdote are sufficient to furnish a writer with the notion that replying to negative reviews is by and large a waste of time. The reviewer has an opinion, they’re perfectly entitled to it, and they’re incredibly unlikely to change it because of anything you’ve got to say about the matter.  Couldn’t convince them in 400 pages? 5 more lines isn’t going to swing it.

On the flip side, readers of the review will add their comments as invited, and many of them will have different opinions about the book in hand. We like to read those different opinions – that’s why the comments section is there. So why should a writer avoid commenting on a negative review of their own book? Answer: “Escalation”. It will often be the case that one comment leads to a reply and, step-by-step along a path paved with less-than-good intentions, the exchange descends into flames.

However, things seem to have moved on. Somewhere along the line the concept that a writer is ill-advised to comment on a negative review seems to have morphed into a law that a writer may not comment on a negative review, and that if they do they have committed some crime for which they must not be forgiven and must be punished. Even slight and innocuous incidents, occasions where someone who knows the writer might have commented, occasions where fans of the writer’s work may have commented, become celebrated events. Twitter lights up. Fevered messages are exchanged. The details are utterly unimportant – someone has committed the unforgivable crime and the troops must be marshaled  WTF, they say. The shops run short of exclamation points and question marks. It’s a fete day, people unfold their blankets and open picnic hampers to watch the train wreck. Indignant goodfolk declare they were on the very verge of buying that self same book but now wouldn’t piss on the writer in question were they on fire. The hit squad sets off for Goodreads to set up new accounts and dole out a ritual punishment of 1*s. It’s another happy day of righteous anger.

Rewind. The writer has done something that’s ill-advised because it may lead to an exchange that reflects poorly on them. They haven’t scanned and posted their klu-klux-klan membership card. They haven’t reversed over a baby and driven away howling with laughter... They haven’t yet even had a heated exchange that reflects poorly on them. The reviewer is happier than any Larry you care to mention because site traffic is through the roof and that the person whose book they didn’t like has taken the trouble to register their opinion. The reviewer is not sitting in a shaded corner surrounded by concerned well-wishers as they fan themselves and try to recover from the shock. They have not been intimidated by BIG WRITING.

Unprofessional!  scream the fevered masses. How dare this person open their mouth in the place where comments are invited? How can they live with themselves having let down the side and brought shame upon the well ordered ranks of famously conventional law-abiding folk that constitute the writing fraternity, those regimented pros who make the ancient order of chartered accountants look like wild anarchists on an acid trip. For shame. Weep. Were we only to bind the corpses of the world’s literary giants with copper wire the energy crisis would be finished, so fast must they be spinning in their graves at the thought of an unprofessional writer.

So here’s the thing. I’m not a rebel without a cause. I’m not saying look at me I’m craaaaazy, how cool is that. But I’m also not going to be dictated to about what I can and can’t say and where I can and can’t say it by the internet police, however self-appointed they may be and however shiny the badge they made. If I want to respond to a negative review - and 99% of the time I don’t – then I will.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Doing Doodles

So there are signed books, and everyone seems to like those. A signature takes 3 seconds and can triple the price of a book (or more, depending where you try to buy them). But for the real devotee there are doodled books! Like all collectables the added value is in the eye of the beholder, something ineffable. A first edition really isn't any different from a second edition (there are often far more first editions than second or third). A signature is just a tiny smear of ink) but it's a connection to the author above and beyond the mechanically reproduced words, and people like it. A signed first edition of some famous book from a few decades back can fetch tens of thousands. True, mine are unlikely to ever be worth more than a nice meal, but hey - they will last longer!

A doodle is something more. Not a signature that's bashed out thousands of times, but something chosen and executed with imagination, something that took time and thought. It may not be great art, but it's far more personal than a signature.

There's a site Doodled Books that sells doodled books by all manner of authors. Some of them are very good, some very funny, and some even both. Anyway, it takes a helluva lot longer than a signature and they pay me £5 ($7.50) for doing one, but I enjoy scribbling and each one is a book sold and more than that it's a book someone is going to keep and look after.

So, if you want one here are the kind of things on offer. Go check 'em out!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Next Jo Fletcher Books Giveaway: The Snowmelt River by Frank P. Ryan!

Previous winners yet to claim their prizes:

ally r (Irenicon)
Roger Bellini (The Vampire Shrink and Blood Therapy)

Remember to send your snail mail address to Mazarkis (dot) Williams (at) gmail (dot) com! Thanks!

On to this week's contest: The Snowmelt River by Frank P. Ryan!

Awesome cover, right? You want it, right?

On the summit of the fabled mountain Slievenamon in Ireland there is a doorway to an ancient land of terrible power. The gate of Feimhin has lain closed for centuries, the secret of its opening long lost. But now four orphans drawn together by Fate must pass through the portal to face their destinies. What they find beyond is the enchanted but war-ravaged world of Tír, a strange land populated by monsters. Here death waits at every corner and they must learn to fight if they are to survive. And they'd better learn quickly, because their enemy, the Tyrant of the Wastelands, is growing in power.

Listen up, U.S. people! This book is not available here! This is your chance to get your paws on it.

But of course I'll make you work for it. Come up with a cool monster for me and you will be entered to win the book. Good luck!

+ + +

This contest is now closed. The winner is Richard Auffrey! Congratulations!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

This Week's Giveaway: Double-Duty The Vampire Shrink Paperback & Blood Therapy Trade Paperback!

 This week is double duty with two (2) Lynda Hilburn books! The Vampire Shrink and Blood Therapy are here for you to win! What if you were a psychologist and your clients thought they were vampires?

Kismet Knight is a young psychologist with a growing clinical practice, and she's always looking for something to give her the edge in her chosen career. When her new client turns out to be a Goth teenager who desperately wants to become a vampire, Kismet is inspired to become the vampire shrink, offering her services to people who believe they are undead. Kismet herself, as a scientist, knows it's hokum, but she's looking at it in a purely psychoanalytic light, already imagining the papers she's going to write on this strange subculture.

That's until she meets the leader of a vampire coven, a sexy, mysterious man who claims to be a powerful 800-year-old vampire, and she is pulled into a whirlwind of inexplicable events that start her questioning everything she once believed about the paranormal.

OK to enter this week's contest, please come up with a name and personality for a vampire! On Friday I will roll my die and choose a winner. The winner will please please send me his/her/hir mailing info to

Mazarkis (dot) Williams (at) gmail (dot) com,

and the wonderful Nicola Budd at Jo Fletcher Books will then send his/her/hir copies! Easy!

Previous winners who have not yet claimed their books:

Ally r (Irenicon)
Johann Pollard (City's Son)

Follow the instructions above to get your copies!

Thanks and good luck!


This competition is now closed. The winner is Roger Bellini! Congratulations!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Waiting for Nemo

I have seen the epic satellite photo of the storm that's hovering over me right now, but all I get from it at the moment is sinus pressure. Still, in the spirit of cataloguing this historic event, I have begun to take pictures a few hours apart. Right now I've only two, this one
which shows my car shortly after the state of emergency was declared, and this one
taken three hours later. Nothing too bad yet. If my car isn't so interesting here's a better picture my sister took from the attic with all our New England-y rooftops.

More later! The subway and commuter trains have already shut down for the day and nobody is allowed on the roads after 4. Should get interesting, or we have crawled to a halt for no reason.

Update: Well Nemo seems to be here. I took these pics

The first at 5:00, and there was very little change from 3:00. But just now (at 11) I could not get the screen open, for it was coated with snow and frozen shut. The biggest snows are supposed to fall between now and 5:00 am, twice as much as we got already. We'll see if that happens.


Well we certainly got a lot of snow, and it's still snowing as of 10:40 am. Here's what my car looks like now:

Fun times!

Monday, February 4, 2013

This Week's Jo Fletcher Books Giveaway: The City's Son by Tom Pollock!

Important notice: I am still searching for one of my winners. The user known as Ally r won a copy of Irenicon by Aidan Harte!

This week's Jo Fletcher Books giveaway is a trade paperback copy of The City's Son by Tom Pollock! I'm very excited about this one because my son loves it. But you don't have to believe him - look at this starred review from Publisher's Weekly!

*"Glittering and gritty . . . Gorgeously written and brimming with bizarre urban creatures, this darkly imagined and sometimes painful tale should delight fans of Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, and Holly Black."

Running away from her traitorous best friend and her distant father, teenage graffiti artist Beth Bradley is looking for a new home. What she finds is Filius, the ragged crown prince of London’s underworld—a place where glassy spiders steal voices on telephone wires, railwraiths terrorize the train tubes, and deadly scaffwolves stalk the shadows.

Reach, the malign god of demolition, is on a rampage, destroying the creatures of hidden London to lay claim to the skyscraper throne. Caught up in helping Filius raise an alleyway army to battle Reach, Beth soon forgets her old life. But when the enemy claims her best friend, Beth must choose between the acceptance she finds in the streets and the life she left behind.

I think Skyscraper Throne is a great name for a series. There are lots of fantastical thrones out there, from my own Petal Throne to George R R Martin's Iron Throne. So I have an idea. Name your own fantasy/SF throne to enter this contest.

On Friday I will pull out one of my many-sided dice and roll up a winner. The winner will email his/her/hir address (I hope) to Mazarkis (dot) Williams (at) gmail (dot) com and shortly thereafter receive his/her/hir copy.

Good luck!


This contest has now ended. We had some great throne ideas! The winner is Johann Pollard! Congratulations! Please sending your snail mail info to mazarkis (dot) williams (at) gmail (dot) com!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Next JFB Giveaway: Blood's Pride by Evie Manieri!

Congratulations to Archaism, the winner of Mage's Blood! He will be receiving his free book soon. Previous winners:

Ally r (Irenicon)

Emmanuel Sanya (The Pilgrims)

Congratulations! Ally and Emmanuel, please send your mailing info to Mazarkis (dot) Williams (at) gmail (dot) com for your free copies.

Today's giveaway is Blood's Pride by Evie Manieri!

This book has not been released yet in the United States! Americans, jump on this and get a first look + the British cover!

Rising from their sea-torn ships like vengeful, pale phantoms, the Norlanders laid waste to the Shadar under cover of darkness. They forced the once-peaceful fisher folk into slavery and forged an alliance with their former trading partners, the desert-dwelling Nomas tribe, cutting off any hope of salvation.

Now, two decades after the invasion, a rebellion gathers strength in the dark corridors of the city. A small faction of Shadari have hired the Mongrel, an infamous mercenary, to aid their fledgling uprising--but with her own shadowy ties to the region, she is a frighteningly volatile ally. Has she really come to lead a revolution, or for a more sinister purpose all her own?

This book features a desert-dwelling peoples named the Nomas. To win a copy of Blood's Pride, please name another desert culture from a sci fi or fantasy book. On Friday I will roll a die and randomly pick a winner! Good luck!


This giveaway has ended. The winner is Periklis Begzos. Congratulations!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Next JFB Giveaway: Mage's Blood by David Hair

Important Note before We Begin!

Our previous winners are:

Ally r (Irenicon)

Emmanuel Sanya (The Pilgrims)

Congratulations! Ally and Emmanuel, please send your mailing info to Mazarkis (dot) Williams (at) gmail (dot) com for your free copies.

Clearly I need a better way to contact my winners.

On to business. Today's giveaway is Mage's Blood by David Hair!

Most of the time the Moontide Bridge lies deep below the sea, but every 12 years the tides sink and the bridge is revealed, its gates open for trade. The Magi are hell-bent on ruling this new world, and for the last two Moontides they have led armies across the bridge on 'crusades' of conquest. Now the third Moontide is almost here and, this time, the people of the East are ready for a fight ... but it is three seemingly ordinary people that will decide the fate of the world.

That was pretty short, so I'll add some reviews. I see Amazon smunched his reviews together into one paragraph as they did to me. I separated them here for easier reading:

'The writing is crisp, the characters full of vigour and desires which when they become banded together really gives the story something to focus upon as the bonds grow stronger' Falcata Times. 
'This is one of those books that is so epic, that gets you so involved and is such an investment in time and emotion, that there is a little sting of regret that the ending had to come at all and you immediately want to go back to the beginning and see how much riper it is second time around' British Fantasy Society. 
'This book has the best parts of the epic fantasy genre and adding to that also has a conflict that promises to be epic' Fantasy Book Critic.

So you want this book, right? Respond below with a cool name for a bridge ("Moontide" and "Bridge of Despair" are already taken), and I will enter you into the contest. Friday I will announce the winner so stay tuned!


This contest is now closed. The winner is archaism! Archaism, please send your mailing info (see instructions above).

Friday, January 11, 2013

Giveaway: The Pilgrims

This week's Jo Fletcher Books giveaway is The Pilgrims (paperback) by Will Elliott.

Here's the copy:

Eric Albright, a twenty-six-year-old unemployed journalist, and Stuart Casey, a homeless old drunk, fall through a door in a graffiti-covered wall into the strange world of Levall, where a mountain-sized dragon with the powers of a god lies sleeping beneath a great white castle. Here they are the otherworlders, Pilgrims, and their lives are never going to be the same again. 

In the castle the sinister Lord Vous rules with an iron fist as the Project, designed to effect his transformation into an immortal spirit, nears completion. But Vous' growing madness is close to consuming him, as is his fear of the imaginary being named 'Shadow'. And the arrival of the otherworlders in Levall is about to lend substance to that fear. 

No one has ever seen what lies beyond the impossibly vast Wall that divides Levall, but the Pilgrims possess powers strong enough to break it down. If they do, what will enter from the other side? Will Elliott's brilliantly subversive and creative imagination twists the conventions of the genre to create an unforgettable alternate-world fantasy.

Same deal as last week: You have seven days to comment on this blog and be entered into the contest. This time let's make it a bit more interesting - tell me what you think happens after the events in the copy (e.g., "the dragon eats them").

Next Friday I will roll my die (whichever kind is appropriate - I have many) and choose a winner. If you win, you will send your mailing info to me at Mazarkis (dot) Williams (at) gmail (dot) com. But I won't send the book - the amazing Nicola Budd over at JFB will do that much faster than I ever could. Approximately one week later you will have your Pilgrims paperback!

Good luck.


This contest is now closed. The winner is Emmanuel Sanya.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A (hooded) man of many covers...

He was Mark Charan Newton's hooded man first on The Book of Transformations, he turned left and suddenly found himself striding the Cerana sands bearing The Emperor's Knife on my cover. With an about turn to the right he menaced the world from Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon and found himself talking in Polish. A beat later and the man's spouting fluent Spanish from Robin Hobb's excellent Assassin's Apprentice.

Who is this masked hooded man? Where will he turn up next? Where else has he been already?

Putting to one side the issue of this stock-character-of-easy-virtue I hope that the fact four such varied and fine (though I say it myself) novels lurk behind his menace is a fact that puts fresh shine on the well-worn directive never to judge a book by its cover.

I'm offering a prize of arguably huge value (call it a bounty) to the first person to spot our man in action on any other covers, and a prize of immeasurably less value to anyone who finds an example of cover re-use involving 5 or more covers!

Monday, January 7, 2013

News and Events

Hey there,

Teresa Frohock has the results of her gender-bending experiment posted on her blog. The results, it turns out, are what you would expect from random guessing. Her experiment suggests that one cannot tell from prose whether the writer was a man or a woman.

Meanwhile I have a guest post over at A Dribble of Ink, in which I discuss publishing with an unknown gender.

Don't forget to enter the competition for a copy of Irenicon.

Finally, I forgot to show off what my sister made me for Christmas:

It's a t-shirt! Jealous? I'm afraid to wear it.

Next blog post: fantasy book covers, or more specifically, why does the man who appears on TEK keep wandering around other peoples' covers?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Irenicon Giveaway

Get ready, for we Jo Fletcher authors are going to be giving away each others' books! This week I will be giving away Irenicon by Aidan Harte.

The river Irenicon was blasted through the middle of Rasenna in 1347 and now it is a permanent reminder to the feuding factions that nothing can stand in the way of the Concordian Empire. The artificial river, created overnight by Concordian engineers using the Wave, runs uphill. But the Wave is both weapon and mystery; not even the Concordians know how the river became conscious - and hostile. But times are changing. Concordian engineer Captain Giovanni is ordered to bridge the Irenicon - not to reunite the sundered city, but to aid Concord's mighty armies, for the engineers have their sights set firmly on world domination and Rasenna is in their way. 

Sofia Scaglieri will soon be seventeen, when she will become Contessa of Rasenna, but her inheritance is tainted: she can see no way of stopping the ancient culture of vendetta which divides her city. What she can't understand is why Giovanni is trying so hard to stop the feuding, or why he is prepared to risk his life, not just with her people, but also with the lethal water spirits - the buio - that infest the Irenicon. Times are changing. And only the young Contessa and the enemy engineer Giovanni understand they have to change too, if they are to survive the coming devastation - for Concord is about to unleash the Wave again...

Just add your comment below, and when the week is up, I will roll a d6 or d20 or d100 (whatever's appropriate) and there will be a winner! (Books will efficiently be mailed by Nicola Budd of Jo Fletcher Books, instead of inefficiently by me.)

Good luck!

UPDATE This contest is now closed. Rolling . . . 

The winner is ally r! Please send mailing info to mazarkis (dot) williams (at) gmail (dot) com. Congratulations!

Quick Observations Regarding the Gender Bending Contest

On Monday I'll be posting a longer blog regarding Teresa Frohock's amazing guess-the-gender contest, but for now, I just want to jot down what I've observed so far. As you might know, the contest involves guessing whether a man or a woman wrote the excerpt or short in question. Ten pieces went up and hundreds of guesses were made.

Some who guessed male or female then offered a reason why. Though some went off into the realm of the weird, and some were just gaming it (figuring that if more male authors were participating, they'd be more likely to win by guessing male), on the whole the guessers were helpful and insightful. I sorted the reasons into eight general categories.

Treatment of Emotions. The people who mentioned emotions almost always indicated their belief that a female author was more likely to focus on them. Were they right? We'll know on Monday. (Maybe.)


“I'm gonna go with male because it sounds like it's written with a male voice. In particular, there is a terrible situation that arises, but there isn't any kind of embellishment and instead leaves the emotions up to the reader instead of describing what the characters are feeling.”

“. . . A lady. As for [t]he why, the focus is strongly on the emotions.”

External rather than Internal Truths, Conflicts, or Solutions. These guessers assumed a male would focus on external things while a female would go internal.


“Well, like everyone else this story threw me for a loop. But really, the emotion that should be there, isn't and this avoiding of internal truth and rather find an external truth for an internal problem seems much more in line with male writing ...”

Guessers' Prior Experience with Reading Male or Female Authors For these commenters, if the writing sounded to them like male or female authors they had read before, they went with that.


“The passage was confident and well paced and seemed to have a really strong idea of its main character. While that could apply to either gender, a female author is the gender more closely attuned to that description.”

Perceptions of How Characters' Genders were Depicted Both males and females noticed what they thought were uncharacteristic gender behaviors in the stories, and thus assumed the writer to be the opposite sex from the character - or else they perceived an accurate depiction and assumed a same-sex writer. I had a few problems with that, but fair enough. I learned a few things.


“I feel like this [writer] is female. I don't typically envision men shrieking as most aren't really capable of hitting registers that high. They'll yell and bellow and harumph and grump and gruff and complain... Shrieking just isn't a thing they really do, and bigger guys . . . are even less likely to be capable of that. Guys can get hysterical, don't get me wrong, we just typically don't shriek when we do.”

 “Male... Basing this on the nature of [the main character’s] priorities . . . He is task-focused in a way that is difficult for women to effectively imitate in my experience. It might just be someone who's really, really good at writing men, but my gut says it's natural.”

Language I found this interesting. Many guessers picked a gender based on a simile or aphorism in the text. Sometimes it came down to a single word they believed would not have been used by a male or female. Was it risky to guess based on a single word? I can't wait to find out.


“I feel like this was a female mostly from a bit of the commentary, and in particular the phrase, "Oh, how delightful!" I am far from being well-read, and even further when it concerns plain old romance, but I could not help but be reminded of Jane Austen when I was reading this.”

“The phrase, "He was a mean-ass bastard," just doesn't sound like something a guy would say.”

“Tough call, but male, because I've never read a female writer who says characters cross their arms over their breasts, or under them, or in any other way relating to their breasts. They just cross their arms.”

Themes Going from interesting to fascinating in the comments. Coming-of-age stories: feminine. Tech: masculine. Hierarchies: masculine. Vengeance: masculine. Challenging societal roles: feminine. Truth, power, self determination: masculine.


“Male, I'd guess, since the kneeling and hierarchy seemed tinged with a man's romanticism.”

“Strongly think male. For one thing, I hardly ever find female authors writing lesbian characters, but encountered plenty of men who do. I also think the themes of truth, power, control and self-determination are more typically male - modern male, specifically.”

Use of Description Readers tended to look carefully at description, noting what kinds of things the writer mentioned. Lots of detail caused readers to guess female, as did descriptions of clothing. (I think they might have forgotten Myke Cole, who as a military man might notice a spiffy uniform and such.) Finally, many commented that men would focus more on visuals while women would go for additional senses such as smell.


“The first few images are not visual, but rather involve smell, taste, and touch. There is far less visual imagery overall than that of other senses.”

“Female. Too much attention to clothes.”

“Female. . . . Particularly the things the author chose to describe. Men and women notice different things. I really do not think the cleanliness of the man's uniform would have ranked so highly to a male author.” 

Finally, the Genre A few people guessed based on genre (romance, YA, sci fi, etc.)

Examples: (None. This blog post is getting too long for what I meant to be a few quick observations.)

Well that's it for now. Monday will bring some interesting revelations (though I am one of the authors, I know only who wrote three of the pieces, including my own).