Troubling book reviews

I’ve been circulating around through the oddball little community of Christian speculative fiction writers. (Spec fic = sci-fi and fantasy).

Among little writing communities, there’s this thing that goes on. People send around free copies of a book to their friends with the instructions to read it and leave them a good review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble to get their “review score” up.

Bad reviews are not wanted.

Noob me, I’ve read some of these books. Some I liked better than others. I said so. Only to offend the authors. “Don’t dare diss my darling child!” they scream. “Don’t dare post your negative review on Amazon or you’ll ruin my Review Score!”

As a writer, I know how negative reviews hurt. I’ve had some doozies over on

But as a reader, negative reviews are the other half of the balance. When I’m interested in reading a book, I read a couple five star reviews, then I look at the 3 and lower ones. Those are the ones that gripe about the number of sex scenes, the poor writing, the lame characters. If enough of those people complain about the same things, I’ll check out the Amazon preview and see if it’s as bad as they say. Most of the time it’s not. But sometimes it is, and I’m thankful to those low-star reviews for warning me.

(I mean, have you ever read the reviews for Hexwood? Half the reviewers hated it and the other half didn’t understand it at all. But it’s a puzzle book. It’s supposed to be confusing. You have to read it with your brain all alert to put the pieces together by the end.)

If I dislike a book (not hate it, mind you, but just find some problems), I’d like to be allowed to say so. I’d like to be allowed to give a 3 or 4 star review. It wasn’t the greatest book I ever read, but it was a good try for a first book.

But authors can’t stand the thought of a less than five star review. So we get these dishonest review scores of breakthrough novels that may or may not deserve it. But how do we know if it deserved it? Nobody’s allowed to post anything slightly negative.

I have a review copy sitting on my desktop right now. My instructions were to “read it, leave a review if you liked it, otherwise delete it.”

Implying, “If you don’t like it, don’t review it.”

I’m frankly afraid to read it. Because I might honestly not like it. Then I’d have to quietly delete it and never say that I didn’t like it, because negative (or even four star!) reviews are not wanted.


Well, it’s all done for now. I went back and forth on the rain effect. I drew it, erased it, drew chunks, erased pieces, put filters on and took them off, changed layer settings, and so on and so on. I finally went with a more subtle look. The shiny streets imply wetness and a few raindrops are enough to show what’s going on. The whole point of this picture is to understate absolutely everything.

One of my resolutions for this year was to draw and finish at least one picture per month this year. Last year I think I finished maybe five pics. This year, by gum, I’ll do twelve! All the pics! All of them!

I’m running out of February, so this pic got lots of attention. No idea what to draw for March. Maybe Sonic. Maybe a dragon. Maybe Sonic riding a dragon. 😀

In the rain detail work

I was in the mood for little fiddly work tonight, so I messed with the details here.

It’s hard to convey things like the side of a face and heavy wrinkled fabric in a few abstract shapes. Also lost and found edges. There’s lots of lines that begin in one place, fade away, then reappear at the other end. Also varied line thickness. Also hard against soft (especially in the face). Actually I worked with a lot of those Harvey Dunn art tips up there in mind.

Also hands are horribly difficult. Thank goodness I can understate these and fudge them by making them really dark. And fingernails. My bane, fingernails …

Write what you know

Write what you know, your teacher tells you. Write what you know, the writing books tell you.

But say you want to write about alien mermaids in a water-filled space ship in orbit around a gas giant. Can you conceivably write about something like that?

Heck yes you can. See, you know certain things with your left-brain knowledge catalog. More than you know you know. (More on that in a second.) And you have this thing called an ‘imagination’ to fill in the rest. Write what you imagine. Research stuff you need to know about, like water pressure verses space vacuum, or gravity wells, or hyperspace.

You also know a lot more than you think you know. Nathanial Scott over on NAF wrote about things that influence your writing that you don’t even know about.

Do you know how dirt tastes?


When was the last time you put a fistful of soil in your mouth? Probably when you were a baby, right? Yet you retained the taste deep in your memory.

How about grass? How about that awful stinging in your eyes from cutting an onion? What about the shock of looking down and seeing blood everywhere and feeling no pain from an injury?

Take those things and expand on them. Your hero has a mortal wound. Do you know what it’s like to be mortally wounded? No, but you’ve been minorly wounded. Use that knowledge.

Have you ever hated anyone? Do you know what infatuation feels like? Or black rage or blind panic? You have the tools to write anything you can imagine.

Write what you know. You know more than you know you know.

In The Rain progress

Worked on this pic a bit more tonight.

The big masses of light and dark are blocked in, so now it’s refine, refine, refine.

I had my hubby pose for me in somewhat similar lighting.

He’s such a good sport.

I didn’t have a cool leather duster and Stetson to dress him up in, so I had to settle for the Google image search. I’m happy with the way it’s turning out.

Would rain utterly ruin a leather jacket? Maybe this guy’s is some plastic derivative instead.

Great first lines

I’ve been trying to write a great first sentence in my stories lately. It’s extremely hard to do. So I’ve been checking out popular books and see what their first sentence is.

The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.
-Gunslinger, Stephen King

Lady Firebird Angelo was trespassing.
-Firebird, Kathy Tyers

I’ve never been what you call a crying man.
11/22/63, Stephen King

Emma bolted out of the door of the rundown diner, pulling her five-year-old son behind her.
Chosen, Denise Grover Swank

The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.
Blood Rites, Jim Butcher

“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them.
A Game of Thrones book 1, George R.R. Martin

She ran, tree limbs and brambles scratching, grabbing, tripping, and slapping her as if they were bony hands, reaching for her out of the darkness.
The Oath, Frank Peretti

See how important first sentences are? Some of these grab me more than others. Some of these I’ve read and some I haven’t. I’ve been working on tightening up the first chapter, and particularly the hook, of the story I’ve been working on.

The first sentence used to be:

Carda sat in his Miata at the red light on a metered ramp, gripping his steering wheel.

And now it’s:

James “Carda” Chase had never intended to total his car.

It’s not perfect yet, but the hook is sharper than it was. It’s amazing how much better a story is after it’s been cut and cut and cut.

Do you have a favorite first line from a book? Or have you written a sharp hook that you’re proud of?