The Vampires of New England Series--Inanna Arthen



Rewriting The Rules


August 24, 2012

Filed under: Vampires of New England Series,writing — Tags: , — admin @ 2:29 pm

I’m guest-blogging today at Fade Into Fantasy, a great book review blog! Many thanks to Theresa for generously giving me the opportunity to post. In “Writing to the Beat of a Different Drummer,” I talk about writing, personal experience and real magic, and what happens when a writer “writes what s/he knows” but what s/he knows diverges significantly from consensual reality and the average person’s experiences.

 

 

March 24, 2012

A brief reflection about (bad) reviews

Over the past couple of years, there have been a number of instances in which authors responded rudely to negative reviews online, leading to furious arguments and violent accusations in the comments sections of book blogs, the author’s blog, various third-party blogs, the book’s Amazon page, everyone’s Twitter feeds…etc, etc, etc. The basic rule that all this unpleasantness has reinforced, for authors more mature than a twelve-year-old, is: Never Respond to a Negative Review. EVER.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. No book can appeal to every reader. Accept the criticism with grace and see what you can learn from it (even if only, “don’t query that reviewer again”). Etc, etc, etc.

But this is bothering me lately, because I’m currently finishing my third novel, All the Shadows of the Rainbow, which is the direct sequel of my second novel, The Longer the Fall. Readers have not been as fond of The Longer the Fall as they were of Mortal Touch, the first book in the series. It isn’t selling nearly as well and it’s gotten, and is getting, much more luke-warm reviews from readers.

The thing is: I’d like to know why.

I really would. Seriously. I’d like to ask the people who just weren’t sure about it, or even the readers like the one who gave it one star on Amazon, “Why didn’t you like it?” Because most of them don’t really say!

I wish I could ask them: “Can you be specific? Can you say exactly how the story failed you? Can you pinpoint where it lost you? Can you tell me what you hoped it would do? What changes would have made it a better book for you?”

The Longer the Fall has its champions, including people who like it better than Mortal Touch. I like it better than Mortal Touch. But when I read people’s comments about The Longer the Fall, I feel that I failed to make the story as clear as I should have. I felt that Mortal Touch should have been edited more tightly, and so I edited The Longer the Fall so ruthlessly, I’m afraid that I took out too much, assumed too much, left too many points unclear.

I won’t say “readers aren’t getting it,” because that’s condescending and puts all the blame on them. I failed those readers in communicating what I needed to. I failed them as a writer. They wouldn’t have started reading the book at all if they hadn’t had positive expectations. They wouldn’t have finished it if something hadn’t kept them going. How did I, as a writer, end up disappointing them so badly?

Now, as I work on All the Shadows of the Rainbow, which like The Longer the Fall is all about magic, and features the same protagonist, Diana Chilton, I really wish I could access my readers’ expanded evaluations and reactions, especially the readers who are critical of the second book. And I can’t ask. At least, I can’t ask directly. Maybe these readers can’t really analyze their own reactions any further, themselves.

But for a writer, nothing really matters (or should matter) more than the reactions of readers, because writing is a collaboration between the author and the reader. When communication is the essence of your being, and you feel like you’ve messed up in a major way, well, it doesn’t feel very good. It’s really frustrating that etiquette so sternly denies us writers the chance to ask our disappointed readers, “I appreciate your candor, could you tell me more?”

April 2, 2011

Hey, how did that fiction get in my real life?

There has always been a consistent pattern in my life whereby my fiction and my actual experiences echo and mirror each other in the weirdest ways.

The first time I encountered actor Peter Coyote was in Steven Spielberg’s E.T., in which he played the mysterious scientist tracking the little alien. I’d never heard of Mr. Coyote before. But I confess: it was a case of crush at first sight. I’m not prone to fannish excesses–I won’t even collect autographs–so I didn’t look up Mr. Coyote’s biography or read gossip magazines or anything like that. Probably almost any other fan of his knew a lot more about his background than I did. But I loved him in E.T., and I watched for him in other things.

Many years ago, I went to a Red Cross blood drive to donate blood. I can no longer pinpoint exactly when this was, except that I’m fairly sure it was between 1982 and 1989, and I think the blood drive was in Acton, Massachusetts, where I lived in the 80s. It wouldn’t have been far from there, anyway. I had taken some film magazines with me to read–Premiere, I think. This was during my efforts to break into film acting locally. I even read Variety.

After I finished with the donation and was resting, the way the Red Cross always makes you do so you won’t just jump up, barf and pass out, I was reading the magazines, and one of the blood drive volunteers came by see how I was doing. I said I was doing great, and then she picked up one of the magazines and said, “Oh, could I just look at these?” I said of course, and as she flipped through them she said, “I have a brother who’s an actor, and I always like to see if they say anything about him.”

“Oh, really?” I said, pricking up my ears for a possible industry contact. “What’s his name?”

“Peter Coyote.”

I didn’t respond very politely, because to me, this was like saying she was related to Justin Bieber. It’s amazing that I didn’t jump up and pass out. “Oh, you can’t be, you’re making that up!” I said, or something like it. (In my defense, I was running a pint low at that moment.)

She looked a bit offended and said, “No, I’m not, why would I make that up? Most people have never heard of him.”

“Of course I’ve heard of him! He was in E.T.! He’s a doll!” (I’m sure they took a bit more than a pint, actually.)

She seemed rather pleased at that, so I hope I redeemed myself. “He is a doll,” she said, laughing.

That was the gist of our discussion–she had other donors to see to–and I didn’t even think to ask her own name, or look at her badge if she was wearing one. (I think it just said, “Volunteer” or whatever the term is they use.) I always wondered if she was really on the level. Why would a movie actor’s sister be volunteering at a blood drive in Acton, Massachusetts, fer gosh sakes?

But then, why wouldn’t she be? Actors come from all over the place. I lived in Acton and I was trying to be one.

But now it’s the 2010s and I’m trying to be a novelist. My third book, All the Shadows of the Rainbow, is set during the 1960s, plus a few years on either side. I lived through the 1960s, but just as I did with the 1950s and The Longer the Fall, I’ve been doing what I call “total immersion research.” I’m reading as much contemporary material as I can find, and watching raw film footage from that era, and generally working to enfold myself in the zeitgeist of the times, so I can, not just write it, but live it from the inside out.

By complete happenstance, I discovered that Peter Coyote had been deeply involved in the 1960s counterculture–he was a member of the Diggers and the Free Family, lived on several communes, worked with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and was at the center of a lot of things that happened in those years. He’s written a memoir about it all, called Sleeping Where I Fall. I learned about it from a random reference on the Red Room website, which I rarely visit, but I just happened to click over there on the day when this book was mentioned. I instantly located a copy. I’ve been reading it for the past week or so.

I’ve been enthralled with the book, because I hadn’t known any of this about Peter Coyote’s personal history. It helps explain why, the instant I saw him onscreen, I just felt this “click.” I’ve been relating strongly to so much that he says in his book. I knew I liked him as an actor, but I never realized that he was what I think of as, “one of us.” He does have a younger sister, although he doesn’t give any clues as to her life or whereabouts. Sleeping Where I Fall was published in 1998, and I’d love to hear what Mr. Coyote thinks about the social and political developments of the last 13 years. I’d guess we share similar views.

Sleeping Where I Fall is going to be one of the most helpful resource books I read, and I’ve got a stack of them. But I’d be enjoying it even if I wasn’t writing All the Shadows of the Rainbow. To add yet more synchronicity to the mix, I found a documentary called Commune by running keyword searches on Blockbuster. When it arrived, it turned out to be about Black Bear Ranch, one of the Free Family communes that Peter Coyote lived with, and Mr. Coyote appears in the film.

It’s just strange how themes and people can weave in and out of our lives in violation of all probability or logic. Over and over again, I’ve been downright spooked by the way things that I’m writing tie into my real life in completely unexpected and inexplicable ways. It’s part of the reason that I’m one of those writers who feel that their fictional universes and characters have wills of their own. I don’t calculate and control the stories I tell, or the people who inhabit them. My characters tell me what’s going to happen and I simply record it…and sometimes, I feel like I’m living it with them. Every once in a while, I feel like I’m living out my fiction in the (so-called) real world.

You might think I’d be more nervous about blowing things up in my novels, in that case! But what good is art if it doesn’t shake you up sometimes?

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