Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review: "Needs Must When the Devil Drives" by Rachel V. Olivier

Full disclosure: Rachel Olivier is a friend of mine and the copy editor of my upcoming novel, "The Rise of Ginny."  However, that doesn't mean she's not also supremely gifted as a writer as well.

First of all, the title.  It's a paraphrasing of a quote from Shakespeare's play, "All's Well That Ends Well" and refers to the kinds of things people do when they are desperate. Particularly appropriate for this novella.

Second of all, the subtitle. "An Apocalyptic Romance." Who has time for romance during the Apocalypse? Yes, this too is appropriate.

The main character, Kelly, is a bit of a sad sack who has been feeling sorry for herself and her current life situation.  She left her small town in Washington state to be an actress in Los Angeles but never made the splash she'd hoped.  When her mother needs a caretaker, Kelly promises herself it will only be temporary, that her move home will be just for her mother.  But instead, she stays a lot longer than she ever intended and even takes a local job.

Kelly is at a crossroads in her life: does she stay in her small hometown and acknowledge defeat in the acting world or does she plunge back into the movie scene and feel guilty about her mother's worsening condition?  She packs her dog Jake into her car and heads out on a camping trip to clear her head.  While she's out communing with nature, something very strange occurs but she doesn't realize how devastating it will turn out to be until she begins investigating the next day.

No cell phone service.  No electricity. No living humans.  Only the charred remains of people and animals and a weird black soot on everything.  She is determined to go back home and see her mother; on the way, she meets Dan, another survivor. Together, they travel back to her small town and fall in love along the way.

Most stories that deal with end times are grand epic things.  The characters are often heroic on a big scale and we have interaction with the thing or things that caused the end times to occur.  Not so with Olivier's novella.  Her Kelly is no action hero.  She is just an average person dealing with the aftermath of a major event, but in her own small way.  She doesn't join a traveling group of survivors, a la Stephen King's "The Stand."  She is all alone, thankful to meet Dan and to have her loyal dog with her. But it's all the stuff that she thinks about, the pettiness she feels from time to time, the guilt she suffers from, that makes this story truly enjoyable and relatable.

I love that Kelly worries about bad breath and drinking warm beer in the morning.  I love that she is snippy and tired and on edge.  I love that she is sometimes selfish and often squeamish.  And I love her voice.  She is not snarky or too self-deprecating. She is an imperfect human and she is all of us. She is how many of us would be during a situation like this.

Currently, I am writing a novella so it was a great time for me to read Rachel's new one, her third published.  A novella is not a long short story, nor is it a short novel.  It is its own art form.  Many famous literary figures wrote novellas, classics like John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" and Joseph Campbell's "Who Goes There?" Yet often novellas are treated like a novel's poor relations.  Writers themselves kind of say, "Oh, huh, this isn't big enough for a novel but I have more to say than in a short story."  Many reluctantly go forth with the novella and say, "Market, be damned."

"Needs Must..." is the perfect story for a novella. It is a personal tale with an apocalyptic backdrop, a very human story. Buy your copy at Sam's Dot! And to learn more about Rachel, check out her blog and follow her on Facebook

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Reviews, views and sock puppetry

Psst! Hey buddy, wanna buy a 5-star review?
The internet has been aghast at the accusations of sock puppetry by best-selling authors (see JA Konrath's wonderful series of posts explaining all of it as well as the Guardian and Huffington Post articles). The problem?  Authors are alternately buying reviews of their books (like the mega-selling indie author John Locke) or creating false accounts to boost reviews of their books or denigrate other authors' books (see Stephen Leather, etc.).

It's tempting, when faced with low Amazon numbers or very few reviews, to bump up your own with some fake ones.  After all, a writer might tell herself that everyone else is doing it and besides, what could be the harm in just one or two fake reviews? I am not going to judge anyone for doing that because I can easily understand the despair one might feel.  Believe me, I would love to have more reviews on Amazon or B&N but hey, the ones I have are honest and well-written so who am I to complain?

I think that the people (mostly writers) who are outraged about fake reviews aren't considering the intelligence of readers these days.  We (I am a reader too!) are savvy about too many 5-stars - and by too many 1-stars.  I can read a review and tell if someone hasn't read a book and is posting a fake review.  And I can tell when it's a friend or relative saying really nice things just to be nice. Most readers can - they're not fooled by trolls.

Where I draw the line is with authors who are purposefully trashing their competitors. Hiding behind a fake name and online profile is cheap, mean, and cowardly.  If you have to say something nasty about a fellow writer (do you really?), then at least use your own name. Personally, when I read a book I don't like, I just don't rate or review it.  I don't believe in 1 or 2 star reviews. Why? Because I put my own name on the reviews and I wouldn't want a fellow writer to feel bad - like I would (and do) when I receive low ratings.

Retaliation is a poor substitute for honesty.  When a writer (or reader) posts a nasty review just because that writer angered them personally or because they want to make the writer feel bad, that's retaliation.  Anyone who claims they are "just being honest" is lying to themselves.

All that being said, I would like to post a link to a real review by a real reader of my novel, CHASING THE FALLS.  I submitted my book to Flamingnet Book Reviews to be reviewed but did not pay for it.  They gave me honest feedback (you will see how honest it was!).  This kind of review really touches my heart because I can tell the reviewer read the book and truly enjoyed it.  This was an intelligently-written piece that really dug into the meat of the book.  This is the kind of review writers cherish.  Thank you, Flamingnet Book Reviews and my teen reader!