January: On Reviews.

I’ve resolved to post on my blog once a month this year, despite the recklessly optimistic number of commitments I’ve made (see Events for a small sampling).  This month’s post is inspired by an IM my husband sent me just a few moments ago quoting a nice review of Borderline.  He’d forgotten, apparently, that I prefer not to read my reviews.  So I’m going to make my policy a matter of public record to avoid further confusion.

Good reviews go to my head, and bad reviews go to my heart.  Neither helps me become a better writer.  So I will be doing my best to avoid reading ANY of my reviews.

This also frees reviewers to say whatever they might think without fear of the Wrath of the Author descending (as so often seems to happen these days).  I don’t want to give even the fleeting impression that I think others’ opinions of my work belong to me.  My job is to write the best story I can, to the best of my current ability.  My promise to you: I will never rest on my laurels; I will always relentlessly pick my own work apart and try to find ways to make it better.  Each novel will only ever be one captured point on my learning curve.

Phantom Pains will be a better book than Borderline, when it’s all said and done.  But I won’t be completely satisfied with it, either; I’ll wish I’d done this differently, and that better.  I’ll write another book, and I’ll try again, hoping that this time I’ll nail it.  There’s nothing anyone else could say about my work that would (or should?) change the course of my slow, dogged self-education.  I’m capable of looking at the works of truly great authors and comparing them to mine and noticing the differences.  I’m capable of listening to my agent and editor.  I’m capable of making course-corrections myself, and will do so constantly.  But because of my own psychological peculiarities, I’m going to need to make these course-corrections without immersing myself in the sea of audience opinion.

That said:

I do care about you, the reader, as a person.  If there is something you want to say to me, if my work has personally hurt you, or inspired you, or changed the way you think about something, and it means enough to you that you feel a burning need to share it with me, then there is a way you can do that.

Put pen to paper, write down your thoughts, and send them to me at Mishell Baker, PO Box 78760, Los Angeles, CA 90016.  Not only will I read those thoughts, but I will respond to them.  (Eventually.)  Even if what you have to say is, “Your book made me want to kill myself,” I will hand-write you a personal apology.  I want to make it clear that my review-avoidance isn’t about apathy, or a lack of appreciation for the potential connection between author and reader.  It’s about giving reviews their own space that doesn’t involve me.  A personal response to something I’ve said or done isn’t a review, in my mind, and I do care about my impact.

If your opinion isn’t something that you’re willing to put a stamp on and address personally to me, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s not really any of my business.  Share it with your friends, your followers, whomever, 100% free of authorial oversight.

Hope that clears things up a little.

100 Books Club.

I started this back in May, and here’s how it works.

Every month (though sometimes I skip a month or two if life gets weird), I read a new book from the Easton Press 100 Greatest Books collection.  Anyone who likes the idea is welcome to join in the discussion: for a month, for the duration, or something in between.

The discussions take place in two locations: via Twitter group-DM and on my brand new forums.  Either format has advantages and disadvantages; you’re welcome to use either or both.  If you make regular use of Twitter and want a quick back-and-forth, DM will be best.  If you want to write 4-paragraph essays, forums will definitely be better.  I’ll probably do some cross-linking between the two formats.

These discussions are open-ended, meaning that in October you are still welcome to chime in and talk about what we read in May or June.  When discussing a “current” book, we try to avoid discussing parts of the book that are ahead of schedule, in case there’s anyone left in the universe who’s unspoiled about the ending of Jekyll & Hyde or what have you.

Both academic commentary and gut reactions (“Wow, that character is a jerk”) are equally welcome – you don’t need any sort of background analyzing/discussing literature in order to join us.  I am not a college graduate, myself, so my own input tends to be more of the gut-reaction variety, though I do cheat by looking at Spark Notes and Wikipedia for stuff like symbolism and historical context.

I try to arrange the books into meaningful groups so that I can intelligently compare/contrast, but sometimes I’ll throw something random in there just for fun.  For example, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was necessary as a breather in the middle of our 19th century Russian novel phase, since there were five Russian classics in the set, most quite long.

This is a zero-pressure group.  I have set “deadlines” for myself just to motivate me, but you’re welcome to straggle in two months late and say, “Oh yeah, I liked that bit too.”  The more the merrier!

Welcome to My New Site!

Thanks to Jeremy at Clockpunk Studios, my author web site is up and running!  I’m still in the process of transferring some posts over from my old blog, and the forums will evolve over the coming months as well.  For now feel free to poke around and give me your feedback.