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Happy Halloween! From its pagan origins to its crass commercialism, it’s a great holiday for both kids and adults. Think of how strange it is: children dress up in costumes and go door-to-door demanding candy from strangers. A kind of forced fellowship with one’s neighbors until November 1, when we can go back to politely ignoring each other. I love it.
Kathleen Hale is a writer who, after having gotten a bad review on her book, stalked the reviewer online, in person, and on the phone. Hale wrote about her experiences in The Guardian, and the story has elicited a great deal of comment in both writer and reviewer circles. As usual, I’m a bit late to the party, but I figured I’d make my thoughts known anyway.
- There’s an expression that I love when it comes to commentary on situations like these: moral preening. Or, if you prefer, burnishing your moral bona-fides. In short, you should get no points for taking the moral stand that’s self-evidently right, even if many people have taken the opposite position. There’s no bravery in pointing out an obviously wrong thing and saying, “Hey, you shouldn’t do that.” With that in mind, it’s clear that Hale was completely batshit crazy and shouldn’t have stalked the reviewer. She shouldn’t be trusted with sharp objects, she’s an entitled lunatic, etc. etc. We know that, so let’s move on.
- This is an interesting piece, if only because it hits the most overwrought high points and completely forgets how unbelievably small the respective author and reviewer pools truly are compared to the population of actual readers. The vast majority of readers don’t give a shit outside of the drama Hale’s story has created, which is itself interesting reading. If all the book bloggers/reviewers went on strike, people would still buy and read books. Even indie books. Note also terms like “systematic devaluation of female voices” in the actual piece and comments from readers that include “it all seems to me to be part and parcel of a trend toward silencing women”. This from an opinion piece that does more than just reference a woman writer who stalked a woman reviewer. If female voices are being devalued, some of the blame must fall upon women, right? The expression about one’s only tool being a hammer and every problem resembling a nail comes to mind. If everything’s about women’s issues, nothing’s about women’s issues. This isn’t about women’s issues.
- I care about reviews: most beginning writers do. Reviews affect business. Obviously, I only want honest reviews from people who read the book (no moral preening here). If the book’s great, tell me so. Tell everyone how great it is so they buy it, too. However, I ache for the time when none of it will matter so much to me. It will require a great deal of work to get there, so I just put my head down and write. When it comes to bad reviews (anything less than 3 stars is a bad review, and even a 3-star review isn’t good), they hurt, but you suck it up and move on. If the reviewer has something pithy to say, you go back and see if the criticism is valid. Improve where you can and move on. One thing, though: I reserve the right to hate you a little because you didn’t like my book. Just a little. I won’t act on it. But it’ll be this thing between us. And you might have forgotten it, but for me, it’s always there. For some writers, the hate is bigger. For some unhinged writers, there’s a need to act on that hate, hence Hale.
- Goodreads is where the dastardly attack on Hale’s good name was perpetrated. I dislike Goodreads. Most authors I speak to feel the same way. It’s tailor-made for the passive-aggressive set, with its context-free rating system that doesn’t require that you’ve read anything further than the blurb to use. Many Goodreads reviewers love to write long, vicious attack screeds about the books and authors they hate, and these reviewers have gained reader followings for those screeds. Self-important internet book-tyrants stake out fiefs on Goodreads, and woe to the fool who makes the mistake of expressing a different opinion. Luckily, Goodreads isn’t representative of the reading population. Hopefully it isn’t representative of humanity in general. Like every other form of social media, it’s high school. It’s small. It’s not the real world. But writers have to acknowledge it.
All the successful writers I respect say the same thing: ignore the reviews. Write. Improve. Market. Repeat. It’s what I intend to do.
Right after I check my Amazon writer page to see if anyone else has reviewed my books yet.
Over the course of the last few weeks, I watched the second season of American Horror Story after having been assured by its fans that it was better than the first season, which featured Dylan McDermott crying and masturbating in the early episodes and was generally mediocre.
Unfortunately, I found the second season about as mediocre for similar reasons.
The writers did absolutely nothing to make you care about any of the characters, including Kit Walker, arguably the only “good guy” in the show. None of them were likable. You have to like the characters to care about what happens to them, and in horror, very bad things are supposed to happen to them. One gets possessed by the Devil, one gets raped, many get killed horribly, etc, and it wasn’t the least bit affecting. The reporter character was simply venal and without charm; sister Jude lacked pathos despite piddling late-season efforts to achieve it; and Bloody Face, once unmasked, lacked menace.
It was a mishmash of horror themes that lacked a single unifying thread. Alien abductions, demonic possession, Nazi experiments, and serial killers: all thrown against the wall, and none of them stuck. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what the Devil thinks about Gray aliens kidnapping people and experimenting on them? You won’t find it here. Despite that the story took place, for the most part, in an asylum, they barely touched on an extremely important theme: perception vs reality. Crazy people and people on drugs often perceive reality as different from what it actually is. That idea could have been used to show insanity. It didn’t. There was very little madness in the madhouse.
The show suffered from some very clumsy storytelling elements that should have been taken out. When the reporter character escapes from Bloody Face, she just happens to get into a car with a crazy, suicidal man? Really? That was the best way the writers could think of to bring her back to the asylum? Didn’t make sense. The subplot with Ian McShane was entertaining, but only because Ian McShane was in it. Certain characters just dropped off the face of the show for long periods without rhyme or reason. Story arcs ended abruptly. We don’t get closure in real life, so we want it in our fiction. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that here.
The ending was banal and without surprise or tension. While it was nice to see Dylan McDermott with his clothes on, his character lacked menace, and it was obvious what would happen to him in the end. The alien kids end up becoming a lawyer and a doctor, respectively. The Nazi self-immolates. Kit gets beamed up. By then, I didn’t care.
The show did have one bright spot: the Angel of Death. She was awesome. I loved every scene with her in it, even though she was underutilized as a character.
I hauled our cast iron dutch oven out of storage, cleaned and re-seasoned it, and got it ready for some bread baking. Baking bread in a dutch oven is simple: you preheat the dutch oven in your regular oven, put the dough in there, cover it, and bake it. For the last few minutes of baking you take off the lid to help color the crust. A simple Google search on dutch oven bread recipes presented variations on this one by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery, so I gave it a try.
The crust was nice, the crumb was nice, but there was a certain flavor to it I didn’t care for, probably having to do with the overnight fermentation on the counter. So I adapted a more tried-and-true lean bread recipe, using a cold rise in the fridge, and had much better results.
Okay, great. What now?
My first experiment was with bacon bread. Same lean dough recipe, perhaps a little wetter than usual, with pieces of cooked bacon added to the mixing process. It turned out really well. There was a faint smoky flavor throughout the loaf, and the little bacon bits added texture. Any concerns about the salt content of the bacon affecting the yeast were unfounded: it rose just fine in the fridge. I used the leftover dough to make pizza, which was really quite good.
|Bacon dough, pre-rise|
|Bacon dough, after 3 days in the fridge|
|The baked bacon bread|
|Bacon bread crumb|
|Bacon dough pizza with chicken parm and pepperoni|
Where else do we go with this?
As I leafed through a Zingerman’s catalog, I saw their mail-order breads and found my answer: Parmesan pepper bread. If the salty bacon didn’t mess up the rise, surely a salty cheese like Parmesan wouldn’t, either. Right?
|Raw loaf in the hot dutch oven – note the pepper|
|Parmesan pepper boule|
|The crumb shot|
It came out perfectly. There’s a great, rich taste of Parmesan cheese, mixed with a pleasant, lingering heat from about two teaspoons of black pepper. As before, I’d done nothing different in the mixing and kneading process: I just added the extra ingredients in the beginning.
No eggs, milk, or butter needed: just a straight flour-water-yeast-salt dough, plus the flavoring of your choice.
I’m pleased to announce that my new novella, Dreadedin Chronicles: The Nameless City has just been published and is available as an e-book on Amazon.com.
It’s a novella aimed at a Young Adult (YA) audience, written in cooperation with the Dunedin Public Library. The story takes place in and around the city of Dunedin (pronounced “dun-EE-din”), Florida. Most of the novel’s supporting characters are based on local teen volunteers.
A limited edition print run will make the book available for borrowing from the Dunedin Public Library in November 2014.
The book blurb states:
Paige Ashton is an ordinary teenager just trying to get through high school. Friendless, she’s socially invisible until bizarre occurrences put her in the spotlight. When disaster strikes on Halloween, why is everyone looking for her?
College freshman Ryan Kincaid is living a lie: he pretends to go to class but hangs out and drinks with his friends instead. He’s never had to work for anything in his life, so how is he going to save his family from a fate worse than death?
Soon, they’ll have to face cannibal zombies, a horrible sleeping sickness, and an ancient evil hundreds of millions of years old, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
The text includes some Lovecraftian themes, including research using forbidden tomes like the Pnakotic Manuscripts, inhuman civilizations that existed millions of years before our own, and terms like “cyclopean.” At 99 cents, it’s practically a steal!