Jeffe Kennedy
Fantasy. Power. Passion

The Unreliable Narrator – Love or Hate?

Posted Jan 28 2018 in , , , ,

Another photo from Meow WolfNnedi Okorafor and I fell in love with this crazy kitchen and had to photograph each other in it. One of the most fun aspects of this “immersive experience” is not only being able to touch and enter the exhibit, but in a way to become part of it as well. I felt like part of this kitchen and wanted to seem like it, too.

Art of all mediums is interesting in the way it interfaces with reality. It’s impossible to recreate reality in art – and maybe not even desirable to do so – but art necessarily reflects and at best deepens our understanding of the real world. Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the unreliable narrator – whether we love them, hate them, write them or avoid them. Come on over to weigh in!

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Plenty of Room for Five-Star Books in My World

Posted Jan 25 2018 in , , , , ,

sculpture from Meow Wolf - doglike creature with triangular face and prismatic rainbow colorationSaw this doglike creature at Meow Wolf. I loved how the matte metal body faded into the shadows while its quizzical bright face popped, ears perked. You could press the eyes, too, and make them bobble. One of the great things about Meow Wolf is you can touch everything. I wandered through the place in the excellent company of Nnedi Okorafor and she’s like me – she commented, “It’s not real for me unless I can touch it.” So very true.

I’ve been thinking lately about how I rate the books I read. You know – three stars, five stars, whatever. Everyone has their own set of criteria. Although, I do hear a lot of conversations where people discuss how they assign ratings and wanting to validate their systems in comparisons to others. Some people say it’s like the US Grading system of A, B, C, D and F, with five stars equivalent to an A. Very often these same folks say that three stars is a good rating, even though they agree it’s equivalent to a C.

Probably this goes back to what kind of students we were in school, but I was the overachieving kind who got upset at anything lower than an A. 

Still, in school a grade serves to indicate a student’s understanding of the subject taught (or should), while a book rating should convey how much we enjoyed it. Or, it might be intended as a valuation. How “good” is the book? 

A lot of things play into this second way of looking at rating a book. How we want other people to view us plays in. We want to be viewed as being discerning, as having the intelligence and taste to know “good” stories from “bad.” I put those valuations in quotation marks because I think a lot of people call something good or bad when what they mean is that they do or don’t like it. 

Not the same thing at all.

BUT, calling something we don’t like “bad” gives us a bit more intellectual authority, at least on the outside.

Recently I saw a screed by a Big Name Author (BNA) who said they get in trouble for giving books they liked ratings of 2.5. They went on at some length, justifying how 2.5 was a great rating when they don’t finish (DNF) 90% of the books they read. What went unsaid was the implication that there should be plenty of room to somehow “crown” the truly beloved books with a 5.0. 

I also saw a rando Goodreads reviewer give a book a 3.81 rating – which was in the review itself, as Goodreads doesn’t allow for tenths of points, much less hundredths. I didn’t look beyond that, partly because I rolled my eyes so hard I strained an oculomotor muscle and couldn’t focus quite right for a few minutes.

I mean, really?

This is attempting to create an impression of precision where there is none. We are not judges at the Olympics adding or subtracting points for technicalities and difficulty. It’s a story. There are no finite scorable elements like touching a second foot down following a triple axle. Reading is a subjective experience.

So, while I understand the impulse to “reserve” the best scores for the most beloved books, I wonder at what that really accomplishes. And I say that as someone who used to worry about my reputation if I rated a book too highly and other people began to question my motivations or integrity. 

I don’t worry about that any more.

After all, I judge for a number of contests and I have plenty of opportunity to apply scoring to decide which books I think deserve the highest accolades. But for general reading? I’ve come to the point where there’s room for an infinite number of five-star books in my world. Five-stars means I loved reading it. What happens if I find a book I loved reading more? Also five stars. I’m not sure everything in life needs to be relentlessly ranked in comparison to everything else.

I’ve also stopped rating and reviewing every damn thing I buy because I’m tired of spending my time in service to retailers, but that’s another rant for another time.

Basically it comes down to that I love books. I love to read. If I love a story, I don’t feel the need to judge it down to tenths and hundredths of points. I’m not assigning a grade to provide incentive to the author to do better. 

I’m just saying I enjoyed the hell out of it. 

 

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Why I’m Against Butt-in-Chair, Hands-on-Keyboard

Posted Jan 21 2018 in , , , , , , ,

I caught Isabel mid-yawn on this one. What I get for disturbing the cozy winter’s nap with my photo-taking. She – like all cats – is the poster child for this week’s topic, which is balancing writing with physical and emotional health. There’s a catchphrase that writers like to pass around, about maintaining productivity: BICHOK, or Butt-in-Chair, Hands-on-Keyboard. I get that it’s a metaphor, meaning that you get writing done by actually writing, but it’s one I quibble with because I’m so against the sitting-down part. Come on over to find out more. 

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The Problem with Short-Term Thinking in Book Marketing

Posted Jan 18 2018 in , , , ,

I’m getting serious about regular yoga practice lately. My lovely stepdaughter and son-in-law gave me a gift certificate for Christmas to 6pm.com, where I was able to get all kinds of great yoga clothes for not much money! This is the pic I took for them to show my loot. I’m excited because I’ve found a yoga studio I really like with a wide variety of classes at times that work for me. I went twice right after Christmas, then got this obnoxious flu. I’m finally feeling back up to full strength so I’m revved to attend regularly and build a steady practice. I’ve been doing variants of yoga along with other martial training for more than twenty years, but never really devoted myself to yoga. Now’s the time!

Yoga is one of those practices that require long-term commitment. The results come gradually, with diligence and consistency. I’m looking at it as something to do to maintain my body as it ages. Thinking long term like this requires a different perspective. I’m not trying to lose fifteen pounds in the next six months so much (though I am), as wanting to regain flexibility and retain elasticity and strength as an aging body moves away from those things. It’s much the same as I’ve approached my writing career, which I’ve always viewed as a long game.

That includes marketing.

Marketing has been on my mind lately. I did a post about this at the SFF Seven a bit ago. And last week I was on a panel about productivity as a writer for LERA, my local RWA chapter, and one question people asked was where in my schedule I fit in marketing. It’s not that I don’t accept marketing as a reality of being a career author. I worry that it gets too much attention from authors, especially in the short term.

When I started out with my first books, I received the advice that the best, most effective method for marketing my book was to write the next book. A lot of people get this advice. It’s really good advice. I’d only amend to say, “concentrate on writing the next book and try to make it even better than the previous one.”

See, the problem I have with a lot of today’s focus on marketing is that authors seems to get very focused on promoting THAT book or THAT series. They work hard to get a better Amazon ranking, to get more reviews, to get a bestseller status that they can put under their email signature or website banner. All of these things make nicely tangible milestones. It’s easy to know if you did it or not, so they’re seductive for that reason. It’s much more difficult to quantify the longer-term goals of gaining a devoted readership or improving your reputation in the genre. 

Still, those longer-term goals are the ones that matter. For example, having a book hit the USA Today (USAT) Bestseller list should be an indication that enough readers anticipated and loved the book that they bought the book during a certain amount of time. It’s a terrific measure of a dedicated fan base. But a lot of short-term marketing efforts these days go into getting on that list – joining in box sets with other authors and pouring on promotional money in order to get that badge of honor. The argument is that an author being able to call themselves a USAT Bestselling Author will sell more books. 

But will it?

Maybe?

Still, it’s no longer a measure of that long-term goal of having a dedicated reader base. It’s a reflection of a short-term promotional effort. The reality is, unless an author is writing books that readers love, it doesn’t matter what’s on their website banner or under their email signature. Word of mouth and reader recommendation is still the primary way people find new books. It’s how I find new books. 

This is why writing the next book – and trying to improve on the previous book – is the key to the long game. I get that it can feel critical to launch a debut book well, or to get that series off the ground, but winning readers who will put you on their autobuy list for the next twenty years is what will allow you to be a career author, to make a consistent income from both your back- and front-list. Making money or a USAT Bestseller badge off of one book – or even one series – won’t. 

Just like my losing 15 pounds by summer won’t ensure my long-term health. A lot of planning and gradual improvement will go into how my body will perform thirty years from now – and the same is true of my writing career. 

Both are about the long game. 

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Can You Spot the Tertiary Character in This Novel?

Posted Jan 14 2018 in , , , , , ,

I gave the man an aquarium for Christmas and Jackson finally discovered it has living creatures in it. He’s quite bemused by the concept. This is a still shot from the video I took. Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is tertiary characters who demand the spotlight. Come on over to find out  more – and to see the video!

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