Places Where My Book Reviews Go

I always read a lot. Lately I’ve been writing reviews of almost everything I read, and posting those reviews in several different places. Here’s where they go, in case you’re a reader interested in seeking out other places to read book reviews, a writer whose work I’ve reviewed who wants to see all the places those reviews appear, or an amateur book reviewer looking for places to put your own reviews.

GOODREADS – (Goodreads profile)
In most cases I post the review first to Goodreads. Serious readers and book lovers who don’t know about Goodreads should check it out. It’s a place to see what other people are reading, and many members post reviews, which in some cases are useful. There are lists, suggestions, book groups, all kinds of stuff. Some of it’s good, some of it’s self-promotional and lame (lots of self-published people spamming groups with announcements and sales efforts) but I really like Goodreads.

AMAZON – (My reviews on Amazon)
I crosspost the same reviews to the book’s Amazon product listing, assuming it has one. If you see a review of mine that you like, remember to mark my review “helpful,” which increases Amazon’s ranking of my reviews’ influence. This way my review will be shown more prominently, with other reviews considered helpful. One way you can help influence how the books you like (or don’t like) are perceived is by rating Amazon reviews “helpful” or “not helpful,” which will make them more or less likely to be viewed by other shoppers. I prefer my reviews to be seen by as many people as possible so I like those “helpful” ratings.

BLOG – Livejournal – (griffinwords.livejournal.com)
This began as my main blog, the one I usually told people about, but I’ve gradually evolved to having the same blog entries cross-posted to three blog platforms. More and more, I’m pointing people to my WordPress just because it looks better. That, and Livejournal seems to be a dying community.

BLOG – WordPress – (griffinwords.wordpress.com)
As mentioned above, this has the same entries as my Livejournal, but WordPress looks better and has nicer tools for announcing posts to Facebook and Twitter in a nice, automated way. Increasingly I direct people toward the WordPress blog, and I may eventually narrow it down to just this one blog.

BLOG – Dreamwidth – )griffinwords.dreamwidth.org)
Dreamwidth began as an offshoot of Livejournal, and there was some indication that DW might carry forward some of LJ’s community or “social network lite” benefits. In the old days, the real benefit to LJ was the “friends list” and the centralized way it let you review all your friends’ recent blog entries on one page. Not many people ended up switching over to Dreamwidth, though I suppose it could still happen.

FACEBOOK – (Facebook profile) and TWITTER – (Twitter profile)
I don’t post the reviews themselves here (at least not in full), but links to some of the above do appear. I have fun with these things, make smart-ass little remarks, post pictures, but neither one of them is really built for posting serious or even half-serious writing. Obviously the benefit here is reaching a larger number of people quickly, so I use these for announcements and links to heartier content at the various places above.

I welcome “friends” and “followers,” especially people who share similar interests.

Call Me the Hundred Word Critic

Lately I’ve been stressing out too much about writing reviews of the books I read. I really enjoy thinking about books critically, playing reviewer in even a semi-formal way. As a way of reducing the pressure of reviewing a bit, while still allowing me to write something about everything I read, I’ve decided to try keeping all my reviews to exactly 100 words. It’s a bit of a wordplay game, condensing and concentrating what I wanted to say into that small number of words. Also seems like something easy to write within a small period of time.

So for now, I’ll think of myself as the hundred word critic.

Now Then, Where Was I?

Not a lot of blog posting lately, though (as usual when I go silent on here) that doesn’t mean life came to a complete halt. So what have I been up to?

Since before Thanksgiving I’ve been sick off and on. Mostly on. I rarely get sick, so this was pretty frustrating. Every little hint of recovery was followed by another setback. Ended up going to the doctor twice, and trying four different prescriptions and a shopping basket full of over-the-counter meds. Mostly better now, but I’m definitely not going to rush back to full activity. Still taking it easy as far as exercise, and making sure to sleep every night.

Been writing pretty steadily. For every early morning session I’ve missed (making sure to get enough sleep), I’ve managed to add an evening session (skipping my workout), and continued my most important Sunday writing marathons. I spent much of the last month or so crafting something to order for a themed, invitation-only anthology. Now, getting an invitation doesn’t mean your story definitely gets accepted, and I know there are plenty of other really strong writers who were also invited to submit. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed on that one. The good news is that I was able to create one of my best stories ever, and learned a lot from the process, both writing “to order” and following specific notes and suggestions from the editor.

Aside from that, I have at least two stories “short listed” in submission. Being short listed can mean just about anything, from “Your story is among six from which we’ll choose five to publish,” to “Our slush readers forwarded us 25 stories this month, from which we’ll choose three.” In other words, sometimes being short listed means your odds are really high, and other times it means they’re better than they were when you first submitted, but still not a sure thing. I’ve been short listed many times before and ended up rejected (or seen the magazine fold before they published any of the stories they were choosing from), so I’m hopeful, but not getting carried away. The best news is that this seems to be happening more and more often. A much higher percentage of my stories is making is past the slush pile and into the hands of the top editors.

It’s also fun to check out Duotrope’s listings for the markets where you’ve submitted, and see where they are in terms of dealing with their slush pile. If a magazine has had a story of mine for 30 days, and you can see on Duotrope that the same magazine is rejecting a bunch of stories they’ve only had for 10 or 15 or 20 days, then you can guess that they’ve seen your story (since they generally read things oldest to newest) and that this is roughly equivalent to making it past the slush reader. Some magazines never tell you “our slush readers are recommending your story to the top editor” or “you’ve been shortlisted,” but you can sort of figure it out by reading the tea leaves on Duotrope. If you’re a writer submitting stories to open markets, and you’re not checking out Duotrope.com, you really should be.

Last writing news is that I’m trying to put together another story for a different themed anthology, but this one’s open, not invitation. It’ll be tough to get something done on time (the deadline’s not too far off) but I’m still working on it.

Other than that, I’ve been reading an awful lot, but two of my recent books have been over 1,000 pages each so a lot of pages read doesn’t translate to a lot of books read. I’ll start posting reviews again soon. I’m really looking forward to taking on a few 200-300 pages books!

Swirling and Whirling

I’m not sick any more, so there’s that.

Otherwise things are a bit overwhelming at the moment. I’m afraid the only way I’m going to keep to my plan of blogging something every weekday is to take a moment to say, “Yikes, I’m so buried!” My to-do list is gruesome and my inboxes are overflowing. I was already busy, then my co-worker’s wife had her baby ten days early, so I’ve got his work to deal with, along with the usual end-of-year stuff.

So then, rather than goof around blogging, I’ll get back to it.

What else is there to do at 4:38 AM?

I’ve drifted away from blogging again. Mostly I’ve been busy, but I also I think I’ve fallen into a sense that each blog post must be more  formal, somehow planned or crafted. To counter this I’ve decided to begin a stretch of daily blog posts, each one limited to no more than five minutes actual writing time. No more excuses about not having enough time to blog. Today seemed like a great day to start, since I woke up at 4:38 AM before my already-set-too-early alarm clock. I could grumble about missing those few extra minutes’ sleep, or I could just write something.

So before I begin a series of short daily blog posts (I reserve the right to post more than once a day, or to occasionally flesh out a post into something lengthier), here’s a quick recap of what I’ve been up to lately:

Lena and I took a long weekend and visited Manzanita, Oregon last week. When we go to the beach alone (just us as a couple), we usually go to Cannon Beach which is the next town up the coast. When we go larger group beach trips with my family, we always go to Lincoln City. So it was nice to stay somewhere new, hike on some new hills, eat at some different restaurants, get coffee in a new little place. Because of the long weekend we went mid-week (cheaper rates) and probably due to this and the rainy weather and the off-season, the town was almost deserted. It was nice, actually. Reminded me of Lincoln City when I was a kid, during winters. Mostly a few locals, many of the shops and restaurants closed. Extremely quiet. I tend to be too busy all the time, overscheduled, stressed, mind buzzing. It’s worth a lot to me to get away from this, to slow my mind, get some sleep and truly recharge the batteries. We had fantastic artisan pizza at Marzano’s and watched Arsenic and Old Lace on DVD in our hotel room, which was upgraded for free because the place was half empty.

What else? Trying to continue exercising consistently when it’s no longer summer outside. Writing a ton, and focusing on trying to finish more, rather than just keep starting new ones and tinkering with stuff endlessly. Reading a fair amount. On that subject, almost done with the Blood and Other Cravings anthology, halfway through Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (will discuss both of these when finished), and dabbling away at a few other story collections as well as that Donald Barthelme bio. Watching a ton of videos and maybe I’ll blog about those from time to time as well. I just realized I get most of my good movie suggestions from a few blogs I read, especially Caitlin R. Kiernan, whose recommendations always seem to work for us.

More to come. It may not always be organized, but I think that will be good. Time to loosen the flow.

The most-viewed post ever on this blog

I keep two versions of the same blog on WordPress and Livejournal. Only rarely do I post something to one, but not both.

I noticed something in the WordPress “stats” today that I found interesting. By far the most-viewed posting in the history of this blog (not just at first, when I posted it, but on an ongoing basis) is my “SF Academy 1” post, or https://griffinwords.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/sf-academy-01-ringworld-by-larry-niven/

In it, I rather harshly criticized one of the beloved, classic works of 1970s SF. I feel a little bad for the negativity, especially as I doubted anybody would ever read the post. There must be a link to my post on Ringworld-is-Sooo-Overrated.com or something.

I stand by my appraisal of the prose shortcomings of that novel, and my puzzlement that the book is held in such high regard.

Somehow I wandered off and forgot to come back

That seems to be how things go here, with me. I blog a lot for a while, then one day I forget, and a month goes by with no posts. OK, then.

What have I been up to? Lots of time off work, after saving most of my vacation for the end of the year. Dividing time between recreation (beach trips, mountain trips for snowshoeing, video games), a little bit of effort designing CD covers, lots of writing time, and a fair amount of reading.

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Hand’s collection Saffron and Brimstone, which is completely fantastic so far — poetic, moving and yet fanciful. At the same time, I’m reading Joseph S. Pulver’s Blood Will Have Its Season, a completely singular story collection, stylistically wild, with as much energy and “juice” as anything I’ve read in a long time. Reading Pulver’s story is like biting down on a live electric line… zzzzt!

Both these collections are inspiring, and both have things to teach, though in completely different ways. It’s great to discover new (to me) writers like this, who do what they do so well, whose styles are so personal, even idiosyncratic at times.

For some reason, I’ve never read story collections the way you’d read a novel — straight through to the end. My preferred way to read them is one story at a time, preferable in a single sitting, and moving between books as the mood suits me, the way you  might sit down to listen to music and play Metallica when I’m in that mood, then transition to Lustmord, then Brian Eno or Robert Rich, taking in a whole series of moods or flavors. Reading someone like Pulver in particular can be such a strong jolt, I’m not sure I could read this thing all the way through without a break. Sort of like living on nothing but tequila and jalapeno poppers for a week… yikes! In short bursts, though it’s tremendously inspiring to read this kind of feverish, all-out, slightly deranged writing. Even reading a few pages of this makes me want to jump up and write something. Pulver just released a new story collection this month, and I’ll have to order that soon. 

Hand’s book, on the other… erm… hand, is made up of much longer pieces (50+ pages, some of them), so it reads a bit more like a novel. Still, I enjoy taking this in piece by piece, with breaks in between. I love the realistic, literary quality of her storytelling. When fantastic elements arise, their impact is that much stronger because they seem to be intruding upon a life something like our own. Almost a polar opposite to Pulver’s work, Hand’s is restrained, delicately understated. I discovered her work in the “Poe’s Children” anthology edited by Peter Straub, which includes the story “Cleopatra Brimstone” which is also in Saffron and Brimstone. That piece is one of the most impressive pieces of literary dark fantasy (Straub calls it “horror” but I’m not quite sure) I’ve read recently, and she’s another writer I’ll definitely want to investigate. Her novel Generation Loss just arrived here, and that sounds fantastic.

I’ll try not to wander too far off, or forget again about this place.
 

Back To It

I’ve been busy with music/Hypnos, my dad’s visit to Portland, writing, and all the rest of life. Funny, when I blog regularly I find it easy to keep on blogging regularly, and once I stop it’s very easy to STAY stopped. So many things are like this, especially exercise and creative activities. Running every single day is easy. Taking a week off running, and then starting to run again that first time is much harder.

I still write six days a week, exercise six days a week, work my day job five days a week, listen to tons of music, watch lots of movies with my wife, and don’t get enough sleep.

Lately I’m working on a lot of stories simultaneously, even more than usual for me, and the stories are all over the map. I’m writing an SF story about a group of robotic domestic helpers left behind by their humans on an Earth-like colony, a horror-tinged SF story about some weird stuff lurking in the bottom of a deep mine (not started in response to the major news story about miners in Chile), finishing up a dark fantasy or horror bit about a family vacationing at a lake house and coming under the influence of some local entities. I have another odd, dark bit about a married couple who retreat to a cabin out in the wilderness near Mt. Hood and begin to lose all connection to the world they left behind.

I’m also continuing heavy cuts on my two “salvage project” stories I mentioned before… mega-long stories that needed to lose 2/3 of their length before I could even assess how to turn them into something interesting. They’re down from 14,000 words to 5,500 and from 11,000 words to 5,300 so they’re getting close to where I can see what they need to be. This has been a really useful and interesting test or experiment, but I don’t know that I’d do it again. I could have easily rewritten these stories from scratch in less time, and with better result, but then again that wasn’t really the point.

I’ve got the same nine final drafts still circulating among various markets. My two longest-pending submissions are both Writers of the Future, for 2010-q3 (June-ending quarter) and q4 (Sept-ending). Jeez, sending those guys a story means keeping it from other markets for about six months, it appears. I realize they get a lot of submissions but it seems they could finish one quarter’s reading before opening it up to the next quarter… and then the one after that. They just announced q2 results, and they’re reading stories for q3, q4, and 2011 q1 (quarter ending December) all at once. Sheesh, talk about slush pile.

Reading notes…

I’m still reading Laird Barron’s Occultation, an absolutely top-notch collection. Seriously, some of the best strange/dark short fiction I can remember reading, not just recently, but ever. When I get through that last story and a half (I’m reading other stuff in parallel so it’s taking a while) I’ll write a real review.

Just finished The City & The City by China Mieville, and I’m very impressed. I knew it would be good, based on all the reviews and awards, and interviews I’ve read with the author. I can tell he’s just a super-sharp guy and I’ve owned copies of several of his books for a while and intended to get to them… but finally dived into one of his newest. Before I move on to Kraken I’ll probably jump back to Perdido Street Station since that’s been on the “must read soon” list since, you know, a really long time ago.

Lessee, I think I mentioned finishing Old Man’s War, which was really good, and not as lightweight or pastiche-y as I expected. I’m on to Charles Stross’s Singularity Sky, which is fully of SF-nal goodness, and pretty well written, though at times a little too heavy on the political & military detail. I’m not far into it so I’ll reserve judgement.

I did mean to blog a bit more about the HP Lovecraft Film Festival, which was a lot of fun and quite memorable. But this is a “rust buster” blog so I’ll wrap it up, and leave stuff to blog about later this week.

MarsEdit and MacJournal in the Rear-View Mirror

One of the most-viewed entries to this blog is MarsEdit versus MacJournal, a months-old entry which continues to show up among my most-viewed entries every week. I’m sure those hits come from people who don’t know me, and just happened to google “Mars Edit versus MacJournal” and found that entry. That’s OK, of course — everyone’s welcome here.

For those of you who missed the original post, I compared these two programs as tools to help me manage mirrored blogs on WordPress and Livejournal. Both applications claim to support both, so I ran trial versions to see which might work for me.

I now follow-up that earlier post only because I thought the end result of my comparison of the two products might be of interest to some of those reading that earlier post. I’ll probably edit a link to this follow-up within the earlier post.

Of the two programs, I thought MarsEdit was overall the better-designed application, but it had the fatal flaw of not supporting tags within Livejournal. MacJournal had other weaknesses that made my decision not just a matter of deciding which tool I preferred to use for the job, but a realization that neither really did it properly. Yes, I could use MarsEdit to manage the dual entries in WP and LJ, then manually log into LJ and add the tags, but that was no easier than what I was already doing. In my final appraisal, neither MarsEdit and MacJournal offered any improvement over my existing workflow, which is to make entries in WordPress via the web interface, edit everything to my liking, publish it, then copy-paste the raw HTML into Livejournal’s web interface.

This method is a bit more “manual” than what I’d hoped for, but it has the advantage of being completely cross-platform (MarsEdit and MacJournal are both Mac-only) and location-independent. I can blog from any computer with an internet connection.

I wouldn’t rule out taking another look at MarsEdit, but my sense is that enhanced LJ support in that application is not forthcoming. The developer seems to consider LJ a fading platform, and though I don’t know whether user statistics support that impression, my own gut feeling doesn’t contradict it. Most likely, I will just continue the same way I’ve been doing it, as long as I’m maintaining two mirrored blogs.