This is a topic over which friends are lost. Apparently. So I'll start by explaining what genre fiction means to me (and not too long ago meant to almost everyone).
Genre fiction is characterized by repetitive structure and tropes. This means readers know what to expect and expect it. It's entertaining. Genre fiction would include romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, and so forth. When authors do not adhere to genre conventions--like try to sell a love story without a happy ending as genre romance--readers get upset. Genre fiction is truly a reader/writer relationship based on readers trusting writers to meet their expectations.
Literary fiction (and what I refer to as mainstream or popular fiction, such as Nicholas Sparks) are where writers who don't want to be constrained by genre conventions go to write.
So when my (now former) friend posted that writers should "break all the conventions of genre fiction" the above is the understanding of genre fiction I was working with when I pointed out that breaking genre means you can't sell it as genre. This was immediately perceived as a personal attack and culminated with, "Literary fiction is genre fiction and anyone who disagrees can fuck right off!" (anyone meaning me, if you missed that)
Now, I thought genre fiction was the fiction that literary fiction stared down its patrician nose at. That by "breaking all the conventions of genre fiction" one was, by definition, writing mainstream/popular or literary fiction, which do not have any of the constraints of genre fiction.
If literary fiction is a genre, then what are the conventions that must be met in order to meet the definition of "literary fiction?" I'm sorely tempted to say it's sesquipedalian verbiage constructed into sometimes lyrical obfuscations of extended metaphor indiscernible to the unwashed masses. But it isn't. Or it isn't solely that. So without conventions, what exactly do writers need to break out of...? If you break out of the undefined conventions of lit fic, what are you writing?
Afterthought: fan fiction is another area where writers are "breaking all the conventions of genre fiction" but if you even breathe the term "fan fiction" in the presence of many aspiring lit fic writers fireworks ensue!
Also, while genre fic relies on conventions, that doesn't preclude it from also being lit fic. It only stops being genre when it breaks the conventions of genre. But I remain unconvinced that lit fic as a category is a genre of its own.
Recently, two different editors tried to convince me that English has words other than verbs that have tense. Um...no. Who the hell told you that and WHY ARE YOU PRETENDING TO KNOW ENGLISH WELL ENOUGH TO BE AN EDITOR??
Like...don't you need qualifications to be an editor? I guess in the world of indie publishing, the answer to that question is "no."
So here's an English lesson:
The Fallacy of “Present Tense Words”
1. In third person limited, the narrator is invisible, so if an "editor" tries to tell you that "present tense words" indicate the narrator is in a certain time/location, they're wrong.
2. now, tonight, today, tomorrow, yesterday, last night, etc.
These words do not have tense. They are specific time markers. The difference between these words/phrases and the ones you suggest as replacements is not one of tense but of specificity. This morning specifies the morning of the day we are describing, differentiating it from any other morning. “The following day” in past tense narration can either mean “the day we are describing the events of” aka “today” OR “the day after the day we are describing the events of” aka “tomorrow.” Today and tomorrow are precise. “The following day” is only clear from context. It isn’t any more or less “present tense” than today or tomorrow because only verbs have tense. It is considerably less precise, though.
If you replace a specific word with a vague one, you are almost certainly doing the story an injustice.
3. these, those, this, that, here, and there are’t even related to time, so it’s doubly baffling to me how they could possibly be “present/past tense words.”
This and that are singular. This indicates something physically nearby. It may also refer to something symbolically or emotionally “close.” That can refer to something “over there” or to something that is not as symbolically or emotionally “close” as this is. These and those are plurals of this and that (demonstrative pronouns.) This and that are also used to specify particular things--that chair over any other chair, this trip out of all the trips the ship and crew have taken so far.
Here and there are location words, also used to indicate proximity, with here meaning closer and there meaning more distant. Here isn’t a “place where the narrator is” except maybe in first person narration where I can tell you things that happened here over the past five years. (but even in that instance, “here” can mean “in this trailer” or “in the trailer park” or “in the village of Port Bruce” or “Malahide county” and all be accurate without implying I never leave my trailer. “here” is relative.) Which leads us to...
4. Continuous past. Phrases like “this morning” in general hold the implication that although it’s a past event, it happened in the same day we are talking about, “today.” Neither word is “present tense” because, say it with me now, only verbs have tense, but they imply a continuous existence for a past event.
In a story, we pretend with the reader that the story world is as real—and continuous—as the real world. The vineyard existed before Chapter One and continues to exist after the end and we create this illusion of continuous existence using those so-called “present tense words.” We ground the story with specific time markers and location words.
Seriously—pick up a novel from the past five years from one of the Big 5. You will see all manner of “present tense words” in past tense narration. “Present tense words” aren’t a thing.
Today's rant is about image theft and how it's often perpetrated by writers--who should know better. My first rant on this subject was inspired by my experiences on Wattpad, where baby-writers will often post pages long threats about what will happen to you if you copy their precious, precious words, under a cover made with stolen images. Because only their copyright matters.
However, the problem isn't limited to only baby-writers. A disturbing number of self-published indie authors who should know better seem to still believe any image is fair game as long as they're not profiting from it. Although I would personally think an author's blog is a form of marketing and thus the image is being used commercially, ie to promote the author and inspire sales. I'm not a lawyer but I believe an artist could make a legit case.
But when you see an image with a big ol' watermark on it, that is a clear and unmistakable sign that the creator of that image does not want you to use it. No matter how non-profit your motive. In such cases, if you want to use the image you must contact the artist. If they give you permission to use it, they will give you a copy without a watermark. If they sell you a license to use it, they will give you a copy without the watermark. If they say no, you may not use it.
If the watermark is from a stock company, the artist uploaded it there so it would not be used without a license. Period.
You'd think this would be common sense, particularly to other creatives, but like many things we think are obvious, it's clearly not.
TL;DR - Writers! Don't Steal Art!
Away in Montana by Jane Porter
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I did not think my first "this book insults readers" review of 2018 would come so soon. Surprise!
My expectations for this book were pretty low after looking at the poorly photoshopped cover--ninety percent of the time if the cover is slipshod, so is the story within. Having low expectations in general is quite good--it gives me a lot of room to be pleasantly surprised, and I'm usually not disappointed if it's exactly as poor as I expected.
This is how the book opens, the very first paragraph of the very first chapter:
October 26, 1889
With the opening paragraph so full of anachronisms, I knew the author didn't care enough about the story to do any research. And since it was obvious the author didn't give a shit, neither did I.
I kept reading to 6% before I DNF'd.
But wait! you say. How can you rate it when you didn't read it?
Because the book already failed. It's supposed to be an historical romance not a "romance with vaguely 19th and early 20th century things in."
It's entirely possible the romance aspect of the book isn't the utter failure the historical aspect is, but between the lazy research (if any was done at all) and slapdash cover, the odds are not in the readers' favour.
If you like faux history dressings on a romance that is very likely constructed of tropes, this may just be your catnip.
If you love reading historical romance for a romance in a rich, well researched historical setting, stay far, far away from this book.
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Leo Loves Aries by Anyta Sunday
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
3.5 rounded up to 4
I highly recommend reading the 2 and 3 star reviews of this book before deciding on this one, because they bring up valid points and it's a matter of "how much do these things bug you." For me the only real issue was the avoidance of the b-word, which just seemed bizarre given the presence of a demisexual character, and made it a little too creepily GFY.
I read this after some pretty awful erotica stories thinly disguised as romance and found this book to be a palate cleanser--fluffy, full of cute dialogue, an implausibly naive m/c, and slow-burn romance.
It made me smile. It made me feel happy. It kept me up way past my bedtime reading. I will very likely read it again.
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13 Tales of Illusory by Stephanie Ayers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a single author collection of twelve stories and a poem. I won’t say anything about the poem, because I don’t know shit about poetry.
The Puppet Master 3.5 stars – As I was reading it, I wondered why Finn would be griping about not travelling since they’re with a circus. All circuses that I know of travel. Then again it never explicitly says they’re with the circus, but “in a circus car” seemed... But the end of the story was so satisfying, it seemed like an irrelevant question once I finished. Even still, a little more detail on setting would have bumped this up to four stars for me.
No Returns 1 star—Loved the premise, but again, not enough words to convey the impact, for me. I guess the premise wasn’t unique enough to make up for the fact that I didn’t care about the person it happened to because the person wasn’t realized. Also, this:
She ignored it and opened the back, delighted to find a roll of film within. She carefully removed the roll, pleased to find it unblemished by the light.
Um, it doesn’t work like that; if you open the back of a camera and there’s film in it, the act of opening the camera exposes the film. Fiction it may be, but we know How Things Work. As a photographer this was particularly vexing.
Wade, Haunted 2 stars—one more the author’s love of brevity in scene setting tripped me up. There was a short (yet tall enough to loom) staircase that seemed to ascend a full floor level and has the character “looking down” at the living area, but he “made his way” there without seeming to descend the stairs again, so couldn’t place the character in the house. Even the woman/ghost sitting beside him, yet far enough to stroke him with her bare foot...these weird little skips in continuity made it difficult for me to appreciate the end (which in this case wasn’t a surprise.)
Season of Change 3 stars—standard horror short, nicely done.
On the Ninth Day 1 star—not sure what to say about this. I guess I was more bewildered than anything, maybe too familiar with Norse mythology? Like, if it had been Loki, maybe. But...Odin? Evil? No sale, here. (also the Wild Hunt was Celtic mythology—which would have worked well for the story, but Odin and Norse mythology? Eh, like I said, bewildering.)
Strike a Pose 4 stars—this one is kind of awesome. There were a couple things that made me blink (the soul remaining connected to the body after death? And being ashamed of having been murdered?) but overall, really liked the concept and story.
A Child Lost 2 stars—this was a new-to-me take on the stealing babies trope, but I think it might have been more interesting from the pixie point of view. I find the characters of these shorts to be too briefly sketched for me to know or care about them, so the impact of the story needs to come from setting and what happens, and in this case, by having most of what happens a flashback, it was very distancing.
The May Queen 1 star—apparently finding yourself in hell is lucky. Another “pre-Christian religions are evil” trope/story, not really my thing.
The Chair 3.5 stars—the sentient chair is a kind of child’s storybook device that makes this story (of the execution of an innocent man) more chilling. Oddly the opening and closing of the story refer to an execution that doesn’t happen.
Tears of a Sinner 3.5 stars—an immortal beloved story x bluebeard-esque story.
What the Sign Saw 2 stars—I think this would have been a lot stronger without the prologue type opening. Secondary character behaviour wasn’t consistent with resolution, almost as if the author changed her mind how to end the story and didn’t revise the first/middle parts to match.
The Thirteenth Year 2 stars—this is a vampire story that uses the “vampires can’t see their reflections in mirrors” trope, which I hate, so my dislike of this story is a personal thing, nothing on the writer (I wish the focus of the story had been on the mirror and gargoyles, though.) Hmm, maybe the last line revealing the boarder to be a vamp was supposed to be a twist. I figured it out in the first few paragraphs, though, so if that was a spoiler, um, sorry?
OVER ALL—the writer has a gift for words, but chooses the wrong places to be brief and wax eloquent, in my opinion. A little more on setting and/or character and a little less on clothing. Because of the lack of characterization and setting, it was hard for me to feel anything for these stories unless they showed me somthing I hadn’t seen before (“Strike a Pose” being particularly memorable).
I would read a full-length novel by this author, where the setting and characters could be as lovingly drawn as some of her descriptions (Worthington’s appearance in “The Thirteenth Year” for example or Bruning’s appearance in “Tears of a Sinner”)
I feel comfortable giving the collection three and a half stars, as some of the things I didn’t like were personal (tropes I dislike, writing style choices, which are on me, not a fault of the writer) and the writing is very good. If you enjoy short/flash horror and like to see something a little different, there’s definitely enough of that to make this worth the purchase price.**
**I was given an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Welcome to Crash by Lina Langley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wow, this story just blew me away.
Anyone who follows my reviews knows it ain't easy to get five stars from me, but wow. This one.
This book invokes one of my favourite fiction tropes (view spoiler)[ time travel (hide spoiler)], so yeah—little bit of my catnip there. But for anyone who loves that trope, you know it can be done so horribly wrong...
It’s hard for me to review this book without spoiling everything or being super vague (ie, I love the characterization, the plot and the writer’s style.)
I pretty much loved everything about it, so I’m just going to hit a few highlights for me:
The relationship between Damien and Levi. I could empathize with both sides of the tension-causing situation of that relationship.
Damien working at Crash. Because of the thing.
Damien falling for John, not because he’s falling out of love with Levi, but in addition to. He even fantasizes about a poly relationship, because he cares for both of them. Yeah, it’s a love triangle, which for some people is an instant “nope,” but seriously, it works here.
Damien’s epilepsy and how both Damien and the writer handle it.
The epilogue. Confession, I almost never read epilogues in LGBTQ+ stories, because they’re usually boring and unnecessary—more like the author writing a fan fic of their own work. Which is cool, I’m just not into fan fic. In Welcome to Crash, though, the epilogue is epic and sets a beautiful tone for a hopeful future for all the characters.
This one is definitely going on my “will read again and again” pile.
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I read a lot of free books and most of them are awful. I don't review them all, because who has time for that amount of negativity? I review the good ones--when I find them--and tend to leave the bad ones. Unless they're extra-special awful or, like this one, full of mind-blowing wtfuckery. It could be one of those "so bad you have to read it for yourself" books, you decide.
LOVER FOR PAY: The Escort & The Teacher by A.J. Blake
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I surprised myself by actually finishing this story. It was kind of like a trainwreck, I guess, hard to look away because omg the fuckery.
The plot doesn't make a lot of sense (like the escort has been escorting for two years to save money for a new house, but at $1000-$10,000 per "date" he still only has $25,000 save up? Until the teacher pays him $30,000? but he has regulars? Like okay, he's supporting his younger siblings, but he's got a day job, too, one he says pays pretty good...?)
And the characterization is incredibly unrealistic. They're madly in love after one date and three nights of sex, two of which were paid for... sure, okay. Even for instalove that was super fast and totally not to my taste.
So if it was just on those two things alone, I'd have DNF'd this one.
But the precious, precious fuckery.
"You didn't cum yet," he almost stuttered over his words, working himself up weakly and without hesitation, he sucked London's cock after getting rid of the condom, sucking both tired and hungrily until the rain of London's seed was released, and relief was theirs to relish in.
"He'd also taken it upon himself to dress nicely, or as nicely as he presumed was nice enough."
"He laid there as Marbell gathered his thoughts pushing in and out of his night lover."
("night lover" is used several times within ten pages, then is never seen again)
"After ridding all his clothes besides the tank top he was wearing, Marbell brought his attention to London's cock, sucking as though he could not pry himself away from it."
"Glad to have the twenty-one-year old with him of course, Marbell wanted this time they had together to be enjoyable, but with the saddened expression going on about London's face, he was no longer sure of it."
The characters are often referred to as "the teacher" "the tattooed boy" "the teenager" (not one of the mc's, relax, it's not that kind of bad), which I guess is just a style thing, but read really odd. The book is also in badly written omniscient third, which is fun.
But the precious, precious fuckery...
"The pound of his heart struck his chest harder."
"London came back onto the bed, stealing Marbell's mouth once more as he pushed the vibrator into the teacher after coating it lightly with lube, and he pushed it as far as it was meant to go."
"What rest across one half of Marbell's chest was something London hadn't expected. It was a long healed burn scar that started at the top of his left breast, and stretched all the way down to his belly button. The scar was about five or eight or nine inches wide, covering a large canvas of his torso."
"London then straddled the teacher, slickening his own entry before letting Marbell's hard cock plummet into him."
"His wavy fringe was swooped off to the side, and he was dressed as though just having gotten off work, but with the anger shown clear from the rutted glare of his brow, the standard softness of his face was replaced by a strict scowl."
and last but certainly not least:
"He hooked his arms around Marbell's waste [...]"
It's free, thank the hairy gods.
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The Android and the Thief by Wendy Rathbone
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I really wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. I've been a sci-fi reader since forever, and I'm always on the lookout for good sci-fi books in m/m romance. This really wasn't it, for world-building reasons.
First, what I really liked about the story--both characters as described sounded ace to me, which was intriguing. Then Khim's asexuality was later described as a psychological problem, which kind of soured me. I guess they weren't meant to be ace, so my fault in reading them that way.
The other thing I really loved was the synesthesia Khim experienced under the anesthetic when he was fitted for his metal arm. It was amazing and delighted me and I was a little disappointed that it was just an effect of the drug and not a permanent scrambling of his brain from the accident. That would have been so cool!
What I didn't like. The world building or incredible lack thereof. Four thousand years in future, a colonized galaxy, and there's no finer meal than steak and baked potatoes? Humanity has colonized numerous planets and not found anything to eat other than Earth food? Scratch that, American food. Because the society is only slightly different from early 21st century USA. Roombas do the vacuuming. Jeans and hoodies are casual clothes. Tuxedos are formal wear.
Who the military is fighting is never really clear, it seems to be a never ending conflict with unspecified enemies that has no negative impact on daily life.
Women--there are no women in this world. The military has no women, the vat-grown humans are all male, the sex slaves are all male, the brothel patrons are all male, any figure in authority is male. Only three women are ever mentioned, all sub-ordinates to an Italian crime boss. Yeah. Four thousand years from now... did I mention the world building is pretty much non-existent?
And when Khim is described as having "won the genetic lottery" by being blond with blue eyes... eek.
As for the relationship, I only felt like there was any kind of connection between them after their escape. Maybe that was my fault for reading them as ace, I don't know.
To sum up, this was not a bad book (though I found it problematic in places apart from the lack of world-building), but it was a long, long way from the book I hoped it would be.
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Pre-order Beneath the Layers from NineStar Press!
for my short "After the Dance" and seven other tales
Available April 17
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Available April 18