Integrity in Every Industry

There’s been quite a hullabaloo in literary circles of late about the love/hate relationship between reviewers and writers. I don’t like to make knee-jerk comments on issues that are this highly charged. Letting them stew tends to allow the language center and the limbic system of my brain time to mesh with each other.

And I think my opinion on the subject comes down to integrity.

Before I dive in too deep I want to make it explicitly clear that this post is in no way pointed at anyone specific. These are general observations and ideas for/about the industry as a whole. Moreover, REVIEWERS ARE AWESOME!! Also, AUTHORS ARE AWESOME!! We are, however, also people. And sometimes people just suck. No getting around it.

But integrity can help us be true to our awesome natures. In fact, I’m reasonably certain that might be a functional definition of the word. In a situation like the one The Guardian reported on in recent weeks, integrity on both sides of the story would have eliminated the bizarre circumstances and made the whole thing evaporate. And there were plenty of places along that journey that an act of honesty would have neutralized what became such a controversial and chilling story.

Since I am one, let’s start with authors.

When you write a book, you want to make sure it is successful. You have a vested interest in it performing well and in it being represented fairly. The first step to this is write a GOOD book. And then be honest with yourself about what you wrote. If you are putting a bunch of teenage sex on the page, you are inviting your reviewers into conversations about rape and slut-shaming and all kinds of other dicey topics. So don’t be shocked when they engage in such discussions. Even if you are thinking to yourself, that’s not how I meant it, that’s not how I see it, you work in a subjective industry where other people get to make up their own minds about what the author presents. You don’t want people to say that you are making light of a certain disease/group/social issue? Don’t write about it. HOWEVER, if you feel like you really need to write about that topic, then be realistic with yourself about the potential for others to take your words out of context. Their own experiences are going to color the way they see your story. Deal with it. Move on.

That, however, does not mean you role over and take abuse. There are channels and means available to authors to push back against unfair and inaccurate reviews. Report the bad in the way recommended by the site. Rally your troops to go review your book in positive terms with lots of stars!! Do the due diligence of marketing by getting your book into as many hands as possible so that you can (hopefully) drown out the haters with positivity. Do not engage in online debates about your book, let other readers who get your vision do that. And if there is no one standing up for you, then maybe it is time to admit that this book wasn’t a great offering. Maybe you need more study/practice/editing for the next time around.

STALKING THE REVIEWER IS NOT COOL!! MAKING PEOPLE FEEL AFRAID FOR EXPRESSING AN OPINION (regardless of how idiotic or vulgar) IS NOT THE BEHAVIOR OF GOOD, CIVILIZED PEOPLE!!!

Writers need reviewers. They help our readers find us. They make us more visible. If the good ones start going to ground because we authors cross the line in terms of retaliation at the ones that just suck, then how will we build a following or expect anyone to give us the time of day? Part of having integrity as an author is knowing your own limits in terms of what you can handle reading about yourself and what you can’t. Maybe you need someone to check Goodreads and Amazon for you and present you with only the most glowing sentiments. Or maybe you just need someone to say, “Ok, brace yourself, this one’s a bit harsh.” Perhaps you should eschew all interaction with the outside world and just write the next book. (I know I’m seriously considering digital isolation).

Reviewers, however, are not off the hook. Posting a review for a book you have not read is dishonest, unethical behavior. Yeah, I said it. I don’t care how busy you are, I don’t care how much you hated the cover, if you are not giving the book a complete read-thru before offering a review then you are acting without integrity. And that includes a five star review.

Look, everyone likes seeing those shiny, five pointed shapes next to the title of their book, but if they aren’t earned then they are a lie to the reader. Giving someone a five star review if you haven’t read it is just as wrong as tossing one star out at a book whose title fonts rubbed you the wrong way. In a similar vein, remembering that you are telling other readers what to expect and what you (really) think, should be at the forefront of every serious reviewer, particularly those that build a blogging platform and internet presence on such. I would think, that in the interest of other people taking reviewers seriously, the integrity of the honest opinion would be a high priority. Too many bad reviews to books that were actually ok, or five stars on every book you ever review regardless of quality will eventually drive people away from you. They will know that you are not being forthright about what you are reading.

Moreover, for heavens sake, be honest about the content you encounter. If there is a legitimate issue with a book’s content, then rate it accordingly and describe the issue in fair and informative terms. Reviews are not merely an expression of opinion (or I suppose in my own opinion they shouldn’t be). You are informing other readers about what reading the book did or didn’t do for you, and vulgar, expletive laden reviews don’t make you more right. They just make you vulgar and covered in, well, you know.

GOING AFTER THE AUTHOR PERSONALLY IS NOT A REVIEW OF THE BOOK!!! AND IT IS NOT COOL!! SAYING THAT A WRITER IS DESERVING OF VIOLENCE OR CALLING THEM AWFUL NAMES FOR WRITING A BAD BOOK IS NOT THE BEHAVIOR OF GOOD, CIVILIZED PEOPLE!!!

Posting a troll of a review in an attempt to get the author or other reviewers to engage in a petty online debate is not ethical or polite. It is selfish, divisive, unproductive behavior that only serves to tell others you aren’t worth interacting with. And when you engage in any of the above behaviors you make writers afraid to post and put themselves out there. You make it harder for us to interact online with fans and reviewers alike because we have to be ever more cautious, lest we say something that will be taken out of context and used to ruin our careers, or at the least make us persona non grata in specific corners of the digital world.

On a personal note, my favorite review of The Accidental Apprentice so far was from Matt Ely. It was posted to Goodreads as 4 stars, but the original was posted at JC’s Book Haven as a 3.5 stars- Better than Good. It is my favorite because it is completely honest. It is the perfect example of integrity in reviewing. I get to feel great about the stuff I did well because I know he is being honest about them since he includes, in very clear terms, the things he struggled with. I now have some great input about how to improve in the future. And I hope Matt will grace future works with similar honesty.

I love all those that have given me a review. And I am so grateful for every review I get. It tells me that the book is getting out there. It tells me that I have made (a very tiny) impact. And it gives others who may be passing by a heads up, “Hey someone actually read this book, and thought something about it.” Sometimes that’s enough to make a fellow reader curious about picking it up.

So conclusion? Writing and publishing books is a subjective field. As a result, like every other industry, it only works if all those participating do so with integrity. Honesty about how well/poorly a book is written, how interesting/boring it is, and treating each other with dignity (as well as behaving with dignity) are the only way we can trust each other. It’s the only way this relationship works. And if that wonderful give and take breaks down, what is left will never be as true to our awesome natures as it could be. And the loss of that potential, rather than a ranking on some social media site, is the real casualty.

Anika Goes to the Movies: The Maze Runner

I want to make something abundantly clear with this post. I don’t review books. Unless some day in the distant future I stop writing completely and have only an interest in telling people what I think about the books I currently happen to be reading, I will not ever review books. Too much drama. Too many ways to hurt feelings. Too much risk of upsetting people to whom I am connected in the book world. So, no.

But I like movies, remember. And every now and again, a movie whose book source material I haven’t read yet, may come to the big screen, and I will be enticed to see said film despite not having read the book. And then I will review it. But remember, I haven’t read this book (yet. It’s sitting on my bedside table waiting for me to finish reviewing the movie.) Conclusion: Everything in here is opinion on the movie ONLY. I have nothing else to compare it to at this time. Therefore there will be none of the: they left this out, they did this different, that’s not how I pictured so and so. I hope no one finds that disappointing.

So here goes:

Quick rating: 3.75/5 stars- I may still have goosebumps. Holy adrenalin, Batman!!

OK, so spoilers.

Lots of spoilers!!!

THERE ARE SO MANY SPOILERS!!!

Those surprised to find spoilers in the following post should consider purchasing an oceanfront time-share in Kingman, Arizona.

People die! Ok, got that one off my chest early. Seriously, so many people die in this movie and just when you think you can take a deep breath and maybe be done with the whole people dying thing, more people die!!

The movie starts off with a young man vomiting violently as he rises in a larger elevator like cage, while seizure inducing flashes from the lights on the walls outside wiz past. They find ways to make you jump even before the cage stops moving. All the bells and whistles should be going off in the viewers head. They are making you jump now at innocuous things, so they can really get you with bigger tuff later. If you have seen the trailer you understand the basic premise. Kids, all boys, show up in a relatively open space (the Glade), surrounded by huge freaking walls, with no personal memories except their first names (assuming of course that those names weren’t memory implants as well by whatever conglomerate did this to them). Beyond the walls is the maze. Also the Grievers. What are grievers? Horrific biomechanical spider things that sting you with venom that makes you totally crazy. No biggie.

In fact, one of the first deaths we encounter is a young man, one of the “runners” (guys that run through the maze each day trying to find a way out),  who is stung by a griever. He tries to kill the main character, name of Thomas by the way. As a result the rest of the gladers, or the tribe as I came to think of them, in a very Lord of the Flies moment, force the stung crazy dude into the maze as the giant doorways are closing for the night. And no one survives a night in the maze.

Except Thomas, of course. Who the very next day darts out into the maze just as the doors are closing to help the injured leader, Alby, and the captain of the runners, Minho. While out there he manages to kill one of the grievers between a set of closing walls. He and Minho and Alby make it back to camp the next morning to the shock of all. And then things really get crazy!

A girl, the first ever to be sent to join the tribe of boys, arrives soon after with a note in her hand that reads, “She is the last one, ever.” Dun, dun, dah!! Yeah, needless to say that after all this is there is so much running and trying to puzzle out cryptic clues and grievers in all the wrong places and people dying left and right. . . *pant, pant, pant* . . . you just feel a little exhausted.

Confession: I am a crier. Bambie’s mom dies, I’m a wreck. Beautiful love story comes to a dramatic happy ending, blubber monster. Wash gets harpooned through the chest, “No! No, they can’t. It’s not true!” *sob, sob, sob*

Thus, when I tell you that I was so adrenaline charged and frazzled by the end of this movie that I couldn’t cry when Chuck died, that should tell you something. Seriously, little butter-ball kid who becomes Thomas’s friend, really cares about him and believes in him, who manages to survive the break-neck run through the maze to the doorway out, gets the “key,” makes it to the very end, and then takes a bullet to save Thomas, and I couldn’t even tear up a little. I was also a bit miffed that Galley, played by Will Poulter of Voyage of the Dawn Treader fame, got snuffed out as well. I was really please to see Poulter return to the big screen and they killed off his character. Not cool!

I don’t think I stopped gripping the arm rests the whole time I sat there. But then I am a weenie. *shrug*

Maybe that’s why it doesn’t quiet get a 4 star review. There was just so much. So many unknowns, so much intensity, so many characters, and so many of them die!! You don’t feel sad at the end, though. You just feel like you have to figure out what the heck is really going on. The grim scene of those who were running the maze all shot dead, and the supposedly “final” message from the chancellor of WCKD, or the World Crisis Kill-order Directive (or department I can’t remember which) are equally disturbing. More so since the chancellor was not actually dead. Which leaves you wondering, how many of their own people did they actually sacrifice to create that scene of horror for these poor kids to wander into? Seriously, what the heck is going on?!

I’m glad the second movie is underway, and I can’t say if I will read the Scorch Trials book first or not. That will all depend on how reading the Maze Runner goes. But if I had to wait for longer than a year or so to find out what happens next, I could conceivably lose my mind.

In a completely different vein, the effects were awesome!!! The maze and the grievers were so well done. There were times you thought you could touch them, and the way the shifting of the maze was depicted, I kind of bought that someone fast enough could outrun it. Hence needing the fastest kids to be runners.

On the whole, this movie was wicked fun(see what I did there?). Catch it in the theaters if you can and haven’t already. It’s just super intense and I’m not sure it’s one I want to relive in my home on DVD. It is certainly not for audiences under 13 at all, and even 13-16 would have to be a judgement call from parents.

Happy viewing until next time, when Anika Goes to the Movies:The Good Lie.

When Forgetfulness and Sleep Deprivation Collide

So epic fail on my part. I have been a week-long guest at Veena Kashyap’s blog The Author Visits. *forehead palm* I completely spaced on posting about it here. But lucky for you it is not too late!

Head on over now and you can still enter to win a signed copy of The Accidental Apprentice! You can also read an interview, a guest post on the creative process, and an awesome excerpt from the book. Veena gave it five stars, and you can read her review.

So check it out, and good luck!