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evanjclark

evanjclark

Troll Time

There are a select few things I enjoy, regardless of how the rest of my day has been going. Those instant pick-me-ups. Seeing my kids is one. Finding money on the sidewalk. Drinking (I'm an author, right? Kinda? Screw it, drinking is on the list.) And in what might be seen as an odd reversal, reading 1 star reviews. 

 

Whoa, wait a minute, the kind skeptic would say. What about reading? What about writing? Aren't those things that authors love? Well, yeah, but let's face it, writing is work, and sometimes a day has been hideous to the point where even a good book isn't going to fix it and spending time staring at a page I can't get into doesn't help. But for some reason, those 1 stars call me back like sweet narcotic haze.

 

And not just for any book. It has to be for those books I actively hate, which isn't a long list but it's solidly built from bricks of loathing. For one, to make the list, a work has to be a published book, and not self-published. It must have made its way through a professional editorial and print process with its odiousness intact. A self-published book may be shit sandwich, but I have faith that with an intensive editorial working-over, most would move into the 'mediocre crap' category, and those will not suffice. As a librarian, I come across plenty of awful books churned out by major publishers, yet there are more qualification for a really delicious 1 star review.

 

The writing has to be lazy. This is possibly the worst part because it means I'll have to have read a not inconsiderable portion of the text to ascertain whether it has this quality. Original thoughts are a no-go, cliches and predictable plotting are the coin of the realm. It helps if the book cover indicates this by including hackneyed blurbs containing the words "epic," "mythic," "saga," or "rip-roaring." These, to me, are words that really indicate "overused," "borrowed (and not acknowledged) from a pre-existing system," "the publishers aren't really sure what these words mean," and "bugfuck boring." The Epic Saga of Rip-Roaring Myth, should it ever be published, will immediately fall under scrutiny (also, can anyone tell me the origins of "rip-roaring," because every time I read those words, I think, "What does a rip-roar actually sound like?") For obvious reasons, this removes media tie-ins, such as Star Wars novels or Doctor Who spin-offs, because those writers are paid to be unoriginal and I can't fault them for doing what will make them the cash to support their cocaine habits. I assume. Sequels, bad as they might be, are also exempt for the same reason.

 

So we've got professional publishing and lazy writing. Anything else? Absolutely, and for this third factor, I have to go outside of the medium and listen to author interviews. What I'm looking for is the crippling certainty of the writer that their work is the bee's fucking knees. That turn of phrase that indicates the writer believes what they've written is God's gift to literature, making them God in this scenario. That arrogance is really what seals the deal on a fantastic 1 star read. So when I read that a snot nosed twerp has stated, "In my writing, I strive for a lyrical beauty somewhere between Tolkien at his best and Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf,"* I know I've struck gold, a book I can pull up the reviews for and cackled over while sipping bourbon in my smoking jacket before a roaring fire (but not "rip-roaring" I imagine.)

 

How can I take such pleasure in reading the derision of another author's work? Because it's fun, and because reviewers who go out of their way to show their displeasure with a scathing 1 star are often amusing on their own. It's good writing. It entertains, far more than the book ever could. More than that, it gives me perspective. Just because someone has written a book that is professionally published does not automatically make that book good. It cautions me to not become arrogant in my own writing (I am a pulp writer, a hack, and damn proud of it,) and reminds me that this trade is one that comes with criticism, good or bad. And it also reminds me that regardless of how awesome or accurate a 1 star review might be, there will still be a fistful of entitled jerkasses who must comment and tell the reviewer how wrong they are, completely ignorant of the fact that they are using the same critical method (often with terrible spelling and infantile logic) which they are condemning the use of in regard to their favorite author. Who sucks. 

 

My real point is this: criticism exists for all art forms. It should, it's important. Not everyone will ever love your work, and that's cool. It doesn't mean you shouldn't try. But if your work is crap because you are lazy, incompetent, impatient for publication, and can scam a press into releasing your deformed word-afterbirth upon the masses, then you deserve what you get. Even horrible books can be the source of entertainment, and I am a sucker for the unmitigated lashing of an author who thinks they are better than the reader. I'll even bring popcorn.

 

*Actual statement by an insufferable hack, a particularly pernicious breed of otherwise honorable hack noted for believing that they are, in fact, above hackery. Found here: http://impishidea.com/criticism/an-hour-with-paolini among other places.