Preorders on the novel remain high for the third consecutive day. Yesterday, the book's Amazon sales ranking went all the way up to 1,242. Is there anyone out there knowledgeable enough about what those numbers mean to tell me how sales ranking translates into actually copies sold? Does jumping from 500K on Saturday morning to 1,242 on Sunday afternoon mean that 20 copies have sold? 200? 2000? I have no frelling clue. Anyway, I do assume this means the first printing, which is usually rather small, will sell out before publication, which has happened in the past with my Roc trade paperbacks. My thanks to everyone who's preordered or who yet intends to.
Not much else to say about yesterday. We're broiling alive here in Atlanta, but I won't complain too much, as I know much of the rest of the country is suffering the same fate. Dinner was a bit of a disaster last night, despite my excellent guacamole. Our kitchen reached temperatures that, I'm sure, put to shame the very bowels of Hell. From here on, I think we stick to salads and other cold meals until the heat breaks. Later, we watched a very good documentary on IFC about the New Queer Cinema, GLBT film in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s.
It's been a while since I've complained about any particular Amazon.com "review," mostly because I've pretty much stopped reading them. But, while keeping up with the sales ranking on Daughter of Hounds yesterday, I allowed myself to stray to Murder of Angels, and came across the following by one Esther Schindler of Scottsdale, AZ (behind the cut, for those with better things to do):
2/5 stars "Well written but depressing" May 23, 2006
Perhaps I needed to have read Silk, first. But I found that this book, while containing some excellent wordsmithing, made me unutterably depressed. Enough so that I gave up on the book before I finished it.
The author has an excellent control of setting, character, storytelling... and she communicated the depression and despair of the main characters with skill. But I don't necessarily *want* to be depressed.
I grabbed this book before a plane flight. By the time the peanuts and juice arrived, I had given up on the book, and I dragged out my laptop computer. ("Ah well, I probably should get some work done anyway" is not my response to a great book -- "just a few more pages..." is more common.) And then I bought another book in San Francisco to tide me over on the way home.
I'll make a point of looking for Kiernan's other novels. But this one didn't work for me.
Now, I cannot fault the reader for not liking the book, and that's not what I'm going to take issue with. What I write is not for everyone. I know that. I know that much better know than I knew it only a few years ago. That's fair. And it's true that MoA is a spectacularly grim novel. I am also pleased that this "reviewer" is willing to give my work a second try. And she gets points for, presumably, actually signing her name to the review. What I do take issue with is the fact that she praises the actual writing in the book, indicating that I have done my job quite well. Yet she gives the book only two stars, a score which seems to derive not from the quality of the book, but from her very negative emotional reaction to it. The book is not poorly written. She tells us that. However, the first part of it made her feel bad, so it earns a low score.
In part, I think this problem arises from an expectation and/or need on the part of many readers of "genre" fiction. They want escapism. They want characters they can root for. They want good guys and bad guys. And most of the "industry" is happy to reinforce their expectations, to such an extent that coming suddenly upon a fantasy novel as grim as MoA is, no doubt, a nasty shock to many systems (as would be, say, House of Leaves, Wicked, or much of Angela Carter's work). Here is a fantasy novel centered on a schizophrenic woman and an alcoholic woman in a deteriorating relationship. They are deeply unhappy people. Niki is suicidal. Daria is coming apart at the seams. Nothing's glossed over. Not the insanity, not the selfishness, not the hurt. My challenge was to use fantasy to explore these problems, not escape these problems. For that, we have literally thousands of Tolkien knock-offs, fluffy-bunny epics, and AD&D novels from which to choose. I would hardly be doing myself or the world a service by writing more of the same.
Near as I can telll, the "reviewer" here has felt exactly what I meant her to feel. The problem arises because she didn't want to feel that way and didn't bother to flip through the book before she bought it to be sure it would make her feel the way she did want to feel (whatever that might have been). Personally, I have many times seen a film or read a novel which made me feel much, much worse than I wanted to feel at the time, because that was the goal of the filmmaker or the writer. My response has not been to condemn the work in question as too depressing. I might choose never to see the film again, or I might see it repeatedly. In short, one should not earn a 2/5-star review for having done one's job well. And if one look's to literature as a pleasant way to pass a few hours on plane flight, one should take a little more care with what one chooses to read. The only fault this reader can find with my novel, the only fault she lists while listing many virtues, is that she did not want to be depressed, which is, of course, no fault of the book. And it strikes me as whining.
And, moreover, one should have the integrity not to review a book one has not actually bothered to read in its entirety (or even its majority).
Last week, I saw an online bookseller (I can't recall who) offering a money-back guarantee. If you don't like a book, for any reason, you can have a total refund. And this struck me as one of the most utterly frelled up things I have ever seen. Have we really sunk that low? Are readers really that incapable of taking responsibility for which books they choose to read that they now want money-back guarantees? I cannot even imagine this mindset.
Anyway, we have only one auction remaining, a copy of the signed limited edition of The Dry Salvages, as utterly depressing a story as you are ever likely to read. Guaranteed. Please have a look. Bid or buy. Just don't come whining to me when it bites your fingers or keeps you awake. Or when it doesn't. Thanks.