The Hollows Insider, Kim Harrison, Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-197433-5, 301 pgs, $25.99

This Witch For Hire

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Kim Harrison is nine books in on her Hollows series. The books twist on Clint Eastwood movie titles and are best classified as urban supernatural fantasy since they involve witches, werewolves, vampires, pixies, elves, and other fantastical creatures living in an alternate version of Cincinnati. The series has generated a loyal following and, I have to admit, I have enjoyed the books myself, at least up to the one before the most recent (which I have not read yet). The writing is done skillfully, the characters are well developed and interesting, and the setting is uniquely enjoyable.

Now we have this book which contains new fiction, facts, maps and a plethora of tidbits large and small about the Hollows universe. You’ll find memos from the characters to each other, newspaper articles, spell recipes, cookie recipes, case files, inside dossiers, and much, much more. For those of you who just can’t get enough then this is the book for you. And there is plenty of book to be had here. It’s hefty, illustrated and chock full of stuff.

I’m always of two minds when it comes to books like these. On the one hand it’s an artifact of overindulgence. Do you really need to see memos from one character to another or fictional security reports? It’s a bit of unhealthy obsession. On the other hand it is interesting to see just how deeply authors develop their worlds and just how much material is created to put together a work of fiction.

In the end I find these more interesting than not. I don’t think I have ever read one from cover to cover but they are fine coffee table books and interesting to skim through, stopping here and there to absorb the brief tidbit of fictional fact. In the long run I find that I would rather be reading the next novel in the series though.

Definitely recommended. If you are a fan you positively, absolutely will not be able to do without this. If you are not yet a fan you might be more interested in picking up the first novel in the series. If you’d like to buy the book just click the link below.

The Hollows Insider: New fiction, facts, maps, murders, and more in the world of Rachel Morgan

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Reviewing Part 2

French writer and journalist Ernest Daudet (18...

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Last time I talked a bit about how I got into reviewing and promised this time to delve a bit more into the life of a reviewer. Or, to be more accurate, my life as a reviewer. Today I’ll talk about some reviewing experiences, how I select what to review, my own review process, and some of the issues that most reviewers face if they stick with the work for any length of time.

Most reviewers understand that their reviews don’t necessarily sway people. People are already leaning in one direction or another and use reviews to confirm what they already suspect. The second way that reviews are used are to validate a person’s experience. They’ve read the book, seen the movie, eaten the meal, licked the toad and want to confirm what they went through.

Given that, being a reviewer is kind of an odd experience. People do know your name but they don’t always know from where. Writers certainly know your name once you’ve been doing this for a while and will develop a kind of love/hate relationship with you. They want you to review their work but only if it’s going to be a positive review. Publicists want to drop their books on you but know if they give you a dog, you’ll point out that it barks. Even if a review is positive, writer’s and producers, and actors and publicists and others will often grab onto one single piece of negativity and project that forward. A good example of this is a book I reviewed where I thought the publisher played a bit dirty with page count by adding in a novella at the end of what was a good, but short novel. I mentioned that I thought this was deceitful to the reader since it was mentioned nowhere on the cover or the back of the book. Well, the writer evidently took that as a personal affront and wrote to the magazine in which the review was published threatening legal action (none followed), destruction of the magazine (this also never happened), and made any number of negative personal statements about me and my writing ability. This wasn’t enough though as the writer then immediately wrote a short story about a planet where the inhabitants were so primitive that all they had to trade with other civilizations were items crafted from their own excrement. The name of this planet? Sawicki. So, the Sawicki’s were evidently a bit backward in their culture and this was the point of the whole short story. Silly writer. Needless to say I don’t feel the need to review any of that author’s work any more.

I was at a cocktail party in Manhattan and happened to be talking to the science fiction reviewer for the New York Times Review of Books. He mentioned that he hated meeting writers because he felt it might bias him towards their work if they were nice people. I suppose the opposite would be true as well although you tend not to spend much time talking to assholes so maybe not.

These are issues that reviewers must deal with–being both a part but apart from the same process you are focusing on. Not always easy. Thank goodness the pay is so phenomenal.

I’m often asked how I pick what I review. For the most part I pick only from material that I am sent. Understand that I get a lot of books. (I’m reviewing mostly books now, when I was reviewing movies I got a lot of videos and dvds). I create piles based solely on publication date. I tend not to review series books unless I am reading the series. So, I won’t review book number three if I have not read the first two. These books get culled right at the start. There are certain authors that I tend not to like. I tend not to read their books, although I will slot one in now and then just to see if my tastes, or their writing, has changed. At some point books that are not gotten to quickly enough need to be removed from the pile because their publication date has passed. It’s a true thing that I have not read a book that was not a review copy in almost ten years. In other words I don’t buy books even though I read better than one a week. Other than that I pick books probably the same way everyone picks books, by how the book looks, how the blurbs read, who the author is and what I feel like at that point in time. I have a short pile of 5 or 6 books that I select from, a secondary pile with fifteen to twenty books in it and then, the last, and biggest pile. It does take a bit of effort to get out of that last pile and, if you’re attentive, maybe in some future episode I will tell you about bathroom books.

After that it’s just read, think, write. Over, and over, and over.

As a writer I do know many of the writers that I review. As a writer I also get reviewed. Oddly enough I hate getting reviewed. I find it painful to read a review of my own work. I take it very personally. I rarely go after the reviewer though. Most writers, although many won’t admit it, are affected by reviews and comments. Most are more affected by negative than positive comments. Human nature I suppose. And, yet, it’s all part of the business so none of us can avoid it.

Next time I’ll talk a bit about how the books actually get to me, publicity departments, blurbs, finding places to write reviews for, and maybe share another experience or two with you from the reviewing life. Until then, good reading and if you feel the need to review this blog, don’t tell me about it.

Reviewing (part 1)

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I began writing reviews for two reasons–it was a way to get my writing published and keep my name out there, and it was a way to get free books. I suppose if I had known then what I know now I would have taken a different path or at least moved in different ways. The past is the past however and while you can learn from it you should also learn not to spend too much time there. I should explain that when I talk about writing I mean writing professionally. Or maybe I should capitalize it so you know when I mean Writing versus just writing. I’ve been writing since 4th grade, possibly earlier although none of those drafts exists any more. In fact the earliest piece of writing I have is from my senior year in high school–a twilight zone kind of thing with a touch of magic realism and a theme working the idea that reality is not always what it seems. I’ve played with this theme a lot over the years.

One of the issues I’ve had with Writing is that I tend to be all over the place. I’ve done poetry, fiction of all lengths, screenplays, teleplays, articles and, reviews. I started doing reviews when I was working with a much more established writer, helping him fine tune a novel and develop two screenplays. There were a couple of other long projects in there as well and I really wanted to try to take what I was learning from him and apply it to my own work. But, I found myself creatively drained by the end of the day and hard pressed to spend much more time in front of a typewriter. Reviews seemed a good fit. I was already a voracious reader, the reviews themselves were fairly short, and there was just enough room for creativity to keep it all interesting. And so it began.

Like my Writing, my reviewing has wandered all over the place. I’ve reviewed genre magazines, novels, short fiction, movies, television, computer games, and the occasional book of poetry or art. If you are interested in seeing some of the places I’ve reviewed (and there are more than a few) you can visit my website: damnaliens.com. It’s still under construction in some areas but the bibliography is fairly complete.

Nowadays, more than 20 years later, I am still writing reviews although I am a bit more selective about where I review and what I say. I still do it to keep my name out there and for the free books.

In the next episode, I’ll talk about some reviewing experiences, how I select what to review, my own review process, and some of the issues that most reviewers face if they stick with the work long enough.