Monday, July 11, 2016

On Reviewing Reviews - Like Attracts Like

I read my reviews. Maybe I shouldn't - I know authors who don't- but I do. I read all of them. When I'm feeling particularly cowardly, I have Jim read the new ones first. He'll either tell me it's a good one and have me read it right away, or he'll say, "You might want to read this one later," at which point I'll know I got a negative one. Some negative reviews can be helpful if the reviewer bothers to explain what he or she didn't like about my work. Some of them are what I call "drive-by" wherein the reviewer makes a statement like "This was bad" with no other explanation. At any event, I am lucky to have mostly positive reviews, and the really good ones light up my day.

A recent review, however, brought up a point that I had heard once before and I figured since I can't have a face-to-face with that reviewer, I would address the topic here.

The book in question is Haunted, book one of the Bridgeton Park Cemetery Series. What this reviewer wrote, and what one other person once said to me, is that he or she had a difficult time accepting that all the characters in my book believe in the paranormal. I guess that's a valid concern, although Haunted does feature Cassie's mother trying desperately not to accept the paranormal. (But perhaps that means she does believe in it after all?)

There are a few reasons that basically all the characters in Haunted believe in the supernatural.

For one thing, the people I spend the most time with day-to-day all believe in the supernatural. In my life, I have met folks who don't and have told me as much, but we didn't get into any long, drawn-out discussions about whether or not the supernatural exists. They have their views, I have mine, and that was the end of it. But those people are not in the majority in my life. Everyone I interact with on a daily basis believes in ghosts, or at least entertains the possibility. So it was not a stretch for me to come up with a whole group of characters who also believe. Besides, the story opens in a store where the owner and his staff not only believe in the paranormal, but enjoy stories about ghosts on a weekly basis. With one resident skeptic.

Secondly, since the whole series is about ghosts and ghost stories, it would be difficult to have a many non-believers hanging around Cassie, Michael, and their friends. Basically, my characters exist to deal with the paranormal: those who don't believe in it wouldn't hang round any of the group for very long because it would drive them nuts. Or so I figure. That is why (SPOILER ALERT FOR BOOKS 2 AND 3) Mark's skepticism has to come to the fore early on in the series.

Last but very definitely not least, is the aspect of plot and pacing. Having the nonbeliever bring up issues during the course of the action is a commonly used trope in stories that deal with the supernatural or the fantastic, and it is a trope that drives me absolutely insane. I feel like the Resident Skeptic and his or her issues, used as a way to set the pace of a story, actually slow down the action. Unless a writer is going for a Scooby-Doo ending, wherein the paranormal doesn't exist, having the Resident Skeptic along to scoff, disagree, or throw a wrench in the works, derails the plot. As a reader, if I'm reading a book about ghosts, as a believer the last thing I want to run into is the one person who "doesn't believe in all this stuff." I almost feel like the only role that character has in the story, sadly enough, is to play the part of an obstacle to the protagonist as a way for the writer to achieve pacing. That is just my (unlearned) opinion, of course, but the Resident Skeptic is not likely to show up in any of my work as a plot device very soon.

And my hero, Stephen King, doesn't do much with Resident Skeptics, either. People in his worlds don't tend to deny what's happening or demand scientific proof: they're too busy dealing with the paranormal mess that's being thrown at them. And that's the point of the ride.

So while I have read this review with respect and feel that the reviewer has raised a valid point, this is my three-point answer. I think there are actually quite a few people out there who believe in the supernatural or are at least open to it, but who may not come right out and say it. There must be. Nothing else could explain the sales of someone like Stephen King, or my good friend and fairy godmother Terri Reid, or even my own scaled-down undertakings. Readers want to be swept along with the "what if?" premise of the book and not spend a lot of time and energy on a "that's not possible because it doesn't exist" facet of the story.

It that makes me a poorer writer, I apologize. But I can't apologize for writing the kind of story that I prefer, the kinds of story that I would seek out as a reader, the kind of story wherein the characters don't even question what is happening; they just know they must deal with it. I DO believe in all of this paranormal stuff and so do the people in my life. As for my work, the occasional skeptic may come and go throughout the course of my series, but I doubt any of them will be taking up long-term residence in my writing world.


  1. I agree - the Resident Skeptic slows down the action. I'm all for the protagonist to be freaked out about what's happening and to even wonder if they're going crazy before fully accepting the supernatural. But another character acting as a skeptic doesn't help much. The only time I can remember it working was the mother in Stephen King's Hearts in Arlantis. But there I think he was using it as another example of how that character was bad and flawed.

  2. I never read that particular King book, but that's an interesting point on the part you think she played. Every now and then I come across a movie that still uses that whole worn-out nonbeliever character and it drives me nuts. I always feel like, "I want a good story and I have no time for this!"