Thursday, September 2, 2010

Opinions Wanted

Typically, I take reviews with a grain of salt. Opinions and tastes vary, and that is going to show through in any review. Moreover, I’ve had great reviews, poor reviews, and everything in between. I try to take what I can from all sides, as that is all any writer really can do. With that said, I am not usually one to reply to a bad review as I am fully aware that it is almost always a counterproductive waste of time. Moreover, it’s just not “PC.”

However, I received a review recently that I cannot stay quiet about—not because I’m offended or hurt (I have a very thick skin), but because it is clear that not only did the reviewer not read my book, but she obviously used the review opportunity to take a pot-shot at the book’s publisher, Ravenous Romance. I’m appalled that a review site such as Erotica Revealed would allow this, as I was under the impression that all of the more reputable electronic review sites had long ago let go of the Ravenous Romance bashing party. Not so here. Please note the stark contrast to the Lust in Space review I previously received at Erotica Revealed (two separate reviewers); both are here: http://www.eroticarevealed.com/author.php?first=Lisa&last=Lane&panel_id=2


The Darkness and the Night III: Twins of Darkness review (by Kathleen Bradean):

A little over a year ago, Ravenous Romance popped up on the eBook scene with some rather bold boasts about its future. That riled a number of romance bloggers who attacked before the first book was released, and turned even more vicious after. It was (and remains) ugly, and reflected poorly on the romance community. The only part of the attack that interested me was the charge that Ravenous Romance had no right (?) to claim they published romance, as the eBooks they published were all clearly erotica.

I’m not part of the romance community. I write erotica. The fine line between the two is a personal definition, although my rule is: If it’s written in the genre style of romance but has sex scenes, it’s erotic romance. If it’s written in the genre style of literary fiction, and it uses sex and sexuality to explore the characters, then it’s erotica.

Which brings me to my book this month: The Darkness and the Night 3: Twins of Darkness. It’s written in the genre style of romance, which seems to support Ravenous Romance’s claim that they publish erotic romance. But is this story erotic?

Sex scenes, even if they occur frequently, involving multiple partners, and gymnastic contortions, aren’t always erotic. Eroticism draws in the reader through the use of sensual imagery. It had the power to physically affect the reader. Well-written erotic passages might not include orgasm or penetration, and yet, the reader is left feeling that something deeply sexual occurred. The Darkness and the Night 3 has sex scenes, but nothing about them is erotic. Take most of them out of the story, and it wouldn’t affect anything. That’s not erotica.

By now, if you regularly read my reviews, you know that I hate to judge a book by what it isn’t. If it’s not erotica, what is it? It’s not particularly romantic in that it doesn’t focus on a core romantic relationship and how it grows. It’s sort of paranormal, sort of fantasy, but the world building isn’t there to support it. But what I found most disappointing was the level of storytelling. Nothing was shown. Everything was told. There was no depth to any scene, nothing to grab onto.

I had hoped that Ravenous Romance would put out a book that really wowed to balance out the critics. This is the third book in a series, so the first two were much better, or the readers like this style of writing. You might too. But the best rating I can give this is sideways.


Let’s take a closer look at a couple of passages in Ms. Bradean’s review:

"A little over a year ago, Ravenous Romance popped up on the eBook scene with some rather bold boasts about its future. That riled a number of romance bloggers who attacked before the first book was released, and turned even more vicious after. It was (and remains) ugly, and reflected poorly on the romance community. The only part of the attack that interested me was the charge that Ravenous Romance had no right (?) to claim they published romance, as the eBooks they published were all clearly erotica.

"I’m not part of the romance community. I write erotica. The fine line between the two is a personal definition, although my rule is: If it’s written in the genre style of romance but has sex scenes, it’s erotic romance. If it’s written in the genre style of literary fiction, and it uses sex and sexuality to explore the characters, then it’s erotica."

This is all about Ravenous Romance, not me—two whole paragraphs, here. I can only shake my head in response to this.

Now, let’s look at the reviewer’s assessment of my erotica:

"Sex scenes, even if they occur frequently, involving multiple partners, and gymnastic contortions, aren’t always erotic. Eroticism draws in the reader through the use of sensual imagery. It had the power to physically affect the reader. Well-written erotic passages might not include orgasm or penetration, and yet, the reader is left feeling that something deeply sexual occurred. The Darkness and the Night 3 has sex scenes, but nothing about them is erotic. Take most of them out of the story, and it wouldn’t affect anything. That’s not erotica."

1) There are no multiple partners or gymnastic contortions in Twins of Darkness.

2) If you were to remove just about any given sex scene in Twins of Darkness, the story would not make sense. For example: Anna requires tantric (sexual energy); Karen is conflicted between her current love and a love from the past; Andy has his first vampiric encounter during intercourse, biting his girlfriend and believing he has killed her.

3) For fairness’ sake, considering that I might hold a bias regarding the heat level of my erotica, I offer for your scrutiny the following passage from Twins of Darkness:

Background:

Anna, Karen’s “human vampire” daughter—an astral enigma due to Karen’s “cosmic orgasm” in book two—has torn Karen’s deceased lover Billy from time and space, hoping that her biological (but very un-human) father might be able to shed some light on the soul-sucking entity she has grown to become. Now restored to the physical plane, Billy confronts Karen over incidents that occurred between her and an alternate version of him.

Excerpt:

Karen closed her eyes, sinking into the soft mattress, falling asleep almost immediately. She didn’t bother attempting to hide herself from him, and she was not surprised when she found herself standing in the fields just beyond the old Victorian, dreaming lucidly. She had expected as much. She took a deep breath, reminding herself she was a lot stronger now. Although powerless on the physical plane, her Doppelganger could overpower almost any attacker on the Astral. Billy couldn’t hurt her. Their confrontation would be quick, she reassured herself.

Her breath went still as she watched Billy approach from the house. Like before, he looked much different than he had when she had last seen him; there was no malice on his face, only concern and grief.

Karen reminded herself to breathe, reminding herself that this was just a dream, even though a true version of Billy approached. It was a version of him, an Astral echo, a moving picture.

“That’s close enough!” she said, watching him peek over the tall overgrowth standing between them.

Billy stopped, holding his hands over his head. “Anna showed me everything, and I will understand if you never want to see me again, but before you go I need to know: does he make you happy?”

She nodded, feeling faint. “He does.”

He thought for another moment, his face looking tight and pained, but he held his composure. He looked down. “Well, as long as you’re happy…I’m happy for you.”

“Thanks,” Karen said, a knot forming in her throat.

“I need you to know,” he began, his voice cracking and his nose going red, “I’m so sorry for all of the things the other Billy did. I would never hurt you. You need to know that.”

Karen nodded, sure that if she spoke, there would be no more holding back her tears.

“And I need you to know that no matter where you are or who you’re with, I’ll always love you,” he said, wiping the tears from his eyes before they had a chance to reach his cheeks.

The sight of him, mourning scars imposed by the creature he would have become, was a problem for which she had not been prepared. She would have been able to handle him hurt, or even aggressive, over her relationship with Jason. She could not handle this.

“I’m really sorry,” she said, preparing her final farewell.

“Why are you sorry?” he asked. “I’m sorry. I just hope you can find it in yourself to forgive me…and I wish things could have been different.”

“Me, too,” Karen said, wishing many things could have been different.

“Goodbye, Billy,” she said, and then turned away from him and began to will herself out of his dream.
“Karen, wait!”

Suddenly a hand was on her shoulder, and he turned her to face him, his eyes intent and his face tight. “Please stay just a while longer?” he asked.

She looked into his eyes, her heart suddenly aching. “I can’t! I’m sorry Anna brought you back, but things have changed. I’ve changed.”

“Just one kiss,” Billy said, “and I won’t bother you again.”

His scent drifted into her. She took it in, savoring it for a moment, closing her eyes. She felt him move closer, slowly and deliberately, and their lips met. Karen’s knees went weak as they kissed slowly and softly, their lips soft and wet against one another.

This is just a dream. This isn’t real. This doesn’t count, she told herself as his hands moved to her hips, then down to her ass. His hands felt good as he touched her.

She felt his face, noticing the short stubble around his mouth, and ran her fingers through his long, soft hair. He pressed his body up against her, and she felt his erection, hard and compact against the fly of his jeans. The feel of it sent waves of excitement through her, and she felt herself go damp at the thought of his hot, hard cock pressing into her, penetrating her, and satisfying the sudden need swelling deep and heavy within her.

This is just a dream. This doesn’t count.

She panted with desire as he slid a hand down her pants and felt her clit and the rim of her lips with his fingers. He pressed a finger in, then another, rubbing her lightly, prompting her to lean against him for support. She moaned against his lips, and he took in her breath as if it was a whiff of sweet perfume.

They began to tug and tear at one another’s clothes, neither able to hold back any longer. They fell into the soft grass, kicking off their pants and throwing aside their shirts, both of them swollen and desperate for the feel of their bodies coming together.

They continued to kiss as he moved in between her legs, and she felt an electrifying sense of release and rapture as he entered her. He pressed into her with a needy thrust, and as soon as he filled her completely, they moved together to massage and build him against the deep, sweet, forgotten region that only he could reach.

She moaned lightly, building slowly, her lips moving to his neck. His musky scent held her, and her mouth watered as her fangs extended with an excited thrust. She breathed hard as she felt her teeth against his neck, the taste of his skin intoxicating and inviting as she kissed it. Her excitement grew as she considered the added sensation of his blood in her mouth, and she gasped as a quick prequel to her climax hit her, sending her body into a short writhing fit.

“Do it. I need you to know,” Billy said.

This is just a dream. . . .

Lost in the moment, Karen cast aside her restraint and bit deeply into his neck. The warm rush of blood was rich and soothing as it went down her throat, but the memories and feelings that rushed in with them suddenly had her reeling with overwhelming confusion. Not only did the memories and mental images in the forefront of Billy’s mind enter her psyche as she drank, but she also now saw how deeply affected he was by the knowledge of what he was to become, should Anna return him to his plane with no further intervention.

She felt his love for her and, for the moment, her mind returned to a time when their love was still young and innocent. How much had changed since then….

Karen stopped drinking, needing to see Billy’s face. “It’s really you,” she breathed, the hot, exciting sensations surging between their bodies growing painfully bittersweet. Although she had not denied this was indeed Billy, it finally hit her that this past echo of the Billy she had known was as real and potentially permanent as she. If Anna saw fit to challenge the fates, or God, or whomever had initially drawn the planes everyone on this plane knew to be reality, and keep Billy from dying on the Astral at John-Michael’s hands, Karen was going to need to decide how best to proceed. She loved Jason, and yet....

* * * *

Now, I ask you—readers, peers, RR naysayers, etc.—was the above review more about the reviewer’s personal gripe with Ravenous Romance, or is Ms. Bradean’s assessment of my erotic horror an accurate one? I invite complete honesty, here; no hard feelings or inflated egos here, regardless of the replies. I think I deserve that much.

Most humbly yours,

Lisa Lane

11 comments:

  1. It would be interesting to know... what book of this "reviewer" was refused and by how many editors? We all know the old saying, those who can't teach, or in this case, those who can't write, review. Sour grapes make such bitter, bitter WHINE. What happened to reviewing the book and not the publisher?

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  2. For better or worse, sex appeal (in a person OR a book) is subjectively judged. As far as I can see, this review is just an expression of taste, nothing more. (This reviewer & I sometimes review the same books, & sometimes have vastly different perceptions. She disliked an antho compiled from an erotic website & said the stories were generally below a "publishable" quality. I thought most of them were delightfully quirky & honest because they weren't written to tap into a current marketing trend. Different strokes.) I don't think the "sour grapes" comment applies at all, since this reviewer has been widely published under different pen names, & has won awards. I'm sure other reviewers will see things in this book that Ms. Bradean didn't, if they haven't already.
    So it goes. - Jean Roberta

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  3. As a reviewer, I pride myself on keeping my personal opinions out of my reviews. The review is about the book and author's writing, nothing more, nothing less. I will mention if the editing was poor or if something happened in the story that made me cringe/wonder about/shout, etc in the review but never will I attack a publisher over their mission statement in a review. That is not done and does not let the reader know how the book was.

    A review is their opinion, granted but of the book in whole NOT on the publisher, which after reading the review above, is all about. So what is the book about? What did the reviewer think of it? Those are the questions I am trying to find out when I read a review and after reading this, it sounds like she never opened the book much rather took the time to actually read it.

    Sorry if this is long winded but it's my two cents.

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  4. I appreciate the comments so far (both privately and on this thread). To those who feel the review in question is sound, I must ask you: What does the review say about TWINS OF DARKNESS? What, other than her claim that the book does not fit her criteria for "erotica" (and I did offer a passage to refute her claim), does she offer to back her "sideways" rating?

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  5. I just wrote a long comment and lost it all. Ah well...

    If I posted in public what I've had to deal with when it comes to reviewers, people would be stunned. Here's a blog post I wrote this week all about my abusive experiences with a reviewer who gave me good reviews.

    http://ryan-field.blogspot.com/2010/09/interesting-experience-with-book.html

    You write well, that's all you need to know :))

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  7. I don't think the reviewer was attacking RR at all, although I don't think it was necessary for her to have the retrospective about the animosity towards RR in the review. And I also agree with Jean that sex appeal is totally subjective, as is humor. There are a lot of sex scenes that leave me cold even when I enjoy the rest of a book, but I know that what might leave me cold might very well make someone else hot as hell. That being said, I get your frustration at having things mentioned in the review that aren't applicable to the book in question.

    One lukewarm review is certainly not a reflection of your writing skills or the heat level in your work! You've got enough wonderful reviews telling you otherwise.

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  8. That wasn't a book review, that was the ramblings of someone who either doesn't have a personal blog to ramble on or doesn't realize that rambling belonged in a personal blog post, not a book review.

    All book reviews are personal opinions. Some reviewers are aware of the fact that their taste in books isn't universal, some aren't. This reviewer is obviously not aware that a book review that doesn't even mention the book she was supposedly reviewing is a the same as saying "please don't take my opinions seriously."

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  9. Lisa I have only read your first book so far and loved it. Got the other two in my to read pile. It doesn't really sound like they read your book. I do agree with some of the others about sex scenes and humor. It kind of depends how the reader takes it in. I once bought a book that everyone recommended that they all said was funny all through. I read it and didn't really feel the humor at all. To me it sounds like she doesn't like that book site or it's authors.
    Sue

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  11. My thanks again to those of you who posted or contacted me otherwise. Thanks also to the members of Vamplit Forums for your huge show of support.

    I'm going to repost my response there, as I think it sums up the situation in a nut shell:

    Whether her own frustration had anything to do with it or she just doesn't like Ravenous Romance, I've come to terms with it--although it has been satisfying to vent, be heard, and feel validated.

    It comes down to two issues here:

    1) I write atypical material. I use literary devices--many of them. When I write horror, I hold nothing back. My horror is often gritty, as I like to throw as much realism into my fiction as I possibly can. If a scene is gory, I write it that way. Most people who read erotic romance are good with venturing into the kinky or the experimental, but it is my speculation that perhaps most of these people aren't expecting a little Clive Barker or Stephen King in with the mix--and many likely have no idea what to do with such beautiful chaos.

    2) RR opened with some PR faux pas on its back, due to a couple of people saying some unnecessarily cocky things about the company (to which many established publishers and authors took heavy offense). RR's founders did what they could to rectify this (as much was blown out of proportion, and most of what was said was unauthorized). Still, a small handful of reviewers made it their mission over the next several months to trash--I'm talking shred--every RR book they could get their hands on (thankfully, none of my books fell under this initial attack). The ringleader got kicked out of the RWA for her part in it--as it was deemed vicious and bits of books used in reviews were twisted out of context to make the authors look awful. All then seemed go to quiet on the erotic romance front.

    It sucks when someone has to stir up some necessary ugliness--and it really sucks when that ugliness gets aimed at you.

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