It Doesn’t Bother Me If You Hate My Books

My first novel, Lurk is having a bit of a second wind right now thanks to a recent email promotion through BookBub, the largest book promoting service on the Internet. In a single day, more than 25,000 people downloaded Lurk to their Kindle devices. The book’s reviews on Amazon and Goodreads doubled in number, and it received a massive sales spike which is still going strong – at one point, it was the #1 book on Amazon.

With that kind of exposure, the book is obviously receiving a ton of new criticism. The vast majority of ratings and reviews have been good. But, as is to be expected, a number have been bad, or outright damning. I’ve received plenty of hate for the other stuff I’ve written, in my novels and at my day job; but, due to the current spotlight on Lurk, that book will be the topic of this post. I think anything I say here will probably apply to all of my work, though, as haters are just part of the game. Anyone who writes stories learns early on that they will not be successful without thick skin. No story is going to grab everyone, and no matter what you write or how you write it, in 2017 there is always going to be someone who is offended.

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This image will piss off at least one of you.

Lurk may be unique in that it has attracted a certain kind of hater – like the girl who two-starred it twice on Goodreads to lower the score and then riddled both of her reviews with spoilers about the end of the story, or the totally woke guy who called the main character “gross”  (thank you for that deep insight), or the other woke guy who one-starred it after reading ten pages because something about “nice guy syndrome” and him not liking books where the female characters are attractive.

It’s generally considered bad form for an author to respond directly to his critics. But in this case, I think it’s valid. If you didn’t finish a book and then go on to trash it, you’re not writing criticism. If you finished a book, but didn’t think critically about what the author had to say, or willfully misrepresent what the story was about to push a political view, you’re not writing criticism. And while it doesn’t bother me personally if you loved my book, hated it, put it on your mantle or wipe your ass with it, it is unfair to other readers to pretend to be writing good-faith criticism when what you’re actually doing is having what is called a knee-jerk reaction.

**Spoilers may follow, so if you haven’t read the book, continue at your peril.**

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Apparently, of some, this is too much to ask.

I always knew there was going to be a certain subset of readers who would hate Lurk. I knew there would be a small, but vocal percentage of readers who would throw the book down in anger, and even a few who would push through to the end simply for the bragging rights of giving it a scathing one-star rating for being too sexist, or too similar to the stuff they read on /r/niceguys, or my favorite – too “creepy.” I have spent enough time observing people like this in the great online jungle that I feel confident making some observations about their taste in books.

This subset of reader tends to only let themselves enjoy books that brazenly advertise an ultra-feminist, leftist, inclusive worldview, because it validates their own personal beliefs. They tend to discard and even malign books or other forms of entertainment that run counter to that, often in a knee-jerk, “look at me” fashion on social media, sometimes in mobs, always with snapping fingers. And this is an endless source of amusement and irony to me…

…because Lurk actually affirms that worldview.

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“A Goodreads Hater Writes a Review” – 2017, colorized

The most common criticism of the story that I see from these haters is about Drew: that he’s too unlikable, too unforgivable, too much like the guys they likely spend too much time talking down to and talking about in their clickbait bubbles online. But anyone who finishes this book and spends more than a minute thinking about it without blowing a gasket should be able to see pretty easily that Drew is the villain. That’s the moral of the story: that it’s not cool to be like Drew, and that the ideas and behaviors Drew escapes into and then later doubles down on, most importantly blaming others for his unhappiness, lead him to become a bad person. 

Drew is not the hero of Lurk.

Bea is the hero, and not only that – she is a woman of color in science. Bea is the actor who drives the majority of the plot forward, not Drew. Bea is the one who does something when something drastic needs to be done. When the forces of the story act upon her, she reacts in equal or greater fashion, as opposed to Drew, who for the most part passively accepts what is happening and is steered by the story’s events into a place, which, not to spoil things, is definitely not good. Bea has magnitudes more agency than Drew, and she was written that way on purpose, because she is Drew’s foil.

If you somehow missed this, I would encourage you to revisit Lurk and read it a little more carefully.

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“1 star, DNF”

I didn’t write Bea, or Drew the way I did to check boxes or push an agenda. Lurk to me is a story about an idea, and these two characters became the voices through which I saw fit to explore it. I am not claiming that I was always, 100% successful, only that the intent I had was something more than to become a shock jockey and write disgusting shit just for the lols.

There are plenty of fair criticisms one could make of Lurk. I am under no illusions that it is a perfect book. I think it is a good book that serves its purpose to sufficiently scare and engage most readers who find the whole “The Shining in a college party house” thing intriguing enough to pick it up. But it is probably not the best book I will ever write. It was my first novel, a trial by error, but it is a story I am proud of and that many readers have found value in.

Lurk has been successful for an indie book – just this year, I’ve sold over ten times what the average self-published book sells, and that’s after recouping my expenses. Whether the book was successful in delivering on its premise, I can’t say. I like to think so, but it’s not up to me. I’ve given it to the world and moved onto writing other stories. I like writing about villains, weirdos, creeps, and the fringes of humanity, because that is what fascinates me, so if Lurk was up your alley – great! Expect more of that in the future. 

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Me eating your hate.

However, if your conclusion upon finishing Lurk, or not finishing it, is that the point of this story is that I think hurting animals is cool, or that resenting women is cool, or that projecting your insecurities onto other people is cool, or that being a hateful bag of shit like Drew Brady is cool, or that I endorse any of these things as opposed to literally having written the book on why they don’t pay off…

Don’t worry too much – I’m sure this wasn’t the most important point you missed today.

Flash Fiction: Covfefe

WHEN HE WAS YOUNG, Covfefe’s father would take him for wharble rides. “Watch for the spout!” his father would say, and hoist the young birpl into the air to blow a big, wet kiss on his belly. Covfefe would squirm and laugh, and they’d fly together through the endless halls of their world-house, father and son, the perfect pair, until his father got tired or dinner was ready or some other cataclysm wrenched apart their loving bond.

Would that those short bursts of birplhood bliss could’ve lasted forever. But bliss is not something made to last.

Whenever Covfefe considered what it meant to be good,  in all the long millennia he lived to consider that question, that was the memory his mind always came back to: his father taking him for wharble rides through the empty, root-filled halls of their world-house. And now that Covfefe was dying, what it meant to be good was the single, all-consuming thought rattling around in his quantum brains. That, and the pain of slow disintegration.

How was it possible he had wasted so many millions – or was it billions? – of years, when his father, a strong, sturdy mirple, simpler than Covfefe, but good, had seemed to live so well on a measly three hundred thousand? How had Covfefe consumed so many worlds and all their myriad species, yet never seemed to feel content, while his father had only needed the two? Those damned two. His dad always bragged about those two like they meant something. Those pitiful two worlds were a veritable family myth. Every time Covfefe’s father had gone out with his friends and gotten drunk on the Good Old Dark Stuff, he’d told the same damned story about how he’d grown to his size without ever extinguishing another life, not even one as small as a single cell. His father’s world-stomach had been so refined with the liquor of goodness it had only consumed cold planets.

Covfefe felt another world slip out of him, and his quantum body slimmed a little more. This one hurt. In the vastness of spacetime, Covfefe winced. It wouldn’t be long now. A few hundred million, maybe a billion years. Not much time at all.

How could his father have been so proud of only two worlds? The old fool had missed the best part of being a mirpl: drinking that beautiful energy as a hot civilization disappeared down one’s world-gullet. Covfefe had surpassed his father’s record before the second millennia of his quantum life. And, as all strong, conservative, world-stomach-minded mirpls knew, once you devoured your tenth star system, your world-intake skyrocketed. Covfefe’s world-stomach-portfolio had exploded after his tenth at a rate that could only be described as “mental.”

Yet here Covfefe was going cold himself. His quantum body was finally, albeit slowly, dispersing back into all its inanimate, constituent parts, and the question of what it meant to be good was unrelenting, like a super-massive black hole at the center of his being sucking in all other possible thoughts. His world-stomach-portfolio didn’t mean a damned thing now, did it? All the lives he’d consumed, from the small to the tall, raised their ever-deafening screams from the silence of the void at all hours. How was he supposed to rest, if he couldn’t even close his local clusters without seeing them? Without wondering what if?

What if someone had done that to him and his family? What if he had never had the chance to take a wharble ride at all, because someone else’s world-stomach-portfolio was more important?

He’d enjoyed eating all those warm worlds, hadn’t he? Feeling their lives disappear into his own insatiable mass? He had. They’d made him drunker than the Good Old Dark Stuff, so drunk that for most of his adult life, all Covfefe could think about was eating more of them.

And only now, in hindsight, could Covfefe see that this was the worst part of the deal. Because, like any rational creature large enough to have a quantum brain spanning millions – or was it billions? – of miles, Covfefe knew what it meant to be good, and that he wasn’t. He knew that it was too late for him to change. He knew he would never give anyone a wharble ride, despite having more offspring than there existed atoms of certain heavier elements in this universe. He knew he could never brag to his friends over a parsec of the best top-shelf Dark Stuff that he’d grown to this size by only consuming cold matter.

The disintegration quickened, and one more world slipped away. Covfefe thought of the wharble rides again. Between the stabbing daggers of pain, he wondered if it was possible, had he grown large enough – another dozen or three dozen or three million worlds, perhaps – that he could earn the power to reverse the flow of time. He still had the energy to give it the old Particle Era try, didn’t he? To eat a few more, hot or cold? To do anything but sadly wither away without leaving a single positive mark on the universe of his birth?

But there were no more worlds in this quadrant. He’d eaten them all. And, sadly for him, there would be no more anywhere else, either – by the time he reached them, he would be too weak. It dawned on Covfefe then that not even gods have the power to undo their mistakes once it’s too late.

Which sort of makes all their other powers irrelevant, doesn’t it?