The Reason Why…?

I just read an online review of Princeps in which the reviewer declared that he was wrong about my motivations in writing the subseries in The Imager Portfolio that begins with Scholar.  Apparently, the reviewer had originally thought I was fighting off stagnation with Rhennthyl, but didn’t want to abandon the series.  The reviewer’s second thought was that I’d created such an enormous back-story that I just didn’t want to abandon all that work.

If this reviewer had just looked at any of my fantasy series, or even some of my science fiction, he or she might just have realized that I like to write a sweep of history… and that even in my stand-alone books, history plays a large part.  But no… the reviewer has to imply that, if I “abandon” a subseries after three books, I must be fighting stagnation or dying to use all my back-story material. What about looking at where Rhennthyl is in his life?  He’s surmounted all dramatic enemies, and now, for the remainder of his life he has to be essentially a high-level Imager bureaucrat [unless I chose to write totally unrealistic books] and a teacher, both of which are vital to the future of Solidar, but not generally the stuff of dramatic adventure. Or what about looking at what I’ve written or how… or even asking? As long-time readers know, the five books about Quaeryt and Vaelora are the sole exception to my never having written more than three books about a given set of characters.

All this points out the danger of ascribing motives to writers, and of not doing a certain amount of “homework” before writing a review.  Such ignorant arrogance is also the mark of either laziness or incompetence… or total amateurism, if not all three.  But it’s also symptomatic of all too much criticism and commentary that pervades the world-wide web, in that all too many “writers” or “critics” believe that all it takes to be either is a pedestrian command of language, a computer, and a little knowledge.  And, after all, all opinions are equally valid.

But they’re not, except in the mind of the opinion-giver. Everyone has an equal right to an opinion, but that right has little to do with accuracy… or understanding.

Now… I’m certainly not the only writer to be “blessed” with this sort of condescending “analysis.”  Almost any writer who has published for any length of time has received similar comments and reviews.  While I often wince at so-called factual reviews, which suggest flaws in style or in content (often non-existent, in my opinion), those reviews at least deal with the words on the page… rather than gratuitously attempting to ascribe motives to the author. The same is true of critiques of style, pacing, etc., all of which deal with what has been written, rather than motivational analysis.

So… for all of you critics and would-be critics out there… stick to what we wrote.  You can even suggest what we didn’t write and should have.  Leave the psychoanalysis to our wives, husbands, partners, or shrinks.  That way, you have better odds of being closer to accurate.

12 thoughts on “The Reason Why…?”

  1. Jim says:

    I hope you will continue to pay the most attention to the only critics who matter – those of us who read and enjoy your books immensely. After all we pay cash for our opinions!

  2. I try never to forget you and all my readers, although I do try new or different approaches that I believe will still appeal to you all.

  3. Alan says:

    Speaking to your critic’s review, I would agree it’s arrogance and ignorance that he is working from. But as a voracious reader who has consumed many different authors I would like to think I have a reasonable view of all the authors I have read.

    Some authors, I snap up everything which they have written which I can find. Others I have been more selective in my purchasing. As Jim says, I make my opinion on their writing clear with my use of the all mighty dollar.

    I do have to admit, some authors like to mark time in their series. One of my more enjoyed authors did that in a book series. The first eight or ten books the main character moved forward steadily. The plot developed and the characters grew. Then from around book ten to about book 18 the character didn’t do a thing. Just grew more powerful in abilities and the story didn’t move forward!

    More than a few readers of the series complained bitterly that the author was only trying to make more money. And I had to agree. Because in the last four or five books of the series, the plot has once more resumed moving, dealing with character issues and developing a real story again.

    Now there do seem to be people who survive on the back drop of history they create. Sadly, Christopher Tolkien comes to mind. He has been busily publishing every scrap of work J.R. scribbled down. That does not invalidate the great scope of J.R.’s work, but it could make a critic, justifiably, less than enchanted with recent releases.

  4. nick vance says:

    im going to assume the critic was a wannabe bigshot and did not even read more than one or 2 of your books. speaking of your books any news on what your next project is going to be?

    1. My next project is a second Recluce book, the sequel to Cyador’s Heirs.

  5. Bob Vowell says:

    At the age of not quite 40 I’ve pretty much grown up reading your books. Most of them have me stop and think at some point of the story on some ethical question or another. I’ve reread almost every book every two to three years and rebought all of your books at least twice. I’ll agree with what Jim said above, I vote for you with my money every time. (as long as you don’t devolve into writing teen vampire romances)

    1. I’ve no intention of doing teen vampire romances!

      1. Derek says:

        I actually am curious how you would write a teenage romance…

        1. Probably not at all to the satisfaction of teenage romance readers, which is why I’ve refrained from attempting to do so.

  6. Jim says:

    Oh, and I have never seen any of your characters dragging their heels. I am confident that your decision regarding whether you require 1, 2, 3 or 5 books to tell that character’s story will be appropriate and enjoyable.

  7. Tom says:

    There is a psychological theory that one gets out of reading what one brings to the volume. Hence my continuing research into what life has dealt you.

    So what the author writes is never what the reader believes to have been written. An opinion about a book is just that. The author is advised to only note any specific methodology statements but read all criticisms to gain insight into how the majority misinterpret the work.

    Your critics and fans bring their own baggage to your novels. None of it can possibly agree 100% with what you intended to impart thus I am glad you offer to take questions about your work.

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