I used to write book reviews for Fantasy Review and for 2AM Magazine. When I worked on my masters in Library and Information studies, I had to read and review fiction as graded course assignments. As Chair of the 2014 HWA Bram Stoker Awards Long fiction Jury, I voluntarily wrote brief reviews of each story that I read. One of the best things any writer can do is to read other writers and critique their work. It’s helpful to write down what you think worked well in a story and try to use the same techniques on your own writing. It’s even more helpful to discover what didn’t work in a story and avoid using the same techniques yourself.
I have always read voraciously. I devour novels and short stories because I love the written word as much as a chocohaulic loves Hershey Bars. Reading and writing are addictions, and one of the ways I afford my addiction is to be a professional reviewer who receives Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) from publishers. It isn’t enough that I get free copies as a voter for Nebulas, Hugos, and Stokers. I want to read what is coming out before everyone else has a chance.
When I was a librarian at Rockford Public Library, Elizabeth Flygare and Marie Phillips, my co-workers in Adult Services, got first dibs on the new ARCs. Elizabeth and Marie picked mainstream authors and non-fiction, and they left genre works like suspense and horror and epic fantasy for me. I had to arm-wrestle Patricia Keister for sf ARCs. But there were usually enough to keep both of us happy.
I missed receiving ARCs after I retired as a librarian. Recently, however, several authors and publishers have offered me free digital ARCs of forthcoming works in exchange for honest reviews on Amazon. I also received offers of digital ARCs if I would mention the forthcoming titles in my blogs. I don’t even have to write a review. All I need do is mention the titles.
Not all of the books I’ll mention or review in my blogs are ARCs. I buy books regularly from both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I order direct from publishers’ websites (Dark Regions, Cemetery Dance, Subterranean Press, Eldritch Press, etc.). I spend an average of $700 a month on books. I try to look at everything published in SF, horror, suspense, thriller, mystery, and related genres. I read Locus and Mystery Scene and Romantic Times and The Big Thrill. I read PW and Kirkus. Hell, I even read ingredients on cereal boxes.
I love to talk about books and writing, and I’ll begin to say something about what I’m currently reading in each blog post. I prefer to talk about what works, and I know that not everyone will agree with me. But I owe it to my fellow and sister authors to acknowledge their good works when I see them. So don’t be surprised to see your name mentioned when I come across something you’ve written that I like. And don’t be disappointed if I don’t mention you. I may not have gotten around to reading your masterpiece yet.
This week I discovered Speaking of Horror II by Darrell Schweitzer. These are interviews with 18 masters of horror, including Robert Weinberg, Brian Lumley, Joe R. Lansdale, and Elizabeth Massie. I also read The Walls of the Castle by Tom Piccirilli. Tom’s style in his novella reminds me of Franz Kafta at his best. Dark Regions published this in a handsome trade paperback, and it’s a really great story.
I also read Cemetery Dance #72 with a great story by Richard Thomas. Stephen King’s “Summer Thunder” isn’t bad either. But Tom Monteleone’s “The Mothers and Fathers Italian Association” column is, for me, worth the price of admission in itself. Tom laments the recent passing of so many friends: Dave Silva, Rick Hautala, Phil Nutman, and Richard Matheson. Those four icons touched many of us in the horror industry through their writing or personally over the years. Dave Silva published my first horror short story in The Horror Show, and I only met Dave once in person. We talked on the phone numerous times, and exchanged letters weekly in the snail-mail days of the 1980s and 1990s. He was a shy, quiet guy who thought and felt deeper than most of us. Within a week, Rick Hautala also died. I was crushed. So, it seems, was Tom Monteleone. Tom put into words what I felt about the deaths of Dave Silva and Rick Hautala. Thanks, Tom. You said what I wish I could have said.